Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
9:13 am
Sat October 26, 2013

Salt Of The Earth

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I held my grandchild Audrey in the saltwater of the Atlantic in the Florida Keys ‘Bahia Honda State Park.’

She kicked her ‘just-turned-one’-year-old legs in the shallow sea, churning the water and splashing her granddad joyously. I was a little concerned that the sting of the salty water might invade her incredibly blue eyes. She did not share my concern.

It was only a keening hunger she developed from this new exercise that drove her back to her mother and the cold watermelon to be savored under the stone pavilion our family was huddled under for this birthday celebration.

To be worth one’s salt makes more sense if you know that the world ‘salary’ is derived from the word salarium and that sal is Latin word for salt.

Early Christians rubbed newborn babies with salt.

A ‘witch’s supper’ is a supper made with no salt.

Spilled salt is a foretelling of lost friendship or even death.

If there is a food more ‘ingrained’ within our human need bag, I cannot summon it.

Preparing meats for the hallowed task of preservation begins with an assemblage of spices known as “a cure” and salt it the first and foremost ingredient in it.

Most believe we arose from salt as creatures in the continuing evolution of our species.

Salt is classified as a rock. When a salt crystal grows without any other chemical ‘hitchhikers’ latching on, it is perfectly square. That fascinates me. It’s if God created it in the form of a ‘gift.’ And it is. Without it, we would perish.

Salt is a rock we enjoy eating. We are made of salt in seminal ways as it is contained in our blood, flesh, sweat and tears! When a woman becomes pregnant the increase of blood in her lowers her sodium level and she is changed dramatically for it. Hence the craving for foods that may have never been sought before. My wife, Janet, has loved pickles since she was a little girl so when our son Justin was on the way she just amped up a love already instilled.

In the Royal Wieliczka (Vee Leech Kah), salt mine near Krakow, Poland the workers have carved small chapels and even one large cathedral out of the black salt. The mines are as dangerous as coal mines and, to the miners, the added sense of spiritual protection was nothing to take lightly. They have even created chandeliers made of beads of white salt and adorned them with strands of electrical lights.

The great cookbook author Marcella Hazan was the first to articulate salt’s importance in my life. I sensed it was vital but Marcella convinced me that I was not wrong to utilize it with greater generosity than some of the earlier kitchen bosses I’d labored under had prescribed. She became like a kitchen godmother to me on that day.

My love and sanctuary in terms of salt is found in cuisine. I love its direct language. When you pair three ingredients such as figs, black pepper and prosciutto you have a perfect triangle of conversation. The footing is equal, balanced and rational. I have made a dish for many years called, “My Rhum and Pepper Painted Fish.” The “paint” in this case is a cooked mixture made of rhum and pepper as the name implies but the other two major ingredients are sugar and salt.

It is a few years from now but it will one day be something I make for Granddaughter Audrey. 

BRINE FOR TURKEY (RECIPE)

Yield: Enough for 1 breast from a 20 pound bird

1 ¼ Cups kosher salt
1 ½ Cups sugar
2 bay leaves, broken
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
2 cloves

6 whole allspice berries

6 juniper berries

1 Turkey breast, well rinsed

Directions:

Place salt, sugar and 1 quart hot water in a large deep pot and whisk until salt and sugar crystals dissolve. Whisk in 4 quarts cold water. Pin bay leaves to onion halves with cloves and add them to brine. Add the Allspice and Juniper Berries.

Let mixture cool to room temperature.

Add turkey breast, placing a large heavy pot or sealed zip-top bag filled with cold water on top to keep breast submerged.

Place pot in refrigerator and marinate overnight.

Roast to perfection!

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