The Salt Challenge
Salt rocks - yes it does. Above, I've been breaking up a huge slab of Himalyan rock salt.
Back in the day, a million fetishes away, in an innocent world, pre-chia, pre-kale smoothies, pre-manuka honey, during the sizzling Australian, beach-filled summers, when KE Holdens had no air-conditioning, we were warned not to risk a day without taking a salt tablet. Back then, we were told that we lost dangerous amounts of salt through perspiration. Left unheeded, this would lead to muscle cramps, dehydration, brain-damage (and probably ultimately, a change in Monopoly tokens and feminism).
We purposefully added salt to our diet, over and above our tinned spaghetti on toast and hot chips.
What happened? Next we were told we ingested too much salt. We became salt-phobic. The warnings were intended to save us from among other things, high blood pressure. Now dietary studies suggest the salt fear is overblown and that it’s more a high carbohydrate problem (that wonderful crusty, sourdough bread).
I remember when giving cooking classes years ago, I would add salt and the class, in unison, would gasp in horror. (They also gasped in horror when I buttered anything.) But no-one complained when the tasting started.
In her just published book, Samin Nosrat (see review Salt Fat Acid Heat) writes about how to cook, rather than just recipes. She gave lessons to Michael Pollan and any friend of Mr Pollan is a friend of mine. As a young prep cook at Chez Panisse, she watched the chef adjust the salt in a polenta she was working on. (She also gasped, apparently!)
“Cal grabbed spoons and together we tasted. Some indescribable transformation had occurred. The corn was somehow sweeter, the butter richer. All the flavours were more pronounced. I’d been certain Cal had turned my polenta into a salt lick, but no matter how I tried, the word salty did not apply to what I tasted. It was as if I’d been struck by lightening. It’d never occurred to me that salt was anything more than pepper’s sidekick.”
Salt is natural and necessary – for health and for good cooking. It enhances. Purposefully withholding salt leads to bland. (Remember that salt can also come from adding olives, fish sauce, capers, anchovies, soy sauce etc.)
All salt comes from the same place originally, whether it’s fleur de sel from the Ile de Ré (Poitou-Charentes), or Himalayan Pink or basic rock salt at the supermarket.
My friends have not given up mountains of crispy bacon, or mountains of crispy chips or fries – they simply repeat the mantra “I know I shouldn’t but…” Get over it. You know you want to.
So here’s my salt challenge. The optimum “good health” amount of salt a day is 5gm – that is 1 teaspoon of sodium chloride. The salt challenge is for those who eat their own food at every meal. (If you don’t eat your own food, you’re on your own.) Put a teaspoon of salt per household-person in a small bowl on the bench or windowsill to use during your cooking. I challenge you to get through that salt in a day.
(For next time, I’ve been talking to marathon runners and “science” types, tasting black, red and pink salt, and seeking to debunk some fears and myths.)
Preserved (or salted) Lemons
Meyer lemons are the lemon of choice in North Africa (and lovely they are) but they’re hard to get and I rather like the thicker skins of a common Lisbon lemon.
A measured teaspoon is 5 gm. Use 12 teaspoons of salt for every 5 lemons (i.e. 4 tbsp).
(Just ordinary salt)
Tradition is good but sometimes there’s a more practical way. Some recipes may tell you to keep lemons whole (slitting them lengthwise with two inter-crossing cuts, nearly to the bottom). That’s fine if you’re doing your lemons in huge jars or barrels. It’s much more practical to cut them into 8 crescents. They stack better and come to maturity more quickly and you can put them in manageable-sized jars. (The jars above are excellent having a glass lid which will not corrode. They are wide at top, making it easy to get you hands or food tongs in. (They will be available if you look. I found mine at Aldi. WECK preserving jars.)
Arrange the slices (crescents) in the jar, spooning over salt as you build the layers. You'll soon get the hang of how much, to finish with just enough for the final layer.
Close the jar and set aside for 2 days.
After this time, you will see that the lemons have given up a lot of juice. It the lemons are not covered by juice, be prepared to juice some more to cover. You may find a way to hold them below the surface of the juice. The juice or lemons should not touch a metal lid.
The salt will react with the lemons and make them silky, even slightly oily. This is the natural pectin. My batch is only three days old. If the salt you can see on the nearest slice does not dissolve, I will be annoyed with myself. Salt remaining after a week tells you you have over-salted. This is a waste of salt. Even if you love salt, salt cannot get saltier.
They will be ready in a month.
I'm assuming you're using lemons from an overloaded tree. If buying lemons (and nothing wrong with that) give them a light scrub if they've been polished with wax.)
You'll find many recipes using these (chicken with green olives and preserved lemon is a classic) and they can be chopped or slivered into salads. Take one out of its brine, detach the pulp and discard. You only use the skin.
This also works well with limes but I've not had great joy with oranges. Cumquats (cut in half) are glorious and look very special.
In the photo, you'll see Hawaiian red salt and some handsome looking extra large pyramid crystals (larger even than Maldon salt). More on that later.
New Home-page Image
Latest home-page is the end of a casual meal (no dessert).
The massively talented and very beautiful Stéphane Audran has died, aged 85 (27th March, 2018). She was best known outside of France for her role in Babette's Feast which won the Oscar for "Best Foreign Film".
This is my third favourite film, after Fellini's La Strada and Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. As a cook / chef and upholder of the shared table, this film has a deeply significant meaning for me.
More to come - about the film, about the book, about the menu, about the dinner service, about foraging, about the dress, about Karen Blixen.....
That Long Table Again!
It's pretty simple really. Any more than six people and this will be a terrible table to sit at. Seating along either side of the long table may look "neat" in a life-style magazine but that's just it. It's style over life.
I assert that the ends need to be stoppered. How? With some-one sitting at the ends. Simple. Although it's a long table, the guests need to make a circle, with people at each end, giving everyone someone to talk to on either side. If not, the goodwill will flow right out of the table, at both ends, like wine from a bottomless carafe. Sounds "new-age" and it's possibly the only "new-age" thing I'll ever say.
Restaurants do it. If you book, ask for it not to happen. If it's at someone's house, hope you're not at the ends, be pleased at least that you've been invited, grin and bear it and send them this blog.
Check out the table below...
Buckingham Palace State Banquet - Photo courtesy The Telegraph
You can expect Buckingham Palace to know how to set a table. An oval table is very convivial but even at a long table, simply put someone at the end. Happiness all round.
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