November/December 2011: Salt, The Essential Gift from the Sea


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And every… meat offering shalt thou season with salt;… with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt… Leviticus 2:13

Salt is good… Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another… Mark 9:50

 

The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the seas…Isak Dinesen

 

 

This newsletter is a sequel to Gift of the Sea, Sea Vegetables.  Salt and its relationship to health is controversial, which is the main reason for writing.  Salt is also confusing:  There are many new hand-crafted sea salts that are beginning to be produced today, so sorting out sea salts can be a bit like knowing how to choose fine wines—we need to ask where and how they are produced.  For every traditionally-crafted sea salt, there are many industrial salts on the market today that label themselves “sea salt.”

 

I just read about a couple in Amagansett, Long Island who recently decided to devote their lives to making salt from the waters at their local beaches.1  Apparently due to the recent and growing appreciation for wholesome, traditional food and as a reaction against standardization that is affecting other aspects of food production, there is an ongoing revival of the art of hand-crafted salt making—on our own shores and in spotty locations around the globe.

 

Overview.  I gave little thought to salt during my early years in the kitchen.  Table salt filled our shaker and was the staple for all our cooking needs.  Over time, I shifted to sel gris, a Celtic sea salt for cooking and baking.  And, some years ago, I replaced our family’s salt shaker with a salt grinder because I knew that grinding salt exposes fresh surface areas and this enlivens salt and makes it taste saltier, so we use less.  Currently our grinder holds pink crystal Himalayan salt, a salt mined from the Himalayas, but a sea salt nevertheless.

 

As often happens when researching a simple subject, the journey leads in many directions.  It is the same with salt.  Reading has taken me into the long history of salt through the centuries:  the political power it gave to many, including the Romans, the Mayans, and the Hapsburgs; the growth of cities and trade routes; and, the magical and sacred powers that it held for cultures throughout time.   Early agrarian cultures that did not depend on wild game.  ((Animal flesh is sufficiently salty to sustain life.  The typical person contains the equivalent of three to four salt shakers of salt, which is some indication of the saltiness of animal flesh.  Also, see Table 1 that follows.)) for food knew they needed salt to sustain life—both for themselves and their precious grazing animals.  Thus, most traditional cultures valued salt more highly than gold or silver, and they used it for healing, renewal, and for sacred purposes.

 

Sea salt is really evaporated sea water, of course.   Subtracting out water’s hydrogen and oxygen molecules, artisanal sea salt mirrors the mineral composition of the seas from which sprang the first forms of early life.  Modern science tells us that sea salt is a rich array of essential and trace minerals which closely and proportionally mirror the mineral salts of the human body.   When mixed with water, sea salt becomes an electrolyte, capable of conducting electricity to support cellular communication and neurological function.

 

Salt is probably the only natural food (as opposed to synthetic sweeteners and chemical additives) we eat that is not from a plant or animal.   Derived from the oceans, salt is really the mineral product of the weathering of rocks from the continents around the globe.  From its earthly origin, salt has the power to ground us in a harried, hurried world.

 

Salt, an antidote for radiation, also has the capacity to diffuse “electric smog,” the radiation by-product of our modern lifestyle of cell phones, television and computer screens, and other electronic devices.  As an illustration, salt mines are often used as the holding areas for nuclear waste.  In a related fashion, negative ions generated from churning salt water at the beach help mollify the positive ions that we absorb from our modern electronic/screen-based lifestyle.2  Salt water’s therapeutic effect is one of the reasons that we feel refreshed after a long stroll on the beach.

 

While not true of fractured refined table salt, hand-harvested artisanal sea salt is a whole food.  Until the last century or so when salt began to be produced in massive quantity by vacuum chambers for de-icing roads and industrial purposes , salt was precious and expensive.  It was mined or manually harvested to sustain the life of domestic animals, to preserve food before electricity and refrigeration, and to aid digestion and accent the flavor of foods.  With its power to build itself into elaborate crystal patterns, artisanal sea salt, like other whole foods, appears to have a life force and “intelligence” all its own.  Sea salt may work in the body in ways very different from common table salt and in ways that we may never fully unravel with a microscope.

