This January, we’re going to show you how you can achieve great taste using the one seasoning cooks couldn’t do without: Salt. This content was created in partnership with Food52.
As ubiquitous as salt is in our kitchens and diets, when you start examining it closely, things can start to get a little unclear. What if my recipe calls for kosher salt and all I have is table salt? Is that familiar container of Morton's okay to use, or should I reach for something fancier?
First, let’s step back a bit.... all the way to high school chemistry. Salt is made of two elements: sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl). Together, they become sodium chloride — the salt you know and love. We need sodium to survive, so our bodies are hard-wired to crave salt. NaCl also works as the ultimate team player, enhancing all the flavors in every dish. Suffice it to say, a life without salt would be a difficult life, indeed — and certainly a blander one.
Though we know we love salt, we're not always clear about when we should be using which type. As Kenji Alt-Lopez of The Food Lab writes, “chemically there is virtually no difference between table salt, kosher salt, and fancy sea salt.” So how do you adapt a recipe that calls for a certain kind?
First, remember that there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't cook with table salt. But you cannot use different types of salt interchangeably in a recipe that measures by volume. Because of their differing densities, one salt subbing in for another could result in a vastly over-(or under-)seasoned dish. Since table salt is so much denser than kosher salt, you should always use twice as much kosher salt as table salt, by volume. However, if the recipe specifies that you should be using kosher salt, there's no need to adjust the measurement.
When to Use Which
So why do so many recipes specify that you should use kosher salt? For one, the iodine in table salt can occasionally impart a funky taste, especially if you’re sensitive to it. Also, as Kenji mentions, kosher salt’s more substantial grains makes it easier to manually handle, so it's easier to assess your seasoning.
If the salt is going to be dissolved into the final dish — as in a sauce — it absolutely doesn’t matter if you use kosher salt. In fact, table salt actually dissolves more quickly since it has such small grains.
Sea salt is the most expensive, and most nuanced, of the salts, so it’s typically used exclusively for finishing dishes. It’s craggy, irregular flakes also make it more difficult to measure for recipes.