We gave you advance notice on this week's chat on salt with a Buttlermilk Leg of Lamb recipe.
On a cold and windy afternoon we met Mark Bitterman at the New York outpost of The Meadow (his shop) to talk about his book Salted (Ten Speed Press), 'A manifesto on the world's most essential mineral, with recipes'.
Q: Mark, was your itinerary to becoming a ‘selmelier’, a salt expert, a long and winding road?
It actually grew out of a passion for food and the abundance of salt choices my wife and I discovered while traveling abroad. It had nothing to do with either of us having previous experience in food business or retail. I was a writer, my wife an art historian.
For the word 'Selmelier', I created it as well as the related 'job'.
Q: Why salt over other ingredients, why not pepper?
Salt has been part of human life for centuries. It is the most important ingredient and a vital nutrient. I felt that the range of salt offered in the USA was poor compared to what we had encountered, tasted and brought back from our trips.
We actually opened our first 'The Meadow' shop in Portland in the Spring of 2006 with our personal collection of 40 something salts like an art collector opening a gallery with their patiently curated selection. The New York store opened in November 2010. Both sell salt, chocolates and flowers. A dinner table without flowers misses something. Portland store also sells wine.
Q: You mentioned on Marketplace recently that a 1000 ‘sea salt’ themed products were introduced in 2010. Is it only in the US? How much is too much?
Actually 14,000 products include salt either for human consumption or industrial use.
Q: Are all products claiming ‘Sea Salt’ cred worth their grain of salt?
When something like 'sea salt' goes mainstream we witness what Michael Pollan calls 'supermarket pastoral'.
Q: Amongst the recipes in your book, which are your favorites?
If I had to pick two, Buttermilk Leg of Lamb with The Meadow Sel Gris (page 227) for the main dishes and Roasted Peaches in Bourbon Syrup with Smoked Salt (page 242) as a dessert.
Q: Salt blocks are a big purchase, what is the best use for them?
You can use them:
-to serve food like green apple and mozzarella-
-to cure gravlax or for sashimi
-on grill to cook scallops and shrimp or eggs and bacon.
Q: Favorite salts?
For soup, court bouillon, boiled vegetables:
-Sel Gris is best for slow cooking
For sauted dishes:
-Fleur de Sel for its minerality, my favorite is Pangasinan Star from the Philippines.
-Marlborough (New Zealand), a flaky type, for a basic salad or Bali Rama for a hearty one.
For pastries or ice-cream:
- I would go with a smoked salt like Cyprus hardwood or Fleur de Sel depending on whether it's to garnish or bake.
Q: Are there best practices to store salt?
Keep it in a sealed glass container and away from the light.
Q: Best way to offer it at the table? When should you use a Salt Grader?
Put it in little ramequins. Sprinkling it using your fingers is best so you can feel the texture of various types. The salt grader can be for show at the table. For practical reasons, in the kitchen chefs like to use it for fine grading while plating a dish.
Q: Why do you sell chocolate alongside salt?
Because they are one of the pleasures of life. We sell mostly Chocolate Bars.
Q: Best sellers?
Our starter set of 6, it allows anyone from students to seniors to get their feet wet.
Q: How do your stores (The Meadow) fit in your life project?
We offer elemental things, salt, chocolate, flowers, wine (in Portland), all four add to life's quality.
Thanks Mark for your time.
You can keep up with Mark and gourmet salt on Salt News where I borrowed photo of NY store above.
You will have a chance to win a copy of 'Salted', details of Contest announced on December 24, 2010.
(Other Photo credits: Jennifer Martiné© 2010, from Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.)