 

Sea Salt, Table Salt, and Salt for Health

 

Sea salt and table salt.  All the sea salt in the world, whether found deep within mountain ranges, from salt flats, or evaporated by sun and wind in salt marshes, has its origin in the oceans and seas.   Ocean water contains the complete array of earth elements, more than eighty in all.  Water—oxygen and hydrogen—accounts for 95% of the oceans and seas, with minerals explaining the remaining 5%.  Of these, the vast majority is salt, the chemical sodium chloride.

 

We think of salt as sodium, but it actually contains more chloride:  Excluding sea salt’s moisture content, which generally runs about 5%, natural sea salts are roughly 54% chlorine, 30% sodium, 4% magnesium, 2 ½ % sulfur, and 1% for each calcium and potassium.  The remaining 7%-8% is comprised of 75 or so other minerals and trace minerals.3  As Mark Bitterman notes, nine of the major eleven elements of the body are found in the primary eleven elements of the oceans and seas.    The minerals in sea salt, unlike table salt, not only appear in a similar ratio to be the body, but they are also balanced and in a natural form that is easy to assimilate.

 

Table salt, in contrast, is highly refined salt; the moisture and complementary minerals are removed and anti-caking agents are added back for easy pouring.  Most mass-produced salt is used for hundreds of industrial purposes.  Only three percent of worldwide industrial salt production goes to food, with a large share simply used for road de-icing as well as industrial and chemical uses.4

 

Table salt, then, is sea salt that has been refined (heated to temperatures as high as 1200F degrees) and bleached to create dehydrated white, uniform crystals of pure sodium chloride.  Table salt, NaCl, is similar to white sugar, C,H2,O :  both are pure chemicals with the trace elements and moisture extracted.  To refi salt, the FDA allows companies such as Morton to add up to 2 percent anti-caking agents, needed to prevent the fine uniform crystals from clumping.   Additives usually include the anti-caking agents, calcium silicate, sodium ferrocyanide, or magnesium carbonate; and, less often, aluminum calcium, ammonium citrate, ferric silicon dioxide, magnesium silicate, propylene glycol, silicate, sodium aluminosilicate, and calcium phosphate.5 Other ingredients called humectants may also be added to prevent the anti-caking agents themselves from clumping and caking.

 

Iodine is a key mineral needed to prevent goiter.  It is naturally present in sea salt, but because it is a highly unstable element, it quickly evaporates away during the industrial refining process.  To prevent goiter, iodine (as potassium iodide, potassium iodate, sodium iodide, or sodium iodate) is often added back to table salt after refining is complete.  Sugar as dextrose and/or other ingredients such as sodium thiosulfate, sodium carbonate, or sodium bicarbonate6 are then added to stabilize iodine and make it bind to refined salt’s fine uniform crystals.  The popular Morton brand of table salt, much of which is produced from San Francisco Bay brine, is generally iodine as potassium iodide with the anti-caking agent, calcium silicate.

 

As mentioned above, sea salt is a whole food that is balanced to meet the body’s general mineral needs and in a form that can be readily assimilated.  After eons when people thrived on natural sea salt, we might wonder how the body is able to adapt in such a short time to modern table salt.  While part of our modern salt cravings may relate to our desire for grounding in a quick-paced, electric smog, stressful world, I suspect another part of our salt cravings may be rooted our body’s search for the essential minerals in sea salt that are refined away.  And, perhaps part of the reason that as a nation our health is suffering from consuming too much salt is that table salt creates imbalances in the body—the body may not be able to handle concentrated sodium chloride that lacks the complementary minerals of natural sea salt.  We can never fully know the implications for the body of eating fractured versus whole foods.  But, before we consider the problems related to salt consumption, let’s take a brief look at the important role that natural sea salt plays to promote good health.

