There is something so comforting about well-stocked kitchen shelves that satisfy an ancestral longing, inherited from times when winters were longer, colder and darker. While we don't entirely believe alarming predictions of post-Brexit food shortages, by stocking up on a few essentials and avoiding unnecessary trips to the shops, you will save money, time and eat healthier. Each week we will look at the basic ingredients to keep at hand for easy meals, snacks and baking.
If you had to keep only one cooking ingredient on your shelf, it would have to be salt. Forget the rest, salt is the Daddy in the kitchen. We innately seek saltiness for good reasons, human beings could not live without it. Much is being said about the dangers of excess salt in our modern diets. While it is true that much processed food contains too much salt and that we should be conscious of the amount we consume, there is no reason for the home-cook to be shy about using salt. In fact, we should embrace this magical ingredient that has the power to enhance the taste of any dish, by drawing out flavours and juices and balancing acidity, bitterness and sweetness. Salt makes food sing. You should stock a selection of salts; I have always have three kinds on my shelf, table salt, kosher salt and sea salt but there are useful and wonderfully different alternatives to explore.
Table salt, the most commonly found on most kitchen shelves, is perfect for all type of cooking. Most table salt has added iodine, to prevent deficiencies in this oligo-element, a cause of hyperthyroidism and other diseases.
Sea salt, harvested from evaporated sea water, contains different flavourings and minerals. It's more expensive than table salt and should be thought of as a "finishing" salt. Enjoy experimenting with all the different types of sea salt, white, grey, pink, even black, on variety of dishes such as salads, fried eggs, steamed vegetables and even to adorn the rim of your cocktail glasses with pretty crystals. Notable sea salts you might like to try are our own Maldon sea salt or sel de Guerandes, from the saltmarshes of Brittany in Northern France.
Kosher salt, also called cooking salt, derives its name from the process of kosherisation where meat is covered in salt to draw out all the blood. But it is a useful in any kitchen. Kosher salt is coarser than table salt, less salty and does not contain any additives such as iodine. It is an excellent meat tenderiser, a perfect ingredient, combined with herbs and sugar, to make dry brine for meat or fish such as salmon. Kosher salt is a great alternative to the very fine pickling salt but make sure it does not contain any anti-caking agents.
Pickling salt If you are a gardener, you will want to preserve your harvest and enjoy your home-grown produce well into the winter months. Even if you are not a gardener, you might still be interested in stretching summer bounties by making your own pickles. For this you will need pickling salt which is available in most supermarkets. It is ideal for the task because it is very fine and dissolves quickly into a brine. Pickling salt does not contain anti-caking agents which could cloud the brine, nor iodine which reputedly darkens the pickles. Once you have invested in the very basic equipment and mastered simple preserving methods, there will be no stopping the budding pickler as almost anything can be pickled with delicious results from the humble onions, beetroots and cucumbers to the more exotic mangoes, lemons and limes.
Himalayan pink salt
I sometimes use this gorgeous pink salt which originate from the Punjab and is renowned for its amazing flavour and purity. It is believed to be composed from the remnants of the primal seas that covered the Earth. Mined by hand deep into the Himalayas, so close to the roof of the world, it is considered an heavenly ingredient with numerous health enhancing natural minerals. There are claims that Himalayan pink salt promotes bone strength, regulate blood sugar levels and even boost libido. Sadly, I can't vouch for these claims as I only use this luxury ingredient occasionally as a finishing salt.