The longer I cook, the more I begin to understand that salt is not just salt, sodium chloride, NaCl. It is a vital and unique ingredient in almost everything we cook. I have also come to realize that’s it’s hard to put too much salt (and pepper) on meats. If a guest reaches for a saltshaker, you have not used enough salt, or perhaps you didn’t use the correct type of salt. So which salt to use? There are many on the market.
Here is a crash course in Salt 101.
There are 5 basic types of salt for the kitchen: Kosher, Sea Salt, Infused Sea Salt, Sel Gris (French for “gray salt”), and Fleur de Sel (the “flower of salt”, the Mercedes Benz of the salt kingdom).
For most kitchens, kosher salt is the bread and butter salt, the go-to sodium for most dishes. Kosher salt, by the way, has nothing to do with being “kosher.” Rather, kosher means it has large flakes which better extract blood from meat. A good, medium coarse kosher salt works for most dishes and it goes further and adds inherently more saltiness than a typical Morton’s, fine kitchen salt.
Sea salt, obviously, comes from the ocean. It is the residue from saltwater evaporation and it can take on many subtle flavors, depending on its origin. Sea salt comes in fine and coarsely ground. I choose the coarser variety. With just a little sea salt, greens become transformed. It’s a wonderful compliment for many dishes, pasta for example.
Infused sea salt is salt from the ocean, which has been infused with a particular flavor – such as coffee, smoke, truffles or wines. Experiment with Infused Sea Salts for the flavor that suits you and your dish.
Sel Gris, also known as Celtic Sea Salt, comes from the dregs of the saltpan, the larger gray flakes of salt. You can buy it in crystal or fine-ground varieties. It makes a delightful finishing salt.
And then there is Fleur de Sel, the highest quality salt on the market. Quite pricey, Fleur de Sel is very labor intensive to produce. The salt farmers carefully select the “flowers” or the delicate salt crystals from evaporating salt water. Fleur de Sel does not melt readily, therefore it permeates foods better and brings out more flavor than its counterparts. It’s also an excellent finishing salt and is a pure delight on poached eggs or even buttered toast.
So there you have it, the A-B-Cs of salt. Happy shaking!