 

Some important functions of salt in the body.  Using an Eastern lens, Chinese Five-Phase Theory7 tells us that salt is associated with the water element; the winter season of the year; the kidneys, bladder, and adrenals; the bones and teeth, and the ears and hearing; and, with will power and vitality and, conversely fear.  Like winter, salt is cooling and contracting, and its direction of energy in the body is inward and downward.   Salt crystals bring clarity and focus to thinking.  Salt moistens and softens; it stimulates the kidneys and adrenals (salty foods can perk us up when we are tired).  Mineral-rich salt strengthens the bones and teeth when used moderately, but in excess salt weakens the bones and the kidneys.8

 

Salt brings balance to the body in many ways.  It is contractive to counter the many expansive foods in our modern diet—refined sugar, refined flour products, sugary drinks, and alcohol.  As a contractive food, it may seem surprising that salt also goes well with other contractive foods like eggs and meat.  The reason is that meat and eggs, as well as grains and beans, are acid-forming foods.  Salt with its rich mineral composition is an alkalizing antidote; it also sharpens the taste of these otherwise bland foods.

 

So, apart from its ability to preserve food, taste is the obvious reason we put salt on the food we eat.  We are programmed to like the salty taste.   We crave “salty” second only to “sweet.”  Salt enhances “sweet” and tempers the flavors “bitter” and “sour.”  Salting home-cooked food also makes sense because salt aids digestion (chloride and hydrochloric acid), particularly of heavy proteins and starchy foods, potatoes and grains.   Finally, like sea vegetables and when used in cooking or at the table, sea salt can add minerals to vegetables and other home-cooked whole foods.

 

The Western lens and modern science adds additional perspective about salt:  Chemistry tells us that salt combines with water to create vital electrolytes needed to conduct electricity for cellular communication and brain/neurological function.  Salt helps us focus; it helps us think.

 

Both the sodium and chloride in salt perform other vital functions in the body.  The three major fluid systems of the body, the blood, lymph, and extracellular systems are salty and require salt for normal functioning.   Sodium is needed for the regulation of many body functions—for the nervous system; muscle contraction and proper heart function; fluid balance; digestion and the absorption of nutrients; the construction of some hormones; and, the regulation of blood pressure, to list a few.

 

Unlike sodium, chloride, the dominant component in sea salt, cannot be obtained through other foods.9 But, like sodium, chloride is an electrolyte supporting nerve and muscle function.  It is needed in a myriad of other body functions:    Chloride helps maintain proper blood pressure, volume and Ph balance; and, it supports digestion and immunity.

 

The Salt “Problem”

If you have read this far, you know by now that I believe a key problem with salt is the kind we use.  After all, we consume no more salt (in fact less) than a century ago, so why should salt be a problem?10. Granted, some of our modern health problem with salt may be related to lifestyle factors and to our potassium-deficient dietary habits (see potassium/sodium discussion that follows).  But shouldn’t we also question how the body reacts to pure sodium chloride as a substitute for the mineral-rich sea salts that have always been part of traditional diets?

 

We are advised today to remove the salt shaker from the table.  Yet, the shaker contributes ever so modestly to our salt consumption.    The problem appears to be not so much the salt shaker but that we purchase so much food that is prepared by others.  These commercial foods are designed to enhance taste and pleasure (blending salt, sugar, and fat) so that we come back for more, again and again.   When we purchase foods prepared by others, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, or fast food establishments, we relinquish our control over our salt intake.  Statistics regarding our modern food habits help to put the salt shaker into perspective:

 

  • About 10%  of our sodium intake comes naturally and directly through the whole foods we eat (largely from meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish; sea vegetables; and high-sodium vegetables like celery, beets, and carrots…see Table 1 that follows);
  • A little more than 5% is added through home cooking;
  • Roughly 75%-80% of the salt we consume is hidden in processed and restaurant foods.
  • Only 5% is added as a condiment at the table, mostly as refined table salt from a shaker ((My blended estimates from figures quoted in The Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1763.))

 

Salt warnings are generally based on scientific studies that show a link between salt and high blood pressure (salt helps to regulate blood volume, blood pressure, and the flexibility of blood vessels11 ) and, to a lesser degree, a link between salt and cancer.  But these studies do not use sea salt for testing.  We do not know if sea salt would lead to salt sensitivity and hypertension in the same way that table salt appears to.  In defense of this research, I have to allow that, since table salt is what we generally consume, it is the logical choice for research.  But should the finding of scientific studies that use table salt be extrapolated to naturally-harvested sea salts?  And, shouldn’t conclusions about salt intake also be made within the context of a person’s overall diet:  in particular, how much potassium a person consumes relative to sodium?

 

Sodium in the context of potassium we consume.   If you recall from high school science, the body needs to maintain potassium and sodium (the sodium/potassium pump) in a delicate balance to transport fluids in and out of every cell, to create energy for cellular/neurological communication, and generally to sustain life.  Leaving science aside, it is sufficient here to say simply that the body needs adequate potassium to balance sodium.

 

Many scientific studies suggest that a diet high in sodium and low in potassium is linked to high blood pressure, cancer, and cardiovascular disease and that a diet high potassium and low in sodium can significantly reduce the risk of these diseases.  While excessive sodium and deficient potassium often lead to high blood pressure, particularly for people who are salt-sensitive,12 studies also suggest that simply cutting back on sodium does not go far enough.  To lower blood pressure, lowering sodium intake must be coupled with higher levels of potassium.13

 

Unfortunately, for most people the potassium/sodium ratio is out of balance both due to how much salt (hidden in foods) we consume, and to how little potassium (as we skimp on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables) makes it into our diet.  Experts believe that we need about 1 gram of sodium per day, yet the typical American consumes 10 times this amount.14 Both epidemiological and experimental research suggest that for good health, a person’s potassium-to-sodium (K:Na) ratio should be at least 5:1.  For most Americans (from our reliance upon highly salted prepared products and restaurant foods), this ratio is tipped 10-fold in the opposite direction:  The typical American’s potassium/sodium ratio is 1:2, rather than >5:1 as recommended by health professionals.15

 

Table 1 on the following page is my effort to illustrate the favorable potassium/sodium relationship that results naturally from a whole foods diet:  All unprocessed foods—fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, as well as meat, poultry, and fish that I randomly sampled —have favorable K:Na ratios.  The opposite is true of all processed foods—they all contain far too much sodium relative to potassium.  A bagel, for example, with only 74 milligrams of potassium and 360 milligrams of sodium would have to have >1800 milligrams (360×5) of potassium to bring it to the >5:1 recommended guideline.  Thus, it is easy to see how consuming refined carbohydrates and other processed foods can quickly lead to potassium deficiencies.

 

Table 1 illustrates several specific ideas:

 

  • Most fruits and vegetables are extremely rich in potassium with potassium/sodium ratios that are many multiples above the K:Na guideline of  >5:1.
  • While most fruits have very high K:Na ratios because they have little or no sodium, this is not the case with all vegetables.  Some vegetables like celery and beets are not only rich sources of potassium, but they also have a meaningful sodium component.  This explains the generally lower K:Na ratios of these and other vegetables compared to most fruits.
  • Dried fruits like raisins and peaches are particularly high in potassium.  Through a process called biological transmutations, a raisin has 4-5 times the potassium of a fresh grape.  Drying fruits also elevates sodium levels, however, so that the K:Na ratios of raisins and dried peaches are no more favorable than for their fresh counterparts.

 

Table 1:  Potassium/Sodium Content of Selected Foods

(milligrams per serving)

Food Portion Potassium Sodium Potassium/Sodium
Fruits
Apple 1 159 1 159
Avocado 1 1204 21 57
Banana 1 451 1 451
Grapes 1 cup 296 3 99
Raisins 1 cup 1362 47 29
Orange 1 237 0 *
Peach 1 171 0 *
Peach, Dried 10 Halves 1295 9 144
Vegetables  
Asparagus 1 cup 404 2 202
Beets 1 cup 440 98 4
Broccoli 1 cup 286 24 12
Carrots 1 cup 356 38 9
Celery 1 cup 340 106 3
Kale 1 cup 299 29 10
Romaine 1 cup 162 4 41
Peas 1 cup 357 7 51
Baked Potato 1 782 6 130
Winter Squash 1 cup 945 2 473
Yams 1 cup 1508 17 89
Legumes, Beans, Grains, Seeds    
Garbanzos, Dried 1 cup 1516 52 29
Kidney Beans (Canned, in Water) 1 cup 629 6 104
Brown Rice 1 cup 420 16 26
Sunflower Seeds 1 cup 1334 4 334
Poultry, Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy        
Chicken Breast ½ 319 91 4
Hamburger 4 oz. 295 78 4
Beef Frankfurter 1 71 461 -6x
Flounder 3 oz. 307 69 4
Salmon 3 oz. 417 37 11
Tuna (in Water) 1 can 518 588
Eggs 1 65 69
Yogurt, Plain 1 cup 351 105 3
Prepared Foods  
Bagel 1 74 360 -5x
Corn  Flakes 1 ¼ cup 26 351 -14x
Cake Donut 1 29 160 -5x
Cheerios 1 ¼ cup 101 307 -3x
Chicken Broth 1 cup 210 776 -3x
Black Bean Soup 1 cup 1198 273 -4x
Vegetable Soup 1 cup 823 209 -4x

Source:  Pathways4Health, computed from the  Nutrition Almanac by Lavon Dunne.

 

  • Other plant foods such as whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are rich sources of potassium.
  • Animal flesh is also a good source of potassium and, while also a good source of sodium, it has a healthy K:Na ratio.  This is also true of most fish, with the exception of tuna.
  • The natural sodium in animal-based foods explains why early hunter/nomads did not need to search for salt as did later agrarian cultures…animal flesh provided the salt needed for survival.

Obviously, what Table 1 illustrates is  that the way to boost potassium relative to sodium is to prepare food at home whenever possible.  If you do not cook, try to consume large quantities of fruits and vegetables.  When shopping for packaged foods in the grocery store, read labels for both the sodium and the potassium content.  Become familiar with foods with a favorable potassium/sodium profile.  Many experts believe that boosting potassium relative to sodium can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cancer.  Potassium is one of the keys reasons that anti-cancer diets stress consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables  across a color spectrum.

 

And, a final comment on salt and health:  Recognizing the importance of sodium in the context of potassium intake, it seems logical that to interpret any study about salt and high blood pressure/cardiovascular disease, or salt and cancer, we need to know not only a subject’s salt intake, but also how much potassium a person consumes.

 

Becoming a Salt Gourmet.

A simple maxim seems to follow from the above:  The more whole foods we buy and prepare ourselves, the more leeway we have to experiment and have fun with artisanal, hand-crafted, mineral-rich salt, both through cooking and at the table.  Because prepared foods explain 70%-80% of the salt consumed by Americans, just cooking meals that emphasize potassium-rich whole foods solves much of the problem.   With the recent, albeit spotty, revival of traditional artisanal salt-making around the globe, there are many gourmet salts to explore and choose from.

 

An appreciation of fine salt dates back at least to the 15th Century and Jean, duc de Berry whose bejeweled saltcellars were presented at the table, one to accompany each new course.16  In this spirit, we are beginning to appreciate that artisanal salts, like a good wine, can richly complement most foods. High quality artisanal salt, like the complexity of a fine wine, comes in many varieties, each with its own nuance of flavor and texture, a product of local environment, climate, and artisanal tradition.  Also, like wine, salts can be confusing.  Let taste be your guide and expect to pay more for quality.  Because salt is used in small quantities, if can be the best investment and complement to any meal.

 

A Guide to Some Popular Sea Salts.

 

After thousands of years of struggle to make salt white and of even grain, affluent people will now pay more for salts that are odd shapes and colors.”…Mark Kurlansky

 

Hand-harvested French sea salts produced at the mouth of the Loire—from Noirmoutier, Bourgneuf, Guerande, and the Ile de Re—are some of the oldest and still most reliable sources of wind and solar evaporated sea salts.  These salt marshes and supplementary artificial ponds were first developed when the land was controlled by the Vikings, who needed salt to preserve their catch of cod.

 

In 1972 a small group of surviving French salt makers formed Le Groupement des Producterus de Sel to create quality and production standards and to begin to expand and market Celtic sea salt to global markets.  From these producers come two high-quality, mineral-rich artisanal sea salts, which are the first two listed below:

 

  • Fleur de sel—the finest quality French salt, consisting of delicate flakes that embody a special nuanced aroma derived from organic elements that are incorporated in the evaporation process at the surface of the salt ponds.17  Fleur de sel crystals form on the pond surface and must be skillfully raked off and harvested before they have time to sink to the gray porcelain clay pond bottom.  Fleur de sel is expensive and its character and crunch should be savored as a condiment.  Like a great wine, its delicate, nuanced character as well as its “crunch” raises it to a level too fine to be used for cooking.
  • Sel Gris—like fleur de sel, “gray salt” is an artisanal solar-evaporated, irregular-crystal salt that is full of moisture and trace minerals. It is harvested by raking crystals from the bottom of the clay open-air evaporating ponds soon after they form and sink to the bottom.  Thus, sel gris contains small amounts of porcelain clay that gives it a gray coloration.  In contrast to kosher and mined salts that lack moisture and dry out foods during roasting, baking, and cooking , the high moisture content (13%) means that sel gris can be used in cooking to seal in a food’s flavor and natural juices .  As Mark Bitterman suggests, “Sel gris is the most natural and cost-effective choice for anyone looking to replace artificially refined salts such as table salt, koshering salt, or mass-produced salt.”18   French fleur de sel and sel gris can be purchased on line,  http://www.celticseasalt.com/

 

  • Non-French Sel Gris—other artisanal solar evaporated sel gris sea salts, each with its own character stamped by the land and environmental conditions, are harvested in other parts of the globe.  Mediterranean artisans use salt evaporating pans that are lined with basalt, sand, or concrete, which impart a different quality from the clay pans of Brittany.  In contrast, Philippine producers line their dark mud salt fields with tiles to assure greater purity and ease of harvesting.19

 

  • Traditional salts—this is a broad catch-all category.  Traditional salts are salts that are allowed to accumulate at the bottom of the evaporating pan for months at a time (in contrast to the daily harvesting of natural-crystals sel gris) so that much more can be harvested.  While rich in minerals, the resulting crystals are large and irregular and are generally ground mechanically to finer crystals.   Sel marin is an example.

 

  • Flake salts—are flat and thin, unlike the dense granules of traditional salts.  While some fine quality flake salts such as Maldon from the south coast of England are from carefully raking salts from the surface of brine and are true artisanal products, many flake salts are produced mechanically by rolling granulated salt.20  Flake salts give a short-lived, bold, intense punch to foods.21

 

  • Rock salts—these large, hard-crystal salts are mined from within the earth.  Here, they have been compressed by pressure over millions of years so they lack moisture.   They tend to be less mineral-rich than solar evaporated salts and their mineral complements vary with location. Their low moisture content and the beauty of colored crystals characteristic of many varieties make them an ideal choice for salt grinders.  Himalayan pink salt, which is aggressively marketed by Pakistani producers, is a popular example of rock salt.

 

  • Kosher salt—an industrial salt with a harsh flavor that lacks the natural minerals or moisture of sea salt.  Its course texture is artificially manufactured.  It is not a true sea salt.22

 

  • “Sea salt”—many salts that claim to be sea salts are really industrial salts from salt water bodies contiguous to dense population areas, such as Morton salt, which is largely mined from San Francisco Bay.  Industrial “sea salts” are washed, ground, and often include anti-caking agents.23 It is wise to research and read the labels of any sea salt that you buy.

