“You’re A Winner!” said the email.
“You’ve won a Katana Series Nakiri knife, from Calphalon.”
While I seem to be the quintessential person who never wins anything (except the fabulous no-expense paid trip to Paris that I’m enjoying), and I don’t remember putting my business card in the raffle fishbowl, I was happy to accept. And the knife made a lovely addition to my Katana collection, joining the smaller one that I already owned. I’ve been using both, and they’re really rather incredible knifes. I love the handles, and the blades are scary-sharp. Which is good.
While we’re on the subject of deadly weapons, let’s talk about salt. Everyone is scared of salt.
I don’t pay much attention to hot-shot chefs, but I’d read that Thomas Keller was once asked what makes a good cook, and he replied, “salt”. He summed it all up in one simple word, and that’s truly what it all comes down to…and that’s why he’s a great chef and I bought his French Laundry book even though there’s no way in h-e-double-toothpicks I’m ever going to make anything from it. But if he can use it, so can you.
So no matter what you do to food, whether you whip it into a foam, toss it on the grill, spend 17 hours cutting it into little itty-bitty cubes that people wait 6 months to taste, or churn it in your ice cream maker, salting makes all the difference in cooking and baking.
A lot of people are afraid of salt, citing health concerns. Yet experts tell us that if you stay away from pre-packaged convenience foods, the average person only consumes about 1 1/2 teaspoons to salt per day. Although I should talk…I can’t have enough of it and sometimes buy it by the kilo. So maybe at this point you’d be wise to just scroll down to the recipe.
I mostly sprinkle top-quality salt on top of things, as a finish, where you’re going to taste it rather than adding it all at the beginning of the recipe where it can get lost. Whatever salt you use, I recommend coarse salt crystals, since the larger pieces take longer to dissolve, thereby giving your palate more time to experience the complexity of flavors, rather than just dissolving into a salty mouthful like fine salt does. Plus most commercial salt has additives which give the salt a bitter, acrid taste.
If you don’t know what fleur de sel is, you should. It’s fine crystals of salt that’s hand-harvested in marshes in Brittany, off the Atlantic coast of France. Although lots of fleur de sel-style salts have been showing up from Italy, Portugal, and elsewhere, the best fleur de sel is from the Guérande. I use it on everything; its fine, delicate taste is best appreciated when sprinkled over things, as mentioned above, rather than dissolved (like in soups) so it’s best to save it for places where it can be appreciated.
Fleur de sel is admittedly pricier than ordinary table salt, but when people balk at paying 5 or 6€ for a container of salt, that will cost them pennies (or centimes per day), they get all freaked-out. (Hey, it’s cheaper than gas, and lasts longer.) Just a last-minute flurry over a slab of foie gras or dark chocolate bark will give it a curious, other dimension. When you start using it, you’ll be as hooked as I am. You’ll never go back to ordinary table salt again.
I only buy fleur de sel harvested in Brittany, and I’ve recently befriended a récolteur who invited me to his marshes this summer to rake and harvest salt. His salt is incredible; light and flaky, with the fine, delicate taste of the sea. He sells his salt in Paris and I always tell guests to stock up here, since it’s one of the true bargains in Paris. A 250 g bag costs just 4€ ($5), which translates to .0136986 cents per day.
So I hereby give you permission to spend a little bit more on salt. It will improve your cooking, just like upgrading to a good olive oil will improve your salads (and really, how much do you use?) If you don’t believe me, take this simple test: Taste a few grains of fleur de sel. Then taste a few grains of commercially-available fine table salt. I can almost guarantee that you’ll never use ordinary table salt again.
This is one of my favorite recipes for using fleur de sel, crispy Salt-Roasted Peanuts. These are terrific with cocktails or aperitifs, but I also like to enrobe them in bittersweet chocolate and if you’re making Hot Fudge Sundaes, they’re also dynamite sprinkled over the top.
- 2 cups (300 g) raw peanuts
- 1/4 cup (80 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or rice syrup
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) light brown sugar or cassonade
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
Lightly oil a baking sheet or line it with a silicone baking mat.
In a bowl, mix together the peanuts, corn syrup, and light brown sugar, until the peanuts are well-coated.
Sprinkle the salt over the peanuts and stir just a few times, but not enough to dissolve the salt.
Spread the peanuts evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring three times during baking, until the nuts are deep-golden brown and glazed.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container immediately, to preserve their crispness.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 2 cups.
I can’t find raw peanuts.
You can use roasted, unsalted peanuts, and reduce the baking time to 15 minutes. I buy raw peanuts in Asian markets.
Can I use other nuts?
I never have, but let me know how they turn out if you do.
What if I can’t get light corn syrup where I live?
Use glucose, available at professional pastry supply shops.
Can I use honey or golden syrup?
Yes, but they’ll be stickier and not as crisp. See the linked post under ‘corn syrup’.
Can I use another salt?
You can use any coarse sea salt, but choose one that’s light-tasting. I like Maldon salt from England very much, or you can use kosher salt.