An exploration of Borough Market's mind-boggling array of salts
“The Persian blue gets its colour from the minerals in it,” says Lucia, pointing to its position on the jam-packed shelves of Spice Mountain—surrounded by the dazzling myriad of multi-coloured spices, you would be forgiven for not immediately realising that she is talking about salt. “Salt is a far more complex thing than the table salt many people grew up with at home.”
A quick glance at the section in front of us emphasises her point. Salt, it turns out, may be common, but it is far from simple. “Pink Himalayan, which is getting very popular, and Persian blue are both rock salts, so the minerals in them are different to those you would find in a sea salt,” Lucia explains.
“The Persian and Himalayan salts have distinct flavours and are very versatile, so you can use them in a variety of dishes. But rock salts are very intense, so you only have to use a little—much less than you would with other types of salt—or it will overpower the dish,” she warns.
“We also have ‘clay’ salts, which are mined from the earth near volcanoes. These get their unique flavour from minerals that the volcano has brought up from deep underground. The red Hawaiian alaea salt is completely natural. It goes very well with pork, or grilled chicken,” Lucia continues.
“The Hawaiian black lava salt has been infused with charcoal which makes it a bit sweeter, so I would suggest using it when grilling fish. It should be mainly used as a finishing salt—that way you really get to enjoy its texture and colour.”
Next on our list is the Egyptian frost salt, which is gathered from an oasis in the Egyptian dessert. The way the salt is extracted gives it a unique texture, reminiscent of snow—hence the name. “It is lovely, but very delicate, so I would use this one as a finishing salt too,” Lucia advises. “It’s a nice one to have at the table for your guests.”
This is, however, merely a sample of the variety of choices that Borough shoppers have when it comes to shopping for this most common of ingredients. At Tartufaia, you’ll find black truffle-infused sea salt from the salt plains of Cervia, Italy.
“It is really good if you are cooking with game or red meat,” says Stefania from behind the counter. “If you are making ossobuco for example, which is braised, slow-cooked veal, it is wonderful.”
The sea salt that comes from our own shores, on the extreme south of Cornwall, is also worthy of our attention. “This salt is harvested locally by a company based in the Lizard peninsula, which is surrounded by healthy, moving seas, which gives the salt a lovely pure, clean flavour,” explains Lizzie Vines of Wild Beef.
Luxurious salt and pepper
“A word of warning though, it can clog salt grinders, so sprinkle it over chicken or roast potatoes by hand. We also have a lovely, luxurious salt and pepper mix from there, which is wonderful on salmon, as well as a lemon and thyme salt which I use on roast chicken and fish, to great effect.”
Fitz Fine Foods is another Borough Market stalwart with a wonderful selection to tempt the gastronomic explorer—and Deborah is quick to point out the variety of salts they sell. “Our fleur de sel is hand harvested off the coast of Brittany, from the towns of Guérande and Île de Ré. It is a moist salt with real mineral complexity, and it is 100 per cent natural,” she enthuses.
“For me it is indispensable at the table. You can use it on anything that needs seasoning. A few sprinkles can turn a normal meal into a real culinary experience.”
Due to its delicate nature, this particular salt is not meant for use during cooking, as it will melt and lose its unique character—“Instead, just add a sprinkle to anything that needs a little extra oomph! Fish, meat, vegetables and even desserts like caramel and chocolate can be improved with fleur de sel. It brings a taste of the ocean to the plate.”
As befits its foraging ethos, the stall also sells wild garlic salt, which started as a way of using some of the wild garlic owner Noel FitzJohn had gathered. “The garlic adds a fresh zingy flavour—it’s an easy alternative to using crushed garlic in a recipe. It goes really well with steak as a finishing salt, or if you sprinkle some over mash potatoes it will be transformed,” Deborah continues.
“We also sell a salt flavoured with dried lime, which is wonderful on fajitas, anything grilled, or simply dusted round the rim of a cocktail glass after dinner.”