What’s All this Talk About Natural Wine?

What’s All this Talk About Natural Wine?

An Introduction to Natural Wine

In the world of wine, there are the standards: Napa Cabernet, Bordeaux, Burgundy. There are also the trends. Some of these trends look promising but never gain a great foothold. This is especially true in America. I’ve seen South African wines promoted as the next big thing many times. The “Anything but Chardonnay” movement never caught on. It is still the number one white variety people drink the most. But then again, who could ever see the sonic boom that is rosé wine over the past three years. Now it’s all about natural wine.

Natural Wine is the Newest Trend (Or Is It?)

The newest wine trend is natural wine, which is funny because it’s not new at all. It harkens back to a way of winemaking before science and technology took over. A time before chemical pesticides and fertilizers. A time before additives and adjuncts. And, it’s not that long ago. Less than seventy-five years ago winemakers made wine very differently. As a result the wine you see on your supermarket shelves today is missing some of the qualities of those more traditional wines. Today there are winemakers looking back to move forward.

So, What is Natural Wine?

There is no standard definition or rules. There is no governing body. Winemakers use many styles and techniques to make natural wine. Some producers may say that it is a purer way of making wine. Others say that they let the vineyard and grapes make the wine with minimal intervention. The most basic understanding of natural wine would include:

  • Organic, biodynamic, permaculture or other natural farming practices
  • No additives, adjuncts, or chemicals used in the winemaking process
  • The fermentation takes place naturally from ambient yeasts and no inoculations
  • The minimal use of sulfur dioxide or no use at all
  • No fining or excessive filtration

Natural Wine: A Delicious Gamble

While it may sound like an easier way of making wine, it can come with problems. Refermentation in vats or in bottles (explosion time), reduction, spoilage yeasts or bacteria, oxidation, high volatile acidity, and over-pungent Brettanomyces can be some of the problems that may occur. Some consumers are put off by the cloudiness of the wines from the non-filtration or the “funkiness” that may occur in the aromas. Natural wine is more of a gamble than the high-volume production wines that flood the shelves. But life is full of gambles and that’s what makes it fun. Here are five natural wines I chose to show you how good these wines can be.

Le Haut Planty

“Gwin Evan” Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2016

$22

Muscadet is one the most underrated white wines. No, it is not like Moscato. As with all things French, the name comes from the area, but the grape used to make the wine is Melon de Bourgogne. The wines are almost always aged on their lees (the decayed yeasts and other solids.) You will the term “sur lie” on the label to indicate this. These are wines made for fruits de mer: oysters, shrimp, mussels, razor clams, and the like. The Gwin Evan is from certified organic vineyards with nothing added in the winemaking process. The fermentation is spontaneous with ambient yeast, then aged up to sixteen months on the lees in concrete tanks. It is cloudy, slightly bitter, and has a touch of effervescence. There is a brininess here that craves seafood, so shuck some oysters and drink up!

Charly Thévenet Régnié

“Grain & Granit” 2017

$36

As a son of original “Gang of Four” Morgon winemaker Jean-Paul Thévenet, Charly Thévenet learned early on about a more natural and traditional way of winemaking. He has turned those generational teachings into a dynamic winemaking experience for himself. Charly uses biodynamic farming techniques and minimal intervention. The family planted vineyards planted in 1932 and 1946, so there is old vine goodness here. The grapes go through spontaneous whole-cluster fermentation in the Beaujolais tradition. It is then matured in aged barriques and sees no filtration or fining. The result is delicate, floral, and fruity wine with bright acidity and structure. A soft chill is best to harmonize the fruit and aromatics in this wine.

Southold Farm + Cellar

“Call of the Brave” Red Blend 2017

$30

You knew I had to throw a Texas wine in here! I love what Reagan Meador is doing down in the Hill Country. Reagan first started his wine on the North Fork of Long Island in New York but relocated his family and set up shop in Fredericksburg. He believes in a minimalist approach to the winemaking process in the cellar. The result are wines different from high alcohol, robust wines that we usually see. The Call of the Wild is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc sourced from the Texas High Plains. The grapes go through whole-cluster fermentation. The Cabernet Franc does sees one week of carbonic maceration, bringing out the fruitier side of the grape. There is no fining or filtration, so a slight cloudiness does occur in the glass. It is light and fruity with cherry and strawberry notes. Dried lavender, savory herb, and pepper round out the palate. It’s like Spring in a bottle: bright, welcoming, and perfect for a sunny day.

