This is less a recipe than a story about Droitwich salt and how it came into my kitchen. My daughter Nicola lives just outside Droitwich in a village called Shrawley, in Worcestershire; her wife Rachael’s parents live in Droitwich – also known as Droitwich Spa. When I was visiting recently, Rachael’s mother Janet had kindly left a packet of Droitwich salt for me. Knowing about my blog and interest in food, she thought I’d like to try some of this salt that was a sell-out and big hit at the Ludlow Food Festival in September.
Now if someone gives me a foodie present I like to think of a way to do something special foodwise with it. But what could I do with salt? I considered salted caramel ice cream … I could bake fish in a salt crust – but that would use up all the salt in one go! While I pondered what I could do that would highlight the salt, I happened to visit Honest Burgers who are famous not just for their great burgers but also for their rosemary chips – chips tossed in salt with rosemary in it. So good were these wonderful rosemary chips, I got quite excited by them.
From there it wasn’t a massive leap in creative thinking to come up with the idea that I should infuse some of the Droitwich salt with some rosemary from my garden. So, back home, I picked some rosemary from the large bush at the end of my garden. I decided I should dry it first, so it hung some from a spice rack in the kitchen (along with the thyme and oregano I already had drying).
I waited until it was properly dry before going ahead with my rosemary salt.
The dried rosemary doesn’t look as pretty as the bright green fresh stems, but as I started to pull the little spiky leaves from one stem into a small bowl, the smell was wonderful: intense and aromatic. This is the reason I love drying some of the summer herbs that grow in my garden, before winter takes hold of them and they shrivel, discolour and perhaps die off. Greeks and many middle eastern countries use dried herbs a lot for their greater intensity of flavour and I’m a great fan of many for certain types of cooking – though like my fresh herbs too! (See this post for more on fresh v. dried herbs.)
I crushed the rosemary leaves with my fingers and added them to some of the salt, which I’d put in a small glass jar. Then I shook it all up, and it was ready to use.
Of course I had to try the salt before adding rosemary and decided to do a taste test with the sea salt I usually buy. I wasn’t sure if I’d notice the difference to be honest, but I did. It amazed me that I found it slightly different and the bright, fresh, pure taste of the Droitwich salt shone through.
Droitwich salt has an interesting history. The town of Droitwich sits on rock rich in minerals and so the water from the springs is very salty – in fact, ten times saltier than sea water. It was the Romans who first exploited the Droitwich brine and harvested the salt it contained. Then in 1215 King John granted the town a Royal Charter. Droitwich Spa became one of the most prosperous towns in medieval times based on the salt production. Production continued until 1922 but has recently been started again by Churchfields, a local, family-run farm, where the salt is harvested by hand. They launched the salt at the Ludlow Food Festival in September 2017 and it received much applause, with famous chefs getting excited about it and the stall selling out fast.
So what is so amazing about Droitwich salt? Although salt has had a bad press in recent years, and ordinary table salt is processed in a way that means it isn’t good for us, sea salt is now known to be full of vital minerals which are good for us. So sea salt – and remember, everything in moderation – is healthy, and it also has a better, purer taste, which makes it popular with chefs. However, the pollution in the sea nowadays has led some people to worry about sea salt’s purity. Droitwich salt, though, comes straight from the rock below the town and surrounding area. It is pure and unpolluted. The brine springs have existed for millions of years and are some of the oldest and purest in the world. Thus the salt is very special – and very pure. You can really taste the difference … so I’m going to put in an order for more!
Meanwhile, I got going with my sauté potatoes. I was going to serve them with a burger. I have made many a burger in my time but have to confess to recently buying some venison burgers in Waitrose that are truly wonderful, so they sit in my freezer, with some brioche burger buns, for days when I’m feeling a little lazy. But also for a day when I wanted to try out my rosemary-infused Droitwich salt!
I boiled the potatoes first – in water with Droitwich salt, of course! I drained them when almost, but not quite, tender. Once they were cool, I sliced them quite thickly. I left the skins on. It wasn’t laziness – they were little new potatoes and apart from liking potato skin, the skin is full of nutrients and flavour – and I did buy organic!
I heated some extra virgin olive oil (yes you can heat it and it’s still good for you!) in a small frying pan and when it was hot I added the potato slices. I kept the heat quite high and stirred and turned them frequently, until golden brown and crispy. Then I transferred them to a small bowl lined with kitchen towel to soak up the extra fat.
I tipped them from the paper back into the bowl and then sprinkled over a little of the rosemary salt and tossed them, so they were all covered in the salt.
Meanwhile, I’d griddled my burger and also cut my brioche burger bun and lightly toasted it.
I made a mixed salad to go on the side and smeared by toasted buns with some Maille aioli – just because I love it and especially on a burger.
The burger was put together on a serving plate; a little rocket and sliced tomato added on top. Then the crispy sauté potatoes with their rosemary Droitwich salt were put on the side.
It was all very delicious. I often add rosemary – fresh from the garden – to roasting potatoes so it makes such a lot of good sense to add some to salt to have at the ready for a quick sprinkle over potatoes, chips, lamb chops maybe … anything that likes good salt and some rosemary. I love the beautifully scented rosemary flavour but that salt from Droitwich is truly special and so I’m really pleased that Janet got me some to try.