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1.5.14

SALTING MEAT


Classic American food is Anglo American. For all intensive purposes outside of Quebec, Canadian food was nonexistent in the late sixties. Canada simply followed its neighbour when it came to food and even to this day the influence of the United States on Canadian food culture is pervasive. Nowhere was this more apparent than in British Columbia and that is where I ended up in 1967.

God I hated the food! It was unimaginative and tasteless. Everything was either boiled out of life or still mewing. The vegetables were soggy, grey and the meat was simply thrown into a cast iron pan or the oven. I could taste the blood even in the well done, dried out meat; there was not much else to taste. Deep frying venues offered some flavour but that’s about it. Nobody flavourized, moisturized or tenderized – nobody washed the meat or salted it. The salt and pepper shaker was laboriously applied at the table and that was followed with the ever present catsup and HP sauce. Whoever came up with HP sauce should have been punished severely!

The moment Zsuzsa realized that food will never be the same again 
 Lac La Hache September 1967

The continual wave of immigration provided occasional relief, European delis and eateries came to life, but these are slowly disappearing and being replaced with Asian flavours. Once again, Asian food has a limited range; everything seems to taste the same. Even Canada Day at the Park is changing; long gone the Hungarian, Greek and Ukrainian tents, all I saw last time was Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino representation. Except for the Italian tent, the European continent, where the flavour and variety would come from, was strangely absent.

Canada Day in Kamloops 

 MEAT NEEDS SALT 

Unless health reasons prevent you from salting your food, in which case I would suggest brining the meat in herbs, you have to salt your meat for flavour, for moisture and for tenderness. This is not a kosher influence, Hungarian cuisine has been pork based for centuries. I don’t know if anyone has noticed that I start my meat recipes with washing the meat and salting it. At times I even forget to add those details, because it is such an automatic response to meat handling. Last night I took out my very old Hungarian cookbook and noted that every meat preparation starts out with washing, salting and resting the salted meat at room temperature for several hours. 

Salt is a flavour amplifier. Many people sprinkle salt on meat when it is served, because salt makes the meat taste better. But pre-salting or brining brings flavour to every bite, not only the surface. 

“Sear the meat on both sides to seal in the moisture” is total rubbish. The issue isn’t the salt. The issue is WHEN to salt the meat. Never apply salt to meat right before you put it in the pan. Salting at the last minute will definitely pull juices out of the meat. It will toughen and dry out the surface without adding flavour to the inside. What the no salt tradition fails to take into account is the European cooking technique, which rests on salting without loss of juices. Salting and resting the meat at room temperature for a couple of hours will not spoil the meat. Meat that is salted and rested before cooking is much juicier and much more succulent than meat that wasn’t salted. 

Classically trained French and German chefs salt their meat well in advance of cooking. They salt the meat evenly and lightly as soon as it comes into their kitchen. Then they wrap the meat and refrigerate it until it is time to cook. Salt will tenderize and moisturize the meat faster at room temperature than in the fridge and the colder your fridge is the longer salting will take. Don’t bother salting meat that will go into the freezer. 

How much salt to use? That’s a matter of taste. Start out with as much as what you would normally sprinkle on at the table and go from there. 

WHAT IS SALT? 

All salt is sodium, the dissolved contaminant in water. Sodium is vital to our health as it is used by the body to regulate blood pressure and to keep the muscles and nerves functioning properly. Doctors recommend no more than 2,300 mg per day of sodium for the average adult and less for people who have hypertension. 

Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods, from eating out, from take away and NOT from cooking with salt. Following a restaurant meal I have to guzzle down 4 to 5 glasses of water; that is the measure just how little salt I use in my own cooking. 

It has become very fashionable to sprinkle sea salt on food, because it’s “natural”. But then so is your average table salt. 

Table salt comes from dried-up ancient salt lakes, long before industrial pollution existed. It is shovelled into bags and iodine is added before packaging. The human body desperately needs iodine for proper thyroid function. 

