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Salt of the Earth (or Sea)

Most good cooks seem to recommend sea salt, and I share their belief that it knocks spots off the chemically pure sodium chloride (plus odds and ends to ensure free flow) sold as ?table salt?. Rock salt is actually very old sea salt that got trapped in the great seismic upheavals that shaped the Earth we know today. I am convinced that, like vegetables grown on properly composted soil, sea salt contains essential and interesting-tasting trace-elements that are absent from Saxa and from veg grown on depleted soils with pure chemical fertilisers.

Ruth and Rose of River Café fame recommend Maldon sea salt from Essex. Since everything else they swear by is Italian, I guess the Italians don?t produce sea salt. Personally I have my doubts about salt from the Essex coast...

We?ve been using French sea salt for a long time. There are two sources - the Mediterrannean near the mouth of the Rhône and the Atlantic south of Bordeaux. Given the level of pollution in the Med, and the lack of tides and big waves to disperse it, I feel more comfortable with the Atlantic variety - Sel de Guérande - which comes from water well-stirred by the same wind-driven waves that make Biarritz a world-class surfing resort.

In both places sea-water is trapped in huge shallow pans and allowed to evaporate slowly in the scorching sunshine. Skilled workers rake up the crystals at different stages to produce various grades of salt.

For cooking I use Gros Sel de Guérande, a coarse, greyish, unprepossessing mess with a wonderful fresh taste. And for the table, I like a little open dish of Fleurs de Sel (flowers of salt), which is the salt-pan operator?s equivalent of the olive-basher?s first pressing: the light, flaky, snow-white crystals that form first and are a joy to crumble in your fingers over your plate. Even if they didn?t taste different, the very idea is delightful.

If you live in an area that Sainsburys? marketing gurus consider to be up-market, you will probably find one or other of these in your local store. If not, pick up a stock next time you?re in France.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.