Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman (2016)
Chapter 8. DRINKS AND COCKTAILS
Western cuisines make artificial distinctions between food and drink. Food is for nourishment, drink for refreshment. Food is cooked and drinks are blended. And most interestingly for our purposes here, there exists an erroneous assumption that food is salted and drinks are sweetened. This probably is why salting beverages feels radical. In many cultures, salt-forward drinks are popular. Take Vietnamese salted lemonade or Indian salted lassi. In India jal-jeera, a honey-sweetened lemonade with cumin and sulfuric Kala Namak, is a classic, and folks have been salting the wounds inflicted by tequila shots since the first gusano worm got soused. However, to the mainstream Western palate, drinking one’s salt feels unnatural.
Similar to the salting of desserts, salting sweet beverages reinforces and complicates the sweetness. But it interacts with the other tastes as well. Salt buffers acids in fruit juice, wine, and beer. It mutes bitterness, bringing forward herbal and fruit flavors in tonics and hoppy beer. And it underscores savory notes in whiskey the same way it unleashes meaty flavors in steaks and chops.
There are four ways salt can be added to drinks:
1. Rimming: Applying salt crystals to the edge of a drinking glass adds dimension to the act of sipping. You experience both the texture and brininess of salt upfront, before the beverage ever passes your lips. When applying salt to a glass, moisten the outside of the rim and roll the wet area in a thin layer of salt spread out on a plate. Avoid salting the edge of the rim or the interior, to keep salt from falling into the drink.
2. Floating: Large flat crystals of flake salt will float on the surface of frothy drinks. Similar to rimming, floating salt crystals add textural impact, and because they don’t dissolve easily, they play a secondary role as a surprising garnish.
3. Infusing: Sweet drinks, like drinking chocolate or sweetened coffee, develop deeper layers of flavor when salt is mixed directly into the beverage.
4. Perching: Perch a few flakes of salt on the peak of an ice rock jutting from the surface of a double Scotch. As the ice melts, it doesn’t just release new aromas in the whisky through dilution; it also adds salinity, which underscores a Scotch’s sweetness and grassy notes.
Tamarind Margarita with Sumac Salt
MAKES 1 SERVING
Salting a margarita rim is more or less mandatory, but it fairly begs for a little innovation once in a while. Trying different salts is a great starting point. Another is to sail the drink in an entirely new direction by adding flavor to the salt. One of my favorite techniques is to add acidity to the salt, creating a tart salt sizzle that sets the drink ablaze. Tamarind and sumac are both exotic acidifiers. Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is only available outside its native Africa in concentrated paste or as dried fruit. The paste is easier to use, but it makes a darker margarita than a muddled tamarind pod. Sumac is a brick-red powder that is the ground dried fruit of a bush native to Iran. It has a tartness that’s reminiscent of sucking on lemons, combining the sourness of lemon juice, the fragrance of lemon zest, and the bitterness of pith. In this riff on a classic margarita, tamarind takes the place of lime, and sumac tints and flavors the salt rim.
¼ teaspoon Flor de Sal de Manzanillo
¹∕8 teaspoon ground dried sumac
½ ounce agave syrup, divided
1 dried tamarind pod, peeled
2 ounces blanco tequila
¾ ounce citrus liqueur, preferably lime
Lime wedge, for garnish
Mix the salt and sumac on a small plate. Moisten the outside of the rim of a double rocks or margarita glass with a bit of the agave syrup, and roll in the salt mixture.
Muddle the tamarind pod and lime in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining agave syrup, the tequila, and citrus liqueur. Put 1 (1-inch) ice cube in the glass and throw 3 more in the shaker, and shake until well chilled. Strain into the glass. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink and drop it in; serve immediately.
In place of the sumac and salt, try Rosemary Flake Salt, Sage Salt, Fleur de Hell, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, or Orange Flake Salt.
Salted Cardamom Drinking Chocolate
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder. Drinking chocolate is made with whole chocolate, meaning cocoa solids and cocoa butter both. It’s the cocoa butter that makes whole chocolate that silky, melty heaven that it is, but because it is expensive, manufacturers steal it out from under your nose (and sell it back to you for use right under your nose … which is to say, they use it to make lipstick and balms). The silky richness of drinking chocolate is a perfect storm of goodness: It’s tastier and richer, and because it requires less sugar and contains more natural chocolate, it’s far, far healthier. In fact, it’s flat-out healthy, so much so that there is serious medical research suggesting you should be drinking it every day. The last appeal of drinking chocolate is that it’s a superb playground for salt, which excites the palate and shines light on every deliciously dark sip.