Garage Wine Co.

Cinsault 2015

$22

I love Garage Wine Co.! There hasn’t been an offering from this Chilean producer that I haven’t enjoyed. This is honest-to-goodness cinsault, sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards in the cool climate Itata Valley. Cinsault is a perfect grape for natural winemaking. It is low in both acid and tannins, ready to drink early, and showcases stylish bright fruit. This wine shows off lush red cherry and blueberry fruit, allspice and cinnamon spice, crushed violets, and a hint of bitterness to balance the fruit.  Check out this beautiful red and other wines from this burgeoning producer.

Donkey and Goat

“Twinkle” Mourvèdre 2017

$28

I am a strong proponent of wineries and producer placing an ingredient list on bottles to show what goes on in the cellar. Donkey & Goat does this and keeps its simple with the ingredients: grapes and minimal sulfur. That’s it. No extra yeasts, adjuncts, mega-purple, acids, or bacteria. Simple, unobtrusive winemaking and a minimum effective amount of sulfur for stability. The Twinkle is 100% Mourvèdre sourced from two vineyards in the El Dorado AVA of the Sierra Foothills. I am used to Mourvèdre wines with a bit of weight, alcohol, and rusticity, but this is just pure fruity joy. Macerated red fruit, a hint of barnyard, crush dark flowers, and spice jump from the glass. The palate is racy and juicy with strawberry and raspberry, citrus zest, and cherry kirsch. Drink this chilled all spring and summer long.

Want to read more about wine? Check out my article about Lambrusco!

 

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Minimalist Kitchen Guide for Foodies

Minimalist Kitchen Guide for Foodies

The world seems to be designed to make us buy more and more stuff. I for one want to work against this insatiable desire to have more things. I’d rather have more open spaces in my home to create and enjoy. That means I need to edit down my ridiculously large collection of kitchen gear to the fundamentals. So it is time to set up a minimalist kitchen!

You don’t need much in the way of fancy kitchen gear to make delicious meals for yourself and your family. So why not join me in emptying those kitchen cabinets of all your single-use gadgets and never used tools?

I will earn a small commision on some of the products on this page if you purchase through my link. I have only recommended products I know and love. I have not recieved anything from these companies for free.

Cutting Essentials

Cutting Essentials

One 8-inch Stainless Steel Chef’s Knife

Don’t buy a set. PLEASE don’t buy a set. No matter how good a deal it seems to be, you are better off spending a little more on one GREAT knife that will last you forever than on a cheap set of knives. Most people only ever use one of the knives in that set and usually the construction is so shoddy they aren’t worth the money you spent on them.

Kitchen Shears

Get a pair designed for use in the kitchen and can be separated into two pieces for easy cleaning.

Ergonomic Vegetable Peeler

Get a high-quality peeler. Not that one your Granny had that hurt your hands because it was so uncomfortable to use.

Box Grater

This baby isn’t just for cheese. You can use it to grate veggies, eggs and all sorts of things! Plus it is much easier to store and clean than a food processor.

Microplane Grater

Use this to zest a lemon or grate hard cheeses, cloves of garlic, nutmeg and more.

Two Cutting Boards

Use one for meats and one for veggies. You don’t need more than two. Buy boards of high quality and heavy duty enough that they won’t slip around on your counter.

Stove Top Essentials 

These are another item sold in sets. If you want to work in a minimalist kitchen don’t buy a set. You won’t use all the pieces. Use your money better and buy fewer things of higher quality!

10 or 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet

Ok, so again… You will get sold ENTIRE sets of pots and pans with pieces you will NEVER use. While it is nice to have all these, you end up using one skillet most of the time. Don’t buy a non-stick skillet. There are lots of fantastic new technologies out there for non-stick surfaces but let me tell you a secret. You really do want your food to stick.

That’s where all the gorgeous flavor comes from. All the little brown bits and caramelized pieces. So instead of buying some skillets that are non-stick and others that are not, just go old school and get a cast-iron skillet. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet works just as well for perfect eggs and pancakes as it does for searing meat and caramelizing onions. These types of pans hold heat really well and when well seasoned are basically non-stick without adding Teflon. If you take good care of it, it will perform for you for the rest of your life.

