Flavored sea salt (Recipe: Grilled sirloin tips with asparagus)
In the beginning, everything was pink.
Not just pink. Barbie pink.
My first big-girl bedroom.
My first and only prom gown.
My first contact lenses. (I was 14 years old, and when the doctor asked what color I wanted, I said, "Ooooh, I always wanted blue eyes." He pointed out that the lenses wouldn't change my brown eye color, so the sassy teenager in me replied, "Well, then, might as well make them pink." He did.)
My first sea salt was pink, too, a lovely, faintly volcanic, not-at-all-Barbie, reddish-pink salt from Hawaii.
Until a couple of years ago, I didn't really "get" salt. I don't mean that I didn't have salt in The Perfect Pantry; I had plenty. Iodized table salt (for baking) and kosher salt (for everyday). That Hawaiian pink salt. Black salt. French fleur de sel and Portuguese flor de sal.
I pinched here and there, and used my salts sparingly for baking and on matzoh brei. Then, just when I'd gotten the hang of colored salts, I discovered flavored sea salt.
Sea salt results from the evaporation of sea water; it's raked by hand, so the granules remain large and irregular. A natural product, with no additives, sea salt takes kindly to being mixed with bold flavorings. It's great in marinades and salad dressings as well as for finishing dishes, meaning the salt sits on top of the dish and slowly melts in at the end of the cooking.
If pink salt is good, grey salt is better. Grey is the color of sea salt harvested in Guerande, France (fleur de sel is harvested off the surface, leaving behind the grey salt), and it's the base for the herb-and-lemon flavored Mor-sels salt that has taken up permanent residence in my pantry. I first discovered this in a local shop, where the cheesemonger paired it with some soft cheeses. Salt and cheese -- an unexpectedly wonderful combination. Made by Rhode Island metal sculptor Peter Morse from herbs grown in his garden blended with lemon zest, this salt comes in a beautiful tin that keeps 2.5 ounces of flavored salt dry -- and chic.
It's easy to make your own flavored salt, too. Szechuan peppercorns, matcha, fresh thyme, smoky pimenton, lavender, orange -- use your imagination (and a food processor or blender), and raid the pantry and garden for ingredients to pair with salt. There's no limit to the flavors you can create, or to the number of sea salts you can keep on your spice rack.
Grilled sirloin tips with asparagus
Peter Morse, who created Mor-sels flavored sea salt, also creates magic in the kitchen. He graciously shared this recipe, which serves 6-8.
3 lbs sirloin tips
1 can organic lite coconut milk
1/2 cup mirin
1 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp chili paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup basmati rice
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Mor-sels or other flavored sea salt
1-1/2 lb asparagus, root ends trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
In a bowl, place the sirloin tips. Combine coconut milk, mirin, ketchup, and chili paste into a festive red marinade, and pour over the meat. Let stand in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
In a saucepan, combine chicken broth and 1 cup water. Under the kitchen faucet, rinse rice in a colander until water runs clear, and add to the broth. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat. Stir occasionally. Let water reduce slightly below the rice level and the lower the heat to the absolutely lowest setting. Place a tight lid on the saucepan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking (or up to a day ahead), make a compound (blended) butter by mixing butter, parsley, and a pinch of Mor-sels. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Heat your grill (or grill pan, if you're cooking on the stovetop). While the grill is heating, remove sirloin tips from the refrigerator, drain excess marinade, and let the meat come to room temperature. Grill to desired doneness, and set aside to rest for a few minutes. Toss asparagus with olive oil and a sprinkle of Mor-sels, and grill until just tender.
On a large platter, make a bed of the basmati rice, and arrange asparagus spears and sirloin tips on the rice. Top with a large dollop of compound butter and, if you wish, finish with a sprinkling of sea salt.