Bitterman isn’t satisfied with such anemic nomenclature. He tackles over 150 different salts from common table salt to more esoteric offerings from around the world; Japanese Takesumi bamboo salt; maple smoked salt from Maine; French sel gris de I’lle de Noirmoutier; Peruvian pink salt; sal grosso do Algarve, a coarse, moist Portuguese salt; black truffle salt; pink, red, and black salts of Hawaii — almost 20 full pages just of charts with thumbnail photos and descriptions followed by nearly 90 pages of in-depth discussions of the origins, manufacture, physical properties, tasting notes, and uses of many listed in the charts.
Recipes in the last part of the book cover salting for preserving (e.g., gravlax, sauerkraut, preserved lemons), drinks, desserts, and brining — fairly standard things, even if the particular salts he calls for bring very specific sensations to each dish. I broke out into a slowly spreading smile, though, when I read his section on pink Himalayan salt. The gravlax is made by curing salmon between blocks of the stuff over several days. But Bitterman proposes something else entirely different; actually cooking on blocks of salt heated so hot that eggs and bacon sizzle and flank steak cooks five seconds per side (yeah, five seconds). He writes:
When you cook on Himalayan block salt, several things are happening at the same time: the heat of the block sears and browns proteins, melts fats, and caramelizes sugars, while the salt subtly dehydrates the surface and seasons the food. Together the heat and salt work in wonderful harmony, producing unique salty-toasty-caramelized flavors and delicately crisped surfaces as thin as a single layer of glaze on porcelain.Bitterman is no mere salt enthusiast; he’s a shopkeeper as well and his careful thinking about how to use salt shines through with the voice of someone who has clearly tasted his share of the stuff and knows how to handle, store, and in some cases revive salts. His Portland, Oregon store The Meadow sells salts (and plenty of cocktail bitters) from around the world. The next time I head to Portland, that den of whiskey and home distilling, I fully intend to pay The Meadow a visit, hand over a wad of cash, and say “I’m in your hands.”
Mark Bitterman (2010)
Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes
320 pages (hardback)
Ten Speed Press
$35.00 (Bitterman offers a signed copy with free shipping here)