Eat This Rock!


The following is a Food Network special presentation.


SCENE 1
Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 8:44 am

GUEST: Female Shopper

    Ah. Nothing like a quiet morning in a museum. Yeah, I, I know it's a grocery store. But where else can you go to catch a better glimpse of the span of human experience, and the evolution of science and technology? Not to mention the fine art of advertising?

AB: [to Female Shopper] What's it say to you?
FEMALE SHOPPER: [eyes AB suspiciously and walks off]

    As with all good museums, there is much to see, do, and learn here and the entire place is a gift shop which is kind of nice. Now here we have my favorite display: the spices. And my favorite item: a food that is utterly unique in every way. That's right, salt. The always eloquent food writer Margaret Visser wrote, "Salt is the only rock directly consumed by man. It corrodes but preserves. It desiccates but is wrested from the water. It has fascinated man for thousands of years, not only as a substance he prized but as a generator of mythic and of legendary meaning. Its contradictions only intensify its power and its links with the experience of the sacred." Nice.

    Besides that, without salt there would be no beef jerky, soda pop, spaghetti sauce, canned soup, potato chips, chocolate sauce, donuts, dog food, cheese, baloney, peanut butter, ham, ketchup, athletic drinks, bread, pickles, olives, anchovies, capers. And just imagine what pretzels would taste like without this [salt]. You know, without salt, there would be absolutely, positively, no ...

SCENE 2
Lake Masu: Japan* - 1:52 pm

[a line is drawn across the globe a la Indiana Jones from the U.S. to Japan]

    [climbs to the top of a rock, looks out over the "lake"] Ah. Whew! "Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink." Well, you could drink it, but I don't think you'd much like the results. That's because most seawater is about 3.5 percent salt. And that's not a very strong solution I'll grant you, but it's just enough to be deadly, okay? Because no matter how much of that you drink, your kidneys are never going to have enough water to flush the excess sodium from your system. So you just drink and drink and drink and in just a few hours your renal system fails, your central nervous system goes bonkers and you go mad as a hatter. Oh, and then you die. And all in just a few hours. It's not fun.
    If, however, you found yourself adrift on this fluid desert you could stretch your fresh water supply by mixing approximately three parts of fresh water with one part of seawater. I say "approximately" because salinity does vary from sea to briny sea. Anyway, if you got your percentages right not only would you be stretching your fresh water supply, but you'd be making better use of it.
    By consuming some salt, you see, the body would be forced to hold in some of the water to keep it instead of just sweating it out in the tropical heat. That's why back before sports drinks, athletes used to take salt tablets. Of course, in effect, we'd be making our own sports drink here and we'd be adding electrolytes which your central nervous system would certainly appreciate when the time came to wave down that ship on the horizon or fend off that hungry band of headhunters.
    In places like Brittany, Sicily and Japan, the combination of sun and wind are sufficient to evaporate the water from shallow seaside ponds producing tons of salt like this, which is then harvested manually with rakes. Now this is not pure sodium chloride. Other salts, trace minerals, even chunks of algae are trapped in these crystals. Along with the specific size and shape of the crystal, manufacturers—or harvesters of sea salt—depend on these molecular modifications to give their products a unique character which is decidedly lacking from the salts produced by large solar commercial works.


[a line is drawn again from Japan back to San Francisco]

    [voice over] Like the 40,000-acre operation run on the south end of San Francisco Bay by Cargill.

SCENE 3
Cargill: Newark, CA - 3:45 pm

    [voice over] Now despite it's immense size, this process could not be more natural or more simple. Bay water is pumped into shallow ponds where sun and wind go to work evaporating the water. Over the next four years the brine is moved from pond to pond, getting saltier along the way. That pink, by the way, comes from algae that actually likes that salt.
    Now after five years the brine is pumped into clay-lined crystallization ponds which coax the salt out of solution. The remaining liquid is pumped off in early fall to reveal a four to six inch layer of solid salt. The harvesters then go to work, scraping around the clock to remove a million tons of the white stuff before the winter rains can come in January. Once harvested, the salt is trucked to a washing facility where the clay, algae and other impurities are removed with jets of water. The squeaky-clean salt is then pushed up onto a 90-foot mountain to dry and await further processing. Kind of makes me with I had a sled.

