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.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Brick-cooked chicken breasts or thighs
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Living within a stone's throw of the salt flats here in the Vendee we have rather a good selection of sea salts, flavored or not. Send me your address and I'll send you a sampling for your pantry ;-)
My father is salt obsessed. we have seven or eight different kinds lying around the house. I feel like I need to someone hide this post from him to ensure he doesn't go out and unnecessarily buy more.
I love the idea of flavoring your own salt! I need to try that with my overgrown herb garden.
I'm also glad to know I wasn't the only one late to the salt party. I'm just recently getting it too :)
I would love to try some herb salt, Lydia - and that recipe would make João so happy! :)
I have a few non-standard salts, Australian pink, French fleur de sel, and a few flavoured ones. I'm really bad though I leave them to sit looking prety for ages before I think I better use them!
Never seen the black salt before though, hmmm!
Katie, what a lovely offer! I will do that -- so now please think of what I can send you in return.
B, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'm afraid I'm going to side with your father on this one!
Jennifer, the Mor-sels salt has inspired me to play around a bit, too.
Patricia, I'd be happy to send you some if you send me your address.
Kelly-Jane, there are so many salts on the market now. Was it always this way, or is this a recent phenomenon and I have just been oblivious? I'm having lots of fun experimenting with new ones, and as I don't use much salt on my food, each of the ones I buy lasts a long time.
I've been reading a lot about these sea salts lately - some call them gourmet. But one thing I've heard that particularly appeals to me is that it goes well with vanilla ice cream. Somehow it doesn't taste salty but flavorful, as the reaction between the cream and the salt produce another flavor altogether! I plan to try this! Have you had that before?
I've never seen pink salt before, though I'd like too. What does it taste like? I have seen black salt at Trader Joe's but haven't bought it yet. Now, you've piqued my curiosity. Very cool suggestion to flavor your own salts!
What is the difference between using flavored salt and using the flavoring and salt separately? Does it make a notable diffence in the final product?
OOPS! that should be "notable difference".
I am salt obsessed, so much so that I have to hide my salt experiments or purchases from the husband, like a woman coming home with yet another pair of shoes....!!
Great post. Love the sound of that herb-lemon salt. I do like grey better too, probably because this is what my mom used all the time. In France, we serve grey salt in a crock with beef pot roast. It adds depth to the flavor of the meat and veggies.
I've only used kosher and table salt. I really need to branch out and get some pretty sea salt and make flavored salts too.
It would be great to make my own salt, thanks for the ideas. My fav. salt is the Murray River Salt flakes (http://www.sunsalt.com.au/). Can't get enough of it.
Hillary, salt and ice cream, eh? Never tried it -- but maybe it's the same theory as salt and cheese, which I'd never tried until just recently (and boy is it delicious).
Pauline, that's a great question. What I noticed about this particular flavored salt is that, by having the herbs and lemon sitting in with the salt for some period of time, the salt itself actually absorbs the flavors evenly. So when I use it, I don't get a bite of lemon, a bite of herb, a bite of salt -- every bite seems to have all of the flavors. When you make your own flavored salt, do let it sit together for a while before you use it, to get that effect.
Tartelette, I agree, the grey salt has an earthier taste (to me). Salt and pot roast sounds divine. I'm glad to know there's another salt collector out there!
Amy, you definitely need to try sea salt as a finishing salt -- it makes a huge difference. And flavored salts are just plain fun!
Nora, thanks for the link -- I've heard of this salt, actually, but have not tried it. Now I will.
'nother rhody sea salt treat - ocean state chocolates has mouth-achingly rich dark chocolate bars with huge sea salt crystals in em. also - i'd like to give mark kurlansky's book "salt:a world history" a shout out.
My favorite flavored salt is saffron salt. it's especially nice ground onto scallops to really enhance both their flavor and golden color. but then again, maybe I prefer truffle salt, especially on pasta. But then there's salt with herbs d'provence, and salt with pimenton d'esplette.... shoot. I love them all!
