Thursday, October 14, 2010

'Tis the season(ing)

One good tip worth passing on (not sure why I haven't mentioned this before) is about seasoning. Yesterday made myself a tuna and salad cream sarnie for 'brunch' and like to season this (and other sarnies) with freshly ground black pepper, but as ever - can never see exactly how much pepper comes from the pot, especially when adding to darker dishes such as casseroles, perhaps because our grinder is a bit hit and miss - probably due to the grinding part being a bit damp due to the moisture in the kitchen. We have tried different (and some expensive) grinders, but the result is always the same. Using pre-ground pepper is easier as we can use it by the pinch or spoon, but freshly ground pepper always tastes the best.

What I now do when making sarnies is to grind the pepper directly onto the prepared bread (after buttering) and this way it is extremely easy to see how much pepper falls on the slice and also how evenly. Sometimes I 'pepper' both slices before making up the sarnie. If adding to a dish, sometimes grind the pepper onto a white plate until I have enough, then shake it off the plate (from a height) onto the food. B and I love pepper, so adding too much is not usually a problem, but better to start with the right amount, taste and then add more if necessary.

Jamie O. 'seasons the board' by spreading chopped herbs over the wood and then adding a sprinkle of both pepper and sea salt before rolling a fillet of beef across the board to pick it all up.
The other day I mentioned that salting meat before cooking is said to toughen the meat because it also draws out the juices, so myself only add salt (if at all) after cooking. When cooking dried (soaked) beans, salt should not be used as it toughens the skins.
The only two things that really do need salt added is the water that pasta is cooked in - this really does make a HUGE difference to the taste, as does a wee sprinkle of salt over boiled, scrambled or poached eggs.

Adding salt to the water prior to cooking vegetables is more to do with increasing the temperature of the water (impurities in water increase the temperature B tells me) as vegetables cook better at a higher heat than just plain boiling. This is why steaming veggies is so good - this also helping to retain soluble vitamins).
Just an additional tip: protein will cook at under boiling point (why tougher cuts of meat tenderis when cooked at a low temperature, and eggs will boil in barely simmering water) and veggies cook faster and taste better in superheated water, so better the twain never meat. Meat cooked in slow cooker usually needs the veggies part cooked before being added. Onions excepted, they cook happily with the meat.

Anyone who has made a soup from scratch will also realise that a pinch of salt helps to bring out the flavour of the ingredients used, so we should not dismiss salt too lightly, although we should never sprinkle it liberally over our meals as so many still do. We have been told so many times that salt is bad for us, although a small pinch of salt can make a great difference to the flavour of a dish, and in baking is necessary to make other ingredients work together correctly. What we have to do is look at the wider picture - when making a loaf of bread and adding the recommended amount of salt - after cutting, each slice will probably contain no more than two grains of salt(if that), and that is almost negligible. The same with soup - a pinch of salt in a big potful shared between many, is not really something we need to be concerned about.
It is WE - the cooks - who are in control of how much salt goes in what we make. We have no control over how much salt goes into canned and processed foods, ready-meals etc, that we may choose to buy. A product may say 'contains less salt (or sugar)' than (presumably) before, but how much did it contain then, and does less still mean more than it should?

If too much salt has been added to a soup or casserole, then add a peeled potato, and this will eventually absorb much of the salt and can then be taken out and discarded.