I opened my galley cupboard yesterday and saw jars of English Maldon, French sel, Kosher salt, pink Hawaiian, rock salt, some regular table salt, and a few other fancy sea salts. We chefs can’t resist the allure of scented, seasoned, artisanal salts.
And it makes sense. As yacht chefs, our daily lives revolve around the ocean. We work in saltwater, swim in saltwater, use salt as a scrub for our bodies, and use salt to help sooth aching limbs. I even used it to pack a wound once when there was no medical attention for a couple of days.
How we use all these terrific salts can determine the outcome of a meal. Too much and the meal is inedible. Too little and our dishes lack flavor and that special appeal.
Salt is primarily used to add flavor, and it’s already present in lots of our food. Yet we pay sometimes exorbitant amounts for all the creative kinds of salts we see in our travels. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we really need all the fancy sea salts or can you do with a just few in your repertoire? Do you need to buy into the hype of the salt craze?
I say yes. Some of these salts affect the flavor of a dish in the perfect way, others impart the flavor more fully, and some create a finish to the flavors we work hard to create.
Most culinary suggestions for salt lean toward using two salts: one used during cooking to bring out the flavor and one to finish or enhance the flavor of a dish.
Here’s a little closer look at the different kinds of salt.
First is the refined iodized table salt found in the grocery stores. Commonly known as sodium chloride, this salt has most of its minerals stripped away. People who eat enough dark leafy greens and seafood probably get enough iodine in their diet, so this kind of salt is really unnecessary. There are so many other, better options out there for flavor.
Coarse sea salts, or gross sel, is becoming the go-to regular salt for foodies. We put this in a grinder and grind it as needed. In its coarse state, use it to create salt crusts for meat and fish. Kosher salt is considered a coarse salt.
Finishing sea salts are used to finish a dish with just a light dusting or perhaps an artful application. These salts can coarse or flaked, and they are generally harvested by hand from various regions of the world. These are the kings of the salt world. They really enhance the depth and flavor of cuisines in which they are used.
Flake salts can be paper thin and look like snowflakes. I really like this manner of salt as there are no crystals or small rocks left on the food to dissolve before it gets to the diner’s mouth.
Flavored salts add an extra flavor kick, and you can make them onboard. Just take some good quality sea salt and add a favorite herb. Then just let the flavors infuse. Black truffles chopped fine and mixed with salt offer a terrific way to enhance the food they compliment.
One note of caution. With smoked sea salts, be sure the smoke is naturally created, not a chemical smoke “flavoring”. When heated, the smoke flavoring can turn bitter and affect the flavor of the dish in bad way.
A true French fleur de sel comes from the Guerande region. This is the best salt money can buy. Usually produced once a year, it is typically hand prepared using wooden tools. Meats, salads and vegetables are perfect partners for this salt. A sel gris, or grey salt, hails from the Brittany region of France and is also hand harvested. It is grey due to the color of clay in the ponds from which it is harvested.
Hawaiian sea salt comes in black and red. The black comes from charcoal, lending a terrific flavor boost to grilled items. The The red comes from a natural clay added to it, and is mainly used as a preservative, such as with poke (fish salad) and jerky.
The newest thing to come along are artisanal sea salts such as Pacific Blue Kosher, Cypress Rosemary Flakes, Murray River salt and applewood smoked, (yes, like the bacon). These are small-batch sea salts that have been crafted to fill a niche market for food pairing. Give them a try. Find them online.
Even with all that, my favorite is still the no nonsense Italian sea salt, which is rich in minerals and lower in sodium chloride than table salt. It offers a great subtle flavor. It is harvested in Sicily where is sea water is simply dried in pans. No more refining is necessary for this great-tasting salt.
So, yes, yacht chefs need different types of salt onboard. Just make sure it is a sea salt that enhances the flavor, not detracts from it.
Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Contact her through www.the-triton.com/author/chefmarybethlawtonjohnson.