Find out how to take care of your cast iron on Serious Eats

Three Quart Saucepan

You need at least one of these. They are a workhorse item you will probably use every day. I boil water in mine for coffee every morning. I boil eggs, I make a single batch of soup, I even make sauces in it. Honestly its a must have. I like a 3 quart Saucier because it has a rounded bottom and is just easier to whisk thicker sauces in without things getting stuck in the corners. Some folks don’t like these because they aren’t quite as stable. So if that is you try a standard saucepan instead. Two or four quarts should work for most household uses.

Eight Quart Dutch Oven

Many lists recommend both a stock pot and a dutch oven, but for my money, I think a dutch oven is the way to go. It works perfectly for every use you would use a stock pot for and then some. Only get a pot specifically for stock if you are making significant volumes of broths on a regular basis. For home use, a dutch oven large enough to fit a whole chicken works just as well

Baking Essentials

Half Sheet Pan

Use this for all your baking needs. This multipurpose item can roast your brussels sprouts or bake your cookies. Heck you can even make a cake on a sheet pan.

Casserole Dish

You can make this oval or rectangular, whatever you prefer. Rectangular is a bit more logical for things like enchiladas and lasagna that just fit better in that shape, but an oval baker is just so pretty! You don’t have to use it only for casseroles either, you can roast chicken in there, or use it to make a family size pot pie!

One 9-inch Pie Pan

Not just for pies, you can roast a small quantity of meat or veggies in a pie pan as well.

Muffin Pan

Yes you can make muffins in this, but you can also make savory things like tuna cakes or mini-frittatas in this handy little pan

Kitchen Thermometer

Nothing works better for getting perfectly cooked meats than using a thermometer to assess doneness. Seriously, if you make a roast of any kind this little gadget is a lifesaver.

Food Prep Essentials

Food Prep Essentials

Wooden Spoon

You need to stir things. A wooden spoon is non-reactive and won’t scratch your pots and pans.

Spider Skimmer

Sometimes you just need to get things in and out of a pan of hot liquid without pouring it all down the sink. A spider can help you gently fish out pieces of chicken from your soup so you can shred it and add it back or move your perfectly cooked pasta from the pot to the sauce without dirtying a colander and a cup for the liquid you needed to reserve to finish your sauce. I even use it to gently lower my eggs into boiling water per that perfectly jammy egg.

Tongs

Not all tongs are made alike so make sure you get a set with a spring and a quick open and close mechanism. I use tongs to cook EVERYTHING. I can gently turn individual pieces, or I can stir and saute with them. They are like using my hands to move things around in the pan but without all that pesky burning myself nonsense.

Spatula

You need to flip things, press things, get them out of the pan in one piece. A spatula is your go-to tool for all these activities.

Whisk

You need a whisk if you make gravy or marinades or sauces of any kind a whisk works wonderfully for creating smooth light sauces every time.

10-piece Tempered Glass Nesting Prep Bowl set

You always need bowls. Having a nice nesting set ensures you always have a bowl when you need one. I suggest glass because it is non-reactive. You can use it for ANYTHING without worry. If glass freaks you out, remember that tempered glass or pyrex is EXTREMELY difficult to break so don’t worry about working them HARD.

Rolling Pin

Yes, you can use this to roll things out like pie crust or pasta. You can also use it instead of a meat mallet to tenderize meats. Use it to crush whole spices, crush cookies, or dried out bread into crumbs. Smash things like ice or even use it to muddle herbs for cocktails!

Wire Mesh Strainer

Instead of buying a colander, buy a wire mesh strainer. This way you have a sifter and strainer all in one. You can drain your potatoes and pasta, sift your flour, even strain your yogurt to make yogurt cheese. Lots of options when you go this route.

Spice Grinder

Most people buy spices pre-ground. The problem is pre-ground spices lose flavor quickly (not to mention you have no idea how old they were when you bought them.) Buy whole spices instead and grind them as you need them. Not only will this save you space in your spice cabinet, it will save you money AND make your food more delicious.

Large Citrus Squeezer

Don’t buy multiples of this tool. Buy one large one and use it to squeeze the juice out of all your citrus. (You use fresh citrus in your cooking right? No? We need to chat!)

Jars

Save your jars. Different sizes from jams, olives, pickles, mustard, etc. These babies can be used to store anything and everything — dried fruit, nuts, beans, spice mixes, leftover soup, homemade broth. Seriously these babies are gold (and eco-friendly!) Also, they work like a charm when you want to make a little bit of salad dressing for dinner! 

