... a claim to salt or Led Zeppelin song parody?
Thoughts of salt crusts have been curing my brain. Chef K and I were just waxing on the greatness of salt crusted food and what else could be done with it. The idea of flavored salt came up... using salt as a medium to impart extra flavor on foods while they steam in their salt rock casing. Working on Miami Spice for the last 3 months has pushed us to explore the use of spices. My kitchen-aid coffee grinder (that I use as a spice mill) has been pulled out almost everyday since then. We've grinded blends of every kind and sought out other flavorings to push the effect of our spice blends (powdered vinegar, honey crystals, citric acid, dehydrating various herbs and vegetables). Chef Fabian even used ground Froot Loops to throw another element into one of his desserts.
So what about salt? Almost as overlooked as black pepper with its exotic and familiar flavor, we tend to forget about the 'flavor' of salt. Ironically, we seek out salts that are lacking in certain tastes like added iodide. Salt gets a bad rap from doctors and health nuts, but don't cast an evil eye on the prized edible rock. When researching spices, one can follow the history of the spice trail to the discovery of the world. It can be said at the same time that the study of salt is the study of human civilization. Without getting into a huge discussion about preserving food with salt, mankinds quest for salt sources, being worth your salt, or rubbing salt in your wound, let's look at salt crusting.
I recently bought and watched an Alton Brown DVD on fish, and he gives a basic recipe for making salt crusts. Of course, it's used on fish. What about salt crusting other meats or foods? In this day of fascination with 'slow cooking,' what about using the salt casing as a vessel for long slow cooked meat. It would be like sous-vide cooking except that we are employing dry heat instead of moist heat. What sorts of flavors and textures could we impart on food through this method? Mixing dry spices with the salt is an obvious way to flavor the crust, but we could also add flavored liquids (fruit juice, rosewater, demi glace, soy sauce, honey, alcohol, etc.) to the salt dough. Let's take Alton Brown's base recipe for the dough:
- 6 lbs. kosher salt
- 4 egg white
- 1/2 cup water
Easy enough. Just mix all ingredients together into a paste. Lay a bit of the paste down over parchment or wax paper, place the food to be cooked over it, then add the rest of the paste to completely cover the food. The recipe calls for baking at 450 F until done (a temperature probe is used here), letting rest for at least 5 minutes afterwards, then breaking open with a small hammer.
Just ideas for now. I plan to experiment with a couple of the concepts here, so I will let you know what happens when we have time to try them.