Posts from November, 2009

Salt: A Cook’s Best Friend

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Salt is the universal seasoning—it makes flavors pop and go “Wow!” Salt brings out other tastes, even sweetness! All creatures like to eat salt—except, as we know in the Northwest, NOT slugs!

Salt is either mined from ancient, now dry, salt lake deposits or evaporated from sea water. There are many varieties. Refined table salt has additives to keep it flowing freely and iodine to ensure thyroid gland health in inland areas. Kosher salt is additive-free; and chefs appreciate its coarse-grained texture. Pickling salt contains no additives, which could cloud the pickle brine. Less refined, rock salt retains more minerals; it’s used in making ice-cream, baking potatoes, and nesting baked oysters in pans.

Hand-collected from coastal France, sel gris, also called grey or Celtic salt, is moist and unrefined; its pale color comes from the salt flats clay. During evaporation, a light film forms on top; this is fleur de sel, considered the “champagne” of salts.

‘Alaea is the traditional Hawaiian table salt; this sea salt gets its natural color from volcanic red clay. Danish smoked salt is flavored by the woods used when the evaporation is done over an open fire. 

Looking for big flavor—but from natural products—today’s consumers want gourmet salts from both culinary and health standpoints. And SaltWorks™, Inc., based in the Seattle area, does all–natural very well. The company buys directly from the farmers who produce the salt and imports it without a middleman. Founded in 2002 by owner Mark Zoske, SaltWorks now sells over 10 million pounds of sea salt a year. The company’s Artisan Salt Co. retail brand offers more than 30 varieties of salt and is available in hundreds of high–end retailers across the country.

Salt can headline a menu item, such as in Chinese Salt & Pepper Squid or Whole Snapper Baked in a Salt Crust. We love to sprinkle a little salt in salads before tossing; it’s a natural with hard-boiled eggs; and, heaven knows, we all love our salty snacks. We even enjoy it with our drinks—from a simple Salty Dog to the very popular Margarita.

Brining has become very trendy for flavoring food and keeping meats moist. My recipe for Pacific Rim Style Brine for Salmon for the Grill is an easy way to try out brining. I also included a recipe for a Citrus Herb Salt Rub for Chicken or Fish. This recipe infuses the salt with wonderful flavors to enhance any protein dish that needs a little “oomph”. It is great on roast chicken or used as a finishing salt on roasted scallops or plain grilled fish.

Pacific Rim Style Brine for Salmon for the Grill
Makes about 1 quart of brine

3 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup, packed, light brown sugar
4 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger

To prepare the brine: Add salt and brown sugar to water and mix until dissolved. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate unused brine for up to 10 days.
To brine and cook fish: Place salmon in brine, enough to totally cover fish. If needed to keep it submerged, weight down salmon by placing a plate or plastic bag filled with water on top of fish. Marinate fish in brine, refrigerated, for 3 to 4 hours only; DO NOT OVER-BRINE FISH! Remove fish from brine and lightly rinse off with cold water. Throw away used brine immediately!
Refrigerate fish, covered, till ready to cook. Grill the fish in your usual way, but do not salt the fish. Taste after cooking to see if salt is needed—it probably won’t be.
Chef’s Note: This brine is also great for brining chicken breasts, scallops or pork chops.Copyright ©2009 by Kathy Casey Food Studios®

Citrus Herb Salt Rub for Chicken or Fish
Makes about 1/2 cup

1 lemon
1 orange
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
15 large fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup fleur de sel
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

To make the salt rub: With a potato peeler, peel the lemon and orange, removing the colored part of the skin but not the white pith. Cut peel in very fine strips. (Reserve fruit for another use.) In a large, shallow, glass baking pan, mix peel, herbs and salt together and leave uncovered in a warm place in the kitchen. Stir a couple of times a day. Let sit at room temperature until the citrus peels and herbs are thoroughly dried—this should take about 3 to 4 days.

In small batches, grind the dried mixture in a coffee grinder (preferably one that you use only for spices) or with a mortar and pestle. Grind until the herbs and citrus peel are in small pieces and incorporated well in the salt. Then stir in the pepper. Place in a tightly covered jar until needed. This mixture should keep well at room temperature for up to 3 months.

To use salt: I like to use this seasoning on chicken or fish before roasting or grilling. It is also great used as a finishing salt and sprinkled on fresh vegetables, sautéed mushrooms, grilled shrimp, sliced poultry, or meats such as lamb or pork.

If roasting a whole chicken, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Rinse chicken under cold water and dry inside and out with paper towels. Place in a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack. Rub outside of chicken completely with 2 teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the salt rub.

Roast chicken in preheated oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until an instant read thermometer reads 160 degrees. Let chicken rest 10 minutes before carving. (It will continue to cook and come up to 165 degrees F while resting.)

I like to sprinkle a little more of the rub on the carved meat as a finishing salt just before serving. Copyright © 2009 by Kathy Casey Food Studios®

Posted by Kathy Casey on November 5th, 2009  |  Comments Off on Salt: A Cook’s Best Friend |  Posted in Dishing with Kathy Casey Blog, KOMO Radio, other, Recipes, seafood