How to make salt: Fleur de Sel… Atlantique

Mastering the basics is a must for anyone who cooks: whipping up a béchamel, making mayonnaise, pastry, ragu, stock, bread, the list goes on…

One thing that is always overlooked and is perhaps the most frequently used ingredient of all time is salt. Without seasoning food would be dull. Too much is bad, not enough is disastrous. But how many people have actually made it themselves? It is so ludicrously simple to make: collect a jug of seawater, boil it and reduce it down till you are left with a white residue= salt. Done. I could end the post there…that is all there is to it. But to really sell it to you and hopefully urge you to give it a go yourself, I shall continue.

Salt is something that has been used for 1000’s of years, Sodium chloride has been found as far back as the Neolithic around 6000BC, mainly used in the context of preserving, but no doubt our ancestors found it had the ability to heighten the flavour of whatever they were eating. Along with fire, salt was probably man’s second greatest discovery.

Mastering the basics is a must for anyone who cooks: whipping up a béchamel, making mayonnaise, pastry, ragu, stock, bread, the list goes on…

One thing that is always overlooked and is perhaps the most frequently used ingredient of all time is salt. Without seasoning food would be dull. Too much is bad, not enough is disastrous. But how many people have actually made it themselves? It is so ludicrously simple to make: collect a jug of seawater, boil it and reduce it down till you are left with a white residue= salt. Done. I could end the post there…that is all there is to it. But to really sell it to you and hopefully urge you to give it a go yourself, I shall continue.

Salt is something that has been used for 1000’s of years, Sodium chloride has been found as far back as the Neolithic around 6000BC, mainly used in the context of preserving, but no doubt our ancestors found it had the ability to heighten the flavour of whatever they were eating. Along with fire, salt was probably man’s second greatest discovery.

The basics are important, as any bushcraft nerd (ahem) will tell you, making fire by friction is about as fundamental as crafting bush can get…I would say that the kitchen equivalent of creating fire from a few sticks is equal to tasting your first flake of homemade salt. These two ‘fundamental skills’ actually came together on a regular basis during my time in the Cook Islands. Three months with no matches and no seasoning meant fire saws from bamboo at dawn and boiling gin-clear south pacific seawater was a daily occurrence. Salt intake was crucial for helping our bodies regulate water content in the searing heat just as much as bringing our meager rations to life on the palate.

I was allowed to take a luxury item to the islands with me, my first thought was spices…actually at first I thought salt would be most useful, until I realized I would be surrounded by it and settled on garlic powder and hot curry powder. After a bit of research I found out that the salt content of seawater is roughly 3.5%, hence every litre of seawater contains 35g of dissolved salts. And so it was every day or so someone on our island would be in charge of making salt, which ranged in colour from pure white to dusty grey depending who was making it, quite often it was grey on the days the girls made it as they were a little more preoccupied with the application of make-up or topping up their tan rather than making sure the salt didn’t burn…

It must be said that making salt from seawater can be touch and go, I’m not sure how pleasant a raw material murky brown English channel water would be to work with, I think the further west the better for clarity and piece of mind, lets just say I wouldn’t collect it off Brighton beach!  Out here in Hossegor the Atlantic is a pleasant shade of green and blue, but I have heard rumours of bad pollution- trust the French to dump all their shit in the sea and cover everything else in pee (what is it with their penchant for public urination?!!).

With this in mind, I felt a healthy 20 minutes of fierce boiling would at least kill any bacteria, but first I had to collect my said raw material. Below is a short video of how to make salt, collection of seawater not recommended the day after a big storm: see for yourself!

Making Salt from Nick Weston on Vimeo.

Continue reading how to make salt from sea water on Nick Weston’s blog, HUNTER:GATHER:COOK -Adventures in Wild Food.