It's taken over the gourmet world. You pretty much wouldn't write a recipe that includes salt without it. It's also an annoying fact of life for those of us googling "kosher" recipes - that yummy salt bumps up almost every recipe to the top of the list even if it's a recipe for bacon double cheeseburgers.
First of all, you may already know that "kosher" salt is no more or less kosher than any other salt. That is, it's kosher, but so is table salt, coarse salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink mountain salt, and every other form of pure salt.
So if you eat kosher and cook kosher, you CAN use kosher salt. But you don’t have to.
So why is it called kosher?
That’s actually just a mistake. This flattish crystalline form of salt is actually kosher-ING salt - the kind of salt used to "kasher" meat to make it kosher.
Most kosher salt has air between relatively flat crystals. So when you're using or substituting kosher salt, use "more" of it - the same amount by weight looks like more on a spoon, so 2 tsp of regular table salt will be just as salty as 1 tbsp or more of kosher salt. Many people claim it has a “lighter” flavour, but in reality, it tastes the same as any other salt – you’re just using less of it.
Here’s a picture showing a comparison between different types of salt, close-up:
In the U.S., there’s a big difference between the two major brands of kosher salt. According to Smitten Kitchen, “Morton salt presses salt granules into large flakes with rollers; Diamond, through a patented process, stacks salt pyramids to form a large crystal.” Yet another reason to measure your salt by weight, not volume. A spoon is not a spoon is not a spoon.
(Salt carefully when you’re using a new type of salt in a recipe if you don’t want to poison your family!)
So why is it so popular?
Because of the flat, flaky shape of the crystals.
That makes it easier to pick up and control when you're sprinkling it into a dish - that's one reason it's become so popular with chefs and gourmets. It also looks whiter on your fingertips and in the air, so it may be easier to see how much you’re using (I know I sometimes sprinkle and sprinkle with regular salt and have no idea if it’s doing anything at all).
However, if you're using kosher salt as your main salt when cooking for your family, be careful - it lacks the iodine that the FDA, WHO, etc., recommends.
Also, beware of the hype when you’re buying any “special” salt, especially if it’s expensive. A couple of blind taste tests suggest that even gourmets can’t really tell the difference most of the time. Here’s one blind taste test from Cook’s Illustrated.
When should you use kosher salt?
- When kashering meat (ha ha ha – as a kosher home cook, you may never have to do this in your lifetime)
- When tenderizing or marinating meat; kosher salt sticks better to all surfaces and doesn’t dissolve when you rub it on
- On cucumbers and other veg, where the crunchy texture may actually help you use less salt.
- When sprinkling a little bit of salt at a time, where fine control is important.
- In desserts where salt is an important accent and shouldn’t be dissolved, like salted caramels (try them Joy of Kosher style!)
- When pickling vegetables, where iodine can cause discolouration.
- If you have a medical/thyroid condition that requires a low-iodine diet (obviously, check with your doctor first!).
(For most of these uses, except for kashering meat, you can substitute sea salt, Himalayan salt or any other gourmet salt you’d like.)
When doesn't it matter?
- If you’re adding it to water (including pasta cooking water), sauces, or another liquid where it will dissolve completely and taste the same as any other salt. Gourmets might tell you they can tell the difference. (But can they really?)
- In bread recipes (use the kind of salt recommended in the recipe – if it doesn’t specify, use table salt)
When shouldn't you use kosher salt?
- To sprinkle on top of baked goods like pretzels; for that, you'll need "coarse" or pickling salt that looks like little cubes
- Directly on salads if you don't want to be crunching through bits of salt (if you like that, then great!)
- In cakes and other sweet things that call for just a bit of salt – finer table salt will mix with other dry ingredients better.
- When you’re following a recipe that calls for teaspoons or tablespoons of salt, but doesn’t specify what kind of salt – stick with table salt just in case.
More great salt kitchen tips:
- Add a pinch of salt to coffee to cut the bitterness - try 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to 6 tbsp of ground coffee (Alton Brown)
- Use kosher salt to give you the “grit” to scrub a cast-iron skillet (and salting a meat skillet before tossing a steak onto it will help the steak sear better without sticking
- Salt crust chicken or fish is probably no less healthy than any other marinade – the meat absorbs just enough salt to be tasty, not enough to be overwhelming.
- I’ve known a few non-Jews who regularly bought kosher chicken, believing it was of higher quality. They have all said it doesn’t need as much salt during cooking because it has already been soaked and salted according to Jewish law. Cool!
What are your awesome salt secrets? Go ahead and dish!