(Quick guide: the deeper the shade, the deeper our love!)
CHEF: Aaron Hoskins, The Rogue Gentlemen
I realized recently that the number of different salts in my kitchen was drastically at odds with the tiny amount of salt knowledge existing in my brain. (I’m pretty sure I bought a few of them simply because they ‘looked fancy’.) I wanted some advice from a culinary badass, so I sat down with the incredibly gracious Aaron Hoskins to eat and talk.
The salts: pink Himalayan (medium grain), French grey velvet (very fine), smoked Maldon (the classic coarse diamond shape), Sel de Guerande (medium grain), fleur de sel (fine grain).
The salt vehicles: Victory Farms heirloom tomatoes, RG’s homemade brioche and unsalted butter, pan-roasted Manakintowne shishito peppers.
Aaron’s insights are pretty fantastic, and so very useful to the home cook. Or the food geek. Or the amateur scientist. Here’s what he had to say during our taste test:
Pink Himalayan: The very light, small granules put it closer to an iodized salt, you don’t pick up texture or heavy minerality with this one.
French grey velvet: Great minerality. I also like this one with fatty things – helps cut through richness that would stick to your tongue, pulls deep flavor out of things like bone marrow and helps you taste the beef and iron and all the things that make marrow as unctuous and wonderful as it is.
Smoked Maldon: I love regular Maldon for pretty much everything. What’s cool about Maldon is that the flakes are so big that they sit on top; it’s not the greatest thing to season with when cooking because it doesn’t break down, but it’s great to add flavor and texture at the end.
Sel de Guerande: This one’s mild and takes a second to hit you. I feel like I’d season everything with it – you don’t get the granule punch, you just get the saltiness blended into what your’e eating. Cool thing about salt: it suppresses bitterness. Tomatoes taste extra sweet with just salt and pepper on them.
Fleur de sel: This tastes more like ocean salt than the others do, especially against the tomato acid. I like the size of the granule – a little smaller, more manageable than typical fleur de sel.
Favorite: Maldon or fleur de sel.
BRIOCHE AND BUTTER
Pink Himalayan: Again, really light. Nice with the butter because you can really taste it; not too overpowering.
French grey velvet: Really, really good. Obviously heavier than the pink salt – but the minerality also really works with the butter. Adds an almost grassy, earthy taste, or at least it amps that up in the butter. Which is, along the chain of things, basically made of grass.
Smoked Maldon: The smoke isn’t overpowering at all, it’s actually really mild and works really nicely – and I love the texture. Maldon has a really bright pop to it – it’s salty, but it’s not like a spoonful of salt. The crystals take a long time to break down so that you get to taste the layers in what you’re eating.
Sel de Guerande: I’m trying to think what the smell reminds me of – it’s almost chemical. Maybe the magnesium content. Metallic. This is very mild, again, small grains and not overly noticeable as a texture, a good everyday salt. I don’t get much of the minerally, magnesium taste on it. Just the smell. Salt’s everywhere – it really changes based on where you get it – from mines, from the oceans. France is known for their salt, although I think about half the world’s salt comes from the US.
Fleur de sel: The small crystals have a very strong, oceanlike saltiness on the butter; again, you can tell it was harvested from the ocean. This one’s much more useable than most fleur de sel because the crystals are smaller. Fleur de sel crystals are usually round, diamond shaped crystals which can be hard to eat, like biting into a little rock as opposed to a thin sheet like the Maldon.
Favorite: Either grey velvet or Guerande. Brioche has a hard bitter crust because the sugar is caramelized so far – the Guerande really helped mellow that out.
Pink Himalayan: Too mild. I don’t know if works well with something like shishitos. I got a lot of char and astringency in that bite. It would be really nice on raw seafood, a crudo, because it’s subtle.
French grey velvet: It really masks the bitterness! I like that. Brings out that touch of sweetness from the maillard reaction, the chemical process of caramelization.
Smoked Maldon: When we make these here, I cook them with kosher and finish them with plain Maldon. This is how I’m used to tasting them, by far my favorite of the finishing heavier salts.
Sel de Guerande: Nice as well – combining this with Maldon would be the perfect type and amount of salt for me.
Fleur de sel: A lot more pungent – in this situation, I liked it. It’s more combined with the shishito flavor, which has to do with the size of the grain.
Winner: The Maldon or the grey velvet; the fine grey salt adds an almost umami-esque thing. One of my favorite flavors, the lingering earthiness.
(Aaron making orecchiette.)