The Fundamentals of Himalayan Salt
A boulder of Himalayan salt emerges from darkness of a 16th century mineshaft in Pakistan and explodes into light, catching and refracting the sun in hues ranging from water-clear crystal to clematis flower pink to deep meaty red. The rough salt rocks are then hand cut by local masons into a variety of shapes, providing the foundation for extraordinary new ways to prepare and serve food.
Indeed, there are as many uses for a heavy slab of Pakistani Pink Himalayan salt as there are foods, cooking styles, whims, acts of folly, and shows of bravado. The salt’s crystal lattice has a fairly high specific energy (energy per unit of mass), so it will tend to hold any temperature you bring it to for a good while. Also, due to its lack of porosity or moisture (.026%), the salt plates can be safely heated or chilled to virtually any extreme. We have tested them from 0°F up to 900°F.
Two other considerations come into play when working with our Himalayan salt plates. Their lack of porosity means that the surface area touches your food is minimal. Compared to, say, ground up salt or naturally evaporated salt crystals, these large blocks of salt will impart only a very moderate saltiness. Second, the high quantity of trace minerals (1.2% sulfur, .4% calcium, .35% potassium, .16% magnesium, and 80 other trace minerals) impart a more mild and full taste to the salt, providing another level of flavor complexity to your food.
Himalayan Salt Block Recipe & Cooking Ideas
Armed with that knowledge, we unleash the hounds and set to. Here are just a few of our favorite uses for our Pakistani Pink Himalayan Salt Plates.
a) Arrange thinly sliced Carpaccio or sashimi on a cool salt platter and serve. Watch as the food literally salt-cures while at the table, gently cooking the edges and bringing on just a smidge of mineral-rich saltiness.
b) Place a large square tile of Pakistani Himalayan salt under the broiler. Wait 30 minutes, then remove the tile with a kitchen glove. Set on trivet at table, and saute fish, meats, and veggies while your guests or family look on with awe, disbelief, and dawning admiration. While cooking, your food will take on a light saltiness. Note that The Meadow’s larger Himalayan salt tiles will often hold heat long enough for repeated grillings before needing to reheat, but that batches will be successively saltier.
c) For an out-doorsy variation on the above, place a large platter of our Himalayan salt on the backyard grill, and plank grill a fennel-and-lemon stuffed monkfish, a lime-and-ginger marinated flank steak, or a balsamic and garlic rubbed Portobello mushroom.
d) For a variation on the wilder side of the out-doorsy, do what our two boys clamor for day in, day out, day in, day out (be forewarned). Heat a large Himalayan salt platter on an outdoor gas grill (best) or an indoor gas stove (use extreme caution). Lightly butter the salt platter, toss on firm bananas, grill 20 seconds on each side. Turn off the grill (important), douse with grappa or bourbon, ignite with a long match, and watch the flambé! Blow out last flames and serve with scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.Barely salted and seductively caramelized, the bananas spring to life against the cool silken contrast of the ice cream.
e) Freeze a Himalayan salt block or plate for two hours. Remove, and plate up scoops of ice cream or sorbet. More fun yet, warm lightly whipped sweet heavy cream, egg, honey, and aged bitters, and refrigerate. Remove the salt slab from freezer, pour mixture on it, slowly lufting with spatula, for a salt-tinged ice custard you will not soon forget.
f) Impress your Jewish grandma with Gravlax. Thaw a filet of commercially frozen (for health reasons) salmon, roll in sugar and minced dill, arrange on a Himalayan salt plate, cover with a heavy brick of Himalayan salt, wrap in paper bag and refrigerate for three days, slice, serve with crème fraîche and melba toast or just eat!
g) Getting back to basics, just use it as a serving platter for butter, cheeses, dried meats, or your daily does of pickled ginger and wasabe. When used as a plate for moist food such as apple slices and mozzarella, the food acquires an enhanced salt and mineral flavoring. One of ours serves as our regular butter dish.
