Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Salty Seadogs

Salt is the most essential seasoning in the history of cooking and a vital component of a healthy diet. It is also used in religious ceremonies and festive traditions the world over. To the ancient Greeks and Jews salt was a symbol of hospitality and union, as it is to Muslims today. In Arab tradition, to receive salt is also a mark of such hospitality and loyalty. The word ‘salary’ is derived from the Latin word for salt, salarium, which was the money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt. Under British rule in India, salt was controlled as a state monopoly and heavily taxed. In 1930 at a beach in Dandi, a young man named Mahatma Gandhi symbolically broke the law by picking up a handful of sea salt. This act sparked a wave of public protest, which forced the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, into negotiations over taxation.

There are so many wonderful and colourful varieties of salt available, some of which are expensive and need to be used properly. Learning how to season with salt correctly is a simple skill, but one that can make all the difference to your dishes. You should introduce a little salt at each stage of cooking, dropping it from quite a height for even distribution while tasting along the way, with final adjustments at the end. When you add a little salt in lots of stages, you use less salt than when you chuck it all over your food at the table. At my friend’s restaurant, he is so confident of his seasoning that there are no salt cellars at the table! Personally, I think that we shouldn’t be disappointed when people add salt to a dish that we might think is
perfectly seasoned. The perception of salt is highly personal, based as it is on the salt content of an individual’s saliva.

Here are a few of the salts available and some suggestions of how to use them: 

Maldon Sea Salt 
A light, pyramid-shaped salt from England, ideal for
sprinkling on fresh salad leaves before serving.

Fleur de Sel
Delicate white salt from northern France, ideal for finishing light
seafood plates such as scallops or on freshly seared foie gras.

Sel Gris
Harvested from the same marshes as Fleur de Sel, but has hard, moist
crystals with a slight tang. Ideal on stronger tasting meats such as duck or steak.

Hiwa Kai, Black Hawaiian Sea Salt
This has a striking black colour, as it is combined with charcoal. An obvious choice for finishing anything cooked on a griddle pan for a barbecued effect.

Alaea, Course Hawaiian Sea Salt
This has an incredible red colour from added clay. Apart from being used in ceremonies to cleanse, purify and bless their canoes, it is rich in trace minerals. It goes brilliantly with sushi.

Celery Salt
A common spiced salt found in all spice racks. This is an essential
condiment for a good Bloody Mary!

These speciality salts are best used just before serving, as their unique flavours will
be lost during cooking.

Why not create your own flavoured seasoning salts?
Here are two suggestions that are very simple to put

Burmese Curry Salt

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander
2 small dried chillies
3 Kaffir lime leaves, dried
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp turmeric

Just grind them all together in a
coffee grinder and mix with 300 g of
semi-coarse sea salt. This can be used
for sprinkling on Asian-style dishes,
such as tempura prawns or stir-fried

Mediterranean Herb Salt 

4 bay leaves
2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme

Again, just grind them all together in
a coffee grinder and mix with 300 g
of semi-coarse sea salt. Brilliant on
barbecued lamb or whole fish!

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