Sunday, February 5, 2012

Salt of the Earth

A few weeks ago I posted my ridiculous salt collection, but the truth is, I love salt. It brings out the savory elements of meats, it brings out the sweet in baked goods, it's cheap, it acts as a preservative, has no calories and has an amazing history (check out Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History; it's a surprisingly good read).

Despite my bad example, you need not turn your home into a salt cellar to have adequate cooking salt. The fact is that all culinary salt is mostly NaCl (sodium chloride). The varieties deal with how it is acquired (mined from the earth or evaporated from sea water) and the size and shape of the crystals (as well as whether additives like iodine or anti-caking agents are used).

Of course, you can live fine with a carton of Morton's, but if you want to move on to the next level, I would recommend two salts: Kosher and/or a basic sea salt for everyday use and Maldon salt for sprinkling.

1. Kosher Salt. Kosher salt is the chef's choice for cooking. It's called kosher salt not because it adheres to Jewish dietary rules (though it does) but because of its use in preparing kosher meats. Kosher salt is similar to regular salt but has larger, flatter crystals. It contains no iodine though can have anti-caking agents. Nearly all chefs swear by this stuff. The only downside is that it doesn't work in a traditional shaker because the crystals are too big. Kosher salt is made by the big companies that make regular table salt, Diamond Crystal and Morton's, and usually runs $3 or $4 for a three pound box. If most of your salt use is in cooking, Kosher should probably be your go to salt.

2. Basic Sea Salt. There are all kinds of sea salts out there, but these days, it's pretty easy to find standard white sea salt in fine grains. These grains are usually a bit smaller than standard table salt. I like the sea salts better than the standard Morton's because they tend to have a cleaner, somewhat saltier flavor (though that may just be the lack of iodine). I use sea salts from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods as my basic cooking and sprinkling salt. The most popular brand is probably La Baleine, but it includes anti-caking agents. These salts usually come in a tall, 26.5 ounce canister and run from $3 to $8. It's a good all-purpose substitute for your table salt.

3. Maldon Salt. Maldon salt, simply put, is one of the best things ever. It's an English sea salt that comes in large, flat crystals that provide a satisfying crunch to everything you put them on. Maldon is not for cooking or seasoning. It's a garnish, to be sprinkled sparingly on everything from veggies to sweets. A glob of burrata with a few crystals is a great snack and it does very well on bread with good, unsalted butter. It runs a bit pricey compared to most salts at $15 for an 8.5 ounce box, but given how sparingly you use it, it should last (my last box lasted me around four years).

Now being a salt obsessive there are other salts I use. Powdery, small grain popcorn salt for homemade popcorn and various sizes of sea salt for different applications, but these are just gravy. The three above are really all you need.


H. C. said...

I, too, have quite a salt collection too -- doesn't help that for my last birthday a friend gave me a sampler pack (about 4 oz. each) of different flavored & smoked salts.

Ryan said...

I also put a sprinkle of salt on my bread/toast and [unsalted] butter - it's magic! I don't have a salt collection so I just use Kosher.

SteveBM said...

I too have a decent salt collection that includes the 3 you've listed plus various colored salts and a bourbon smoked sea salt from Bourbon Barrel Foods that is fantastic. Recommend giving that one a try.

James said...

Just fyi, saltworks has the Maldon salt for $6.50 with free shipping.