It's sort of fun experimenting with making things even when they're cheap and readily available at the store. It helps you understand how they are made and gives you a sense of satisfaction in knowing the process.
One thing I have made that does that for me is making my own sea salt. The first time I made it, it was very strong and had a metallic flavor to it. I have since made it with a better technique and it comes out flakier and cleaner tasting.
If you'd like to give it a try it's easy and just requires a bit of patience.
The best place to get salt water is deep in the ocean. If you know a fisherman who can gather some for you or if you have a boat, gather up several gallons when you're out fishing. Otherwise, you'll have to scope out an area that has less traffic from boats and people, but look out for potential farm runoff areas.
You won't be ingesting a lot of the salt, and salt, by its very nature, does not harbor much in the way of bacteria, but you still want the cleanest available.
I gather salt water in clean gallon milk jugs. Then I take it home and carefully strain it twice through coffee filters. You could use a fine cheesecloth or muslin if you have it.
Then pour salt water into a glass or Pyrex baking dish to the brim and put it into the oven for 3andndash;4 hours at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on it every so often as it gets toward the end.
You will see the salt collecting on the sides and bottom of the dish. If you see flakes on the top of the salt water when you check on it, you can use a strainer to collect the crystals and lay them on a cookie sheet to finish air drying. These, when they occur, are the flakiest pieces and great for topping truffles or using at the table to use as a finishing salt.
How long it takes depends on the temperature of your oven, the amount of water you're trying to evaporate and the salinity of the water. With the amount of rain we get in this area it can take longer sometimes.
The first time, I boiled it on the stove in a stainless steel stockpot and it turned out more clumpy and strong tasting. The slower you can allow it to evaporate the more flakes you will get.
Once nearly dry, scrape the dish with a wooden spoon or spatula and gather up the salt onto parchment paper to air-dry a bit more. Then, if you don't like it in big flakes or clumps, put it into a coffee grinder and make it finer for table use.
It also makes a nice foot scrub when mixed with good-quality oil.
You won't get a lot, about andfrac12;-cup per glass dish, but it's fun and makes a great conversation starter when you host your next dinner.
Anne Boulley is a local chef and culinary instructor with a passion for artisan foods. Her cooking classes and services are offered via her website,www.thegourmetguide.com .