Selmilier Mark Bitterman: 5 Simple Truths about Salt

Expert Interview

A light sprinkling of salt on your comforting, mellow, bowl full of ice cream? My grandmother would be aghast. That doesn't mean I didn't immediately try it and love it, after my conversation with Mark Bitterman.
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Mark and his wife, Jennifer, own The Meadow in Portland, Oregon and just opened up a sister shop in the West Village in New York City. Mark recently authored the intensely thorough tome, Salted—a veritable encyclopedia of the origins, uses, technologies, and customs of that ingredient we all use and might not think much of.

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While talking and tasting with Mark, I realized my salt habit (my friends jokingly call me a horse!) would be forever changed. Never again could I go back to the sad paper canister in navy blue packaging, hiding in the back of my pantry. Without further ado, here are Mark's wise words on salting.

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The above photo is Austin, Mark and Jen's adorable older son, holding a plate of baguette smeared with goat cheese sprinkled with cacao nibs and Cyprus Black Flake sea salt.

Mark Bitterman's Simple Truths about Salt

Salt calls attention to flavors already existing in food.  This is where salting your ice-cream cone comes into play— with a light sprinkling of salt, the flavors of the vanilla bean and cream really shine. This combination elicits a little dance of sweet and savory.  You don't have to salt everything you eat, but it is fun to salt foods that don't usually call for this addition.
 
Salt is the most localized food on Earth.  Like wine, salt can have a 'terroir' and 'merrier,' nuances specific to the place it comes from. It always has distinctive crystals, and it is this unique character of theirs that calls on us to think critically and creatively about salting. Use salt in a way that respects its differentness and your food will shine with newfound flavor.    
 
Some foods add salty flavor without salt.  I don't use salt with everything -- for example, I use pancetta, soy sauce or salt-cured lemons -- these foods add so much flavor and saltiness without the addition of salt in its mineral form.
 
Finishing salts are affordable.  A finishing salt is used towards the end of the cooking process as well as at the table for final seasoning.  You need a mere sprinkle of these extraordinary salts to make a huge impact on your food.  So, you may pay more than you're used to up front, but you use much less, with fantastic results. 
 
Salt inspires and connects.  Because salt is so basic, it encompasses everything and everyone.  I can speak to celebrated chefs about a new and fantastic salt or talk to the guy next to me at the coffee shop—both people have a connection or use for salt and it's always inspiring to share in that conversation. 

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Mark and Austin at a book–signing in Portland.

Visit The Meadow (salt, chocolate, wine and flower shop): The Meadow
Mark Bitterman's Book: Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, $22.43 at Amazon

Related: Sea Salt. Kosher Salt. Crazy Expensive Salt: What's the Deal?

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)

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