SHAKIN' OUT THE SALTS
The number of different salts on the market is staggering, and choosing the right one can make a big difference in your cooking. Here's a quick guide to regular salts––and some gourmet ones too.
The familiar, fine-grained standby. Anti-caking agents keep it free-flowing. Iodine, a mineral essential for proper thyroid functioning and mental development, may be added too. Table salt is either mined from the earth or evaporated from seawater.
Uses: All-around cooking; preferred by bakers because it measures uniformly and dissolves quickly.
The best contain naturally derived flavors and range from smoky to citrusy to chile-hot. Originally for ceremonial use, Hawaiian red salt ― white sea salt with 'alaea clay added ― is gaining a following with cooks for its brick red color and earthy flavor. Now there's Black Hawaiian Salt, with charcoal blended in.
Uses: Great on steaks and veggies.
Made from evaporated seawater. Refined sea salt is the least expensive; it has the dryness and uniform flavor of table salt, but without any additives. Unrefined sea salts are moist, irregular crystals that still retain trace minerals, subtle flavors, and, sometimes, colors from the source. Connoisseurs particularly prize French fleur de sel ("flower of salt"), delicate crystals that form on top of evaporation ponds, and coarser sel gris ("gray salt"), from the lower layers.
Uses: Sea salt is available in fine to coarse grains. Fine-textured refined or unrefined works well for all-purpose cooking and seasoning. Unrefined medium- to coarse-grain sea salt makes flavorful, stick-able toppings for dough, fish, and meat. Try expensive artisanal "finishing salts" at the table, where you can appreciate their nuances.
A coarse-grained salt used for koshering (drawing blood out of) meat and favored by many cooks for its clean taste and pinchable texture.
Uses: General cooking, salt crusting, brining, and margarita rimming. If substituting for table salt, you'll need twice as much Diamond Crystal brand (its pyramid shape adds volume) or just slightly more flake-shaped Morton.
Large, pretty crystals with a delicate crunch. The thin, hollow pyramid shape (which breaks easily into flakes) allows this salt to perch on food so you get a pop of saltiness when you bite into it.
Uses: Sprinkle over a Caprese salad or dot over a scoop or two of rich ice cream.