A Bottle of Salt Spray Changed How I Cook

Now I spritz seasoning onto everything from cocktails to salad.

A bottle of salt spray can change your cooking game
Photo: Kyoshino / Getty Images

When I travel, especially abroad, one of my favorite things to do is to explore the food shopping opportunities. I am always on the lookout for something new and fun, whether it can be found in open air markets, little mom-and-pop groceries, huge shiny supermarkets, tiny gourmet boutiques, the fancy food gifting corners of department stores, or even the magic and wonder of the duty free shop at the airport. This is especially important if the place I am visiting has a particularly robust culinary culture. So naturally, on a recent trip to Italy, I was on the hunt for new favorite flavors and ingredients.

You might be surprised to note that perhaps one of the most game-changing products that came home in my suitcase stash was not the precious canned San Marzano DOP tomatoes, the three-year old Parmigiano-Reggiano, porcini bouillon cubes, or the Amalfi lemon marmalade. It wasn't even the jarred pistachio pesto that has become my new favorite topping for pizza.

It was a simple bottle of salt spray.

While visiting the top floor of the Rinascente department store in Rome, I came across their gourmet food shop and café. As I wandered the aisles, I suddenly espied an unassuming plastic bottle with a pump spray top. Upon closer inspection, and employing my very limited food-Italian vocab, it turned out to be a bottle of "Orange Liquid Salt," which as far as Google translate could confirm, was essentially a spray bottle of salt water with some orange flavor. It was also on sale, so I added it to my loot.

When I got home, I gave it a taste. I was shocked at how intensely salty it was; it was literally liquid salt. The orange was a subtle note that came through on the back, not so much tasting of orange, but as if it had recently been near an orange. But the salinity, despite its punch, was clean and fresh, like purified sea water. And despite being in possession of literally a dozen different styles and types of salt crystals in my larder, I could think of a million ways to use it.

I began to experiment with the spray while cooking at home. My first revelation was how smart it was for corn on the cob. I generally don't put butter on my corn, so when I try to season it, the grains of salt don't stick particularly well. Using salt spray gave corn the perfect amount of salt to enhance the sweet kernels, with a totally even application. It also worked well for steamed vegetables, which I have found can be hard to salt evenly. The spray gave everything a nice overall seasoning, and with the hint of orange, a little extra zhuzh.

Thin cuts of protein like fish fillets and skirt steaks — which can easily be oversalted — suddenly got a fast and easy spray of salt, and perfect balance. The kicker was when the salt spray saved a not-sweet-enough bowl of melon; just a light spritz really brought it to life. And while large flakes of kosher salt can weigh down salads with tender baby greens, the salt spray gives a perfect, even salting with just a couple of pumps.

Another revelation came during the cocktail hour, when a spritz of salt water atop an Old Fashioned made the flavors of the bourbon and cherry pop a bit more than usual. When I tried it on a Negroni, the salt tempered the bitterness of the Campari beautifully. And I already know that it will do the same for tequila cocktails.

This last-minute food souvenir has proven to be so handy in the kitchen, and gives whatever it touches an extra boost. And since I can't get back to Italy as often as I'd like, I hacked it, so you can make it at home.

The ratio is simple: combine one cup of hot water with one tablespoon of fine sea salt. Don't use an iodized salt here; you want the clean flavor of salt with no bitterness or metallic taste. And if you have access to filtered water, use it instead of tap water. If you are using kosher salt instead of fine salt, you'll need to measure more salt by volume; start with a tablespoon and a half and add more as needed. You want the mixture to land on your tongue with the same saline wallop as actual salt grains. Dissolve the salt in the hot water and let it cool to room temperature. Leave it as-is, or add a drop or two of a citrus oil — orange and lemon work particularly well. transfer the mixture to a clean, food-safe pump spray bottle. I leave it right on the counter next to the salt cellar and pepper grinder and reach for it whenever I need a light finishing seasoning.

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