One of the most validating moments of my career so far was when chef Thomas Keller came to the Food & Wine test kitchen with French Laundry research and development chef Lena Kwak (who we recently named one of the Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink) to introduce us to their Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The editors were excited about the product, which we sampled in the form of cookies, crackers and—staff favorite—pizza waffles. Yes, Thomas Keller made us pizza waffles. It was an epic moment. But as a shameful salt addict, they tasted slightly under-seasoned to me, which I would never in a million years admit in polite company. Then, the moment of glory: Chef Keller asked us, “Do these taste like they need more salt to you? I think they do.” To which I mumbled under my breath, “Thomas Keller, would we actually ever tell you that we thought your food was under-seasoned?” He went on to explain: “Personally, I have a high tolerance for salt, so I carry a little tin of sea salt with me everywhere I go to season my food.” And just like that, I felt redeemed for my sodium-craving palate. Thomas Keller and I have something in common: We have a high tolerance for salt (and as a bonus, now I've learned such an elegant way to express that fact.)
Here, a roundup of some of the coolest new salts that chefs are using to amp up their dishes.
1. Spruce salt: At Sepia in Chicago, chef Andrew Zimmerman grinds one part kosher salt with one part spruce tips to brighten his dishes. sepiachicago.com
2. Szechuan peppercorn & smoked Maldon salt: Chef Michael Hung finishes pork tenderloin and grilled ribeye with this tongue-numbing salt and pepper combination, smoked with aromatic mesquite sawdust, at Faith & Flower in Los Angeles. faithandflowerla.com
3. Kaffir lime salt: Louisville chef Annie Pettry of Decca mixes sugar, salt and citrusy kaffir lime lives to finish scallop crudo with yuzu vinaigrette and apple. deccarestaurant.com
4. Vanilla cinnamon salt: Burying vanilla beans and in sugar is a brilliant trick for aspiring bakers; at Travelle in Chicago, chef Tim Graham submerges the pods in salt, along with cinnamon sticks, to create an ultra-fragrant salt to finish desserts like apricot white chocolate bread pudding. “We are still using a batch of salt we made six months ago,” he says, “and it seems to just get better with age.” travellechicago.com
5. Orange spiced salt: Chef Pascal Lorange of Fig & Olive in New York city finishes seared scallops with his “L’orange” blend of salt, orange, fennel and lavender. figandolive.com