Photo by Amy Wing (Apples and Mozzerella)
Portland (and now New York City) is so lucky to have an amazing little salt shop, called The Meadow. Although they are known for their amazingly diverse salt selection, the shop walls are lined with salts, chocolates, wines, bitters, pepper-mills and flowers. But the most unique offering is the Himalayan salt blocks. These 600 million year old rosy blocks of salt are a little known culinary curiosity. You can cook, serve, or cure foods on them. I was lucky enough to be given a block as a birthday present a few years ago. I have only served cheese and desserts on it, but was curious to see what else I could do.
Photo by Amy Wing (tuna sashimi curing)Cue The Meadow's cooking class.
A few girlfriends (including Amy Wing, who took all of these photos!) and I signed up for an evening of wine and salt block cooking. The shops owner, Mark Bitterman (author of Salted: A Manifesto), demonstrated the diversity of the salt block. He started us with green apples and fresh mozzarella. It was wonderful. After a few minutes the tartness of the apples was gently salted while the sweet mozzarella just seemed richer after resting on the cold salt block. The next bite was sushi grade ahi tuna which began to cure when rested on the block. It was phenomenal! Apparently, if the raw tuna gets left on the block for too long it turns into jerky. It is easy to forget just how powerful salt really is!
Photo by Amy Wing (flank steak on a white hot salt block)
For the next demonstration Mark slowly heated a large block over a flame until it changed from the rosy glow to an opaque white. He quickly seared flank steak while explaining that a heated block can be (carefully) brought to the table and cooking done at the table top. The meat was done in a minute and was delicious, while delicately salted.
Photo by Amy Wing (beginning to make fondue in a hot salt bowl)
Dessert was a surprising treat. A salt bowl was heated and chocolate, cream and cardamom bitters was stirred into a fondue. We dipped bananas and graham crackers into the delicious mix.
Photo by Amy Wing (Adding bitters to fondue)
The interesting part of salt block cooking was that it imparts very little salt to the dish, but the impact of the cooking surface makes everything more fun (and probably that makes it more delicious). My girl friends and I left imagining an evening of salt block ceviche and seared steaks done at the table.
My only critic of the class was that it was really more of a demonstration then a class. We watched and listened to Mark while enjoying glasses of delicious wine and bites of the finished products. Well, and a few chairs would have been handy. I was worn out after a few hours of standing. That said, I highly recommend seeking out this class, and the shop if you are in Portland or New York City.
Photo by Amy Wing (salt blocks, aren't they beautiful!)
(Soon I would like to spend a little more time exploring their huge selections of salts, chocolates and bitters)
You can sign up for a Meadow's cooking class here.