Salt is just as important on a delicate caramel as it is on a thick steak. Salt does more than improve flavor. It intensifies it. Salt reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness and provides balance to almost any dish. Finding the best salt for cooking can take you dish to the next level.
Just as bakers have several kinds of flours in their arsenals, cooks should have several kinds of salts in theirs. Chemically, all salts are the same: a compound of sodium and chloride. Gastronomically, salts can be very different. What distinguishes one from another are texture, shape, and mineral content—qualities that affect how a salt tastes as well as how a pinch interacts with the food you’re cooking.
Watch the Video: How to Season to Taste
Here are six common salts that every cook should have at the ready:
1. Rock Salt
Rock salt can be found and mined from different parts of the earth. Rock salt is most commonly refined, needs to be ground, and should also be food grade due to some impurities. Because there are often minerals present in rock salt, it is said that cooking with rock salt gives food a distinctive taste.
2. Table Salt
The most common kind of salt found in the kitchen comes in either plain or iodized—the addition of the latter can impart a slight bitter aftertaste. These tiny uniform crystals pour smoothly and dissolve easily because of anti-caking agents, making it a go-to for savory sauces and sweet treats.
When to use it: Filling the shaker, making sauces or dressings, or baking
3. Kosher Salt
These coarse, flaky crystals were originally used for koshering meat because the multi-faceted crystals cling well to flesh. But since this salt dissolves fast and its flavor disperses quickly, cooks use it on everything from pork roast to popcorn. It’s also easy to pick up with your fingers. The only thing to be aware of is that the large crystals are difficult to measure by volume.
When to use it: Seasoning meat and vegetables and filling your salt cellar
4. Coarse Salt
These large-grained salt crystals are best used in a grinder, providing an easy way of serving up freshly ground sea salt with all of your meals. Coarse salt tends to be less moisture-sensitive than its finer-grained counterparts, so it resists caking and is easily stored. Try Himalayan pink salt for a pop of color, too.
When to use it: Grind over any dish for a freshly ground salt flavor or create a salt crust on meat
5. Sea Salt
The soft, flaky texture of sea salt crystals is a product of seawater evaporation. The process is slow and expensive, so you pay a premium for this stuff. Though the shapes of the flakes are large and irregular, the flavor remains mild, clean and consistent and doesn’t have any of the bitterness that some table salts do.
When to use it: Sprinkle on top of finished dishes to enhance the natural flavors and add a delicate crunch
6. Smoked Gray Sea Salt
This relatively new and exciting gourmet salt adds a unique smoky flavor to savory dishes. When shopping for smoked sea salt, make sure to find one that’s naturally smoked and doesn’t use liquid smoke for flavoring. Traditional cold smoking adds a sophisticatedly subtle pungency that enhances fish, meat and poultry.
When to use it: When grilling, oven roasting, cooking salmon, making marinades, serving lentil soup, or sprinkling over popcorn or nuts