FAQ Category: Sea Salt FAQs

Salt Block Cooking FAQ:

We quizzed a local author who is an expert on salt block cooking and offer the following:

Q: How big is a salt block usually?
A: They range in size. They can be a small little plate, just a 2-inch-by-3-inch thing to put a pat of butter on, or they could be as big as a 9-inch-by-18-inch-by-2-inch giant slab that you could use to present food on.

Q: Can you actually cook on these?
A: Of Course You do. They have tremendous thermal properties. They hold any temperature very well. You can freeze them in the freezer, you can heat them up on the stove top, the gas grill or any grill to an excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit. I cook on them at 550-600 degrees Fahrenheit all the time.

Q: Can you put them in the oven?
A: You can. You temper them first on the stove top so they are used to being in the heat; then, you could throw them in the oven. You could bake walnut scones on them, pizza dough, dinner rolls, whatever you like.

Q: The big question here: What does a salt block do for food that other equipment doesn’t?
A: You can take advantage of a bunch of different properties that they have to offer. They’re very heavy, so you could use them to compress food by putting them on top of something. For example, heat up your salt block on the grill, throw a piece of butterflied chicken down on the grill and then sandwich it underneath that piping hot salt block. It will press it, firm it and sear it with salt at the same time. You can also use it for its heat by heating it up and putting some scallops or flank steak on there. You can use it for its ability to cure food. Press two salt blocks around a piece of salmon and you get delicious piece of salmon cured in salt.

Q: Do things taste very salty when they are prepared using a salt block?
A: That’s the trick. Whenever I hear that someone has food that came out too salty, it’s inevitably the result of maybe not using quite the right technique. If you’re heating with a salt block, when you get it hot enough, you’re really hitting it with that hard, fast sear — that quick, intense amount of energy that just pumps on the food. You get that glaze on it — it’s a salty glaze just on the surface — and the food is seasoned to perfection.
If you’re using it for serving something, say some mozzarella and green apple, sliced vegetables or a sushi you want to feather the food out or fan it out on the salt block so that not all the food is in contact with the salt. Even if it’s on the salt for a little while, only a small edge of that food gets the salt on it.

Q: What should you look for when you’re buying a salt block?
A: The main thing is to buy a salt block that’s appropriate for the intended use. If you’re going to be using it for serving, curing or for chilling, you can buy a grade of salt block that has more irregularities and fractures with crystalline imperfection. It’ll be very, very beautiful, but not as structurally rigid as a salt block that you might need for cooking.
For cooking, you want a salt block that has amazing crystalline uniformity. That’s necessary because there are a lot of stresses that go on the salt block when you’re heating it up on the stove top.

Q: You’re looking for a salt block that isn’t distinctively patterned, something that’s more one muted tone?
A: Correct. The most boring-looking salt blocks (which are still tremendously exciting-looking) are the best ones for cooking.

Q: How thick does it have to be?
A: I’d definitely recommend going with a salt block that is at least 2 inches thick for any high-temperature cooking application, because it gives you a lot of structural support. Thinner ones tend to have fissures and then they can crack and break on you.
It’s not a catastrophe if it does break as it can still be salvaged for other purposes but it’s not as useful for cooking. You should get a nice 2-inch-thick one for cooking. If you’re using it for serving, it does not matter how thin it is. Sometimes the 3/4-inch, thin ones are really beautiful little plates.

Q: Can I get it wet? How can I clean this thing?
A: I put a giant 9-inch-by-9-inch-by-2-inch, 12-pound salt block in my dishwasher as an experiment. I closed the door, ran it, then opened the door – and guess what….there was no salt block. Don’t do that.
What you want to do is you just get it gently moist with a sponge, hit it with a green scrub or a stainless steel scouring pad, wipe it, and repeat that process until there are no more adhering proteins. You do not need to get it any wetter than that, you do not use any soap because it’s naturally anti-microbial. You just pat it dry with a paper towel and you’re good to go.

Himalayan Pink Salt Origins

What is all the craze? There is a lot of talk about this new pink salt thing. Where does it come from?

Origins

Once upon a time (a couple of hundreds of millions of years ago) crystallized sea salt beds, now deep within the Himalayans, were covered by lava. Aside from being kept it in a pristine environment that has been surrounded by snow and ice year round, the lava is thought to have protected the salt from modern-day pollution leading to the belief that Himalayan Pink salt is the purest salt to be found on earth. It is now hand-mined from the mountains and brought to the culinary market.

Got Pink?