There is enough salt in the ocean to cover the continents 500 feet deep.

SCENE 4
Redmond Minerals: Redmond, UT - 9:54 am

[the line continues on to Utah]

    [voice over] All salt may come from the sea, but not all of it is found there. A few billion years ago many dry and salty sea beds went underground.

    Which is exactly what happened here in Redmond, Utah, where a thin, thin layer of clay barely conceals a twelve-hundred-foot-deep, one-mile-wide hunk of halite—that's rock salt—which got turned up on end sometime during the late Jurassic period. Now, unlike most mines which are usually dark, dangerous, dingy, wet, smelly, not to mention claustrophobic places, this mine, which has been overseen by the Schott family for the better part of fifty years, is exactly the opposite. It features a nice, big, wide, scenic drive-through.
    Everything that you see here—the floor, the walls, everything—is salt. And if it doesn't exactly look like the salt in your salt cellar at home, well there's a few good reasons. For one, we're in a really dark hole in the ground. For two, there's dust on everything, and three, well this salt is shot through with trace minerals. Almost like, well, fruit in a Jell-O mold. What's the significance of this? What do I look like, a salt miner? Oh! Here comes one now though.

Up until the 16th century it wasn't uncommon for convicted criminals
to be sentenced to live sentences in European salt mines.

SCENE 5
Redmond Minerals

GUEST: Kyle Bosshardt, Redmond Minerals

   
   

    [voice over] If you think this is big, you should check out the mines in Wieliczka, Poland. Through the centuries, workers who spend a lot of time down there did things like carve statues out of salt. They even carved whole rooms out of salt. Including several chapels and a grand ballroom that you can rent out for weddings and family reunions and the like.

    This is Kyle. Kyle is the mine supervisor here and he's been working in this mine for ...

AB: ... how long?
KB: About fifteen years.
AB: So Kyle, I found this down on the floor down there and I was thinking of just grinding it up and putting it on my steak. What do you think?
KB: I guess you could. But that isn't a very good example of what we would select for food grade.
AB: Why?
KB: Our salt has over thirty different trace minerals in it.
AB: Right.
KB: This, this example right here has too high a concentration in it.
AB: So some trace minerals taste good, and too much gets just bad. So what would you use this for?
KB: This would go for de-icing or livestock.
AB: De-icing.
KB: That's right.
AB: So I could make this into a salt lick or I can melt the snow on my driveway. Well, great.
KB: This is a good example of what we would select as food-grade.
AB: It's kind of rosy looking. I mean it's not clear. Um, so those are the minerals?
KB: It still has over thirty trace minerals, it's just not as heavily concentrated in there.
AB: So, this is a big, big, big, big, big place. What percentage of the salt that you pull out of here is actually usable for food?
KB: About one percent.
AB: One percent. These really bright white bands here, that's the, the good stuff? I mean that's like what you've got in your hand right there?
KB: That's correct.
AB: Okay. So somebody's going to ... You're going to blow up the whole wall, and then somebody will pick out just that part.
KB: Actually there are a lot of ways to mine rock salt. Depending on the formation you're blasting you might use a really big saw to a baseline at the bottom of the wall so the shockwave can be isolated. Then you drill a series of holes and carefully put a stick of dynamite into each one. And then the blasting caps are all connected to a main fuse which you light and then move to a safe distance. When the dust clears you just haul the chunks away. But some operations break the salt down to gravel size before hauling it up to the surface. Since our mine is a drive-through, though, as long as the pieces aren't too big to get in the truck, we don't really break them down any further.
AB: Well, you going to blow up some today?
KB: Yes we are.
AB: Then I'll just see myself out. Can I have my rock?
KB: You bet.
AB: Thanks, Kyle. Don't blow yourself up.

One of the most secure storage facilities is in a hollowed out salt
deposit 650 feet under Hutchinson, Kansas. Supposedly even the
original negative of "Gone With The Wind" is there.

SCENE 6
Driving

    Now chefs aren't always known for getting along with one another, but one thing that they all almost universally agree upon is that the most elementary skill in all of cuisine is the ability to properly season food. That is, apply salt.

