Some people collect little statues of owls. Some collect cookbooks.
I collect salt. Well, cookbooks too, but that's another story.
It isn't like I started out to collect salt. I didn't have too much time on my hands one day so I decided to start a salt collection. I don't have a lighted, rotating display case in the living room to show off my favorite piles of salt. When visitors come to the house, I do not take them to the cabinet where I keep the salt, proudly boring them with long descriptions of each kind.
I don't talk about my salt collection because, frankly, it's a little embarrassing (though the same could be said about collections of little statues of owls). And anyway, you have to know whom you are talking to. If you make an ill-advised reference to your stash of Himalayan Pink or mention that you only bring out your Hawaiian Black for special occasions, you could quickly find yourself arrested.
Like everyone else, for years I only used that salt that comes out of the blue canisters, the salt that pours every time it rains. And then all the cooking professionals started talking about how they use kosher salt, so I figured that if it is good enough for cooking professionals it is good enough for me.
Kosher salt has a cleaner, brighter flavor than regular table salt, plus it is easier to control the amount when you take a pinch of it and sprinkle it over a pan of food. Also, and this point cannot be overstated, it is just more fun to take a pinch of kosher salt than to pour out table salt from a shaker.
When droves of people who are not cooking professionals started buying kosher salt, they naturally drove up the price. But whether the supply has increased or the demand has gone down, the price has dropped back down to about what it should be, if you know where to buy it. I used to get it in bulk at a reasonable price at an Amish market in Annapolis. I loved buying it there because the thought of Amish kosher salt strikes me as hilarious, though I can't quite explain why -- and no one else seems to agree with me about it.
I started with kosher salt, but before long it escalated out of hand. Gray sea salt came next, brine-flavored chunky bits of slightly moist salt that I like to put on fish to bring out the flavor of the sea. Next up was Hawaiian black salt that I also put on fish because the label tells me to (at least it looks attractive there, which may be the point) and Himalayan pink salt, which tastes smooth and mild. Plus, it comes from the Himalayan Mountains, or at least the foothills, and what could be cooler than that?
Smoked salt flakes became an immediate favorite because they impart both smokiness and saltiness to any dish. The flakes dissolve quickly on the tongue, leaving just a faint crunch. My wife likes to dip roasted almonds in it.
But then the salty floodgates opened. Like anyone who becomes interested in a single subject, my tastes became more esoteric. I have the crunchy, almost effervescent fleur de sel, red salt of indeterminate flavor, peppered salt, vanilla salt. I have Kala Namak from India, which is also called black salt but is in fact a sort of dull pink. I have salts mixed in with an assortment of powdered herbs.
Most recently I bought a box of Maldon salt, which makes me regret saying anything snide about the price of kosher salt. Maldon salt flakes have a deliciously pure taste and are so thin they just seem to shimmer on your tongue before disappearing. They were a fabulous addition to last night's meal of wild salmon cooked on a wooden plank on a grill.
It is possible that my pursuit of exotic salts is some sort of Yuppie one-upsmanship, a way of boastfully proclaiming my primacy in the kitchen by the accoutrements that I use, a means to establish status through condiments.
Nah. I just like the different flavors.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.