Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe — Salt Bae —became a surprising meme when a video of his flamboyant technique of salting meat went viral. His millions of instagram followers seem to be transfixed by his rather, er sensual handling of meat, but I love that he’s put SALTING on the map.
This essential key to making just about any food delicious is sorely misunderstood by many people I know, who are, perhaps unconsciously cowed by the salt-is-bad-for-you campaign that overtook the country years. So, in league with Salt Bae, I’m declaring PERMISSION TO SALT, with the basics of how to do it. Think of using salt with the uninhibited sensuality and clear pleasure of Salt Bae.
Rules of Salt
Whenever possible: salt meats and poultry in advance of cooking. You want the salt to penetrate to the center of the flesh and provide internal seasoning (not just sit on the outside).
My rule of thumb is: the bigger the cut, the farther ahead of cooking you should salt it. I routinely salt whole chickens and big cuts like legs of lamb a couple of days ahead. The salt tenderizes the flesh (and will make skin crisper). I usually salt inch-or-so-thick steaks and chops 1 or 2 hours ahead; a rack of lamb or pork roast 2-24 hours ahead; thinner cuts closer to cooking.
Fish is a different story. Because its flesh is so tender, it will absorb salt quickly, in effect curing it. I salt fish fillets and steaks just a few minutes before cooking; whole fish 15-30 minutes ahead.
Beans are best salted halfway through the cooking time.
Vegetables and grains benefit from salting at the start of cooking.
How much salt to use?: for meats and poultry my VERY rough rule of thumb is 3/4 teaspoon per pound. If I’m salting foods pretty near to cooking, I use a heavier hand.
As for salting pasta water, I follow Mario Batali’s formula: For each pound of pasta use about 6 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt added AFTER the water has come to a boil.
Before cooking, be sure to blot any liquid that the salt may have drawn out of the meat, poultry or fish.
If you find your finished dish is underseasoned, add more salt as needed. Season tasting as you go, until you’ve found the right level of salt.
With steaks and roasts, salting the slices just before serving, as Salt Bae does here, can really pick up the flavor. (Video link here.)
How do you know the right amount of salt to use?
I keep in mind the thinking of two great chefs.
Thomas Keller, chef of the French Laundry and Per Se says: …if you taste salt in a dish, it’s too salty.
David Chang, chef/owner of many pioneering restaurants, including Momofuku says:
A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time…
Salt Enhances AND Carries Flavor
Know your salt (which salt?)
There are a vast range of salts available, from the minerally grey sea salt of Britanny to Hawaii’s pink Alaea salt to fluffy clean tasting Kosher salt. Tasting different salts will reveal their subtle differences, including their level of saltiness; some salts are more intensely salty than others.
Whichever salt you choose as your basic salt, as you use it, you’ll get to know through experience how much salt will achieve the right levels.
For everyday, all-purpose cooking and my published recipes, I generally use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, an inexpensive, additive-free salt with a coarse, uniform texture that prevents it from dissolving right away on meats as fine salt does, particularly useful when curing. Its texture makes it easy to sprinkle and to measure. Because it is less salty than most salts, it obviates over-salting. (I avoid iodized table salt has a rather muddy flavor and fine grain that is difficult to sprinkle accurately.)
If I use sea salt (which has a host of healthful trace minerals), I try to remember to use restraint since it is saltier than Kosher salt.
After a dish is cooked, sprinkling a few grains of a medium coarse sea salt will bring out nuances of flavor in the dish and add a lovely visual element. Maldon salt from England is an excellent readily available sea salt with an appealing flaky texture.
Want some salt-centric recipes or art?
Choose your passion here, from Tuscan Herb Salt (and Herb Salted Lamb)…
to Whipped Cream with Sea Salt…
…to Salt-Roasted Shrimp or Vegetables…
…to Brown Sugar Butter Cookies with Thyme-Rosemary-Lavender Salt…
…to Sweet/Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies
…to Yamamoto’s Ephemeral Salt Sculptures…
…and Imogen Heaps Salt Singing…