Review: Salt Block Cooking

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My latest fun fad, is salt block cooking. These are also called salt block ‘plates’.
Can I say FUN, FAB, FANTASTIC?
I got my blocks from SaltWorks which is carried by Cooks of Crocus Hill located (conveniently I might add) in my local gourmet grocery store.
I bought one that is larger 8×12 for hot cooking, and 2 small plates – 5×10 – for ‘wet’ cooking and presentation.
In the photo above you see the 8×12 which I have on my burners ‘curing’. If you wish to cook on your salt block, you really should cure it. I gained my knowledge from the Salt Block Cooking Cookbook by Mark Bitterman. He recommends curing the block initially to rid it of the excess water, which if not done, can lead to the block breaking or absolute worse case, kinda sorta exploding. Well, exploding sounds rather extreme, but let’s just say we avoid any potential damage and cure it first! He also recommends separate blocks for ‘heat’ and for ‘wet’ purposes. That way, you eliminate any excess water being absorbed by the block. And nothing ruins a meal like an ‘incident’.
I put mine on my burner and started it on the lowest possible flame. I waited about 15 minutes and then increased the temp. I continued this process until all the water had rendered out of the block.
As you can see, from those little bubbles appearing 45 minutes after being heated, a block can contain a lot of water!

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Once you have done this, you are ready to cook on it. Put it on the grill, or in the oven, always starting off with a cold grill/oven and bringing up to temp with the device. For more information, I highly recommend Bitterman’s book, it not only has great recipes but tips, advice and purchasing info.

For cold/brining/curing you don’t need to do anything other than a quick rinse of the block. I started with a recipe from the cookbook and did ‘cured’ strawberries.

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Which I served along side of fresh chocolate covered Cannolis:

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Then I played with a quick cucumber salad:

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And eggplant:

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Which I served with my dinner meal.

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A note of caution when using salt blocks: The more water the food contains, the less time it needs on the block. With cucumbers, unless you rinse them thoroughly, a minute is more than enough to season your entire salad. If your desire is to rid the food of water (like eggplant) rinse thoroughly after the cure. When starting out, take the advice of the recipe author, since this technique is entirely different than regular salting.

My next adventure in cooking will be hot cooking with my block. I’m thinking, scallops or shrimp would be awfully yummy!

One last note: This is GREAT for empty nesting cooking. Because of the size of the block, which if were much bigger would be HEAVY and cumbersome to store, you fit enough for 1-2 people. If you were cooking for a family or a group, I would recommend investing in additional blocks so that you can accommodate the increased amounts.

I have a feeling I will be investing in more of these for amazing and entertaining summertime grilling.

Feel free to share your favorite dishes, tips and techniques in the comment section below, I’d love to read them!


Domestic Goddess Tip : Turkey Brining

Domestic Goddess Tip : Turkey Brining

I suggested in a previous post (click on the photo to take you to ‘Got Turkey? Brine it!‘), I brine my turkey in a construction cooler.
Some of the benefits of doing it this way are:
*Its insulated, so it frees up your refrigerator
*You only dirty one container (and a measuring container)
*it fits up to a 20 lb bird (although you may have to cram it in)
*draining is a snap!!!
When your brining time is up, simply heft it up to the sink, push in the spout and drain out liquid. Then its a breeze to pull out your turkey, rinse it off and prep it for the oven.

(For brining recipe please visit the link : Got Turkey? Brine it!


Got Turkey? Brine it!

This next spring will be the big 2-5 for hubby and I to celebrate wedded bliss, which means I have been making Thanksgiving for going on 25 years, give or take a year or two away from home. That means, I have tried many brands of turkey and tried many variations of preparation. After ok, mediocre, pretty good variations, I have settled on the trick of brining my bird every year, which results in a perfectly seasoned, very tender, juicy and flavorful turkey. I also think I’ve perfected the cooking method, but we’ll leave that for another day.

First of all, do not use a pre-seasoned turkey like Butterball or Jennie-O. Those have already been injected with a solution to yield moist & seasoned turkeys. Because I prefer not to ingest some of the additives, and I also like to control what goes in to my food, brining allows me that control. For this recipe, I use an all-natural, hormone-free, free range organic turkey, but just natural is perfectly fine. I like to try and support local farmers, so I find stores that carry fresh turkeys grown locally. Most people steer away from natural, free-range turkeys because they can be dry and tough. This method will ensure a tender, moist bird you can be proud to put on the table. An added benefit is the highly seasoned, flavorFULL gravy that results. (Note: Do not add salt to your gravy until you have tasted it. The drippings will be naturally salty from the brine, so be sure to taste test and season the gravy only if additional salt is needed. I have never had to add salt to my gravy since I started brining.)

Let’s begin.

First of all, pull together your brining solution. I saw this trick on an episode of Alton Browns “Good Eats” and it honestly is the best Thanksgiving tip ever. Use a construction cooler. You know, the orange kind you can buy at the hardware store? I bought mine a few years back and use it every year, sanitizing it after each use. (bleach, soap and hot water) I just mix the brine up directly in the bottom of the cooler and plop the turkey in:

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Then follow that with a 7 pound bag of ice. Yes, weigh it if you are using ice from your ice maker. I buy a bag because it’s easier and I know that the ice is pure and clean tasting, not having any off odors or tastes that love to settle in home ice makers.

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Finally, put the lid on tight, and stuff in an out of the way corner. I do this the day before Thanksgiving, usually late afternoon, early evening. The next morning, I pull the turkey out, rinse it off, pat it dry and let it stand covered for an hour before rubbing with herbed butter and baking. You can also use the handy-dandy pour spout and drain the water out directly into your sink! Your bird will sit in the brine for 8-12 hours, so back into your cooking time, allowing for some time for the bird to dry and come to room temp. The largest bird I’ve done this way was 20 pounds. Anything bigger and it won’t fit in the cooler, I guess you’d have to use an insulated cooler, and double/triple the brine, but I can’t guarantee the results. I suggest using a large pot or bucket that will fit into your fridge. Or save the hassle, and buy a construction cooler!

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Seriously, how easy is that? This method frees up your refrigerator, which is usually full to the brim anyway, and yields a truly yummy turkey. Give it a try, and tell me how it went!

Honey Turkey Brine

1 gallon Very Hot Water
1 pound Kosher Salt
2 quarts Vegetable Broth
1 pound Honey
1 7-lb bag of ice
1/2 package Fresh Sage, roughly torn (you can use 1 tbsp of dried added to the hot water)
1/2 bunch of Fresh Parsley, roughly torn (do not use dried)
2-3 tbsp Herbs de Provence, added to the hot water to release the flavors.

Combine the hot water (and if using, dried herbs) and salt in the construction cooler. Stir until the salt dissolves. Pour in the vegetable broth and honey. Add half the ice and give a stir. Place turkey, breast up – feet up – in the cooler. I submerge the bird as best as possible to get the brine in the cavity. Dump the last of the ice over the top. cover and let brine for 8-12 hours.