DIETARY FRIEND OR FOE?
It depends on your perspective
While many chefs consider salt their most important seasoning, doctors blame it for raising blood pressure. (Sodium in very modest amounts, however, is essential for good health.) The American Medical Association and other health-advocacy groups have urged the FDA to limit the amount of sodium in processed foods.
Why focus on processed food?
Of the 4,000 mg of sodium the average American adult consumes daily, about 75 percent is served up in processed food. Another 10 percent occurs naturally in fresh ingredients. The rest is what we add in cooking and at the table.
Know your sodium guidelines
The USDA recommends that adults limit themselves to 2,300 mg of sodium a day, the amount in 1 tsp. of table salt. For those in the salt-sensitive category (anyone over 50, of African descent, or with high blood pressure), the guideline shrinks to only 1,500 mg of sodium.
If you fall into the group for higher sodium-sensitivity or are concerned about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor. It's still okay to cook with salt in moderation if you're in good health, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (diets high in potassium and calcium help lower blood pressure), and keep active. In any case, it's prudent to limit your intake of high-sodium processed and prepared food.
Greens and Herbs Salad with Classic Vinaigrette
Most people tend to be timid about using enough salt in a vinaigrette, but the right amount ― which may be different for each of us ― really accents salad's "green" flavors.
Thin Salt-and-Pepper Breadsticks
Sprinkling with a moist, unrefined sea salt such as sel gris or fleur de sel will create wonderful bursts of saltiness. Kosher salt works, too, but the breadsticks will be drier and more uniform in flavor.
Salt-crusted Beets with Avocado, Lavender, and Thyme
Chef Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu restaurant in Napa roasts beets in an aromatic salt crust that infuses the kitchen and the beets with the fragrance of flowers and herbs. We've highlighted them in this simple salad.
Chef's tip: Salt-crusting seasons food evenly, imparts complex spice flavors, and makes a great presentation when you crack open the crust. –Chef Jeremy Fox, Ubuntu, Napa
Grilled Pork Chops with Brown-Sugar Brine and Onion-Peach Marmalade
Because modern pork is very lean, the meat can easily dry out when cooked. Using a brine (a solution of water, salt, and aromatics) adds moisture and flavor.
Chef's tip: Brining makes meat juicy; also, the aromatics in the liquid are absorbed by the meat, so you get perfect seasoning every time. –Chef Mark Sullivan, Spruce, San Francisco
Salted Chocolate Tart
We prefer Maldon sea salt for sprinkling onto this tart. Its large flakes look striking against the glossy chocolate surface, and its crunchy texture contrasts beautifully with the smooth, velvety filling.
Chef's tip: Chocolate and flaky sea salt go together really well. The Salt cuts the sweetness and adds complexity and crunch. –Pastry Chef Kristy Choo, Jin Patisserie, Venice, CA