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Ask The Chef

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In a participation cooking class the other night, the chef-instructor (Cary McDowell of Revival) repeatedly asked the student to “aggressively season” the meat. What a great phrase! Don’t just sprinkle on a little salt, but aggressively season — meaning, coat the meat with flavor. Seasoning — especially salt — may be the biggest difference between home-cooking and restaurant cooking. Restaurant chefs are not afraid of salt and pepper and season before, during, and after the cooking process. The food is then penetrated with flavor. Salt brings out the flavor of all food, including dessert. Chef Cary surprised the class with chocolate-covered bacon for dessert — and all of it was consumed!

What kind of salt to use? Chefs like kosher salt because it is flaked and easy to pinch with fingers. Sea salt lends a delicious, briney taste. Specialty finishing salts, such as gray salt from France or pink salt from Australia, still have the trace minerals which add flavor and color; they are used to best advantage at the end of cooking or at the table.

What kind of pepper to use? Black peppercorns have the best flavor, especially when freshly-ground. Yes, it does make a huge difference in flavor to grind pepper; the aromas vanish quickly. White and green peppercorns are only used in specific recipes. Pink “peppercorns” are a different plant, but can add a beautiful accent to sauces.

Both salt and whole peppercorns have a very long shelf life. Government regulations now insist on expiration dates on all food — including salt — but that’s silly for a mineral that is thousands of years old!