Friday, July 20, 2012

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Watermelon and Sea Salt

Salted watermelon? Bollocks. Why ruin a perfectly good, sweet melon with gobs of salt? Salt is a savory mineral and has no place in sweet things. Or so I thought.

Watermelon: Take it a grain (or twelve) of salt
For more than half my life, I regarded the salting of watermelon as some inexplicable aberration, like plunging peanuts in Pepsi or deep-frying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But then...but then, one salts margaritas. And what is olive juice in a martini but salty brine? Some even cast a bit of salt in their beers with a squeeze of lime.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, salt can bring out flavors that are already present in foods. In small doses, anyway. Put enough of it in and you'll get nothing but salt.

What finally got to me to try a dash of the stuff on melon was the way I make whipped cream. Years and years ago, I picked up an Austrian trick of adding a tiny amount — a knifepoint — of fine salt to heavy cream when whipping. It enhances the sweetness of the sugar in the whipped cream and somehow makes the whole thing more creamy. If you taste the salt, though, it's too much. It's there as a foil.

And so, thinking something similar may work on melons after all, I one day strew a bit of rough French sea salt over a slice I'd just cut. Ah, what a fool I'd been. Watermelon alone — a good one, anyway — hardly seems to need any adornment. Gilding the lily and all that. But needing and wanting are different beasts and there's hardly a slice of juicy, sweet watermelon that doesn't want a bit of salt.

You'll want to use more than the knifepoint I put in whipped cream. Give it a good scattering. Don't bother with the ionized iodized granulated salt that comes in squat blue tubes. A bit too close to licking batteries. Flaky kosher or Maldon salts are better. They lend a bit of crunch to each bite and set up a great contrast between the enhanced sweetness of the melon and pinpoints of brine as they melt. The salt I use is Fleur de Sel de Guérande, a hand-harvested sea salt gathered along the coast of Brittany. Any decent sea salt will do, so use one you know and like, but I enjoy the Guérande salt because its rough, chunky texture is a counterpoint to the juicy, giving melon in each bite.

Goes well with:
  • Mark Bitterman's 2010 book Salted. I have several books on salt — historical overviews, scholarly stuff, quite dry. Salted, though, is more of a field guide to salts of the world and if I could have only one tome of the stuff, this would be it. I give it a review here.
  • Plugged For Your Pleasure: The Melon-Aged Cocktail — It's hot this summer. Before chilling it, why not spike your watermelon with something a little classier than grain alcohol, something like arrack punch?
  • When you're done with the melon itself, be sure to save the rind for making pickled watermelon rind with ginger and try the recipe for the watermelon agua fresca on the same page (oh, hey, is that salt I see in the recipe?).


Sylvan said...

For salt to be 'ionized', wouldn't it have to be in a aqueous (or otherwise) solution? Did you mean 'iodized'? Nitpicking aside, sounds tasty though; can't wait for the better watermelons of late summer. We have home harvested seasalt that was dryed over a woodfire and picked up a fair amount of smoke flavor. I see no reason why smoky watermelon wouldn't be worth trying.

Matthew Rowley said...

'Lionized' of course is what I meant. Thanks for the catch. Either my brain is not what it once was or it never was what I sometimes think it may've been. I would without hesitation go for some smoked sea salt — or seasalt as some would have it — on a good melon. Sounds delicious.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Matthew. I grew up along the Mississippi River in Iowa and my grandfather had a truck farm growing watermelon and cantelope. The only way I've ever known to eat both is sprinkled with salt. Since I've moved on from Iowa, most folks seeing this salting practice are aghast, but I agree with you, the salt really enhances the melon flavor.
Cheers, Lynne

Unknown said...

A lovely salt makes most things better.