Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Praise of Salt

It all started with a unique gift from my best buddy, Elizabeth. I think she bought it for me for Christmas (or maybe my birthday) a couple of years ago. She knows I appreciate unusual stuff, especially neat food items. She's a foodie and a wonderful chef, so she always has great surprises. This one was a gift of salt. Hawaiian red sea salt (in the photo), to be precise, the flavour and colour of which is influenced by baked red clay. Perhaps she got the idea from when we returned from our honeymoon in France with fleur de sel from the Camargue (that never got eaten, by the way: it makes the most lovely body scrub for the shower. Alas, all gone now...). At any rate, it was a great gift, but it took me a while before I fully appreciated it.

I let it sit on my shelf for a long time, because I didn't really know what I wanted to use it on. I thought it would be such a waste to just use it in cooking, especially as I wanted to be able to taste its unique flavour. I also don't really use a lot of salt in my cooking, and I never remember to place it on the table for people's use; a very early habit developed when my Dad was put on a salt-restricted diet when I was a child (I don't think the salt restriction for him lasted a long time!).

Then an idea struck me: I use salt on popcorn, and I'd be able to taste the unique flavour of this salt, so why not try it? That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Next I tried it on our fried eggs (sunny side up, pinch of salt & pepper, maybe a little cumin, while cooking, perfection!). Now I add it to many things (including my whole grain dishes), and have it in a nifty little salt mill that I can set to coarse or fine (almost always coarse!) for adding that dash of difference during meal preparation.

Now intrigued by the world of "other" salt (having experienced Camargue, Hawaiian and of course, Kosher), I am enthusiastic to try other varieties. Not too long ago, I purchased grey sea salt from Brittany. It has its own unique flavour and character, not the least of which is that it's much less distinctively crystalline than the red salt, and much harder to use in the salt mill (gums it up). So it stays as whole salt to be added in a pinch to certain things.

If you know nothing of the history of salt, then I highly recommend Mark Kurlansky's "Salt: A World History" as an interesting history of the world as seen through humanity's addiction for and interaction with salt.

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