It is interesting how “serious” salt—the ingredient for food preservation, the ancient means of payment for labor, and the dietary necessity that created a political movement—has come to the forefront of modern cooking as a reason for dismissal on prime-time TV: “Chef, your dish was under-seasoned: you’ve been chopped!”
Salt itself is a funny thing: while we usually think of how it enhances the flavor of a steak or roast chicken, it is also an “electronic” enabler, speeding the taste of sweet to the brain. It helps high-fat foods seem even richer, and it participates in osmosis, which helps us make moist, tender meats. And, of course its absence can get you thrown off Chopped.
In the beginning . . .
In 1996, when Fleur de Sel was coming on the scene, Kitty Keller and KL Keller Foodways was right in the middle of it. We foraged around and found an individual salt paludier (Gilles Hervy) in Guérande, France. As a result of our search, we tasted a lot of salt! This was our first realization that even different fleur de sels taste slightly different: some were more minerally, some saltier. There was also the size of the crystals to consider. It seemed there was a lot more to salt than preservation, salaries, politics and TV.
These days, there are hundreds of salts on the market many making marvelous claims. Claims aside, what interests the Keller team most is what salt does for the taste of our food.
Our salt paludier Gilles Hervy raking in Fleur de Sel after one afternoon's harvest
The European connection
Over a period of ten years, after tasting all sorts of salts, we found a sea salt produced in Spain near Valencia on the edge of a nature preserve. It was everything we wanted as a salt base for our new product ideas: fine crystal, medium salinity, modulated minerality, and it contained no anti-caking or flowing agents (which, among other things, taste bad). This salt became the base for most KL Keller Foodways salts.
On the subject of importing salt, we did question our sanity(though never our salinity) at the time—after all, there is salt in the San Francisco Bay. But one thing made it a simple decision: the taste. To test our taste theory, our team tried several recipes made with two different salts, and our conclusion was that we really liked the special sea salt from Spain.
KL Keller Foodways ideas
To develop the KL Keller Foodways range of salts, we developed blends that solved culinary problems for us, using ingredients of a quality that we insist on in our own kitchens. We wanted a Tuscan Salt ready-to-go for a quick ‘n’ easy roasted chicken feast; We wanted to just open a jar of Lemon Pepper Salt and repeat the steak-grilling process we learned from Dad; and—of course—popcorn with extra virgin olive oil and Black Truffle Salt is our must-have Game Day snack.
And then there was brine mix . . . Why, oh why should the poor turkey get killed twice?: Once for culinary readiness, and then—a final indignity—cooked until dry and ruined? Brine mix was the clear solution! Through osmosis, our fantastic brine mix imparts the flavor of the herbs and spices (and salt) into the meat, yielding a tender succulent bird the easy way! It works its transformative power on chicken and pork.
How did we get to the Pacific?
After tasting many salts, one of our favorite customers suggested we consider “importing” Hawaiian Sea Salt. We tasted it, loved it, and it became our first domestic product. In our mind, it was imported—it came on a boat, after all (and in our case, it really is from Hawaii).
Then we started cooking with it . . .
As time went on, there was the seduction of pork roast rubbed with Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt and cooked over coals. Then Thanksgiving came: picture the royal turkey with an Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt-rubbed skin—tasty and pretty.
And no, we have not forgotten the drama of the Black Lava Salt on a baked potato with sour cream, or (oh, you bad girl!) a Halloween margarita rim.