Josh Ozersky

Confessions of a Salt Whore

Madness. What you see up there is madness. It’s a kind of mania, a shameful paraphilia, a form of hoarding. I am a salt whore. I can’t say no to any form of sodium chloride; my judgment and my self-respect desert me and I claw at every new product that presents itself. What’s worse, I don’t just collect these salts; I use them regularly, and even worse, I actually think of recipes as a pretext for using them.

The reason should be obvious, to anyone who likes to cook or eat meat. Salt is to the palate what cocaine is to the brain – a dangerous white powder that adds unearned excitement to everything it touches. But not all salts are the same, as that bath-salt zombie found out. They have different uses, different sizes, different applications, and different qualities. So I thought, looking at my freakish salt cabinet, that I might use it as a primer for the Mother of All Seasonings.

There are three basic applications for salt: seasoning, crusting, and finishing. Seasoning for cooking; it’s when you just want something to taste saltier, and don’t care about texture. Adding table salt to pasta water is an example of this. Crusting is what you’ve seen chefs sprinkle, usually from a great height and with dramatic flourishes, on meat before they cook it. Finishing is what you do when food is all done and plated, and you want to give it some extra oomph (or get salt on the exposed surface of sliced-up meat for the first time.) I’ll go through my salts, classifying them by their primary use.

Kosher Salt. The big red box, and the round container next to it, are kosher salt. Kosher salt is coarse, but not as coarse as sea salt. It’s perfect crusting salt, but also a great option as a seasoning and finishing salt. My grandmother kept a bowl of this next to the stove, and another dish of it on the table, and that was the only salt she kept in the house. Nobody complained.

Morton table salt. This is the salt we all grew up around, and continue to see in salt shakers. It’s a seasoning salt, and it works. I only use it for salting pasta water. I find it hard to manipulate, and it’s useless for meat.

FalkSalt is a new specialty product, and, as it happens, a sponsor of Meatopia. It’s a very pure Mediterranean sea salt that forms very large, delicate crystals. These are purely finishing salts; you put a tiny pinch on food, and it delivers both texture and also small but concentrated bursts of flavor. It’s so good I put it on pudding and crème brulee. I like the plain version, but there is a red chili version that adds heat as well, and a smoked version too. The plain version is the best. I like this salt so much I eat it as a snack. Isn’t that terrible?

Malden Salt is the most well known of the large crystalline salts. It’s English, and expensive, but incredibly flaky and fine. I always feel like I should be using it more, but when I do, I never like it as much as kosher salt. I can’t figure it out. It’s another pure finishing salt.

Fleur de Sel is a finishing salt of suprassingly pure taste. Most of your high-end steak restaurnts, when they serve steak, serve it with fleur de sel. A little goes a long way, and it has an unmistakable minerality which tastes of the sea. It’s too big to crust with, I think, but some people have tried, especially with fish – seeing as how fish swim in the sea and eveyrthing.

Kalas salt. A great seasoning salt. It tastes as good as fleur de sel, and it’s almost as fine as Morton. (Nothing is as fine, in the technical sense, as Morton salt, which is one of the things I hate so much about it.) Kalas is also one of the cheapest salts I have; I recommend it strongly for both cooking and table use.

Himlayan salt. You’ll see a grinder there; I have Himalayan rock salt in there, which, to be honest, doesn’t taste much like anything. I think people like it for its color more than anything else. The grinder seemed like a way for me to control the texture, but its results are unreliable, with even the coarsest setting producing some fine powder.

Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt. This interesting product was given to me by Sean Brock, and it has a distinctive taste; but it’s big and I can’t quite figure out how to use it. I’ve tried it on roast chickens, but it’s really too big to stick to anything. I may crust a steak with it. Honestly, I wish I liked it more.

Seasonello. This Bolognese product is a standard grilling seasoning used in Italy all the time, but to find it in America you generally have to go specialty importers. It’s worth the trip. It’s accented with rosemary and other herbs, and when you put some good olive oil on a black bass or a pork chop and sprinkle this crusting salt, you are good to go. Every household ought to have one.

Sicilian Smoked salt. I actually have four kinds of smoked salt: the bourbon stuff, the FalkSalt (also good), another one on the far left that you can’t really see, and this Sicilian product, given to me my New York spice guru Mr. Recipe. Recipe tells me that the magical taste of this product is a result of its comparatively light smoking, which is suggestive without being overpowering, and its high magnesium content, which gives it umami power, similar to Mr. Recipe’s porcini powder. I like this one a lot and use it very sparingly both as a crusting and a finishing salt.

Hibiscus salt. I have never used this. I don’t really like it. I don’t even know what hibiscus is, to tell you the truth. A kind of flower? This stuff looks pretty, but give me Diamond kosher salt every time. And a lot of it. Always more. I can never get enough.

One Response to “Confessions of a Salt Whore”

  1. i love trying new salts too! great post!

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