Best Gourmet Salts
Six superlative salts everyone should stock at home
Using salt wisely and mindfully helps ensure that you eat a more balanced amount — and amps up the flavor in all your meals. To start: Toss your table and kosher salt directly in the wastebin, says Mark Bitterman, founder and owner of The Meadow, a gourmet salt emporium in Portland, Oregon and NYC.
"Kosher salt, in particular — while enjoying a bit of a boom lately because it’s got an earthy look — is a refined chemical made in a lab," says Bitterman, who ribs that "kosher salt is to salt as Velveeta is to cheese."
Instead, Bitterman maintains that the world of salt is every bit as special and varied as that of wine. There are salts that go best with pork, some for salads, others that are perfect with a juicy, grilled peach. Here, his picks for the top six salts every kitchen should stock:
With an earthy flavor and exotic hue, this variety is best used on light-colored foods like pasta, gnocchi or potatoes. (The dark color comes from active charcoal). Bitterman likes to accent an everyday dollop of sour cream on soup with a few jet-black flakes of “Black Diamond” black salt.
These parchment-fine flakes allow the flavor from the salt to almost explode on the palate, giving dishes a perfect pop of flavor, which fades away gently. As such, it’s great for salads, greens and lighter foods. (You’d want a more lingering, persistent punch with protein-based dishes, notes Bitterman.) Flake salt gives a tingling, zesty flavor. A popular, widely available brand is Maldon.
Fleur de Sel
This moist, granular salt is a terrific, all-purpose finishing salt, says Bitterman. The delicate crystals go especially well with similarly delicate foods such as eggs or fish. But it’s also perfect sprinkled atop pretty much any dish. Many popular brands come from the coast of Brittany in France.
This is a “sister salt” to fleur de sel. It’s a bit coarser and less delicate, though, so it goes well with steak, root veggies and other hearty dishes, notes Bitterman. Tip: put it on steak just a few minutes before cooking, and the salt will help tenderize the meat, as well as encourage the meat’s proteins to rise to the surface — enhancing the flavor.
Bitterman’s favorite red salt is called “Molokai Red,” which is a Hawaiian salt from the islands’ salt pans. It’s a wet brick red, quite granular and coarse. Pair red salt with pork, seafood or fruits like peaches, cantaloupes and pears — both cooked and raw.
Topping the list in the infused salt category is “Kauai Guava” salt. It’s got a “warm, rich, almost bacony flavor,” and it goes well with a range of foods —from fruit to vegetables to most meats. A great way to add “razzle dazzle” to the simplest dessert, says Bitterman: Take a scoop of vanilla ice cream and top with 2-3 grains of smoked salt.