Culinary Throwdown Challenge: SALT (two ways)

Pink Salt Lake in Western Australia

Darlings, it's time to once again THROW DOWN in da kitchen! As La Diva was the winner of Troll's last challenge, SMOKE and FIRE, I got to pick the subject for the next throwdown. And I picked SALT. So, pour a glass of wine or get a shot of vodka, this is quite the lengthy post!

I picked salt because I think it's an ingredient that you can do so much with. Also, it seems that lately everywhere I look, I see a recipe or product that involves caramel paired with salt: David Leibovitz's salted peanut caramel chocolates, Himalayan pink salt caramels and to La Diva, the very first salt/sweet pairing I ever tasted, the good old fashioned toffee Heath Bar. Even Tiffani from Top Chef recently made a salted butterscotch pudding for a reunion show. I think it's a natural combination and I've been dying to try a savory/sweet recipe using salt.

Maple glazed cookies with kosher salt. They look good right? One of them could rot your teeth! Not surprising as the recipe calls for one cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of pure maple syrup. Click on the photo to see the recipe that some other blogger kindly posted just for me.

My first entry is for maple glazed cookies with salt from Martha Stewart's Everyday. Sounds good right? When I saw the recipe, it conjured up images of maple leaf cream cookies that I LOVED so much growing up as a kid in Michigan. I LOVE maple sugar, so I had to try them, especially since salt was not only IN the batter but also ON the cookie.

First of all, upon looking at the recipe, La Diva thought to herself, six ingredients? Easy-peasy, I'll knock these out after dinner like a champ. Well, it didn't turn out that way, in fact, baking them was almost disastrous!!!

First of all the recipe says to "drop" the cookies onto the baking sheet. Mine were so moist, I had to use my finger to "drop" each cookie. The suggestion to flatten each one with the bottom of a flour-dipped glass only lead to a mess and I gave up after the glass stuck to the cookie six times. Ok, into the oven they go for 15 minutes.

First batch came out nice, slightly brown on the edges. The next two trays went in and were meant to be moved after baking halfway and La Diva slipped and dropped a tray. Oops. 20 cookies down! The rest I burned even though the timer was still set for 15 minutes.

Third tray burned in less than 15 minutes. Hmmmm. Meanwhile, I'm meant to reduce a cup of pure maple syrup by a quarter. So, I get that simmering when all of a sudden, it boils over and creates a stinking, smoking burnt sugar mess all over my stove. The maple syrup takes forever to reduce and I realize that even when reduced by a quarter, its still WAY too thin for a glaze and I reduce by another quarter. I'm now starting to think about Ruth Reichl's comment about how too many recipes in too many magazines have not been tested properly making for more failure in the kitchen instead of success each and every time. (boy, I'm really starting to appreciate Gourmet even more post mortem...) As I started to glaze the cookies with the reduction, La Diva dripped a bit on her hand and almost fainted from the napalm heat. Better let it cool. La Diva was not happy.

When the reduction cooled a bit, I began to glaze a few of the cookies and added a bit of kosher salt. I tasted them. blech. They were sickly sweet. And that's coming from a woman with a huge sweet tooth! DJ Nevah L8 tried them. He swiped a bunch with his big paw and into his maw they disappeared. Hmmmm.....that really means nothing to me, that man'll eat just about anything.

I wisely decided not to glaze the rest of the cookies yet still tasted a lovely touch of salt from the teaspoon of coarse kosher salt that was added to the batter initially. Without the glaze, I didn't get as much maple flavor as the half cup added to the batter was quite subtle. However, it made the cookies edible and great with coffee. The salt and the sweet worked. I would not make these again and found it a waste of expensive maple syrup, but this recipe inspired me to try something else with maple and salt.

La Diva thought these vintage hula girl salt and pepper shakers to be a "hoot!" (For Sham and Making Space!)

I've been experimenting with salt encased cooking for a number of years now and was first introduced to the method back in Australia about a decade ago. It seems like a fancy, difficult and salty way to cook but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's actually quite easy and cheap producing excellent, if not succulent results. If done right, you'll get excellent flavor without saltiness. I usually encase one whole large fish or two rainbow trouts or a pork tenderloin and have used the coarse kosher salt in a variety of ways including making a paste with water or herbs and egg whites, either ways works fine. It was Troll's throwdown challenge of Steak and Potatoes that I got to thinking that making some salt-encrusted steak would be good.

