PHOTO (left to right): fleur de sel, kosher salt, and iodized salt
When I first heard the term “finishing salt” I rolled my eyes—must we have yet another chi-chi, gourmet term for yet another superfluous ingredient? No sooner had I had that thought than I sheepishly shrugged my shoulders. You see, I regularly use finishing salt in my cooking, though I’d never thought to call it that. Ever since I lived in Brittany, France, and learned about fleur de sel from my Bretonne apartment-mate, Soizic, I’ve done as she showed me and sprinkled the flaky, white salt crystals over foods just before serving them. Soizic never thought of fleur de sel as a finishing salt. She'd always pulled the one-two seasoning punch, using plain sea salt while cooking, then the locally harvested (from Guérande in southern Brittany) fleur de sel as a final flavor adjustment.
I picked up Soizic's habit, carried it with me back to the US, then modified it, switching out the sea salt for inexpensive, non-clumping, neutral-flavored kosher salt.
Mind you, fleur de sel is pricey, as are the other finishing salts out there. I don’t put it on everything. But oh, when I do, is it worth it! I love the way it subtly salts a fresh tomato salad or crunches just a little bit when sprinkled over roasted vegetables. And the finest sprinkle over a caramel sundae—divine!
If you need more convincing that finishing salts are, well, worth their salt, try this taste test. Pour a little iodized salt into one bowl, kosher or plain sea salt into a second bowl, and fleur de sel or another finishing salt into a third bowl. Then taste each. The iodized salt will have a strong, almost tinny flavor from the iodine. The kosher salt or sea salt will be salty, perhaps with a little hint of mineral flavor. And after trying the first two, you’ll be able to truly taste the delicate, nuanced flavor of the fleur de sel or other finishing salt.