Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More salt...from Ile de Ré

My nephew just returned from a trip to France and brought me these wonderful gifts:

He visited the lovely island of Ile de Ré, which sits off the northwestern coast of France. Reading the web page, it appears they enjoy just as many sunny days as the Mediterranean coast, there are few cars, and the most popular mode of transportation seems to be a bike. Nicholas shared pictures of his bike tour, which looked absolutely delightful, and exactly the kind of place I would be drawn to for a vacation.

From the lighthouse:

(Photos by Nicholas Flowers)

Famous for a long history of harvesting salt from the sea, the original salt marshes of Ile de Ré were  created by Cistercian monks in the 12 century. This tradition was passed on to families on the island, and many of the those working today can trace their roots in the industry back hundreds of years. About twenty five years ago Michelle and Jean-Michel Pelin saved this long honored craft from near oblivion by creating the Cie Esprit du Sel. Their salt is still harvested by hand and comes to us in its most natural form: unprocessed, unrefined, and unadulterated...just as nature designed it.

This is a very light, white salt that is skimmed off the top of the salt pans in the summer months, and is prized for its delicate flavor. I remember being in France with my friend, Laurie, when she got into a very heated discussion with her Dad because she thought someone was using the fleur de sel as cooking salt at their country house. He assured her that wasn't the case, and it became very apparent to me that this salt was to be treated with the utmost respect. I made a mental note to never make that mistake if it found its way to my kitchen.

Grey salt is harvested from the bottom of the clay salt pans giving it its natural color. It is said to be rich in trace elements such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and iodine. The taste is stronger than fleur de sel, and mostly used for cooking. Actually I think I've heard it referred to as kitchen salt, and I got the distinct feeling that this one never leaves the kitchen. Both are delicious and will bring out the natural flavor of your food. Maybe it's my peasant roots that draw me to foods in their most natural state, or maybe it's just because they taste better...probably a little of both. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Salt...from the Earth

Growing up the only brands of salt I ever saw, or used, were Morton's and Diamond Crystal. They're both simple table salt that's mined from the earth. Morton's started adding iodine back in 1924 as a dietary nutrient intended to prevent goiters. While there are other foods that are a natural source of iodine, such as kelp, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, strawberries and mozzarella cheese, this seemed like an efficient way to ensure the general public was getting their needed dosage.

Fast forward a few decades and suddenly there seemed to be a plethora of salt choices at my disposal: kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, sel gris, and Himalayan salt. How had all these choices eluded me?

Himalayan (center)

 Sel Gris (sea salt)

 Fleur de Sel (sea salt)

As I ventured into this salt smorgasbord, I was a bit skeptical, but kept an open mind. Sea salt quickly became a staple. This salt is obtained through a process that involves the evaporation of sea water, which some believe imparts a different flavor from table salt due to its mineral content. I like the flavor, and it's less processed than table salt, which also appeals to me. Sea salt doesn't contain very high concentrations of iodine, so some brands are adding it just like Morton did years ago.
Himalayan salt is the most recent addition to my pantry. This salt is harvested from ancient sea salt deposits in the Himalayan mountains and is said to contain 84 of the nutritional elements that our bodies need daily. It has a slightly pink color, which is pretty, but I was sold on the taste and I have given this salt to several friends who agree. I use the coarse salt when cooking pasta and soups, and the fine ground is perfect for my salt shaker. What's your favorite salt?