Salt secrets

Join our food writers as we explore salt, the most basic and most important of seasonings

Salt

Leigh Beisch

LOTS MORE SHAKIN' ON SALT

• Follow Sunset's own Team Salt on our quest to find local salt. Get the story

• At Cargill (which has a site on San Francisco Bay), take a tour and learn about salt's history, manufacturing, and many uses.

• At Morton Salt (also with a site on SF Bay) learn the story of the umbrella girl, plus salt facts, history, and household tips.

• The Salt Institute explores salt from a scientific and industry point of view.

• Mark Kurlansky recounts salt's fascinating history in Salt: A World History (Penguin; $16).

• "Selmelier" Mark Bitterman waxes poetic about salt on his blog.

• Ever fry an egg on a Himalayan pink salt block? Learn how at ideasinfood.typepad.com.

MORE GREAT RECIPES FOR COOKING WITH SALT:

Salt-Cured Ouzo Shrimp

Crunchy Salt Shrimp with Ginger Sauce

Salt-Baked Striped Bass with Herb Lemon Chile Sauce

Halibut Roasted on a Bed of Salt

Lamb Chops with Spiced Salt Rub

Salt-and-Pepper Cheese Puffs

Jicama with Chili Salt

Spiced Orange Salad 

USING AND BUYING GOURMET SALTS

Once we started exploring salts, we got as excited as cattle trotting up to a salt lick. Good old table salt has its uses, of course, but when you've got jars of fluffy kosher salt; moist, mineral-rich gray salt; and crisp pink pyramids in front of you, why not step out a bit? Here's a sampling of our favorite fancy salts, how we like to use the more unusual ones, and where to buy them.

Our six favorite salts

Diamond Crystal kosher salt, sold at many grocery stores. About $4 for 3 lbs.

• Most any unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt such as sel gris, sold at many grocery stores.

Maldon sea salt. Crisp, delicate, flaky pyramids, sold at many grocery stores and through SaltWorks. $6.50 for 8.5 oz.

Murray River Australian flake salt. Pretty pink pyramid flakes sold through SaltWorks and The Meadow (called Murray Darling Finishing Salt here). From $6.25 for 2 oz.

Halen Môn sea salt with Taha'a Vanilla. Welsh flake salt blended with Tahitian vanilla for a tantalizing aroma and flavor, sold through The Meadow and Market Hall Foods (888/952-4005). From $12.50 for 2 oz.

Japanese Iburi-Jio cherrywood-smoked salt. Aromatic, fine-textured, and delicately smoky sea salt sold by Market Hall Foods (888/952-4005) and The Meadow. From $18 for 3.5 oz.

Our favorite uses for unrefined sea salts

Roast chicken and potatoes with olive oil and Sea Star gray salt rubbed on before baking. $14.50 for 3/4 lb.

Artisan bread with unsalted butter and Fleur de Sel de l'Ile de Ré (from The Meadow; $11 for 2 oz.) or another fleur de sel, or fine red Hawaiian salt (from The Meadow; also called 'alaea volcanic finishing salt; $6.25 for 2 oz.).

Sliced tomatoes with delicately pink and crunchy sugpo asin Filipino sea salt from Xroads Philippine Sea Salts .

Popcorn with Diamond Crystal kosher salt or Artisan Salt Company's sel gris fine .

Our favorite uses for flake salts

Margaritas rimmed with Maldon sea salt (sold at many grocery stores and through SaltWorks and Market Hall Foods).

Caprese salad with Murray River flake salt (sold by SaltWorks and The Meadow, which calls it Murray Darling Finishing Salt).

Scoop of vanilla bean ice cream topped with a few delicately crunchy flakes of Murray River flake salt (sold by SaltWorks and The Meadow, which calls it Murray Darling Finishing Salt); Maldon sea salt (sold at many grocery stores and by SaltWorks); or aromatic Halen Môn vanilla salt (sold through The Meadow and Market Hall Foods).

Our favorite uses for flavored salts

Pan-seared scallops with Halen Môn vanilla salt (sold through The Meadow and Market Hall Foods).

Scrambled eggs with Amabito No Moshio sea salt (subtle, mild kelp flavor; $12 for 3.5 oz.; Market Hall Foods and The Meadow) or aromatic Japanese Iburi-Jio cherrywood-smoked salt (from $18 for 3.5 oz.; Market Hall Foods and The Meadow).

Homemade tortilla chips with Fusion Chile Verde Sea Salt (from SaltWorks; $14.99 for 5.5 oz.).

Grilled steaks with Hawaiian black sea salt (from Soul of the Sea) or Salish alder-smoked salt (from Artisan Salt Company).

Baked potatoes with Salish Alder Smoked Salt (from SaltWorks; $10.99 for 9 oz.).

SALT SOURCES

1. Most grocery stores sell Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

2. At The Meadow in Portland (3731 N. Mississippi Ave.), self-proclaimed "selmelier" Mark Bitterman and his wife, Jennifer Bitterman, sell more than 70 varieties of salt, including some more unusual finds.

3. SaltWorks, based in Woodinville, Washington, sells 50 varieties, including naturally derived flavored salts in their Fusion line, at fine cooking stores, Whole Foods Markets, and online.

4. Napa Valley chef Holly Peterson imports hand-harvested gray sea salt ($14.50 for 3/4 lb.) and fleur de sel ($14.50 for 1/4 lb.) from Brittany and sells it under the label Sea Star, available online and at Whole Foods Markets.

5. Hawaii Kai Corporation makes Soul of the Sea Hawaiian Molokai sea salts in white, red, and black; they're available online and at Whole Foods Markets. $19.99 for 12 oz.

6. The Pasta Shop in Berkeley (1786 Fourth St.; 888/952-4005) and Oakland (5655 College Ave.; 888/952-4005) and its online store, Market Hall Foods, carries Halen Môn sea salt with Taha'a Vanilla and two outstanding Japanese salts, Japanese Iburi-Jio cherrywood-smoked salt and Amabito No Moshio ($12 for 3.5 oz.), a sea salt with subtle kelp essence and a texture like soft snow.

7. Northern California-based Xroads Philippine Sea Salts sells hand-harvested Ilocano Asin (a moist white sea; $10 for 5 oz.) and sugpo asin (a moist pink sea salt that gets its color and slightly briny flavor from shrimp; $12.50 for 5 oz.) in handmade woven nipa-palm baskets.

One-block Diet: Watch us raise an ultra-local feast 

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