A while ago, I embarked upon a contemporary magazine project focusing on food and wine. Armed with my new title of Editor-in-Chief – and pausing only briefly to lower the bar within the elevated world of publishing – spontaneous plans were drawn up to undertake a number of investigative culinary trips to Europe.

The first port of call was to an old friend living near the northeast coast of Brittany.

Ron Haselden, a principally ‘site specific’ artist from London with an idiosyncratic eye on the landscape, had relocated his home and studio to a stone built terrace near the quiet estuary of the river Rance at Plouër-sur-Rance, close to nearby Cancale.

Entirely by chance, it turns out that the coastal town of Cancale happens to carry, amongst other more grounded reports, a surprisingly glowing title on TripAdvisor as ‘France’s Oyster and Mussel metropolis’ – an exalted and apparently close-knit bivalve community clearly best left to the French nation to chronicle I felt. But whether it’s myth or legend, it is here, on the shoreline of Cancale, that sweet, round oysters, huître creuse, are still traditionally grown amongst iron-braced, wooden stakes (known as bouchots) way out into the English channel. A man-made vista, eerily reminiscent of Anthony Gormley’s sea-side paddling team on Merseyside.

Although unscheduled, a visit to oyster-central simply could not be ignored and was added to the agenda thanks entirely to Ron’s proclivity for fresh oysters, his canny knowledge of the best (and cheapest) waterside vendors in town, his in-car selection of oyster knives and his love of the bouchot-forested seascape.

Some centuries before the focus of Ron’s utopian palate, another visitor, the Sun King Louis XIV, had laid down the stipulation in 1670 that Concale oysters, and only Concale oysters, were to be served to guests at the gilded tables of Versailles.

Brittany is ancient, megalith-strewn, hunter-gatherer territory and Ron carries the tradition well, an outlook reflected in both his work (www.ronhaselden.com) and his gastronomic pursuits. Within hours of arrival we were perched on the sunlit sea wall, shucking oysters and pitching discarded shells onto a working beach that displayed a mollusc burial mound older than the town itself. Behind us, an assembly of expensive sea-view restaurants, with the vista of the lunchtime clientele temporarily impeded by the backs of our heads. Nice to know though, that we were all enjoying the same seafood platter – save only for the considerable difference in the eventual l’addition. An economic coup due entirely to Ron’s thrifty retail philosophy.

And whilst casting around for liquid accompaniment, memories of the late wine writer and francophile, Steven Spurrier, who fittingly observed that it was not “food matching that was essential in wine selection – but mood matching”. So whilst nonchalantly adding to a magical foreshore of discarded oyster shells, coupled with the deft slicing of lemons (the juice required to dispatch our quivering molluscs, and gratis with our oyster purchase) little could have bettered our sedate lunchtime mood save only the opportune purchase of two inexpensive, lightly chilled, taste-bud tingling bottles of Loire valley Pinot Gris. The coordinating wine served in the no nonsense Duralex glasses found nestling in Ron’s glove compartment. Mood, food, wine and provident expenditure…all boxes ticked.

In her posthumous collection of culinary essays; More Home Cooking, the author Laurie Colwin, following a chapter dedicated to the hilarious calamities and pitfalls of eating outside, finally concedes; “…but some picnics can be rather like a dream, if you pick your spot, your companions, and your food carefully”. So there we were, with an unexpected and unplanned culinary triumph, taken outdoors, and fulfilled by such inexpensively simple components. I think one of the few picnics that Colwin might have endorsed. She would certainly have viewed our scavenging of naperie from the nearby restaurant as inspired.

But the predominant reason for my trip across the channel was to visit the natural salt fields of Guérande in the south of the region, sited on the rather more boisterous Atlantic coastline. Here salt farmers, paludiers, still corral the incoming waves to produce the natural, sweet tasting Fleur de Sel, named after the flower-like salt crystals that ‘grow’ above the water. From the air, the coastal salt farms (salines) must appear like the BFG’s Mah-Jong board game. The constituent technology here amounts to a conflation of clay, water, sun and wind; the only natural enemy being a dissolving shower of rain. The principal is to allow a tidal flow from the ocean through controlled sluice gates into progressively shallower ponds thereby encouraging evaporation and precipitation. The fine white crystals drift to the surface of the shallow pans and are shovelled into neat white conical mounds by the paludiers.

Like the oyster husbandry at Cancale, little has changed in hundreds of years of salt farming here.

Our new égalité escort that day was head paludier Christina, weather-bronzed, imperious, eloquent and passionate about her sustainable limpid allotment, she had farmed the plot since leaving university, as had her mother and grandmother before her. She was at pains to point out that the delicate collection of salt fleur was historically undertaken by women as their technique with the wooden shovel, the lousse, was discernibly more sensitive than that of men. Husbands or sons, are merely pressed into service to rebuild the clay enclosures at the end of each season. I obediently nodded as she sounded far too forthright to take any further questions on the contemporary Gallic outlook of labour distribution since La Révolution, a period she professed to admire greatly. Her hand, burnished by months of salt spray, deftly scooped up some dehydrated crystals and offered them up as I compliantly tasted, salt pinched between finger and thumb according to her precise instructions. The unprocessed salt was deliciously sweet and surprisingly delicate on the tongue with a crackling-fresh, ocean waft of magnesium. It is, and remains, a distinct taste unlike any other. The irony of eating out of her hand had not escaped me either.

You may have missed some of the recent obsession with salt crus, be it Peruvian Inca Sun, Dead Sea, Bolivian Rose, Himalayan Pink, or, heaven forbid, South African Caviar salt (yes there really is one). But if you require a sweet, unprocessed finishing salt for your salad adventures, a delicate flavour upgrade to enhance almost all foods – or, as is mooted in Elon Musk’s loony circles, we start harvesting it from Jupiter’s sodium-chloride-encased-moon Europa – then I doubt you will come across a more delicious natural salt, certainly not on this planet anyway.

Our salt matured Duck Confit is one that was rarely absent from the menu at Terence Conran’s Bibendum Restaurant in Fulham when Simon Hopkinson was its inspired head chef. Much as I love it, for me it is also serves as the indispensable prologue to the construction of a traditional Cassoulet, the star of Languedoc cuisine and a dish on which I have spent countless hours in near devotional assembly.

Duck Confit from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (2001) Simon Hopkinson

4 tbsp good quality salt French fleur de sel or sel grise

4 tsp sugar

6 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

10 black peppercorns

A generous grating of nutmeg

4 fatty duck legs

About 600 ml of duck or goose fat

6 – 8 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and bruised

Grind together the first 6 ingredients to a fine powder

Pour half of it into a shallow dish and place the duck legs flesh-side down upon this

Sprinkle over the rest, cover with cling film and put in the fridge, or a cool place for about 18-24 hours, turning the legs over once halfway through the process

Preheat the oven to 275°F/130°C/Gas Mark 1

Melt the fat in a solid cast-iron pot over a low heat

Rinse the duck legs under running water and slide into the fat together with the garlic

Bring the fat up to a gentle simmer and then place in the oven

Cook for about 2 hours, or until a metal skewer shows so little resistance to the meat that it might almost not be there

Allow to cool and store in a suitable pot, or simply the dish you cooked the confit in, but do make sure the that the meat is completely covered by fat

Keep in the fridge for at least 3-4 weeks, as they benefit hugely from this storage period