Is sea salt saltier?
In my Thanksgiving recipes yesterday I used sea salt -- in the creamed onions, in the pie crust, etc. I used the quantity called for, and wow, what a salty meal. I'll be drinking water for weeks. Did I unknowingly tip the salt canister into the pot, or is sea salt actually saltier than "regular" salt, and what sort of adjustments do people recommend?
Definitely not a good idea to use sea salt in a pie crust--or in any baking--unless you grind it to the same texture as table salt in a mortar and pestle (a lot of work, when table salt will give the same results). It tastes saltier because it doesn't dissolve/integrate as readily and you get larger bits with more intense burst of saltiness.
And, because you are using volume measurements (as opposed to weight), with differently shaped bits of salt, your measurements will always be off, since these measurements are given for table salt.
Robert Wolke wrote a series of great articles (for which he won a James Beard award, I believe) using scientific methods to debunk a lot of widely held beliefs about salt. The gist was that all salt basically tastes the same, but that the shape and size of the salt "crystal" can influence the flavor.
My understanding is that, for the most part, salt is salt, at least in terms of mass. In other words, if you were to dissolve 1/4 lb of different kinds of salt in a gallon of water, each gallon would have virtually identical salinity.
If you're measuring salt by VOLUME, on the other hand, things get more complicated. A given volume of salt can vary widely in mass depending on the size and shape of the individual grains. If the sea salt you used was especially fine grained, it's easy to add way too much salt if you're measuring by volume.
Most recipes give volume measurements based on plain table salt (strangely, even a lot of cookbooks that recommend using kosher salt nonetheless give measurements based on table salt). My suggestion is to add the salt gradually and taste it until it reaches the level of saltiness that you like. Another more geeky approach that you could use in cases where you can't taste-as-you-go (ie, baking) might be to compare the weights of a cup of table salt vs. a cup of your sea salt, and adjust your salting habits based on the formula generated.
Depending on where your sea salt comes from, it may be more or less "salty" than the standard, Morton's-style table salt. There is an large amount of variability in sea salt, both in terms of taste and chemical composition. For baking or other unforgiving recipes, most cookbooks recommend sticking with table salt for precisely measured amounts. Kosher salt is a reasonable substitute, but if you use sea salt you run the risk of discovering what you did yesterday -- it can be either too salty or not salted enough.
If you are interested in learning more about salt, Mark Kurlansky's book on the subject is fascinating.
Agreed with most points given here. You will find that using the different salts (table, popcorn, black, sal de mer, kosher, etc) each is different in it's purity and may also contain other minerals that enhance or distract the sodium/salt. Some salt from france you may not ever have a desire to use because it looks dirty or dark with bits of things in there. If you are near a location of Sur la Table or in Los Angeles go to Surfas Supply and you can look at many interesting ingredients like this. To your point: Baking is best done with table salt unless you are needing a garnish on focaccia or rolls use sea salt sparingly. Cooking on the other hand is more forgiving since it will be disolved normally in the process of heating or mixing with an acidic ingredient. Hope this clarifies not confuses you.