Starting an appetite revolution is best done with a dashing smile and charismatic personality. It doesn’t hurt to have a bit of humor either. “That’s right, environmentalism on the half shell with a bottle of Tabasco and a six-pack of beer. Count me in!” Barton Seaver said in his new cookbook, For Cod and Country. I could jump on that bandwagon, couldn’t you?
Recently, at Blueacre Seafood, I had the pleasure of hearing Barton speak and then was doubly spoiled when I received a free, autographed copy of For Cod and Country. He stuttered a little over his words, in an adorable, boyish way. As he got going, he let his notecards fall, took a few steps forward in his worn cowboy boots, and talked about not preserving, but revitalizing our resources.
He didn’t preach about giving up meat (thank the good Lord). Rather, he spoke to thinking before eating – to using your buying power to affect change.
Bringing home For Cod and County felt like sitting down for a beer with Barton. He writes with the same thoughtful humor with which he spoke. Instead of slapping you in the face immediately with recipes, he explores out choices of food, including purchasing, handling, and seasoning.
One of the most important sections of the book was about salt. Not matter your budget, salt is one of the ways to make food taste great. Barton writes:
“Salt to taste” is one of those ideas that need some explaining. Chefs are in love with salt. We brine things to flavor and moisten them. We come up with flavored salts to accent our dishes. We fall prey to what we call “sexy salts,” such as the big, beautiful flakes of Maldon sea salt or the hyper-colored red Hawaiian sea salt or Himalayan pink rock salt. We are not afraid to add salt, but we also understand that it’s all about balance. For some dishes, we want the salt itself to come forward, but in most cases salt’s role is to enhance the other flavors in the preparation.
Home cooks seem to have a love/hate relationship with salt. They either love it too much and add so much that every dish is distinctly salty or they don’t use it at all. The latter case could be because they or someone in the family needs to moderate sodium intake for health reasons or because they’ve heard so much negative information about sodium. But I have a feeling that it is simply because they’ve never learned how to use salt appropriately.
A lot of recipes call for salt “to taste.” This phrase acknowledges the fact the people’s taste are different. What is salty to one is underseasoned to another. In my recipes, when I say salt “to taste,” I mean salt the dish to the point that it tastes great to you – not until it tastes salty. But I would ask that you push yourself to experiment. Try this: keep seasoning a small part of a dish until it tastes too salty, measuring the amount of salt you add as you go. This is best done with something like mashed potatoes, where you can separate off a portion to play around with and then mix it back into the pot. You will probably be surprised how much salt you can add before it tastes salty. You will also notice how the flavor of the dish gets better as you add that salt.
So I say to those of you who are stingy with the salt shaker, use more salt. If you’re eating real food, meaning fresh vegetables, fish, meat, and poultry that haven’t been processed, then the amount you’re consuming is far less than what you’d get in most snacks, chips, and other products.
How wonderful that he speaks to those reading the book (namely the home cook). I took his challenge with mashed potatoes and was definitely surprised at how much salt I added. Can you take the challenge too? How much salt do you need?
Check back in next week so we can compare notes and I can share a recipe from Barton’s For Cod and Country.
Thank you to Keren Brown of Frantic Foodie for inviting me to another wonderful event! Her launch party for her new book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Seattle is one week away. Congratulations Keren! Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets. All the ticket sales (excluding the Brown Paper Ticket fees) will go to Farestart, a local non-profit that provides a community that transforms lives by empowering homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and families to achieve self-sufficiency through life skills, job training and employment in the food industry