SEAFOOD - 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 3. SEAFOOD

Seafood tastes good for a reason. Fish, shellfish, and cephalopods live in salt, and their salty lifestyle radically affects their flavor. Ocean fish that swallow salty water need to develop ways to maintain the mineral balance in their bodily fluids. Saltwater is about 3.5 percent mineral salts by weight, but the optimal level of dissolved mineral salts in animal cells is less than 1 percent. Sea creatures balance the salinity of ocean water by filling their cells with amines and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The amino acid glycine is quite sweet, and glutamic acid is the very essence of umami. The flesh of ocean fish has the same salinity as beef or pork, but three to ten times more free amino acids—that means flavor. Also, because of their high protein levels, seafood can accept a good deal of salting without becoming salty. Besides seasoning, there are two key ways to salt fish and shellfish.

1. Sprinkling some salt on the skin of a fish before cooking will remove moisture and increase crispness. The salt draws moisture to the surface, where it evaporates. The best approach is to salt the skin of a fillet and let it sit uncovered on a plate, skin side up, for about an hour in the refrigerator before cooking. Whole fish need to be set on a rack over a sheet pan to let air circulate on all sides. This is done because fish skin is rich in collagen, which, when moistened, turns into gelatin—and we’re all familiar with the wiggly consistency of warm gelatin. If you want superbly crisp skin, salt it beforehand. Steaks or skinless fillets need not be salted in advance—leaving you free to salt it with a delicate, complementary finishing salt at the table.

2. Salting seafood and shellfish will “cook” seafood, causing proteins to unravel and firm up in much the same way as heat does. Packing salt on the surface of fish causes moisture to pass out of the cells via osmosis, concentrating its flavor. When making gravlax or some kinds of ceviche, this is the technique that is used. Serving sashimi on a salt bock is another; the salted side of the fish pales, takes on firmness, and develops richer, more savory flavor.

Fish owe the delicacy of their flesh to the fact that they live in water, and water is denser than air; a life swimming weightlessly in salty seawater spares them the sturdy skeletons and tough muscles of land animals. Salt brings a satisfying terrestrial firmness to the tenderness of fish.

Tuna Steaks with Thai Steak Salt


Tuna is the prime rib of seafood. More akin to beef in size, color, heartiness, and meatiness than it is to any other sea life, it is no wonder we always eat tuna as steaks. The Thai spice paste that cloaks the tuna in this recipe is worthy of all its oceanic machismo. Its base is Sal de Gusano, a brick-red salt blend that includes ground Gusano larvae, of mezcal fame, and a good jolt of pasilla and arbol chiles. In Thai tradition, the salt is mixed with toasted rice powder, which absorbs moisture from the fish and forms a solid crust that crisps as the tuna steak sears.

¼ cup glutinous rice

1 tablespoon Sal de Gusano, divided

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried basil

1¾ pounds tuna steaks, cut 2 inches thick

⅓ cup fresh lime juice

⅓ cup Thai fish sauce

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 scallion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the rice has colored to the hue of brown rice, about 10 minutes. Do not rush the process; the rice can easily burn. Cool to room temperature, and grind to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Store in a closed container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Mix 2 teaspoons of the Sal de Gusano, 2 tablespoons of the toasted rice powder, the sugar, and basil in a small bowl. Rub all over the tuna steaks and set aside for 10 minutes.

While the tuna rests, mix the lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro, scallion, remaining 1 teaspoon of Sal de Gusano, and 1 tablespoon toasted rice powder in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat for 5 minutes. It should be white-hot. Coat the tuna steaks with the sesame oil and brown the steaks until charred on the outside but still raw inside, about 2 minutes per side.

Slice against the grain into ³∕8-inch-thick slices. Shingle on a serving platter. Drizzle with the reserved salted lime sauce and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.


If Sal de Gusano is not on hand, just use any salt and add a pinch of hot ground chiles of choice.

Shio Crust Whole Grilled Fish


The fire-evaporated salts of Japan (shio) are prized for their delicate, silken crystal structure, but next to the tender fibers of a smacking fresh snapper or bass, shio comes off brazenly bold. In this recipe, the shio is Moshio, a salt evaporated from seaweed brine that has pronounced umami tastes. Mix the Moshio with kelp flakes and Sichuan peppercorns for an extra goose of umami. Sichuan pepper is only mildly peppery, but it is markedly anesthetizing. Your comfortably numb tongue will taste sparks of shio through a mist of seafood savor.

1 (1 to 2-pound) whole white-fleshed saltwater fish (such as red snapper or black bass), gutted, scaled, fins trimmed

1 tablespoon Tsushima No Moshio

1 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon dried kelp flakes

1 tablespoon peanut oil

Mild vegetable oil, for coating grill screen

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Scrape the dull side of a knife against the skin of the fish, running from tail to head, to remove any excess moisture and remaining scales. Cut 3 or 4 diagonal slices through the flesh of the fish on each side down to the bone.

