Photo Credit: The National
It’s difficult to express the importance of salt in the kitchen. Predominantly, we use salt to make food taste better, but it can do all sorts of things. It will put out grease fires, raise the boiling temperature of water to reduce cooking times it will even help restore an old cast iron pan as an abrasive. The list doesn’t stop there. Below are a few of (what i consider to be) the most interesting culinary uses for salt that go beyond simply seasoning food.
“…Don’t drink the Sea water, no matter how thirsty you get!”
Salt will absorb all the water you can throw at it. This can prove really handy. I’ve had great success in using salt in the dehydration or partial dehydration of fruits and vegetables. I’ve used the following technique with grapes, plums and tomatoes.
Tomatoes are prefect this time of year and once semi dried, they are easily worked into all sorts of dishes.
Start with the best tomatoes you can find. The following will work with any tomato(Heirloom, Hot House, Saladette, Roma and Grape tomatoes have all gone down this road in my kitchen). Cut them in half, lengthwise. Pour a bed of Rock salt(kosher salt will work, in a pinch but avoid table salt) 3cm deep into a baking dish. Place the tomatoes cut side up into the salt (leave about 1cm between the tomatoes for circulation). Cook them in a 150F oven with the door cracked open overnight.
The time they take to dehydrate will depend on the size and moisture content of the tomatoes. You can semi dry them(usually 5-7 hours) or completely dry them( 7+ hours). The drier they are, the longer they will keep. As always, use your intuition.
The salt does two things here:
- The bed of salt acts as insulation and keeps the temperature even (preventing the sugars from browning on a hot surface).
- It also seasons. The final product should be a lovely concentrated flavour with mild salinity.
This salt-bed technique will work well with any juicy fruit with a thin membrane type skin like grapes, plums or peaches.
“…So clean you could eat off of it!”
We recently threw a summer BBQ for the staff at SPiN Toronto. Among the snacks was a real crowd pleaser. A fresh watermelon, macerated in Tequila Tromba. We finished the melon with some fresh spearmint and Maldon’s flake salt. The results were beyond anyone’s expectations.
The flavours on this dish work well in a plated salad. Compress or macerate the watermelon with Tromba. Toss it with Arugula (for body), some light fresh cheese (for fat content) and something crunchy(toasted/candied nuts or seeds, a crispy and fried/dehydrated starch etc) for texture. Finish it with some Maldon’s flake salt and you’ve got a nice, simple, fresh summer dish. Nothing special, but tasty none-the-less.
…Or you could skip the Maldon’s and serve it family style on one of these!
Himalayan pink salt blocks are sold for anywhere from around $10-50. Use them as a platter to serve cold foods. Any foods moist enough will pick up some of the natural salinity from the block(melon, cucumber, or raw tuna all work really well).
But wait there’s more… You can cook on these things. Think seared scallops, fried eggs or crispy beef tenderloin.
However, there are a couple things to know before throwing your beautiful salt block on the bbq…
- They require a three-stage, slow heating process. Water is often trapped within the blocks and needs to evaporate slowly to avoid shattering. The block you purchase should include instructions.
- Once they’ve been heated, they lose their remarkable pink pattern. Still, once you’ve tasted something seared on one… You’ll know it’s worth it!
“…Because everyone loves ice cream.”
Now, I’m fortunate in my kitchen. We use a beautiful Musso Ice-cream maker and I would recommend them to any chef or home cook who is serious about frozen desserts with a bit of cash to spend. We make the frozen stuff in quantity so it’s a bit of a necessity. However, if you want to make small batch ice creams, you can use salt and it’s easier than you think…
Something magical happens when you add salt to ice. I’m not sure what exactly, but it’s pretty alluring. Likely, you already know, the ice will begin to melt. What you may not know, is that (according to general chemistry online) adding salt to ice-water can drop it’s temperature down to -21C. That’s pretty cold… and useful.
Combine 500ml 35% Cream with 250ml milk in a pot. Heat until steam appears, don’t boil it.
In a bowl, combine 3 egg yolks and 200g white sugar.
While whisking the egg mixture, slowly pour in the cream mix. Add a dash of vanilla, cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Put this mixture in the fridge until it’s cool to the touch(about 3 hours), then pour it into a plastic zipper bag and seal it.
In a larger zipper bag, add lots of ice, just enough water so the ice is floating and about 3/4 cup of salt.
Drop the bag of custard mixture into the bag of salted ice-water.
Now shake the bag for 7-10 minutes until your ice cream has firmed up.
*** More importantly, this technique will also work on bottled wine and beer. One to keep in mind for the summer.***
Well, there it is. Salt does some interesting things. So keep using it to enhance your flavours in the kitchen and don’t be afraid to use it to do something a little outside-the-box. Please, comment below and let me know what you think of these recipes and techniques.