Not your mother’s salt

If you cook much, you’ve probably noticed that nearly every recipe, whether sweet or savory, calls for some salt. A pinch here, two tablespoons there, the mineral seems to make everything better. Bacon wouldn’t be nearly as ambrosiaesque if it wasn’t for its saltiness. Like sausages? Without salt they’d just be ground meat. The sweetness and complexity of caramel and chocolate are highlighted when some large grains of sea salt are sprinkled on top.

Like most Americans, I grew up knowing salt as something that came in a shaker that got liberally shaken over nearly every dish. Whenever that shaker was empty it was refilled from that iconic blue cylinder that has the girl holding the umbrella on it.

Once I started cooking for myself, I discovered that salt is a lot more complex that just salt. There was sea salt and kosher salt to be experimented with. Large granules of sea salt were put on green beans; nearly ruining the dish because I didn’t realize that sea salt is more salty that table salt. I now rub prodigious amounts of kosher salt on most of my meats, its delicacy working to bring out the flavors of lamb and beef.

Thanks to gifts and gift certificates my wife and I got at our wedding we were able to expand our salt collection. At the Springfield alternative grocery store, Food Fantasies, I found something almost magical while my wife perused the goat cheeses– smoked salt.

“It smells like burning leaves in the best way possible” was how Jamey described it after first smelling the stuff.

Sitting next to it was a pink Himalayan salt. “If we’re going to get one weird salt, might as well get the other,” I thought. I’m not sure how to exactly describe the stuff, but it is different. Maybe lighter than your standard table salt.

We’re still experimenting with how best to use the stuff.  Green beans and smoked salt? Pretty good. Throw a little of the pink stuff on roasted veggies? Don’t mind if I do.

Now I find myself seriously contemplating getting the book Salted: A manifesto of the world’s most essential mineral by Mark Bitterman. This guy is a salt apostle. Reading how Bitterman came to appreciate salt reads much the same way as Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus. A blinding light, a voice from above and both had been converted.

Bitterman now owns a store that sells nothing but salt, and it ain’t cheap. It might smack of the latest culinary gimmick; salt is NaCl, sodium chloride, no matter where it comes from, right? I guess. But say that about wine, olive oil or anything else that has a devoted following and you might be burned at the stake.

In the sample I’ve read from Salted, Bitterman argues that each salt has a unique flavor depending on where it comes from, much like wine. It’s the terra that gives each salt a unique flavoring. It’s an interesting concept, and one I’m more than willing to test.

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