It probably says something odd about me that I do not own a coffee maker, an electric mixer or a slow cooker, but I do own a salt pig. It’s not an item that would be on anyone’s kitchen essential list – a small dish for salt would suffice – but I came across this delightful pink ceramic creation when I was outfitting my dream kitchen, and I decided $8 was easily worth the tickle of whimsy I feel every time I reach for the salt.
The problem with salt shakers is that gauging how much salt they release is difficult. Some pour out unexpectedly; others let out only a weak sprinkle. Salt is the most important seasoning in the kitchen, used virtually all food, sweet and savory. And the differences between bland, well-seasoned and overly salted are small. Using fingers to measure allows for much more control.
Using kosher salt also helps. It’s less salty than table salt, and its coarse, flaky texture makes tactile measurement much easier. Because of its uneven coarseness, kosher salt is unsuited to a shaker dispenser, so a small dish or salt pig is the way to keep kosher salt near at hand.
I used to have a tiny dish of kosher salt out near my stove, but judging by the dust and sticky oil splatters I clean off my salt pig, I realize the open-dish method may not have been the most pristine way to store salt. Salt is cheap, and it’s no great loss to start anew if grease or food splatters into salt in an open dish or ramekin, but a salt pig does keep everything tidier.
In the old days, salt was a valuable commodity, and covered salt cellars held the precious grains. It wasn’t until salt manufacturers began using moisture-absorbing additives in the 20th century that salt could be sold ground into fine crystals instead of in solid blocks. Since around 1950 salt shakers have been more commonly used than old-fashioned salt cellars.
The salt pig, which some say originated in Scotland in the Middle Ages when “pygg” was a type of earthenware, is a clever design that protects the salt with its hood while still allowing easy access through a wide, angled snout. An unglazed ceramic interior is said to aid with moisture absorption. My salt pig seems glazed inside as well as out, but even in humid Ohio I haven’t had any moisture issues.
But there are plenty of other options if you don’t want a pig in your kitchen. At the high end, Emile Henry makes a clean design without porcine references, and it coems in many gorgeous colors. Williams-Sonoma sells a large white porcelain version for $20, and Sur La Table sells a pretty red one for $10.
Also consider how much salt you want to hold in your pig. Mine is small, holding about six ounces of salt, and it comes with a small spoon since it’s a bit hard to reach in with fingers. Other models have larger, easier-to-access openings. The Emile Henry holds 11 ounces, and the Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table models hold three cups, or 24 ounces (though you may want to look at in in person, since the volume seems high given the smaller dimensions of the Sur La Table pig).
I love many things in my kitchen because they make my cooking easier, faster or better. But the salt pig I love simply because it makes me smile.
What delights you in the kitchen? I’d love to know.
Some other favorites from my kitchen