Salt is one of the most potent, essential ingredients in cooking. Its ability to draw out and intensify flavor is unmatched. The book Salted: A manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes provides a wealth of facts and ideas for all of us salt lovers.
Author Mark Bitterman is the “selmelier” of The Meadow, a salt store created by his wife Jennifer with branches in Portland and New York City. The store is a hoot, because you can go in and taste test their world-wide array of salts. There is amazing diversity in their salt collection and you are almost sure to leave with a few bags, all filled with sodium chloride, but all having bright and different flavors.
How those flavors are created, where they come from, what it all means — those are the topics of the book Salted. History, craft and science are all presented in a beautiful laid out book that will surely make you want to sample and experiment. Dozens of salt varieties from around the world are described and compared. The descriptions here are simply unparalleled.
Upscale gourmet stores now offer multiple varieties of salt but they really pale to the world view presented in Salted and available at The Meadow. Bitterman calls salt the “crown jewels of great food.” His passion is evident on every page.
And, there’s a bonus to Salted. Those recipes. This salmon is a perfect example. We’ve all had salmon. We know how it tastes. Even how it feels. So this recipe really surprised me with its very different taste and the feel to the mouth. The use of sesame and peppercorns, in abundance, creates a salmon flavor that I had never experienced before. And, cooking the salmon with that seedy layer on top of sesame oil results in a definite crust that you have to snap through before reaching the tender salmon body. The effect is very noticeable and a taste treat.
If you enjoy salmon, but seek a truly different spin, then grab your sesame seeds and some smoked salt.
Grilled Sesame Salmon with Cyprus Hardwood Smoked Flake Salt
Yield: serves 4 people
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns, green or pink or mixed
- ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1 ¾ pounds wild salmon fillet (about 1 ¼ inches thick), pin bones and skin removed
- 7 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, preferably black sesame oil
- 4 two-finger pinches Cyprus hardwood smoked flake salt
- 2 sesame leaves, coarsely chopped, or 1 scallion, trimmed and finely sliced
Preheat a covered grill to medium heat (about 375°F).
Combine the black and white sesame seeds in a small bowl. Crush the peppercorns with the flat side of a broad knife, like a cleaver or a chef’s knife. Add the pepper and the ginger to the sesame seeds and stir to combine. Set aside.
Coat both sides of the salmon with 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil. Scatter the sesame seed mixture all over both sides of the salmon and press lightly into the flesh.
Brush the grill grate thoroughly with a wire brush to clean it, and coat it lightly with oil. Grill the fish for10 minutes with the lid down, turning halfway through, until the surface is crisp and browned and the flesh feels slightly spongy when pressed at its thickest spot. Gently pull apart the flesh at the thickest part; the centers should still be a translucent, darker pink. Transfer to a platter using a wide spatula.
Drizzle the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil over the fish and sprinkle with the salt. Scatter the chopped sesame leaves [or scallion] over the top and serve.
Source: Salted by Mark Bitterman
Salt. Not quite as sweet as sugar but probably more necessary to life. Salt is wonderful. What this world needs is a great salt store run by salt experts.
The Meadow is that store. The first store is in Portland, Oregon. The second, newly opened store is in the West Village of New York City. Owners Mark and Jennifer Bitterman still live in Portland and commute back and forth. Mark told me he is a Portland native who simply loves New York. I know how that feels, for I am one, too.
New York can mean subways and skyscrapers. But it can also mean cozy stores, warm and silent from the traffic noises, that have that special feel you can only find in a great city: London, Paris, and of course New York. You walk in and you smell expertise.
The Meadow is tucked mid-block on Hudson Street just below Charles. Narrow but deep, its shelves are filled with salts from around the world, plus chocolates and bitters. I was in heaven.
Don’t ask Mark if he carries kosher salt. You’re going to get a lecture that basically says kosher salt is a chemical industry product. “Instead,” he will say as he turns to his shelf, “consider this one from Japan. No industrial components here at all. They hand carry the salt up from the flats on their backs.”
There are almost a hundred salts in the store. Mark or Jennifer can give you a printed guide for which salt works best with which dish. For example, that Red Alder Smoked salt is ideal for lamb or pork.
You can, of course, taste away at The Meadow. And you’ll surprise yourself. The flavored salts don’t hint at the new tones, they broadcast them. Suzen grabbed a citrus salt sure that there is salmon waiting to be served. For a small store, the variety, the quality, and the inspiration at The Meadow are unsurpassed.
When you go in, expect to spend some time and to leave armed with bottles and bags of, well, salt.
For your holiday shopping list, you can make a lot of progress here.