Salt Is The Single Most Important Ingredient, According to Uwe Opocensky
With over 33 years of experience under his belt—nearly half that time spent in Hong Kong—chef Uwe Opocensky has made his mark in the city with his innovative modern European dishes that highlight seasonal ingredients. As the executive chef at Island Shangri-la and their flagship restaurant Petrus, Opocensky departs from tradition, often finding ways to highlight locally sourced ingredients and fresh produce from local farms rather than rely on imports, with the help of Shangri-La’s private forager.
The chef shares his expertise on the subject, dishing on the ingredients that have changed the cooking game for him over the years.
What are the ingredients you look out for each season?
In the springtime, I love asparagus. Summer is the time for fruit and berries to shine. In Autumn, I would buy game—grouse, in particular. And as for winter, it has to be seafood, especially king crabs or scallops which are always a favourite.
You work with a local forager. What are some of the foraged ingredients you've discovered and loved?
- Wild pepper leaves: They really are a must have for their smoky flavour.
- Ginger flowers: So sweet. They pair brilliantly with seafood too.
- Passionfruit: It’s less acidic, and much more sweet. They're just amazing to work with, really.
What’s the one ingredient that has transformed your cooking game?
Salt has to be the one. While pepper adds flavour to a dish, salt actually enhances flavours.
There’s a lot to know about salting that the home cook may not know about—chefs actually live and die by the rule of salt on a daily basis. Knowing what type of salt to use, when and how much to add, and most importantly why we add it can change your cooking game. It’s therefore vital to get to know how to salt food appropriately.
Can you tell us more on what's the ‘right way to salt’?
Salt really is what enhances the flavour. I think it definitely depends on your experience. People are too careful with salt, especially when they’re first starting to cook!
The first thing is seasoning a piece of protein beforehand. I know there’s a lot of controversy about that, but I really love the intensity of flavour it allows for. Salt pulls out some of the moisture in the protein—almost like a mini brining. This elevates the flavour since some of the water is removed.
The different flavours of salt are important, too. If I am cooking using a barbecue, I would use smoked salt. If I was cooking fish, I’d use wakame (seaweed) salt—though I am also a fan of a flaky salt, like Maldon.
What’s your favourite local ingredient?
There are quite a few I enjoy using. My favourites at the moment are wild pepper leaves, which have this amazing cigar flavour when barbecued, and mulberries, which are perfect to make jams or a delicious pâté with when in season.