Designer salt is like the new olive oil, with just as many (possibly more) variations. You can probably imagine drizzling a rich, fruity olive oil over some garden-ripe tomatoes, but what about sprinkling basil-and-garlic salt on a batch of freshly made French fries, or topping a nice mountain of guacamole with a cilantro-and-lime salt?
As I mentioned in my last post about salt, there are many specialty salts available today—grey, pink, red and black—that come from various regions and deposits around the Earth and sea, each presenting slightly different textures and flavor nuances, and all infinitely more interesting than plain ol’ table salt. And while I have a selection of these beauties at home, I’m talking today about easy herb “finishing” salts that you can tailor to your meal, prepare in a moment, and use to add a gourmet touch to almost any dish, from salads to even, well, ice cream!
Let me say that you cannot underestimate the role that salt plays in enhancing flavors. Salt interferes with the bitter taste receptors on your tongue, and as a result, you taste the more desirable flavors in a dish instead of its bitter elements. Plus adequate salt makes all the flavors in a dish become more interesting as they somehow jump out at you.
And for a special dish, dinner, or occasion, whipping up a batch of salt using herbs fresh from the garden or farmers market can't be beat. All you need is a mortar and pestle or coffee mill, a box of kosher salt, and some herbs. (You can make flavored salts using dried herbs, flowers or spices, but I’m talking about using fresh herbs here, the simple art of blending some fresh herbs with coarse salt for a great finish.)
Mixing fresh herbs with salt is not a new concept. Salamoia for instance, is a classic Italian blend of rosemary, sage and garlic preserved in salt that is used to flavor breads, meats, soups, and sauces. Here are simple directions for whipping up a batch in your kitchen:
1/3 cup rosemary leaves (and tender stems)
1/3 cup sage leaves
1 clove of garlic
1/3-1/2 cup kosher or coarse-grain sea salt
You can make the blend by hand in a mortar and pestle, however, using a mini-food processor, coffee mill or spice grinder is a lot easier.
I like to begin by pulverizing the plant matter. Place the rosemary, sage and garlic in the grinder and let it run until it's chopped fairly evenly and fine. Then add the salt and continue to run until the salt is the desired texture and the plant matter is thoroughly blended in.
Letting the mixture stand for a few hours before serving allows the flavors to mellow and blend thoroughly. You can either sprinkle your salt over dishes in the kitchen before you serve them, or you can place a small bowl of the salt on the table and allow guests to “dress” their own foods.
Obviously, you can substitute any fresh herb or mixture of herbs you desire for the rosemary and sage.
And here’s another idea while you’re in the kitchen and playing with salt and herbs: Fresh-herb bath salts!
Same principles apply. For a purifying and refreshing bath, blend on cup of salt with half a cup of finely blended plant matter (such as lavender, mint, lemon peel), then add in a few drops of essential oil. One of my favorite bath blends is a cup of salt to half a cup of fresh pine needles, blended with some pine or cedar oil. It’s important to blend the plant matter thoroughly so that there are no big pieces of herbs floating around in your bath or clogging up the drain!