December 14, 2007
A Little Salt
Today was the second time in two days that I've seen on the television a report on how specialty salts make a great Holiday gift. And you know what? I'd be completely ecstatic to get a collection of salts for Christmas. Being the picky person I am, I would prefer the collection of the minerals themselves from various location rather than the salt blends of say...one kind of salt with herbs, or truffle bits, or what have you.
One of the best lessons I ever had in Culinary School was the day my Chef did his salt comparison. I had never really before given salt much of a consideration. I guess I thought they were pretty much all the same, I mean, it's a mineral with a distinct chemical makeup. Well..yes and no. Table salt is technically sodium chloride, but true mined salt or sea-harvested salt has different make-ups and therefore different tastes. This opened up a whole new world to me.
We first prepared different foods to taste the salt with. Everything from hard-boiled eggs to fresh sliced tomatoes, to meat and grains. We tasted the salt by itself, and then with the different foods. I tasted salt from France- a few different varieties, harvested in different ways and all with different flavors. There was Japanese salt and Hawaiian salt which were both of a red-pink color, but with different tastes and size of crystals. I tasted Indian black salt which is a greyish color and had hints of sulfur and pepper in it that tasted fantastic with tomatoes. I tasted American salts, Carribean salts, Atlantic and Pacific salts, as well as inland mined salts, all from different parts of the world with different grains, textures and tastes. I tasted regular old table salt which became as nice-tasting as old rubber boots in comparison to the other salts which had some real Taste! to them. Until that time, I had not known that some salt was "saltier" then others! That you could alter the taste of food with different salts. That some foods tasted better with a certain variety of salt as opposed to others. That all salt is not created equal.
It was that day that I realized that you really must taste all your ingredients if you want to know how they're going to work in the finished dish. You need to taste your salt! You need to taste your butter, your olive oil and your molasses because they're not all the same, and accommodating your ingredient's unique flavor can really make a huge difference in your final product.
The picture above is of a French Atlantic sea salt. You can see that the grains are variegated crystals, they lean towards an off-white, greyish-beigy color, and are moist and a bit clingy to each other. I took the picture where you could see the snow in the background to get the color-comparison, though I think the reflected light brightens them up a bit. This particular salt has a very sharp salt taste and I like to use it when I want something to have a taste of salt, but not actually use a lot of salt, if that makes sense, or if I want to give a surprising salty-pow! :)