MEAT - Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman

Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman (2016)

Chapter 1. MEAT

Salt on meat could be the most influential unrecorded recipe in recorded history—its simplicity makes it genius, and its complex play of texture, moisture, and primal flavor makes it eternal. Biting into a steak, juicy and salt crusted, you can imagine the bards of ancient times singing songs about battles and glory and love and home—and this is the food passed around the fire amidst. It was a single salt-studded steak eaten in a truck stop set along the rain-misted fields of northern France that first awoke me to the terrific power of craft salt. Like any great truth, salting meat is simple, but some basic rules apply.

There are three ways to salt meat:

1. Salting about 30 minutes before cooking will produce a thick pailletted crust.

2. Salting right after the meat comes off the heat will give you sparks of salinity punctuating unadorned flesh.

3. Applying salt in a cure over a period of days before cooking will fully alter the texture and flavor of meat, like with pastrami or sauerbraten.

The first two options above can be executed alone or in combination. The third option, curing, introduces enough salt that additional salting is rarely necessary. Meat can be cured either with a salt rub (sometimes called a dry brine) or by soaking meat in a saline bath, which is called a brine.

While there are only three primary ways to salt meat, the number of salts that can be used are nearly infinite. Using the right salt prior to cooking will have a big impact. Salting meat draws moisture to the surface. These meat juices are a mixture of water and savory liquefied proteins. Drawing a fine glaze of these juices to the surface of a roast, steak, or chop shortly before cooking is what creates a delectable crust. Sel gris, fleur de sel, or fine traditional salt are perfect for the job. The fine salt will draw just enough moisture to form an excellent crust. The coarser salts will only partially dissolve, thus drawing just enough moisture to form a crust, and the rest will wait patiently for the crunch of your bite. One salt that should not be used is kosher salt. Kosher salt, which is technically called koshering salt, does just that—it koshers, drawing out big puddles of moisture to create a soggy surface that resists crisping and crusting. The effect of kosher salt’s unnaturally pure flecks of sodium chloride is closer to desiccation than encrustation.

The most controlled way to cook a steak is to sparingly preseason it to aid in crusting, and then to use a finishing salt at the table to deliver the perfect mineral contrast to each juicy bite. Enjoy the roar of larger crystal salts like sel gris, coarse traditional salt, and coarse flake salt, or tame things down with the purr of smaller crystals like fleur de sel and fine flake salt.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina with Dolce di Cervia and Grilled Lemon


The famous steak from Florence is essentially a grilled porterhouse. To do it right, you will need a huge steak, around 2 inches thick. Most supermarkets don’t usually cut steaks this thick, so you will probably have to call the meat department or your butcher ahead of time to order it. What makes it truly remarkable, however, is the simplicity of its seasoning—freshly ground pepper, a dousing of lemon juice, and a crunchy crust of the best salt you can find. For this recipe, I particularly love the “sale dolce,” or “sweet salt” from the northern Adriatic. The big crunch and clean, almost fruity mineral flavor puts a stamp of authenticity on Bistecca alla Fiorentina that is as unmistakable as it is delicious.

1 large lemon

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon sel gris or coarse traditional salt such as Dolce di Cervia, divided

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided

1 (2½ to 3-pound) large porterhouse or T-bone steak, at least 2 inches thick

1 cup oak or hickory wood chips or chunks

Mild vegetable oil, for coating grill grate

Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Squeeze the juice from half the lemon into a large resealable plastic bag. Reserve the other half. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the sel gris, and ½ teaspoon of the pepper to the bag. Add the steak, press the air out of the bag, and seal the top. Massage the marinade into the meat and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to grill, remove the marinating steak from the refrigerator and set out at room temperature for 1 hour. Soak the wood chips in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set up your grill—if using charcoal, make a hot fire (about 500°F) covering one half of the grill bed. If using a gas grill, turn half of the burners on high and leave the other half off.

When ready to cook, remove the steak from the marinade and discard the marinade. Drain the wood chips and scatter over the hot coals. If using a gas grill without a smoker box, put the chips in aluminum foil and poke holes in the foil, then put the foil directly over one of the gas burners. If you have a smoker box on your grill, use it.

Brush the grill grate with vegetable oil, then grill the steak directly over the fire with the lid down until darkly crusted, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Sprinkle all over with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sel gris and ½ teaspoon of pepper as you turn the steak.