 

Storing Sea Salt

Moist sea salts like fleur de sel, sel gris, and other hand-harvested moist salts lose some of their quality when they are allowed to dry out.  They should be stored in a glass, air-tight container, with small amounts placed on the table as a condiment and then promptly sealed again after use.  Salts that have lost some moisture can be restored by stirring in 1 teaspoon of water for every 8 ounces of salt.24

 

Salt Shopping Guide:

Individual Producers/Marketers:

Andes pink salt (714-522-0700)

Celtic sea salt (800-867-7258) and www.

Sea Works unrefined sea salt (800-656-3668)

Tropical Salt Corporation (877-323-6611)

 

Specialty Salt Retailers (providing a wide spectrum of salts):

The Meadow, www.atthemeadow.com

Saltworks, www.saltworks.com

Salt Traders, www.salttraders.com

Kalustyans, www.kalustyans.com

 

 

Reading Resources:

Mark Bitterman, Salted

Mark Kurlansky, Salt:  A World History

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

Sally Fallon Morell, “The Salt of the Earth,” http://www.westonaprice.org/vitamins-and-minerals/the-salt-of-the-earth

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods.

Joseph Pizzorno, Jr. and Michael T. Murray, Textbook of Natural Medicine.

Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.

 

 

Sea Salt Recipe:  Rib Steak in Salt Crust

 

Sel gris with its high moisture content was the traditional salt used in salt crust cooking.  With heat, the inherent moisture of sel gris forms a crust to seal in a food’s natural moisture.  Unfortunately today, many salt crust recipes call for kosher salt, which is cheap and dehydrates food.   This recipe restores the traditional way of using high-moisture sel gris to seal in the natural juices of steak.

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 two-rib bone-in rib steak (about 3 pounds, 2”-3” thick)

1 t. freshly cracked black pepper

2 pounds sel gris, such as sel gris de l’ile de Noirmoutier

2-5 T. water

Leaves from 2 rosemary sprigs

 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat a heavy iron skillet over high heat for 10 minutes until very hot.  Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.  Pat the surface of the steak dry and season with the cracked pepper.  Brown the steak on both sides, 1-2 minutes per side.

Have ready a baking dish just large enough to hold the steak.  Press the sel gris between your fingers.  It should be moist enough to stick together.  Otherwise, stir in a few tablespoons of water until the salt is moist enough to cling together when firmly pressed.

Spread the sel gris ½ inch thick in the baking dish.  Scatter half the rosemary leaves over the salt.  Place the steak on top and scatter the remaining rosemary leaves over the steak.  Pack the salt around the steak until it is completely encased.  Bake for 30 minutes for rare, or 40 minutes for medium-rare.

Serve with your favorite herb butter.

Source:  Mark Bitterman

 

Copyright 2011 Pathways4Health.org

  1. Amagansett Sea Salt, www.amagansettseasalt.com. []
  2. See Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 202. []
  3. Calculated from Mark Bitterman, Salted, 33. []
  4. Bitterman, 25. []
  5. Bitterman, 191. []
  6. Bitterman, 191. []
  7. See http://pathways4health.org/2010/03/01/chinese-5-phase-theory/ []
  8. See Paul Pitchford, 196-204. []
  9. Sally Fallon Morell, “The Salt of the Earth:  Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” 31. []
  10. Fallon, 30 []
  11. Fallon, 31. []
  12. Salt sensitivity varies with the individual and seems driven by genetic makeup, age, stress, exercise, and the relationship between sodium and potassium in the foods that a person consumes. []
  13. Adequate levels of calcium, vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B6, and omega-3 oils also appear to be helpful.  For a discussion and bibliography of journal studies, see Joseph Pizzorno, Jr. and Michael T. Murray,Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1762-1767. []
  14. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, 642. []
  15. Pizzorno and Murray, 1763. []
  16. Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History, 146-7. []
  17. McGee, 642. []
  18. Bitterman, 78. []
  19. Bitterman, 55. []
  20. McGee, 641. []
  21. Bitterman, 77. []
  22. Bitterman, 185. []
  23. Bitterman, 189-90. []
  24. Bitterman, 199. []