Monday, January 18, 2016

How To Make Your Own Finishing Salts at Home

The last thing you put on your food is usually the first thing your guests will taste.

Someone once told me that in a cooking class and I have found it to be quite true.  That's why one of the last things a chef does is taste and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.  We take advantage of this at competitions, adding a little smoke, salt, and/or heat at the very end of cooking.

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Salt brings out and enhances the natural flavors of food. Finishing salts are a great way to do that and add a dramatic flare to your meals.  A small sprinkle of fleur de sel wakes up the taste of your food.  But a flavored finishing salt does even more by building on top of the flavor profile of your dish. 

Pro kitchen tip:  Using a fine, flavored salt at the end of cooking elevates your dish.

Adam Perry Lang has several recipes for gourmet finishing salts in his most recent book, Charred and Scruffed. His process is different than just seasoning salt with some dry herbs and spices.  The liquid dries onto the salt as it re-crystalizes in the dehydrator imparting intense tastes.

I have made a few of them with good results.  Recently,  I "borrowed" his process and came up with a few finishing salts of my own.

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Collection of finishing salts, L to R:  Lime-Coriander, Worcestershire-Shallot, Lemon-Bourbon-Honey, and St. Augustine Beach Sand.

Basic Process
APL's process starts with 1 cup of very coarse sea salt.  He adds about 1/3 cup of an intensely flavored liquid and 1-2 tablespoons of aromatics, herbs, or other seasoning.  He mixes it all together and then dries in a dehydrator at 105°f for 10-12 hours.  He grinds it and puts it back in for another 2 hours and then it's done.  

The salt needs to be as coarse as you can find.  We have had good success with Alessi coarse sea salt that we can get locally.  One of these containers will get you 2 batches.  We sift ours through a sieve for the fine salt and keep what doesn't go through for a coarse batch.  Fine salt works better as a finishing salt but I liked to have the coarse on hand too.

We use this Nesco dehydrator which we bought a year or two ago.  We've been happy with it.  It works well, operates quietly, and cleans up easily.  If you don't have one, APL says you can also use the lowest setting on a convection oven with the door propped open.

Lime Coriander Salt
Lime Coriander Salt
This is one of APL's recipes.  Add 1/3 cup fresh lime juice and 1 tablespoon each of lime zest, coriander, and a crumbled dried red chile.  Mix together with your cup of salt, spread it out, dry it out, and grind up.  (Note:  He puts the chile in after grinding, I like it ground up in there.)

This one would go good on grilled seafood, chicken, and anything Tex-Mex.  APL says it's also good on pork, specifically pulled pork.

Worcestershire and Shallot Salt

Worcestershire and Shallot Salt
Add 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce and 1 1/2 tablespoons dried shallot to 1 cup of coarse salt.   Spread it out, dry it out, and grind it up.  Add 1 tablespoon of fresh ground black pepper and dry for 2 more hours.  We bought this package of dried shallots on Amazon and have used it in rubs and sauces but you could use 1 tablespoon of dried onions instead.

This one obviously goes well with beef.  Sprinkle the fine salt on sliced steaks, roasts, or ribs. I want to try the coarse ground salt on a brisket as a dry brine.

Lemon Bourbon Honey Salt

Lemon Bourbon Honey Salt
How can you go wrong with those ingredients?  One cup of coarse sea salt, zest of one lemon, 1/4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons bourbon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Spread it out and dry in a dehydrator at 105°f for 10-12 hours.  Grind it up and put back into the dehydrator until dry and no longer sticky, about 8 more hours for us.

Tip:  Most honey you can buy in the stores is either adulterated with corn syrup and other sweeteners or not honey at all (Tests Show Most Honey Isn't Honey).  Find a local supplier - we buy ours from beekeeper and pitmaster, Ken Hess.

This has a bright, slightly sweet and subtlety smoky flavor that is perfect for BBQ.

St Augustine Beach Sand

St. Augustine Beach Sand
One cup very coarse sea salt, 1-2 habanero chile (seeded and diced), zest from 1 lime, 1/4 cup lime juice, and 1-2 ounces of silver tequila.  Spread it out and dry in a dehydrator at 105°f for 10-12 hours.  Grind it up and put back into the dehydrator until dry, about 2 hours.

This is great for grilled chicken, seafood, and anything TexMex.  It has a citrus kick, surprisingly mild heat, and the tequila flavor is in the background.  It has a tropical flare to it but it got it's name when Alexis saw it spread out on a plate and declared it looked like beach sand.  The name stuck.

The Gulf Coast of Florida has squeaky white sand but where I grew up in NE Florida, sand is full of small pieces of broken shells and it looks like this salt.

Tequila lime habanero salt recipe
I used one habanero but should have gone with two because it was relatively mild in heat.

St Augustine Beach Sand before grinding. Notice this is on parchment paper so it doesn't fall through the dehydrator trays.  It worked but the salt stuck to some of the parchment.  It was easier using plates instead.

Sifting the salt.  You could simply throw the coarse parts back into the grinder to process again. But I wanted to coarse salt too.

finishing salt recipe
St Augustine Beach Sand after grinding. 
Ball rub jars, spice jars for BBQ, BBQ rub jars, flip top spice top
 Someone asked me about the salt shakers we use for dry rubs.  They are just Ball "jelly jar" sized jars with the Ball flip top shaker lid.  We get ours at Target but you can also buy them online.  These are great if you make a lot of your own rubs.

Finishing Salt Put To Use
I couldn't wait to try the Lemon Honey Bourbon salt on a rack of ribs.  At competitions, some pitmasters hit the sauced ribs with a little fine salt to bring out the flavors.  I hoped the lemon would brighten the flavor, the honey enhance the sweetness, and the bourbon bring out the smokiness.

I stumbled onto Cheshire Heritage Farms at independent grocery store, Butler and Bailey, in Knoxville.  No junk in the pigs, no junk in the packaging.  They are thick and perfectly trimmed St Louis style.  The pork has good flavor.  I will be using these in competitions this year.

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I had a knife out but didn't have to touch it, the ribs from Cheshire are perfectly trimmed.  Seasoning was black pepper and a 50/50 mix of Meat Church Deez Nuts and Smoking Guns Hot.

pork ribs
I smoked the ribs in "Big Blue", my Grill Dome kamado smoker and grill. Two and a half hours naked at 275-285°f, 45 minutes wrapped (with agave, butter, brown sugar), and finished naked until nice and "bendy".
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A quick glaze of my BBQ sauce and then back into the smoke for 8-10 minutes.

Kamado smoked ribs, BGE ribs,
Sprinkling with the Lemon Honey Bourbon salt, it doesn't take much.  Maybe 1 teaspoon for the whole rack.  It's important to spread the salt evenly and lightly.
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Grill Dome nailed 'em again.  Could I taste the lemon, honey, or bourbon?  No, you shouldn't be able to taste them individually.  It's supposed to bring out and enhance, not cover up.

There are a few other things we want to try.  I want to make a finishing salt for pork using Apple Pie flavored moonshine and maybe some cinnamon.  I also think it would be good to stick the wet salt mix into a smoker for a bit before putting it into the dehydrator.  

[FTC Standard Disclosure]  Grill Dome is the official kamado sponsor for my blog.  I received no compensation for this post otherwise.  I paid full price for the dehydrator, the jars, Adam's book, and Cheshire pork.