I’m Just Here For the Food

I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason I always think in terms of buying and owning a book when I want to read it. And if the money’s not handy (it usually isn’t), I resign myself to possibly getting the book as a gift for my birthday or Christmas. Ironically, I almost never think of the library, so it’s always pleasant to “discover” how good and useful the library is.

Today I picked up I’m Just Here For the Food from the library, a book I’ve been coveting for some time now but (of course) hadn’t been willing to shell out the $32.50 (ouch!) for. (I just started it but so far, it’s a really good book. It already answered one of the main questions I have from Alton Brown‘s TV show—why does he use kosher salt all the time?) And since I rediscovered how nice the library is, I’ve already added 3 other books to my account to keep an eye on via the online interface.

Online? Yeah, the Deschutes Public Library website has a complete catalog interface that lets you do, well, anything via the web that you can do in the library: search the catalog, request items from other libraries, place holds… okay, this isn’t news to people who are, well, literate and visit the library. But I still think it’s pretty nifty.

So go visit a library! They rock!

7 Replies to “I’m Just Here For the Food”

  1. Quoting directly from the book, page 21:

    "Kosher salt tastes better on food. The fact that kosher salt doesn’t contain any additives may be a factor, but I suspect it has more to do with timing. Because kosher salt flakes are irregularly shaped and have a very low surface to mass ratio, they dissolve slowly, releasing their flavor like a time-release medicine. The tiny cubes of table salt attack the tongue all at once. I can always tell when food has been sprinkled with table salt because salt is the first thing I taste. Kosher salt works more behind the scenes and is therefore (to my tongue at least) a more effective seasoning.

    Even if flavor wasn’t an issue, I’d still prefer kosher salt to table salt because it is controllable. Since it’s composed of irregularly shaped flakes, you can actually pinch kosher salt between your fingers and hold it there. Gently move your fingers back and forth and flakes gently fall. Stop moving and the salt stops falling. Table salt crystals are so small and so uniform, they tend to act more like a fluid than a solid, so even if you manage to get hold of a few, you’re not going to get to decide where they go. Although kosher salt flakes are quite large, the crystals that make them up are actually very fine, so when a flake of kosher salt hits the moist surface of a food, it dissolves quickly and spreads out across a wider area."

  2. Take the kids – make it a family thing – it’s great! Books on tape/CD are way cool too! Our library has the online gig too and it is awesome, for a nominal fee ($1.50) they’ll even MAIL me my requested books. Since I rediscovered them about 3 years ago I always vote for the library system!

  3. If that quote is correct, then Alton Brown is wrong on his quasi-scientific rationalization on the use of Kosher salt. Kosher salt has a HIGHER surface area to mass ratio relative to table salt. This is because it is ‘flaky.’ The reason why kosher salt is preferred for many dishes (particularly steaks) for flavoring after cooking is because of the granule size. For some reason he thinks this applies to baked goods and stews too, because he uses it exclusively. The problem is that when the salt is dissolved it doesnt really matter what the original shape was.

    I was thinking that he may just want to be able to have just one kind of salt on hand so he simplifies this by using only Kosher salt, but he seems to think there is a scientific reason. The problem is in some baked goods, you may not want large salty granules. If the baked good doesnt have a lot of moisture in it the kosher salt may not completely dissolve.

  4. Actually, Alton is right. Kosher salt has a lower surface to mass area. If you were to take the same amount (mass) of table salt, the surface area of all of the smaller grains would be larger than the surface area of a few flakes that amount to the same mass. It’s the same reason why the perimeter of a 10×10 foot table is smaller than the sum of perimeters of 4 5×5 tables when you break the table into 4 parts. So the "surface area" (or perimeter) of the 10×10 is 40, whereas the perimeter of the 5×5’s add up to 80.

  5. Perimeter is NOT the same as surface area. Thinking of it this way is very misleading. Perimeter isnt even a 2 dimensional concept, let alone a 3 dimensional one. If kosher salt and ordinary table salt were the same shape, then Alton would be correct. But they are not. It is true that all else being equal, larger particles means less surface area per unit mass… but the shape of ordinary table salt is much closer to a sphere than kosher salt. Kosher salt is much more flaky, and therefore has more surface exposed (for particles of the same mass) So the concept of surface area to mass is a bit more complicated. In the end Alton may be correct if the larger particle size of kosher salt makes up for its flaky shape.
    I like his attempt at using science to explain concepts, but occasional object to his using pseudoscience to ‘rationalize’ why things are done a certain way when the evidence is weak or nonexistent. For example in that quote he refers to kosher salt as "dissolving slowly," then in the next paragraph it "dissolves quickly." You can’t argue that kosher salt has a low surface to mass ratio in one paragraph, then contradict yourself in the next by saying its flakiness (large surface area) allows it to dissolve quickly in the next paragraph.

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