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Friday, January 20, 2017

California Gourmet: Herb-infused Finishing Salts


 
Finishing salts can be made with California native plant flavors.

Professional chefs know a secret or two about using flavors.   Often it’s the finishing touches – the sauces, the toppings or the seasonings sprinkled atop a dish – that give it that extra zing.  Creative finishing touches are making their way into home kitchens as well, where amateur chefs are doing amazing things with them.

We’ve discussed how to dry native fruits (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html) and aromatic leaves (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/04/california-gourmet-making-flavored.html) in previous posts.  Dried herbs/fruits can be used for herbal tea or as flavoring agents.  In fact, some California gardeners use them routinely.

In January, some of our aromatic native shrubs begin to leaf out again.  With new resources on the way, January’s a good time to go through the spice cupboard and use up last year’s native bounty.     One possibility is to use them to create unique and tasty finishing salts.   These make great gifts, as well as staples for the spice cupboard.

Traditional finishing touches often feature the flavors of garden herbs, fruits and berries.  But California’s native flavors are gaining popularity.  Some of our more inventive chefs now feature California native flavors in their restaurants.   Finishing salts are just one way to use native plant flavors creatively.

Finishing salts are simply salts (NaCl) flavored with dried or fresh herbs/flowers, fruits, citrus zest – even wine or vinegar.   They can be used in many ways, including as rubs or a finishing touch for meats, seafood and vegetables; or as a topping on breads or in bread stuffings.  You can use them on popcorn, fried foods, eggs or cheese dishes.  The sweeter varieties are used sparingly  on deserts, candies and beverages.  You can likely find additional uses for these interesting and zesty salts.

Native mints can be dried and used to flavor finishing salts.
 
Any of the dried native herbs/fruits you use in cooking (or for native tea) can be used for flavoring finishing salts.  Here are a few ideas:

          Native sages (Salvias)

          Native mints (Mentha; Monardella; Pynanthemum)

          Native artemisias (Artemisia californica; A. douglasiana; A. dracunculus)

Dried or fresh native onions (edible Allium species like Allium hematochiton; A. praecox; A. unifolium)

Dried rose petals

Edible native berries (dried and ground; hard seeds removed by sieving)

 
You can combine native herbs with non-native (kitchen) herbs and spices, citrus zest, other dried fruits, dried onion, etc.   A spicier blend might include chili, sriracha or curry powder.  Other common kitchen herbs and spices can also work wonderfully – as long as the blend of the salt, native spice(s) and other seasonings tastes good.   We suggest making a small batch when trying new flavor combinations.  You’ll find you like many, while a few are best viewed as failed experiments.  

The final product also depends on the flavor of the salt.  Unrefined salts from different parts of the world have their own unique flavors.  Their textures range from coarse to flaky to fine grained.   You may already have a favorite gourmet salt that you use.  If not, unflavored sea salts or coarse kosher salts are readily available, relatively inexpensive and good place to start for the new salt-flavorer.
            

Making herb-infused finishing salts with dried flavorings is easy.
 
Basic Recipe Using Dried Flavorings

This is a basic, starter recipe.  You can combine favorite dried native/kitchen herbs in any combination that works for your palette.  We suggest starting with these amounts; you can always add more flavorings, if needed.

Yields 2 ounces

Ingredients

·         1 tablespoon dried leaf spice/flower petals/dried berry fruits/other kitchen spices or 1 teaspoon dried citrus peel (lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, etc.)

·         2 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt, coarse kosher salt or flake salt

Directions

All flavoring agents (spices, herbs, fruits) must be completely dried and ground prior to using.  For most intense flavors, the dried flavoring agents should be ground just prior to preparing the seasoning salt.  

·         To prepare dried leaf herbs/flower petals, finely grind in a spice mill, blade coffee grinder (we like KitchenAid® Blade Coffee Grinder; used only for grinding spices) or mortar and pestle. You can grind each herb separately or grind them all together.   Remove large, unground stems, pieces.  Measure.


·         To prepare dried citrus peel, grate the peel (colored part only) using a fine grater.  Dry in a warm, dry place or on a cookie sheet in a warm oven (never more than 170° F - 75° C), watching closely. Cool and measure.
 

·         To prepare dried berries/fruits, first be sure that they are well-dried.  Grind dry fruits in a spice mill, blade coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.  Sieve dried mixture to remove hard, unground seeds (if any).  Discard seeds, then measure.

Combine salt and prepared seasonings in spice mill or blade coffee grinder.  Blend with 4-6 quick pulses (or grind coarsely).  That’s it!    Store seasoning salt in a labeled, airtight jar (glass is best) in the spice cupboard.   Best flavor if used within 2-4 months.

 

Fresh herbs can also be used to make herb-infused finishing salts.
 

Basic Recipe Using Fresh Flavorings

When using fresh herbs, heat is utilized to infuse the salt with additional flavor.  We like the microwave method because it’s easy and produces good flavors.  The oven method (using a conventional oven) is more traditional.  You might try both, to see which method produces the best result with your favorite herbs. 

