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April 14, 2009

Kosher salt (Recipe: roasted asparagus with manchego cheese) {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Updated from the archives, with new photos, links and recipe.

Asparagus with manchego 

Is kosher salt just another flaky food fashion?

Is it saltier than table salt, better for health or baking or taste?

Is all kosher salt the same?

Is it even kosher?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Kosher salt -- which really should be called koshering salt -- is a coarse-grained salt, named for its use in the production of kosher meats. (It helps to draw blood out of meat, much like drawing water out of eggplant or zucchini.) Unlike table salt, which since the 1920s has had iodine and starch added, kosher salt (specifically Diamond Crystal brand, which is the one I keep in my pantry) is additive-free.

Koshersalt

It also differs from table salt in another important way. Table salt is granular, while kosher salt (again, I'm talking about Diamond Crystal brand) is shaped like a tiny, delicate, four-sided hollow pyramid; food scientist Shirley O. Corriher describes this in Cookwise as the difference between an ice cube and a snowflake. About 90 percent of granular salt dropped onto an inclined surface bounces off, she explains, while 95 percent of the "snowflake", or kosher salt, will stick to the surface. The kosher salt also dissolves in half the time that granular dissolves.

Morton's Kosher Salt, the other major brand available in supermarkets, is actually granular salt that has been pressed flat into snowflakes; in other words, it's a completely different type of salt than Diamond Crystal, though both are labeled "kosher salt." Please stick with Diamond Crystal; you can find it at your supermarket or online for approximately $2.00 for a three-pound box.

Transfer the salt to a glass jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid; it will keep forever, as long as it's kept dry.

Kosher salt (which is kosher, as is nearly all salt) is a great all-purpose seasoning. I use it for all types of cooking and some baking, and I save the sea saltsfor finishing dishes. Two tablespoons of kosher salt yield the same amount of salt as one tablespoon of table salt.

There's not a single dish in my repertoire that doesn't call for a tiny bit of salt, even those dishes that are fundamentally sweets. Can you imagine grilled steak with garlic-herb butter, dill pickles, spicy cucumber salad with Thai basil and sesame seeds, brown butter green beans with almonds, or flat and chewy chocolate chip cookies without it?

Roasted asparagus with manchego cheese

When a dish has only a few ingredients, each one counts. This dish needs salt -- not too much, but enough to brighten the flavors of the other ingredients. More a cooking method than a carved-in-stone recipe, this serves 4 as a side dish. Can be doubled, tripled or more.

Ingredients

1-1/4 lb thin asparagus
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/3 cup grated manchego or other sharp cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Trim the asparagus spears by breaking each one close to the base, letting the spear break naturally (this will tell you where the stalk begins to get old). Neaten the edges with your knife, and place the spears in a casserole pan with all of the tips facing the same direction. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with your hands. Spread the spears into a single layer, as much as possible. Sprinkle the cheese on top, and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the asparagus is just barely cooked. Serve hot.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Asparagus gruyere tart
Chilled asparagus soup
Asparagus wonton wraps
Asparagus in miso sauce
Asparagus-cashew stir fry

Comments

Lydia, I didn't realize that Morton's "kosher" salt really isn't. It's all that Whole Foods carries. I'll need to have a word with them.

Another interesting factoid -- table salt also has
Calcium silicate to keep it free-flowing and anti-caking. This and the other additives give it the bitter taste. A little experiment: dissolve 1 tsp. of salt in 1 cup of water. This is the easiest way to compare the tastes of different salts.

the NYT did a story a few months back about Portuguese sea salt....I ran out and bought a bottle. Its not cheap but it is salty and worth the extra cost. Thanks for the asp. recipe; will give it a whirl tonight.

Milton

I use kosher salt too - but not sure if it is healthier ..thanks for your info.

Great write up and good to know about the Morton stuff. On a mission to find Diamond Crystal.

Hi Lydia, Sounds delicious! Thanks for the info.

I didn't realize there was a difference between kosher salts. I'll keep an eye out for Diamond Crystal since I'm almost out of my Mortons. Thanks for the info!

Lydia,
Why do you recommend Diamond Crystal over Morton kosher salt.

I recently made oatmeal choc. chip cookies w/ kosher instead of table salt--what a difference! I love getting the occasional slightly-extra salty bite.

But then what do we do to make sure we're getting enough iodine?

Dear heavens! I love asparagus and often prepare it as you have here. Delicious!

I typically use iodized salt to bake with, and Kosher or Sea salt to cook with and/or sprinkle atop salads, veggies, etc as a finishing salt---much in the way you might use a finishing oil versus a frying oil. That way I still get the iodine in our diets, but the texture and flavor of the Kosher (and sea) salt as well.

I didn't realize that there were imposter kosher salts out there! I will have to be more careful.
$2 for a 3 pound box... it amazes me how much more we pay for food in Canada... who am I kidding?.. how much more we have to pay for everything!

