Tag: Nutrition

To salt or not to salt?

To salt or not to salt?

The Great Food and Drink Show

At the weekend I spent a few hours at The Great Food and Drink Show, held at Westpoint , Exeter.  Usually when attending these kinds of events I drag my wife and son with me, meaning that keeping a two year old entertained becomes the priority, and meaning that actually sitting down to watch cooking demonstrations is something of a non-starter. Yesterday however, I struck out on my own so was free to soak everything up at my leisure.

Compared to some other food and drink shows, this was on a slightly smaller scale; however it was actually rather nice to be able to take everything in and not have to elbow my way through crowds to get to each of the exhibitors.  It also meant that it only took me 15 minutes or so to shuffle round and see what took my fancy, before turning my attention to the demo stage.

Jean-Cristophe Novelli

Among the celebrity chefs booked for Sunday’s demos was Jean-Cristophe Novelli.  I must confess I didn’t know a great deal about his career or cooking style though.  I have seen him on TV at various times over the years but never paid close attention to his career.  But Jean-Cristophe’s demo on cooking without salt, and using fat and sugar sparingly has really stuck with me.

I am always rather sceptical about fad diets which is why I enjoyed reading The Angry Chef so much. But what Novelli is suggesting is not a detox diet or fad.  He is showing ways to cook that will help to keep salt, fat and sugar consumption down. He is simply trying to stick to levels that are generally agreed to be healthy.

Too much salt

Of particular concern to Jean-Cristophe is the quantity of salt we all consume.  According to the NHS, the recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6g. That is approximately 1 teaspoon.  I can confidently state that I regularly exceed that, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Estimates put the average daily consumption of salt in the UK somewhere between 8-12g.

During his demo he produced two dishes – ratatouille served with seafood and steak with mushroom and blue cheese sauce.  At no point in the cooking of these dishes did he reach for the salt pot.  The ratatouille had about half a dozen olives in it, while the blue cheese brought some saltiness to the mushroom sauce, but the fish and the meat were not seasoned at all.  There was fat present in both dishes – oil was used to dress the fish, double cream used as a base for the mushroom sauce – but none was used to fry any ingredients.  This all felt rather counter-intuitive and yet the food that was produced was divine.  I was sure that the ratatouille would taste insipid without salt, but it was fresh and zingy with herbs and the sharp-sweet flavour of tomato. I was convinced that the steak – completely unseasoned – would be crying out for salt, but the quality of the beef and the addition of the earthy, tangy sauce made for a delicious plate of food.

Of course you may be thinking ‘Yeah, but would it have tasted better with salt added?’ and the answer is yes.  Salt does what it does and would have probably turned the volume up on both these dishes. But these dishes demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to get exceptional flavour without adding excessive quantities of salt.

What now?

So am I about to flush the table salt down the loo in a scene reminiscent of Goodfellas? Do a terribly middle-class good deed and donate my smoked Maldon sea salt to charity? Force salt-piety on friends and family whenever I cook for them?  No.  But I will think a bit more carefully about where and when to use it.  If I am throwing a dinner party – cooking for pleasure – then I will probably ignore a lot of this advice. When I am cooking for my family – for health, sustenance and nourishment – these ideas become a lot more valuable.

I spoke to Jean-Cristophe after the demo and he addressed the conflict between this style of cooking and the food that he has made his name with, going so far as to call himself a traitor.  But he seems to genuinely believe in the message he is promoting. That belief extends to considering whether or not food cooked in this way could ever get Michelin’s attention.  It is hard to see his ideas being adopted by the culinary establishment completely, but with the way we eat changing all the time, and talented, driven proponents like Novelli, perhaps healthy eating and fine dining won’t always be at odds.

Links

If you are tempted to see how a dish can taste without added salt, try making my ragù recipe by following the link below.   I created this dish specifically for feeding a toddler, so deliberately avoided adding salt.

 Pork and Beef Ragù.

If you want to find out more about Jean-Cristhope Novelli’s ideas, he incorporates many of them into the courses at the Novelli Academy.

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James on Books – ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ & ‘The Angry Chef’

James on Books – ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ & ‘The Angry Chef’

Although Literary review does not really come within the remit of this blog, the summer holidays have afforded me a little more time and there are a couple of books I have been reading recently that are extremely enjoyable.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

If you are reading this (and not related to me – hi Dad!) then odds are you like your food and probably enjoy cooking.  I picked up Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat entirely on a whim – Viv needed me out of Waterstones quick and I was drawn by the fact it was not just a cookbook.  What Nosrat manages to do in this book is break down the fundamentals of cookery into the four elements of the title, allowing the reader to develop a deeper understanding of not just what to do but most importantly why to do it.  There are countless cookbooks out there that will guide you towards creating tasty food, but this will teach you how to create your own dishes.  If, like me, you already experiment in the kitchen, then Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will prove utterly indispensable as it not only provides valuable tips to improve your cooking but also various beautifully illustrated tables, graphics and guides to help match flavours and styles of cuisine.

The information is presented elegantly too.  Nosrat balances the science of cooking with observations and anecdotes from her own experiences – often her mistakes – to ensure that the content is accessible.  She also does a wonderful job of allaying any fears the reader might have – constantly reminding us that mistakes will happen to even the best chefs but all can be used to learn and improve. The foreword strongly suggests reading the book from start to finish – not something I would naturally do with a cookbook – but it is well worth doing, not only because of how it will develop your understanding, but also because it is a damn good read.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is, in essence, a book of two halves; in the second half there is a wonderful collection of recipes – many of which are suggested as ways of experimenting with the principles laid out earlier, but all of which give the reader a chance to test out their new-found understanding and eat very well at the same time!  In the spirit of discovery and experimentation that runs through the book, there are numerous variations suggested too, encouraging us to truly play with our food in the best possible way!

As a final endorsement I will take a leaf out of Nosrat’s book (pun intended) and use an anecdote.  In my excitement over the book, I showed it to a friend who had come over for lunch, expecting her to politely flick through a few pages before putting it down.  When she did finally surface, after reading the first 40-50 pages, it was to try out one of the suggested experiments into the effects of salt on bitterness in food. As the book then did the rounds all afternoon we lost person after person to its charms.  Buy this book: read it, enjoy it, learn from it, cook from it – but hide it when people come over for dinner!

The Angry Chef

The second book I have devoured recently is Anthony Warner’s deeply scathing look at pseudoscience in the world of nutrition.  I will freely admit that I bought this book because some very creative swearing in the introduction made me smile, and although there was less profanity than that intro led me to believe, it is a compelling read nonetheless.

Much of what The Angry Chef aims to do is look at the science behind the claims of many of the diets and health advice that is so freely available today, as well as debunking some of the myths that exist around food.  The subject matter has been researched in extraordinary detail, creating a compelling argument against the quackery of many so called wellness gurus.  I should probably say – if it wasn’t already obvious – that with me as his audience, Warner is preaching to the choir. But behind the vitriol and poking fun at high profile proponents of ‘nutribollocks’ (Gwyneth Paltrow takes a pummelling) seems to be a genuine concern – that people might do themselves harm because of following a diet that has no scientific sense.  There is also the message that a healthy diet is not one of restriction and denial but one of moderation and enjoyment.

Warner has managed a great balancing act – the book is informed and informative while being entertaining, scientifically rigorous yet accessible and wonderfully crude while remaining charming.  It is unfortunate that those who probably need this book the most – the fad dieters who jump from trend to trend desperately hoping for some perfect version of themselves to emerge – will probably never even pick it up.

 

 

Have you read any interesting foodie books recently?  Let me know in the comments below!

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