Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman (2016)
Chapter 5. VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
Some vegetables—lettuces, radishes, spring onions, and cucumbers—are best served raw. Zucchini, cabbages, spinach, kale, green beans, sweet corn, and cauliflower are fine raw but are enhanced by some heat. Others, such as broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, turnips, rutabaga, and beets, are definitely better off cooked. And just a few, like potatoes, yams, and winter squash, are too tough or starchy to eat without thorough cooking. But all vegetables, regardless of how you prepare them, benefit from salting.
In general, how you cook a vegetable determines how you salt it. If you’re feeling overt, the wetness and crunch of raw vegetables go well with crisp flake salt, and if you want subtlety, try fleur de sel or shio. Blanched or lightly cooked vegetables should be salted twice—during cooking with sel gris or traditional salt, and with fleur de sel or flake for finishing. Fully cooked veggies can stand maximum salting with hearty crystals like sel gris. Try briny sel gris for both cooking and finishing, or add color with black or red salt at the finish. Potatoes are delicious with smoked salt.
Salts are minerals, and they react both physically and chemically with all food. When it comes to vegetables, you can:
1. Salt for taste: Vegetables and fruit are both low in sodium and therefore can take assertive salting, but adding salt during cooking does little to develop their flavor since their main flavorful elements, sugars and esters, don’t react with salt the way meat proteins do. The general rule with vegetables is: Salt at the end to add a counterpoint to their natural sweet green and fruity flavors. As with any rule, there are exceptions, as with potatoes and beans, for example.
2. Salt for cooking: The texture and color of boiled or blanched vegetables can be improved with salt. Salting vegetable cooking water makes it alkaline because sodium ions from the salt displace calcium ions in the hemicellulose that holds plant fibers together. This increases the speed at which vegetables soften during boiling. This same salt-induced alkalinity also neutralizes the slight acidity of green vegetables, keeping them greener during blanching.
3. Salt for fermentation: All vegetables harbor beneficial (probiotic) bacteria. By submerging vegetables in a large amount of salt (about 7 percent), you can encourage the growth of this beneficial bacteria and discourage harmful bacteria. The beneficial bacteria feed off sugars in the vegetables, causing them to ferment into pickles.
4. Salt eggplants: Eggplants soak up oil like sponges during cooking. To limit the absorption, eggplant slices can be salted beforehand, which collapses their spongy structure and pulls out some water before they hit the oil, resulting in a crisper, firmer fry.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
The avocado is one of the only fruits that develop fat rather than sweetness as it ripens (olives are the only other). In the kitchen, avocados are closer to butter than they are to other produce. No wonder about the craze for spreading them on bread. You may already be adding no more than good salt and oil to your avocado and toast. We’ve embellished this simple sandwich with a tahini spread for added richness and a flock of cucumber ribbons for vegetal moisture and a crunch that resonates even more with some audaciously crunchy salt.
¼ cup sesame tahini
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime, divided
2 pinches red pepper flakes, divided
4 grindings black pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon smoked salt
1 medium cucumber
Pinch of fleur de sel
4 thick slices sourdough bread, toasted
2 avocados, halved lengthwise, pitted, and peeled
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 big pinches Black Diamond Flake Salt
Mix the tahini with half of the lime zest, 1 teaspoon of the lime juice, a pinch of the red pepper flakes, half of the black pepper, and the smoked salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cut ribbons of cucumber by running a vegetable peeler down the length of the cucumber until you reach the core of seeds. Rotate the cucumber one-third turn and repeat the ribbon-making process. Repeat with the final third of the cucumber. Discard the seed core or use in a salad. Toss the cucumber ribbons with 1 teaspoon of the lime juice, the remaining black pepper, and the fleur de sel.
Spread some of the tahini mixture on the toasted bread slices. Put an avocado half on each and smash flat with a fork. Sprinkle with the remaining lime zest, lime juice, and red pepper flakes and drizzle with the olive oil. Fold a few cucumber ribbons on top of each toast. Sprinkle with the black salt and serve immediately.
Hakanai Flake Salt, arguably the best avocado salt in the world, is a great alternative to the visually dramatic Black Diamond Flake Salt. Hakanai’s close companions at the uppermost echelons of flake salt perfection include Havsnø Flaksalt, Bitterman’s Flake, Achill Island Sea Salt, Murray River Salt, Hana Flake Salt, and J.Q. Dickinson.
Tossed Red Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette and Flake Salt
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Crispy, crunchy crystals of flake salt fulfill their culinary destiny on top of a salad. Assuming the role of nature’s croutons, any flake salt will work. Cyprus Silver Flake and Halen Môn Silver Flake are more dramatic, but I love the more delicate flake salts like Bitterman’s Flake, Murray River, Havsnø Flaksalt, and Hakanai Flake, which all have very fine, very delicate flakes. Beneath the salt, this salad is quite tame, which underscores the transformative power of strategic salting.