h) If panache is what it takes to brighten the musty corners of your soul, try serving up an entire meal using large round or square Himalayan salt plates. Moist foods take on a touch of saltiness, dry foods do not, and everything glows with the otherworldly power of the ancient world (see Ogling below).
i) Place our larger platters of the Himalayan salt on the rack of your oven, preheat, and then bake bread, pizza, and savory pastries.
j) Get existential for a moment, place in window and stare idly at the beauty of salt in its natural, ancient state (see Ogling below).
k) Cut into jewelry, set in the precious metal of your choice, and nibble it as nibble jewelry from the lobes and fingers of your loved-one.
l) Take old (generally after many years of service) or broken salt plates and smash them up with a hammer (this should be fun), then arrange the prettier bits on a dinner plate as a garnish.
m) Take a bath, breaking up an old salt plate and tossing it into the tub to serve as an excellent and therapeutic bath salt, and pumice stone.
Caring for your Pakistani Pink Himalayan Salt Plate
After each use, wash your Himalayan salt plate with warm water and a soft brush or green scrubby, and tamp dry with a paper towel before setting on a drying rack. This will remove a very thin layer of the salt and make it ready for use again. Treated with care, a large salt slab will provide years of service! In addition, the powerful antimicrobial properties of the salt insure that it is always proper and ready for future use, with no need for detergents.
Ogling Your Salt
Ancient quarried salt is a hologram through which the mineral lineage of own bodies can be discerned. In effect, it tastes good to us because it is a reflection of our own primordial physiology.
To gain an appreciation for the beauty of this salt, let your mind drift overland, off the path, and into the wilds of the Hindu Kush, where wildflowers scatter under the tessellated fingerprint of a mild spring breeze. We take up with the torrents of the Amu Darya river, and just keep climbing along the ancient path where recorded history began, back in the 6th century BC, under the Achaemenid Empire.
After several days more of rugged hiking, in the rarified air of northern Pakistan’s Himalaya mountain range, we find a quarry where men pull massive boulders of luminescent pink ore from the earth, glowing like freshly harvested meteorites.
Gaze into the deep ferrite light of a massive block of Himalayan salt, and glimpse the unfathomed history of our planet. Pakistani pink Himalayan salt was formed in the Precambrian era, about 600 million years ago, as a great inland sea evaporated. Volcanic and other geological activity then sealed the salt in a hermetic vault where, over eons, it was subjected to the intense pressure and heat of the deep earth.
Tracing the history of our own biological development, the salt is rich in iron, calcium, and 82 other trace minerals contains all the trace minerals present in your body—and in a remarkably similar balance. Over countless lost ages the land encasing the ancient seabed up rose to become the Himalayas. Meanwhile, the scattering of Eukaryotic cells that comprised all life on earth evolved into shellfish and trilobites. Fish began to swim in the sea, great fern forests emerged, and then came the reptiles. Still the salt glowed darkly in the depths of the earth. Dinosaurs grew to towering heights, mammals peeked from beneath the leaves, and birds took flight. Grazing and carnivorous mammals, and then primates took hold, and still the salt remained in darkness.
Man appeared, gawking at the heavens and whittling spears, then scattering across Asia and beyond. 1.8 million years later, one lovely evening in 326 BC, Alexander the Great gave his troops a rest in the Khewra area of what is now Pakistan. An observant fellow noted in his diary that the horses were taken with licking the rocks—and lo, salt was discovered. Some eighteen centuries later, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar was born. At the happy age of thirteen, the boy’s father fell to his death from the library stairs, and Akbar ascended to become the greatest Mughal emperor. Akbar’s two lasting contributions were the vast accessioning of art from around the world into the Mughal collections, and the introduction of standardized salt mining at Khewra.
Our Pakistani Pink Himalayan Salt is harvested in the same way it was under Akbar. The choice boulders from the harvest—sometimes weighing in excess of 500 pounds—are sliced into cubes and platters and planks and chunks for use on your table.
You can purchase a host of sizes and shapes of Himalayan salt blocks at The Meadow.
Mark Bitterman :: Oct.15.2007 :: :: 112 Comments »