Sunday, August 29, 2010

Maldon Sea Salt & Tellicherry Black Pepper

A family member and I paired up for a quick round of grocery shopping last week. (If you want to learn all about the hidden bizarre-o quirks of a person you thought you knew pretty well, all you have to do is witness her weekly shop. Try it out. It's very revealing.) So we had a little tiff in the spices aisle. And it all started with salt.

"Just get the one with the girl on it!" this unnamed relative exclaimed impatiently as I browsed. "See, it has iodine in it. You need that."

Well, it wasn't just about replacement, because we always have Morton's in the cupboard. I tried to explain why I like having a few different salts to use, why I'm a sucker for any kind I haven't had before. I feel like there are different kinds of salt for all manner of dishes, but my shopping partner could not fathom a reason to try out any other salt besides the basic one. A tiny $10.99 pot of fleur de sel was deemed ridiculous. Common sense says that it is...but something changes once you taste it.

Around here, we've used up some fleur de sel in the past year, and I love how melty it is once it comes into contact with food. It's a little like fairy dust in that it makes everything taste amazing. Now we're trying out classic Maldon sea salt, which tastes exactly like the ocean. It may be a new staple. Other salts of note? Well, a small bowl of pink Himalayan sea salt looks nice the table, and we're also working through Bianca's gift of a salt tasting set from the Meadow. I also like the mild taste of gray sea salt and have been dreaming of using it on desserts.

Pepper is a little bit simpler. First, forget all the pink-and-green, brown-and-black mixed peppercorns. It looks pretty, but that's too many competing flavors! I never was that particular about pepper before, and it was a full year before I replaced our broken pepper grinder at one point, so already-ground pepper was the norm. This year, I became interested in Tellicherry black peppercorns after reading about them everywhere, and having this particular kind in the grinder does make a difference on top of a finished dish. This pepper is big, strong, floral, and pungent.

We are trying to figure out how to use white pepper now, too. Recently, I've had it in an apple dessert and heard it's great with asparagus soup. I also really like shredded pink peppercorns with sea salt and honey -- good for a cheese plate.

All of this is not to say that being a total snob about salt and pepper is the key. I still want to be able to adapt and not complain if I don't have a certain kind of spice on hand or I'm cooking somewhere unfamiliar and going with what's provided. But it's nice to toy around with the basics just to learn what it does to your food to see if you really can taste the difference.


Francesca Tronchin said...

I applaud your broadening of salt & pepper horizons, without becoming a snob!
I just tried some smoked salt on watermelon...Highly recommended!

The Chubby Vegetarian said...

Salt on watermelon! Well, they don't do that in Canada now do they? You are adapting quickly to our southern ways.

Unknown said...

I love white pepper! One place to try it is in fluffy herbed scrambled eggs.