Cooking on a Homemade Salt Plate
If I told you “Cooking on a Plate”, what material would you think of? Cast iron, in all likelihood. The alternative healers could answer Soapstone. The latest generation griller could even mention the Ceramic Plate. But there is another, less well-known family member, whom I enjoy cooking on more every day: the Salt Plate. It is a very interesting material, which accumulates a lot of heat and therefore lends itself to cooking once removed from the fire. The cooking juices released from the food are gently insipidated by the salt, allowing cooking without any seasoning, which respects the raw material a lot. I love using it for refined recipes especially based on fish, especially shellfish and crustacean, made on the table in front of my guests.
Alas, however, the salt plate has some significant defects: it is a material that, like soapstone, does not like thermal excursions at all and therefore tends to crack easily. In addition its surface is irregular, full of interstices and easily dissolves in water. It can not therefore be washed, requiring it to be scraped for cleaning, which is however difficult. Not adding condiments is an advantage but also a limit, restricting the creative field of the cook. Finally, it is fairly expensive, especially if you choose a plate some centimeters thick, able to accumulate a lot of heat and for a long time, which is not the best for a material destined to be consumed. It’s a shame, because I like it so much …
I asked myself some questions. Would not it be possible to create the same effect by “building” the salt plate? Maybe in disposable version, with a very low cost and playing every time on a different aromatic profile. The answer I gave is “maybe Yes!”. Let’s say that to build a salt plate we could use a base of coarse salt abundantly moistened on the surface, just enough to dissolve it superficially and make it a uniform block. This would lend itself very well to play on the aromatization, adding salt, spices, aromas or anything else that suggests the imagination. We need then a base on which to build it, something to be submitted to heat and that helps in accumulating it allowing us to be able to cook even at the center table for example. From this point of view, a high-grade cast-iron plate such as GBS Weber is perfect or, in my case, those cast iron plates that are used to keep fajitas or steaks warm, but even the Lodges can do very well. In principle I would we are on the right way, we just have to try my favorite cookings on the plate of salt, or the Salmon and Prawns. With the first we will verify the ability in cauterize
ing of salt by seeing how it manages to crisp the skin, which if everything works, should become a tasty chip. On the other hand, we will cook prawns “nature”, that means without shell and without any seasoning, to verify the real contribution in terms of flavor and aromatization of this method..
We start mixing about 600 grams of coarse salt with a spoonful of rosemary, one of oregano, one of dehydrated onion and some cloves. Then pour everything into the cast iron plate, level and then spray the surface with the food sprayer set to fine steam. It does not take much, just what needed to cause a slight weakening of the salt structure. It requires a powerful and lasting heat. So I put the plate in heating with a whole basket of holm oak from Eco Trade that we had already seen in this test. After a few minutes, the salt literally begins to fry and emanate steamy water, yet I did not seem to have sprinkled so much! The thing still lasts very little. I try to touch the surface with my finger and I realize how hot it is already: I would say that we are ready! Throughout this phase the spicy scent that we felt was really interesting, very pleasant
Of course the prawns are ready in a moment, just the time to flip them. The cauterization is less evident compared to cooking on a salt plate and the consistency is different: it is as if the shrimp has made a homogeneous external browning, becoming almost crunchy but with a tender and still juicy interior. Really interesting. But the most surprising thing is the tasting phase. It’s crazy: I did not use any condiments, and yet the shrimp have an aromatization, delicate but certainly present and very pleasant. The same fingers that touched them maintain a pleasant spicy fragrance for a long time.
Salmon naturally requires more time and a closed lid cooking. The result in terms of browning and crispness of the skin is still excellent. The taste here is more neutral but it is more than understandable: the skin has served as a barrier. In reality, the spicy scent accompanied us throughout the tasting, but the marked toasted flavor of the skin clearly covered such delicate nuances. in any case, the experiment in terms of crunchiness has definitely succeeded
The salt in the cast iron plate has become hard as stone. I tried to scratch it but I really struggled. Better to leave it soaked in water to melt it. In conclusion I was really satisfied with the result, although perhaps at the next test I would replace the coarse salt with the fine salt and let the cast iron heat up with salt for a longer time before starting to cook. I was particularly impressed by the elegant, clean and truly effective aromatic contribution. A thousand possible variations come to mind: lemon grass and pink pepper sprinkled with cider, cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled with muscat, rosemary and lemon peel sprinkled with light beer or ….
And to you, what other combinations does your imagination suggest?