Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Salty Cooks

Well, this is my kitchen, welcome. Perhaps this post is a little late, hopefully some friends are returning for a second look. This is where all the magic happens. Three grown men work in this space over the course of a 6 hour service we tend to get rather close. Usually with the occasional cursing at each other, a few elbows, pan throwing, oh yeah, and we are surrounded by knives and extremely hot metal. Fortunately things have worked out rather well so far. We have the worlds second longest cutting board measuring in at about 10 feet.

The first thing that catches my eye in this phone is one of my favorite things, finishing salts, and we keep a full array on the line in plastic pint containers. I really enjoy the Australian pink flake salt. It taste like buttered popcorn to me, but at $50 per pound, well, I guess only I can eat it like popcorn. Down the line we have Fleur de Sel, from France, where it is skimmed off the ocean only at the most specific times. Next to that is Sel Gris, which is scrapped of the rocks under the water where the Fleur de Sel is harvested. I keep Pacific rock salt around as well. We use it mostly to salt water due to it’s huge crystals. I prefer Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt as my basic salt, for no other reason than I’ve become accustomed to the grain size, and it has a pure taste, nothing bitter or sharp. There is smoked salt, which I’ve found a but overpowering as a finishing salt. There are numerous other salts available. I purchase mine through Urban Herbs at the West Side Market.

Salt is a very powerful ingredient, not just an expensive finishing salt which serves equally as garnish for any culinarian. We currently, and have in the past used salt to cure our meat, for flavor now, and for survival in the past. I prefer to make my own special blend of cure which includes both salt and sugar, a lot of cinnamon, some cloves, coriander, fennel seed, juniper and peppercorn. It serves well as a cure for duck legs, pork, boar, even in a pate. I’ve become quite fond of it, and plan on using it exclusively in the future.

The crunch of the salt is rather addictive. Your basic Kosher salt prefers to melt into an ingredient, where a beautiful Australian flake salt likes to hold it’s on, and remind you it’s there when you bit into it. It’s a little explosion of instant flavor, and the best of them aren’t salty, rather convey whatever it is they are placed on.

Next time you reach for the salt, think twice about what kind you have, when you are adding it, and how it will effect the end product. If when out to a restaurant, and you happen to find a wonderfully crunchy crystal on your plate, be happy, be very happy.


Mark Bitterman said...

Cheers to the Salt Chef! The Australian pink salt mentioned here is indeed a great finishing salt. However, to defend the practicality of using it, a pound costs only about $30 buck at our shop, The Meadow (www.themeadowflowers.com/salt). In addtion to its amazing cotton candy like crystal structure and pale peach color, it is one of the more interesting tasting salts I know. For one thing, the salt on its own comes off incredibly mild and distinctly unsalty. On something moist, however, it comes alive and quite forward and pronounced, with a warm quality. We have done numerous taste tests where Murray Darling (the name we use, referring to the source for our Australian pink salt) has been a favorite on tomatoes, and more controversially, on a caprese salad. Because this salt is so effective at imparting saltiness without overwhelming it (on the right food), it should be used very sparingly. Murray Darling is an interesting salt, evaporated from a saline aquifer in the Murray Darling river basin that is fed from the Australian alps. Its pinkish color comes from carotene that is excreted by micro-organisms living in the water. I'm thrilled to see others who appreciate the exceptional virtues of finishing salt! And with full respect to Michael's aversion to smoked salts as finishing salts, try I'll be writing more on Murray Darling, Sel Gris, Fleur de Sel, and lots of others at Salt News, my blog on gourmet sea salts and finishing salts www.saltnews.com if you want to check it out.

Michael Walsh said...

Mark, thanks for the info about the salt. Your blog is a wealth of information. My source for finishing salt only stocks the basic 6-8 variaties, and were out of the aussie pink for awhile. I'm going to order your sampler pack as soon as i get a minute with the credit card. I've been wanting to get some Muldons, a few british chefs i've talked speak very highly of it. I've gone ahead and added your blog and your shop to my links i hope you don't mind, and please check back here, i'll at the very least keep up with my weekly specials. thanks again mark