PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am


Feel the pinch A friend asked me: 'Are you a salt snob?' 'Of course not,' I replied, rather indignant that she thought me capable of snobbery. 'So what kind of salt do you use?' was the next question. 'What are you using it for?' I countered. 'Are you cooking with it, using it to boil pasta or blanch vegetables, seasoning meats with it, or finishing a dish?' Her growing conviction that I was, in fact, a salt snob was sealed when, needing to season a dish we were eating, I ignored the restaurant's salt shaker and pulled out from my handbag a tiny sealable case that I keep filled with Maldon salt.

Despite appearances, I'm really not a salt snob: I use ordinary table salt if that's all that's available, although I don't have it in my house (not because I'm afraid my other salts will be contaminated by its presence, but because I have plenty of other types on my crowded kitchen shelves). But Maldon and several other types of salt (such as fleur de sel) offer more than just flavour enhancement; they add crunch, which I like for textural contrast. These are more expensive than ordinary table salts, but are cheap compared with rare varieties such as Okinawan sea salt, Himalayan pink salt and Laeso Saltsyderi from Denmark.

Edible salts (there are many more that are not safe for human consumption) come under various categories, including mined or sea salt; refined or unrefined; and by the consistency or texture (such as fine, medium or coarse, or grains or crystals). Mined salt comes from ancient salt deposits, which are dissolved with water, pumped to the surface of the earth for easy extraction and then evaporated. Sea salt is obtained from sea water that's corralled into salt beds and then evaporated, although different harvesting methods can change the texture and cost.

With refined salt, almost all the minerals have been chemically removed. It's practically pure sodium chloride (although many of these table salts have iodine added), so it tastes saltier and harsher than other types. Unrefined salt still contains many of the minerals and trace elements it had in nature, so the colour and flavour reflect the 'terroir' of where it was harvested from.

The consistency and texture of salt are easy to understand. Salt grains are dense and therefore taste more intense while salt crystals are lighter, airier and crunchier. Salt crystals take up more space, so a teaspoon of crystals won't add the same amount of salt flavour as a teaspoon of salt grains. Measured by weight, though, they're the same.

Kosher salt gets its name because it's used to purify meat by religious Jews. I consider it a multipurpose salt: I dissolve it in water when boiling pasta, use it to season meat and fish (it sprinkles evenly, without clumping) and add it to food as it cooks.

But when it's time to serve the food, that's when more expensive types of salt have their moment to shine. The most basic ones to have on hand are fleur de sel or Maldon for crunch. Also nice are volcanic black salt, which adds a dramatic touch to pale-coloured foods; green tea salt or yuzu salt for seafood dishes; and smoked salt for robust meats.

(tryk): noun, masculine. Trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.

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