This book makes me see that I’m not alone in embracing my ardor for salt.
Apparently, what a sommelier is to wine, a selmelier is to salt, one providing expertise that helps diners, chefs, and salt lovers like myself to get the best possible salts for our food. Mark Bitterman is one such selmelier, a noted salt expert and proprietor of The Meadow, a US-based artisan product boutique.
His first book, Salted: A Manifesto On The World’s Most Essential Mineral With Recipes is part field guide, part reference, and part cookbook. As expected, it’s necessary to wade through an historical treatise of humankind’s first salty encounters through to industry’s use of it before immersing the reader in a reverie on the resurging interest in artisan salts. Obviously, this book goes way beyond McCormick’s and Morton’s iodized table salt.
For someone who’s quite the expert on the subject of salt, Bitterman’s writing style is engaging and he avoids adopting a pedantic tone. It’s unavoidable however that there will be some “eye-glazing” moments especially on the chapter, Science: Mind, Body, Salt, Ocean, which is concerned with salt’s physiological effects. Terms like hyponatremia (sodium deficiency) and a mini discourse on the dynamic duo of sodium and chlorine is enough to tune anyone out lest you have a scientific bent.
Still, the science is but a small part of such a stimulating book. Physically, the book is beautiful, my chosen adjective for every book that’s a joy to touch and browse. The matte pages make reading easy on the eyes, the profusion of photos are vivid and provocative, and the sidebars are well-thought out (The Physiology of Tasting Salt, The Yin & Yang of Salt, etc.).
The chapter alone on crafting artisan salts is astonishing. Did you know salts are produced by – among other means – in greenhouses, fire evaporation, and solar fire? Some of these methods are so labor-intensive that I may never wonder again why I’m paying so much for salt. And speaking of the types of artisan salts, the selection is mind-blowing to say the least. The reference guide categorizes the seven types of artisan salts cascading down to the more specific categories described almost poetically by color, crystal, moisture, and flavor. The Philippines’ own Ilocano Asin (aka Pangasinan Star, Philippine fleur de sel) is described as “… lush, billowy crystals providing a sensuous crunch…is one of the grand salts capable of crossing over from wonderfully dramatic play on the most delicate of foods to wonderfully subtle play on the most hearty of foods.” Gosh, I’m so proud and even prouder to have a glass jar of this very salt sitting in my pantry.
The final chapter, Salting, has the most useful information, I feel, for someone seduced by salt. Bitterman tackles questions such as How many salts do I need? (anywhere from 1-12); The five rules of strategic salting; and even throws in a quick guide to Salting common foods (think you know how to salt a soup?) The Recipes portion focuses on recipes grouped by cooking method: uncooked, grilling, brining, roasting, etc., to the more challenging cooking in a salt crust and cooking on salt blocks. I’m inspired by the Unsalted Bread with Unsalted Butter and Salt to the Salt Brick-Grilled Split Chicken and the absolutely scintillating Himalayan Salt Bowl With Chocolate Fondue.
I certainly don’t need to bolster my already boundless love for salt, but this book has pushed my fervor for it far out and beyond. As Bitterman asks in the book, “Salting is an opportunity. What do you want salt to do for your dish?”
Now excuse me while I go throw out the rusting can of iodized salt sitting on my kitchen shelf.
Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes
Hardcover: 320 pages
Ten Speed Press (October 2010)
Available at Fully Booked