I remember my mother using Diamond Crystal to kosher meats and poultry and when I married I used Diamond Crystal for cooking not koshering. However, when we moved to North Carolina 17 years ago it was not to be found. I would bring some back from trips to NYC but there are no more trips so I settled for Morton. This Passover I found David's Kosher Salt and since I wasn't happy with Mortons, I compared them - David's Kosher salt are flakes and I am so pleased to have found this product. Don't think it will be around until next Passover but since I use very little salt in cooking the 2.5 plastic container should last a while. I guess I should also bring this to the attention of the Team Manager of the local Whole Foods here in Raleigh.

Just picked up a pound of asparagus this morning - wasn't sure how I'd prepare it, but now I'm going to do it this way, with some pecorino romano I have on hand.

Yeah, salt is an interesting mineral. And the development of the iodine in salt to solve medical issues was even more interesting. I have both Morton's and Diamond Crystal...not sure why.

Julia, Morton's Kosher Salt is certified kosher; it's just made differently than Diamond Crystal, so it's a different shape and texture. Thanks for the suggestions about how to taste salt.

Milton, I use Portuguese sea salt, too, and I love it.

Tigerfish, salt is salt, so no one salt is healthier than another.

Jeff, I think you'll really be able to see the difference.

Deena, there's nothing better than roasted asparagus with cheese -- unless it's grilled asparagus with cheese!

Janel, in my markets it's actually easier to find the Diamond Crystal. Hope that's true for you, too.

Kevin, I prefer the taste, texture, and shape.

Erika, cookies made with kosher salt are really amazing, aren't they? There are certainly parts of the country where the water and things grown in the soil don't provide enough iodine, and then it's important to use table salt with iodine (not all table salt has it; be sure to read labels). For most of us in the US and Canada, our water and soil provide enough iodine.

Sandie, I remember a day, not all that many years ago, when we had only one salt in our kitchen -- iodized table salt. I'm from a part of the country that has plenty of iodine in the water, so when I buy table salt, I buy the kind without iodine.

Natashya, both of the salts labeled "kosher" salt are kosher, but they are not identical. Kosher salt here is quite inexpensive.

Louise, I've never tasted David's Salt -- will have to look for it. Morton's is kosher, but it's not crystals.

Kathy, this will be delicious with any sharp cheese.

Noble Pig, if you have both types in your kitchen, why not try a head-to-head taste test?

Manchego cheese and asparagus that sounds unbeatable!
I had to do some taste testing to convince myself but now I understand salts are not all the same.

Salt, asparagus and manchego cheese - no combination of those ingredients could turn out anything but drool-worthy.

Asparagus is my favorite side dish, I often use this same method for cooking it! I've used parmesan, but not manchego, I will have to switch it up next time.

This is really informative. I had no idea there was a difference in kosher salts! I'm going to have to look for the diamond brand.

I have to agree with many others... had no idea about the morton's/diamond crystal difference. I will be buying some!

MyKitchen, even though all salt is salt, there are real variations in the taste -- and that's not including the flavored salts.

Maris, agreed. I have manchego cheese on hand now because I've got some tapas classes coming up, but this would work as well with parmigiano-reggiano, asiago, or any other sharp cheese.

Jason, the manchego was lovely with this, and I used a bit of Spanish olive oil to keep with the theme.

Pam, as they say in commercials, you can see the difference (though it might take a magnifying glass to do it).

Carol, I'm sure you'll be able to find the Diamond Crystal in local markets. I get mine at Stop & Shop.

I also find that I can distribute the salt more evenly as a result of being able to see it.

Thanks for the breakdown on its structure!

FabFrugalFood, that's a great point, about being able to see the salt.

I am having a great time experimenting with all of the different salts on the market. A favorite finishing salt of mine is truffle salt.

The manchego on the roasted asparagus is superb!

EAT, truffle salt? I've never tried it, but it sounds divine. (And expensive.)

What timing... Last week, in my search for my kitchen scale, I found my salts! They survived, dry and ready to use.

Lydia - I read through your post but still don't quite get it, so is kosher salt the same as sea salt? If not, what are the differences. And what is the taste difference compared to table salt and sea salt??? There are recipes that call for only kosher salt and I don't know why?

Katie, wahoo! The French sea salt is still among my favorites; I'm trying to make it last forever.

Bee, basically salt is salt. The variations come with where and how the salt is harvested and processed. Sea salt is raked off the salt flats, and in most cases not processed at all. Kosher salt and table salt are both processed, but differently, which results in the different size and shape of the salt crystals. If a recipe specifies one kind of salt, you can always substitute another, but you will need to adjust the amount. Because table salt crystals are so much smaller than kosher salt, a teaspoon of table salt will taste saltier than the same amount of kosher salt.

Here's another twist - what about Penzey's "kosher style" salt flakes? Are they kosher in shape only? This whole salt thing gets so confusing - I also have kosher sea salt! Our Whole Foods sells salt by weight at the cheese counter, so you can get tiny amounts of different ones and try them. I like the smoked salt - it adds a great flavor to foods like split pea soup when you don't want to use meat.

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