Salt: When, Why, How much – A Primer

There are so many kinds of salt available now that it’s become difficult to know which to use for what. Some generalizations can be made:

  • A box of inexpensive kosher salt is ideal for salting large amounts of water for boiling vegetables or pasta.
  • Fine salt, either bought fine or ground, is best for seasoning foods in which the crunch of coarse salt would be too much.
  • Sea salt, ideally the rather gray looking sel de Guérande, contains essential minerals and a delicate marine flavor.
  • Fleur de sel is ideal in tiny pinches placed on delicate foods.

What is fleur de sel?

Fleur de sel is a kind of sea salt that is harvested in some parts of France by trapping sea water in lagoons and letting the water dry. As the water evaporates, salt begins to form on the surface of the pond in a characteristic flower pattern. The salt is raked off, allowed to dry slightly more, and marketed as fleur (“flower”) de sel. If you look closely at a pinch of fleur de sel, you’ll see that it’s made of flat crystals.

Fleur de sel has a delicate flavor and looks great on top of small servings. It’s expensive, so use it at the end.

When do I add salt?

It varies, if you have plan ahead, season fish and meat a couple of hours before cooking and then pat them dry before browning. This gives the salt time to penetrate the food. Because salt draws water out of foods, which can interfere with browning, the foods need to be patted dry.

If you don’t have time to salt meat ahead of time, salt just before browning or just before serving.  Broths and sauces should be salted just before serving in case you want to reduce them to concentrate them. Boiling down liquids increases the concentration of any salts they contain.

Why is some sea  salt wet?

Sea salt is what’s called hygroscopic (a substance tending to absorb moisture from the air).  To prevent this, some companies add a magnesium compound to the salt to keep it dry. This also makes it easier to pour.

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