A pinch of salt. A dash of pepper. What recipe have you made lately that didn’t call for both? While ordinary table salt and pre-ground black pepper are perfectly acceptable, why not shake, sprinkle, or grind a specialty salt or pepper over your food when you cook or have both on hand for diners to help themselves at the table? Better-quality salts (used in moderation) and peppers can add a burst of unique flavor and color and, in some cases, a little crunch as well.
Here’s a guide to some types of salt that will get you out of the daily grind and some peppers that are, well, worth their salt. While some may be relatively expensive, a little goes a long way. It’s fun to have a variety of salts and peppers on hand to experiment with, since they all taste a little different.
Fleur de Sel: A notable French sea salt that is traditionally collected off the coast of Brittany, fleur de sel (which translates as “flower of salt”) really does taste like the sea. With its fine, delicately flavored crystals and high concentration of minerals, it’s ideal as a finishing salt over salad greens, steamed fresh vegetables, and frittatas and omelets of all kinds.
Hawaiian pink salt: Rich in minerals, with an earthy flavor, Hawaiian pink salt actually combines sea salt with native alaea clay (thus the pink color). Delicious with poultry, fish, or egg dishes, this salt looks pretty when sprinkled over vegetables or salads.
Kosher salt: A great all-purpose cooking salt that has a clean, pure taste, kosher salt has less sodium by volume than table salt, so you get more flavor with less salt when you use it. If a recipe calls for kosher salt, don’t substitute regular table salt in equal amounts; you’ll end up with a way too salty result. Choose a flaked or a coarsely ground kosher salt; it’s a matter of preference, since the taste is the same.
Maldon sea salt: Pleasantly flavored Maldon sea salt is made in England by a very traditional method: It’s filtered, boiled to remove any impurities, and then heated until the salt crystallizes. Maldon salt has soft, flaky crystals that dissolve easily, so use it with roasts, casseroles, and egg dishes when you want to ramp up the flavor.
Green peppercorns: These peppercorns, which are the soft, underripe berries of a vine plant, are highly aromatic and less pungent than black peppercorns. With their fresh, almost herbal flavor, they are delicious on steaks, pork tenderloin, shrimp, and salads. You can find them fresh, brined, or freeze-dried. In the latter case, you’ll need to reconstitute them in hot water before using. While harder to find, fresh green peppercorns are the most delicious, as they have a fruity, understated flavor.
Lampong peppercorns: Like all black peppercorns, these peppercorns (from Indonesia) are actually the unripe berries of a vine plant, which are picked before the berries ripen and then dried until the skin becomes nearly black. Lampong peppercorns have a pleasingly pungent and crisp aroma, not unlike other black peppercorns, but a slightly higher heat level, so use sparingly. Try them for crusting a steak before you broil it, or use to season a roast when you want to punch up the flavor.
Tellicherry peppercorns: Hailing from Tellicherry, in Malabar in southern India, these peppercorns are prized for their deep, balanced flavor, underlying sweetness, and complex aroma. Considered among the best of the black peppercorns, Tellicherry pepper is delicious on grilled and roasted lean beef, chicken, and pork. You can also enliven the flavor of chilis and stews by sprinkling with some Tellicherry pepper.
White peppercorns: These are peppercorns that have been allowed to fully ripen. Once ripe, the skin is removed, the berries are dried, and the resultant light-tan berry has a mild flavor that is prized in lightly colored dishes where black pepper would not look appealing. Esteemed for their rounded, spicy flavor, Sarawak white peppercorns from Borneo, Malaysia, are excellent in egg dishes or a white wine vinaigrette.
A cautionary note: If you are sodium-sensitive (you experience a greater than 10 percent increase in blood pressure after eating a salty meal), you should be extra vigilant about how much salt you add to your foods. If you are not sodium-sensitive, a small amount of salt added to taste should not be a problem. Since processed foods are a significant source of sodium, cutting back or eliminating them from your diet is another great way to shake the salt habit.