I use Fleur de Sel regularly, but have been avoiding the use of a jar of Mesquite Smoked Salt from the Maine Sea Salt Co. simply because I wasn't sure what to do with it. From the label, it appears that it can be used as either a cooking or a finishing salt. Maybe we'll try some on grilled meat this week - thanks for inspiring me to try this stuff which has been languishing in my pantry for ages.
I do like the idea of making your own flavored salt a lot. I made some rosemary salt last winter, but now I'm thinking the thyme salt that Paz made would be good to try next. I am a bit of a salt freak, I need to be careful not to use it too much!
I must be living in a culturally deprived place. I don't think I've seen any pink or black salt for sale anywhere here. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough?
Shawn, thanks for the heads-up! Chocolate and salt sounds like a fabulous combination. I'll second your recommendation of Mark Kurlansky's book, too.
Ann, I've never had saffron salt (I can picture the beautiful color...). Salt with espelette pepper -- now that sounds like my kind of spice!
Annie, mesquite on grilled meat sounds perfect to me. I'd go slowly -- the smoked salts sometimes are very smoky, so use a little at a time until you get a feel for this particular brand.
Kalyn, now I remember your post about rosemary salt. I'm not a big rosemary lover, so Paz's thyme salt is more appealing to me. The pink Hawaiian salt and black salts are both available online; here's a good source:
By the way, is there any salt harvested from Great Salt Lake?
If you are into flavored salts or finishing salts you should check out this website: http://www.atthemeadow.com/salt/saltlist.htm
Particularly interesting to me are the Taha’a Vanilla Flake Finishing Salt, which I think would be fantastic on a scoop of vanilla or paired with several other desserts (they also suggest pairing it with fish), and the Halen Mon Gold salt, which also looks amazing.
Katie, thanks for sharing the link -- this site has an astonishing variety of salts. And thanks for visiting The Perfect Pantry, too.
Who'd have thought salt would end up in so many forms - not so long ago all we ever had was the iodized, free-flowing 'table' stuff!
You're right about those grey salts Lydia. Marvelous stuff. Great post.
Lucy, I remember when I first switched to kosher salt from iodized salt, and I was amazed at how much better food tasted. Then along came sea salt, and the whole concept of "finishing" salt, and I feel like I'm still learning about the different salts and how/when to use them. I love the grey salts for everyday.
I have never tried grey salt before. I guess the best way to try a new salt is on meat!
Veron, start with meat or with grilled veggies, which really love a sprinkle of sea salt.
i'll be keeping my eyes peeled for some fancy salt!
Connie, there's so much to choose from now. Try Whole Foods or Cardullo's, or even Williams-Sonoma, and have fun experimenting in the kitchen!
I've got to admit, I am salt obsessed, too. I currently have fleur de sel (or sel de fleur, as I usually call it) from all parts of France and in several different combinations. I like the stuff with seaweed on salmon.
Mimi, I've not tried the salt with seaweed. Sounds so interesting.
I've never had morsels salt, or grey salt. But that herbed salt sounds wonderful! I use fleur de sel mostly and pink Hawaiian salt, and salt flakes for my salads. I can understand how one can get obsessed with these! :)
Christine, glad to know there's another salt fan out there! I don't use the pink salt as much as the grey, and at the moment I'm loving the herbed salt on fish and on grilled vegetables.
This recipe sounds pretty interesting. I'm not a fan of coconut milk, could i just use some whole or skim milk instead ?
Chef Tom, why not? Or you could try some yogurt. Or just use more chicken broth, and thicken it with some arrowroot... please let me know if you come up with a substitute that works.
Are there any sea salts that are kosher? Please let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much.
By definition all salt is kosher as salt is the chemical used to kosher meats; try Costco's big sea salt container that is in a grinder.
I'm totally addicted to the Mor-Sels now!!!! Just made roasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled with it. Heaven!!!!
Sher, I'm so glad you are! Even though it's quite a local-to-Rhode Island product, it's also available online. And good thing, because I'm addicted, too.