Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman (2016)
Chapter 4. EGGS AND DAIRY
Most anything edible benefits from salt, but eggs require it. There is something about the blandness of an egg (even the word albumen sounds unexciting) that demands salt. Yet if I were stranded on that hypothetical desert island that everyone gets hypothetically stranded on, and I only had one food to eat for the rest of eternity, it might be eggs because of how dang good they would taste with all that beautiful sea salt I’d be making from the surrounding waters.
Both salt and eggs are ionic, which makes them interact dramatically, allowing you to employ salt to influence the finished textures and cooking temperatures of egg dishes in myriad ways.
1. Salt added to raw egg begins to denature its protein on contact, allowing you to play with the finished cooked texture more profoundly. The result is softer, more tender cooked eggs. It takes just takes a pinch to get the desired chemical reaction with the protein in raw eggs. So it’s always advisable to save the bulk of your salt for finishing to achieve maximum flavor and texture.
2. There is one instance when salt should not be used with eggs: when making a foam of beaten egg whites. Salt inhibits the formation of peaks when beating egg whites and diminishes the stability of an egg foam. When beating egg whites, you are trying to encourage the protein strands to tangle together and form a structure that is firm enough to hold a shape. Dissolving salt in the egg whites too early makes it harder for the egg proteins to bond with one another and in the long run decreases the number of protein-to-protein bonds, weakening the overall structure. It is therefore preferable to salt the other components of dishes like soufflés and sponge cakes, rather than the foam itself. Note that this advice is contrary to the instructions of many recipes.
3. Salt eggs for scrambling or custards minimally when raw to encourage soft coagulation, but no matter what salt you add to an egg recipe before cooking, make sure you salt the finished dish liberally. As I said before, eggs demand salting. It’s difficult to overdo it.
Deviled Eggs, Seven Salts
MAKES 5 SERVINGS
In a world of numerous egg dishes (the 100 folds of a chef’s toque are said to represent the number of ways to prepare an egg), deviling is on its own continent. I know this because my sons, who can take or leave any rendition of breakfast eggs—fried, scrambled, omelet, you name it—can devour a dozen deviled eggs each as if they were potato chips. I think the only reason my kids look forward to Easter is for the eggs. Deviling is another name for spicing, and these poppers can handle any degree of aggressive seasoning you throw at them. Ours are mild compared to many, but not so when it comes to salting. Each one sports its own salt: fleur de sel, red, black, smoked, rock, flaked, and flavored. I say this makes five servings, but in my home it really only makes one.
7 large or extra-large eggs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon brown mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pinches each finishing salt: fleur de sel of choice, Kala Namak or other sulfuric salt of choice, red salt of choice, black salt of choice, smoked salt of choice, rock salt of choice, and white flake salt of choice
Place the eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover. Set over medium-high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 12 minutes. Drain. Run under cold water until the eggs feel cool to the touch.
Crack the shells and peel carefully under cold running water. Dry the peeled eggs with paper towels. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, transferring the yolks to a bowl. Put the whites cut-side up on a serving platter.
Mash the yolks with a fork and mix in the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, pepper, and fine sea salt. Mound the yolk mixture in the hollows of the egg whites, and sprinkle each egg (2 halves) with a different finishing salt. Serve immediately, or chill for up to 24 hours. If holding in the refrigerator, add the finishing salts just before serving.
Salt-Poached Eggs on Greens with Salt-Cured Chiles
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
This brightly hued, multidimensional recipe is both a delicious chemical treatise and a testament to global culinary wisdom: The ionic ability of salt on coagulating egg protein shapes the poached eggs into perfect rounds (a Sicilian trick), and salt’s preservative abilities ensure that only probiotic bacteria reproduce in the salt-cured pickled peppers (renowned from Germany to China), allowing them to ferment without spoiling. Sprinkled with salt reddened with sacred alaea clay (a Hawaiian tradition), the salt-glazed poached eggs perch on top, looking like plump orbs in a nest, but when forked they release their fluid yolks over all.
2 large bunches greens (such as collard, kale, mustard, or chard)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup pickled chiles, chopped, jarred or homemade
8 large or extra-large eggs, as fresh as possible
1 tablespoon briny sel gris (such as de Noirmoutier)
4 pinches Molokai Red Sea Salt
4 grindings black pepper
Tear the leaves from the stems of the greens. Discard the stems and tear or cut the leaves into bite-size pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and pickled chiles, cooking until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the greens a few handfuls at a time, stirring as you do. Cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; keep warm.
