Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scallops on a salt block

This is awesome.

By "this," I mean both the salt block and its uses. A salt block, for those who don't know, is just that: a big block of salt. Usually Himalayan pink salt, cured and pressed in such a way that it forms a block. (It's not Morton's table salt. If you're interested in getting one of your own, which I highly recommend, go here.)

I purchased my salt block on my road trip, in Charleston (remember that? Oh, memories), and hauled it an additional 18,000 miles across the country, on the cross-country move from New York to San Diego, and then back cross-country from San Diego to Boston before I ever had a good chance to use it.

That's right. I hauled this salt block at least 25,000 miles before using it, and never once considered jettisoning it. That is how much I value my salt.

But I digress. "What is the use of this big pink salt block?" you ask. You cook with it.

It can be heated to as much as 600 degrees, and then used to sear things table-side. Scallops. Steak. Veggies. It can be frozen, and used as a particularly decadent way to serve sorbets or ice creams. And because it's salt, it will impart a very subtle salt flavor to the dish, which is a very good thing, even in the case of ice cream. (A little salt should not taste salty--it should bring out and highlight the inherent flavors of the dish. Which is why people spend a lot of money on artisanal, funny-colored salts, because they do a much better job of that than Morton's. Different salts taste different.)

So I took my salt block on its inaugural run, by heating it on my stove and then searing scallops on it for my impressed husband and dinner guests. Should you find yourself in possession of one of these, here's how you do it:

For a gas stove, set the (clean, dry) salt block directly on the burner. For an electric stove, take the metal ring out of a springform pan and set that on the burner, and put the salt block on the springform ring--so that the salt block does not touch the burner directly.

Start on low heat. Very gradually, over about 45 minutes, increase the heat so the block warms gently, increasing all the way up to the high setting.

When the block is fully heated, you shouldn't be able to get your hand within an inch or two of the surface.

VERY CAREFULLY, and with thick oven mitts, remove to a heat-safe surface (thick cutting board, cork board, layer of trivets, metal cooling rack, or the like) and take it to your table. Make sure you don't drop it on your foot, because these things are heavy. Also make sure it's not touching anything flammable, or that can be warped by intense heat (like a Tupperware bowl nearby).

I know this sounds dangerous, but it's no more dangerous than a hot Le Creuset Dutch oven. Don't drop either one on your foot, or let your kids touch, and you'll be fine.

Throw the room-temperature whatever onto its surface. The scallops jumped when they hit the surface, it was so hot. I waited 20 seconds, flipped them with metal tongs, waited 20 more seconds, and served them immediately.

They were perfectly done. No additional seasoning needed.

I removed the salt block back to the kitchen, where it took the rest of the dinner to cool down properly.

To clean it, just scrape off the clingy bits (these things aren't non-stick, but don't add oil or anything to the surface--just let the food stick), and scrub with a little water. Let dry.

The color will change a little when you heat it, which is why this site sells "tableware" salt blocks. You'll notice in my pictures above, the block isn't as prettily pink as those. By slowly heating it, it shouldn't crack or warp, so I plan to get many years of use out of mine.

Awe. Some.

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