Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Salt in the World

A very nice reflection on salt—the cooking kind and the spiritual kind—from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“The Bible tells us to be like salt in the world. But the New York Times, not to mention local, state, and federal governments, now tell us that salt is killing us, and we have to cut it out. Who’s right?

“Well, both and therein lies a tale of a simple substance and human perversity. Man has both made war for salt and now makes war on salt.

“Salt is one of the necessities of life. The body uses salt to balance fluids. Without salt we die. Before refrigeration, salt was one of the main methods for meat preservation. It was likely in the preservation process that we noticed that salt improved the taste of food. It was also used to disinfect wounds and even as a unit of currency.

“Salt used to be very hard to get. Kings and commoners lusted after it. The Hapsburgs used salt to raise money for armies. For a time, the Venetians made a killing by cornering the salt market – and went to war over it. And as recently as the late nineteenth century a salt war pitted Texans against Mexicans. But now it’s so common that we barely notice it, except when we think we’re getting too much of it.

“So how are we to understand the biblical admonitions about salt today? Salt is mentioned in Genesis, Leviticus, Ezekiel, Exodus, Numbers, Second Chronicles, the Psalms, Job, Jeremiah, Judges, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and Colossians. We are told to be the salt of the earth, and that if salt loses its saltiness, it’s good for nothing.

“Thomas Keller, arguably America’s greatest chef, runs two of the finest restaurants in America: Per Se and the French Laundry (located respectively in New York City and Yountville, California). Keller was once asked about the chef’s most important skill. He said, “Knowing how to season. Actually, knowing how to salt.”

“Professional chefs such as Keller season before, multiple times during, and even after cooking. Keller boils green beans in water so salty it takes like soup. He cooks pasta that way, too. Professional chefs are not afraid of salt, and each use of salt imparts something different through the process, giving food what they call “depth of flavor.” As those of us who cook know, consistent and proper seasoning is what makes food what it’s supposed to be, and in the final tasting even gives glory to God.”