Steve De Long

Flavor Aficionado

The Art of Salting

When we learn to salt mindfully and to understand and control the effects salt has on both the flavor and the chemistry of cooking our food then we have begun that journey to flavor mastery.

It all begins with Salt.

When we learn to salt mindfully and to understand and control the effects salt has on both the flavor and the chemistry of cooking our food then we have begun that journey to flavor mastery.

And surprisingly or unsurprisingly there is an awful lot to know about salt.

The purpose of today’s post is to give you a high level understanding and some very specific and actionable tips that will help elevate your cooking immediately.

The three basic kinds of Salt that everyone should have are a Sel Gris, a Fleur de Sel, and a Flake Salt. I know, I know. Many famous chef’s recommend a kosher salt as their main salt. We’ll touch on that a bit more later. But for now these three will be our focus and they are all artisan or craft salts and they form Mark Bitterman’s (the author of “Salted”) Three Foundations.

I’ll cover them one by one.

Part 1: The Salts

Before we dive into the three salts let’s talk for a moment about how salt is made and what makes an Artisan salt Artisan. The three primary methods of producing salt for culinary use are: Solar Evaporation, Fire Evaporation, and Mining.

Solar Evaporated Salt –like a Sel Gris is produced outdoors or in greenhouses from a brine, typical ocean water, but sometimes from other sources like underground aquifers or inland lakes like the Dead Sea. Historically created by small producers in a traditional manner but now giant corporations with huge salt pans covering thousands of acres “raking” the salt up with bulldozers are far more common. So just because the label says “sea salt” doesn’t mean it is Artisan and Artisan is what we want to use in our cooking.

Fire Evaporated –is produced indoors by boiling water out of a brine to form salt crystals. This is commonly called “flake” salt and, again, it can be an Artisan style salt made in small batches or it can be produced industrially in giant vacuum evaporators (a vacuum reduces the atmospheric pressure which lowers the boiling point of water and allows more industrial salt to be produced faster).

Mined Salts –are exactly that…mined from underground salt deposits that were formerly oceans hundreds of millions of years ago that eventually completely evaporated creating enormous underground salt domes. For example, the Wieliczka Mine in Poland is at least 327 meters deep and over 178 miles long. Most of this type of salt is used for industrial purposes but some like Himalaya Pink is used for culinary purposes.

Sel Gris– A solar evaporated salt its name means “gray salt.”

The image at the top of this page is of the Guerande Salt Marshes in Brittany, France. One of three main areas in France where artisan salt, including Sel Gris, is produced.  This salt is mineral rich, solar evaporated and sun-dried to a moisture content of 8% to 13%.  That moisture content is an important feature and has a practical application in cooking and you can rehydrate your salt if needed.

This is really the single essential salt and all you would need to cook well.  Use in most any cooking application and for finishing hearty or very moist foods.  Perfect on a steak, chops, or hearty vegetables.  Lightly ground with a mortar and pestle it can serve for more delicate finishing applications, for drier foods, or for baking. Finishing, by the way, is that last sprinkle of salt after cooking and before serving.

Fleur de Sel– Another solar evaporated salt these fine crystals form on the surface of the salt pond and are gathered in the morning before they sink. Sel Gris is Fleur de Sel that has been allowed to settle and is raked from the bottom of the pond where it gathers some minerals causing the gray color. Fleur del Sel is pure white, has a slightly lower moisture content than Sel Gris of 8% to 10% and is used for finishing fine but still moist foods.

Flake Salt– flake salts can be either solar evaporated or fire evaporated but more commonly fire evaporated.

This salt has a very low moisture and mineral content and consists of pyramidal crystals and broken pieces. The coarseness varies by producer. For example Murray River is fine, Maldon medium, and FalkSalt coarse. It creates intense bursts of flavor and is used as a finishing salt on fresh vegetables or salads or where a bright flamboyant flavor is desired. Try a sprinkle on toast with unsalted butter. Depending on the size I may crush the flakes with my fingers as I sprinkle.


So we’ve talked about the Foundation salts at a high level and we should have a pretty clear idea now about when and why to use them for finishing but as a reminder a general rule of thumb when using these as finishing salts is to match the moisture content to the food.

So our quick rule of thumb is:

  • Sel Gris for very moist foods
  • Fleur de Sel for slightly moist foods
  • Flake for dry foods

Now let’s take a little deeper dive into Salt Pairings in Part 2 and then in Part 3 I’ll go over some tips for cooking with salt.

Go to Part 2: Salt Pairings