For such a basic element of food and cooking, I am always surprised how overlooked salt is. Easily the most important addition to any pantry, salt not only flavors food, but also plays a vital role in human existence by regulating the water content in the body. Perhaps the most important salty contribution is its ability to preserve food. It made mankind less dependent on the seasonal availability of food, which led to us wandering from our homes for extended periods of time. Without salt, early civilizations would not have traveled the globe and discovered one another.
Salt can be harvested from sea water or rock deposits left from ancient seas. From the ocean, salt water is dried by the sun in shallow pools. Mined salt (halite), also known as rock salt, grows in isometric crystals and is very hard.
Several types of edible salt are commonly available. Table salt is usually iodized. Potassium iodide is added as a dietary supplement to preventing iodine deficiency, a major cause of goiter and cretinism. Most table salt also has a water-absorbing additive to keep it from clumping, and some countries add fluoride as well.
Many chefs prefer kosher salt, which gets its name from its use in the koshering process of meats. Koshering requires that all fluids be extracted from an animal before it is consumed. The larger crystals dissolve more slowly, extracting more fluids from the meat. Kosher salt has no additives, which gives it a cleaner, less-metallic taste.
Fleur de sel is natural sea salt, hand harvested and gourmet priced. It usually comes from specific locations around the globe, but the most famous (and the first to be hip) comes from the coast of Brittany in France. Each location produces distinct flavors due to the area’s naturally occurring vegetation and minerals. Sea salt removed from the top layer of water is pale and delicate in flavor, while gray sea salt, which is allowed sink and mix with the ocean water, is more robust in flavor.
You can also find black salt, gray salt, pink salt, smoked salt, marsh salt, and even moon salt (harvested at night, not from the moon). You can spend quite a lot of money on salt, but beware: once it’s mixed into foods, the unique character of these specialty salts is easily lost. Reserve their use for recipes that will get it noticed.
This dish makes an exquisite after dinner sweet. Serve it with strong coffee or a glass of port.
2 TB. almonds, toasted and ground
1 (8-oz.) bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped or grated into fine chunks
16 dried black mission figs
2 tsp. fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- In a small bowl mix together almonds and chocolate.
- Insert your thumb into the bottom of each fig (opposite the stem end) making a pocket. Stuff each fig pocket with almond-chocolate mixture, and set stuffed figs on a baking sheet. Bake at for 10 minutes or until warmed through.
- Place warm figs on a serving platter, sprinkle each with a pinch of salt, and serve immediately.