The cure for anything is salt water:
sweat, tears or the sea. ~Isak Dinesen (1885-1962)
SIX WORD SATURDAY
Here is a link to Show My Face, who has a meme for creating a six word post. I’m not sure if I’m doing this quite right.¬† I’m familiar with the concept, as promoted by Smith Magazine, but since this is a blog about helping people to learn how to feed themselves – and not about my life, per se – I decided to not go with the brevity of a six-word post and opted for a six word title.¬† I guess I wouldn’t be teaching much with six words, simply proclaiming my mission in six words would seem a waste.¬† I love the Six Word Memoir idea; I’ve even made a few submissions.¬† Maybe this will inspire me to brevity.¬† Hmmmmm.¬† Doesn’t look like it’s worked yet.
COOKING IN A SALT CRUST
I want to tell you about a wonderfully inventive method of cooking.¬† Whether you’re preparing potatoes or meat, fish or poultry – or just potatoes – cooking in a salt crust is a method of dry cooking that seals in the moisture of the food.¬† I first learned of this as a way of cooking a pork roast when, in the distant past, pork used to have quite a bit more fat content than it does today.¬† In addition to sealing in the moisture, the salt absorbs the fat, leaving behind just the flavor.¬† The result was a juicy cut of flavorful meat despite cooking to the well-done stage.¬† Shrinkage is minimal, maximizing your food dollars.
There are recipes that incorporate flour and egg white into the salt, but this seems to be a lot more work to no advantage. They might not be using pure salt, which is the only reason I can think of to add binders like egg white or flour. Water is all that is all that is needed to adhere the salt.¬† The egg white will cause the crust to brown but, since the crust isn’t being eaten, this seems less important than ease of execution.
The best reason for using this method is to keep the juices inside the meat rather than letting them evaporate off, as happens in roasting.¬† It also minimizes shrinkage which, if cooking meat well done, can be considerable.¬† You will never have more beautifully cooked whole potatoes in their skins than with this method.¬† The best use of this technique is for meat, fish and poultry.
The pure whiteness of the food buried in salt as it comes out of the oven is indeed impressive.¬† You’ll want to gather your guests around when it emerges.¬† In the dead of winter, I once had a dinner guest ask in amazement, “Is that cooked in snow?”
Understanding the Process:
- Cooking in salt requires the use of pure salt because it absorbs moisture very quickly.¬† Moisture is absorbed, causing the grains to stick together.¬† In the olden days, people used to put raw rice in their salt shakers to prevent the salt from clumping in humid weather.¬† Modern table salt contains anti-caking agents (yellow prussiate of soda, calcium silicate, sodium aluminosilicate, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate ) that keep the salt free-flowing, despite humidity in the air.¬† When cooking in a salt crust, you must have salt without this additive.¬† The process depends upon the salt being able to absorb the moisture, forming an air-tight crust that that hardens when heated.¬† Kosher salt, without additives, is pure salt.¬† Just check the ingredient list.¬† It should have just one thing.
- Use a shallow pan lined with aluminum foil and clean-up will be just about non-existent.¬† Cook in the center of a hot oven, using an oven-proof meat thermometer.
- Don’t be stingy with the salt; it’s cheap, and important to get full coverage.¬† Put the salt in a bowl, add a little water and stir.¬† You will begin to see immediately the salt sticking to itself, like building a castle in wet sand on a pristine, white beach.¬† If it doesn’t appear sticky enough, add more water, a tablespoon at a time.
- Spread an even layer of salt on top of the foil in the pan.¬† Place the food on the salt.¬†¬† If you’re cooking meat, insert the thermometer halfway into the thickest part.¬† Pile the wet salt on all sides of the food, gently packing it together so there are no cracks or places where you can see the food through the salt.¬† You’ll feel as if you’re making a snow man.¬† At this point, if you’ve used salt with additives, you will see why this doesn’t work:¬† the salt will not stick together.¬† Cracks will form as soon as you try to pile the salt around the food, and you will not be able to adequately conceal it.
- After cooking, remove from the oven, and let meat rest for ten minutes.¬† During this time it will continue to cook, so remove from the oven about five to ten degrees from the temperature you ultimately want.¬† With a short paring knife, cut straight down into the crust, stopping before piercing the food.¬† Then twist the knife.¬† If the crust doesn’t break apart, remove the knife and repeat.
WHAT SHOULD I COOK?
Any cut of meat that you’d oven roast will work.¬† Do not use cuts that need a long, moist cooking method, like chuck.¬† If you like steak, I suggest an eye of round – not the most tender cut of meat, but a relatively inexpensive one, quite nice when sliced thin against the grain with a sharp carving knife.¬† Fillet mignon – cooked in one piece and served sliced thick -will work well, as will a thick individual serving steak like porterhouse or T-bone.¬† This method of cooking is especially magnificent for those who like their steak medium or well done because the meat will retain its juices.
Poultry is adaptable to this method, although it takes much more salt and a little more patience when burying a whole bird.¬† Cutting the bird in half is a good solution, placing the cut side down.¬† Duck will benefit as the salt will absorb the fat.¬† I will present many preparations for salt-crusted cooking in the future.¬† Stay tuned.
If this is a new method of cooking for you, why not begin with an achingly simple preparation?¬† Get some small new or red-skinned potatoes. They will cook in about thirty minutes and emerge looking as when they went in, their¬† skins intact.¬† Large potatoes will emerge as if baked: Idaho, sweet or yam.¬† Dust off the salt with a pastry brush and they’re ready for the plate.¬† Today’s Elaboration gives more details about this exciting way to cook.