Friday, April 26, 2013

Guardian of Delights

The food writers in the Guardian newspaper tickle my 'food bone'.  I have baked savoury pies and sourdough breads a la Dan Lepard and whipped up lovely fudge and 'killer' brownies from Nigel Slater.  These men are both more than a dab hand in the kitchen and I am all the better baker for it.

I somewhat recently stumbled upon Nigel Slater's take on herbed salts.  Below is an extract from a Guardian piece dated 14.4.2013.  The bold face print is mine.

Flavoured salts are good with grilled meats, too – and making them is easy. You chop the herb leaves (thyme, rosemary, fennel or lavender buds, perhaps) and mix them one-third to two with salt, let the mixture dry a little, then keep it in a stoppered jar. The process becomes even more interesting when you marry a couple of herbs together or introduce a little spice, or even garlic.
Right now my favourite is a salt that has thyme leaves and crushed juniper folded through it. In the last couple of weeks its cold Nordic notes have seasoned lamb cutlets from the grill and a sea bream baked whole. The salt also had an outing with sautéed potatoes, scattered over as they finished cooking.
Rosemary needles, dill fronds, fennel, thyme, savory and celery seeds can be used to add a herbal note to salt. But less popular herbs are interesting, too. Lavender works nicely with grilled chicken. I grew myrtle last year, a herb that has seen less of the inside of my kitchen than it could. Its slight bitterness needs to be tamed. It worked well enough in a pork casserole (with apples and cider) but I like the leaves best when they are pounded with salt (use a pestle and mortar), then used to bring life to a beef casserole.
We can crank the herb salt up with other flavourings, too. Serving grilled chicken skin, salty and crisp, with a dish of mayo is one of the better ideas I have come across lately – but we can take it on a bit. By grilling the skin until it crunches, then crushing it into a coarse powder and tossing the result with sea salt and a few herbs, we have an original and extraordinary seasoning that can be used with both green and root vegetables, potatoes and, as I do today, popcorn.
Of course you can do the work in a food processor, but I prefer to chop the herbs by hand or to mash them with a pestle and mortar. Herb-flavoured salts will keep in a sealed jar for several weeks (though not the chicken-skin one below). The crucial detail is to let them dry for 24 hours first. The most successful way to do this is to scatter the pounded herbs and salt on a tray, in a shallow layer, and leave it in a warm but airy place. Bottle tightly, then keep it near the cooker, using it as the mood takes you.

Spring has seen a proliferation of potted herbs at the major supermarkets here in Zurich.  I recently purchased lavender, oregano, and sage plants and stuck them in the sunniest spot in the flat.  The sage has developed some little, white-ish spots on its leaves, but the other two seem to be flourishing.  Not keen on the look of the sage, I have instead been cooking with sprigs of lavender in just about every meat dish made this past week and I rather like its flavour.  Last year, I put some flowers from the lavender we growing in the garden of our old flat into a jar of sugar, so we're set to make lavender lemon drop cocktails as the mood strikes.

Happy Lavender!

Lavender salt will be next!

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