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Home-smoked salts add zest to party menus

Despite the health concerns over salt, adding it to our food shouldn't be taboo. Like any spice, it should be applied in moderation and avoided if it doesn't enhance the flavour.

Extra tang is a given when the salt is smoked or infused with other flavours. Not long ago, I stumbled across a Canadian company that not only imports exotic sea salts from around the world - one example is Murray River flake salt, an apricot-coloured finishing salt from Australia - but also infuses sea salts with flavourings such as coffee and pepper to create tasty amalgams such as espresso sea salt and green chili sea salt.

The process through which Toronto-based Just A Pinch ( www.justapinch.ca) does so is a secret, but the adventurous can try creating their own infused salts at home. The process of smoking salt and/or infusing it with whatever flavour you like is a lot simpler than it sounds.

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And it's guaranteed to impress dinner-party guests, especially if you serve the finished condiment in shallow salt cellars scattered across a dinner or buffet table.

Salt can be smoked with either a smoker or a standard barbecue. If you're using a barbecue, turn on the unit's indirect burners (these are typically the back burners) and bring the temperature to 350 F. Soak two cups of flavoured wood chips (oak, mesquite, hickory, even apple) in tepid water for about an hour and then discard the water through a strainer.

If your barbecue comes with a smoke drawer, fill the drawer with two cups of the wood chips.

Alternatively, a smoker box can be purchased from most hardware stores. For a handy DIY option, wrap the chips in two or thee layers of aluminum foil and then poke quarter-inch holes in the foil to let the scent out.

Finally, thinly spread two cups of coarse sea salt or kosher salt in a shallow baking pan and place it on the barbecue grill away from the heat source. Keep the barbecue at a medium heat level (the temperature should not exceed 450 F) and smoke the salt with the lid closed for between one and two hours.

Except to stir the salt every 45 minutes, do not lift the barbecue lid. To infuse the salt with extra flavour, add a few drops of vanilla, lemon or other extract to the wood chips when you place them on the barbecue; the flavour will also be absorbed into the salt.

Of course, a trip to your local gourmet grocery store will yield quicker results and offer more varieties, but the process is a fun one if you have a free few hours and have caught the smoking bug. Also, smoking your own salts can produce a stronger flavour: The longer you leave the salt on the grill, the more intense its taste will be.

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Sebastien Centner is the director of Eatertainment Special Events in Toronto ( www.eatertainment.com).

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