If you asked professional chefs and home cooks alike which single item from the spice rack they couldn’t live without, odds are the overwhelming response would be salt. But salt just makes food salty, right? Not exactly.
At some point in life, everyone has taken a bland bite of something and declared disappointedly, “this needs salt.” As a restaurant chef once explained to me, salt (in the proper quantity) doesn’t make food taste salty, it makes food taste more.
It’s essential to enhancing the flavors of virtually any dish, but did you know that not all salt is the same? Check out our handy what + when guide to all things salty.
Sea Salt: Our go-to for everyday cooking and seasoning. Like the name suggests, sea salt is produced through the evaporation of water from the ocean (and sometimes saltwater lakes), and is typically minimally processed. Sea salt is available in a variety of textures ranging from fine – best for seasoning food as it cooks – to extra coarse – great for a salty finish with crunch.
Kosher Salt: Also good for all-purpose seasoning. This type of salt dissolves quickly, allowing its flavor to disperse and absorb quickly. With its craggy, jagged crystals, kosher salt is ideal for curing meat – a step in the koshering process – which is how it gets its name.
Flake Salt: Though flake salt is the fastest absorbing type of salt, save it for a finishing touch. The thin flakes lend a light crunch and mild brininess that’s great on dishes like steamed vegetables and grilled fish. The large, distinctive flakes also work as a sort of garnish; an elegant finishing touch for formal occasions.
Fleur de Sel: Consider this your special occasion salt. Sometimes called the caviar of sea salt, fleur de sel is harvested by hand in France. It has a delicate, earthy flavor and fairly coarse texture that dissolves slowly. Best saved for holiday meals and celebrations, fleur de sel is also heavenly sprinkled on fresh, summer-ripe tomatoes.
Smoked Salt: If you’re looking for new ways to jazz up a favorite dish, give smoked salt a try. Available in a variety of textures – from superfine to coarse to flake – smoked salt can also vary in smokiness. Salt smoked with hickory has a more pronounced flavor (think: straight off the BBQ) than salt smoked with alder wood, which lends a lighter, milder smoke factor. Smoked salt is divine sprinkled over delicately flavored veggies like roasted squash and eggplant, and also makes a dynamite addition to anything avocado (did someone say guacamole? Yes, please.).
Slab Salt: While you might not have this one currently lying around your kitchen, it’s worth exploring. Sold in large slabs or bricks, this type of salt is more of a kitchen tool and serving piece than an ingredient. Heated to a high temperature, slab salt can act as a cooking surface to sear thinly sliced meat and fish, especially delicious for tuna and mahi-mahi. After chilling in the refrigerator, slab salt makes an interesting and unexpected serving platter that lends mild brininess to cold foods like sushi and charcuterie. For a grownup dessert that will bring you back to childhood, drizzle slab salt with caramel sauce for instant salted caramel fondue. Invite guests to dip fruit, cake, marshmallows or their fingers.