Move the steak to the part of the grill without a fire, cover the grill, and cook for another 6 to 12 minutes for medium-rare to medium. Transfer to a platter, loosely cover with foil, and let rest for 5 to 8 minutes.

While the steak rests, coat the reserved lemon half with a bit of olive oil and grill, cut side down, over direct heat until nicely grill-marked, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool slightly, then cut the lemon into 4 thin wedges.

Make individual servings by cutting both sections away from the bone, then cutting them into 4 to 6 pieces, or by cutting all of the meat into ½-inch-thick slices and serving each guest a mix of tenderloin and top loin slices. (The bone itself is up for grabs.) Serve with the remaining olive oil drizzled over the top and the grilled lemon wedges.


Piran Sel Gris; Sel Gris de Noirmoutier, Guérande, or
l’Île de Ré; Kona Deep Sea Salt; Fiore di Trapani, Sal de Ibiza Granito

Thrice-Salted Rib-Eye Steaks with Brown Butter Aioli


Even though all salts are salty, they vary dramatically in key directions, making it not only possible but also easy to build diversity in a single dish with salt alone. This rustic steak is a case in point: seasoned with smoke; textured with crunchy chunks of solidified brine, some sweetly minerally, others boldly smoky; and finished with massive saline shards of munchable black wrought iron.


1 tablespoon smoked salt

1 tablespoon sel gris or coarse traditional salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground mustard

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

4 (8 to 10-ounce) boneless beef rib-eye steaks, about 1 inch thick

2 tablespoons unsalted butter


6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon medium-grained sea salt (such as a fleur de sel of choice)

2 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons boiling water

4 pinches black salt

To prepare the steaks, mix the salts, pepper, mustard, and garlic and onion powders together in a bowl. Season both sides of all of the steaks; set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Heat the butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the steaks in the hot butter until browned on both sides and the steaks barely feel resilient in the center, medium-rare, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the steaks to a serving platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

To make the aioli, wipe out the skillet. Add the butter to the pan and cook over medium heat until the butter turns golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Mash the garlic and sea salt on a cutting board into a smooth paste. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the egg yolks and lemon juice, and mix well with a whisk. Slowly drizzle the melted butter into the yolks, mixing it in drop by drop. The mixture will thicken into a creamy, pourable sauce. When it gets too thick to pour, add the boiling water.

Serve each steak with some sauce and a scattering of black salt.


Smoked Salt: Vancouver Island Smoked Sea Salt, Bulls Bay Bourbon Barrel Smoked Flake, Halen Môn Gold Sea Salt, Maine Apple Smoked Sea Salt
Sel Gris: Sel Gris de Guérande, I’Île de Ré, or Noirmoutier
Traditional Coarse Salt: Amagansett Sea Salt, Dolce di Cervia
Black Salt: Icelandic Lava Salt, Kilauea Onyx Sea Salt, Black Lava Salt, Black Diamond Flake Salt

Umami Burgers with Moshio


Your mouth can pick up five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Umami tastes savory like roasted meat or sautéed mushrooms. In Japanese, umami translates roughly as “deliciousness,” and it has been recognized in Japan as a unique taste since 1908. It was not until 2001 that western science confirmed the existence of specialized taste receptors on the tongue for umami. Moshio is a crazy-delicious salt made by evaporating salt with seaweed, and the wonder twins activate to form an umami-salty tsunami that will take your burgers over the top.

2 tablespoons finely chopped dried porcini mushrooms (3 or 4 medium pieces; 4 g/0.14 ounce)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons hot water

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

2 teaspoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon black pepper

1½ pounds ground beef chuck, 85% lean

Olive oil, for coating grill grate

1½ teaspoons Moshio salt

4 hamburger buns, split

2 tablespoons chopped pickled ginger

12 thin slices cucumber

Mix the mushrooms, soy sauce, and hot water in a medium bowl. Set aside for a minute to soften the mushrooms. Stir in the anchovy paste, tomato paste, and pepper. Add the beef and mix with your hands just until blended. Using a light touch, form into 4 patties about ¾ inch thick and 4 inches in diameter. Pinch a quarter-size dimple in the center of each patty. As the burgers grill, they will shrink in from the edges, causing the center to swell. By making a divot in the center of the raw patty, you end up with a grilled burger that is flat and even, perfect for stacking on the garnishes. Refrigerate until ready to grill.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill for medium direct heat (350º to 400ºF). Clean the grill grate with a metal brush and coat the grate with olive oil.

