If there’s one thing every man should have in his kitchen, it’s good salt. That most basic of seasonings has been a staple for as long as mankind has been cooking. It’s the most important ingredient you have to work with.
Now, before you get on our case about salt’s supposed anti-salubrious effects, remember that it is actually an essential component of a healthy diet. Plus, we’re not advocating using an ocean’s worth of it on anything. It should be an accent, not the main feature of a dish. If you have high blood pressure, consult a physician.
Salt amplifies food’s basic flavors, and can make all the difference between bland and explosive, between boring and enlivening. Want to cook a memorable meal? No question, it’s going to involve some salt.
We’re not talking about generic, over-refined, plain-old table salt. Salt was once one of the world’s most sought-after commodities and often demanded a hefty price tag. After all, as children learn in history class, the word “salary” comes from the fact that Roman soldiers were paid in the amount of currency equal to purchasing a certain quantity of salt. Nowadays, however, salt is available in multiple forms across the world, so you have no excuse not to invest in some good stuff.
Get a box of kosher salt. It’s less refined than table salt and contains no additives. Its crystals are larger and rougher, so it doesn’t dissolve as easily as table salt. It will lend your dishes a more interesting texture. That also means you can’t use the same amount of it as table salt, so be sure to check the conversions on the box you buy for use in recipes. We prefer to keep it uncomplicated and buy Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which you can find at pretty much any grocery store.
More advanced cooks know that the world of salt is currently flourishing with new artisanal options, from traditionally hand-harvested fleur de sel sea salt, to seasoned salts that marry flavors like cumin and harissa, to brightly colored mineral-rich salts from all over the world.
To help you in your quest for the perfect salts to stock, and what foods they go with, pick up a copy of Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by the selmelier at The Meadow in Portland, Ore., Mark Bitterman. In his book, the dynamic Bitterman traces the history and complex cultural implications of salt, including over 50 surefire recipes that use it, and a quick-reference guide to over 150 varieties.
In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite varieties of salt for you to try on everything from grilled meats to blanched veggies to ice cream sundaes.
Maldon Sea Salt
This is available at most grocery stores. It is a good, basic sea salt to get you started with simple recipes where salt should take a backseat to other flavors.
Murray River Australian Salt
This flaky salt from southern Australia gets its distinctly coral-pink hue from carotene, produced by salt-loving algae in the riverbed, that not only imparts a lovely mild flavor, but also gives any dish you use it in an extra touch of fancy color. You can buy it from The Meadow.
Hawaiian Red Sea Salt
This high-end seasoning is harvested from red clay ponds in the Hawaiian islands, and goes well with grilled red meats. The clay helps seal in the protein’s moisture and juices. It’s available from Sea Salt Central.
Try Salish Smoked Salt, harvested from the Pacific Ocean and smoked over alderwood, for dishes like salmon or freshwater trout. Or try a small amount of the intensely aromatic Iburi-Jio Cherrywood-Smoked Salt from Japan’s Oga Peninsula for grilled meats such as pork loin. You can get it from Market Hall Foods.
Indian Kala Namak Black Salt
Contrary to its name, this salt is actually a mild pinkish gray and has a distinctly sulphurous flavor that is the perfect complement to spicy chutney, raita and other classic Indian dishes. Available from Saltworks.