Yields about 6 ounces

Ingredients
 
·         2 Tablespoons fresh herbs, washed and diced finely before measuring  or 2 Tablespoons fresh citrus peel (lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, etc.)

·         ½ cup (8 Tablespoons) unrefined sea salt, coarse kosher salt or flake salt

·         Optional: other dried kitchen herbs/spices – to taste


Directions (microwave method)

Place all ingredients in a microwave-proof container (Pyrex is good) with a lid.   Stir to blend.  Cover and microwave on High for 30 seconds.   Stir.  Cover and microwave on High for an additional 30-45 seconds (depending on microwave).  Check quickly; flavoring agents should be soft. 

Replace cover, remove from microwave and cool to room temperature.  This step steeps the flavors of the herbs into the salt.

Stir cooled salt mixture and place on a large plate.  Air dry in a warm place until dry.   Or spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and dry in a conventional oven at 300° F (150° C) for about 15 minutes.  You can also oven dry in a warm oven (never more than 170° F - 75° C) for an hour or so.  Check and stir salt every 15 minutes.

Cool to room temperature.  Place in spice mill, blade coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.  Pulse quickly 4-6 times (or grind coarsely) to blend.  Remove any large pieces of unground herbs. Store in a labeled, airtight jar (glass is best) in the spice cupboard.   Best flavor if used within 2-4 months.
 


 
Directions (conventional oven method)

Place all ingredients in a bowl; stir to mix. Spread mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and dry in a conventional oven at 300° F (150° C) for about 15 minutes.  Watch closely.  Remove from oven when dry.

Cool to room temperature.  Place in spice mill, blade coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.  Pulse quickly 4-6 times (or grind coarsely) to blend.  Remove any large pieces of unground herbs. Store in a labeled, airtight jar (glass is best) in the spice cupboard.   Best flavor if used within 2-4 months.
 


Wine and vinegar can be combined with native flavors to
 create tangy flavored finishing salts.
 
Basic Recipe for Reduction Method (Fresh or Dried Flavorings in Wine or Vinegar)

If you like the taste of wine or vinegar, you might try using these, with or without other flavorings, to produce flavored finishing salts.  Many native plant flavorings combine nicely with vinegars. We suggest reading our post on flavored vinegars (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2014/01/california-gourmet-making-flavored.html) for ideas.  In fact, you can even use flavored vinegars to make the finishing salts.

Homemade flavored vinegars produce the mildest flavored finishing salts.  Dried herbs, simmered with the wine or vinegar in this recipe, make a slightly stronger flavored salt.  Fresh herbs, which are also simmered in this method, make the strongest, most tangy salts.

As always, you’ll need to play around a bit to get the flavors right.  In these salts, the herbs/spices/fruits, the type of vinegar/wine and the salt each impart their own flavor to the mix.  Our posting on flavored vinegars gives some pointers on matching vinegar type to flavoring agents.  Remember that some wines and vinegars are strong flavors on their own.  You’ll need robust herbs to stand up to such strong flavors.

Traditional recipes for the reduction method use 3 cups of wine for every cup of salt [see reference 3].  We’ve modified the proportions and methods a bit in the recipe below.

 

Yields about 6 ounces

Ingredients


·         1/3 cup fresh herbs, washed and bruised/coarsely chopped   or 1 Tablespoon fresh citrus zest (zest from one lemon, orange, lime, etc.)   or 1-2 Tablespoons dried, crushed or ground herbs/petals/berries/kitchen spices

·         1 cup wine or vinegar of choice

·         1/3 to ½ cup (8 Tablespoons) unrefined sea salt, coarse kosher salt or flake salt

·         Optional: other dried kitchen herbs/spices – to taste

·         Optional: additional dried

 
Directions

In a non-reactive/non-aluminum saucepan, combine vinegar/wine and flavorings (or flavored vinegar).  Heat to a simmer.  Simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes.  If using fresh herbs or citrus zest, strain these out and discard on compost heap.  If using dried herbs/spices, strain these out at 10 minutes.  Return saucepan to stove and simmer on low heat until volume is reduced by about one-half.   Stir often and be sure it doesn’t stick or burn.

Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Add salt and mix well.  Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and air dry (will take several days). Stir every few hours to speed drying.  Or oven dry in a warm oven (never more than 170° F - 75° C) for an hour or so until dry.  Check and stir salt every 15 minutes.  Break up clumps as salt dries. 

 

Dried, ground herbs (optional) can be added at this point for interest and additional flavor.  If adding dried herbs, place dried salt and ground herbs in spice mill, blade coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.  Pulse quickly 4-6 times (or grind coarsely) to blend.

Store in a labeled, airtight jar (glass is best) in the spice cupboard.   Best flavor if used within 2-4 months.
 

Enjoy your unique, California Gourmet flavored finishing salt.
 
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We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com
 
 
 
 

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