Cook on a salt block? Are you kidding me? Why, in this day and age of lowering sodium in the diet would we want to use a Himalayan Salt Block to cook or serve our food on? I know that may be too many questions, but it is what we hear at the store all of the time – and more! Let me give you a bit of history about the salt to begin with.
Believe it or not, this salt was formed around 600 million years ago, way before dinosaurs walked the earth, and was discovered in Pakistan in 326 BC by the army of men with Alexander the Great. Horses actually found the salt and that drew the attention of the troops. Salt as we know it today wasn’t actually mined for use until centuries later.
There are many kinds of salt that come from all over the world. We carry several of the unique types such as Brazilian, Murray River, Pink Hawaiian, New Zealand, and many more. They can be used in several ways in your cooking. However, the Himalayan salt is different in a few ways. First of all, it is comes from a protected source that is untouched by the many pollutants that other salts coming from the seas and rivers come in contact with. A lot of this salt is hand mined and cut into slabs and blocks as well as used to grate or grind onto food.
People often ask about the health benefits of this salt. Oddly enough, out of all of the salts in the world, Himalayan contains the 94 trace elements and minerals that exist in our bodies in similar ratios. Your blood is made up of salt and water. This could be why it is said it is helpful in lowing blood pressure, helping reduce muscle aches, and other ailments. This salt provides a good balance. Table salt is salt that has had all of the important elements taken out, refined, and replaced with additives to make it sodium chloride in much different ratios that its original form. For that reason, it doesn’t behave in the body the same way as the natural form does. I am not trying to get you to go against your doctor’s orders, but you may want to investigate Himalayan salt to understand why it is a much better choice than what is sold in the grocery store with a little girl holding an umbrella in a blue box. It may say “natural” on the front label, but look at the actual ingredients to find out what is really in that box. Old Town Spice and Tea Merchants carries salts that are just that. Salt.
Do you know what salt actually does to food? Most think that it brings out the flavors in the food. Actually, it tricks the taste buds by hiding any bitterness in a food. If a food has any bitterness at all, then the underlying sweetness or sourness is suppressed. So, by getting rid of the bitterness, you can actually taste the sweet watermelon or tangy lemon. Why not try some today and see for yourself?
For our class, Anthony began by telling our guests the history of the salt block and the basics of how to cook on the block. The recipes and instructions came from the book Salt Block Cooking by Mark Bitterman that we carry in the store. It is very important before cooking on the block that you either temper it on the stove before putting it in the oven or you preheat it on the grill. For tempering it, the salt block can be put on the stove and warmed gently, then placed on a baking sheet and put in the oven according to the recipe instructions. For cooking on the grill the block can be placed on a cold grill with the lid closed and first heated on low for fifteen minutes, then medium for fifteen, and then turned to high for the last fifteen minutes before placing the food on it to cook. It will reach about 500 degrees. You can test it by putting your hand about an inch and a half away. If it is too hot to keep it there then you are ready to grill. Don’t worry. It won’t melt. It has to get up to about 1400 degrees before that happens.
Can you imagine beautiful green asparagus wrapped with pancetta and grilled on the block? Well, that is the first item that Anthony demonstrated. It was a hit! Because there isn’t a lot of moisture on either the asparagus or the pancetta, it didn’t get too salty. However, the next recipe that Sue presented showed off the salt block with full salt flavor.
Sue began by taking cubes of watermelon and placing them on the salt block. Then she quickly sprinkled feta and chopped mint on top. Everyone got to look at how beautiful it was before taking a bit to sample. Left too long it will absorb so much salt that you would only be able to taste the salt. For those of you who like a little watermelon with your salt then leave it on as long as you want. For me, I prefer the place, present and eat method better. I must say that it makes a unique way to present tasty watermelon in the summer. It is sure to impress your party guests.
While Sue was showing the class the watermelon, Anthony had begun to cook the fajita meat. He had used our Spicy Fajita Rub on flank steak the night before. We combine smoked paprika, cumin, Chipotle powder and other spices to create a perfect salt-free blend for this style of cooking. Before cooking, he just sliced the meat into 1/2″ x 3″ slices. Then he just grilled it for a minute and a half on each side. It is quick and easy. You can top the meat with your favorite fajita toppings. Perfect for appetizers or a full meal.
Now, you can’t have appetizers and fajitas without some sort or dessert, right? Of course not. That is why we had to show off the chocolate covered cherries on the chilled salt block. Plus, Pam from Wine Country Home Bakery made some Fleur de Salt Block Caramels. Did you just say “Yum” to yourself?
You may be wondering about cleaning this block when it has been used for so many different recipes. Many people choose to keep one block (or more) for grilling and another for chilling. One reason for that is because once the block gets heated it will change color over time and not retain the beautiful light pink color. However, as the color deepens due to the chemical reactions that take place with moisture and temperature changes, I feel the block develops a richness to it and continues to be enhanced as the colors change. In any case, some prefer to have blocks for separate purposes. Cleaning is very easy. First, you never want to hold the block under running water. I wonder why? You only need to take a damp rag and wipe it off. If you have grilled on it try scraping it off while it is still on the grill. Then, leave it until morning as it will take a long time to cool down. For all other uses it can be cleaned after using. They store easily on a shelf or can be beautifully displayed in the kitchen. The Himalayan salt is naturally antimicrobial and will not harbor any bacteria.
As I mentioned earlier, we make a Spicy Fajita Rub, but we have a whole selection of other salt-free blends that can be used for all types of salt block cooking. We even carry a Baker’s Blend so you can make cookies on the block. Pam made us some fantastic scones that she cooked right on the block.
So, the next time you are interested in finding a new way to wow your family and friends, come on down to Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants and pick up a Himalayan Salt Block and get inspired!