I’ve cooked and prepared food on many surfaces, from kitchen tables to griddle pans, stove tops and chopping boards to cool chilled marble so perfect for pastry. One thing I had never prepared/cooked any sort of food on was a salt block.
For me salt has always been seen as a seasoning. A wonderful foodstuff dating back through millenia, something once so highly prized that only the rich could indulge and now something we take totally for granted. I do love salt though and always bring back tubs of the famous Fleur De Sel from France every time I go over there. I’ve flavoured my own salt and bought gorgeous smoked salts and other salty delights. But when all is said and done salt has always been something I put into my food not something I made the food on.
Things changed for me when I met the team from The Salt House in Ayr at The Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair last week. What these guys don’t know about salt can be written on a grain of the stuff. They have been importers of salt down on the harbour in Ayr for a great many years and sell all sorts from rock salt to Hawaiian black lava salt, Japanese salts to my beloved French Fleur de Sel and of course that wonderful pink Himalayan salt.
They also sell these Himalayan Salt Blocks that one uses to prepare and cook food on. I was intrigued at this. Lured by the sheer beauty of these blocks (and the mortar and pestle) in glowing pink I just had to know more about how you could actually use them.
It is quite simple really, the salt block imparts its saltiness to your food either when you heat the block on stove top or in the oven and then use like a griddle plate to cook meat, fish and veggies. You can also chill or freeze the block and use it to make wonderfully savoury ice-cream, what a summery treat that would be. What I wanted to try though was making salt block pickles that would be ready to eat in just a couple of hours instead of having to wait days to get at the lip puckering delights.
I started by making my pickling spice mix and grinding 6 coriander seeds, 2 cloves, 1 cardamom pod, 3 black pepper corns and an allspice berry in the gorgeous salt block mortar and pestle. When you grind the spices they are picking up the salt from the bowl at the same time (I can’t wait to use this in my pesto making). I added a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to my spices and a tablespoon of the Scottish blossom honey I got from Plan Bee last week. I am a huge believer in putting good quality ingredients into anything I make as you will always get a better end product if you start with good building blocks.
I then had to decide what to pickle and went for my old Mediterranean favourites of aubergine, red pepper and courgettes, a threesome that party together beautifully on the plate.
To pickle your veggies on a salt block all you do is slice them approximately 0.5cm/1/4″ dip them in the pickling mixture and then lay them out on the salt block to ‘cure’.
The aubergine slices had a 1 hour cure time and the others just took 30 minutes each. I turned everything over half way through the curing process.
Once they were done it was just a case of patting dry on kitchen paper and serving them up just as they are.
They are crisp and so tangy and with that true pucker up that a good pickle should always have.
You can serve them just as you would any other pickled veggies and they will keep in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week. Mine only lasted two days as I couldn’t resist nibbling on them whenever I passed the fridge.
I am so glad that I was lured by the pretty pink display of salt blocks at the fair last week. Salt block cooking has added another dimension to my kitchen repertoire and I shall be trying everything from salting strawberries to making savoury ice-creams, searing steaks and shellfish to making blinis to serve with smoked salmon.
Who’d have thought that something we take totally for granted as an everyday seasoning could actually be something so exciting to cook on as well.
Big thanks to The Salt House for introducing me to all this wonderful stuff.
Salt Block Pickles
- 1 cardamom pod
- 6 coriander seeds
- 3 black pepper corns
- 1 allspice berry
- 2 cloves
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 1 small aubergine
- 1 courgette
- 1 red bell pepper
- Grind the spices in a mortar and pestle.
- In a large bowl mix the ground spices with the garllic, ginger, honey and apple cider vinegar.
- Slice the vegetables into 0.5cm/1/4" slices and dip everything in the pickling mixture.
- Lay out the aubergine slices on the salt block first and leave for 1 hour turning half way through.
- Dry the pickled slices on kitchen paper and set aside while you do the other veggies.
- Allow the courgette and pepper pieces 30 minutes and turn over half way through.
- Dry on kitchen paper and mix everything together. Snip up any veggies that are too big.
- Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.