1 shallot, halved and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons flavorful wine vinegar (we use equal parts red wine, rice wine, and sherry)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 grindings black pepper
1 head red leaf lettuce, broken into leaves
1 head radicchio, broken into leaves
4 big pinches flake salt
Combine the shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside for at least 15 minutes or as long as several hours.
When you are ready to make the salad, whisk the mustard, olive oil, and pepper into the vinegar mixture. Break the lettuces into bite-size pieces and toss with the vinaigrette in a salad bowl. Divide among serving plates and sprinkle each salad with flake salt. Serve immediately.
Fermented Cucumber Pickles
MAKES 1 QUART
Think of salt as a traffic cop for pickling. When you ferment cucumbers into pickles, you put them in a solution of salt and water—a brine that is about 7 percent salt. That’s twice as salty as ocean water. Only two kinds of bacteria (both of which are good) can thrive at that level of salinity: Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum. Both start to grow and crowd out all the other bacteria. All bacteria, both helpful and harmful, produce acids as they grow. At a certain point, the brine gets so sour that the Leuconostoc bacteria can’t survive and the probiotic Lactobacillus take over to create these full-sour pickles aromatic with black and red peppers. Salt isn’t simply adding flavor; it’s directing how flavor gets developed.
3 tablespoons fleur de sel or fine traditional salt
1 pound (6 to 8) small firm cucumbers (not burpless)
4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved if large
½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Put the salt and 1 cup hot tap water in the measuring cup. Stir until dissolved and add 1 cup of cold tap water.
Put the cucumbers in a quart jar vertically so that they are standing on end. They should fit tightly, which will help to keep the cucumbers submerged once the brine is added. Fit the garlic cloves around the cucumbers. Sprinkle the black peppercorns and pepper flakes, if using, on top. Add enough of the saltwater brine to the jar to completely cover the contents, leaving about 1 inch of space at the top of the jar. If you have any brine left, save it. You might need it to top off the pickles as they ferment. Cover with a lid, but do not screw the lid on tightly.
Set in a cool room (about 65°F) away from direct sunlight for about 1 week to ferment. As the pickles ferment, bubbles of CO2 gas will become visible inside the jar. Check the pickles daily to make sure no mold is forming. If the brine level should fall below the top of the pickles, top it off with more saltwater brine.
Start tasting after 4 days. When the pickles are to your liking, refrigerate them, which will slow down the fermentation. As they are stored, the pickles will continue to ferment and become more sour. Kept under refrigeration, they will not spoil.
In a pickle, any fine craft salt will work. Note that salts sold as pickling salt are just salt with no added iodine, as iodine will discolor a pickle and also contribute a bitter, acrid flavor.
Grilled Endive Salad with Salted Garlic and Parmesan Crumble
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
This takeoff on a grilled Caesar salad replaces romaine with two colors of chicory lettuce—pale Belgian endive and scarlet radicchio. Both of these leaves are far more bitter than romaine, elevating the contrapuntal between vegetable, dressing, cheese, and salt.
⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
6 anchovy fillets, minced
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 large egg yolk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mild vegetable oil, for coating grill grate
4 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise
1 head radicchio, loose leaves removed, quartered through its stem
1 teaspoon coarse flake sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper.
Make 4 mounds of cheese on the lined pan, evenly spaced. They will each be a heaping tablespoon. Lightly pat each mound so that it is flat on top. Bake until brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.
Preheat a grill to medium indirect heat (300° to 350°F).
Mash the garlic and anchovy into a paste in a small bowl using the back of a fork. Whisk in the mustard and egg yolk. Whisk in ½ cup of the olive oil, a little at a time, to form a thick sauce. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper; set aside.
Brush the grill grate and coat with vegetable oil. Coat the pieces of endive and radicchio with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Put the endive on the grill grate directly over the fire. Grill for about 1 minute; turn. Add the radicchio and grill for another minute, turning the radicchio after 30 seconds, just until grill marked. Using tongs, transfer the pieces of both lettuces to the cool side of the grill. Paint with half the vinaigrette, getting dressing down in between the leaves. Cover the grill and cook for 2 minutes, until the ends of the endive halves wilt.
Put the endives and radicchio on a platter. Dress with the remaining vinaigrette. Crumble the cheese crisps over the top and finish with a sprinkling of flake salt.
