Friday, February 17, 2012

Flavor infusions

A while back I came across a throwaway line in, I think, a Melissa Clark cookbook, about how making your own flavored salts was easy and so much cheaper than those pricey ones you see in fancy grocery stores.

Well, where I live there aren’t too many fancy grocery stores within an hour’s drive. I have more than once referred to the KC Northland, where I live, as a “cheese desert”. And I had never heard of or seen flavored salts until I stumbled across them in a cookbook written in New York City, like a message in a bottle from a faraway land.

It’s the kind of kitchen project I like best though: you invest a few minutes of time and energy, use a few ingredients that are readily to hand, and produce something that will sit quietly on a shelf, getting better and better, and opening new vistas of flavor experimentation in your food and cooking.

Following Melissa’s example, I made sage salt first, using a few precious leaves plucked from a small but hardy plant that had survived a hellishly hot summer in my backyard herb patch and then flourished in the long, mild autumn that followed. I had been reluctant to use its few available leaves, wanting to save them for something really special; but mincing them into a jar and mixing them with kosher salt meant that they could give their flavor to dozens of dishes. And they have: I’ve gone from being a very occasional user of sage to someone who sprinkles its essence into all sorts of savory dishes. It’s not always distinctive, but it adds something elusive. It makes the food more complex and interesting, even if in a subtle way.

It didn’t take long to recognize that, next to the sage plant, I had rosemary that was not only surviving but flourishing well into an unusually temperate Missouri winter. A jar of rosemary salt soon found a place on the shelf, and I’ve opened up to rosemary in a whole new way. I’ve sprinkled rosemary salt on roast chicken and into batches of applesauce. The other day I used it to season a bowl of Savory Cheddar Oatmeal, an experiment I will definitely be repeating. I would never have thought to add rosemary sprigs to all the things I add a dash of rosemary salt to. It’s easier to be daring somehow when it’s just a sprinkle of salt with a little something extra.

It has grown from there. It’s not even just salt anymore. I’m zesting nearly every piece of citrus that passes through my kitchen: I’ve got homemade lemon extract steeping in the pantry, right next to the homemade vanilla, and I’ve got a jar of tangelo sugar (see photo) whose fragrance could knock your socks off. On a whim, I used it to sweeten a recent batch of raspberry jam that SP described as “like fireworks in my mouth.”

What to try next? I’m thinking Thai chili pepper salt and lime sugar. Suggestions on what to make, or more ways to use these concoctions in other dishes? Send them along to RL Infusion Central. I’d love to hear more.


Justine said... Best Blogger Tips

Ooooh, this is a clever idea. It reminded me that I pinned Boston Mama's "magic salt" recipe ages ago but never made it.

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

@Justine Okay, I'm definitely adding this to the list. Thanks for the link!

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