Food & Drink

Salts of the earth

Now that the serial killer Kevorkian has been put out of action, what’s an aspiring suicide to do? Eat too little salt. It’s a slow painful way to go, but death is certain. You’ll get all twitchy, develop intense muscle pain and eventually shuffle off this mortal coil as a wizened mess.

If you want to live, and your eating habits are aimed only at that goal, use your table salt within reason, and something will get you eventually, but not lack of sodium.

But if pleasure’s an essential part of your feeding activities, reconsider table salt. For one thing, it’s not pure. It doesn’t clump, because it’s been adulterated to prevent that. It contains iodine, because long ago the Morton company agreed with government medics who wanted the stuff added as an easy way to combat goiters.

And if you’ll taste any of the increasingly available exotic salts, you’ll find a very distinct difference. Table salt is gritty and has an unpleasant, steely aftertaste. Pure sea salt is entirely different, and in some cases actually has sweet tones.

My newest discovery, because it’s only recently become available locally, is Himalayan pink salt, mined at 1,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level in Pakistan and Nepal. Because it was deposited by ancient oceans, it contains all the minerals and trace elements of seawater, which is where we originated and stayed until a carp grew feet, walked on shore and headed uptown looking for steak.

That may be why the pink salt tastes so damn good. Its pleasant color is from iron content, and is attractive enough that some artisans make lamps from hollowed large pink salt chunks. They also claim that these lamps are natural ionizers with specific health benefits.

Before moving on to other exotics, I’d highly recommend that you follow the lead of most good chefs and replace your crystal table salt with kosher salt. Because it’s more flaky than granular, it’s easier to measure accurately when adding pinches to whatever’s on the stove. It’s also cheap and has a clean, pleasant taste and slight crunch.

But consider most of the following to be finishing salts, which is to say that they usually should be added just before serving; using them during cooking is an expensive waste.

• Fleur de sel — Widely regarded as the queen of all salt, it’s collected by hand from France’s Brittany coast. Moist, faintly gray and delicately delicious with a slight floral scent, it’s wonderful sprinkled on just about anything, even sweets and something as simple as bread with unsalted butter.

• Flor de sal — This is the less expensive, newly available Portuguese equivalent of the French version. A little grayer and a bit less delicate, but with a similar clean, mild flavor.

• Red alaea — A Hawaiian sea salt that gets its rust-red color from volcanic clay. It has a dusky flavor that goes best with meats and medium- to strong-flavored fish.

• Black lava salt — Also from Hawaii, its midnight color comes from the minerals in lava. I haven’t yet tasted this one, but look forward to the experiment.

Although the following recipe originally called for mixing fleur de sel with the other ingredients before roasting, I think it’s better added at the end to get the full flavor and texture of the delicate salt.

 

Roasted Almonds with Rosemary Fleur De Sel

(Adapted from Epicurious.com)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups whole blanched almonds (or substitute whole raw almonds with skin on)
1-1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil; oil with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk egg white in medium bowl until foamy. Add sugar; whisk until frothy. Whisk in rosemary and cayenne. Add nuts; stir and transfer to baking sheet, spreading in single layer. Roast until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, for about 40 minutes.

4. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fleur de sel and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; store at room temperature.)

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to rbohy@metrotimes.com

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