Cooking food already requires an amount of skill and expertise in itself. However, the final product of your culinary endeavours doesn’t only depend on the aesthetics of the dish, but its overall taste. So how can you bring out hidden flavours in your dishes? Well, put simply, it’s really all about the salt, and here at Sciacca, we vehemently believe that seasoning is everything in enhancing a dish’s potential.
If think about it, many cookbooks, many recipes either barely mention seasoning or just elliptically add the tip: “season to taste” at the end of an instruction. Surely there’s more to it than that? Especially when you consider how fundamental of a component salt is to the recipe. To understand the wonders of salt – and, more importantly, improve your overall cooking, we decided to share some pearls (or perhaps to be more contextually precise grains?) of wisdom…
Salt enhances the flavour in food
As you’d expect, the importance of salt and good seasoning cannot be ignored. After all, it’s the foundation for any great cooking. Sure, you can have a fantastic dish, but if it’s not sufficiently seasoned, you can forget it being enjoyed to its maximum potential – no matter the intricate technique of cookery that went into its preparation – it simply won’t make the cut. The bottom line is: salt brings out the best in your dish.
Most home chefs tend to opt for sea salt, and it’s a good thing they do! It’s important to understand that while the regular table salt does add flavour to food, it’s packed with sulphates and anti-caking agents, and is thus too impure for good food. In fact, if you season consommé, or something clear, with table salt, you can see it start clouding because of these very agents.
When cooking at home, opting for the regular sea salt is ideal. It’s good to remember that it comes in rather large crystals, which makes it much more difficult to add the tiniest pinch to a dish. So we recommend to either mill it or blitz it in a blender to get a finer grade.
The importance of TASTE
This is nothing new. To ensure your seasoning is correct, constantly tasting is essential. And not just the sauce or food – but the water or butter you’re cooking them in, too. Think of yourself as an aspiring sommelier: you need to taste wine all the time to get your palette accustomed to all the different grapes.
The same practice can be applied to cooking – you’ve got to keep checking whether you’ve seasoned sufficiently. It’s a rudimentary element many home cooks overlook, like not preheating the oven. Keep in mind though, that if you’re dehydrated, your body will be craving salts and will want to add more.
Salt adds moisture
As contradictory as it might sound, salt is key to adding moisture to food. Many people think that if you season meat it takes the moisture out, but it actually affects the protein cells’ walls, by enlarging them, so that they’re able to absorb more liquid. Indeed, many foods are brined, which increases the liquid content. A piece of meat weighing a kilo, once brined, will weigh more because the water content would have been increased.
With other things, salt can replace water. Try this experiment: bake a few carrots on beds of salt and oil – without any water, and your end result will leave you with a strong taste of carrots, once you’ve cleared the salt off. For a similar experiment, grab a beetroot and pack it in salt, bake it in foil: you will realise how the taste, is intensely deep.
Transform an entire dish
As well as augmenting flavour, adding salt can totally alter the character of your dish. Try creating a caramel ganache to test this theory. Using condensed milk and 60% chocolate as proportions results in a tasty treat, of course, but once mixed with a pinch of salt, the entire flavour is transformed, creating a sharp, sweet and delicious essence.
Go up, you can’t go down
One of the main reasons for seasoning gradually is to be able to find the optimal level of flavour and – crucially – not pass beyond it. If you’ve put too much in, no amount of lemon juice will rescue your dish. You can always add more if underseasoned, but you can never take away if you’ve overdone it.
Know when to use it
With some products, salt is vital from the beginning, while with others, you need to add it before serving. Let’s take two separate fish dishes for instance: for a piece of halibut, seasoning it just before putting it into the pan is best. Whereas, when cooking a scallop, you need to first seal it for a minute, cook it in foamy butter and then season it in the last few seconds of cooking.
What to season and when seems like something that can only be learnt by relentless testing and constant tasting. For example, vegetables such as asparagus will lose their colour if cooked in salted water, but if you cook them without and add salt at the end then the salt will overpower the vegetables. It’s an endless battle of getting it just right.
So what’s so exceptional about Sciacca’s salt?
For starters, our variety of salt is a special blend of in-house, smoked salt, which is specifically prepared to season quality cuts of meat. Our chefs use a unique smoking technique using salts from different parts of the world. What’s more, our kitchens are equipped with high end Josper and Mibrasa ovens, to further guarantee the quality of our end product. Both our restaurants boast of being equipped with one of each of these ovens, which further assures the excellence of dishes.
Operating with a special blend of top-quality charcoal and wood, they’re extremely efficient in cookery. This in turn allows our chefs to cook all types of foods retaining and bringing out the natural flavours. Combine these components with our culinary experts’ knowledge and wealth of travel experiences, with our in-house salt smoking, and the result is superb.
How you season gives character to your food. Without a shadow of a doubt, proper seasoning separates the good cooks from kitchen amateurs. Far-fetched as it may sound, one of the best weapons a chef can have in the kitchen is this deceptively common kitchen ingredient. So, it’s important not to treat such an ingredient – humble as it may seem – as a mere afterthought. That being said, it’s important to use the correct amount of seasoning.
We hope you’ve found this blog as interesting as much as we enjoyed informing you. And don’t forget, if you’d like to experience some delicious culinary creations from our very own kitchens, head down to Sciacca. Our restaurants are situated in the heart of Paceville and the beautiful historical city of Valletta. Contact us to reserve your table.