There are several approaches to salt cooking. One involves making a crude pastry with coarse salt, water and flour that is wrapped around the food. Another is burying something, say a whole fish, in a pile of loose salt before baking, while still other methods call for adding water to make a salt paste.
The theory behind certain types of salt cooking is that heat and moisture are trapped under a hermetic crust, forcing seasoning to permeate the food rather than allowing them to escape, as can happen in broiling and sauteing.
The cementlike enclosure of a salt crust creates a kiln effect that cooks up to a third more quickly than other methods. Moreover, people concerned with fat in their diet could benefit because the hot salt absorbs some fat from meat.
The technique of salt cooking has parallels in many cuisines – Indian clay-pot cooking, the French ”en papillote” style, which requires paper, and Oriental techniques that involve wrapping food in the leaves or bark of plants – and all are aimed at minimizing moisture loss and maximizing the effect of seasonings.
One account of salt cooking’s history dates to ancient Mongolian warriors who carried food preserved in salt on long journeys. They cooked their food over open fires while it was still encased in moist salt. The heat formed a petrified crust, no doubt dulling many a warrior’s sword when he tried to break it.
Considering the essential role that salt played as a preserving agent in the centuries before refrigeration, it seems logical that many peoples must have cooked this way at one time. More recently the method has been associated primarily with the Chinese, who have several recipes calling for lining a wok with salt, and to a lesser extent the Spanish and French.
Raymond Richez, a retired French chef who has worked in various New York restaurants in the past 25 years, recalled a French style of roast beef cooked under a lid of coarse salt.
”You know how often here in America when roast beef is cooked the inside is rare and the outside can be almost black,” Mr. Richez observed. ”In France I have seen people make a paste of coarse salt, flour and egg whites. The roast is cooked in the oven for about a half hour, then the paste is put over the top. It becomes hard, and as you rotate the roast you keep moving the crust on top of the meat. This keeps the outside meat moist.”
We at LFM for Christmas are using this time honored method with our offering of prime rib on our Holiday menu.
Without getting into too many details, the following is roughly the procedure:
- 5 or 6# Prime Rib
- horseradish- fresh is best- grated
- Kosher salt
- Fresh herbs
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
Make a paste with the above and apply to the entire surface of the meat. Roast at 350° for 1 ½ to 2 hours to an internal temperature of 125° with a meat thermometer.
Merry Christmas! From the Culinary Team at Living Foods