Kitchn Love Letters

This Simple Pantry Staple is the Secret Ingredient to Make Your Pasta So Much Better

published Mar 8, 2022
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penne a la vodka in bowl
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Call me dramatic, but I think all kitchens should be required to have a box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt at the ready. When I was a kid, I’d hoist myself up onto the counter and reach for the red box to refill the little ramekin of salt every time it was running low. Fast forward to working as a line cook, and there was certainly no shortage of this salt at the acclaimed pasta restaurant. It’s a staple for a reason.

I’ve yet to come across a pasta recipe that doesn’t start with heavily salted boiling water, emphasis on heavy. Sorry to say it, but pasta is inherently pretty bland, so if you skip this foundational step, your final dish will end up lacking in flavor, no matter the sauce. In reality, the simple pleasures in a warm bowl of buttery penne start with properly seasoned boiling water. How to achieve perfectly salted water you ask? It all starts with Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

Diamond Crystal is the best salt for cooking pasta because it dissolves in water more quickly than competing brands. The wide opening in the cardboard saves you time hovering over boiling water cranking at a salt shaker, too. As a line-cook at Misi in NYC, we’d pour the salt straight from the box into boiling water until it was “as salty as the ocean.” All of the chef’s delicious dishes, from her spaghetti al limon to her vegetarian carbonara, start with salting the pasta water. My advice? Start with 1.5 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal for every pound of pasta, then taste the water and adjust with more salt (don’t be shy) until it makes you wince — that’s how you know it’s ready. Keep in mind, the more water in the pot, the more salt you’re going to need.

Now hear me out, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt isn’t as salty as other common salt brands… in a good way. For instance, it’s light and flaky in comparison to the denser Morton’s kosher salt, which is widely found in home kitchens and on grocery shelves, too. The smaller crystals adhere better to ingredients, ensuring an even seasoning. Whether I’m cooking meat, seafood, or vegetables, the box of Diamond Crystal is always the first thing I reach for. In fact, when it comes to a nice cut of steak, this kosher salt is all I use. It brings out the naturally occurring, delicious flavor for an extra-yummy seared crust.

As a professional cook, this salt is the only brand I couldn’t get by without. I keep it in a compact bamboo cellar on the counter for easy access, but I have my eyes on this beautiful marble one… what can I say, I care a lot about my salt!

If you’re already on the Diamond Crystal bandwagon, let this serve as a reminder to re-stock. But if you’re reading this and still think all salt tastes the same, you’ll just have to try this one out in your next pasta dish for yourself. Might I recommend pesto pasta salad, beyond-meat bolognese, or bacon mac n cheese? Oh — and if you prefer a gluten-free pasta option, we highly recommend this one. Kosher salt for everyone!

Buy: Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, $12.96