There is no shortage of sea salt in the Hamptons. Maldon salt from England, fleur de sel from France, Portuguese salt collected in tidal pools in the Algarve: All are available at specialty stores. I've often wondered why there's no local salt alongside these imports. Wouldn't it be nice to finish a dish of sauteed Montauk fluke or sliced farm-stand tomatoes with a sprinkling of salt harvested from Long Island waters?
So I was validated when I strolled into the Sag Harbor Farmers' Market a few weeks ago and met the newest vendors, Natalie and Steven Judelson of Amagansett Sea Salt. The couple, who are lawyers by training and divide their time between Brooklyn and the East End, began gathering sea salt as a lark and a hobby. Delighted with the pure ocean flavor of their first batches (Steven likens the salt's briny taste to "the freshest raw clams"), they experimented with filtering and drying techniques, eventually visiting salt ponds in St. Barths and Brazil and researching French, Spanish and Portuguese harvesting methods, until they had a product they believed other local foodies might be interested in. The Judelsons collected the seawater for their first retail crop on New Year's Day of this year.
Steven described some of the arduous steps involved in handcrafting sea salt. Earlier that very morning he had driven to the beach, waded into the ocean beyond the point where the surf was churning up sand (sand and silt are his enemies) and collected 100 gallons of water, 5 gallons at a time. After bringing the water home and filtering it to remove impurities, he will solar-evaporate it (rather than boiling or oven-drying, processes used in industrial salt production to hurry things along) until he has about 15 pounds of salt. From start to finish, the artisanal process takes four weeks, giving the salt time to form large crystals with a gentle flavor and appealing crunch. Natalie is constantly working on interesting flavor blends. "Lazy Point" sea salt contains lime zest and mint (great for margaritas, she says.) Her "Sag Harbor" blend has Aleppo pepper and annoto pepper. Blends are $11 for a 1-ounce jar; plain is $9 an ounce.
There may be health benefits to this salt: The Judelsons don't bleach their salt or use any additives during processing. Solar evaporation produces sea salt with healthy trace minerals and micronutrients from the oceans. Many cooks find they can cut down on their sodium intake by sprinkling just a little bit of vibrantly flavored sea salt on their food instead of pouring on the table salt during cooking.
To taste the pure flavor of local salt on your own food, you can pick some up at farmers' markets in Amagansett (Wednesdays), Montauk (Thursdays), East Hampton (Fridays) and Sag Harbor (Saturday mornings). Natalie and Steve will be happy to share sea salt recipes and stories with you. Or visit their website, amagansettseasalt .com, to order by mail.
Grilled Sea Scallops with Mesclun and Amagansett Sea Salt
Natalie Judelson calls this "the perfect summer lunch." The dish comes together quickly, so have your greens, vegetables and dressing prepared before you begin to grill. Just a few grains of sea salt (5 crystals for each scallop, says Natalie) enhance their briny flavor when they come off the grill.
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sea scallops
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces mixed salad greens
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Amagansett Sea Salt (Natalie recommends the Montauk Blend solar-evaporated sea salt with lemon zest)
1. Whisk together lemon juice, mustard and shallot in a small bowl. Continue to whisk while adding 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Set aside.
2. Preheat gas grill to high. Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Coat with remaining
tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Clean grill thoroughly with a wire brush and coat grids with vegetable oil. Grill scallops, covered, until grill marks form, 30 to 60 seconds. Turn and continue to cook, covered, until grill marks form on second sides, another 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from grill and tent with foil.
3. Toss greens with about half of the vinaigrette and divide among 2 or 4 plates. Arrange avocado slices and tomatoes on each plate. Top each portion with scallops and sprinkle each scallop with sea salt. Serve immediately with remaining dressing on the side.