1 (13.66-ounce) can coconut milk, divided
3 cups water
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, cracked
½ cup cocoa (regular, not Dutch)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cacao), broken into pieces
6 pinches flake salt
Skim the cream from the top of the can of coconut milk. Add enough of the thin “milk” left in the can to make 1 cup. Set aside. Save the rest of the thin coconut milk for cooking or drinking.
Combine the water with the sugar and cardamom seeds in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom seeds with a slotted spoon and stir in the cocoa. Return to a boil over medium heat, then remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Add the reserved thinned coconut cream and froth with an immersion blender or in a blender.
Pour into warm mugs and top each with a pinch of salt.
The challenge and the opportunity here is to find a salt that will land on the surface of your drink without sinking or dissolving. Soups, which are the college of choice for aspiring salters, are how I learned about the fine art of salting liquids, and they provide a great primer for exploring salted hot chocolate and drinking chocolate.
Halen Môn Silver Flake Sea Salt, Cyprus Silver Flake Sea Salt, Alaska Pure Sea Salt, Achill Island Sea Salt, Maldon Sea Salt, Cornish Flake Sea Salt, and Hana Flake Salt are good choices.
Salted Caramel Cold Brew Coffee
MAKES 2 SERVINGS (4 CUPS)
Cold brew coffee, made from ground beans steeped in room temperature water for about a day, is naturally sweeter and blander than coffee brewed conventionally: sweeter because less of the bitter alkaloids in the beans are extracted, and blander because it is lower in acid. A spark of acid is what makes coffee bright. Adding caramel to the mix brings back what’s missing, but in a more delicious, caramelized way. And popping in some salt, especially aromatic Taha’a Vanilla, makes the caramel taste better, which makes the coffee taste better, which makes your day happier, which makes your life .00003422 percent happier, based on the assumption that you’re going to live for 80 years. And if you don’t, your percentage of happy days increases. So you can’t lose.
1 cup sugar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon Taha’a Vanilla
¾ cup coarsely ground medium-roast coffee beans
Milk, for serving (optional)
Pour the sugar into a medium skillet, at least 1 inch deep. Put over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar melts and turn deep golden brown. At first it will look like nothing is happening, but after a few minutes some of the sugar will start to liquefy and become quite lumpy; keep stirring. When the last lumps have melted and the sugar looks like liquid mahogany, remove the pan from the heat and add the water. Stand back. The sugar will bubble and harden and loads of steam that can burn you will billow from the pan. When all the water is in the pan, start stirring again. Keep going until the caramel has all dissolved; the liquid does not need to return to a boil. Cool to room temperature.
Put the salt and ground coffee in a 32-ounce (1-quart) French press coffee pot. Add the cooled caramel water and stir to moisten all of the coffee grounds. Put the top on, but don’t press down the plunger. Let stand at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.
Press down the plunger and pour the cold pressed coffee into a glass of ice. Add milk, if you want.
Takesumi Bamboo Sea Salt is a unique salt for coffee, even if you’re a regular coffee salter. It’s made by packing excellent craft salt into a hollow stalk of bamboo and incinerating it, then breaking away the charcoal exterior to reveal a flinty, carbonated salt. It does a remarkable job of balancing out and accentuating the natural flavors of coffee without diminishing anything.
Highland Spike with Smoky Scotch-Cured Cherry
MAKES 1 SERVING
This sophisticated riff on a Rusty Nail is all honey and smoke. Like a traditional RN, it is garnished with a cherry, but in this case the cherry is cured with peat-smoked salt and peat-stoked Laphroaig Scotch. Shimmering sheaves of Alaska Pure Alder Smoked Sea Salt shine through the amber pane of whisky. Due to the layered, pastry-like flakes of Halen Môn Gold Sea Salt, the crystals won’t dissolve, retaining their form until you get ready to snare them on the cherry and spike them down your gullet.
2 ounces single-malt Highland Scotch (I like GlenDronach)
1 ounce Drambuie
1 Smoky Scotch-Cured Cherry (recipe follows)
6 large flakes Alaska Pure Alder Smoked Sea Salt
5 dashes aromatic bitters (such as Boker’s)
Stir the Scotch and Drambuie over ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass until thoroughly chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cured cherry. Carefully drop the salt flakes on and around the cherry. Shake the bitters into a bar spoon and float on top of the drink. Serve immediately.
