The Grenadine Salt Company's Artisanal Seasonings—and the Recipes That Feature Them—Will Transport You to the Caribbean
After "retiring" to the Caribbean isle of Bequia, a longtime Living photographer and his wife have carved out a sublime second act. Their three-year-old company, Grenadine Sea Salt, produces artisanal seasonings harvested from local waters and finished in the hot tropical sun. Step on shore for a taste of their good life.
The world's largest salt deposit is in the open ocean. Seawater is about 3.5 percent sodium chloride, with touches of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fluoride. Boil off the liquid and trace minerals, and you get the refined table variety, pure NaCl, which sprinkles freely from a shaker on even the most humid day once calcium silicate is added to prevent caking. If, on the other hand, you let a quart of clear seawater from the southern Caribbean Sea evaporate under the tropical sun in a patented solar still, what you have is an ounce jar of crackly, mineral, curiously flavorful finishing salt that its creator, retired food photographer and film director Jerry Simpson, calls "wild" salt.
Simpson founded Grenadine Sea Salt three years ago on the tiny Caribbean outpost of Bequia (pronounced BEK-way); it's part of the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a group of volcanic outcroppings within the larger arc of the Lesser Antilles. After a career spent around chefs and artisanal makers, he was ready for a retirement project combining good food and sustainability. "Knowing how clean the water is here, I thought about salt," says Simpson, who moved to the isle with his wife and collaborator, Elizabeth Watt, a former food stylist and photographer. "I'd always had an interest in the sea."
It's fair to say Simpson has seawater in his veins—he spent his Long Island childhood swimming, surfing, and sailing. He first saw Bequia some 28 years ago on a jaunt over from Mustique, a getaway for royals and rock stars. (Princess Margaret, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger have all romped there.) "I formed friendships and kept coming back," he recalls. With him were his first wife and their three children—one of whom, photographer Chris Simpson, has followed in his dad's footsteps and shoots frequently for Living. He took these pictures during a recent visit.
Jerry Simpson's touchstone for artisanal sea salt was French fleur de sel, which is harvested from open-air evaporation ponds. That method wouldn't work in a climate of tropical downpours, so he devised a shallow evaporator pan tented with glass: the solar still.
"The sun is our only machine," he says. The first test batches came in sugar-white, with a mixture of glassy flakes that crystallized on the water's surface—the equivalent of fleur de sel—and crunchy grains that sank to the bottom. He sent samples to chef friends in New York, who were struck by its distinct taste. Our Food Editor at Large Shira Bocar describes it as "ancient," with pronounced minerality and hints of chlorophyll—qualities Watt attributes to trace elements in the water around Bequia's volcanic shores.
Food art direction by Ryan Mesina; Recipes and food styling by Shira Bocar; Prop styling by Tanya Graff.
Today, Grenadine Sea Salt has five full-time employees and is adding stills to double production, to around 200 pounds a week. Simpson and Watt have also developed a line of blends made with their natural sea salt and local ingredients, such as coconut, nutmeg, and turmeric and Scotch-bonnet chiles, as shown here in the St. Vincent Blend. They use the blends to enhance their unfussy island cooking—the inspiration for the following recipes.
How It Starts
Jerry Simpson harvests seawater with employee Tianna Byron.
The Fish Market
Food shopping on Bequia calls for a visit to the day-boat fishermen who dock at the islands capital Port Elizabeth, and sell the day's catch, including spiny lobster, tuna, and mahi-mahi.
Salt and Citrus
Natural sea salt mingles with the mango-lime Mustique Blend.
Very Fresh Coconut
Employee Jovan Williams harvests coconuts on Bequia.
Coconut palms sway over Spring Bay in Bequia.
Mango, Papaya, and Melon Salad
In a tropical salad with melon, mango, papaya, and cucumber, Grenadine Sea Salt's turmeric-chile blend brings out the fresh, vibrant flavors.
Grilled Salt-Rubbed Fish Sandwich
Mahi-mahi fillets are rubbed with salt, thyme, and lemon zest before hitting the grill. Then they're sandwiched in a soft hoagie roll with tartar sauce, crisp lettuce, and slices of ripe tomato.
Lobster Salad with Tostones
Large flakes of natural finishing salt add texture and intensify the flavors of lobster salad with crispy tostones, the Caribbean's addictive twice-fried plantains.