Sunday, February 10, 2008

Back To The Salt Mines

Back to the Salt Mines

Ever wonder where salt comes from? Where would we be without it? It has always been an essential in cooking, preserving, freezing, seasoning. Now, of course we all know salt comes from the sea. But in my world, great salts come from gourmet web sites, stores & farmer’s markets.

Growing up, we always had Kosher Salt and Morton’s Iodized Salt in the house. I remember as a little girl looking at the crystals in the salt jar containing the kosher salt and observing the flaky, rectangular shapes of them. You could dip your finger in the jar so one or two crystals would stick and then let the flakes dissolve on the tip of your tongue- Sharp and memorable in flavor.

Flash forward to today, in the haute cuisine world of the 21st Century and salt has taken on a whole new dimension adding excitement and creativity to cooking. Collecting salts today is almost inevitable if you are a cook, starting innocently with the graduation from regular salt to Sea Salt from France (Remember? That used to be the hot new salt) From there as I go to stores like Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table and the myriad gourmet cooking stores in the Bay Area and Farmers Markets salt has become the sexy new ingredient.

I find these ingredients irresistible, seductive- they beckon you at the store or market to take a closer look and imagine the possibilities. Because I have an active imagination and also love to cook, I have been lured by these glamorous blends of salts and have without realizing it become a collector of salts. I used to be this way with olive oils too with the broad varieties available from around the world and the impact they have on flavoring a meal.

So, I took a look to see what salts I have and was a little surprised at the number of jars I have amassed! I liken this to my olive oil phase or to my obsession with shoes. In the shoe world, there are sling backs, sexy sandals, pumps, flats, boots, you name it in my closet- each with a plan in mind…and so it is with salts.

Here is a snapshot of the gorgeous salts I have collected and what I’ve done with them so far-

Vanilla Fleur De Sel: I just made a pork tenderloin using a rub of this decadent Vanilla Salt blended with ground garlic and ground ginger powder and white pepper. Grill your tenderloin till browned then put in oven for about 20-25 minutes to finish cooking it. You can spread some pomegranate syrup or delicious chutney I get at the SF Farmers Market made with cherries, apricots & Pine nuts over the pork when you put it in the oven to create a caramelized glaze. Outrageously good.

Truffle Salt: This is unbelievable on mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs with chives & parmesan cheese. Quite addictive…this salt is made with black truffles.

NorthWest Alder Smoked Sea Salt: Smoked over Alder Wood, this dark brown salt needs a good meat roast to support its robust flavor

Fumee De Sel: This delicious Salt is smoked over oak barrels with Chardonnay. Elegant salt, great on ribs, lamb.

Garlic Salt: Great on popcorn, grilled chicken, the list goes on.

Rosemary Salt: Great on rack of lamb, roasted chicken etc.

Sea Salt: Use your salt mill to grind some sea salt over a salad of mixed greens with a home made vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic for a great salad.

Kosher Salt: Great anywhere you need salt

Black Sea Salt: This is a gorgeous finishing salt to use on white rice. Try making Chicken Marbella and using this salt and black sesame seeds on your rice side dish, it creates drama and beauty to this already sumptuous dish.

Hawaiian Red Sea Salt:

Parsley Salt: Nice on Pasta

Mixed Salt with dried fruit, citrus peel, spices, vanilla bean, dark chocolate, grape must & cane sugar: I found this on an Italian foods website and this mysterious & decadent salt requires thought on how to use. It is fascinating.

Now I know there’s another level for salt foodies- home blended salts. I have dabbled a little bit in this area mostly informally improvising to suit my own taste and the recipe I am creating:

Salt with zest of lemon and parsley
Salt blended with turbanado sugar & Espelete

I am loving my love-affair with flavored salts, and used with different food pairings and sauces it can elevate y our cooking to a very different level!