Back in 2010 I shared my experience smoking cherries on the back porch. The cold smoking imbued the sweet fruit with a delicate hint of savory smoke that did not overpower them.
Today, I’m back to my applewood to make smoked salt for holiday gifts. It all started when I came across Spice Hound‘s fragrant smoked salts at the farmers’ market. I couldn’t resist picking up some of the applewood smoked sea salt, which seems pricey until you realize it is best used as a finishing salt, sprinkled lightly over a dish just before serving to impart a smoky flavor and aroma. Same principle as the cherries: you are looking to augment, not overpower, your food. (OK, it’s still pricey, but at least it lasts a while when used this way.)
I got curious, so began researching how to make smoked salt at home. Then I remembered my cherry smoking experiment, part of a project with Jeremy Fox of the late Ubuntu restaurant in Napa, CA. That got me to thinking about using the grill again, and smoking at a cool temp. Having a smoker would no doubt be a plus, or even a charcoal grill, but I got good results from our trusty gas grill, which heats quickly and is perfect for grilling all year round.
I started by putting coarse Sicilian sea salt in an aluminum pie tin. I chose the salt for its minerality, and also because I had it on hand. You could use any salt, but avoid the ultra-fine, chemical-laced table salt. (I like to think I can taste those minerals, but I suspect the credit is largely due to the power of suggestion.) I soaked some applewood chips in water for about an hour, along with a small plank of alder wood meant for cooking fish on the grill. After draining the wood, I wrapped it in a foil bundle and placed it under the grate of the grill, then lit just one of the three burners to the lowest setting, positioned under the foil packet. The pan of salt went in the opposite corner, away from the heat.
The temperature held steady at about 225° F. After a few hours, the wood chips were reduced to ash and the salt had taken on a smoky flavor that was pronounced but not at all acrid, and a cornmeal yellow hue. I left the salt in the covered grill until it was completely cool.
My friend Rosetta Costantino recently gave me some Calabrian peperoncino (HOT chilies) from her garden, which I’d dried and then pulverized in a spice grinder. (Not having used gloves, my hands stung for about 12 hours after handling them, but it was worth it.) I thought I’d finish my salt by mixing in a good pinch of the peperoncino into the three cups or so of salt. It gave the salt a kick and a beautiful aroma that complemented the smoke (think smoked paprika).
1. Always do your smoking outdoors, in either a smoker, charcoal or gas grill, or by setting up an ad-hoc smoker in an aluminum pan, as I did with the cherries.
2. Choose a coarse grained salt. You can pulse it later in a food processor to a finer grain, or put it in a salt grinder for serving. This is especially important when putting the salt on a splatter screen over the smoke source, as some suggest–kosher salt will spill right through. (If you try this, be sure not to use a splatter screen with a plastic handle. Lesson learned.)
3. Soak the wood chips for an hour, then drain and place in your smoker or in a foil packet directly on the coals or burner. Unless you will use the salt for barbecue or other strong flavors, use a type of wood that imparts a mellow flavor. Few foods can stand up to hickory.
4. Smoke at the coolest heat you can sustain. Some say as low as 100°F, while others smoke at 350°F. A happy medium of 225°F worked for me.
5. If you can keep your smoker at a low enough temperature, some folks suggest smoking the salt for as long as 24 hours. Three to four hours worked well for me.
6. Let the salt cool in the smoker or on the closed grill to continue absorbing the smoky essence.
7. Package your salt in tightly covered glass jars and store away from heat or direct light to preserve its flavor.
With thanks to:
Also on my salt to-do list are citrus salt from Heidi Swanson, and matcha salt, made by pulsing sea salt in a food processor with powdered matcha tea. I’m also wondering about tea-smoked salt, or cocoa nib salt.
What salt blends have you made?