When asked about her thoughts on using expensive gourmet salt, Julia Child once responded, in her down to earth way, that “salt is salt.” Well, she was right—to a point. Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt, or halite, is an ionic compound with the chemical formula NaCI. It is present in all types of salt—sea salt, rock salt, kosher salt, iodized table salt, etc. Dissolved into a liquid, most salts taste much the same although sea salt has additional minerals, some table salt is “Iodized” by adding a minute amount of various iodine-containing salts, which can theoretically change the taste. When is Julia’s theory that all salts are basically equal not true? In the finish…..
When using salt to finish a dish, the salinity is a given—you put salt on something to impart a salty flavor—but what you also give the food is added texture, crunch and visual appeal. That is when all salts are not created equal. My favorite salt to use to finish food is Maldon Salt which consists of crispy flakes of pure sea salt made since Roman times in the eastern coast of England. According to their website, they have been operating out of the same traditional black Essex weather-board buildings as they did back in 1882, and Maldon Salt remains an enduring symbol of English manufacturing. It is one of only a few family-run businesses with a global reputation and its sights set on being around for another 200 years. Because Maldon Salt is still hand harvested in the traditional manner, there will always be a limit to the amount that can be produced. Frequently production is outstripped by demand as its popularity with chefs grows.
There are other fine sea salts on the market: the French Fleur de Sel with its distinctive gray tint, the Portuguese Flor de Sal and a host of others all have devoted followings. I, however, have exclusively used Maldon salt ever since I was introduced to it in England years ago. My sister-in-law who lives only a few miles from the town of Maldon in Essex never sends a package from England without including a box of Maldon Salt (thank you, Rhonda!). Unlike some sea salts that can actually be slightly damp, Maldon Salt is large, white dry flakes that can be sprinkled on whole, or crumbled between the fingers for a finer flake.
While I almost never use it cooked into food (after all, “salt is salt” and I’d hate to waste it) I love to use it as the final touch before sending a dish to the table. A sprinkle of Maldon Salt over freshly roasted, balsamic-drizzled asparagus is delicious. Similarly, freshly sautéed vegetables, pasta dishes, eggs and grilled meats all benefit from the crunchy texture and salty finish that a sprinkle of Maldon Salt imparts. In England you can get pottery holders called “salt pigs” to hold your salt, keeping it fresh but handy—you reach in to the open pig’s snout to get to your salt. Keeping with the British theme, I keep mine in an old ceramic jar from Boot’s and it always out on my kitchen counter. I should point out that I do not believe in over-salting food, preferring to leave that to the discretion of the diner. Maldon Salt also comes in a smoked version.