Preservative. Ancient currency. Makes french fries taste better. Salt is one mighty mineral, and its uses go way beyond enhancing the flavor of your next meal. Here are four novel ways to put that shaker to good use.
Cake it on: Salt-baking—cooking food in a hard shell of salt and egg whites—results in a crisp exterior and moist interior not unlike frying. The technique is simple: Whip enough salt (regular table or kosher variety) to cover whatever you're cooking with as many egg whites as necessary to make a light paste. Totally encase the food in the paste, place on a cookie sheet or large tray and bake at 400° to 450°F so the dish steams inside its salt-spackle shell. When it's done, crack off the hard, golden crust to reveal a succulent meal that requires little, if any, additional fat or seasoning. Try it with whole fish, chicken, shellfish or potatoes.
Clean with it: Never clean your cast iron pan with soap, lest you ruin its hard-working, hard-earned seasoning. When faced with a cleanup that involves more than a wipe and rinse, let gently abrasive salt do the dirty work. Sprinkle a good layer of kosher salt onto the bottom of the warm pan, scrub with a dry sponge or crumbled paper towel, rinse and then dry. You can wipe with a soft dishtowel or put the pan over low heat until the water has evaporated.
Keep onions from scorching: The basics principles of osmosis apply to the gentle art of sweating onions. Throw a little salt into the pan to draw water out of the onions (trust us, there's a lot in there), which makes them less likely to burn. Note: This won't work if you've got the heat up too high—sadly, there's no saving onions that are already burnt.
Soak up wine spills: You knocked your red wine onto the rug after a vigorous retelling of that awesome thing that happened. Hurry and sprinkle salt over the stain, which absorbs the wine and helps keep it from spreading. Once the salt is dry, scrape it off and clean any remaining stain with club soda or peroxide and blot dry.