Friday, February 15, 2013

Kosher Salt!

My "Salt Pig", always sitting by my oven
filled with Kosher Salt!
Many of you have probably seen me list "Kosher Salt" as an ingredient in (practically all) of the recipes I've shared with you.  It is definitely my preferred version of salt to use while cooking. (I generally do not use it when baking.  Not because it doesn't work, but because most baking recipes are fine-tuned formulas based on the use of granulated table salt, so you don't want to mess with that unless you're a professional baker!)  At any rate, if you've never used kosher salt in your savory dishes before, you are probably wondering "What is the big deal?"  I'm excited to tell you about it, as well as where you can find it here in Mexico City!

First things first, Kosher Salt did not get its name because it is "kosher".  It is actually the salt used for the koshering process, which is the preparation of meats according to Jewish dietary laws.  Due to its coarse shape, it draws out blood when sprinkled on meat and it removes impurities.  So why do we used it for regular cooking?

1)  Kosher salt is relatively pure with no added iodine or other additives.  (In the U.S., we first started adding iodine to salt beginning back in the early 1920's as a way to prevent goitre, a thyroid condition caused by iodine deficiency.  Iodine deficiency is still a huge problem throughout the world as it causes other physical and mental impairments as well, but our traditional diet in the U.S. and other developed countries is such that we receive enough iodine through our foods--like milk, potatoes, turkey, shrimp, fish and eggs--that most of us no longer need to supplement our iodine intake through salt.)  In addition to iodine, granulated table salt also often contains up to 2% of other additives, including aluminum, silicon compounds, silicon dioxide and magnesium carbonate, all of which are necessary to prevent the crystal surfaces of regular salt from absorbing moisture and clumping.  All of these additives are not only entering your body, but also don't dissolve readily, affecting appearances (such as in brines), as well as contributing some undesirable tastes.

2)  You actually need less kosher salt than regular table salt to achieve the same level of flavor in your dish.  The biggest reason for this is the salt's shape.  Because it is fragile, hollow and pyramid shaped, it dissolves much more quickly in our foods, which is particularly helpful when you're seasoning something with a low moisture content like meat.  Kosher salt does an AMAZING job flavoring meat.  (And don't worry about moisture being drawn out by the salt; it's negligible, particularly when compared with the flavor the salt provides.)

3)  Kosher salt is very easy to use and dispense by the hand. You've seen chefs on cooking shows sprinkle their steaks with ease, right?!  It is very popular with chefs. 

Kosher salt is, in fact, the salt I most commonly used while studying at the Culinary Institute of America as well as while working at Fine Cooking Magazine for all of the reasons listed above.  I urge you to give it a try if you are hoping to take your cooking to the next level, and please let me know what you think!

This is what you're looking for...
So where can you get Kosher salt in Mexico City?  They sell Kosher salt at many of the grocery stores here, but most places only have small containers and the salt therein is much coarser than what I prefer to use, namely Mortons or Diamond brands.  If you're just looking to try it out, try these small containers first.  But since this is the main type of salt that I use (and because I cook so much) it is not economical for me to buy the small, expensive containers and I prefer the large 3-5 lb boxes that are very common in the States.  For this type of salt, you have a couple of options.  Locally, I have only found large boxes of Kosher Salt at one kosher-style store (although I've only really been to about five), and that is "La Selecta Kosher Style" located in Polanco at Julio Verne #90-H.  (Phones for delivery are 5281-1468/1390.  Email them here.)  They have a good selection of other Arabic and Jewish-style foods as well.  Also, living in Mexico, we have the good fortune of quick deliveries from Amazon and other online merchants, who will be more than happy to send you your beloved Kosher salt.  I like Amazon because I get free shipping, since the Kosher salt usually comes in large boxes!

Have you ever tried making your own pickles?  Kosher salt is a main ingredient.  Try it...it's fun!  This is especially useful if pickles are not readily available at your post for those of you outside Mexico City!


Homemade Pickles
Photo Courtesy of www.menshealth.com
  • 1 lb. cucumbers of your choice, sliced (smaller, seedless work best; in Mexico they're found at Costco or pre-packaged in bags at stores like Superama)
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 1/2 oz (a heaping 1/3 cup) sugar
  • 4 fl oz (1/2 C) white wine vinegar
  • Dill/Dill Seed, pickling spices, garlic, crushed red pepper, chiles, etc. optional
  1. Combine the cucumbers, onions and salt.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. In a small saucepot, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over medium heat.  Add any extra seasonings you're using.  Allow mixture to cool.
  3. Drain the cucumbers and onions and rinse.
  4. Combine the vinegar mixture with the cucumbers and onions.  Refrigerate until cold before serving.