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9 Chefs on Their Favorite Sea Salts

Not all salt is created equal. Photo: fcafotodigital/Getty Images

Most home cooks are okay with using just one kind of salt. Its job is to make things salty — no more, no less. But ask a professional chef, baker, or restaurateur and they’ll give you a long and detailed list of salts they use depending on the dish they’re whipping up. While there’s no shame in sticking to one multipurpose salt, the better the salt the better your food will taste. Like wine or coffee, good salts carry the flavors and minerals of the place where they were harvested. And like wine or coffee, choosing your new go-to can be overwhelming, to say the least. So to help you broaden your flavor palette we talked to nine chefs about the various salts they use to season their food — plus a few salty alternatives.

Best everyday sea salts

Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, New York, describe themselves as high salt and high acid cooks, and pull from a diverse arsenal of salts depending on what they’re making. But when they need something to salt their pasta water they reach for this classic. “I think probably all the chefs that you talk to will tell you Diamond Kosher salt is the one to have around. We use it as our bulk salt, to salt pasta water or potato water, and when we just really need to throw in a whole quart of salt somewhere.”

Not every chef is a fan of Diamond Kosher salt, however. Michele Baldacci, chef at Camillo and Locanda Vini & Olii in Brooklyn, says, “In the very beginning, we used to use kosher salt but I hated it because it didn’t salt things enough. The proportions compared to Italian salt were all wrong. Now I only use Sicilian salt imported from Salina in Trapani, Italy. The sea water is left to evaporate and then the sea salt is extracted. So basically they are giant pools of shallow seawater. It’s really beautiful to drive by and see the mountains of sea salt. I use coarse salt for pasta water, crushed coarse salt for grilled meat, and fine salt for everything else. The coarse salt is minimally processed. I have even found pebbles in the bags. They definitely clean it, otherwise it wouldn’t be usable, but it’s really minimally processed and I like that.”

In baking, especially when you’re making bread and pastries for large groups, consistency is key. That’s why Zoe Kanan, the pastry chef at Simon and the Whale, likes this fine, French sea salt. “When I’m making bread or various kinds of pastries the salt has a function in the recipe. It’s there for seasoning, but it’s also there to help with gluten development or the browning of crusts. We use Baleine fine sea salt inside all of our pastries. I like the slight minerality and the superclean and very pure flavor. It works quite well when we’re just looking for basic salinity and aren’t asking too much of the salt.”

When it comes to flavoring soup, the finer the texture of your salt the quicker it will incorporate. Sarah Gavigan, the chef and owner of Otaku Ramen in Nashville, prefers this budget option because she goes through it so fast. “I like to use this inexpensive Korean sea salt for everyday cooking. I obviously make a lot of soup, and this salt is very fine, almost like talcum, so it dissolves into liquids really well. Because it’s 100 percent sea salt, with no additives, it doesn’t have any of that off-putting ammonia taste — it just brightens everything it touches. It’s almost like MSG, plumping up flavor. I probably use too much of it at home, but it’s just so good.”

“I’m all about the Hakata Sel De Mer Roti,” says Nick Korbee, the chef at Egg Shop in New York. “It’s harvested in Mexico and Australia, then imported to Japan where it’s mixed with Japanese seawater before being dehydrated at a high temperature and roasted again.” Korbee loves this globally made salt for its true-to-the-ocean briny taste. “It’s my go-to for high-quality beef, game, exotic eggs, and fresh seafood. It accentuates natural flavor while providing a subtle earthiness that leaves your guests in awe of your secret umami genius.”

Best finishing salts

We’re fans of Maldon salt here at the Strategist, especially the little desk-sized tins of the stuff, and Hannah Black of Lil’ Debs is too. “Maldon is obviously always on hand and we put it on almost all of our desserts. When you’re finishing a dish, it goes well on most things. It doesn’t spread the saltiness across, but it adds little pockets of flavor and texture. With ceviche, Maldon salt is always the best, and with salad it’s always a key element.”