The many shades of pink, red and white are an indication of this salt’s rich and varying mineral and energy-rich iron content. We are still in the discovery process as it relates to the benefits associated with this pink jewel. In the same manner that vitamins and minerals are perfectly packaged in fruits and vegetables, because this salt was formed naturally the minerals within the sodium work in synergy.

Iodine- Natural salts are rich in iodine, so it doesn’t need to be artificially added in.

Less sodium consumed per serving- Himalayan salt is made of the same components as table salt but since the crystal structure is larger than refined salt, and by volume- this salt therefore has LESS sodium per 1/4 t. serving- because the sea salt crystals or flakes take up less room on a teaspoon than highly refined tiny table salt grains.

Packs a hearty 80+ minerals and elements- Himalayan salts are mineral packed crystals which formed naturally within the earth made up of 85.62% sodium chloride and 14.38% other trace minerals including: sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromide, borate, strontium, and fluoride (in descending order of quantity).

While it cannot cure cancer or mend broken bones this pink gem of a salt can do the following:

  • Create an electrolyte balance
  • Increases hydration
  • Regulate water content both inside and outside of cells
  • Balance pH (alkaline/acidity) and help to reduce acid reflux
  • Prevent muscle cramping
  • Aid in proper metabolism functioning
  • Strengthen bones
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Help the intestines absorb nutrients
  • Prevent goiters
  • Improve circulation
  • Dissolve and eliminate sediment to remove toxins

It is even said to support libido, reduce the signs of aging, and detoxify the body from heavy metals.

So…Get Pinked!

Sodium levels of sea salt vs. table salt

The real health benefit of sea salt is probably the fact that you don’t need as much of it to compliment your food as compared to table salt. The robust flavor of a gourmet sea salt as compared to table salt reduces the need for the equivalent amount of table salt. While there may be cases that sodium levels are lower in sea salts than table salts in general they are about the same. However it is the quantity and quality of a superior gourmet sea salt used as a finish is where real difference is.

American Heart Association….

“Most sea salts and table salt contain about 40 percent sodium by weight. Unfortunately, many consumers haven’t gotten that message. In an April 2011 survey by the American Heart Association, 61 percent of respondents said they believed sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. Some varieties of sea salt may claim to have less sodium than table salt. You can check the Nutrition Facts label to compare how a given sea salt compares to table salt, which has about 575 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon.”

Variety is the spice of life

Sea salt today comes in a variety of flavors sourced from throughout the world. These flavors can be influenced by their respective origins such as Mediterranean, Celtic, Hawaiian, Caribbean, Atlantic, Pacific, Gulfs and many others. Plus they can all be infused with smoke, peppers, flowers, oils etc. You already know what table salt tastes like so expand your horizon and experience what the world has to offer!

Sea Salt vs. Table Salt

Let’s take a look…

A recent article by the American Heart Association noted the following: “Sea salt has boomed in popularity in restaurants and supermarket aisles. Many gourmet chefs say they prefer it over table salt for its coarse, crunchy texture and stronger flavor. Manufacturers are using it in potato chips and other snacks because it’s “all natural,” and less processed than table salt. And some health-conscious consumers choose it because it contains minerals like magnesium”

How is sea salt made vs. table salt?

The big difference is natural vs. processed or man-made. Sea salt comes from its natural source, the sea! Depending on where and when it is harvested will influence its final composition and flavor. So the varieties are as endless as the earth’s sea shores. Sea salt contains 84 minerals which are all part of the human body system including trace levels of minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and other nutrients. The salt water is gathered, filtered, then basically dried to its flaky origin then packaged…hence sea salt is born. Now, don’t get me wrong this is not as simple as it sounds and can be a lengthy process.

Table salt, on the other hand take this source and processes it. This process results in a very fine texture material which is more commonly used by homemakers in recipes and cooking. This process also however removes any minerals it may have contained. Additives are usually added to prevent clumping or caking along with iodine to help prevent iodine-deficiency diseases. So your end product of table salt consists of sodium, anti-caking additives and iodine.

Should I use sea salt or table salt?

Well the choice is yours, as you can see from above it depends on what you are trying to achieve. I would always use sea salt as my finishing salt to get the flavor you are trying to compliment or achieve. There are so many infusions today that you can really make your dish stand out. If your recipe calls for salt during the cooking process then I would suggest the cheaper lower grade table salt as it will be same taste every time and a lot of it gets burned out anyway or lost during the heating process. So, finish with the sea is my rule of thumb!