Season the burgers all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt and put on the grill. Cover and cook for 9 minutes, flipping after 5 minutes for medium (150°F for slightly pink). Add a minute per side for well-done (160°F).

To toast the buns, put them cut sides down directly over the fire for the last minute of cooking.

If serving the burgers directly from the grill, serve on buns topped with the pickled ginger and sliced cucumbers and sprinkled with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. If the burgers will sit, even for a few minutes, keep buns and burgers separate until just before eating.


Tsushima No Moshio, Amabito No Moshio, Kamebishi Soy Salt, Sal de Gusano

Roasted Prime Rib with Garlic and Pink Rock Salt


Prime rib is nobody’s everyday meal. It’s a celebration. Whether you are at a restaurant or at home, its arrival at the table makes you feel like a king. The only difference is that you can have it better at home. High-quality salt is like setting out the fine silver; it honors the food and elevates the occasion. Compared to evaporated sea salts, rock salts are hard and flinty—just the consistency you want to stand up to long hours in the oven, so that every lovingly carved slice still bristles with bright beads of salinity.

6 cloves garlic, slivered

1 (4-rib) standing beef rib roast, about 8 pounds

1 tablespoon coarse Himalayan Pink Salt, divided

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cracked dried green peppercorns

Slip the garlic slivers between the meat and fat on the top of the roast, and between the meat and bones on the bottom. Season the roast all over with 2 teaspoons of the salt and the two peppers; set in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to start roasting.

Preheat the oven to 550°F.

Place the beef in a large metal roasting pan, fat side up, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pressing the salt into the fat layer to help it adhere. Put the meat in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, or until the surface starts to brown. Decrease the oven temperature to 170°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 135ºF, about 4 hours. Because the shape of the roast affects the rate of heat transference through the meat, start checking for doneness at 3 hours to make sure you don’t overcook the roast.

Transfer the meat to a carving board, and let rest for 15 to 25 minutes before slicing and serving.


Persian Blue Salt, Brazilian Sal Grosso, Redmond Real Salt, Oryx Desert Smoked Salt

Colorado Beef Burgers with Mesquite-Smoked Salt and Chiles


Mesquite wood derives its strength through deprivation. Gnarly and implacable mesquite thrives in the desert with little water and even less cultivation. Its wood burns superhot, billowing an abundance of pungent smoke that invades anything that gets in its way, tenaciously clinging even to rock-hard salt crystals. This profoundly flavorful and simple burger draws its smoke from three sources: chipotle chiles (smoked jalapeños), a raging charcoal fire, and mesquite-smoked salt. Ours is made in small batches on the Maine coast.

2 pounds ground beef chuck, 85% lean

5 tablespoons ice-cold water

1 tablespoon chipotle hot sauce, divided

1½ teaspoons mesquite-smoked salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup mayonnaise

Mild vegetable oil, for coating grill grate

12 slices good-quality pepper Jack cheese (optional)

6 hamburger buns, split

6 Hatch chiles, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced

Heat a grill for medium-high direct heat (400º to 450ºF).

Mix the beef, water, 1 teaspoon of the chipotle hot sauce, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well blended; do not overmix. Gently form the meat into 6 patties no more than 1 inch thick. Pinch a quarter-size dimple in the center of each patty. By making a divot in the center, you end up with a grilled burger that is flat and even, perfect for stacking on the garnishes. Refrigerate the burgers until the grill is ready.

In the meantime, mix the mayonnaise with the remaining 2 teaspoons of chipotle hot sauce. Set aside until ready to use.

Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Put the burgers on the grill, cover, and cook for 7 minutes, turning after about 4 minutes for medium (150°F for slightly pink). Add a minute per side for well-done (160°F).

If you are making cheeseburgers, put 2 slices of cheese on each burger 1 minute before the burgers are going to be done.

To toast the buns, put them cut sides down directly over the fire 1 minute before the burgers are going to be done. If serving the burgers directly from the grill, serve on buns with sliced chiles and chipotle mayo. If the burgers will sit, even for a few minutes, keep the buns and burgers separate until just before eating.


