FLAVORING INGREDIENTS

Apr 24th, 2006

Two very important ingredients at EVOO are EVOO, of course, and SALT. Recently we conducted a very successful tasting of EVOO and sea salt. I initially wanted to conduct a formal tasting, like the pros would do, but for more practical reasons I decided to “taste” these ingredients on preparations you might use at home. In any event it made for a nice class and even a light lunch for those attending.

We tasted Sel Gris, Fleur de Sel, and Cyprus Black Salt. The olive oils tasted were Hacienda 1917, Arbequina and Arbosana from California Olive Ranch. We use olive oil and salt as individual ingredients like herbs and spices of the dish. They are treated with equal importance. So how does one choose from the 100’s available today?

TASTE as many as you can before buying. Many markets do EVOO tastings on Saturdays, and even kitchen shops now offer salt tastings. So take advantage of those opportunities–I do, and always learn something.

Next, go to some of our favorite websites and read about their particular characteristics. You will learn the nuances that make them special and different–and inspire you to use them. For salts, I buy from Saltworks in Washington State and their site is very informative. www.saltworks.us. For oils, our staple oils are California Olive Ranch and their site is http://www.californiaoliveranch.com/

Choosing salts or oils is similar to how I choose wines—go to the wine makers themselves and read what they are saying about their wines–in some cases such info is found on the label.

Considering salts for example, here are a few facts that help me decide which and how to use them. First of all it is all just sodium chloride. So make no mistake the differences are subtle. There are minerals in some salts that contribute to their flavor profiles, but the most distinguishing characteristic may not be taste, but rather the texture of these various salts. Texture in salt is attributed to the way the salt crystallized. The area or region from which it originates determines the crystallization much the same way snow flakes are formed.

Sel Gris and Fleur de Sel are sea salts, both harvested at the mouth of the La Geurande River in the South of France where the saline is thick. A Celtic style method using wooden rakes to stir the salt as it dries in the sun is used. When the pure white, top layer is formed, it is immediately collected. And since it is not always there, it is considered to be the best, and is aptly named, Fleur de Sel, “salt flower.” The bottom is the Sel Gris, “gray salt,” getting the gray color from the mud flats that it dries on–some minerals from the earth are included, giving another flavor dimension. The Cyprus Black salt we use is a Mediterranean style salt that is extracted by boiling, and the lava, “activated charcoal,” is added afterwards. Among other things, activated charcoal is used in Spas for purification. Ingested, it sort of collects the impurities which are then eliminated.

This is allot of information, but at the end of the day, hereís how I use these salts. I use Sel Gris in cooking applications where I need to know immediately if I have achieved the salt-profile required. Like for sauces, soups and general cooking. The Fleur de Sel is a finishing salt where a “burst” of salt – texture is desired. The Black Cyprus adds texture, color and a burst of flavor once the activated charcoal layer melts away. Perfect companion to fish!

Bottom-line advice—enjoy the process of playing with different salts until you find what YOU like! Ciao, Bob