Kosher salt (Recipe: roasted asparagus with manchego cheese)
Updated from the archives, with new photos, links and recipe.
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.
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 salts for 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.
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
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.