In reality sea salt is less “natural” than table salt is. Sea salt is made by evaporating heavy metal laden seawater. Sea salt then goes through purification processes, because initially sea salt has lots of visible undesirable content, but testing for mercury or its removal is not among them. It’s all the arsenic, the lead, the mercury the cadmium and the nickel in sea salt from the various heavy metals that are dumped into the oceans that makes sea salt bad for you. NOBODY tests or regulates sea salt. If the store makes claims to that effect they are lying. There is insufficient iodine in sea salt.

13 comments:

  1. I can't say that I've ever really thought about the chemistry of preparing meat for cooking. If it's a whole (or parts) of a chicken, I do wash it thoroughly inside and out, pat it dry, inside and out, and then salt and pepper it, inside and out, adding any additional dried herbs and/ or spices if I'm going to bake it. I'm not as scrupulous about washing pork chops or cubed beef however so I'll have to rethink that but I always believed that one added salt just before frying so as not to draw water to the surface in order to have a good 'sear'.

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    1. Try it with a roast, no, try it with ribs. You won't believe the difference.

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    2. I'm going to give it a try though I'm going to start with chicken as I just bought 2 whole chickens today on sale and want to spatchcock them and cook them on the bbq. How much ahead should I salt etc before cooking?

      As to the ribs, well, the next time I buy a side, I'll give it a try. I season it with salt and then let it sit at room temperature for ... how long, before cooking?

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    3. Maria, this was going to be my next post, getting chicken ready for cooking. But briefly, fresh chicken is easier to cook than frozen chicken. If the chicken is frozen, defroste in the fridge. This can take several days. Washing has to be done carefully. Fill up a large bowl with cold water and gently submerge the chicken. Don't let water run over it and splash all over the sink and the wall. After that, if the chicken is destined for roasting in whole, I wipe it dry with a paper towels and lightly salt it all over, including the inside and place it on a tray for a couple of hours. If the chicken will be chopped up or is already chopped, depending on how I prepare it I may just salt it for an hour or two. If the chicken is to be fried or breaded, it should be brined in salty water and placed in the fridge overnight to draw out as much of the blood as possible. You may still get some pink along the bones, but at least the blood will not be pooling in places.

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    4. Pork and beef 2-4 hours at room temperature. It depends how warm your house is. In the summer's heat I usually don't go beyond two hours.

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    5. You really opened my eyes with this post, Zsuzsa, in regards to salting all meats before cooking. I have always salted my roasting chickens and then left them to sit a few hours( but never washed them first, which is not recommended according to FDA meat prep rules) ) but I never thought to do the same with beef or pork, or even chicken parts.
      Tomorrow I am making chicken paprikash, and I will definitely salt the pieces first and let them sit, before continuing.
      Great post, thank you!

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    6. Dolores I am putting together a post on salting chicken. I will cover the washing controversy too.

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  2. Well said, Zsuzsa!!!!! Salting properly makes a hugh difference.

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  3. Zsuzsa, you have posted some very interesting things, and also some really amazing desserts, and foods, since I've last commented. Love this interesting post, and I certainly agree with your regarding the tasteless meats, not being salted, and adding salt at the table. It is not the same flavor by adding it at the last minute when the meat is done!
    As far as I remember from my childhood, each and every female member of my family 'Koshered' the meats, and let it sit for a couple of hours. It not only flavored the meat, but also tenderized it. The salting method, is really an old Jewish method, since in the old days they didn't have proper refrigeration, and it kept the meat from spoiling as well! The only type of meat the I pre-salt well, is whole chickens, roasts, and of course turkey! As for smaller portions, such as pieces of chicken, or beef and pork, I salt it but not let it sit for hours...don't think it's necessary!
    I can't recognize you as a 'younger you' in that photo!

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    Replies
    1. Well my hormones were raging, I was newly pregnant and I just took my first bite of a North American hotdog between a slightly sweet and soft hot dog bun spread with English mustard. It filled me with utter revulsion. How one looks at times like that? :-)

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  4. Zsuzsa..I am reporting back. I made your chicken paprikash recipe for my guests today, and I have to agree with you that salting the cut chicken pieces, and then letting them sit for two hours would make them so much tastier. I wouldn’t have believed that it would make such a difference in flavor- but it’s so true, this chicken paprikash was the best!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Dolores you made my day!

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