Hotels routinely have food promotions centering around ingredients that have usually been brought from the other end of the world and that have great intrinsic worth. Oysters, wild salmon, truffles – the list of precious ingredients is endless. But what would you say about a salt festival? As a nonplussed hotel guest from Germany asked the chef, “But salt is salt, isn’t it?” At that, Chef Neeraj Tyagi, Executive Chef of Claridges New Delhi was astonished. He had just spent the last four months putting together supplies of salt from all around the world and trying out various recipes around them, so to be told that salt is salt was the last straw.
Claridges Hotel managed to gather seven types of salt from all over the world. Hawaiin black lava salt has a mineral flavour. Not surprising, because the salts from Hawaii are generally considered to come from oceans that dried up over 200 million years ago. They are pure because their source is considered to be free from contamination. Just as highly coloured is Hawaiin red volcanic salt. Chef Tyagi paired the black salt with chevre and smoked scarmoza – two strongly flavoured cheeses and the red salt was paired with roast duck.
The one salt that stood out from the rest was a grey-brown one from Denmark that had been smoked. Tyagi, who has been living and breathing salt for a while now, told Upper Crust that in winter, the Danes smoked their salt and rubbed them over their meat (read reindeer) and salmon to cure it. If the colour was less than attractive, the flavour was unmistakable. For the salt promotion, it was paired with salmon smoked inhouse.
The most beautiful salt of the lot was the Persian blue salt – a white pyramidal crystal with flecks of sapphire blue. Even Chef Tyagi didn’t know the exact reason for the colour. “It could be due to the reaction of potassium chloride with other minerals alloying the salt,” he opined, “but really, not even scientists are able to say with certainty what causes the blue flecks, so it is called the mysterious salt.”
Cyprus salt was the sweetest of the lot. It was also the whitest of all the salts. So intrinsic is it to the history of Cyprus that the metaphor “eating bread and salt together” means a high degree of bonding of two people. Last of the lot was the familiar pink rock from the Pakistan Himalaya. In Kashmir, every home has a lump of the rock that is sold in markets, because of its use in hot fomentations for joint pains and sprains. On the menu, it was used on Chilean Salmon.
The whole point of the menu was to try out at least four different dishes, to get an idea of the differences between the salts. Anybody who has visited this promotion will never look at salt in the same way again.