Food for Thought
Move aside coffee man: Gourmet salts are the new craze, tableside serviceincluded
Salt gets a bad rap.
Probably because Americans use refined salt and way too much of it. Think of all the iodized salt (and lard) in fast foods, all the salt used in packaged and processed foods. No wonder the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year that Americans consume too much salt leading to high blood pressure, which leads to strokes and heart disease.
But the other side of the salty coin is that you need some salt in order to live. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day as the Adequate Intake level for most Americans. Which is less sodium than you get in a Chicken Fiesta Taco Salad at Taco Bell. So, yes, too much salt is bad. But real salt, unrefined salt, in small doses is sublime. And it tastes so delicious.
In the past few years gourmet salt has taken off the way coffee did when Starbucks went nationwide.
I have a well-worn copy of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. It’s one of the most informative food books I’ve ever read. Did you know Roman soldiers were partially paid in salt, hence the term salary? (Note to Editor: Don’t get any weird ideas.)
That book is probably where I got a fascination for salt. That and I once saw a television report on The Meadow, a New York City shop specializing in gourmet salts of the world. Man, if I thought I could make a living opening up a shop like that in Houston I would.
Like most Americans, I grew up thinking salt came out of a blue paper carton with a picture of a little girl with an umbrella on it, and its tiny little granules were pretty flavorless.
But in the past few years gourmet salt has taken off the way coffee did when Starbucks went nationwide.
There’s something simply beautiful about gourmet salt. If dining in restaurants, grocery shopping and watching master chefs at work is theater, than gorgeous salts are like the raw ingredients of visual art.
So, imagine my delight in dining at the new bistro when a waiter arrived tableside with a salt service. There before me was a tray with three pristine white bowls piled with perfect crystals: White sea salt, Himalayan pink salt and black Hawaiian lava salt. A colorful palette of seasoning!
And yes, you really can taste the difference between salts. Take a tiny amount of three fine salts on your plate and delicately dip a finger in each. Cleanse your palate between tastes, just as you would when tasting wines. Actually, maybe you should just try this at home, at least until salt tastings become as acceptable as wine tastings.
Imagine my delight in dining at the new Sorrel Urban Bistro when a waiter arrived tableside with a salt service. There before me was a tray with three pristine white bowls piled with perfect crystals.
Because you do have at least three types of salt at home. Right?
Here’s what’s in my kitchen currently.
My go-to favorite is Fumée de Sel, a grayish sea salt smoked in Chardonnay oak barrels. It has just a hint of smoke flavor and goes into almost anything, sautéed vegetables, sauces, I even sprinkle just a pinch on cheddar biscuits on those rare occasions when I bake. Oh, and atop vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of virgin olive oil.
Than there’s the all-purpose Jurassic salt I got at the farmers market that claims to come from a Gulf Coast salt dome from (you guessed it) the Jurassic Period. It’s a chunky white salt with a mild taste. I keep it in my salt cellar. Yes, I have one, don’t you?
Then there’s the red Hawaiian salt, pretty and with a taste of the ocean that works great on seafood dishes.
And there’s the impulse purchased Bacon Salt. On the plus side it is low sodium. On the negative side it’s not made with real bacon and no, it doesn’t turn everything into bacon like the ad claims, although I kinda like it on green beans if I’m too lazy to add real bacon to them.
And where do you buy such salts in Houston?
Central Market and Whole Foods Market have pretty good selections and even the regular H-E-Bs and Randalls stock specialty salts these days.
And here’s a place you might not think of. Sur La Table is not just for picking up a nice sauté pan (I covet the Le Creuset in white) they also have a good selection of gourmet salts. They even have a jar of Himalayan pink salt rocks that comes with its own little salt grater. I am so adding that to my home salt collection.
Sure, gourmet salts are more expensive than Morton Salt, but they also have less sodium and more flavor so you can use less of them.
So here’s to salt. In all its beauty and flavor.