Chow Town

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Salt becomes the new chic ingredient

07/21/2013 10:20 PM

07/21/2013 10:20 PM

We went along for years not thinking much about our salt, and now it’s not just a chic ingredient, it’s the talk of the town.

Hawaiian, grey, French, flaked and kosher.

Salt is one of the most enduring commodities of exchange in the history of mankind. It is essential to life. Bought, traded and fought over, salt is harvested by mining it out of the earth, by evaporating it out of salt marches and by cooking brine from the sea.

I thought we should go over some of the various types of salt available today. And I also want to recommend some very interesting books on the subject.

But first, let me ask you to do something. Take a taste of processed table salt, the kind with anti-caking agents and iodine. Then take a drink of water.

Now, take a taste of kosher salt and water again. I think you will be amazed at how much better the kosher salt tastes. As a professional cook, I can tell you my cooking improved a great deal by changing this one very important element, kosher for processed. The right salt can make your dishes “sing” with flavor.

I’m sure I’m missing some, but these are different types of salt available today.

Table salt.

Refined salt containing anti-caking agents and iodine. The salt usually used in restaurant salt shakers, it is mined from underground. It contains more sodium chloride than sea salt does.

Kosher salt.

No, kosher salt is not always blessed by the rabbi (some is though). The name comes from its use in curing meats, or koshering them. A great all purpose salt that dissolves quickly. No anti-caking agents.

Sel Gris.

Grey, coarse salt from salt ponds in France. It is harvested from the bottoms of the ponds.

Gros Sel.

Large crystals of French salt. You need a salt grinder for this one.

Fleur de Sel.

Harvested from salt ponds before it sinks to the bottom. Gently dissolves more slowly.

Sea salt.

Cooked from brine and very salty. Fine and coarse grain is available.

Flaked sea salt.

Soft, Mica-like crystals. Most famous is Maldon salt from Essex, England. You crush it between your fingers. This is my favorite finishing salt to add after cooking.

Hawaiian sea salt.

Lots of trace minerals. Red or blue color.

Himalayan salt.

Hand mined in Punjab Pakistan’s salt mines. White to pink in color. Used for cooking and also for spa treatments. Cooking on slabs of this salt has become a trend.

Smoked salt.

Slow smoked over a wood fire, this really imparts a smoky flavor.

Rock salt.

Harvested from the earth and used for making ice cream or salting roads in winter.

Pickling salt.

The purest of salts. Very concentrated and fine grained.

If the subject of salt is intriguing to you, as it is to me, here are some books available on the subject.

• Valerie Aikman-Smith. Salt: Cooking With the World’s Favorite Seasoning. Talks about different salts with recipes.

• Mark Bittman. Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral. And also Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks. Bittman is an expert on salt and tells the tale beautifully.

• Mark Kurkansky. Salt: A World History. Mark is a great writer of one-subject books, such as his award winning COD. Historical perspective of salt and its importance.

• Pierre Laszlo. Salt. Grain of Life. Laslo is a chemist and approaches salt through science. For the salt geeks.

Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock n roll caterer back stage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.

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