Worth its salt

Worth its salt

Legend has it that soldiers of the Roman empire were paid in salt. In times of non-refrigeration, the ability of salt to preserve food and transcend seasonal availability gave it such a high status. Salt came in diverse forms depending on its source—sea, lake, or rock. Over time, the standardized variety of salt, i.e. iodized salt, became the most commonly used variety, especially in developing countries like India (iodine prevents diseases like goitre). This also meant that salt was, and is, increasingly consumed in less natural forms, and stripped off its diversity.

A promotion at The Claridges, New Delhi, called the Salts of the World at Sevilla, which started on 4 November and will go on till 27 November, attempts to

highlight seven natural salts and pairs them with appropriate ingredients according to the flavour of the salt. “Hawaiian black lava salt, Hawaiian red volcanic salt, Persian Blue salt, Danish Viking smoked salt, Cyprus Flake salt, sale grigio di Bretagna and Himalayan Pink salt, the salts at the promotion are some of the rarest and most exclusive salts in the world and cost an average of 2,000 for 100g," says Neeraj Tyagi, executive chef, The Claridges, New Delhi.

“The idea to hold such a promotion came a few months back on a visit to Singapore where I met a chef who works with natural salts and how different salts can have an altogether different taste. Since in India we rarely use natural salt, I wanted to introduce people to the concept—even more, to the rare, exotic varieities of it and not restrict it to Indian natural salts like the sendhanamak," says Tyagi.

There are two benefits of using natural salt: a primary benefit is its ability to act as a preservative. Salt’s ability to keep nutrients intact—which is a quality it loses when it is iodized—makes it a great ingredient for marinade. “Salt traps all the nutrients of the food and ensures they don’t get washed away, which is what happens when one uses iodized salt," he says. Second, the minerals the salt contains are beneficial for human consumption—in moderation, of course, he adds.

Most of the food pairings at the promotion are with Western foods and this, says Tyagi, is because the spices in Indian cuisine overwhelm the taste of the salt. “Most of these dishes use a marinade of just the salt and olive oil," says Tyagi.

The Persian Blue salt looks as exquisite as it sounds, with its blue-tinted crystals formed from the combination of potassium chloride and metallic sodium. It’s a mild salt, extremely rich in minerals, ideally paired with a fish such as black cod. Closer home is the Himalayan Pink salt, a rock salt, also called Halite, which originates in the Potwar plateau of Punjab in northern Pakistan. “This comes from a mine filled with sodium chloride and is a sweet and subtle salt. We have decided to pair it with pork, as it is the sweetest of the meats," adds Tyagi.

Cyprus Flake salt, only found in lakes in Cyprus, has delicately flaky, pyramid-shaped crystals, and for centuries has been the country’s major export. It was this salt that also inspired the traditional Cypriot saying “we ate bread and salt together", meaning that two people share a strong bond because they have gone through difficult times together. This salt is mild and delicate in taste, true to the Mediterranean style. The salt is commonly used as a garnish for fish and vegetable dishes and has zero moisture levels, making it ideal for rainy places. It has a mild, buttery flavour and is wonderful with mushrooms—given how well mushrooms and butter go together—preferably with delicate mushrooms like morel, porcini and truffles. Sale grigio di Bretagna, from Italy, which was born out of the clay coasts of Brittany in France, is a warm, rock salt that contains small amounts of porcelain. “It is grey in colour and works wonderfully with seafood like scallops, as well as chicken," says Tyagi.

There are two types of Hawaiian salt: Hawaiian black lava salt and Hawaiian red volcanic salt, which were born out of the ocean that dried up after molten lava flooded it 200 million years ago. Because of these origins, these are considered the cleanest and purest of salts, free from any contamination. “The lava has converted into a iron-potassium-calcium-rich salt, and is extremely strong in flavour. Both are great with foods such as red meats, like lamb and mutton. They are also extremely mineral rich," says Tyagi. Hawaiian black lava has been paired with two strong cheeses—Scamorza with the red and Chèvre with black lava, on pumpkin pancakes and plum salsa.

Danish Viking smoked salt, a modified salt from Scandinavia, traditionally, has been used to cure reindeer and fish in Denmark. “The salt helps trap the nutrients from the meat within it. Usually, when you cook something, nutrients get washed away but curing with salt first ensures that the nutrients stay intact. This salt is low in moisture, has fine crystals and has been used to cure a Norwegian fish called Gravlax because it has a delicate taste," says Tyagi.

Salts of the World at Sevilla is on at The Claridges, New Delhi, till 27 November. Meal for two costs approx. 4,000 plus taxes. For details, call 011-39555082.