Salt Shopping and Inspiration

Photo by Carla Gabriel Garcia (http://www.carlagabriel.com/)

I’m not sure exactly how we stumbled onto the idea of doing a “summer salt” party. Summer flavors plus salt on the rooftop just sounded like fun experiment.

I’m by no means a salt advocate. In fact, in everyday eating, I tend to shy away from salt and think that most restaurant-prepared food tends to be too heavy on the salt side. However, when I started seeking out salt for researching this party, I was surprised that that I couldn’t find many local restaurants and bars that featured salt in a really innovative way. Luckily, I was able to find cookbooks and other bloggers who have explored the many uses of salt, which has the unique property of being both a humble ingredient that you is added to pasta water and fast food french fries to a gourmet ingredient that can elevate and accent dishes. Here’s a breakdown of the menu and the inspiration behind each dish.

Since salt has been used as seasoning for thousands of years, I figured there was no shortage of ideas to mine for inspiration. I was not disappointed. With every party, there’s a point in the research process where my head becomes so full of ideas that I realize that I could do two parties on the theme. With salt, I realized that there is enough material to do a salt party a month for a whole year (if any guests survive).

Before this project, I only had Morton’s kosher salt and Costco brand sea salt in my pantry. I had done some preliminary Googling on the varieties of salts I could add to my arsenal (pages and pages of top ten lists), but when I told Ben at Spice Ace that we was planning a salt-themed party, he immediately started giving me a tour of the wall of salt which really opened up the possibilities.

wallofsalt
Wall of salt at Spice Ace

Ben told us there was a many different aspects to consider-granularity, flakiness, color, flavor, and the list went on. He also described the differences between mine salt, pond salt, river salt, etc (it had actually not crossed my mind to think about the origin of these salts). He offered us to taste any of the salts that piqued our curiosity. Tasting salt by itself as you can imagine is quite intense and my mind was racing with new ideas so we promised a return visit after we had time to finalize a menu. I returned a couple of weeks later with a shopping list for almost 20 pounds of salt (salt blocks are heavy).

Here’s a short list of good resources for learning more about salt:

Salt: Cooking with the World’s Favorite Seasoning

This book was a great entry point into the world of salt. The beautiful photography draws you in, and while the book is compact, it explores a wide range of ways to highlight salt. There’s a perfect mix between the kind of dishes you’d either open with or use as the centerpiece. There’s a couple of desserts that looked really good, but I actually thought that there should be a least a couple more. The recipes are approachable and can be made by home cooks that only cook for special occasions.

Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes

This is the authoritative encyclopedia that you probably didn’t know existed. It catalogs a great number of different types of salt in almost a way that a geologist might. I wish there were more recipes, which is a shame since Bitterman is a great recipe writer, as we’ll see with the next book. This is the kind of book that I’m just glad exists. It might not spend much time on my kitchen counter, but it sure is good browsing material.

Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks

This book seems really niche (and it is), but it’s a great cookbook to have on the Kindle. It’s an intro to cooking with Himalayan salt blocks, slabs of salt cut from the Himalayan mountain range. I will explain more in future posts, but basically these gorgeous pink blocks are seasoning, cookware, and serving platters all rolled in one. If you decide to invest in a salt block or two, it’s a no brainer to buy this book which goes into great depth into how to use and care for your salt blocks . However, this is not just a dry, user manual. The recipe are incredibly innovative and shows you how to use salt blocks as to present, cure, chill, and heat food. This is definitely one of the most creative cookbooks I own. It convinced me that cooking with salt blocks might be the next technique to really take off (move over, sous vide).

Salt: A World History (Bonus pick)

This book explains the larger context of the role salt plays in shaping history, beyond providing an interesting theme for a dinner party. I know several friends who enjoyed this book, but honestly I lost interest after a few chapters so your mileage might vary. You might find a couple of good factoids to entertain your guests with though.

More?

Have any resources you’d like to share? It could be a recipe or a page from a cookbook. Or just your favorite salt.

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