You can't cook without salt. It's as simple as that. But if you browse the grocery store, you'll notice there's more than one type of salt, and chances are you're using the wrong kind. Every kitchen task warrants a different variation of salt, but few amateur cooks know that. But really how important is it to pick the right salt?
"Many people don’t realize that each type and brand of salt has a different concentration and that these differences will impact the final dish," Ayesha Nurdjaja, executive chef at New York City restaurant Shuka, says. "In the restaurant, if I bring in a different brand of salt than we typically use, all the recipes have to be adjusted in order to get a consistent result."
We asked Nurdjaja to break down some of the basics on your everyday cooking salts. Here's what you need to know about the essential cooking seasoning.
Table salt is also known as iodized salt because of the addition of iodine, which was first used to help combat iodine deficiencies, which can cause thyroid issues. Nowadays, few Americans face such a problem, but table salt continues to find its place in salt shakers on dining tables. Table salt is incredibly fine, and the addition of anti-caking agents can give it a metallic aftertaste. If you're at a restaurant, and the food is bland, don't hesitate to sprinkle table salt. But if you're cooking at home, table salt has some better uses. "Please do not use iodized salt in your cooking," Nurdjaja says. "Save that to gargle with when you feel a sore throat coming on."
Kosher salt is not necessarily kosher. Rather, its coarser texture — compared to table salt — makes it a better choice for koshering meat to better extract the blood.
"Kosher salt is the workhorse of the kitchen," Nurdjaja says. "It can be used for most applications and hits a sweet spot in terms of texture — coarse enough so that you can feel how much you have when grabbing a pinch — and flavor — potent, but not too salty. "
If you're only going to carry one type of salt, she recommends making it kosher. Also note that different brands of kosher salt will have varying saltiness, so if you're switching up salt brands be sure to taste first and adjust measurements accordingly.
Sea salt really can be anything. You can consider any salt as sea salt as long as it was harvested from evaporated sea water. They can come as coarse or as fine as the manufacturer wants. Flavors vary depending on the location of where it was harvested, and sea salt also carries minerals unique to its location of origin.
One specialty sea salt worth calling out is fleur de sel, which can only be harvested under perfect weather conditions. The salt is moist, and it clings to your tongue, giving an intense sensation of salt without actually being super salty. It's more often than not a finishing salt, which we discuss later.
Also, because sea salt's characteristics are intrinsically linked to where it comes from, you can't just use it interchangeably with what you usually use. As with any other ingredient, make sure to taste your salt before you add it. And remember, you can always add more salt — you can't take it out.
Flavored salts, or seasoned salts, are salts that are infused with other ingredients. Garlic salt is a common type of flavored salt, and some brands can get funky with their pairings. For example, Jacobsen Salt Co. out of Portland, Oregon, makes a Stumptown coffee-infused salt, which it recommends for meats, red sauces, and ice cream floats.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt is a type of speciality salt that draws fans for its vibrant pink hue. For those who have tasted it, the salt has a subtle flavor that Nurdjaja likes to use to accent seafood. She says, "One of the ways that I like to use it is to lay a piece of fish on a slab of the salt and bake in the oven or to lay slices of fish crudo on top. This method allows the flavor to infuse slowly and offers a dramatic way to serve."
This type of salt is most often used as a finishing salt to retain its appearance, and dissolving it into food would be a waste because of its price.
Flake salt is a type of coarse sea salt that adds crunch to food. It's for getting that extra burst of salty flavor in your food while adding texture for a more pleasant mouthfeel.
"These coarse salts are termed finishing salts because you wouldn’t typically use them in the beginning of the cooking process, as the unique texture is lost as the salt dissolves," Nurdjaja says.