Measuring

These are pretty self-explanatory. Still, some folks have tons of versions in their kitchens. If you want to live the minimalist kitchen life you don’t need more than one of each. If you have duplicates its time to pick your favorites and donate the rest.

Two-cup Liquid Measure

I like the old classic Pyrex Liquid Measuring cups. They are tough as nails and get the job done. Bonus for not adding more plastic to the world and I doubt you will ever have to replace them. They don’t stain or break or dribble. They have measurements in all the increments you need and some you don’t!

Set of Dry Measuring Cups

There are lots of cutsey items out there that claim to measure. They are ceramic painted with cute designs, they are plastic with ergonomic handles. Don’t get them. You need these to measure accurately, clean up easily, and store compactly. I like stainless steel ones molded all in one piece. That way no food gets stuck in the little seam between the handle and the cup. The stainless steel also won’t bend under the pressure of scooping out a full cup of flour. Make sure your set has all the increments from 1 cup down to 1/4 of a cup. You will need them.

 Set of Measuring Spoons

Just like the dry measuring cups don’t go cutesy on these. They need to measure accuratly, clean up easily and store compactly. The other consideration is that a full set that covers all measurements from 1 tablespoon all the way down to a “pinch” takes away all the guess work. Just like the measuring cups I recommend stainless steel, all a single piece of metal for these for the same reasons.

Electronics

Electronics

Immersion Blender

Yes, I know everyone wants a Vitamix, but unless you are making smoothies every day that is a lot of counter space to dedicate. An immersion blender does everything a regular blender does but stores easily in a drawer and at half the cost. Blend soups, make mayo, make a smoothie. You can do it all with your immersion blender

Stand Mixer

Ok, this is a counter hog, but it can basically do anything you need. Knead bread, whip up cake batter or egg whites for meringue. With the addition of an attachment you can make pasta, veggie spirals, or even sausage. Nothing beats a stand mixer for multi-purpose utility. No kitchen should be without one!

Want more kitchen basics? Check out this one about salt!

I will earn a small commision on some of the products on this page if you purchase through my link. I have only recommended products I know and love. I have not recieved anything from these companies for free.

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Quick, Healthy, Delicious: 5 Easy Ways to Have a Delicious and Healthy New Year

Quick, Healthy, Delicious: 5 Easy Ways to Have a Delicious and Healthy New Year

Its that time of year! The time when we all try and recover from all the sweet treats and fatty foods we ate during the holiday season. More veggies you say? Eating clean? Going low carb or Keto? Here are five foods you can prep to make sure you can always throw together a delicious meal no matter how busy you get.

Roast Carrots

Peel a bunch or carrots, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400 until soft and with ever so slightly burnt ends.

  1. Eat these as is as a side dish
  2.  Toss into your salad
  3. Add to a sandwich or wrap

Other veggies to roast: Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, white potato, sweet potato, beets, Brussels sprouts, onions

Boiled Eggs

Perfect jammy eggs are a wonderful luxurious touch you can add to any meal. They are easy to make and make even the simplest salad feel fancy!

Let your eggs come to room temperature. Prep a large bowl full of ice water. Bring water to a boil. Gently slip in your eggs and boil for 6.5 minutes. Remove eggs from pan and slip into the ice water. Chill until they are just a little warm, about 2 minutes. Peel

  1. Add to salad
  2. Make avocado toast and eggs
  3. Add to chicken or tuna salad
  4. Add to asian noodle soup (use spiraled zucchini for your noodles if you are going low carb for the new year)
  5. Grate over roasted asparagus
  6. Eat as is with salt and pepper

Cooked Beans

I know you can buy these in a can… but they are extreamly simple to make and just so much more delicious when you make them at home. I promise!

Soak black beans, white beans or chickpeas in salted water for 18-24 hours.

Drain and rinse then simmer with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bay leaf or a bit of lemon peel until soft and creamy

  1. Serve as a side dish
  2. Transform into a soup
  3. Puree and use as a sandwich spread or a dip
  4. Toss in a salad

Vinaigrette

These are not just for salads. Seriously a little vinaigrette can brighten up almost anything you are eating 

Have it on hand to:

  1. Toss with your roast veggies
  2. Dress your salad
  3. Dress your sandwiches or eraps
  4. Marinate chicken or fish
  5. Drizzle over roasted meats

Basic Vinaigrette

1 part Vinegar or citrus juice

2 parts good olive oil

1-2 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp minced shallot

salt/pepper to taste

Add all ingredients into a jar and shake until thoroughly combined. Dip a lettuce leaf in and taste. If it tastes too tart add some olive oil. If it does not taste tart enough add more vinegar. Taste again and continue to adjust until you like the balance. Adjust seasoning once you have the tartness level where you want it.

