How to Balance Flavor and Health When Cooking with Salt
When you cook at home, you can control your salt intake and create amazing meals that taste good and are good for you. Here's how.
Few ingredients are as powerful as salt; wielded wisely, it amplifies every flavor in a dish. But it also contains the sodium we've learned to be wary of for our health. The average American does consume too much sodium (about 3,400 milligrams daily, when the FDA suggests less than 2,300, or about one teaspoon), but the real culprit isn't home cooking or even the salt shaker at the table. Processed foods and restaurant fare account for 70 percent of our dietary intake. When you cook at home, you can control how much sodium you add and still create flavorful meals. Here's what you need to know.
Keep It Kosher
From prep to plating, Diamond Crystal ($16.96 for three pounds, walmart.com) is our go-to. Its large crystals taste clean, not bitter, and are less dense than the standard table variety, so you get good coverage without adding too much sodium. We keep ours in a cellar with a lid, which prevents clumping and makes it easy to dip in fingers and scatter.
Form a Foundation
Season as you cook, not just before serving. This builds in flavor, whether you're sautéing onions or grilling chicken. Most natural foods don't contain much (if any) sodium, but take care to use items like reduced-sodium soy sauce and reduced-sodium broths in recipes to better control the amount in a dish and the final taste.
We toss two to three generous pinches into a pot of water before blanching vegetables or prepping pasta. It should taste lightly briny; if it's too saline, pour some out, add more from the tap, and taste again.
Get a Great Sear
Sprinkle it from six to eight inches above to evenly coat room-temperature proteins, then let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before they hit the pan. The salt pulls moisture to the surface, ensuring a crisp, golden-brown crust. Fish is the exception: Season just before cooking, as drawing out too much liquid can make it mealy.
Go Out with a Bang
Finishing salt brings a nuanced note and satisfying crunch to dishes. Always save it for last—these coarser crystals are pricier, and lose their complexity if used during cooking. Food director Sarah Carey likes the mineral notes of gray sea salt ($11.25, amazon.com). Pink Himalayan salt is the favorite of deputy food editor Greg Lofts ($4.99, thrivemarket.com)—he hand-grinds it to top off salads, warm baked cookies, and more. Senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell loves the potent bite of flaky sea salt ($16.66, amazon.com).
Food styling by Greg Lofts; Prop styling by Suzie Myers.