3 Oct 2009

Petite Fantaisie Numéro 1

As my staple food ingredients, little unassuming marvels are hidden in my kitchen cupboards, and although one may be hard-pushed to taste the difference that they deliver on the palate once they are mingled with food, they give me pleasure to use. The first ingredient I am about to describe couldn’t be more mundane though, more trivial, more basic than this 4-letter little number: salt.

First let’s put this straight: my household is not a big consumer of salt, and to prove it, it took us 7 years to go through a pot of 500g of the condiment. Everyone knows (should know) that despite its seasoning and taste-enhancing properties, and the fact that it is an essential component of our diets, salt should be consumed in moderation.

Therefore why would I have two different variants of salt in the kitchen, and why would I even dedicate a whole entry to this ingredient if it really doesn’t play such a big part in my cuisine? Let me explain...

I have never been a fan of refined salt - also referred to as ‘table salt’, the most commonly available type in the UK: cheap, straight-forward, no-fuss salt-of-the-earth kind of salt. Besides, call it snobbery on my part, but the big plastic container it comes into is not visually savoury (excuse the pun!). I know that the universal popularity of the contents (salt!) doesn’t require to call in the big advertising guns from London for a rebranding exercise, and you can pour the salt into a nice little holder and hide the plastic carbuncle away!

It’s only a matter of opinion but I do prefer sea salt, probably by default, as my mum has always bought it. Funnily enough, this conscious choice takes the sea salt consumers to a different league, that of the connoisseur’s, because the stuff is more expensive and exclusive, and yet – let’s admit it – tastier, thanks to its iodine content. It also makes us look somewhat particular, because for most people salt is just salt. Actually it’s not, because it would be like saying that sugar is just sugar, or coffee is just coffee… And while you’re at it, try to tell Colette that water is just water…

One of the two salt varieties in my cupboard is Maldon Flaky Crystal Sea Salt, which is poetically translated into French as ‘fleur de sel’ (i.e. salt flower). The natural harvesting process means that the flakes are unadulterated in flavour and content (no anti-caking agents!), and they deliver a nice burst of saltiness without the bitter after-taste, and melt quickly on the food. I find that they enhance salads very well.

The other salt variety I favour was brought to me by my mum, directly from the health shop: Lanes Herb Salt, an aromatic sea salt and vegetable seasoning (celery, carrot, kelp and herbs), which I sprinkle on pretty much all savoury dishes, and in the cooking water of pasta for added flavour.

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