I admit I like literary hints and I love Oscar Wilde, but the subject here is SALT, my favorite spice. Is salt considered a spice?
Salt is mostly known as a mineral. Some people say that salt is a mineral and not a spice. In actuality salt can be used to flavor food; therefore it is indeed also a spice.
In any case Le sel de la vie (the salt of life) is a common french expression meaning in english the spice of life
… there you are.
We all know that salt is necessary to life, to taste, and to preserving food. But salt has been demonized by the health gurus in the last years. They must have in mind the refined salt used in the food industry to cover up processed food, not to be confused with the natural sea salt, collected by hand. Fifteen years ago, my very first student, Sally, from Tasmania, said candidly after a few classes with me : my husband thinks my food is much more delicious because I now add salt to it. Imagine, cooking without any salt at all, which is what Sally did, obeying to some injunctions popular in those days.
Students attending my classes are now familiar, for the most part, with sea salt and fleur de sel. I am no longer asked if I use “kosher salt”. The first time I heard that term, I was so puzzled. Finally I understood that Kosher salt was not any particular salt, just any coarse salt used to draw the blood out of meat to make it Kosher.
For years, and up to today, I have been using exclusively the salt from the “presqu’ile de Guérande”, a peninsula in Southern Brittany website : seldeguerande.fr (with an English version) . This summer, on our way back from l’Ile d’Yeu (french only), we visited les Salines de Millac (french only) revived ten years ago by Emmanuel and Nathalie, a young couple who came to my kitchen for an event around Olive Oil two years ago.
This salt march, in the « marais breton », was most famous from the 14th to the 16th century, exporting its harvests to the countries on the northern Atlantic coast. It was closed in 1947. Ten years ago, Emmanuel (a former sommelier) and Nathalie (holding a master in environmental technology) joined forces to put it back on the map, using their energy and very little help from a bank. They trained with the Guérande saltmongers, after all they are just on the other side south of the Loire estuary … sharing a recognized terroir. After one year of hard work, they had their first harvest.
Millac’s production is small 2,60 hectares (6,43 acres) of salt ponds, 11 hectares (27 acres) total land, 58 french tons (64 US tons) of coarse salt (sel gris) and 5% of fleur de sel. This is what makes it special, along with their attention to every detail of the process.
Millac is beautiful, Guérande is beautiful, Millac is strictly local and ecological (see Emmanuel working barefoot). Guérande, now renowned and successful, has internal conflicts and some of its production is not always sourced exactly there. This is not a politically correct statement, but it is a fact. Millac, in a less favorable year, does not buy salt from another source.
Millac has a particularity: two sorts of Fleur de Sel
the one resulting from the effect of eastern wind and
the Nacre (mother of pearl) de Sel resulting from the effect of western wind.
The nacre is coarser than the regular Fleur de Sel, the grains are small and white but textured differently.
Les Salines de Millac does not have distribution outside of France, but mail orders are welcome.
Coarse salt (gros sel) when boiling water or for a rub
Fine salt (sel fin) : same as above but ground, for cooking
Fleur de Sel : for last minute seasoning before serving and on the table
Salt is essential in cooking. When to add to dishes with meat ? Before or during ? No definite answer, sorry, there are several schools, all have their reasons.. But for sure, when sweating vegetables, add from the start, to accelerate.
Recipes where salt is the star
Pommes de terre aux cristaux de sel
Fingerling potatoes with salt cristals
For 6 servings
Wash the potatoes, scrub if necessary and place, unpeeled, in a heavy pot, such as a “cocotte”. Barely cover with water, add the salt, cover.
Poached fresh cod
For 4 servings
Spread half the coarse salt at the bottom of a dish. Place the fish, cover with the remaining salt, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Millac, Guérande and commercial brands offer flavored salts. Personally I prefer the unflavored, and adding my own spices separately. Flavored salts do make great little gifts.
Chocolate and fleur de sel are great companions. The now famous caramels au beurre sale are a treat. Recipes can be found all over the net.
Questions are welcome, the discussion is open.