Amateur cooks might think salt is salt, but most professional chefs are fanatical about the stuff, using different types for cooking, baking, and finishing. But with hundreds of salts on the market, each with their own shape, size, color, and twee backstory, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out where to begin. So we polled five chefs and restaurateurs across the country about their favorite fancy salts, whether you’re shopping for yourself or the aspiring Escoffiers in your life.
Gunnar Gíslason, Executive Chef at Agern, New York:
“I love Saltverk sea salt from the very west of Iceland. The flavor and saltiness is right up my alley, but most importantly, their flake salt is produced with 100 percent geothermal energy in middle of nowhere in stunningly beautiful Reykjanes. We use it as a finishing salt for a lot of our plates, but especially on top of any fish and meat. I feel like Saltverk is a bit softer and more mild in flavor than a lot of other salts, and I love the way it’s produced.”
Sarah Gavigan, the chef/owner of Otaku Ramen, Nashville:
“I like to use this inexpensive Korean sea salt for everyday cooking. I obviously make a lot of soup, and this salt is very fine, almost like talcum, so it dissolves into liquids really well. Because it’s 100 percent sea salt, with no additives, it doesn’t have any of that off-putting ammonia taste — it just brightens everything it touches. It’s almost like MSG, plumping up flavor.
I probably use too much of it at home, but it’s just so good.”
Jen Pelka, owner of The Riddler, San Francisco:
“At The Riddler, we’ll have a popcorn machine for serve-yourself complimentary popcorn all day long, with a selection of 12 seasoned salts. As you can imagine, we’ve done lots of testing with all sorts of salts, and we are obsessed with a Fleur de Sel from the Isle of Rhé by Esprit du Sel. It’s collected by hand from the surface of the water in the Esprit du Sel bays, and dried in the sun. Even by itself on popcorn, warm butter, and nothing else, it’s perfect.”
Hakata Sel De Mer Roti ($17)
Nick Korbee, chef at Egg Shop, New York:
“I’m all about the Hakata Sel De Mer Roti. It’s harvested in Mexico and Australia, then imported to Japan where it’s mixed with Japanese seawater before being dehydrated at a high temperature and roasted again. This is fine sea salt that truly tastes like the sea, with a relatively mild brininess and a slightly vegetal finish. It’s my go-to for high quality beef, game, exotic eggs, and fresh seafood. It accentuates natural flavor while providing a subtle earthiness that leaves your guests in awe of your secret umami genius.”
Kiawe Smoked Sea Salt ($15)
Bruce Bromberg, Co-Founder, chef and owner of Blue Ribbon Restaurants:
“After moving to Hawaii two years ago I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of the sea salts, but one day at the Farmer’s Market in Waimea, on the Big Island, I stumbled across Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt. It has radically changed the way I use salt and how I cook. These salts are derived from waters that are brought up to the surface from 2,200 feet deep and dried by the sun in a natural manner to create a light, flaky crystal. The Kiawe Smoked version is amazing for curing and for foods with a bold flavor, like roasts, ribs, and chicken; I like the Guava Smoked for more delicate dishes, like roasted vegetables, poke, and crudo.”
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