Often recipes calls for an ingredient I don’t have on-hand. Or looking in the pantry, I discover that we have run out of a particular ingredient when I am in the middle of making a household favorite. What to do? I can call a neighbor, run out to the store, or wing it.
How do you decide if you should substitute another ingredient for one you don’t have? The answer, of course, is it depends. If the ingredient is a major component of the dish or if the ingredient has an especially noticeable taste, the effect of the substitution will be more noticeable than if the ingredient is a minor player in the total picture.
A recipe may give alternative versions. For example, at the end of his cherry cobbler recipe in Ready for Dessert, David Lebovitz includes several variations, substituting different fruits for the cherries. He also provides guidance on how to make those substitutions work well. But often, substitution questions are more basic or aren’t answered by the recipe developer.
This is the first in what I expect will be a series of posts (in no particular order, occurring whenever issues come up in my own cooking) as to whether you can substitute and what happens if you do. This weekend as I used various salts for different dishes, the first set of substitution questions came to mind.
Can you substitute kosher salt for table salt or vice versa? How about substituting sea salt for table or kosher salt? Consider 3 factors: taste, amount, and texture.
Table, Kosher, and sea salts all taste the same to most people and do not have a discernable smell. Flavored types (like the truffle salts my son bought for me) taste – and often smell – of whatever ingredient(s) have been added to the salt.
The amount of salt required varies based on the grind. Table salt is finely ground. It is the one used for baking and typically cooking too, unless a recipe specifies another type of salt. Kosher salt crystals are coarser and more irregular than table salt. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of table salt, the same volume of kosher salt is will actually be less salt by weight because the coarser (larger) crystals take up more space and fewer crystals till up the tablespoon. And just to make it a bit more complicated, Kosher salt brands differ in how coarse they are. For example, Morton brand Kosher salt is more dense than Diamond brand Kosher salt. Depending on the amount of salt used, you can adjust for the differences based on taste. In any case, it’s good to be aware of the differences. Sea salt can be finely ground, coarse or flaked. My coarse sea salt (Whole Foods house brand, 365) has much larger crystals than Diamond Kosher salt.
Coarse salt is typically more noticeable if the salt is not completely dissolved because of its larger and rougher texture. Table salt is used in baking because the salt in baked goods should be as evenly dispersed as possible and should not be noticeable in the final product. In baking, do not substitute Kosher or coarse sea salt for the table salt called for in the recipe. On the other hand, for a salty crunch on top of a baked pretzel, or for a meat, seafood, grain or vegetable dish, a sprinkle of Kosher or coarse sea salt will produce the desired effect.
Do you have other questions about salt substitutions? Or ideas for other “can you substitute” posts? If so, let me know as a comment below or by using the “ask a question” feature of MotherWouldKnow. For additional information on salt, see: