I Make You Salt, You Like Me
- November 3rd, 2010
- Posted in Cooking . Experience . Experience . Savory . Seattle-ing . Traveling
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I have a speaking engagement at a food conference this coming weekend called the Foodbuzz Fest. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Apparently they think I know something about putting an A before a B and following it with a C, because they’ve asked me to help lead a panel on writin’ along with Greg and Brooke. Dastardly fools- what were they thinking? Little do they know I plan to mosey into the conference room wearing nothing but a unitard made from fig jam I’ve dried into a giant fruit roll-up. That will be my ninja-style way of tricking them into thinking I know what I’m doing. These are not the droids you are looking for. I REPEAT- these are not the droids you are looking for. If for some reason that masterfully-crafted plan does not work, however, I need to have a backup distraction tactic so they don’t figure out I’m a big, dorky sham. By distraction tactic, I actually mean bribe, and so I’m going to bring them some of my homemade salt.
I have scoured every nook and divet of the Washington coast to find the ultimate salt-watering hole from which to extract clean water worthy to be made into Salty Seattle Salt. If you could lick this salt through the screen, I know you would agree with me that it approaches the quality of the best salts on earth, namely Maldon and Murray River Pink. I think it’s even better because I hand schlup the water into coolers, trudge my precious cargo back to the car and navigate the arduous secret roadways back to Seattle, then distill it over the course of several days into fine saline ecstasy.
I do this because, simply put, I am a giver. You like salt, I make salt, I give you salt, you like me. I learned that lesson at nursery school over a steamy quenelle of chocolate pudding with a boy named Paul Duncan. Only the pudding was really poop. My own. He said he wanted pudding soooo bad, and I desperately wanted to please him, so I manufactured pudding the only way I knew how, handed him a heaping dollop, and prepared to bask in his amorous affections. I have since revised my giving technique, but it’s based on the same principles.
In case you were wondering, it did work, back then, with Paul. Not two weeks later he attended my slumber party, gave me a giant stuffed Garfield, and showed me his hoohoodilly around midnight, both of us crammed tightly into the toe-end of a Luke Skywalker sleeping bag. I did not show him my cha cha in return, because I felt the chocolate pudding I had previously gifted him with was benevolent enough.
As much as I am sure you enjoyed reading that, I am equally certain that you will love even more that I am somehow segueing back into a story about making salt, which is something you eat. Yes, I feel dirty nursery school dealings make perfectly valid fodder for food blog stories, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if you’re still with me, you probably feel the same way. In any case, the salt is evaporating as we speak and I’m frantically scouring the town to locate proper receptacles in which to dole out my little bribes.
Here’s a curiosity: I will be travelling par avion to San Francisco for said conference. I don’t know much French, but I do know par avion because all of my French penpal’s letters would arrive at my house throughout middle and highschool with those words stamped in blue across the envelope. I always thought it sounded so alluring, and the idea that those letters had travelled BY AIRPLANE farther distances than I’d yet travelled in my young life made me covet them all the more. That was back in the days when intimate thoughts would be shared with virtual strangers via sturdy, irrevocable pen and paper.
Look at me, going all wobble-kneed- Linda- get back to the clack of taut plastic keys and forget such romantic longings. Another thing that has changed in the last decade is what exactly is allowed to travel par avion- in the main cabin, at least. As I mentioned, I will board a jetplane with my salt, bound for San Francisco. Salt is made from lots and lots of salt water. So really, I am transporting vessels of, essentially, water in little vials, and yet, I bet a million to one they will allow me to pass through the degrading gates of the security checkpoint with my salt safely intact. It’s genius, I tell you, GENIUS. I have found a way to stick it to THE MAN, and by golly I’m gonna do it loud, proud and high up in the clouds.
If you ever have the inclination to whirl up a batch of your own salt, there are a few things you’d do well to remember. The main thing is that most any beach you choose for collection will likely have people on it, so you need to do what I do and steel yourself against the furtive glances of curious strangers. Yes, they will think it is unusual to see a woman in a construction-orange dress and silver Wellies walk into the ocean with a cooler on her head. You must resist the urge to stare back and simply let your freak flag fly. It’s liberating.
After you gather the water and bring it home, allow it to settle (or rack it, in winespeak) for a few days. This will ensure that all the undesirable silty particles sink to the bottom of the vessel and when you siphon the water into the evaporating vat, it will be as pure as the driven snow. Next, in keeping with our theme of sterility, you’ll want to carefully siphon it into a very large cooking pot- I use a canning pot. Avoid the silt at the bottom. Finally, brew your salt at roughly 170°F for as long as it takes to evaporate down to a level small enough that you can transfer it to a rectangular baking dish- preferably enamel or glass.
I typically do five gallon batches and they evaporate for more than 24 hours before I transfer them to the baking dish. The transfer is essential because if you leave it in the canning pot, salt will stick to the sides and form unattractive crystals, whereas if you transfer it to a heavy-bottomed pan with larger surface area, more desirable crystals will form across the top of the saltwater. The crystals that form at the top of the water tend to be larger, lighter and fluffier than the ones that form at the bottom of the pan. Some people separate these into two distinct salts, one for finishing (the upper) and one for basic use (the lower). The flavor is virtually indistinguishable and often, if I am careful with the evaporation process, I will simply mix them. I place the baking dish in a very low temp oven for an additional one or two days, or until almost all the water has turned to salt. The salt will remain wet for a few weeks; this is my favorite time to use it. Eventually it will dry out and resemble any fine finishing salt you’d pick up at your local market. Yield varies, but I’ve been getting about ¾ c per gallon, on average.
That’s it, no real mystery in salt-making. The question is, do you think it will be a sufficient bribe? I mean, clearly I have duped them into believing something they oughtn’t, so I will need to keep up the charade (that’s pronounced with British inflections, btw, like this: shur-AAAAHHED) with a sufficient amount of smoke and mirrors. I am crossing my fingers this is enough. I’ll report back on the other side. All my love, crazy-jedi-ninja-Linda