Tuesday, April 15
The Well Stocked Kitchen: Start with Salt & Pepper
Alice Waters councels that one thing all cooks can do to immediately improve the taste of their food is replace the iodized salt with pure, unadulterated mineral. Alice's palette is a bit more developed and naturally acute than most of ours, but I'm fully on board with this tip. Replace your morton's iodized with kosher, already! If you're taking a multi-vite or eating kale, you're already getting more than enough iodine. Taste different salts next to each other...iodized salt definitely has a chemical note.
There's been a lot of press about varietal salt: black salt, sel de mer, large crystal, and Himalayan. These varieties are really fun to play with, but they're not essential. If you're intrigued, by all means buy some upscale salt and play around. If you're keeping it simple, buy yourself a big box of kosher salt, and well, salt it away. It's part of your well-stocked pantry.
Pepper is as complex as coffee, and many of the same rules about quality apply: good pepper has more complexity, it only grows well in particular parts of the world, it does not age well once ground up, and the good stuff does tend to cost a bit more.
Fortunately, it's easy to find great pepper. Penzey's has a great selection. High quality pepper comes mainly from the east coast of India. Two of the most celebrated varieties are the Tellicherry and Malabar (in order of celebration). If you've never tried Malabar, give it a shot. It's loud and good, but Tellicherry is fruitier and more complex: perfect for salad, where you can really taste every nuance.
To stock the perfect pantry, consider buying a big bag of peppercorns and a good grinder. For producing nuggety cracked pepper, I like Peugeot's hardened steel burr mechanism: they make a variety of body styles, but I would avoid the acrylic one because they flex a little too much. I have the aluminum "Perfex" style. It's small and simple but works reliably year after year.
You can put the rest of the peppercorns in the freezer and use them as you need them, they'll keep fairly well for a couple of months. Salt never goes bad, it's a mineral after all, as long as you keep it dry in an airtight container.