Halen Môn Silver Flake Sea Salt, Cyprus Silver Flake Sea Salt, Maldon Sea Salt, Cornish Flake Sea Salt, Hana Flake Salt
Black Truffle Salt Smashed Potatoes
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
A potato is a potato when it comes to salting. Each and every one needs it. But truffle salt is something every potato wants. They yearn for it, pine for it, sing the blues for it, post pictures on Instagram of it. They are all so needy—so how do we choose which potato will be graced with our hard-earned truffle salt? Depends. Just as we salt-loving humans might divide ourselves into categories (window or aisle, single stuff or double stuff), potatoes likewise fall into two culinary categories: Mealy potatoes (russets, baking potatoes, blues) yield a soft, floury consistency and very little cohesive structure, making them great for baking, roasting, and mashing; and waxy potatoes (red round, all-purpose whites), which hold their shape as they soften, making them gummy when mashed, but creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside when smashed. Here, we want the creamy-on-the-inside crusty-on-the-outside heaven that is a smashed potato.
8 medium-small round red or yellow potatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Black Truffle Salt, plus more for garnish
¼ cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Rub the potatoes with the olive oil, put on a sheet pan, and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep on the pan; cool for at least 20 minutes, or as long as several hours.
Make a cross cut in the top of each potato, push open a bit, and sprinkle each with a pinch of truffle salt. Smash each potato with a flat meat pounder, small heavy skillet, or large rubber mallet into a flattened ¾-inch-thick disk. One good thwack should do it. Pick up any bits of potato flesh that have gone flying and reintegrate into their source.
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes to the hot oil (4 at a time is usually what will fit comfortably) and cook until brown and crisp on both sides. Flip after about 2 minutes.
Serve slit side up, scattered with more truffle salt.
Use Black Truffle Salt on scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, wild mushroom risotto, potato and vegetable gratin, potato chips, grilled asparagus, deviled eggs, popcorn, and mashed into unsalted butter to make truffle butter that can go on anything from steaks to string beans.
French Fries 2.0
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Potatoes are glorified by deep frying. This is no secret and has been well known since the 19th century, when they were all the rage in Britain, where richness in cooking was attributed to the French (hence the name, french fry), while in France they are simply called fried potatoes, or pommes frites. French fries provide the true frites freak with a golden-brown playground for some spectacular salting. My four favorite tricks to take fries to the next level:
· Using russet potatoes, which are high in starch content, yields the flakiest fries that stay crisp longer than fries made from waxy potatoes.
· Soaking cut potatoes in water prior to frying draws starch to the surface of the potato, creating a greater potential for a thick, crisp crust.
· Double-frying your frites creates flavor and crunch that great restaurants might rival but will never surpass.
· I go with finely ground rock salt, which clings lovingly to the fry and then strikes from out of nowhere to deliver its tangy bite.
2 tablespoons fine Himalayan Pink Salt, divided
4 cups ice water
2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into ¾-inch-thick rods
Vegetable oil, for frying
In a large bowl, stir 1 tablespoon of the salt into the ice water. Add the potatoes and let soak for 10 minutes.
In a large, heavy deep saucepan or electric deep fryer, heat 4 to 5 inches of oil over medium heat to 325°F.
Drain the potatoes and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Fry the potatoes, in batches, until tender and lightly browned at the tips, about 6 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, adjusting the heat as necessary between batches. Let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
Return the oil to medium heat and heat to 375°F. Fry the potatoes again in small batches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season to taste with some of the remaining salt and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, adjusting the heat as necessary between batches.
Finely ground Himalayan Pink Salt, Persian Blue Salt, Redmond Real Salt, Yellowstone Natural Salt, Vancouver Island Sea Salt, Saltwest Naturals Sea Salt, Sel Marin de Noirmoutier
Charred Padrón Peppers with Brazilian Sal Grosso
MAKES 4 APPETIZER SERVINGS
My first encounter of this dish was in a small fishing town in Galicia, Spain, where these peppers just happen to come from. Padrón peppers are small and generally vivid green, although you may be lucky enough to find a ripe red one. Most are quite tame, but on occasion you happen across one that’s vividly hot. It’s impossible to tell a hot padrón from a mild one by looks alone, which is part of the fun. But sitting at a tiny metal table on a small cobbled street in the early evening warmth, drinking ice-cold beer, the spicy ones were not what caught my attention. It was the salt: coarse, silvery, copious, rained down with reckless abandon. Every bite was a freefall of sensory bliss, and only once in a while did a hot pepper remind me that it might not last forever. If you cannot find padróns, shishito peppers will work, though they lack the intermittent fire.
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces padrón peppers
1 tablespoon Brazilian Sal Grosso
12 hazelnuts, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until it shimmers, about 2 minutes. It should be about ¼ inch deep.
