Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. ~Nelson Mandela (1918 – )
THE SALT SITUATION
Marion Nestleâ€™s blog, Food Politics, updates information on the FDA and salt.Â She has many links to supporting documents, but offers a good synopsis of the salt situation.Â Is there any denying that the food industry has plied it’s food products with too much salt?Â Of course, thereâ€™s the Salt Institute, guarding against the possibility of anyone having a day of too little salt. Â As if.
For Only the Good Friday, Iâ€™d like to challenge people to think of ways of exposing themselves to the best, most accurate information about food.Â Information is power, and educating ourselves on the facts of food may be the best thing we can do for a lifetime of sustained health.Â Rather than reacting to advertising, using our powers of discernment about what to buy and feed ourselves can only have positive results.
COOKING IN A SALT CRUST UPDATE
Iâ€™m quite jazzed about cooking in a salt crust.Â It’s a great way to insure that food doesn’t dry out as can happen in baking and roasting.Â I’ve cooked fish two ways.Â One was using a whole fish in one piece, butterflied and filleted;Â the other a single, large fillet folded in half.
Fish is somewhat delicate.Â The advantage of cooking a whole fish is that the skin insulates the fish from too strong an infusion of salt flavor from the salt crust.Â I put a good amount of dill inside the cavity.Â You could use garlic or capers or any other flavoring you like.
If you have a single fillet, you can place the dill on top and then cover it with a broad few leek leaves.Â This is a good use of the larger, tougher, outer leaves of a leek.Â Slice laterally to open flat.Â Or, fold the fillet over in half, so that the skin will be on both sides, against the salt.Â With two fillets, one can be placed on top of the other – cut sides together – with dill in between.
PREPARE THE PAN
I use the bottom of a broiler pan, lined with aluminum foil (essential for clean-up) because it is large and shallow.Â Lay down a thin layer of salt; a quarter of an inch is sufficient.Â A small rolling pin or large pestle is a good tool for flattening out a thin, consistent layer.Â Gently lay the fish on the salt.Â Place the dill on top of the fish, then cover with the other fillet or fold the fillet in half.Â Cover with leek leaves, keeping them close to the fish.
USE AN OVEN-PROOF MEAT THERMOMETER
This is the best way to insure that your fish is cooked properly.Â An instant-read thermometer cannot be used because you will not be able to penetrate the salt crust.Â And, even if you can, you will be breaking the crust, destroying the air-tight environment in which the fish is cooking.Â Insert the thermometer into the center of the fillet laterally, positioning the face so that you can easily read it while it is still in the oven.Â Do this before covering the fillet with salt.
COVER & PACK
Pile the salt around the fish fillet, packing it so that there are no exposed areas.Â Check for cracks and pat them closed.Â Be sure and pack the salt thoroughly on all sides of the fish, especially around the thermometer.Â You don’t want any places for air to get into the salt crust.Â When you have a smooth, tightly-packed mound of salt-covered fish, with water in a spray bottle, spritz the outside with a light mist.Â This will help the crust to harden in one piece, making its removal easier.
Bake in the center of a hot (450ÂºF) oven.Â As soon as the temperature begins to rise, it will rise quickly, heating by ten degrees in just minutes.Â Keep an eye on the temperature to insure that it doesn’t overcook.Â Remove when thermometer reaches 125ÂºF.Â Let sit for five minutes; fish will continue to cook during this time.Â When temperature is at 130ÂºF, it is ready to open up.Â Remove thermometer.
Insert a small, sharp paring knife into the top of the mound, stopping before the blade reaches the fish.Â Twist the blade.Â If necessary, remove the knife and insert and twist again.Â The crust should break open in large pieces.Â Remove the salt and leek leaves to the trash, exposing the fish.Â Peel the skin off the fillet and remove to a platter with a fish spatula (just a spatula as long as the fish.)Â Cut the fillet and plate, leaving the bottom skin behind.Â Unless you’ve prepared a single flat fillet, each serving will be a sandwich with dill in between the two layers.Â You can remove the dill as you eat the fish, as it will have ever-so-delicately flavored the fish.
AN IMPRESSIVE PRESENTATION
Dinner guests will oooh and ahhhh upon seeing the salt-crust emerge from the oven, and exclaim in delight when you break open the crust.Â Avoid over-selling, however; act as though you’ve done this a million times.Â Their natural curiosity will probably get the better of them as they see you working your magic.
Company was unanimous in confirming the perfect results of this fish, which happened to be arctic char.Â Folding the fillet in half left some flesh exposed, but covering with the leek leaves insured that the salt would be kept from coming into direct contact with the flesh.Â No one could detect a grain of salt in their fish.Â We had this with a little Dill Sauce, mentioned on Wednesday, along with buttered forbidden rice.Â The colors – the pink of the char and the deep purple of the rice, along with steamed asparagus – were brilliant on the plate.Â I also made an arugula and goat cheese salad to go with, but that’s another post.