My classical cooking Instructor, the former head chef and owner of l’Antibes Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, first introduced me to the notion of a little salt and pepper in every recipe. I was partway through culinary school and up until that point my grades were great but my food was just good – not stunning or awesome or inspiring. I asked Chef how I could make my food better and he quoted one of his chefs from the past, “A Little S&P from the A&P in every recipe!” It was then that I realized I was on the verge of becoming something amazing.
Salt – it’s almost an evil word in the health obsessed vocabulary of today. The truth is that salt can be good for you and it is necessary for life – as well as for turning a blah dish into a spectacular meal. Pepper isn’t “as bad” as salt, but it seems that folks tend to be afraid of it for some unknown reason. I never liked salt and always preferred pepper. In fact, I had a huge problem adding table salt to any food I ever ate, and more often than not I would always make or order my food with no salt, if possible. When I started culinary school I had no idea what kind of shock I was about to receive – a full-blown sodium shock to my system. Every dish I made, I got the same critique, “it’s good, but it needs flavor”. Then one day I thought to myself, “I’m going to add more salt and see what happens” and it was magical. In my opinion the dish was almost disgusting, too salty to eat, but my chef instructor finally loved my food that day. From then on I pushed the boundaries of salt and pepper and by the time I graduated I was known for having an excellent palate. It’s one thing to make a beautiful dish with herbs and spices and other ways of adding depth, but having that perfect salt and pepper combo brings out all the flavors and makes it shine.
Typically table salt is iodized rock salt, fortified with iodine and then pound and ground into the fine granules we’re all used to. Iodized salt is truly awful for culinary usage. Once you’re used to the alternative, Kosher Salt (also known as koshering or coarse cooking salt), you will never buy iodized salt again. Kosher salt is simply sodium chloride with no added preservatives, prepared according to the laws of the Torah. It is much larger and coarser than regular table salt. Salt comes in all different colors, including pink, green, gray, and black. They all have the same basic taste with slight differences in flavor profiles and textures.
Pepper, generally, is coarse or finely ground black pepper. Black pepper is made from the peppercorns, or unripe fruit, of the flowering vine plant Piper nigrum. Green, pink and white peppercorns are made from other varieties of pepper plants. Black peppercorns tend to be too hard to eat; however, crushed peppercorns lose their flavor quickly. It’s recommended that they be ground immediately before using.
In order to make your food taste awesome instead of just good, go buy a box of Kosher salt. Then, the next time you cook, toss in a little extra salt and pepper. There’s no need to go overboard – you want to eat it and enjoy it after all – but feel free to test your limits. It will be difficult at first to get used to the added “salty” flavor, but after about a week you will soon realize that the flavor you taste is actually the flavor of your food – not the flavor of salt and/or pepper. If you’re too nervous to add more s&p directly to your food, try adding them to your water for boiling pasta or steaming vegetables. Work your way into having a sensitive, talented palate and don’t be afraid to experiment!
Note: While some folks do need to watch their salt/sodium intake, it has come to light in the past few years that salt is actually necessary and good for you!