It is the only rock we eat, the ultimate flavor enhancer. It is salt. Many home cooks think that all salt is made equally. That is simply untrue. There are many types of salt that should be used for specific purposes. So, follow us into the cave as we explore the world of salt.
At its simplest, salt is a chemical compound of solidum and chlorine (NaCl). It is naturally occurring at the bottom of lakes and oceans as well as in mass deposits from dried up ancient oceans. While salt can vary in taste depending on geography, the main difference we will discuss today is texture. Both where it comes from and how it is processed change how coarse it is and the shape of each flake. The shape is how your mouth perceives its “saltiness.” Let’s explore the different salts that you should keep in your pantry and their uses.
If there is one salt you should always have on hand it is kosher salt. This is your everyday salt for seasoning meat, adding to your baked goods (desserts should always have a little salt), and creating layers of flavor to every step of a dish. Kosher salt is a large flake but not dense, meaning it taste less “salty” than table salt. This means that you can use it liberally without risking over seasoning. Some brands of kosher salt taste “saltier” than others. Diamond Crystal and Morton’s are the two most common brands. Diamond Crystal is used mainly in commercial kitchens and is about half as salty as Morton’s. To convert between the two, use about ½ teaspoon less of Morton’s to every teaspoon of Diamond Crystal. There is only one thing kosher salt is bad at: dissolving in water.
Table salt or iodized salt only has two uses in your kitchen. One is its titular purpose, for you guests to add salt to their food. The other is for dissolving in water. I like to use in boiling water for pasta or for seasoning soups and stews. Because of its fine, dense crystals, it is nearly twice as salty as kosher salt. Use half the amount of table salt that you would kosher salt. Be sure to season your water for the pasta the next time you make our Italian Seafood Pasta.
Finishing Salt (Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel, and Maldon Salt)
If it is labeled as “sea salt” it should only be used for finishing, a final sprinkle before your dish is served. Sea salt is a vague term and can come from all over the world in course and fine varieties. Generally, sea salt will be less “salty” than kosher salt. I prefer to keep course and flaky sea salts for finishing, like French fleur de sel and British Maldon salt. These big, flat, flakes provide texture and flavor atop slices of steak or fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Course sea salt is also nice for coating pretzels. Try sprinkling a little flaky salt on top of our s’mores cookies.
Pickling salt is a fine grain salt that does not contain iodine. Therefore, it dissolves well in water but will not discolor your pickles. Though it is nice to have, kosher salt can get the job done. Use a 3:2 kosher salt to pickling salt ratio. Try it for the overnight pickle stage of our pickled arugula salad.
Ice Cream Salt
Do not put this on your ice cream! Ice cream salt is used for making ice cream. Similar to spreading salt on icy roads, ice cream salt lowers the melting point of the ice surrounding the ice cream maker, keeping it colder. There is no substitute if you are using an old-style ice cream maker.