I searched around the Web for some inspiration and found Tyler Florence's recipe for salt crusted New York strip steak. The reviews were not glowing. Mostly because of the complaint that the meat came out an ugly and unappetizing gray.

My recipe is an adaptation and revised version of Tyler Florence's recipe. Here we go....

One 3 inch cut double rib eye steak rested at room temperature. This one was 2.3 lbs. Preheat oven to 475 F.

Sear meat unseasoned on both sides until brown in a hot, heavy bottomed pan in canola oil. Take out of pan, let pan cool and wash. Set steak aside. Voila, NO GRAY STEAK.

In a large bowl add three cups of coarse kosher salt, two eggwhites and chopped herbs. I used dried thyme, two bay leaves, fresh parsley and fresh sage. Tyler used six egg whites and rosemary. Seemed like a waste of four eggs but I suppose if you feel more comfortable with a more wet paste, go ahead, as long as the salt holds together. I also did not add the suggested garlic or rosemary. I like the pure beef taste of my steak and find garlic and rosemary too overpowering.

Mix together with your hands into a paste.

Add steak back to cooled and washed pan. Add freshly ground black pepper to top of steak.

Carefully start to pile the salt closely around the steak.

Pat the salt onto the steak GENTLY, pushing it together and around the sides and forming a seal.

The salt herb paste should cover every part around and on top of the steak and form a seal. Since my steak was twice as thick as Tyler's, I decided to cook it twice as long. I cooked my steak for about 30 minutes and then allowed to rest for another 8. It will continue to cook in the case once removed from the oven. Tyler advises using a meat thermometer. I choose to "wing" it.

The salt crust will harden and brown. Remove pan from oven and let rest for about 8 minutes, the steak will continue cooking.

Slowly crack open the salt crust and carefully peel away. You want the salt to come off in chunks, not break apart and "salt" the meat!

Lift steak out and brush off excess salt.

Allow to rest AGAIN for another five minutes before slicing. RESIST THE URGE TO POUR PAN JUICES OVER STEAK! The juices in the bottom of the pan are now a super saline concentration. Instead, take a piece of fresh bread and sop up the juices and serve on the side of your steak. It will be salty, savory delicious! (One of the few things I remember my mom doing when SHE cooked steak!)

Steak is ready to slice and cooked to perfection!

La Diva's salt encrusted double rib eye steak served over horseradish and sour cream Yukon gold mash, gourmet mushrooms sauteed in butter and red wine, a piece of baguette soaked in salty pan drippings and fresh steamed green beans with buttah and more salt! LORDY!

RESULT: Damn, La Diva was pleased. And so was my sidekick, big bear man DJ Nevah L8. The texture of the steak cooked in this method was different and more like a prime rib. The steak was moist and loaded with juice that ran from the steak while resting. (You can use the juices from the 'rested' steak, however) The herb flavors were subtle. The steak was NOT SALTY but actually quite mild and allowed the true beef flavor to shine. Naturally, the steak was more well done towards the ends but perfect for two people with different preferences. The revised dish was definitely a success, I'd like to try this again with a beef tenderloin one day.

So, don't be frightened to try this technique as it produces a succulent dish. I was going to try salt roasted potatoes but ran out of time! Next time. Take a stroll around the web for more SALT encased recipes and inspiration, there's a lot of them out there!


La Diva loves these saccharine and silly vintage kitty salt and pepper shakers!

So, this next entry comes from my cousin in Detroit, Sherry Diez Lince. She's from my "mom's" side of the family and all my family from that side are all such wonderful cooks! I'm amazed she produced this on a weeknight! Thanks Sherry!

So Sherry chose her salt by using a salt cured product. Yep, that works! This is home-made prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks and served with cantaloupe and a nice glass of vino. Apparently there are a lot of Italians in Sherry's neighborhood and she wisely adopted one of them as her friend and scored an entire leg of it! Way to go, Sherry!

Making a dish like this takes time, patience and a lot of pans!

OMG, Sherry, that looks divine. I could eat it for breakfast right now! Pasta with home-made prosciutto, capers in salt, olives, jalapenos, habaneros and serrano chiles, garlic and clams. Dang, dat's a lot of hot chiles, girl, but what can you expect, her last name is Diez! I would say that the salt is covered by not only the prosciutto but also the cured olives and capers too. Sherry says: "My family loved it..but i did have to make a wimpy version!" I'll be over for either version! Clams and prosciutto, hmmm.....Great job and thanks for participating.

