3.22.2014

Confessions of a Salt Addict

I used to hate salt. My poor mother was never allowed to salt anything if she expected me to eat it.

Fleur de sel de Guérande
That was then; this is now. Today, I consider salt a major food group. I cannot imagine my kitchen life without it! (An aside note to my blood pressure: please, please, pretty please remain normal!)

David's kosher salt
What I didn't know when I was young is that, for the most part, salt generally permeates foods during the cooking; adding it after the fact doesn't really do anything except give you little bursts of salt with your otherwise unseasoned food. Sometimes this is what you want but, most times, not. Salt is especially necessary during the cooking of starches: potatoes, rice, pasta. Have you ever watched an Italian chef salt the water? It is done by the handful just after the water reaches boiling and before adding the pasta. As the salted water is absorbed, it gives the starch its taste.

Fleur de sel de Camargue
When don't you salt before cooking? When cooking dried beans and legumes. They get salted at the end, lest they get tough. Also, when reducing sauces, salt lightly and season after reduction. The liquid will reduce but the salt will not - it will in fact be intensified.

Some U.S. salts - Martha's Vineyard sea salt (thanks, Susan!), truffle salt from Seattle, and Black Hawaiian (thanks, Patrician!)
When I was young, I was aware of only one type of salt available in stores: Morton's iodized salt. To this day, I don't like iodized salt. Call me crazy, but it tastes salty without enhancing the flavors of the food. Maybe that is why I didn't like salt as a kid. I can't remember when I switched to kosher salt, but it made such a difference. It is my table salt, my standard cooking salt. Someone asked me why I prefer kosher salt over sea salt, and the answer is simple: kosher salt is readily and affordably available in large quantities. Sea salt is not.

Maldon and sel gris (thanks to the Reverend Susan!)
That said, I have a collection of more than 20 different salts. (I am blushing with embarrassment...) If you count multiple brands of the same type - let's say truffle salt, or Maldon sea salt, or gray salt - the number increases exponentially. I have Hawaiian Red Alaea, black Turkish, Provençal sel de mer, sea salts from Martha's Vineyard and Baja, México, smoked black Hawaiian, hickory smoked, lemon flakes, coriander salt from Italy... the list goes on. Many of these are treasured gifts from friends.

Each salt I have is used in a specific way and, yes, I use them all. Why not?

Remember the Mendiant Tart with flakes of Maldon sea salt? It was one of my favorite uses of a salt in a dessert.

Porcini salt
Recently, when I made an étouffée that called for a smoked sausage. I used smoked Durango (Colorado) sea salt because my sausage wasn't smoked. I’ve been in Durango, and didn’t notice the sea, but I digress. Nonetheless, it imparted a lovely, light smoky flavor that didn't overwhelm the dish.

Turkish black (almost blue) pyramids
When I am garnishing little hors d'œuvres topped with sour cream, I choose a colored salt to make the nibbles look even more tempting... perhaps blue Turkish salt, or Hawaiian Red Alaea.

Cardamom salt brought back from Italy
When adding a final flourish to risotti or meat dishes, I reach for the sel gris (gray salt) because the little zing it gives is just amazing. Sel gris, according to my friend Susan at The Modern Trobadors, happens to be Patricia Wells' and Mark Bittman's go-to salt, as well. Sel de mer is very important in Provençal cuisine, and I highly recommend that you check out her post, Aigues-Mortes: Sea Salt, Sea Salt, this week to learn more about salt harvesting and production in that region.

A really nice Alderwood smoked salt (thanks, Kevin and Kristine!)
As I write and post recipes, I usually don't tell you when I use a really unusual salt, because I don't want you running out to find it when it really isn't necessary to flavor your meal.

Herbes de Provence salt (thanks Susan and Towny!)
But, if someone has gifted you one of these unique salts (or a 'set' of salts), I encourage you to use them. Experiment. Taste and sense the differences - the texture, flavor, color, and how each makes you salivate just a little differently.

Coarse sel gris
Mark's mother, Dorothy, gave me her recipe for salted oatmeal cookies. To me, they were a revelation... the caramel flavor of the brown sugar combined with the chewy oatmeal and salted tops... mmmmmm. Just heaven. And I have yet to meet someone who can eat just one.

Hickory smoked salt (thanks to my brother, Mike!)
So there. I admit it. My name is David, and I am addicted to salt.

~ David

Dorothy’s Salted Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar   
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups rolled oats
Fleur de sel de Camargue for finishing

Cream butter and sugar; add egg and beat well.

Sift flour, kosher salt, baking powder, and baking soda together and add to first mixture.  Add vanilla and oats and mix well.

Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch logs, wrap in waxed paper, and chill for at least 1 hour and preferably for 2 hours.   

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Cut logs into 3/8-inch slices and place on greased or parchment lined cookie sheets.  Sprinkle tops generously with Fleur de sel.  Bake 10 minutes. 

Makes 6 dozen cookies.

