Salt, as any aspiring kitchen scientist can tell you, is a flavor enhancer. It’s not the star of a dish; it’s a supporting player—unless it’s really, really, really good salt. This past Tuesday, chef Michael Stanton of The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Oregon, and selmelier Mark Bitterman of The Meadow (a specialty salt shop with locations in New York City and Portland) teamed up to create a dinner at the James Beard House in which weird and wonderful salts were the main event. There were salt block-cured sturgeon, salt-crusted morels and even a dessert of chocolate-covered pear dipped in three different salts.
Here, five unique salts Bitterman and Stanton think everyone should try.
Taha’a Vanilla Sea Salt
Infused with Tahitian vanilla pods, this flaky salt has the texture of phyllo dough. Its delicate flavor and subtle crunch make it a great finishing salt for mild, sweet seafood like crab or scallops.
Takesumi Bamboo Carbonized Deep Sea Salt
Dark gray and crumbly, this flinty, oyster-esque salt is poured into bamboo capsules and incinerated in a kiln. The carbonized salt has an amazing superpower: It gives lean meats the illusion of fattiness.
Alaskan Alder Smoked Salt
According to Bitterman, this intensely smoky salt “tastes like the Yukon.” The large, crackling flakes are a beautiful pale pink and great for game meats as well as rich dishes like creamy risotto.
Sale di Cervia
This granular salt taken from the Adriatic has a unique sweetness. Bitterman likens it to berries.
Amabito No Moshio Japanese Sea Salt
Super-powdery and the color of a café au lait, this salt starts as a powder that’s scraped off drying seaweed. That powder is made into a brine, then boiled down until the salt crystals form. It’s packed with a ton of umami flavor.