Salting essentials


Salt is a critical component in cooking. Almost every recipe includes salt in some form, but the best salts to use probably aren’t in your cupboard, says salt expert Mark Bitterman.  “In America [salt] was just this white stuff you never thought about,”  Bitterman says. He was inspired to pursue all things salt over twenty years ago, when he was motorcycling through Europe. He ate a steak that blew him away, and when he asked about it, the waiter said it was just a steak with salt.  Bitterman looked more closely at the meat and “saw silvery crystals that crunched and added bursts of flavor to each bite. He was hooked, and raced out to Normandy to learn more about how the salt was made.”

Since no one was doing what he was with respect to salt, Bitterman he coined a term for it: selmelier, like a sommelier for salt. He has traveled extensively researching salt and has written two books about it. Bitterman also owns three stores called The Meadow where salt is a premier product; and now he has his own salt company, Bitterman Salt Co., based out of Portland, Oregon.

He recommends using only natural salts, like fleur de sel, sel gris, and flake salt, in your cooking. “People forget that [salt is] a food,” Bitterman says. Since these natural salts contain far more trace elements than ordinary table or kosher salt, they will add character to your food. Depending on what you want from your food, he says you choose a natural salt to match. “If you want a salt to disappear and not be in the way, choose a fine salt like fleur de sel; if you want a burst of flavor that then disappears, try a flake salt; if you want a bold, evolving flavor, choose a coarser salt like sel gris.”
As Bitterman points out, even the highest-quality salt is still inexpensive, so why not use it to get that extra benefit?

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  • veronicafrance  on  December 17, 2015

    Hmm, well using fleur de sel to salt pasta water or indeed anything while it's cooking is a complete waste of money. I only ever use it to sprinkle on food as a finish. It's more expensive to produce, and the whole point is the texture. Otherwise, a big pot of sel gris or coarse sea salt serves most cooking purposes.

  • manycookbooks  on  December 18, 2015

    I agree with Chef Bitterman. In the past couple of years, I have "discovered" the wonderful world of salts. I grew up with the cardboard canister with the little girl with the umbrella, and I thought that's all there was! Boy, am I glad I expanded my horizons. If anyone is interested, my post (link below) explores salt.

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