Nut Butter Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon your favorite nut butter: tahini, peanut butter, cashew butter or almond butter

2 tablespoons acid: lemon, lime, Apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar

A pinch of seasoning: salt, pepper, chili flake, minced shallot, onion powder, garlic powder, soy sauce, fish sauce, mustard

Add all ingredients into a jar and shake until thoroughly combined. Dip a lettuce leaf in and taste. If it tastes too tart add some olive oil. If it does not taste tart enough add more vinegar. Taste again and continue to adjust until you like the balance. Adjust seasoning once you have the tartness level where you want it.

Quick Pickle

This one takes a little more planning ahead, but minimal effort. Once you have them, you can quickly grab them and jazz up any meal!

  1. Add to sandwiches
  2. Eat as a snack with a little prosciutto or smoked turkey
  3. Add to a taco
  4. Use the brine as a marinade
  5. Use the brine in your vinaigrette
  6.  eat with roasted meats like carnitas, brisket, chicken, pulled pork

1 lb Veggie of your choice: Onion, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, cauliflower, fennel, yellow squash or zucchini.

a few sprigs of herbs of your choice: oregano, dill, rosemary, fennel fronds

1 tsp whole mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander, or juniper (or combine your faves)

1-2 cloves smashed garlic (optional)
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar rice or apple cider
1 tablespoon kosher salt (diamond crystal)
1 tablespoon sugar (also optional)
2 pint size jars or 1 4 pint jar

WASH your jars and lids and dry thoroughly
Prep your veggies (wash, peel and cut to the desired size. Spears, slices, dice whatever you want)
Add herbs and spices and garlic if using to jar
pack in your veggies. Leave 1/2” space at the top. Put in as much veg as you can without breaking or crushing them.
in a saucepan combine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil stirring to ensure everything is dissolved
Pout into jars, leaving a 1/2 inch from the top.

Gently tap the jars to get out any air bubbles and add more brine if needed. Top and allow them to cool at room temp. Once totally cooled you can put them in the fridge. You can open and use after 48 hours, the longer they sit, the better they will taste. Date your jars, they are edible for about 2 months…. if they last that long!

Want More? Check out these recipes!

 

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The Brothers Green Eats Falafel Sandwich

The Brothers Green Eats Falafel Sandwich

Tim asked me for a falafel sandwich the other day. I would usually just order these from the Halal Guys or something, but this time I decided, why not make it? So of course, I dove into YouTube.

I think some of the best cooking shows right now are on YouTube.

PBS does a great job, and now Netflix is getting into the game as well… but all those big budgets and the high production value still don’t deliver what some of the best channels on YouTube are these days. I think The Brothers Green Eats is one of those channels for people whole love to cook. Particularly if you are budget conscious. Most of the food they make is healthy and uses simple ingredients that are easy to find. I think the best thing I have seen on the channel so far is the sandwich series. Mike Greenfield., one half of the Brothers Green Eats has a whole series on the channel just on “from scratch” sandwiches. Each one looks AMAZING, but the falafel sandwich is the one that Tim asked for.

I thought it might be fun to cook some of the delicious recipes from YouTube cooks I love. So, why not write about it too! For my very first effort, I made the 100% from scratch Falafel sandwich from Mike Green of the Brothers Green.

Falafel Sandwich Newbie

While I love falafel, I have never once made it, and I have to confess that pita bread rarely interests me. Every grocery store version I have ever eaten has been dry and pretty much tasteless. Well, if you make it from scratch, it is addictive. The recipe Mike shared works really really well and is surprisingly easy for such a magical product.

