Lessons from Mark Bitterman: Ultimate Guide to Seasoning with Salt
Best Salt for...
Sel gris is great, and can be the only salt you need for your entire pantry: High in minerals, it comes from the pristine environment of the Atlantic coast of France, and it tastes great. But its crystals are kind of coarse and hard to manipulate. It can be ground with a mortar and pestle; it’s also sold pre-ground as fine French or Atlantic sea salt or fine sel de geurande. Another option is the traditional salt called Trapani from Sicily. It’s got good street cred—it’s hand-harvested from salt ponds that have been in use since Phoenician times. It’s inexpensive and commonly available, but it’s a bit blah; I don’t use it. My favorite is the Meadow’s fleur de sel which took me many years to develop. I located a producer in Guatemala who makes it inexpensively enough that I can sell it in big bags and (to restaurants) 20-pound tubs as both a cooking salt and a finishing salt. That one’s money. You plunge your fingers in this big pile of moist, heavy, glistening salt and you feel like a millionaire.
I like to make a salad dressing with little to no salt, dress the salad, serve it, then fling a coarse salt on top. A flake salt in particular will give it a crazy lacework of crystals. When you take a bite, a little snap, crackle and pop bursts across your palate and then vanishes to let the vegetables step forward.
Fleur de sel has a nice creaminess and gives the fish a beautifully delicate, persistent saltiness.
I like to rub inside of the chicken cavity with sel gris, put no salt on the outside, roast it, carve it, then sprinkle sel gris over the top of the carved meat. It’s wicked because you get these beautiful minerally crunches of hearty salt, then juicy chicken. The salt in the cavity helps draw the moisture inward. Every bite, the salt affects the flavors of the chicken slightly differently.
For a baked good that has any level of fat in it, like a pie crust, flaky salts are best; don’t use fleur de sel or sel gris. The heat of the oven will draw out their moisture, leaving a vacuum that wicks up any melting fat from the crust into the salt’s fissures and cracks; eventually the fat inside those salts will burn, leaving hard black knobs of salt on the crust, which aren’t nice. Flaky salt has no moisture and won’t wick.
My go-to chocolate chip cookie salt is Bali Rama flake salt. I think it means "Balinese daddy salt." It looks like hollow, arrowhead-shaped pyramids, which provide a really wild, pop-rocks, explosive crunch.
My nine-year-old son is a popcorn freak. He brought popcorn into the living room once sprinkled with this finely ground Andean rock salt that was so damned good, I was startled because I’m always using these superfancy salts on my popcorn. But his salt clung to the surface and gave a tangy, pungent flavor. I was working with a chef in Portland, Vitaly Paley, who cooks only with fleur de sel now but was having a problem getting it to stick to his legendary homemade potato chips at the bar. We tried the Andean salt and it stuck beautifully. It’s also great on french fries.
Fleur de sel. You think about butter cookies and butter potatoes and all that buttery goodness you get up in Normandy, fleur de sel goes very well. It even has a slightly creamy texture of its own. The trick with caramel sauce is to add the fleur de sel at the last minute, after the caramel is off the fire and starting to cool.
Brines and pickles?
In my book, Salted, I have a recipe for a pork roast brined with smoked salt that is out of control. But in general I brine with any traditional salt, like Trapani, or with my house fleur de sel. Any traditional salt or sel gris is a good answer for that.
In all of my Italian cooking, I like to use traditional Italian salts like Grigio de Cervia, Slovenian salts (which used to be part of Italy).
Definitely flake salt. Marlborough flaky would be my favorite, but any flake salt’s great.
Fruits are beautiful with traditional Hawaiian salt. They have some color to play off for visual excitement. And their oceanic, mineral-rich flavor is terrific on fruit. Even some vegetables—corn on the cob with lime and Hawaiian salt is a favorite.