Ok, so when MOI gets a chance, she'll be comin' round to check out and judge all the entries. Don't forget to add "I'm up" in the comments section and be polite and check out other entries! Hope you had fun and challenged yourself, that's what this is all about!

(oh, and that new award sounds pretty cool too!!) Thanks for playing and ciao, darlings!cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment


Sandcastle Momma said...

That all looks so good my mouth is watering!
I hate to admit it but I enjoyed reading about the cookie drama - it's nice to not feel so alone in the disaster department LOL

I'd read about cooking steak that way but after the SMOKE debacle I was afraid to waste a perfectly good steak. After reading this I will definitely be trying that.

Mine entry is up.

MJ said...

So, pour a glass of wine or get a shot of vodka, this is quite the lengthy post!

It’s only 6:30 am here.

But surely it must be Happy Hour SOMEWHERE in the world!


Floridacracker said...

That steak process is amazing and the results look delicious!
Gotta try it.

I'm up at Pure Florida!

billjac said...

I forgot all about the salt challenge but I made a salt-intensive New York strip last night too. Instead of the salt dome, I coated it with a thick layer of salt for a 30 minutes cure before washing it off and cooking it in a grill pan. The salt cure is supposed to improve the texture the same way the salt dome did. I was happy with the results, but since I don't think I've ever had a New York strip before I have no point of comparison.

As a plus, with this method I got to use my pan juices.

TROLL Y2K said...

That be some fancy high-falutin cookin right there. I'm UP.

Boxer said...

Wow, my blood pressure shot up just reading this. I love the idea of cooking in a mountain of salt. Shamy had suggested something similiar for me using fish instead of beef, but that would have required cooking.

I'm up!

Allison said...

Wow. I will be trying the cookies and the steak. Great job...looks amazing.

I'm UP!

Buzz Kill said...

When I get recipes off owebsites, I always make sure there are a lot of written reviews and stars. That way I know it's been tested. It reduces the amount of failures (but doesn't eliminate them). Nice try on the cookies. I use maple syrup and salt as a glaze for the Thanksgiving Turkey (a Tyler Florence recipe) and that reduces nicely in the bottom of the pan - but it cooks for 6 hours.

As far as the steak goes - you win. That looks awesome. I have always been afraid to try this technique having seen it on many a cooking show. Maybe not afraid, it just seems like a waste of salt. Horseradish potatoes are a nice touch. I love horseradish with beef.

Your cousin's breadsticks look simple and good. The pasta looks impressive but way more work than I would have time for.

Great post and I'm up at the Buzzkill with a much simpler recipe that, so far, has turned out very well.

moi said...

Bwahahahahahaha! Welcome to the delights of Baking Hell! Oh, if I had a dime for every disaster due to ill-created recipes or the vagaries of high altitude, I'd have fifty gazillion pairs of Louboutins.

But that steak? I'm salivating all over my keyboard. Sherry's pasta also intrigues me – sort of a way amped up Putanesca. Mmmmmm.

I'm up myself and I'll be around to everyone throughout the day, in between trying to make a client happy.

Nice to see so many folks participated – yay!

Heather Gallagher said...

WTF Sherry Diez? You make this pasta and La Diva posts the pics of it and then you expect me to eat "Greek Salad" tonight? Ha. I think not. I want some of this! Yum. All the salty foods look great. I would try the steak and the pasta for sure.

LaDivaCucina said...

Hooty HOO! Looky at all the comments! I was up at 4:30 and couldn't go back to sleep so got up and did the blog this morning! Managed to get back to bed and just got up again! Yay!

Sandcastle Mama, I put down my mistakes and failures too cuz that's life! And that's how we learn! But we keep on trying!

MJ, it's beer-thirty somewhere?! You know Diva's always ready to party!

Florida Cracker, nice to see you, great you participated.

Billjac, I was going to remind you about it but then thought you might take it as pressuring you! haha! I like your idea though and have seen that as an Argentine method for preparing steak for the grill.

Yeah, Troll, we like to challenge each other don't we? haha! Can't wait to see your entry.

Boxer, I felt like I was in school again this morning: tired, barely awake and having to pay attention! haha! Great job!

Allison, thanks so much for coming by and participating, can't wait to see whatchoo did!