If you decide to make this sandwich, I learned a few things…

  • I didn’t add enough salt the first time around. Mike does not give a measurement for salt which is actually okay. Every salt is different. You might have to experiment with this when you make yours.
  • The magic of the pita pocket lies in how thick or thin you roll it and how long you bake it. My first pita was perfect, but I baked it too long, and it was more cracker than bread. The second one I made I rolled out too thick, and it did not balloon up to form the pocket. I rolled out the next one quite thin, and it ballooned beautifully. Unfortunately, one side of the pita was paper thin. After some trial and error, I got the right thickness and baking time for my oven and ended up with some lovely pitas.
  • Mike also does not tell you what size to cut up your dough balls for each of the pitas or how many you should expect to make. This is not critical information, because it really does depend on what size you want your final pita. I made mine a bit larger than I wanted in the end. Next time I will go for smaller balls of dough, so my final pitas end up about 5-6 inches in diameter. The perfect size (in my opinion!) for a falafel sandwich.
  • Mike G.’s sandwich also includes an eggplant sandwich that is shockingly easy to make, quick red onion and cucumber pickle, and a creamy feta and yogurt drizzle. All these elements are super simple to make and I would either make them the day before or during the bread rise.
  • The falafel comes together so quickly. It is hard to believe that anyone ever makes it from a mix. The hardest part is really just frying them. You have to get the temperature of the right. You need to make sure you leave them in long enough for the felafels to cook all the way through. Figuring this out takes some trial and error. If I were you, I would fry a few first and get a sense of the timing before you cook a whole batch.
  • Finally, this whole sandwich process is a bit of a project. There is not any single element that I would consider hard, but it takes time and planning. This isn’t something you can make on a whim, or on a weeknight for a quick supper. It will take some time and quite a bit of effort. However, once you have all the pieces made you have enough components to make this for a more then one meal (lunches anyone?!) I also wonder if the felafel (pre-frying to after) will freeze well. Something more to experiment with!

I hope you guys will check out Mike G’s channel because this sandwich series is GOLD! I can’t wait to try my hand at a few of the other sandwiches in the series.

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Upping Your Salt Game

Upping Your Salt Game

Upping your salt game is the single easiest and cheapest way to make even your simplest meals more delicious. Step one? Ditch the iodized table salt.

Why? Well, Let’s Experiment.

I want you to pour out a few different types of salt in small clumps. Start with iodized table salt. Also add fine sea salt, coarse sea salt, Maldon sea salt, and Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Now, put your finger in the salt and taste each one. What do you taste? See how sharp and harsh the iodized table salt is? Yep, that’s why it needs to go!

All Salt is the Same — and Also Not the Same

Did you know that sodium is on the periodic table of elements? It’s the only element that humans eat. That’s right. We eat one rock, and that rock is salt. Specifically, we usually eat Sodium Chloride (NaCl). Our bodies need salt to maintain fluid levels and to maintain nerve function. Without salt in our diets we feel dizzy, get twitchy, bloated, lethargic, even depressed. In extreme cases, a lack of sodium in a person’s diet can lead to coma or even death. Our bodies need sodium to survive. Just keep in mind too much salt also has negative consequences for our bodies. High blood pressure, kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes, even lupus. MS and allergies have also been linked to excess salt in our diets.

Three Variables Make One Salt Different From Another

The Shape and Size of the Salt

Modern table salt is a perfect even square and very small. Maldon salt is uneven, imperfect and very large. When you compare these two salts, it is clear how different they are even though they are both made up of the same stuff. NaCl. Sodium Chloride. They don’t taste the same, and they don’t work the same way in cooking. So while at a chemical level all salts are the same, they are very very different where it matters. In the kitchen and on our plates. Small even granules pack a lot of salt in a small area. Dense salt like table salt makes it easy to oversalt. Pair that with the metallic taste of table salt, and it is generally not the optimal choice if you want tasty food. Fine sea salt is an excellent replacement for iodized table salt. It is similar in size with none of the metallic flavor.

Bigger flakey salts like Maldon salt, grey salt, and other specialty salts work great for garnishing food. Just a tiny sprinkle on your food adds a lovely crunch and soft saltiness. The texture work wonders to finish a soup, fresh tomatoes, a salad, even some desserts.

The Speed at Which it Dissolves in Liquid

So much of how I cook relies on tasting as I go. So it is crucial that whatever salt I choose dissolves quickly in liquid. I want to taste the pasta water and know just how salty it is right away. Slow dissolving salts can fool you into thinking something needs more salt when it does not. Not all salts dissolve at the same rate. No matter what salt you choose, take some time to understand the rate at which it dissolves. When you taste your food you want the clearest picture of your seasoning level.

