Modern salt, like modern art, began early in the twentieth century. Mr. Morton figured out that adding an anti-caking agent would make salt more user friendly. Easy to pour salt, like sliced bread, became the standard.
Although I use plain kosher salt (preferably Diamond Flake brand) most of the time, salts from many seas, rock salt, pink and black and gray salt, Jurassic salt and tea-smoked salt each has a place in my pantry.
I don't use "table salt" because those anti-caking chemicals (yellow prussiate of soda, magnesium carbonate, et. al.) can give it a slightly metallic taste. I have more than 40 kinds of salt at AndyFood and at least another 20 at home (in no small part thanks to friends adding to my de facto collection).
I'm not a salt sommelier (such experts exist) but when people talk salt, my ears burn.
Before I get into the merits of some favorite salts I want to acknowledge that an awful lot of people consume way more salt than they should. I'm all for a lower sodium diet. I use salt to bring out the flavor in food, not to make food taste salty. The secret is to know how and when to use salt. What follows is a short version of my upcoming class on salt.
How much salt?
Add salt a little at a time. Stir it in and taste each time. Salt should bring out the flavor in the food. As soon as you can taste the salt - even a little - stop adding salt. If you like more than this, keep a shaker on the table.
When to salt?
I generally add salt at the end of the cooking process. There are exceptions; cooking pasta in salted water, adding a little salt to green vegetables to keep them green, and lightly salting meat before cooking. If you salt at the end a little goes a long way because the salt is on the surface of the food.
Why more than one salt?
Some salt is flavored. There are a number of smoked salts, which add a little smoky flavor to food. Salt comes in beautiful colors and serves as a simple garnish. Some salts have unique texture (Maldon Sea salt is thin and crisp, Hawaiian Red Salt is a little gritty, and some salts are super-fine). If it looks inviting, tastes good, feels brittle, and sounds crunchy you'll experience the salt with four of your five senses. If it's smoked you'll also smell the salt. With a deft hand and a little salt you can make a good recipe great.
Salts I like
My current favorite is Falksalt Wild Mushroom. It's a Swedish brand with huge, crisp flakes and intense mushroom flavor. I got my first smoked salt about ten years ago; Tea-Smoked. Since then I've added 3 or 4 more smoked salts. Truffle salt and delicately thin, clean-flavored and very flakey Maldon Sea salt round out my list of favorite salts. For garnishing you can't go wrong with a red or black salt.
With just a dash of an exotic salt you season your recipe with flavor and mystique. Feel free to take that with a grain of salt.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.
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