Hey Buzzy, I'm like you, looking for the reviews. I got the recipe from a magazine but just searched it online so I wouldn't have to write it all out and so I could see if anyone else had more success. Didn't appear so although many of the other blogger's commenters were oohing and aahhing before even making the cookies themselves. I thought they were sweet to the point of being sickly. The kosher salt is cheap, less than $3 a box so I don't feel bad wasting it. I felt worse about the maple syrup that cost me $8 and saved the reduction for something else....maybe a pork loin with salt/maple glaze?

I still can't get over my cousin made two courses on a weeknight! And dat pasta looked good enough for breakfast. But I have a stomach like a goat and can eat hot for breaky!

Hey Mo juddgy-poo darling! (kissin' up to da judge!) I knew you'd relate with compassion on the baking disaster! haha! Yes, I agree the pasta is like a putanesca, a chile putanesca! YUMMO.

Hey Heather we missed you on this throwdown. I hope you can participate next time. I wish I was there to have dinner with you two tonight!!

Thanks for the comments kids, this was really fun. I'll be poppin' round to everyone throughout the day. I'm getting booted off the computer now, hubby is home! Later, gators!

Big Shamu said...

Tis true I suggested that for cooking fish to Boxer. Of course I forgot who I was talking to, silly me.

Ummm, those salt and pepper shakers are almost not safe for work.

Nice job on the meat.

LaDivaCucina said...

Haha! Did you get in trouble?!

Jill said...

paw/maw...that tickled me! Lately it doesn't take to much...maybe the tequila I started drinking when I started reading your salt post.

Adore the salt and pepper shakers! You MUST see my penis shakers!

That is one piece of beef I could get my mouth around! That sounds bad, but I don't care. It looks amazing! I'm going to a wine dinner tonight. I think my tourette's is on full tilt!

Karl said...

Good evening La diva,

That steak looks absolutely wonderful, I will have to give it a try.

I'm up.

Aunty Belle said...

sniff...SNIFF...I'se so sorry to miss yore fun--what a fantastic theme--SALT (has ya read the book?) an' thar's no limit on what ter do wif' yore steak looks ter be a real winner--I loves how ya phot thangs and show all...

great job!

Dani said...

WOW! That is one hell of a good lookin' steak! You ROCKED it!

Thank you so much for sending me those recipes yesterday! I learn so much from you and Shamy. Feels good not having to throw everything back in the compost bin cause it didn't get cooked in time.

LaDivaCucina said...

Ahh Jill, that's why I love you, a beautiful lady with a mouth like a truck driver! Haha! Never know what surprise will come out of your mouth! x

Thanks for the kudos Karl, your entry looked so satisfying!

Aunty, I'm sorry to hear about your Granny and hope she's feeling better. I actually DID check out that book SALT, maybe I'll get a copy for Christmas? That's three books now I need to get! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much Dani! I am pretty comfortable with this method but without a thermometer its a crap shoot as you can't see if anything is done! I only overcooked a fish one time though and glad I didn't over cook the steak!

I love your garden, I betcha the bunnies love it too!!!

Big Shamu said...

Didn't get in trouble because of the salt shakers but I do get in trouble for looking at food porn right before lunch.

By the way if I had those salt shakers I'd have the perfect excuse for oversalting my food.

Dani said...

Is that one of your pics at the top from when you lived in Australia? It's gorgeous lookin'!

LaDivaCucina said...

Sham, you crack me up. I'm glad you enjoy the food porn as much as I. I could get in a whole heap of trouble where I live, lots of great restaurants and grocery stores and am about to head out now..

No Dani, this is from Western Austrlia but there is also pink salt mined from the Murray River down in the state of Victoria, which is southwest of Sydney. I liked the pink! (if you click on my side link of SALT, you can see those photos, even more dramatic) But I do have loads of beautiful photos of Australia, a very pretty and dramatic country.

Aunty Belle said...

Hey Sweet Pea!

YES, yes! the book on Salt is the one ya jes ordered --an' why not? I reckon a Diva deserves a Christmas present as much as anyone.

Oh--an' PLEASE come back--the Paris link was not workin' but does now--it has art in ti--that is , the art of architecture.

moi said...

I have announced the winner! Y'all come on by, ya hear?

Donn said...

Thank heavens I'm devouring a giant steak while I read looks ridiculously amazing!!

I'm glad to hear that salt is back and butter *Homer droool
"Butter up that bacon Boy!"

LaDivaCucina said...

Congrats again to Allison who won the challenge! Click on her name above to take you to her profile and site to see the winner!

Hey Donn, thanks so much for stopping by! I didn't know that salt and buttah evah "left?" haha!