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!


Leftovers Soup: Turkey-Spinach-White Bean

Leftovers Soup: Turkey-Spinach-White Bean

I know it sounds odd, but it’s what I call it. Leftovers Soup is a yummy and easy way to use up those leftovers so they don’t go bad nor go to waste. This particular soup used up the turkey leg meat from a previously roasted turkey; Turkey stock, made from the bones of previously mentioned turkey; and a half of a Costco container of leftover baby spinach.

I also added onions, celery, carrots (which I always have on hand), a package of mushrooms (which were on sale at the grocery, I can always find a use for reduced price veggies!), and precooked white beans pulled from my freezer.
(When you have time cook up beans and portion the beans in 2cup measurements into quart ziploc bags and freeze. This way you can have the convenience of ‘ready to use’ beans at a far cheaper cost than canned)

For spices I used Alleppo pepper for a bit of spice (you can use red pepper flake), 2 packages of Goya ‘Sazon‘ (it gives the soup that lovely red color and adds a distinct puerto rican flavor-buy it and keep it on hand!), a good heavy handed shake of PenzeysMural of Flavor‘ and a bit of salt & pepper to taste.

I garnished with this soup with parmesan cheese. (Which I buy at the big box retailer and keep in the freezer. I then portion some in a small container to be kept in the fridge)

With leftover soup try to think of combinations that go well together. For example, turkey and mushrooms are a natural pairing. I have a book ‘The Flavor Bible‘ that helps me with ideal food combinations and pairings.

Layer flavor by browning or sweating your vegetables. Add chili pepper flakes to the oil while sauteeing to ‘bloom’ the flavor and temper the heat. Add durable spices (like bay leaf) to the liquid in the beginning of simmering, and add fresh (cilantro/parsley) or delicate spices (tarragon/marjoram) near the end or as a garnish. Add dark meats early to eek the flavor out of them, delicate/white flesh meats near the end. Frozen peas or corn are added at the end also, so they don’t overcook and get mushy.

If using raw lentils, add at the beginning, they take some time to cook. Cooked beans, however, add and simmer just long enough to heat through, otherwise they tend to break apart.

For more of a chowder style soup that is gluten free, make a “slurry” – cornstarch mixed with cold water/stock/milk – and add, cooking to thicken. You may also use arrowroot, but only for dairy free soups. Arrowroot + dairy = slime. Use about 1 tbsp of starch for every 1.5-2 cups of liquid.

Tomato paste really deepens in flavor if cooked with the veggies in the beginning with the oil. Add when the veggies are soft, just before you add the stock, cooking it a bit to take the rawness off. It adds a complex depth and dimension and a bit of thickness to the soup.

Save those meat bones! If you don’t have time to make a simple stock from your chicken or turkey dinner, put them in a ziploc freezer bag and freeze them until you do have time. No need for defrosting, just plop them in with carrots, celery and onions, and simmer and let reduce. The stock can then be used or frozen for future use. As my grandmother taught me: waste not, want not. Use your homemade stocks as one of the layers of flavor foundation for your soup.

Depending upon my mood, what is in the fridge and what I have on hand, I save myself money, prevent food waste and feed my family food that I know is healthy and good for them.

As a side benefit, I always have a little leftover for hubby to take to work for lunch the next day, or an afternoon snack for a hungry child going returning from school and headed out to their athletic activities.

I hope this inspires you to look at those leftovers in a new fresh way: Transform turkey, mashed potatoes, and corn in to a chowder. Cubed leftover meatloaf can be the beginnings of a riff on Italian Wedding soup. Left over beets can be morphed in to a kicked up Borscht topped with healthy greek yogurt garnish. Leftover lamb makes a fantastic ‘curry’ with chickpeas and canned tomatoes.

The possibilities are endless!