Additional Minerals and Other Components

While salt is NaCl, most salt has a little something added to the mix. As I mentioned above, table salts usually have iodine added. They also have an anti-caking agent. Iodine is considered a healthy addition (I’m not so sure). The anti-caking agent is considered not harmful. I don’t see a reason to add anything extra to my food that does not add flavor. And in the case of table salt, I think it detracts from the taste! Not all additions to salt are bad though; many salts benefit from the addition of other elements. Trace levels of minerals in Maldon salt, grey salt, and even the ever-popular Himalayan Pink Salt add a unique flavor to each salt. Experiment with them and see which ones you prefer!

Types of Salt

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Of all the salts on the market in the US. Diamond Crystal is the one that is the least salty by volume. It dissolves quickly in warm water. This makes it much easier to determine overall saltiness quickly. A quick dissolve helps you not oversalt while you cook. It is also the most commonly used salt by professional chefs. Most recipes in cookbooks and popular cooking shows use this salt. Morton’s Kosher Salt is much saltier. If you use this salt instead of Diamond Crystal, use half the amount called for then adjust to your liking. Use this in all your cooking other than baking. For baking use fine sea salt instead. The smaller fine texture will disperse more evenly into your finished product.

Fine Sea Salt

Use this instead of table salt. There are no anti-clumping additives and no added iodine.

Coarse or Medium Sea Salt

Use this as a finishing salt for crunch or instead of Kosher Salt in cooking

Maldon Salt

Mass-produced sea salts that are made by boiling and evaporating seawater. Maldon salt is created by evaporating seawater over a long period (sometimes YEARS). The result is large, uneven, pyramid-shaped crystals.

Fleur de Sel

This salt is harvested off of slowly evaporating sea salt beds in western France. The result is uneven, clustered stacks of salt. When this salt absorbs trace minerals, it changes from snow white salt into a highly prized grey salt.

A Note About Himalayan Pink Sea Salt:

Lots of people use this salt because of its reputation as a health food. 84 trace minerals yay! Well, not exactly. Most of those trace minerals are not absorbable by your body, and some of them are actively harmful. Its ok though, because the levels are EXTREMELY LOW. On the flip side, the few remaining beneficial minerals in this salt are also in meager quantities. There is no evidence of any kind supporting the health benefits of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. So if you love the flavor, by all means, use it. If you use Himalayan salt for the health benefits save your money. Buy some inexpensive sea salt instead. Or buy my favorite, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

A Note About Iodine

Your thyroid needs iodine to function properly, and our bodies do not produce it. We have to get it from dietary sources. To reduce the instance of goiters (way back in 1924) manufacturers began to add iodine to salt. Here is the big common sense thing though. If our body REQUIRES something to function, it stands to reason that whatever it is, is easy to find and consume. So yeah, you can get all your iodine via the food you eat without adding it to your salt. Cod, tuna, lima beans, eggs, milk and seaweed are all high in iodine and also happen to be delicious. So seriously, ditch the iodized salt. It’s gross.

A Note About Reduced Salt Diets

Are watching your salt intake? Cooking your meals at home and cutting out processed foods will get the job done better than any low salt diet. 75% of American salt intake comes from eating processed and packaged foods…. 75%!!! It is tough to exceed your daily salt maximums when you cook your own food. If you want to reduce your dietary sodium intake start by cutting these high salt, foods from your diet. Cook at home instead! You can control your salt intake much better this way, and your food will be even more delicious! Always follow the advice of your physician though.

Digging Deeper into Cooking with Salt

I can recommend two excellent cookbooks. J. Kenji Lopez Alt’s “Food Lab” and Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” do a great job of breaking down how to cook with salt. The lessons in these books will improve your cooking like nothing else you have ever done. Lopez-Alt’s book has an analytical scientific approach to explaining how things work. Nosrat also explains the science, but she takes a more intuitive approach to cooking.

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There are Three Categories of Charcuterie

There are just a few key categories you need to know to be able to navigate a charcuterie board like a pro. If you haven’t yet read through Charcuterie Basics Part 1. You’ll learn all about what charcuterie is and how its made. Our first category of investigation? Whole muscle charcuterie.

