Let’s face it, winter in the Northeast is… uncomfortable. The weather is frigid and blustery, and the landscape is bleak. The local produce selection has dwindled to potatoes, cabbage, and beets. Needless to say, we could all use a little more color and flavor in our lives. One of the beautiful things about cooking in the winter is diving into the multitude of flavors that exist in the spice and seasoning realm. Various salts and spices are just as vibrant and soul warming in the winter as they are in the summer. It’s easy to see why a little sprinkle over an otherwise bland dish can create a spectacular splash of flavor on the coldest winter day.
One of our favorite ways to apply flavor through seasoning is with smoked salts. Not all smoked salts are created equal though, and Lafayette Spices offers one of the absolute finest varieties on the market. Many variations are on the market today, some smoked with Applewood, some mesquite, hickory, and cherry wood. Some of them are very fine and some of them are so large and coarse they would require a grinder to use them. We can say with sad confidence that some (but certainly not all) use artificial smoke flavor – the horror! Ours of course, is 100% natural smoke – applied to the beautiful salt crystals over a 10 day period!
Our Beechwood Smoked Salt is harvested in the Guerande region of France, a city on the western coast of the country – known for its salt marches. In these marches, salterns have been built, where workers collect up to 15,000 tons of cooking salt each year and approx. 300 tons of fleur de sel or “flower of salt” per year. The process is quite simple, tides feed the water reservoirs with sea water, where it gets trapped and begins to evaporate. That process of evaporation continues until there are only a few centimeters of sea water left. Ultimately, the salt crystalizes and produces fleur de sel and coarse salt.
This coarse Guerande salt is finished with a 10 day beechwood smoking process. Beechwood makes an excellent smoking wood, though it’s more typically known as a firewood than a food smoke wood. Beech is a hardwood, which means that it doesn’t produce large levels of thick smoke that come from softer woods like pine or fir. Those soft woods can also produce the potential for acrid tasting buildup on foods, and potentially harmful compounds. Beech wood provides a light smoke that is mild, sweet, and nutty. The elongated smoking process ensures that the flavor not only adheres to the outside of each salt crystal, but also penetrates deep inside for an intense, smoky finish.
This ultra-smoky salt can be used in a multitude of applications, both savory and sweet. Use it to garnish a deep winter braised leg of lamb. Or perhaps a simple weeknight roasted chicken. A smoky little pop over some crispy chicken skin? Come on! It also makes a seriously tantalizing finish to just about any salad or veggie you can dream up. A sprinkle over some freshly sliced ripe tomatoes would be mind blowing and not to mention very memorable. And just imagine that smoky salty crunch over some rich bittersweet chocolate or silky butterscotch pudding. The possibilities are endless and we hope that this winter season you take a stab making something you wouldn’t typically make.