The Single Most Important Ingredient (Published 2017) (2024)

Food|The Single Most Important Ingredient

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/dining/how-to-season-food-with-salt.html

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By Samin Nosrat


Growing up, I thought salt belonged in a shaker at the table, and nowhere else.

I never added it to food, or saw Maman add it. When my aunt Ziba sprinkled it onto her saffron rice at the table each night, my brothers and I giggled. We thought it was the strangest, funniest thing in the world.

I associated salt with the beach, where I spent my childhood seasoned with it. There were the endless hours in the Pacific near our home in San Diego, swallowing mouthfuls of ocean water when I misjudged the waves. Tidepooling at twilight, my friends and I often fell victim to the saltwater spray while we poked at anemones.

Maman kept our swimsuits in the back of our blue Volvo station wagon, because the beach was always where we wanted to be. She was deft with the umbrella and blankets, setting them up while she shooed the three of us into the sea. We would stay in the water until we were starving, scanning the beach for the sun-faded coral-and-white umbrella, the landmark that would lead us back to her.

She always knew exactly what would taste best when we emerged: Persian cucumbers topped with sheep’s milk feta cheese, rolled together in lavash bread. We chased the sandwiches with handfuls of ice-cold grapes or wedges of watermelon to quench our thirst.

That snack, eaten while my curls dripped with seawater and salt crust formed on my skin, always tasted so good. Without a doubt, the pleasures of the beach added to the magic of the experience, but it wasn’t until many years later, while I was working at Chez Panisse, that I understood why those bites had been so perfect from a culinary point of view.

It was there that Chris Lee, a chef who took me under his wing, suggested I pay attention to the language the chefs used in the kitchen, how they knew when something was right — these were clues for how to become a better cook. Most often, when a dish fell flat, the answer lay in adjusting the salt. Sometimes it was in the form of salt crystals, but other times it meant a grating of cheese, some pounded anchovies, a few olives or a sprinkling of capers. I began to see that there was no better guide in the kitchen than thoughtful tasting, and that nothing was more important to taste thoughtfully for than salt.

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The Single Most Important Ingredient (Published 2017) (2024)
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