Sunday, November 7, 2010


Some years ago I attended a cooking demonstration given by someone who (at the time) I considered the last word on all matters food. Her advice---which I took very much to heart----was that we use too much salt consequentially masking the natural deliciousness of our ingredients not to mention doing our health little good. She adamantly maintained that the sign of a very good cook was to learn to develop flavor with little or no salt.

The lady’s advice was forward thinking and many experts soon espoused that position. Wanting to be modern and a good and healthy cook, I eschewed the saltshaker, almost to the extreme. There were other ways to enhance food and I happily sallied forth using lemons, herbs and spices to gild my dishes and wake up the palate.

Now, I did not harbor any ill will toward salt, as I still was a closeted salter of corn on the cob, grilled meat and pasta water. For those foods my health concerns were out the window rationalizing that some things require salt, lots of it, and there simply was no substitute.

Over time the obsessiveness with salt as evil eased. The food world gradually directed that salt was okay again and not only that but now we would have many choices as to what salt to use. Some were for cooking, some for finishing, some for the table, all literally from all over the world. Some were to be used with meat and some with fish or fowl. Salt was to be paired much like wine and suddenly I was looking at exotic salts carrying prices akin to the finest Barolo or a vertical of Silver Oak.

Climbing again on the food trend bandwagon, I set out to acquire a few varieties and study the impact of gray salt, pink salt, sea salt (fine grain, large grain) and Kosher salt on my cooking. I prosthelytized on salt and imposed my opinion on the benefits of using artisanal salts (other than the usual blue box stuff) to anyone who would listen.

But secretly I was growing some serious confusion. All these exotic salts---one website listed forty! Forty? (yikes)---and I still had trouble telling them apart. Aside from larger or smaller grains, few offered any significant differences in taste and I am concluding that hand harvested French sel gris at $7.99 an ounce is just too much.

So here I am, after many years of ups and downs with salt, settled on just three: Kosher salt for general use, rock salt to make a bed for meaty juicy roasts and sea salt when I’m cooking fish. And that, my friends, is it.

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