Mix the Tsushima No Moshio, Sichuan pepper, and kelp in a small bowl. Season the fish inside and out with the salt mixture. Set on a rack perched on a plate and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the grill for direct medium heat (350° to 400°F). Set a grill screen over the fire.

Rub the outside of the fish with the peanut oil. Oil the grill screen liberally with vegetable oil and put the fish on the screen. Cover the grill and cook until browned all over and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the fish registers 130°F, 7 to 8 minutes per side. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay around 375°F.

Transfer the fish to a serving platter. Drizzle the fish with the lime juice and scatter the lime zest and cilantro over the top. Lift the fish fillets from the bones to serve.


Shinkai Deep Sea Salt, Jigen No Moshio, Full Moon Shio, Bitterman’s Fine Traditional Sea Salt, Vancouver Island Sea Salt, San Juan Island Sea Salt

Mixed Fish Ceviche on Crispy Salted Tortilla Chips


Ceviche, the Latin method of “cooking” seafood in acidic citrus juice, is not unlike gravlax, the Nordic method of “cooking” salmon in salt. Both techniques denature the protein and draw moisture from the raw seafood, causing it to become, firmer, denser, more opaque, and—need I say—more flavorful. In this Latino-Norse hybrid recipe, we take inspiration from both traditions and add a little boiling saltwater. Oaxaca’s famed savory, salty, spicy condiment Sal de Gusano brings the recipe back home to its native territory. The result is a descant of perfectly cooked shellfish and ocean fish, syncopated with crisp shards of celery and red onion, a peppering of fresh ginger, and cilantro. Scoop it up with decadently salted homemade tortilla chips.

Big pinch fine sea salt

¼ pound medium (26-30 count) shrimp, shelled and deveined

6 sea scallops, trimmed and quartered

2 small squid, cleaned, bodies cut in ½-inch rings, tentacles left whole

½ pound skinless red snapper fillet, cut into ½-inch pieces

¼ pound skinless wild salmon fillet, cut into ½-inch pieces

6 teaspoons Flor de Sal de Manzanillo

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1 rib celery, finely chopped

Finely grated zest of 3 limes

Juice of 6 limes

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ red onion, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup corn oil

6 corn tortillas, left out overnight to harden

1 teaspoon Sal de Gusano

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt, shrimp, scallops, and squid. Stir to distribute everything, remove from the heat, and cover. Wait 2 minutes, and then drain the seafood. Toss with the snapper, salmon, 1 teaspoon of flor de sal, ginger, celery, and lime zest. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Add the lime juice, stir, and refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring several times, until the snapper no longer looks raw. Stir in the cilantro, onion, and pepper.

To make the tortilla crisps, heat the oil to 375°F in a deep skillet. Cut each tortilla into 6 wedges, and fry in batches of 12, without crowding the pan, until the chips are lightly toasted and firm. Use tongs to transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with the remaining 5 teaspoons of flor de sal, dividing it among the batches of chips. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Sprinkle the ceviche with a generous pinch of Sal de Gusano and serve with the chips.


Ceviche: Fleur de Hell or any chile-infused sea salt, or take a different tack with Taha’a Vanilla or Lemon Flake Salt.

Chips: Bitterman’s Fleur de Sel, Fleur de Sel de l’Île de Noirmoutier, El Salvador Fleur de Sel, Flor de Sal do Algarve, Flos Salis, Fleur de Sel de Camargue, or finely ground traditional salt like Muoi Bien.

Chilled Shrimp with Cocktail Salt


Being gourmet was so much easier last century. All you needed were a few free-ranging Buick-size shrimp and a jar of cocktail sauce. Farmed shrimp aren’t what their free-ranging predecessors were, and nowadays, well, there’s no sugar-coating the cold ooze of ketchup and horseradish. We modernize and intensify the flavor profile of shrimp cocktail by switching from cocktail sauce to cocktail salt, a mixture of spiced fleur de sel, wasabi powder (Japanese horseradish), hot paprika (dried hot chiles), and tomato powder (a versatile flavoring that is 100 percent natural). This powderized, Asian-influenced, salt-fueled version of a cocktail sauce hits your mouth like a school of flaming piranha that’s definitely hungry for shrimp.

1 tablespoon traditional salt

1 pound jumbo (16-20 count) shrimp, shells removed except for tail, deveined

2 teaspoons tomato powder

1½ teaspoons wasabi powder

1 teaspoon hot pepper salt (such as Fleur de Hell)

1 teaspoon hot paprika

1 teaspoon Lemon Flake Salt

1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the traditional salt and return to a boil. Add the shrimp, stir, cover, and remove from the heat. Wait 2 minutes and then drain the shrimp.

Mix the tomato powder, wasabi powder, hot pepper salt, and paprika, and toss with the warm shrimp. Chill.

Crunch the lemon salt over the top and serve with the lemon wedges.