Add the garlic and peppers in a single layer. They shouldn’t crowd the pan. Sauté until the peppers are charred in spots, turning with tongs every now and then. It will take about 3 minutes. Scatter the salt and hazelnuts on top and sauté for another minute. Drain on paper towels and serve squirted with lemon juice.
Coarse, hard salt is what you need: Sal de Ibiza Granito, Dolce di Cervia, Piran Sel Gris, Redmond Real Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt, or Persian Blue Salt.
Curried Roasted Peaches with Honey and Kala Namak
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Kala Namak is traditionally made by combining ordinary salt, like pink salt from Pakistan, with charcoal, spices, and other botanicals until it melts. It is then cooled, aged, and ground. When finished, the salt is rich in iron sulfide, which contributes to its red-black color and gives it the aroma of hard-cooked eggs. Attributed with multiple health properties, it is also magical in cooking, bringing heartiness to popcorn, meatiness to curried vegetables, and powers of levitation to roasted peaches.
4 large barely ripe peaches
⅔ cup bourbon
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
½ teaspoon finely ground Kala Namak
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Halve the peaches and remove the pits. Fit the peaches, cut side up, snugly in a baking dish. Mix the bourbon, honey, vanilla, butter, garam masala, and turmeric in a small bowl; spoon over the peaches. Roast until soft and slightly wrinkled, about 35 minutes, basting with pan juices every 15 minutes.
Mix the saffron and Kala Namak. Sprinkle each peach with a pinch of this mixture. Cool for 5 minutes, to allow the salt to dissolve and the color of the saffron to bloom. Serve warm.
Kala Namak can be used in chaats, chutneys, raitas, fruit salads, savory or bready fried snacks, soups, tofu, and in all manner of South Asian cuisines from Bangledeshi to Pakistani.
Block-Salted Watermelon with Green Peppercorns and Black Salt
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
We think that watermelon is loaded with sugar, when in fact it is lower in carbohydrates than any other melon. The reason it tastes so monolithically sweet is because it is significantly low in sodium. A glaze of salt from a brief sojourn on a chilled salt block helps make the taste of sliced watermelon whole.
1 (8 or 9-inch) square salt block of any thickness
4 (1-inch-thick) semicircular slices halved watermelon, rind removed
2 teaspoons dried green peppercorns, cracked
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
1 teaspoon crunchy black salt
Put the salt block in the freezer for 1 hour or longer.
Arrange the watermelon slices in a single layer on the chilled block. Set aside for 5 minutes; turn over and let rest for 3 more minutes. At this point, remove the watermelon from the block. It is best to proceed right away, but you can refrigerate the watermelon slices for up to 4 hours, if necessary.
Shingle the slices on a serving platter and sprinkle both types of peppercorns and the black salt over the top. Serve immediately.
Icelandic Lava Salt, Black Diamond Flake Salt, Kilauea Onyx Sea Salt, Black Lava Salt, or a hearty fleur de sel such as Sugpo Asin or Flor de Sal do Algarve, Bitterman’s Fleur de Sel
Saffron-Salted Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Vegetables are full of flavor, but they are also full of water. Getting rid of the water concentrates the flavor, but it also alters their consistency. With sturdy cauliflower and squishable tomatoes, those consistency changes are profound, but they require different roasting techniques to get the desired results. Low heat is helpful when roasting tomatoes, which at high temperatures collapse into purée. On the other hand, cauliflower becomes delectably creamy when roasted at high heat. So by roasting tomatoes slowly and cauliflower quickly, you end up with a perfect pair. Now all that’s needed is a gilding of Saffron Salt, and voilà!
1 pound plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
1 medium yellow onion, cut into thin wedges through the stem end so wedges stay intact
2 teaspoons Saffron Salt, divided
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Toss the tomatoes, garlic, 4 teaspoons of the olive oil, fleur de sel, and pepper on a rimmed sheet pan. Shake the pan to make everything slide into a single layer.
Roast until the tomatoes have shrunk by about 50 percent and no longer appear wet on their surface, about 4 hours. No need to peek or toss during cooking, and there is no harm if they roast for an extra hour.
Cool for 15 minutes to help them firm up, and then scrape off the pan using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
While the tomatoes are cooling turn the oven temperature up to 425°F.
Toss the cauliflower florets and onion wedges with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil on the sheet pan. Spread them out in a single layer and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon saffron salt. Roast for 15 minutes.
Check the cauliflower, as it should be browning. Add the roasted tomatoes and toss to disperse the tomatoes evenly and to turn the cauliflower and onions. Roast for 10 more minutes, or until the cauliflower is fork-tender.
Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of saffron salt and serve.
Pesto Flake Salt, Rosemary Flake Salt, Sage Salt, or go classic minimalist and just use a fleur de sel.