A few years ago I picked up a 1-pound package of salt at a gourmet store. When the cashier rang it up, I was shocked: $30.
“You’ve made a mistake,” I protested. “This is just salt.”
“This fleur de sel just arrived from France,” she replied. “And it’s like no other salt you’ve tasted.” And she was right.
Gourmet or not, salt is irreplaceable in the kitchen, bringing out nuances in all kinds of foods. Sprinkled on sliced tomatoes or scrambled eggs, it adds edge and intensity. And any baker will tell you it brings out the flavor of chocolate.
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I use table salt in baking, but kosher salt is a mainstay in my kitchen for cooking. Both are mined from rock deposits, but kosher salt contains no additives, dissolves quickly and has a wonderful tactile quality. (One tablespoon kosher salt equals about 2 teaspoons table salt.)
Sea salt, as the name suggests, is made by evaporating sea water. Fine sea salt dissolves almost instantly and can be used as table salt. Coarser types lend texture. Here are three popular types:
Sel Gris: From Guerande, on France’s Atlantic coast, it gets its gray color and distinct flavor from minerals in the clay bottom.
Fleur de Sel: Considered the king of salt, it is raked from layers of tiny crystals (“flowers of salt”) that form on ocean ponds in France’s Brittany region. It has a clear, sparkling flavor and is best used sparingly on foods just before serving.
Maldon: Made in England by boiling sea water, this delicately flavored finishing salt has distinctive crystals that look like tiny pieces of shaved ice.
The tarragon in this dish makes it a good match with Beni di Batasiolo Gavi di Gavi Granee 2007 ($18.99), a dry white wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Complete the meal with steamed green beans and roasted sweet potatoes.
PAILLARD OF CHICKEN WITH TARRAGON AND FLAKE SALT
2 boneless chicken-breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon coarsely torn fresh tarragon leaves
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
2 generous pinches coarse flake salt such as Maldon (or kosher salt)
Heat oven to 225 degrees. Place chicken in a resealable plastic bag, one piece at a time, and pound with the smooth side of a meat tenderizer until very thin (about 1/8 inch) and the size of a small dinner plate.
Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until very hot. Coat the skillet with a thin film of oil. Working in batches, carefully place chicken in hot pan and cook just until opaque, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Coat the skillet with a thin film of olive oil and saute the shallot until transparent, about 45 seconds. Add the tarragon, wine and broth. Raise heat to medium-high and boil until the liquid is lightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter.
Season the chicken with pepper and drizzle with pan sauce. Serve immediately, finishing each piece with a flourish of flake salt. Makes 2 servings.
Source: Adapted from “Salted, A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes” by Mark Bitterman (Ten Speed, 2010 ).