I do not use a lot of salt when I cook, but when I do, I reach for the very best salt, bar none, on this planet. It is Zea Salt, and I harvest it here in Otter Creek when the wood stove is running.
Sea salt is very easy to make, and if you have kids, or you don’t have kids, it is entertaining, has lessons to give about evaporation and crystal formation, and you will have pure white salt crystals to sprinkle on your next batch of salted caramels or steamed asparagus.
Homemade Zeasalt is as bright and tasty as any of the world’s artisanal salts, and there are many. I love getting salts from around the world, smoked, flavored or raw. The flavors, colors and textures vary, they are all beautiful.People know I like salt (but not in excess) and I have been given Hawaiian black, silver chunks of Persian Blue which came in a little mesh bag with its own grater, Himalayan Pink, and other colorful exotic salts. I love them all. Each one has a different use. I like the fine Himalayan Pink with salmon, it is a delicate salt. I have a big box of Maldon I brought back from a visit to England, it is a mild, everyday, flaky salt. The Persian Blue is used for my paella.
My salt is composed of thin, flat plates, and very intense. It is bold, pure, salt. It tastes of the ocean, clean and tangy. When I taste my salt it is accompanied by images of pulling buckets of water up from the dock looking down at clean, clear water, or, bundled up in Mrs. Peel, the name I have given my snowsuit, hauling water at 10 pm with headlamps just before a Nor’easter. If there has been a storm, the water is agitated and full of sand. We leave it alone. We haul according to tide, and prefer incoming tide, close to high. This means we do not have to pull the buckets thirty feet through the air, and the water is fresh from offshore.
For me, making salt is a winter task. You certainly can boil salt water on your stove any time of year, but I only boil saltwater down when the wood stove is in use. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” is from chapter three of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and a song from the sixties, and it is time for me to skim the salt.
Warning: Salt is very corrosive. My wood stove is well loved and pitted, boiling salt on it does not bother me. Just be aware salt can leave marks. And it does splatter as it bubbles, sometimes 16“ up the stovepipe.
- Bucket with rope
- Empty gallon milk jugs and tops
- Plastic funnel with screen strainer
- Evaporating pan (stainless, and do not expect it to last more than a few years. Mine is 24”wide, 14” deep and 8” high, perfect, but it now has a leak. Use an old stockpot if nothing else is available)
- Slotted spoon
- Wooden frame with screen (helpful, not required)
Haul your buckets of fresh seawater up from your source. We line up 12 empty gallon milk jugs, and use a red plastic funnel with a screen in the bottom to filter any seaweed out and fill the jugs. We line the back of the Subaru with plastic, and set the jugs there.
Put evaporating pan on wood stove and fill with seawater leaving an inch at top. As water evaporates, add more. It will begin to get cloudy, as the salt content increases. At that point I stop adding water. A surface skim will form; it is a thin layer of crystals. Skim these off into a dish. I use a ceramic cake pan, about 10” x 18” x 2”.
This all takes several days, but checking the salt, and skimming in the morning, after work, and before going to bed is enough.
I skim until the water is almost all gone. This is the choice salt, the remainder is very sludgy, but I save that, too, it is fine, just not as pretty. There will be some salty water oozing out of the pile of crystals. I tip them into a wooden frame with a screen that then drains away the rest of the water, but you can just spread it out on old linen towels to finish drying.
Some big hunks will form; I wear protective gloves and break them apart. Handling salt barehanded hurts is very irritating to the skin. The salt is pretty pristine, but there may be one or two specks of black seaweed, which I just pick out.
So simple. So salt.
Mark Kurlanski, author of Cod, one of my favorite books, also wrote Salt, a world history. It is a great read about the impact of this modest mineral on our planet and culture.