Working in top kitchens around the world it has always baffled me when a renowned chef would taste something, say . . . a sauce, and confidently suggest a few twists from a pepper mill. What!?! Pepper?!?
Don't get me wrong, I love the nuanced flavor and heat delivered by black pepper, but for me there's a time and a place. We don't crack fresh cumin seeds or cardamom pods into every dish; their flavor is too specific. Is the flavor of black pepper so different?
How did those little black pellets make their way on to almost every table? And into almost every recipe in the western world, which seasons with "salt and pepper to taste?" Black pepper, a tiny black dot on the map of spices hailing from India and its surrounding areas, has taken over to the extent that we don't even think about it anymore; we just dust everything with it.
Salt makes sense. It lets the world's cooks enhance their efforts with the only mineral we consume directly. Our bodies need it. It can be found on all continents and even in countries that don't apply salt itself to food (which is a relatively recent development in the world of salt) they add it indirectly in the form of a product derived from the use of salt; such as soy sauce, shrimp and anchovy paste, and garum. ***
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