Red Alder Smoked Salt, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, Halen Môn Gold Sea Salt, Rosemary Flake Salt, Sage Salt

Sel Gris Pastrami


In 1962 there were more than 2,000 Jewish-style delicatessens in New York City. Now there are less than a thousand in the whole country. True deli is a vanishing art that follows a time-consuming, labor-intensive process of smoking, curing, pickling, and spicing that predates refrigeration. Nowadays if you want top-notch pastrami, you might have to make it yourself. Fortunately, though DIY pastrami takes time, it doesn’t take a lot of effort, and if you switch from kosher salt to sel gris, the results far surpass what you can get at the corner deli.

4 pounds uncooked corned beef

2 tablespoons large sel gris (such as Sel Gris de Noirmoutier)

2 tablespoons black peppercorns, cracked

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, cracked

180 cubic inches (3 quarts) hardwood chips (such as alder, cherry, or apple)

1 small loaf fresh rye bread

½ cup grated horseradish

⅓ cup spicy brown mustard

Remove the corned beef from its brine; wash in 3 to 6 changes of cold water to desalinate the meat a bit. Pat dry.

Mix the sel gris, peppercorns, and coriander seeds. Coat the meat with the mixture, pressing the rub into the surface of the meat. Put on a rack and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.

Set up a smoker (either charcoal or electric) to about 225ºF. Add the wood chips according to the smoker’s directions. Place the pastrami fat side up on a rack set above a pan of water and smoke until an instant-read thermometer inserted into its thickest part registers 190º to 200ºF, about 6 hours. You will have to replenish the wood chips every 2 hours, and, if using charcoal, the charcoal at the same time.

Remove the pastrami from the smoker. Wrap the pastrami in plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. (At this point, it will keep for up to 1 week.)

To steam, put the pastrami in a metal or bamboo steamer and steam over barely simmering water until an instant-read thermometer inserted into its thickest part registers about 205ºF, about 40 minutes. Slice it into ¹∕8-inch-thick slices perpendicular to the grain of the meat.

Serve with the bread, horseradish, and mustard.


Any coarse traditional salt or sel gris will do here. Favorites include Piran Sel Gris, Dolce di Cervia, Yellowstone Natural Salt, and any French sel gris.

Venison Steak with Takesumi Bamboo Sea Salt


My first meal with Takesumi Bamboo Salt was bourbon-glazed venison on a plate dotted casually around its rim with molten-hot jalapeño pepper and little volcanoes of Takesumi Bamboo piled by its side. Never in my experience have color, flavor, and texture been so implausibly and perfectly married. I have no idea how the chef who created the inspiration for this recipe wove his magic, but I think we got pretty damn close.

3 jalapeño chiles

¼ cup bourbon

1 tablespoon honey

8 sprigs thyme

4 cloves garlic, peeled

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 deer tenderloin steaks, about ¾ inch thick

Mild vegetable oil, for coating grill grate

2 teaspoons Takesumi Bamboo Sea Salt

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Turn a gas burner or a broiler to high. Perch the jalapeños on the burner grate directly over the fire, or on a broiler pan placed directly under the fire, and cook until the skin on the peppers chars, turning to get an even blackening on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Cool. Cut off the stem ends; remove the seeds if you want to soften their heat.

Put the bourbon, jalapeños, honey, thyme, and garlic in a food processor and process into a fine purée. Add the pepper flakes and olive oil. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 6 hours.

Heat a grill for direct medium-high heat, about 450°F.

Brush the grill grate and coat with vegetable oil. Pat the venison steaks to remove any obvious moisture, but keep as much of the bourbon paste on the meat as you can; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Grill directly over the heat for 2 to 4 minutes per side for rare to medium-rare (130º to 135ºF internal temperature). Remove and let rest for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and serve.


Takesumi Bamboo Sea Salt is unlike any other salt. If none is at hand, try Black Lava Salt, or use Flos Salis, Piran Fleur de Sel, or Fleur de Sel de l’Île de Ré.

Heritage Pork Chops with Red Salt and Black Salt Roasted Corn Relish


Man has been breeding pigs since as far back as 11,000 years ago, but there was no such thing as heritage pork until the modern pork industry started messing with nature, creating leaner and leaner pigs that turned into blander and blander meat. The choice to reclaim old established breeds, like Berkshire and Hampshire, which produce well-marbled, juicy, dark-fleshed pork chops, is just a matter of good taste. If you don’t know the breed of pig your pork is coming from, look for “pastured” or “free-range” pork. Haleakala Ruby and Kilauea Onyx, not to be confused with the cheap knockoff red salts made to look like real McCoy, are big and rich and buttery, and made entirely by hand: heritage salt.