Front to back: lemon flakes, Durango smoked, Hawaiian red alaea, black Cypress flakes

50 comments:

  1. Appy's nurse told him to use MORE salt: low blood pressure and pulse would benefit! So...today I will make these yummy cookies for tea time. THANK you for this salty post!

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    1. Yay! I am so glad, Susan. What a relief that someone besides me needs their salt. :)

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  2. Beautiful photos. Not easy to make salt look sexy! I think I will make the cookies today and surprise Susan.

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    1. Thanks, Towny! When I started photographing this, all I could think was, "How on earth will I shoot salt?" But it came out well. Your shots on The Modern Trobadors are gorgeous, too! ... I am sure Susan will love these cookies - they are quite addictive!

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    2. They were wonderful, especially after a long day. Of course, it snowed today--not for long, but those cookies were even more welcome with a cup of hot tea!

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    3. So glad you liked them. Sorry to hear about the snow... We had a cloud. :)

      Loved your piece on Aigues-Mortes! Stay warm!

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    4. Towny made the dough, as he wrote above, but we did not bake all the cookies until last night when another couple came over to our house for coffee and tea after dinner. We sliced and baked them and voilà... what a hit they were!

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    5. It is always good to share the wealth, Susan! And I should have mentioned that they needn't be baked all at once. The special disadvantage of baking them all at the same times is that I eat them all at the same time...

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  3. "So there. I admit it. My name is David, and I am addicted to salt."
    Of course the only appropriate response here is:
    "Hi David, we love you David."
    Reading about the salted oatmeal cookies I got into a frenzy, fingers stumbling over mouse and keyboard to get to the comments in order to ask for the recipe. Luckily while scrolling I saw the recipe... Can't wait to make them.

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    1. Thank you so much, Madelief! I see on your blog that you are a tea drinker - and, as my friend Susan states - these cookies are perfect with a cup of tea! Wishing you a wonder-filled spring in your garden.

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  4. David what a wonderful post! And 20 different salts!? I am impressed. Interesting what a wee pinch of salt does to some foods, no? Great post, thanks.

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    1. With 20 salts, I should be embarrassed! But I am glad I finally learned that salt can really enhance things - especially sweets!

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  5. Dear David, what a fun post with amazing pictures and a wonderful recipe - personally, I like chocolate with sea salt...I do remember your Mendiant Tart very vividly and I remember visiting Belgium (after I had seen your post on that Tart) and seeing some Mendiant Chocolates amongst the tons of chocolate treats on display and thinking of your post while pondering whether I should buy some! You might have already noticed that I often "carry your posts in my heart" when food shopping - so, next time when I go "salt shopping" or when I will see some special salt, you know what I will be thinking about...
    As a side note, personally, I think you should mention the different salts that you use in your recipes - just a little suggestion...
    Thank you for such a lovely post, dear friend.
    Liebe Grüße aus dem verregneten Bonn (so, no pictures today),
    Andrea

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    1. Dear Andrea - your comment is, as ever, so wonderful and heartfelt. It is comforting to know that I - and my posts- are with you as you meander the world...

      I will definitely start mentioning what types of salt I use! So sorry to hear of your rain - as always, the sun has risen here in all its glory. We wish we could have some of your rain!

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  6. My name is Karen and I can tell already I am going to be addicted those cookies :)

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  7. I think I share your salt infatuation. A corner of my spice cupboard is devoted to salt. Maldon sea salt flakes - smoked and regular, black Hawaiian salt, pink Himalayan salt, smoked applewood salt, merlot salt, Murray River salt, pepperberry salt. It goes on.

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    1. I am utterly embarrassed - how on earth do I not have pink Himalayan, merlot or pepperberry salt?? Obviously, I am off my game... Thanks, John, for letting me know I am not alone...

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  8. I am trying to lose a pound or two (negative fallout from living the writer's life), so I will not be making the cookies, but loved this post on salt! Thanks, David!

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    1. Oh, Kirsten - what's a pound or two when you have such a great job? You could look at it as an opportunity to buy new clothes, like I do! :)

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  9. a life in the kitchen without salt would indeed be difficult. salt was one of my favorite topics to teach people about when I taught cooking classes. i love that moment when one realizes it's not about making anything salty -- just about bringing out the natural flavors of the food. and wow, you have quite a salt collection. lovely.

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    1. Thanks, Valentina. I didn't know you taught cooking classes... that makes perfect sense now that I know! I wish I had discovered the beauty of salt's enhancements when I was younger... but, as you can see, I am making up for lost time.

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  10. Love reading about the salts, but wondering why I have never tasted these cookies?? Maybe I need to walk the block to your office.

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    1. Maybe I will have to make you a batch for a belated birthday gift! While not tea at the Milestone Hotel, I am sure they will go just fine with any coffee, tea or cocoa you have at home!

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    2. I will bring the tea and maybe even some cocoa from Angelina's where we are going tomorrow I believe.