  1. Whole Muscle
  2. Sausages
  3. Spreadables

Let’s Talk about Whole Muscle Charcuterie

I know, I know, this does not sound great. I tried to think of another term, but honestly, this is the most precise way to describe this category. These are pieces of meat that are cured whole and then sliced. Generally speaking, the parts of the animal used for this type of charcuterie are the belly, the jowl, the loin, the shoulder or collar, and legs. The undisputed king of this whole muscle charcuterie? HAM!

Ham Defined

A ham is basically the cured leg of a pig. There are versions of these all over the world. From France to the US and beyond, ham is beloved around the world.

Italy

Prosciutto: This is traditionally a cured pork leg, but can be from any animal. Prosciutto literally means ham in Italian, and it comes in two styles: cotto and crudo.

  • Cotto: This version is brined with herbs and spices and then cooked. It is sliced thinly and light pink. It is moister than prosciutto crudo. If you grew up on American deli ham, this will seem familiar!
  • Crudo: This version is dry-aged and never cooked. It is shaved paper thin, is dark red, and known for its meltingly unctuous fat. Prosciutto di Parma is aged at least a year, some go as long as two years.

Speck: Also in the ham family, unlike prosciutto, the cure for speck includes salt, bay, and juniper. Once it is rubbed down with the cure, the ham is cold smoked and aged.

Spain

Jamon Serrano: Quite similar to prosciutto, this Spanish version is differentiated by the breed of pig used for all serrano hams, the Landrace breed of white pig. The method and cure are otherwise the same.

Jamon Iberico and Jamon Iberico de Bellota: The method and cure for Jamon Iberico and Jamon Iberico de Bellota are same as that for Jamon Serrano. The critical difference is that these two use Iberico pigs and not the white pig that is used for Serrano ham. Jamon Iberico is made from pastured pigs while Jamon Iberico de Bellota, arguably the most luxurious of all the cured meats, uses pastured pigs whose feed is supplemented with acorns.

France

Jambon de Bayonne: The same as prosciutto, except FRENCH. Seriously, it’s the same. There may be microclimate differences between the two, but here in the US, they are (for all intents and purposes) the same.

United States

Country Ham: This is probably the United State’s most significant contribution to the modern charcuterie board. It is salt-cured and smoked before being hung to dry for months. Serve country ham shaved thin or thick cut.

Other Hams

  • England: York ham
  • China: Jinhua ham and Yunnan ham
  • Germany: Westphalian ham and Black Forest ham

Other Whole Muscle Charcuterie:

American Style Bacon: Dry cured pork belly with salt and sugar. It is smoked with any type of wood, but the most common are hickory, applewood or mesquite. The belly is almost always sold sliced but is also sold as a whole belly called a “side.” It nearly always hot smoked. You may also find versions flavored with maple, black pepper, or garlic. Bacon is always cooked before serving.

Pancetta: This is an Italian style salt-cured pork belly. Also, dry cured with salt, it may be smoked but traditionally is not. The cure for pancetta includes salt, sugar, juniper, pepper, bay, and nutmeg. Once the meat is finished curing it is rolled, tied and hung to cure even further for at least two weeks. Once done, the meat is sliced or diced and used to season all sorts of dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara or to season sauteed vegetables. You won’t usually find this on your charcuterie board, but you might!

Bresaola: Almost always made from beef. The most common cut for bresaola is the eye of round, but you might also find it made with round roast or ribeye. Traditionally it is dry cured and air-dried for up-to three months. The cure will often include spices like juniper, cinnamon or nutmeg. The smoke and spiced cure give it big flavor and a darker color.

Coppa/Cappocollo: The porky sister to bresaola, coppa is flavored with wine, garlic, herbs, and spices. After salting it is stuffed into a casing and hung to cure for up to six months. The name for this Italian cut means head and neck. Not surprisingly, this is precisely where you find the muscle for this product. It runs from the base of the skull down through the shoulder.

Guanciale: Another Italian cured pork product, this time from the cheek. Salt cured and air dried for three weeks, it has a much stronger flavor than prosciutto. You might find it flavored with black pepper, garlic, red pepper, thyme or fennel.

Lardo: Yes, it is what you think it is. Salt cured pork fat. I promise you, it is delicious. Often flavored with rosemary, cinnamon, juniper, nutmeg, or sage you can spread this like butter on a piece of bread, cook with it, or just drape it over any bruschetta, flatbread or pizza.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list of every single whole muscle charcuterie in the world it should give you enough confidence to tackle that section of your charcuterie board! Next up we will dig in the wonderful world of sausages.

References: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain

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