My Salty Obsession

I’ve known lots of people who will say they are addicted to chocolate.  Or cake.  Or cookies.  Or Diet Coke. (Really?)  But I will fully admit that I am a saltaholic.  My confession is my salt obsession.  Food just isn’t the same without it.  Potato chips versus a candy bar?  Crunchy, salty potato chips will win out for me every time.  Thankfully I don’t have any problems with high blood pressure, and if that day ever comes just be prepared that I will be one unhappy camper.  I do drink on average about 14 full 8-ounce glasses of water every day, so I’m hoping that helps with the salt intake.  Keep flushing all that sodium out while flushing.  And in my book all those trips to the bathroom also count as exercise.

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Years ago I discovered so many more salts than I had routinely been using in daily cooking.  My “go to” salts had been kosher salt, grey sea salt from England and French fleur de sel (I love that the name means “flower of the sea”).  Then I stepped inside the Spice & Tea Exchange little shop on a trip to Asheville, NC and I stopped dead in my tracks.  Holy mother of salt, this was like walking into a candy store for me. My tastebuds had a heyday.  I’ve hosted plenty of wine tastings, but if you come to my house you may just have a salt tasting too.  Or we can just kill two birds with one stone and taste Chardonnay infused sea salt (yes, it’s a real thing).  If you don’t have one near you, here’s a link to The Spice & Tea Exchange website, of course they ship! http://www.spiceandtea.com

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Maldon flaked sea salt from Essex, England is a beautiful, bright white large-flake salt crystal.  It is perfect as a “finishing” salt, especially on desserts where you can see the large flakes.  You’ve probably seen it in the dessert case atop Salted Caramel Brownies or truffles.  There is something SO satisfying about biting into something sweet like a brownie, and encountering that unexpected crunch of the salt.  It’s the ultimate yin and yang party in your mouth.  Because salt adds that little something, a je ne sais quoi you might not know how to describe but you know that it was perfect.

Friends have been astounded (or maybe horrified) that I carry those little salt packets from carry out restaurants in my purse.  I don’t know why people act surprised by it. Nothing worse than getting stuck with food that isn’t seasoned enough.  Once at a breakfast meeting a colleague couldn’t believe it when I sprinkled salt on my oatmeal, along with the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.   I explained that it’s the difference between eating an oatmeal cookie with salt and one without salt. There’s a reason that cookie recipes, and cakes and pies and other desserts, include salt.  Trust me, try it sometime.

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I keep many of my salts, along with grinders for black and white peppercorns, on a marble lazy Susan next to the cooktop so all I have to do is reach over when I’m cooking.  For years they just sat on the countertop until I discovered the turntable in Cost Plus World Market.  You can find one here – http://www.worldmarket.com/product/white+marble+lazy++susan.do.  Now every day when I am cooking I give the turntable a happy little twirl to select which salt or pepper I want to use.   Sexy action in the kitchen with every spin.   

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This gorgeous copper topped grinder is my favorite.  I think it’s the sexiest kitchen tool I own.  I found it unexpectedly in Crate & Barrel a couple of years ago, and I love it filled with the pink Himalayan salt.  Here’s a link to the copper grinder, and they also have a matching pepper grinder. http://www.crateandbarrel.com/copper-salt-mill/s279862.   I first discovered the Himalayan salt in Cortona, Italy about eight years ago where it was on the table in a little ristorante.  It was such a special touch, and now you can find  it anywhere. (Hint:  In the US, stores like TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are great places to buy pink Himalyan salt, a much better value than in a fancy gourmet shop.)

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For large crystal or small nugget salts, it’s easiest to use a salt grinder.  But be sure that it’s made specifically for salt, as most of them have a ceramic grinding mechanism.  Salt will corrode the metal in a traditional pepper grinder, and that’s not a pretty sight. 

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IMG_1550I found this amazing, beautifully flaked salt at Hediard, a historical boutique in Paris at Place de la Madeleine, http://www.hediard.fr . It is from Cyprus, Chypre en francais. These stunning salt crystals are imbedded with the color of the sun, and every time I pick them up they sparkle. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I also found it in this rosemary infused salt.  The color is not the same, but the smell is heavenly.  It’s terrific on grilled meats and vegetables, and it’s dynamite as a finishing salt on top of cream of potato soup drizzled with olive oil.

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If you’ve never tried smoked hickory and alder wood salts, you are in for a treat.  They are terrific on grilled meats and fish but also wake up most vegetables in an unexpected way. But I have to admit I’ve never tried chocolate sea salt, which you can also find at the Spice & Tea Exchange.  I’d rather enjoy a piece of good quality dark chocolate that has sea salt added in.  Yum.

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And one of the most prized salts comes from (yep, you guessed it) Provence.  The Camargue is a natural region located south of Arles, France, where the two arms of the Rhone River meet the Mediterranean Sea. Salt marshes in the southeast corner of the Camargue are famous for their salt production, producing up to 15,000 tons a day in the summer.  Fleur de Sel de Camargue is hand raked and harvested by hand by a master salt maker, un saunier, a process that has changed very little in more than a thousand years. So just when you might think “salt is salt,” just ask a Provencal master who gathers this salt and is so proud of it that he signs his work.  I think if I were un saunier I would put my name on my salt too.

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So now you know my obsession.  Which is yours, salty or sweet?

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