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    3. Sounds like a deal to me! I hope you have fun at Angélina! xo

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  11. Hi David! There are worse addictions! Salt actually sounds like a fun one to have :). I like salt and definitely can tell when it's lacking but I'm not an over salter like some. I too dislike that iodised yuck. Now, I know you like and collect salt so I will be on the lookout! Like Andrea mentioned, I too carry many of my blogger friends in my heart and when I see something they had recommended, I get it. So, I'll be on active salt lookout :). Oh, and Durango, you probably didn't realise you were actually standing on the ocean beds of yore...seeing as the Rockies were under water ; And I could definitely eat a plateful of those cookies with some tea. Have a great week, David!!

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    1. Nazneen - you make a very good point about what was underwater and when. Tucson was a desert, too... I should start looking for salt. It is nice to know so many of us take each others blogs to heart... such an amazing community!

      Enjoy your week, dear friend!

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  12. Ah, I definitely understand you David! I love salt, it's only been in the last five years that I've started to fathom how many different types of salt are available world-wide! I have a few of the salts that you've pictured... I use the hickory smoked for my roast potatoes and the black Cypress sea salt as a finishing salt for.. well, anything! Maldon is definitely my day-to-day favourite salt for cooking... but in saying that, I've never seen kosher salt. I'll have to look out for it if it's an economical substitute for sea salt. Great post, as always. The oatmeal cookies sound fabulous, I'll definitely try them!

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    1. Laura - after reading several articles in a LinkedIn Group I belong to, I am finding that kosher salt may be very much a U.S. product. I will see if I can find out more.

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  13. Oh, my! I will definitely have to try these! I love your salt expose - we have so many lovely salt dishes and spoons we need to remember to use more often. I'll bet we have as many salts as you do. But I'm very intrigued by the Turkish Blue Salt. We've been using Truffle Salt a lot lately.

    (BTW, your directions say "shortening." Just thought you'd like to know.)

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    1. Thanks so much for catching that. I made two changes to Dorothy's recipe - one was to use only brown sugar (she used white) and the other was to change out the shortening in favor of butter (a no-brainer for me!).

      Can't wait to see all your salt accoutrements in a future post!

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  14. Wow! So many varieties! It's easy to get carried away.
    We already have a storage problem with all the spices at home. So I won't even think about collecting salts. ;)
    Love those cookies - gotta make a batch. Thanks, D. xo

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    1. Good restraint, Colette. I wish I had your strength! :)

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  15. I, too, have become a salt stasher. My latest acquisitions are a Thai Ginger salt and a habanero salt, both incredible on chicken and fish. Thank you for the affirmation. I'm not alone! Plus, those cookies...

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    1. Thanks, Sharon - now I will be searching for Thai Ginger and Habañero salts... Of COURSE I need more...

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  16. That is the most impressive collection I've ever seen. GREG

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  17. David, I so enjoyed your post! Very interesting…I loved all your tips on when to salt. I always throw my salt into pasta water before it boils…now I know! And I love that blue salt! I have accumulated a small collection of salt…I have several different kinds sitting in my pantry…now I wish I had more!
    Those cookies look amazingly delicious, I can’t wait to give them a try! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Kathy - as I am discovering, I am not alone in my collection of salts. It is certainly comforting! If you get a chance to make Dorothy's cookies, let me know how you like them!

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  18. Terrific post, David! I can hardly wait to try the cookies! ~MMN

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn! So glad you enjoyed it. Susan and Towny have been enjoying the cookies, too!

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  19. I love this post, partly because I have been planning to do a "salt post" for months! One thing I don't understand, though, is that you hated salt when you were younger...could it have been that your mother OVER-salted food and you were put off? As you now know, salt brings out the flavor in foods, so to dislike it so much sounds so strange to me. So glad you came around!! ;)

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    1. Thanks, Christina - you should definitely do a salt post! For me, the most fun was finding salts I had forgotten I had! I recall that, as a child, my palette was really unusual... I found all berries way to sour (love them now), and tomatoes as well. Salt was bad. Pork was unacceptable. I always loved chocolate. And fried clams and liver. I must have been quite a challenge for my parents!

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  20. Hi David, welcome to the group ;o)

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    1. Thanks, Fiona - I do find myself in the most wonderful company...

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  21. My name is Nicole and I'm addicted to salt, too! Love, love this post. And, I'm not sure if have 20 salts but I do have quite a lot. Gorgeous pictures. Well done...

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    1. Thanks, Nicole - just don't tell my brother. I am not sure he knows how far over the edge I have gone! :)

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  22. So glad the recipe for the salted oat cookies is what you choose! I just need to try them asap. I didn't like cheese as a kid, but I think not liking salt is way worse...
    As someone who brought two large packages of Maldon sea salt flakes in her suitcase from the US, I think a comment about how I feel about salt is unnecessary. Love your salt collection David!

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    1. You may hate me for ever introducing you to these cookies, Paula!

      My waistline wishes I didn't like so many foods now I would be much healthier if I were a picky kid...

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