How much do you know about salt?
If your child asks about why you use kosher salt or sea salt in the kitchen, can you provide a good enough answer? Salt is in our tears, in the sea, in our food, and under the ground.
Why is salt so important? Selmelier Mark Bitterman‘s Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes (10 Speed 2010) answer that question with a simple fact that, “The mission of this book is to make you think differently about salt and empower you to make food that is better in every way….Salt is the only mineral we eat. (p. 9)”:
Salt is the prism through which the ingredients, dishes, and people of the world can be experienced in all their fullness and variety. (p. 10-11)
Mark’s manifesto begins with the contemplation of what made a steak in a restaurant in France so good – the salt from Guerande. It is a tale that is replicable. Try cooking a good steak, and then adding good salt, salt with character and taste, and it will intensify the taste of the steak or any other food it is put on. But before you go out and buy different salts, read this book.
Mark reviews the history of salt, its importance in commerce and war, the rise of industrial salt, and the return of artisan salt makers. In a chapter on the science of salt, he tackles the difficult subject of health policy. His take is to focus on getting rid of processed food (and processed salt), while using only artisan salt.
The following detailed chapters are about making artisan salt, with photographs and pictures about how salt is harvested (by the author and Jennifer Martine). The book includes an extensive Salt Reference Guide (pp. 84- 104) with wonderful photographs of salt crystals, followed by essays on particular salts, such as Fleur de Sel de Camarque, Trapani, and saffron salt.
The recipes include classics like Steak Tartare with Halen Mon (p. 208) and wonderful Preserved Lemons (p. 218) with juniper berries and sel gris. There are chapters on Salt Crust with Salt Crust-Roasted Partridge with Figs and Chocolate-Balsamic Syrup (p. 264) and recipes for cooking with salt blocks, like Salt Block-Fried Duck Breast with Duck Fat-Fried Potatoes (p. 271). There are plenty of sweet recipes as well, like Fleur de Sel and Smoked Salt Caramels (p. 283), which would make a terrific gift for the upcoming holidays.
Salted is a passionate book and it demands careful reading. It is a book to share with a child who will be excited by the pages of details and classification of salt. It reminds us to take salt seriously as the basis of taste and good food.
Check our December 15 interview with Mark Blocks, Rocks, Sprinkled, ‘Salted’ Afternoon Talk with Mark Bitterman on ‘Serge the Concierge’