Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Salted potluck with Mark Bitterman

Posted on: Wednesday 21 September 2011

I grew up in a household that weaned off salt over time. My parents cooked with it sparingly in a salt reduced diet that was advocated by dieticians and nutritionists. As adults we had the same shaker of supermarket brand iodised salt in our pantry for many years, its only purpose was to salt the water to boil pasta in.

A couple of evenings ago Myra gathered a group of food lovers for a salt themed potluck with Mark Bitterman. Owner of The Meadow and author of Salted, Mark was visiting from Portland and hosted a dinner at Spring Hill on Sunday.

I bought some leftover heirloom tomatoes at the TomatoFare for the bargain price of two dollars a pound. I made an insalata Caprese as my contribution to the potluck. Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil were layered, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with Murray River salt flakes.

There were a variety of salts at the potluck and each had a story. Some were favourites, others were gifts, and mine reminds me of home.

Carol brought this beautiful Himalayan pink salt crystal for display.

The Secret Stash vanilla salt was speckled and moist.

I love the cute Sugarpill container!

Chuck made his own applewood smoked Maldon salt with lemon thyme.

There were several salads and one other insalata Caprese. Darryl‘s was geometrically styled compared to my rustic approach!

Ashleigh‘s salad of heirloom tomatoes, chèvre and mint was a kaleidoscope of colours.

The soup of the evening was by Kristin, pumpkin soup with salted pumpkin seeds.

Hors d’oeuvres included a cocoa nibs studded chèvre log with applewood salt by Karen.

Bite size hickory smoked salt pretzels, a recipe in Salted made by Carol.

Charred and fanned out on a bamboo tray, Shirley grilled maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers.

She brought three types of Japanese salts to taste with the vegetables – wasabi salt, dashi salt and shichimi tōgarashi blended with salt.

Chuck assembled fresh farm cheese and sungold tomato jam crostinis with his own applewood smoked Maldon salt and lemon thyme.

These sticky nuts were salted orange blossom honey almonds by Lisa.

Kim baked a tin of salted cranberry and pistachio biscotti.

Nazila baked a tray of Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookies with sel gris.

Carol’s second recipe from Salted was Himalayan pink salt brittle.

Nazila dipped vanilla marshmallows in chocolate with salt on top.

Anna rolled chocolate truffles with cayenne and Himalayan pink salt.

Carol made her signature alderwood smoked salt caramels.

And finally, Kimberly brought a jar of jonboy fleur de sel caramels.

We piled our plates with the delectable selection and ate as we listened to Mark, a James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner. An eloquent speaker, we were all mesmerised by his salt narrative. Salt is a ‘universal food, a defining ingredient of the world’s culinary traditions’. He described himself as a vagabond writer and a ‘ravenous and perennial eater’.

When he opened The Meadow, he felt all he was doing was putting contents of his basement into jars! Salt connects people and he stocks over one hundred varieties of salts in his store. They also sell flowers, chocolates and bitters.

He realised there was no original research on salt and its behaviour on food. Salt is a powerful flavour enhancer, a nutritional necessity and the only mineral we eat. It is not just a chemical, it is a substance made by hand.

The Meadow has recently opened a store in New York for retail customers, and they supply food manufacturers and restaurateurs.

Salt makers have an intimate relationship with nature, a deep understanding of complex conditions. Saltiness is modulated by the shape and size of the crystals. Salts have different moisture levels. Fleur de sel has about ten percent residual moisture and is resilient in food, it glistens as it dissolves to spark our palate. Eighty pounds of salt yields one pound of fleur de sel for a ‘luxurious, sensual experience’!

Mark mentioned salts from around the world. Sel gris, French grey sea salt, is mineral rich, moist, coarse and obtains the colour from its terroir. Prussian blue salt is an optical illusion!

Japan has the most sophisticated and obsessive salt culture. To make takesumi bamboo salt, sea water is extracted from three thousand feet under the ocean, sprayed onto bamboo to dry and stirred continuously with a wooden paddle while simmering until evaporated.

Hundreds of millions of years old, Himalayan salt blocks can function as tableware or cookware. It’ll slightly cure sashimi or Carpaccio, and can be heated up for sautéing.

The ‘manifesto’ is the byline of his book and this is clear when he declared that kosher salt is a stainless steel cleaner! Kosher salt is a desiccating agent that extracts moisture. It is a refined chemical manufactured for industries and it is Mark’s ‘mission in life to eradicate kosher salt’.

Salted has three sections: the life of salt, a history; salt guide, varieties and profiles; and salting, techniques and recipes.

We concluded the evening with a peek inside his case of sample salts. Mark had a bottle of nigari, or magnesium chloride. At the Spring Hill dinner the attendees had experimented with droplets into bourbon, adding a complex bitterness.

So for Kate, salt is not just salt!

Sincere thanks to Myra for her hospitality, Mark for his insights, and the Seattle food community for a delicious and informative potluck!

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7 Responses to "Salted potluck with Mark Bitterman"

What a great write-up! Come visit Portland and I’ll take you to the Meadow, an enchanting little spot, to be sure. Thanks for putting it all down to share.

Thanks Adrian! Must plan trip to Portland soon and will definitely add The Meadow to the list. And a cup of tea with you. 🙂

Have I ever told you I LOVE salt?!! Well I do and this event looked like great fun! I will have to look up this book as I blithely ignore all dietary guidelines with regards to salt 😀

Mark Bitterman is the ‘Selmelier’. 🙂 A pinch of salt really does enhance flavours!

[…] brine, she explained she’s using natural salt. She recently attended a salt class with Mark Bitterman at The Meadow in Portland and was shocked to learn that kosher salt is a desiccant and a […]

[…] by illness and foiled by Hurricane Irene. I was enchanted by the charismatic Mark Bitterman at a potluck last year and had imagined The Meadow as a quaint boutique. Located on the hip Mississippi Avenue […]

[…] Mark Bitterman is championing the salt renaissance. The owner of The Meadow and author of Salted hosted a dinner class at Lisa Dupar Catering a couple of weeks ago. At home we have small containers of Australian and English finishing salts and a large jar of French salt for brining, pasta water and roasting. I’m a cautious salter but I have learnt to embrace how sodium chloride is transformative in cooking. […]

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