Salt: Refined vs. Unrefined

When I made falooda, I also made mint chutney for pani puri, a customary pairing with falooda and a food cart staple. The tangy flavor in the mint chutney comes from an unusual source: black salt (kala namak). Black salt, mined from lakes in North India and from Himalayan salt mines, has a piquant flavor due to the presence of sulfur compounds. It is this pungency (sulfur has a rotten egg smell and savory taste) that gives many of the South Asian street snacks their inimitable salty and savory taste.

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Salt crystals come in multiple shades (grey, pink, and yellow) and commandeer shelf space in grocery aisles even though dietary guidelines limit our daily intake to 2400mg (about one teaspoon of salt). However, salt is a necessity at a basic cellular level, perhaps explaining our craving!

Black salt, sea salt, rock salt, and even the expensive fleur de sel are unrefined salts. Their unique flavors come from natural impurities found in areas from where they are mined (briny from oceans and seas, earthy from marshes and ponds, or volcanic). Unrefined salt is used for pickling, curing, and seasoning.

Table salt is a refined salt, stripped of all natural impurities. Iodine, which is a needed nutrient, and anti-caking agents are added back to it. Refined salt is used to season food, but cannot be used for pickling (discolors the briny solution) or curing (iodine stains food).

Kosher salt is de rigueur choice in kitchens. The large kosher salt crystals can be shaped to make a food parcel.The baked salt pack seals in the moisture, which  makes for a tender chicken, fish, or new potatoes dish.

Chicken cooked in a Salt Crusted Pack

Kosher salt – 2 ½ cups

Egg whites – 2, beaten

Chicken – 2, skinless legs

Tomato paste – 2 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley or cilantro – 1 bunch

Parchment paper

Oven temperature 425°F

  • Wash and pat dry the chicken.
  • Mix the salt and egg whites together, until you get a wet sand texture.
  • Mix together the tomato paste and pepper.
  • Place half the salt mixture on a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Cover one side of the chicken with the tomato paste mixture and herbs. Lay it down on the salt mixture.
  • Add the remaining paste on the side facing up.
  • Pack the remaining salt over the chicken, burying it completely in a salt mound.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the salt has hardened.
  • Remove from the oven. Carefully (I did this so I could use the crust for my second chicken leg) break the hardened salt crust. Brush away any salt that clings to the chicken.
  • The chicken should be moist and cooked.
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