2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

4 bone-in heritage pork rib chops, 1 to 1½ inches thick, about 3 pounds total, trimmed of excess fat

2 teaspoons red salt, divided

2 teaspoons black salt, divided

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 ears fresh corn, husks removed

1 small tomato, seeded and finely chopped

1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 small clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of ½ lime

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix the molasses and vinegar together in a small bowl. Brush the chops with this mixture. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of each of the salts and set on a rack set on a sheet pan in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Coat the corn with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast until browned, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Combine the tomato, jalapeño, garlic, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and pepper in a medium bowl. Cut the corn kernels from their cobs and toss with the vegetables and the remaining 1 teaspoon of each of the salts.

Decrease the oven temperature to 350°F. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Put the chops in the hot pan and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Move to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest chop register 154°F, about 15 minutes. Serve the chops topped with the relish.


Red Salt: Haleakala Ruby Sea Salt, Molokai Red Sea Salt, or go pale with silvery Piran Sel Gris or rosy Sugpo Asin.

Black Salt: Kilauea Onyx Sea Salt, Icelandic Lava Salt, Black Lava Salt

Barbecue Spare Ribs with Sweet Smoked Brine


The golden general rule of salting is to give salt a voice, and to do that it’s best to salt toward the end of your food preparation. The sumptuous charm of a roasted rib of beef or charred steak depends on the dynamic contrast between a crackling salt-studded crust and its virginally rare interior. But barbecue doesn’t give a damn about golden rules. The allure of barbecue is the permutation of smoke and spice throughout. Barbecue is one place where salt enters in the beginning, the middle, and the end. You do not finish barbecue with great salt—you inundate it every step of the way.


3 tablespoons smoked paprika

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons alder smoked salt

1½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1½ tablespoons chipotle chile powder


2 cups apple cider or juice

⅔ cup hard cider or lager beer

⅓ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup Alder Rub

2 tablespoons smoked salt of choice

2 slabs pork ribs, baby back or St. Louis cut, about 4 pounds total


¼ cup apple cider or juice

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup ketchup

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons honey

1 to 2 tablespoons habanero hot sauce

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon smoked salt of choice

For the rub, mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl; set aside. The rub can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 1 week.

For the ribs, combine the brine ingredients in a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, mixing with a whisk to dissolve the salt. Cut the racks in half, between the 6th and 7th ribs. Put in the bag with the brine. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air through the opening, and close the zipper completely. Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.

For the sauce, mix all of the ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until lightly thickened, about 5 minutes; store in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to 1 month.

Remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry. Season the ribs all over with the remaining ½ cup of rub. Set aside for at least 15 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill for medium indirect heat (300° to 350°F).

Clean the grill grate with a wire brush and put the ribs, bone side down, on the grill away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ribs registers about 180°F, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

When the ribs are done, brush the tops with a generous glaze of the sauce, using about half of the sauce (about ⅔ cup). Cover the grill and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the glaze is set.

Transfer the ribs to a large serving board and cut into 1 or 2-rib pieces. Serve with the remaining sauce for dipping.


Alaska Pure Alder Smoked Sea Salt, Red Alder Smoked Salt, Vancouver Island Smoked Sea Salt, Danish Viking Smoked Salt, Mesquite Smoked Sea Salt

Pulled Lamb Flatbreads with Pomegranate Syrup and Lemon Salt


Now that McDonald’s has joined Wendy’s and Burger King in embracing the pulled pork sandwich, it seems like the perfect moment for all us thinking people to satisfy our pulled meat jones elsewhere. I vote for lamb shoulder. It’s as flavorful and as rich as pork and way more interesting. In this recipe, we braise lamb shoulder with lemon salt and spices until it literally falls into shreds. Then we tuck it into a pita pocket, top it with caramelized onions inundated with pomegranate syrup made from the reduced braising juices, and scatter on a few more shards of lemon salt flakes.