Smoky Scotch-Cured Cherries
MAKES 12 CHERRIES
12 jarred pitted cherries
1 ounce juice from jarred cherries
2 ounces peaty Scotch (preferably Laphroaig 10-year)
1 teaspoon peat-smoked salt or oak-smoked salt
Combine all of the ingredients in a small jar with a lid. Seal the jar; shake to dissolve the salt. Set aside for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to 6 months.
Vancouver Island Smoked Sea Salt, Bulls Bay Bourbon Barrel Smoked Flake, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, Oryx Desert Smoked Salt, Icelandic Birch Smoked Sea Salt, Halen Môn Gold Sea Salt, J.Q. Dickinson
Michelada with Fleur de Hell Rim
MAKES 1 SERVING
There are lots of variations on this beertail, but ours exceeds on several fronts. First we rim the glass with Fleur de Hell, a proprietary salt blend made from pristine fleur de sel crystals blended with the superhot chile, bhut jolokia. Then we add aged tequila, which massively jumps the proof and therefore the flavor. And finally, we add way more condiments than anyone else we know. On the surface it might seem like a Frankencocktail that stitches together a michelada, a margarita, and a Bloody Mary, but it has such a bright and sunny disposition, you’ll be glad for the company.
¼ teaspoon Fleur de Hell
1 lime wedge
2 ounces añejo tequila
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3 dashes hot pepper sauce
3 dashes aromatic bitters, such as Amargo Chuncho
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 grindings black pepper
1 (12-ounce) bottle Mexican lager beer, chilled
Place the Fleur de Hell on a small plate. Moisten the outside rim of a pint glass with the lime wedge. Roll in the salt to rim the glass.
Put the tequila, lime juice, hot pepper sauce, bitters, Worcestershire, and pepper in a shaker. Fill with ice cubes and shake until cold, about 20 seconds. Strain into the prepared glass. Top with the beer. Garnish with the lime wedge, and drink up.
Rather than talk about the kinds of salt that work well with this drink (just about any fleur de sel, a medium-fine traditional salt like Molokai Red Sea Salt, or a fine flake salt like Bitterman’s Flake), let’s talk about the other element of the salt rim: the liquid that moistens it. Moisten the rim with mezcal, or with orange bitters, or with elderflower syrup before rimming it with a beautiful salt. The mezcal will bring clean smokiness to the salt, the orange bitters will bring bright citrusy aroma, and the elderflower syrup will create a floral salty-sweetness that will stop you in your tracks.
Salty Dalmatian with B&W Ice Cubes
MAKES 1 SERVING
Vodka and grapefruit juice make a greyhound. Add an ice cube spotted with pepper and it becomes a dalmatian. Throw in a jigger of salty-sweet simple syrup and a salt-and-pepper rim and it’s a Salty Dalmatian. Careful. He bites.
¹∕8 teaspoon flake salt
¹∕8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 ounce Salted Simple Syrup (recipe follows), divided
2 ounces vodka
3 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
2 B&W Ice Cubes
Mix the salt and pepper on a plate. Moisten the outside of the rim of a highball glass with a bit of the simple syrup and roll the moistened glass rim in the mixture.
Combine the vodka, remaining simple syrup, and grapefruit juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 10 seconds, just until chilled; pour into the prepared glass. Plop go the ice cubes.
Salted Simple Syrup
MAKES 1½ CUPS
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons sel gris
1 cup water
Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir to moisten the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat without stirring. Boil until clear, no more than 1 minute. Poor into a clean jar and cool. Refrigerate, tightly closed, for up to 2 months.
B&W Ice Cubes
MAKES 12 (1-INCH) ICE CUBES
1 cup crushed ice
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cracked white peppercorns
1 cup cold water
Mix the crushed ice and peppercorns and divide between 12 partitions of a standard ice cube tray (about 1-inch square cubes). Add the cold water to fill each partition. Freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
Black Diamond Flake Salt, with its big crispy crystals, is an invitation to play. Since the salt is black, swap the black pepper for white pepper. Now you’ve reversed the spots on your dalmatian, with white pepper and black salt. White pepper is hotter and cleaner-tasting than black, so the change is not simply cosmetic. Black Lava Salt and Icelandic Lava Salt are also great options.