A couple days ago I watched a friend eagerly open her delivery from Napa Style and pull out a tin of gray salt. Coincidentally, I had just read in the January Fine Cooking about a woman who uses gray salt for salted caramels. Call me ignorant, but I had never heard of it. Anyway, she gave me her catalog...and they have not only gray but Hawaiin Red Salt, Fleur de Sel, Black Salt, Jurassic salt, Peruvian Pink and Sicilian White salt, among others.
I suppose it's not surprising that salt has terroir, and even terror. Remember the bit in the Omnivore's Dilemma about salt gathering in San Francisco Bay? How about a little PCB salt on that baked potato? Or heavy metal?
What say you? Food fad or foodie find?
Specialty salts have been around for thousands of years. In parts of Europe folks carry their own salts with them, as has become popular in a small amount of folks here in the US. I first started using Fleur de Sel, Maldon, and a few others back in the early 80's. The various salts started to become popular around 15-20 years ago here in the US.
I have seven types of salt in my cupboards. Semi-coarse Hawaiian red Alea salt, small flake Fleur de Sel, small grain Utah rock crystal, coarse French sea salt, Kosher salt, Pickling salt, and plain old iodized table salt that is probably solid rock and hasn't been used in 3-4 years. I have two sets of salt and pepper grinders out on my counters so I can grind fresh salt and pepper of the type I am in the mood for.
Salt isn't a fad or a find, just like you may have black, white, or multi-color whole and ground pepper for different uses, so the same goes for salt.
Your PCB and terror comments are off base.
Sorry..didn't mean to offend. My Baleine sea salt container reads "salt produced on protected sites," and after just finishing The Big Oyster, I won't be seaking out any Ellis Island Salt soon. I was just wondering what makes these salts so unique and superior to, say, Baleine that one can justify spending $12.50 on 9 ounces per type. Obviously you are a connoisseurof salt and I am not, but I would like to learn more about the taste differences. What are some of your favorite salt pairings and why?
"after just finishing The Big Oyster" Kurlansky wrote a book on Salt.
I use Hawaiian Sea Salt on dishes where the crunch and taste of salt is noticable. I do not put "designer" salt in a pot of stew.
"Designer" salt is added to a serving just after plating. The diner gets a few sprinkles on a fork full, the crunch and burst of salt is often enjoyable. My first exposure was with poke, hawaiian style marinated (raw) fish.
Hawaiian Sea Salt comes in 3 different crystal sizes, costs ~$2-3 for 2 lbs. I use Norton's Kosher Salt for dry brining.
Can't help on most but I can vouch for the saltiness of the sea off Sicily and so Sicilian salt reminds me of holidays. Danish sea salt (island name escapes me) reminds me of cold windy mid-summers days and so tends to have other uses.
Both of them are far 'saltier' than maldon salt which is everyday use stuff in my house. Doesn't help I'm sure, but unless I want to notice the salt I wouldn't use either the Sicilian or the Danish stuffs.