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 teaspoons lemon salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (4 to 5-pound) boneless lamb shoulder

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, sliced

2 cups pomegranate juice

3 tablespoons honey, divided

6 pita breads

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup orange juice

½ cup pomegranate seeds

¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

Mix the cumin, coriander, curry powder, rosemary, pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon of the lemon salt, and black pepper together in a small bowl. Rub half all over the lamb. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven large enough to hold the lamb snugly over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter.

Add the onions to the pan and sauté until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the remaining half of the spice mixture and the garlic, and sauté for another minute. Return the lamb to the pot, along with any juices that have collected on the platter. Pour the pomegranate juice over all. Cover the pan and bake until the lamb is fork-tender, about 5 hours.

Pour the meaty pomegranate juices into a deep skillet. Turn the oven up to 400°F and return the pot of lamb to the oven, uncovered, until the top is crisped, about 15 minutes.

Skim the fat from the meaty pomegranate juices in the skillet and stir in 2 tablespoons of the honey. Boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to 2 cups (about half), about 10 minutes.

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board. Slice the lamb against its grain into 1-inch-thick slices. With 2 forks, pull apart into shreds. Mix 1¼ cups of the reduced pomegranate juices into the lamb and keep warm.

Warm the pitas in the oven. Add the remaining pomegranate juices to the onions in the Dutch oven and simmer over medium heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Mix the yogurt, orange juice, remaining 1 tablespoon of honey, pomegranate seeds, and mint leaves together.

Serve piles of pulled lamb on warm pita topped with syrupy onions, the pomegranate-mint yogurt, and a sprinkle of the remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon salt.


Any number of aromatic salts will marry beautifully with this spiced lamb dish: Rosemary Flake Salt, Blue Lavender Flake Salt, or Pinot Noir Sea Salt. Noninfused crispy flake salts will work nicely, too: Icelandic Flake Salt, Havsnø Flaksalt, Hana Flake Salt, Alaska Pure Sea Salt, or Halen Môn Silver Flake Sea Salt.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Tomatoes, Fennel, and Saffron Salt


No one knows lamb like the Greeks, Turks, and Arabs of the Middle East. The flavors in this recipe are reminiscent of how Bedouin nomads might spit-roast a leg of lamb over a live fire. Let’s bring the whole process indoors, marinating the leg in yogurt and spices overnight and then roasting it the next day (or the day after the next day, depending on your schedule), gilding the finished roast with saffron salt. It is our opinion that lamb should never be cooked past medium-rare (135ºF). Past that point, it loses its succulence and begins to take on the livery flavors that folks who say they hate lamb think it tastes like.


2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 tablespoons crushed cardamom seeds

1 tablespoon saffron salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes


1 whole bone-in leg of lamb, 7 to 8 pounds (see Note)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 carrots, peeled and diced

4 ribs fennel, diced

2 medium yellow onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons crushed cardamom seeds

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

¾ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon saffron salt

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper, divided

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl. Put the lamb in a jumbo resealable plastic bag, at least 2 gallons, or you can double up 2 large kitchen trash bags. Add the marinade; massage the marinade into the meat briefly. Close the bag, squeezing out as much of the air as you can without letting any marinade seep from the opening, and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

While the oven is preheating, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, fennel, and onion, and sauté until the vegetables brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Stir in the thyme, cardamom, tomatoes, orange juice, 1 teaspoon of the saffron salt, and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.

Remove the lamb from the marinade. Pat off any excess marinade from the surface; moisture on the surface of the meat will inhibit its ability to brown. Put on a rack set in a roasting pan large enough to hold the lamb. Roast for 30 minutes.

Turn the oven down to 300°F. Pour the tomato mixture over the meat and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers about 135°F for medium-rare, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Transfer the lamb to a large carving board; set aside to rest for 10 minutes. Skim the fat from the pan juices and stir in the parsley and orange zest.

Carve the lamb and sprinkle the slices with just enough of the remaining 2 teaspoons of saffron salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper to show off the dish. Spoon the braised vegetables around the roasted meat and serve the roasting juices on the side.

Note: Unlike the legs of larger animals, a primal leg of lamb is sold with the hip bone still attached, which gives the roast a dramatic shape but can be more problematic for carving.


There is no substitute for saffron. Attempts to describe its aroma never fail to include the hay, but it’s saffron’s profound weirdness that drives us, a carnal reverie of sweat, hammock strings, and driftwood washed ashore to dry in the sun. There is no substitute for saffron, except for Saffron Salt.