Friday, August 24, 2012

Like Meat Loves Salt?


When teaching King Lear, I find some students are familiar with the folk tale of a daughter who told her father—who, like Lear, demanded elaborate public proclamations of filial love—that she loved him the way "meat loves salt."  If you are familiar with Shakespeare, then you should have a pretty good idea about the folk tale’s premise—though this tale offers a happier ending than Shakespeare’s tragedy.  (Click here if you want a link to the tale: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/salt.html#rushes.)

This is a convoluted way of conveying that I agree with all those who argue that salt is the most important seasoning in cooking.  I'm against over-salting and was aghast when a man at a table next to us at brunch last weekend poured about a tablespoon worth of salt onto his eggs (eggs!).  But I value enough the judicious use of salt such that I possess more than half a dozen different kinds of salt (and none of the Lawry’s seasoned salt variety).  In fact, my kitchen currently has fine sea salt, grey sea salt (French), regular coarse grinding sea salt, extra coarse sea salt, kosher salt, salt crystal pyramids (Balinese), white truffle salt, and alder wood smoked salt.

You might ask what I do with all these different kinds of salt.  I use kosher salt mostly for seasoning food during the cooking process.  French grey sea salt and coarse salt chunks are combined in a salt mill calibrated to dispense fairly robust grinds at the table.  The fine sea salt is used for fairly mild-flavored dishes like the cantaloupe melon soup that I “vitamixed” for a dinner this week (surrounding a mound of crab and apple salad).  The regular coarse grinding sea salt (from Trader Joe’s—a fantastic deal) is what we bring with us, along with the matching pepper grinder, when we go on long trips that require cooking our own meals—like when we lived in Park City, Utah for a month this summer.

That leaves the most interesting 3 salts: crystal pyramids, alder wood smoked salt, and white truffle salt.  Here are some streamlined ideas for how to use these lovely salts:

Salt Crystal Pyramids

For finishing a dish, there is no more dramatic visual statement than crystal pyramids.  I fell in love with these when we were in Tarifa, Spain (in May 2007).  When the whole fish dish I ordered was presented to me, there were several salt crystal pyramids sprinkled on top of the fish—not dissolved but left whole to slowly disintegrate with the heat of the dish after arriving at the table.  If salt can be called “cute,” these were.  In fact, they were so adorable that I went on a mad search for them once I returned to the states.  I found them at Williams-Sonoma, and I have a stash that I return to whenever I want to “finish” a salad or other simple dishes with a dramatic statement.  (Click here for the link: http://www.lovingearth.net/growers/13/balinese-pyramid-salt-producers) 


In the picture above, you can see the salt pyramids atop a bowl of steamed edamame.

Alder Wood Smoked Sea Salt

If we are strapped for time, we find smoked sea salt is great to sprinkle on fish or meats (especially pork ribs or thin pork steaks) to give that extra smokehouse flavor. 

But the best use of it might be the method we discovered in Seattle.  At a popular restaurant near Pike Place Market, a signature dish is grilled asparagus with smoked sea salt.  While the restaurant dish was fabulous, we realized that we could make the same dish for a fraction of the cost at home—only if we could get our hands on smoked sea salt.  We found some we liked at Whole Foods (here’s a link with more information: http://www.saltworks.us/salish-alder-wood-smoked-sea-salt.html), and now we drizzle olive oil over organic asparagus spears, put them on a grill to lightly caramelize (and get grill marks) and then finish with smoked salt after they are transferred to a serving plate. 


Another use I’ve developed on my own is for Honey Smoked Roasted Almonds (click here for the post on roasting almonds: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2012/06/roast-your-own-gourmet-honey-sesame.html)


White Truffle Salt

We love truffle-flavored gourmet food items like black truffle oil, white truffle oil, and truffle butter.  When—in the exquisite Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco—we came across the Spice House’s White Truffle Sea Salt (http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/salt-white-and-black-truffle), we bided our time till we returned to Chicago.  Since we had a Spice House just minutes away from where we lived, we marched almost immediately to Evanston on our return from San Francisco to purchase a small jar of white truffle sea salt. 


When we are not using it to add extra “oomph” to (“truffled”) wild mushroom risotto (above), we enlist its aid to make popcorn extra special.  Just make popcorn as you would normally except substitute regular salt with truffle salt after you drizzle the butter.  Then throw on some grated parmesan over the popcorn.  Overpriced movie theater popcorn with artificial “butter-flavored topping” doesn’t compare.


 So salt away!

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