Lessons From The Burger Road #2: Salt

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I recently received an email about my frequent and unrelenting criticism of chefs who fail to use salt to their advantage. The commenter, a Sarasota doctor, said:

"[Brian] may be right about the food being unexciting, but his comment about salt is ridiculous. Salt is unhealthy, particularly in a part of the world with lots of elderly folks with heart disease and hypertension. Salt can and should be added as desired by diners — not slathered onto food (where it cannot be removed). Shame on Brian"

He's wrong, partly. People who are sensitive to salt due to present or incipient hypertension or heart disease are a small minority of restaurant-goers, even in our retiree-heavy community. Even for them, eating food with salt isn't a big deal as long as they regulate the amount and types of food they eat. For healthy folks, salt is not unhealthy, except in excess. Pretty much like everything else.

Problem is, you need salt in order to make things taste better. Especially meat. Careful and assertive seasoning is perhaps the most important thing a restaurant can do to differentiate it's cuisine from that of the salt-shy home cook.

Case in point are the 96 burgers I recently sampled. By far the biggest difference between the burgers going deep in the Tournament and the burgers going home is the judicious and generous application of salt to the meat. The first few times I bit into a sizzling patty of unseasoned ground beef I was incredulous. This is a dish with, essentially, two ingredients, so missing one is a huge and unforgiveable faux pas, and bad cooking to boot. Add salt before cooking, preferably mixed in when the patties are formed, and the meat tastes beefy and assertive. Add it yourself from the shaker on the table and the burger tastes like salt.

Wanna make a good burger? Don't forget the salt. It's not the only step to burger success, but without it I can guarantee you a bland and drab burger.

Not too much, though. I wouldn't want you to get arrested.

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