Any spicy chile-infused salt will do. The best alternative to the lemon salt is to take a totally different tack with the faintly acidic, aromatic crystals of Pinot Noir Sea Salt. Alternately, any plain coarse flake salt, such as Achill Island Sea Salt, Cornish Flake Sea Salt, Maldon Sea Salt, Hana Flake Salt, Jacobsen Flake, Cyprus Silver Flake Sea Salt, or Halen Môn Silver Flake Sea Salt will do.

Roasted Lobster with Vanilla Salt and Smoky Scotch Butter


Roasting on a bed of fragrant vanilla and maple-smoked salts infuses lobster with lovely aromas of both tropical paradise and northern Atlantic ruggedness. The collision of these remote lands on your palate is fantastic. Dipping each bite in a butter bath of syrupy, smoky Scotch doesn’t hurt either. One important tip: The way you kill a lobster affects the texture and flavor of its meat dramatically. Sorry to bring it up. If a lobster experiences stress shortly before dying, glycogen stores in its muscles (part of what makes its meat taste sweet) get used up and the resulting cooked lobster has much less flavor than one that dies relaxed. That’s why the recipe tells you to stroke the lobsters’ swimmerets along the underside of the body. I know it feels a bit kinky, but you will see the lobster visibly relax each time you touch its little flippers. And that single act of kindness makes all the difference.

2 (1¼ to 1½-pound) live lobsters

2 tablespoons Taha’a Vanilla Salt, divided

2 tablespoons Sugar Maple Smoked Sea Salt, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 shallot, finely chopped

¼ cup smoky Scotch (preferably Laphroaig 10-year)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place a roasting pan large enough to hold the lobsters in an oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.

One at a time, sedate the lobsters by stroking their swimmerets from the tail toward the head; the lobsters should visibly relax. Put them on their bellies, laying the tail section out flat. To kill them, stab them right behind the head, in the seam where the two shells meet. Wiggle the knife back and forth a bit to make sure you have severed the brain from the nerve ganglia. Crack the claws using the back side of a large knife or a hammer.

Sprinkle 5 teaspoons vanilla salt and 2½ teaspoons smoked salt in the bottom of the hot roasting pan. Put the lobsters on top and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast until red, about 15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

While the lobsters are resting, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the Scotch and reduce by half. Decrease the heat to low and swirl in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla salt, remaining ½ teaspoon smoked salt, and pepper.

Serve the lobsters with shellfish crackers (or pliers) to disassemble the shells and small forks to help get to the meat. Serve the Scotch butter on the side for dipping.


DIY Vanilla Salt: If no ready-made vanilla salt is on hand, slit a vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into 2 tablespoons of any coarse, moist sea salt, such as sel gris. Or bring some of the briny American Northeast to the table with Maine Sea Salt, Eggemoggin Reach Salt, North Fork Sea Salt, or Outer Banks Sea Salt.

Raw Oysters in a Shallot Sea


The effect of salt on raw oysters is immediate. Returning them to the brine from which they came, the oysters perk up and plump as soon as the salt crystals make contact. Salt at the very last moment. You want to salt and gulp, salt and gulp. With oysters, the salt of choice is Shinkai Deep Sea, for its moist, delicate crystal and assertive minerality.

½ cup dry vermouth

2 medium shallots, minced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

12 briny oysters (such as Totten, Kumamoto, or Olympia from the West Coast, or Pemaquid, Blue Point, or Belon from the East Coast), shells scrubbed

1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns

Salt block or platter, chilled, for serving

Several pinches Shinkai Deep Sea Salt

Combine the vermouth and shallots in a medium skillet. Boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove from the heat, stir in the vinegar, and set aside to cool while you prepare the oysters.

Put the oysters on a rimmed sheet pan and freeze for about 10 minutes, which will make them easier to open. To open, cover your nondominant hand with a folded towel or protective glove and hold the oyster, flat side up, in that hand. With your other hand, press a solid, dull knife (such as an oyster knife) between the hinged ends of the shells to pop the shells apart. Or use the pointed end of a beer can opener in the hinge and pry it open. Run a knife along the inside of the top shell to cut the meat from the shell, and then remove the top shell. Run the knife under the oyster to detach it from the bottom shell, but leave the oyster nestled in the shell. The liquor from fresh oysters should be clear. Pick out any shards of shell that might have broken loose during shucking.

Add the peppercorns to the shallot mixture.

Arrange the oysters on the chilled salt block. Spoon enough of the shallot mixture onto each oyster to fill the shell. Top each with a small pile of Shinkai salt. Slide an oyster, salt, and sauce from the shell into your mouth. Repeat with the remaining oysters.


Full Moon Shio, Jigen No Moshio, or another superfine shio is ideal, but finely ground mineral-laden traditional salts like Popohaku Opal Sea Salt, Cuor di Trapani Sea Salt, and Sel Marin de Noirmoutier are options.