Wipe out the skillet, fill with water, and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, crack 2 eggs into each of 4 coffee cups. Decrease the heat under the skillet so that the water barely simmers. Stir the sel gris into the water until the salt dissolves. Carefully slide the eggs from the cups into the simmering water. Simmer until the whites are fully set, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon some water over the tops of the eggs to help set the surface of the yolks.
Lift the eggs from the poaching liquid with a slotted spatula. Arrange 2 eggs per person on a bed of the greens and peppers. Sprinkle some Molokai Red Sea Salt and pepper on the eggs. Serve immediately.
Salt-Cured Pickled Chiles
MAKES 1 QUART
1 pound fresh red chiles, stemmed and sliced
¼ cup fine traditional salt (such as Yellowstone Natural Salt, Cuor di Trapani Sea Salt, Trapani e Marsala Sea Salt, or Sel Marin de Noirmoutier)
¼ cup white vinegar
Toss the chiles with the salt and pack into a clean quart jar. Cover with a clean towel and set at room temperature for 48 hours, stirring every 12 hours or so. Stir in the vinegar, screw a lid on the jar, and refrigerater for 5 days, stirring the peppers every day, until the peppers are fragrant and tender. They can be kept, refrigerated, nearly indefinitely, or for several years at least.
Try Haleakala Ruby Sea Salt, or go black with Icelandic Lava Salt, Kilauea Onyx Sea Salt, or Black Lava Salt; or go vanilla with Fleur de Sel Guérande, Ilocano Asin, Aguni No Shio, or any semifine salt from a far-flung land.
Salt Block-Fried Eggs with Grilled Tomatoes and Pork Belly
MAKES 2 SERVINGS
Himalayan pink salt is not the most distinctive-tasting salt in the world, but it is the only salt around that you can cook on. Once the block is hot (about 400°F), you cook on it just as you would a frying pan. The only difference is that the salt block will season your food as it cooks, and the salt will dehydrate the surface of the pork belly and eggs, yielding a lacquer-thin crispy skin.
¼ pound pork belly, cut lengthwise into 2 thick slices
2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1 (8 or 9-inch) square salt block, about 2 inches thick
4 large eggs, as fresh as possible
1 ripe tomato, stem end trimmed, cut into 4 thick slices
Freshly ground black pepper
6 slices French baguette, toasted
You can ask your butcher to slice the pork belly into thick, 2-ounce slices the way he would bacon. Or, chill the piece of pork belly in the freezer just until firm, about 40 minutes, and cut into slices with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the belly with the sugar on both sides.
Place the salt block on a gas burner or on an electric burner with a heat diffuser. Heat over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Raise the heat under the block to medium. Place the pork strips on the salt. Cook slowly until the pork is browned and looks cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Have some paper towels ready to blot up excess rendered fat that can drip into the burner and cause a flare-up. Don’t rush the cooking or the lean parts will overcook before the fatty parts have rendered. With that said, even when done the pork strips will not be completely crisp.
Carefully crack 2 eggs on top of each pork belly slice. Try to guide the eggs with a small spatula so that they land right on the bacon. The eggs will start to set up as soon as they hit the hot stone. Use your spatula to keep the whites from running over the edge of the stone. The fresher your eggs are, the less the whites will run. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Lift each portion of belly and eggs onto a plate and keep warm.
Season the tomato slices with pepper and cook on the salt block just until warmed through, about 30 seconds per side. Put 2 tomato slices on each plate and serve immediately with the toasted baguette.
Soft Scrambled Eggs with Fleur de Sel
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
I know you think you don’t need a recipe for scrambled eggs, but I beg you to consider this: Eggs are delicate creatures and must be approached with care. Cooking them is all about feel. Rush the process and they will stiffen, but take your time and pay close attention and they will relax into luscious, indulgent curded custard. You want to salt them lightly beforehand, with something fine, like fleur de sel, and then sprinkle the finished dish with contrasting nuggets of something crunchy.
8 large or extra-large eggs
⅓ cup milk or cream
2 pinches fleur de sel, plus more for serving
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
Crack the eggs into a bowl. Beat with a large fork or whisk until well combined. Add the milk, salt, and pepper and continue beating until foamy.
Put a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over the lowest heat possible. Add the butter and heat just until the butter melts. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly with butter.
