I never really understood the fuss about salt. I mean it is salt. Not caviar or chocolate. So recipes that call for ‘Maldon’ or ‘Himalayan Pink’ always felt like an attempt at complicating a simple ingredient into snob-speak. Disdain and a fair amount of contempt would stop me from picking it up at specialty markets. I could instead finance a month of tender coconut ice cream. I mean how can you argue that logic?
So this is where I tell you I converted. Right at the top of this post. I sold out from anti-artisanal salt to “please can I also put it in chai”?
It all happened one day when I visited Brittany (northwest France) and stayed with a dear friend who was on a mission to show me the culinary sights and flavours of the country-side.
We drove into Guérande which a beautifully preserved medieval town in the Bretange region. Guérande is exactly how you’d imagine an old town. Churches, cobbled streets, tiny cafes with aged ciders, Breton flags everywhere and defiantly no sign of Starbucks. A.k.a absolutely perfect, like my grandmother’s mango pickle.
But it is not the town that caught my fancy, it was infact the miles and miles of salt marshes overlooking the town. This my friend, is the famous Fleur de Sel or Flower of Salt. We met with a young salt worker who explained the process to us, all while raking the salt himself. Who says men can’t multitask?
What is Fleur de Sel de Guérande?
Simply put, the royalty of salt. History claims that this salt was once the currency for trade in the town, so it comes as no surprise that it is one of Guérande’s most prized produce. The salt marshes are a series of enclosures that receive salty waters from the Atlantic ocean.
It is first held in a basin which clears the water of fish, eel etc (things you really don’t want in your salt) and then is guided into narrow enclosures where the water stands until it evaporates, creating a film of salt on the surface of the water, after which it’s gently raked up.
What makes it unique?
Our salt guide tells us something extremely interesting about this process- The Salt has no interaction with anything mechanical. Not even a little. The salt is raked by hand using a lousse à de fleur and that is how its been for more than 2000 years! It’s zero percent processed and a hundred percent labour of love. The gentleman (from the picture above) is one of the many families that own and works in the marshes. And they do it by themselves – from start to finish. Which explains why it comes in limited quantities and a big price tag.
What does it taste like?
Delicate crystals uneven in size but very robust in flavour. You need just a pinch to taste the ocean. How do you use it? I would say, like truffle – to finish your dish with a flourish. As a sprinkling on salads, maybe atop fresh avocado-toasts, stews and of course chocolate. You want this salt to the crowning jewel of your dish.
During my trip to Brittany I also discovered Bretons love for salted caramel. Turns out this is where the it originated (move over America, circa 2014) The combination of sweet caramels enhanced by just a pinch of sea salt are what dessert dreams are made of. I found an undoubtable chemistry in pairing bitter chocolate with salt, which lent itself to a very special dessert – Shahi Croissant Tukda with Salted Jaggery Cognac Sauce. Take a minute to breathe, that is a big one!
For the uninitiated, Shahi Tukda is a gorgeous Indian dessert of fried bread, Rabri or (milk sauce) and nuts. Believed to have originated in the kitchens of the Mughals, I’ve taken the liberty to twist it completely out of its mould and it’s mind.
I found love in fresh Croissants from a local Boulangerie – an ode to the lovely summer days of strolling the streets of Paris with bread in my hands. My special addition is a quick chocolate rabri, which is the base of the pud. And finally, a sauce made of jaggery (palm sugar) – a humble everyday ingredient married to a dash of cognac and crowned with specks of Fleur de Sel, the star of the show! This is the Cinderella of Dessert.
Shahi Croissant Tukda with Salted Jaggery-Cognac Sauce
Makes for Two
- Croissants – 2 (preferably a day old)
- Ghee/Clarified Butter – 3tbsp
For the Chocolate Rabri
- Whole Milk – 6tbsp
- Condensed Milk – 2tbsp
- Dark Chocolate, Chopped – 40gms
For the Jaggery-Cognac Sauce
- Powdered Jaggery or Bhura – 40gms (I use the mild, light brown version found commonly in the north of India)/ Sub with demerara sugar to make a regular caramel
- Water – 3tbsp
- Single Cream – 1tbsp
- Cognac- 2tbsp
- Fleur De Sel- A pinch
- For the Rabri, heat the milk and condensed milk until it’s thick and coats the back of a spoon. Add in the chocolate and let it stand for about a minute. Stir in the chocolate using a whisk till it becomes a light sauce. I prefer it runny, as rabri should be but you can put it back on the heat for another two minutes, if you like a thicker consistency.
- To make the Jaggery sauce, in a heavy bottom pan combine the jaggery and water together over low heat. This is pretty much how you make a caramel, only you’re adding lesser water to the sugar. The jaggery will start to melt and froth – keep swirling the mix with a spoon to avoid the sides from burning
- Once the jaggery melts and the water is well incorporated into the sugar, remove the pan from heat. Gently stir in the single cream, be careful and avoid getting splattered.
- Leave it aside to cool and only when it comes down to room temperature, stir in the cognac. If you don’t let it cool completely, the heat from the caramel will burn off the alcohol. And that’s really not fun. Lastly, stir in the Fleur De Sel. The sauce is quite a flavour bomb so I would advise using just a hint when you’re serving this up.
- After it’s all done, heat the ghee in a shallow pan and lightly toast the croissants. Traditionally, the bread is fried but traditionally, they didn’t need to burn that off with three hours in the gym. So really, it’s your call.
- Serve it up hot. Start by placing the croissants on a plate. Generously spoon the Chocolate Rabri over and lightly drizzle the Jaggery sauce. Garnish with extra Fleur De Sel and slivered almonds.
This dish makes for an indulgent start to your day or even to end one. Pair it with a good cup of black coffee or a smoky single malt for an extra kick. Bon Appetit!