Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Salt of the earth

It is a long held belief that the spilling of salt is a portent of evil.  In ancient times, salt was indispensible in the preservation of food and difficult to attain.  It was such a rare and valuable commodity that salt was literally worth its weight in gold and often used as legitimate currency. Spilling something so precious could be seen as nothing less than ominous. 

The spilling of salt was, in fact, considered nearly blasphemous.  Leaving the hapless offender exposed to temptation, bad luck and other such bad things.

People believed that the good spirits lived on the right side and the bad spirits lived on the left side; perhaps because the devil sits at the left hand of God or maybe that he is to the left of the straight and narrow path. Picture the classic image of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.  The bad guy is most often portrayed sitting on the left side.

In any case, tossing the salt over the left shoulder is throwing the salt into the face of the demon that lurks there . . . and this should be done with the right or “good” hand. 

Throughout history, the association of right with good and left with bad caused a number of perfectly respectable left-handed people to be burned at the stake.

Perhaps the notion of spilt salt being a bad omen is somewhat validated by the betrayal of Jesus by his disciple Judas.  If you look closely at the Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper you will see that Judas Iscariot has knocked over a salt-cellar.  A sign of the treachery soon to follow? It’s something to consider.


Anyhoo . . . I like meat . . . there’s no denying it. . . I can give up a lot of things, but never that!  And, as much as I like meat, I LOVE a great steak.  There’s not much that can compare with a tender, juicy slab of beef that’s perfectly cooked and dripping with juices. 

Would someone please get me a tissue?  I just drooled on my keyboard. 

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t salt meat before you cook it, right?  And that salting the meat will dry it out and make it like leather, yes?

Wrong and a resounding no . . .

In fact, meat that is properly salted before cooking can be much more flavorful, juicier and succulent than meat that isn't salted!   Salting actually has an amazing tenderizing effect on meat, any kind of meat; and it works especially well for tougher cuts of meat and wild game.  It won’t taste salty . . . just seriously nom-dilly-icious.

I’m not saying to sprinkle salt on your steak and throwing it on the grill.  That salt will just sit on the surface of the steak and leave the inside tasteless.  I’m talking about properly salting the meat.  The key is to salt early to give it time to do its magic.  Keep in mind that the salt will work faster at room temperature than in the fridge and that fattier meat absorbs salt faster so you want to use less salt and less time.

Salting works by drawing the water out of the meat and you will actually see it puddling on the surface.  That’s okay because some of it will get reabsorbed along with a little of the salt which will somewhat break down the muscle fibers, dissolve a bit of the fat and tenderize it.  Furthermore, salt encourages the movement of moisture inside the meat cells  . . . psst, osmosis.

Cook’s Illustrated January 08 issue - they salt a 4lb roast beef with 4 tsp kosher salt and salting for 18-24 hrs.

PLAN AHEAD:  Make sure you start with a cut of meat that is at least one inch thick and then plan to salt your steaks 1 hour before cooking for every inch of thickness.  If you need more time, use less salt.

Season liberally with kosher or sea salt on both sides; approximately, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher/sea salt PER SIDE.  I know it seems like a lot, but remember that only a little of the salt goes into the meat.  And don’t use table salt . . . it really is not the same. I actually use Kosher salt almost exclusively. 

Once the steaks are salted, just let them sit out at room temperature.  As time passes you will see the water come up to the surface.  After about an hour you will see puddles on top of the steak and there will be salt remaining. 

It’s important to discard the excess water and rinse the steak really well to get rid of the excess salt.  It is equally important to pat the steak very very dry with a paper towel because you don’t want to steam the meat. 

Now you’re ready to cook up an awesome, juicy, tasty steak.

I topped these steaks with Garlic Herbed Butter . . .

  • ½ cup (or 1 stick) of soft unsalted butter
  • handful of fresh herbs (whatever you like – I used parsley and tarragon)
  • 1-3 cloves minced garlic

Combine all ingredients. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Spoon butter mixture on wrap. Roll and shape butter into a log. Refrigerate to firm up for 30 minutes. Slice into 1/4” disks to top the grilled steaks. You can make butter up to 3 days in advance.

1 comment:

  1. 13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matthew 5

    49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
    50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. Mark 9