Add the beaten eggs to the pan and wait until you can see a few soft curds forming along the bottom of the pan. This will take 2 to 3 minutes. Using a sturdy plastic spatula, gently scrape the egg from the bottom of the pan. Keep scraping slowly until a moist, soft custard forms. This will take about 15 minutes.
Crumble the goat cheese into the eggs and keep scraping and turning the soft mound of custardy egg until it is set to the degree of doneness you want. Immediately scrape onto a plate. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve with more fleur de sel at the table for anyone who wants to really live it up.
Look for a coarser fleur de sel, like Fleur de Sel de l’Île de Noirmoutier, Flor de Sal de Manzanillo, Fiore di Galia, Fiore di Trapani, Bitterman’s Fleur de Sel, or for color, Black Lava Salt. Alternatively, try a coarser salt, like Sel Gris de l’Île de Ré, Dolce di Cervia, or for color and flavor, Haleakala Ruby Sea Salt.
Ricotta Pancakes with Vanilla Salt
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Flour-laden pancakes, regardless of the type of flour used, be it buckwheat, cornmeal, or plain old wheat, long for sweetening—real maple syrup, golden treacle, or the over-the-top maplessence of imitation maple corn syrup. But remove the flour, or replace it with something more savory, and you get a pancake that’s open for improvisation. This one is a spin on the ricotta cheese filling for cannoli or blintzes, reinforced with enough egg to stand up on its own. The ethereal results are poof-in-your-mouth puff pillows punctuated by flakes of sea salt and vanilla specks. You and your guests will be able to eat a pile, so you might consider doubling the recipe. These pancakes are equally good made with cottage cheese, but whether you use ricotta or cottage cheese you need to get it as dry as possible before making the batter. Suspending the cheese in a strainer lined with dampened cheesecloth for about 20 minutes does the trick.
12 strawberries, sliced
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 cups drained ricotta cheese
6 large or extra-large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3½ teaspoons Taha’a Vanilla, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Toss the strawberries and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small bowl; set aside.
Mix the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, flour, vanilla, and a pinch of the vanilla salt in a bowl. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a clean bowl with a balloon whisk, or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, and fold into the ricotta mixture.
Heat a griddle or 2 large frying pans over medium-high heat. Coat the hot pan(s) with the butter. Make 2 to 3-inch pancakes on the hot griddle and brown on both sides, flipping after 2 to 3 minutes. You should get 12 pancakes. Serve with the strawberries, which by now should have released enough liquid to dissolve the sugar. Top with the remaining vanilla salt.
If you don’t have ready-made vanilla salt, see DIY Vanilla Salt.
Salt-Studded Grilled Cheese Sandwich
MAKES 1 SANDWICH
Great grilled cheese, like great salt, is a revelation, not so much because either is that much better than other edible marvels (though they are), but because we take both for granted. When you eat anything thoughtlessly, thinking about it automatically produces awe. Great grilled cheese requires only butter, and a molten mass of melted cheese bedded down between slices of beautifully browned and crisped bread studded with hulking, crunchy, tangy salt crystals. But why stop there? This sandwich may be shameless, but at least you won’t take it for granted.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 thick slices fluffy egg bread (such as challah or brioche loaf)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons gochujang
2 or 3 thin slices ripe tomato
1 small sour pickle, sliced lengthwise into 4 slices
1½ ounces sliced white cheddar cheese
1½ ounces sliced yellow cheddar cheese
½ to 1 teaspoon Black Lava Salt
Generously butter one side of each slice of the bread. Mix the mayonnaise and gochujang in a small bowl. Spread on the unbuttered sides of each bread slice. Top one slice with tomato, the other with pickle slices. Cover the tomato slices with the white cheddar and the pickle slices with the yellow cheddar.
Set a large skillet over the lowest heat possible. Put the cheese-topped bread slices in the skillet, butter side down. Cover the skillet and cook until the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes. Do not rush. Check every now and then to make sure the bread is not burning. If it is and you are on the lowest heat you possible can get, you will have to stop and serve the sandwiches at their present state of melt.
Scatter the salt over the melted cheese of one of the slices and flip one half over the other so the salt is imbedded between the two cheese layers. Transfer to a plate, carefully cut in half, and tuck in.
Black Diamond Flake Salt, Kilauea Onyx Sea Salt, Icelandic Lava Salt, or a red salt or sel gris of choice