x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Take my food passions with a hefty pinch of salt

It takes a special kind of sourpuss to complain about cookies, and I have just the constitution for it. My problem with cookies - and with most desserts, in fact - is that they lack salt.

It takes a special kind of sourpuss to complain about cookies, and I have just the constitution for it. My problem with cookies - and with most desserts, in fact - is that they lack salt. A mere half a teaspoon of salt can make or break a chocolate-chip cookie, a brownie, a piece of shortbread and the most buoyant of birthday cakes. It's as easy to objectively recognise this fact as it is to see that I have a problem with salt. Mark Bittman's brown sugar semolina cookies with sea salt are beautiful, sandy-textured little tastes of darkly caramelised sugar, browned butter and nutty toasted grains, all blinged out with jagged, glittery flakes of salt.

"Are you eating enough salt?" asks my doctor. He's taking my blood pressure. As usual, the tightening cuff is enough to make me see stars. I nod my head, and reach into my pocket to show off Pocket Salt, a pillbox that helps me expedite any necessary tableside seasoning. I always keep it on me; I've thought about getting it microchipped. Hypotension has led to unimaginable excitement over the years, like special fainting chairs and disorientation spells of fairy tale-level drama. Frankly, I'd prefer to install a salt lick by my bed. I feel lucky to have a body that seems happy to continue supporting at least one of my bad habits. Some time ago, I cynically predicted that health wars over salt would escalate into more controversy than cholesterol had ever seen. Now I think there's plenty more to be worried about in our food.

Use good salt and use it well. Nothing fancy is needed here: a box of Morton's kosher salt, a hefty cylinder of La Baleine fine sea salt if you want something less coarse, and crisp-tasting, collapsible pyramids of Maldon salt if you like big flakes on a finished dish.

I've received some very pretty salts as gifts: smoked salt, French grey sea salt, roasted Korean bamboo salt, Himalayan pink sea salt, Hawaiian black lava salt - but, like other things that fall squarely into the realm of ornament, it doesn't occur to me to use them. Is there any ingredient more egalitarian than salt? I like to keep celery salt on hand for hot dogs and grilled-cheese sandwiches, and I've developed a strange obsession with Halen Môn vanilla salt, which I bought at Spinneys on impulse after realising it wasn't pricier than making my own vanilla salt at home, plus it's much prettier. Salts that have no place in my kitchen include the revolting condiment known as truffle salt and Kala namak, a pungent, sulphuric purple rock from West Bengal.

The thought of a salt boutique makes me cringe, and I can't stand seeing "salt", no matter how impressive its provenance, listed in a menu description. And restaurants that don't provide salt on tables, or worse, give you attitude when you ask for it, miss a crucial point: a dish can be perfectly respectable as it is, and it might be perfectly seasoned. But just like I like a little extra hot sauce on my tacos and I like my Thai food extra spicy, I enjoy a little more salt than others. Call me corrupt. Maybe I am. But snobbery doesn't suit anything, and least of all, salt.