If you don’t want to use plain table salt in your cooking, what are the alternatives?
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Uses for specialty salts
- Rock salt (halite) Processed to a coarse texture, it’s perfect for salt grinders. Also may be used to melt ice surrounding the can holding the ice cream mixture in an ice cream maker. When the ice melts it absorbs heat from its surroundings, cooling the ice bath and quickening the freezing process.
- Coarse salt Does not have iodine and sometimes lacks the anti-caking agents in table salt. Commonly used in the cooking process, is useful for making beds for oysters, salt crusts on meat or fish, and lining baking dishes and the rims of margarita glasses. Consider replacing iodized fine salt with a more pure coarse salt such as kosher salt.
- Kosher salt A coarsely-ground salt certified kosher by a certifying organization, it has a coarse texture and is easy to pinch when adding to cooking food. Chefs prefer this salt for cooking: using it makes it easier to control the saltiness of food. Does not require grinding. Place a small bowl of it near the stove to measure out with your fingers: you’ll consume less sodium and your food will taste better. Kosher salt is not generally recommended for baking.
- Sea salt Coarsely-ground and contains 98% sodium-chloride and up to 100 trace minerals, depending on where and how it’s harvested. Comes in a lot of different varieties, textures and flavors; great for cooking and garnishing. For some purposes, choose salt that’s been ground down into a finer texture; other uses call for a coarser, more natural texture. Check out different brands to find one or two you like. When cooking with sea salt, add it at the end of your cooking so that you’ll lose fewer nutrients in the heat. Be aware that sea salts have more flavor than bland table salts, so you’ll want to use less salt at first (usually 2/3 of what the recipe calls for) and add more if needed.
- Fleur de Sel de Guérande A ‘finishing’ salt: you don’t cook with, but sprinkle it over your ready-to-serve foods, such as leafy green salads, grilled meats and fish, tomatoes, roasts, sauces, buttered bread and bruschetta, slices of cool melon or pineapple, and chocolate. It’s soluble, will dissolve even on cool foods, and is reportedly lower in sodium than ordinary table salt. If you cook with it, it melts and you loose the special character of the fleur de sel. Due to the small size of the crystals, fleur de sel dissolves faster than regular salt: it’s best used similarly to fresh herbs, sprinkling it onto food just before serving. Click here for information about different types and brands of sea salt. There are several different sea salts from which to choose: La Baleine is a good basic salt; Maldon Crystal Salt makes a great steak salt; Maldon’s Sea Salt, which flakes almost like little shavings of salt, is perfect for a saltcellar; Gros Sel Gris from La Paludier in Brittany is the favorite salt of many top-flight chefs; and Fleur de Sel, from Le Paludier is a creamy salt which you might want to try on local tomatoes. Last summer I saw a basket of tomatoes in Cosentino’s Market, 2666 South Bascom Avenue, San Jose, with a sign which said: “From Dave’s backyard in Mountain View”. Can’t get any more local than that!
- Celtic sea salt Widely accepted as one of the highest quality sea salts. Use less gray Celtic sea salt than any other kind of salt, because its flavor is potent. French grey sea salt has a chunkier texture while while Pink Himalayan Salt has a soft flavor. Use pink Himalayan salt as a garnish on simple boiled potato cubes.
- Hawaiian red sea salt One of the most mineral-rich sea salts in the world; can be purchased in fine or coarse grain. It’s a mix of Pacific sea salt and alaea, a red Hawaiian clay found on Kauai. The traditional seasoning for Hawaiian dishes such as Kalua Pig, Poke and Hawaiian Jerky, it also provides flavor for grilling or roasting meat; for rubs for pork loin, prime rib, or chicken; and for salads. Slightly more expensive than a regular sea salt because of the hard-to-find lava rock clay, but you can use less than you would otherwise because it’s so strong.
- Peruvian pink sea salt Sprinkle a few grains on sliced ripe tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, or potatoes.
- Murray River salt flakes From the basin of Australia’s largest river, a colorful, delicate, crunchy ideal finishing salt. Just before serving, add it to an avocado and tomato salad dressed with fresh lime juice.
- Black salt Condiment mined in Central India, this mineral-rich salt, also called kala namak, is used extensively in Indian cuisine, and added to chaats, chutneys, all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and other Indian snacks. Chaat masala, an Indian spice blend, is dependent upon black salt for its hard-boiled egg aroma, and is appreciated by vegans in dishes that mimic the taste of eggs. It is used, for example, to spice tofu to mimic an egg salad. Despite its name, kala namak is actually light pink in color.
- Infused salts Salts infused with herbs, flavors, and ingredients which can add a special touch to your cooking, raise the level of your presentations, and add subtle flavors to dishes. Add a jar or two to your spice shelf and explore more of the the world by searchng out new cultures, flavors, experiences, and ideas.
- Smoked salt Fairly new category of gourmet salts, normally naturally smoked over wood fires to infuse the salt crystals with natural smoke flavor. Smoked salts add a smokehouse flavor to roasts, chicken, grilled meats, salmon, soups, salads, sandwiches, steamed vegetables, corn, egg dishes, and baked potatoes. Interesting in color; sprinkle as a decorating garnish—or use as a glass rimmer on a Bloody Mary. Examples include alder-smoked salt and tropical sea salts that have been smoked over coconut shells and kaffir lime leaves.
- Gomasio A mixture of sesame seeds and sea salt, this is a staple in Japanese kitchens. Buy gomasio ready-made, or mix your own using black sesame seeds and dried garlic..
- Lemon Zest Salt Another blend you can make yourself with coarse sea salt and the zest of lemons (or sometimes other citrus fruits, especially grapefruit). The zest perfumes the whole blend, and the flavor is especially delicate. Try it over grilled asparagus.
- Herbed Salt One more easy-to-make blend: finely chop a small amount of herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, etc.), blend with sea salt, and use on anything savory. Blend sea salt with fresh rosemary and sage to enhance poultry, fish, roasted vegetables, or grilled meat. Or try adding a teaspoon of sea salt to this Turkey and Chicken Seasoning Mix.
- Truffle Salt Fine sea salt mixed with ground black or white truffles will perfume the salt heavily. Use this salt blend over items that are otherwise largely unseasoned: roasted celery root, mashed potatoes, beets, roasted chicken, blanched asparagus, cream sauces, potato dishes, risotto, fresh spinach pasta with seafood, baked macaroni and cheese, or a simple green salad. Mix your own or buy a ready-made product. Beware the cost of truffles, and remember it doesn’t take much!
- Tea-Smoked Salt Pacific sea salt smoked with black tea and other spices over maple and cherry woods gives dishes an interesting but not overpowering flavor.
Click below for shops carrying specialty and artisanal salts:
Andronico’s, 500 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
Draeger’s, 342 First Street, Los Altos
Napa Style, 32 North Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos
Sur La Table, 378 Santana Row, Suite 1030, Santa Clara
The Gourmet Corner, 859 North San Mateo Drive, San Mateo
Trader Joe’s, 5269 Prospect Avenue, San Jose
Whole Foods Market, 20955 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Cupertino
Williams-Sonoma, 2855 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Santa Clara
Celtic sea salt can be difficult to find. If local merchants aren’t stocking it, try celticseasalts.com.
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