Honor the Mineral

Michael RuhlmanMy friend Michael Ruhlman has shared his thoughts on salt.  He suggests using Kosher, a fine grind of so-called fine Sea Salt, and a finishing salt of choice.

I have a thought that speaks to both of our perspectives on salt.  Ruhlman ’s book, Soul of the Chef, is a brilliant account of what’s involved in the technical mastery of cooking.  But implicit in the story (and sometimes explicit) is the importance of the ingredient.  Thomas Keller is a technical master, but he is also the consummate curator of ingredients.

The tension between technique and ingredient is age-old.  In the history of food there has always been a fight between technique and ingredient.  Cultures tend to come out on one side or the other: French, the technique; Italian, the ingredient.  This tension also plays out through trends and influences:  molecular gastronomy is about technique; Alice Waters is about ingredient.  As he describes so well, Keller is not only a master technician, he also emblematizes the age-old concept “honor the animal” and “honor the vegetable,” meaning use your ingredients fully and respectfully.

Keller also honors the mineral.

Keller’s strategic, creative, mindful use of natural, unique salts has been a major inspiration for me in my life and work.  If fact, I can think of no other person (outside Japan) who has so fully grasped the essential link between the technical perfection of cooking and the elemental imperative of good salt.  Several of the over 100 salts we carry in our store I discovered through Keller.

But, in conclusion, I will say that I totally agree three salts are enough for any household.  But they should be salts that reflect your values as a chef no less than the grade of meat or freshness of vegetable.  Coarse, moist Sel Gris for all around cooking and hearty foods like grilled and roasted meats and roots.  Delicate, irregular crystals of Fleur de Sel for subtler, moist foods like fish, sauced foods, and cooked vegetables.  Parchment fine Flake Salts for fresh vegetables and wherever you want a dramatic salty snap.  We have the Foundations Set at The Meadow to help with this.

The technical skill required for using salt masterfully is easy as pie (or easier: crust is a bear).  And finding good salts is easier now than ever.  My book will be coming out this fall in an effort to help matters along.  Honor the mineral!

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