"Flavoured salts are incredibly easy to make, it’s generally just a case of mixing, occasionally with some blending or oven-drying involved. But for barely any effort you can have an extremely rewarding pot of pure taste to enhance all your meals. What’s more, you can be as creative as you like."
Salt gets such a bad rep. Every day, it seems, we’re bombarded with research, press releases and news articles that tell us how the white stuff is slowly poisoning us, how our ready meals are laced with it and our salad dressings are brimming with it and our granola is practically caked in the stuff. Salt has become a dirty word in the food industry, with almost as many negative connotations as fat. No longer is it a valuable commodity (the word salary comes from Latin, because the Romans were given a monthly allowance to purchase this treasured substance) or respected for its magical ability to preserve a variety of foodstuffs. Instead we now venerate food that proclaims itself low-salt or reduced-salt. This saddens me, because used properly, salt is a beautiful thing.
Just think of those delicate, crystal-like flakes, a sprinkling of which can take food to dramatic new heights. If you’ve ever bought a container of Saxa salt, you may have seen that the packet proclaims Simply Unlocks Flavour. I can’t think of a better way of putting it. Salt brings food alive; it heightens all of its individual subtleties and nuances, bringing its complexity to the fore and allowing its true nature to shine.
I’m not just talking about savoury things, either. Next time you’re churning a batch of ice cream, try adding a pinch of salt. It somehow makes everything taste sweeter and heightens the flavours, which is important when you’re serving something so cold (chilling food dulls its flavour). I also now always add a pinch of salt to desserts; it pairs particularly fabulously with anything chocolatey or involving caramel, bananas or nuts.
You might feel anxious about the prospect of putting too much of the stuff on your food, but I wouldn’t be. If you’re the kind of person who prepares most of your food from scratch, chances are you’re consuming far less salt, even if you put a hefty sprinkling on your scrambled eggs or your jacket potatoes, than someone who guzzles processed foods all day long. That’s where the dangerous salt lies: it manages somehow to avoid tasting actively salty, so you consume far more than you would by simply facing your weeknight dinner with the salt shaker in hand.
If salt simply unlocks flavour, what better way to pack a tastebud punch than by adding flavours to salt before seasoning? Flavoured salts are one of the loveliest things to have in your kitchen, and will make the sometimes tedious and repetitive act of seasoning food a joy. Whipping up a quick Mexican dinner? Definitely time for a sprinkling of lime and paprika salt. Grilling or baking a fish? Lemon salt is a must. Making an earthy stew or risotto? Some porcini mushroom salt will add a gorgeous touch of umami richness. Garlic salt can be purchased in a lot of delis and supermarkets, and is possibly the most addictive substance in the food world; you’ll find yourself putting it on everything. You can also buy smoked salt quite readily now, and just a pinch will bring an incredibly musky tang to your cooking.
Best of all, they’re incredibly easy to make. It’s generally just a case of mixing, occasionally with some blending or oven-drying involved, but for barely any effort you can have an extremely rewarding pot of pure taste to enhance all your meals. What’s more, you can be as creative as you like. The recipes below are just guidelines and suggestions; feel free to experiment depending on what you think would work or what you like to eat. I like to store my flavoured salts in little jars with hand-written labels; they make great gifts, particularly if you give a selection of different coloured varieties.
Here’s how it’s done…
The general premise is this: put any ingredients that need crushing or grinding in a pestle and mortar or, if you have one, a spice grinder. Grind roughly or to a powder, depending on your preference (the pink peppercorns in the recipe below I prefer lightly crushed for appearance and texture, but the porcini mushrooms are best ground to a powder to distribute their strong flavour evenly). Add any other flavouring ingredients and pound together in a pestle and mortar. Add about half your salt, and crush together well, then add the rest of the salt and crush gently before adding to your jars.
The recipes below use about 60g salt; you can easily double the quantities if you want to fill larger jars. I use Maldon salt: you want fairly coarse salt that can be crushed lightly with a pestle and mortar, not table salt which is too finely ground.
This beautiful slate-grey salt is great for adding to all sorts of baking or ice cream, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try a little in mashed potato or with carrots. Simply crush the seeds of one vanilla pod with the salt.
Porcini and thyme salt
Grind 5g dried porcini mushrooms in a spice grinder. Mix with 1.5 tsp dried thyme in a pestle and mortar, then crush together with the salt. Excellent stirred into creamy mushroom pasta, mushroom risotto, or over beef dishes.
Five spice, ginger and pink peppercorn salt
Lightlycrush 1 tsp pink peppercorns with 1 tsp each ground ginger and Chinese five spice. Crush with the salt. Use to season Chinese dishes and roast duck or goose, or scatter over stir-fries.
Lime and paprika salt
Crush the salt with the zest of 1 lime and 1 tsp smoked paprika. Try with Mexican cooking: it’s fabulous on fajitas or fish tacos. You could also add some chilli flakes or ground chipotle chilli to make it hotter. I’ve even had this on toast with crushed avocado – simply amazing!
Lemon, rosemary and lavender salt
Crush the finely chopped leaves of one sprig of fresh rosemary with the zest of a lemon and a pinch of lavender flowers. Crush with the salt. This is very good used to season fish or roast chicken or vegetables; the lavender might sound strange but it adds a beautiful aromatic note to all sorts of roasts.