    What exactly is salt? Well, we ... [sees "It's Elementary"] I don't believe it. [parks the car]

It's Elementary
Now Open!!!

SCENE 7
The "It's Elementary" Stand

GUEST: Mr. Smithers, Science Teacher

MS: Good afternoon, Sir. We're here to fill your elemental needs. From aluminum to zirconium, what do you need today?
AB: Well, if it isn't Mr. Smithers.
MS: Do you know me?
AB: Oh yes. You were my eighth grade science teacher.
MS: Aha! Do you remember anything? Do you remember the atomic number of Krypton?
AB: Are you kidding? Who do I look like, Lex Luthor? Ha ha! Come on, it's me, it's Alton Brown!
MS: Oh, my God, Alton Brown ...
AB: Yeah, but don't worry. I'm not going to blow up anything. Well, I'm probably not going to blow up anything. What I want to do is, I want to make some salt.
MS: Salt?
AB: Mmm hmm.
MS: Very simple. It's just sixty percent chlorine ...
AB: Chlorine?
MS: ... chlorine gas ...
AB: And?
MS: ... and forty percent sodium.
AB: Cool! [goes to open the container of chlorine]
MS: No, no, no!
AB: What?
MS: That's chlorine gas! It was used as a deadly poison gas during World War One. You don't want to get into that.
AB: Oh. I didn't know that.
MS: Well, you were sleeping through history class too, I guess.
AB: I was resting my eyes!
MS: Whatever.
AB: So where's the sodium?
MS: Now that's too dangerous to keep in a little stand like this.
AB: Come on! What kind of element stand are you running here, Smithers?
MS: Well, I think I do have some I confiscated from a senior back in '79.
AB: Oh ...
MS: Let me look ...
AB & MS: ... in the contraband drawer!
AB: Look at all ...
MS: Here it is!
AB: Great, we'll just ... [goes to open the vial of sodium]
MS: No no no! You don't want to open that either!
AB: Why?
MS: It's dangerous in another way. It explodes if it's exposed to moisture. So you have to keep it away from the moisture in the air by storing it under kerosene.

    So, one of the most important compounds in human life is born of the marriage of a poison gas and an explosive metal. Ironic, don't you think?

AB: All right. Thanks a lot, Smithers. I only need one more thing.
MS: What's that?
AB: [takes the springy eye-glasses from the contraband drawer] I've been looking for these for twenty-five years. See you, Smithers!

In the 1920's iodine was added to American table salt to
help prevent hypothyroidism, which was near epidemic
levels at the time. Today, it's nearly nonexistent.

SCENE 8
The Kitchen

GUESTS: King Puppet
             Chef Puppet

    [reading from "Salty Tales"] Once upon a time there was a king. And this king had three lovely daughters. And so one day he decides to call them in and ask, "How much do you love me?"
    Well, the first one said she loved him more than jewels and baby kittens. The second one said she loved him better than a trip to the Caymans. And the last one said, "I love you more than salt." Salt? Something was wrong with that girl.
    So the king gave cash and prizes to the first two daughters, and to the third daughter he gave banishment from the kingdom forever. And some nice car wax as a parting gift.
    Having dispensed with his paternal duties, he settled down to a nice meal. But there was something wrong. His food tasted flat. Disgusting. So he screamed for his chef.

KING PUPPET: Chef!
CHEF PUPPET: Yes, Sire?
KP: What's wrong with my food?
CP: Well Sire, since you placed so little value on salt, I decided to leave it out of your food.

    The king realized he'd been a big jerk. So he brought his daughter back. And there was much celebrating in the kingdom. Yay! So the daughter gave a little peck on the king's cheek and then went off to make some serious time with her boyfriend, the chef. Bet you didn't see that one coming. [puppets behind him begin to make out] Well, I'll just leave you kids alone.
    The moral of the story is, of course, that salt can make anything taste better, by making it taste more like itself, whether you're talking about potatoes, watermelons or chocolate. Now four out of five scientists agree that this is due to salt's ability to electrically turn the volume up on our taste buds.
    Four out of five scientists disagree, however, with foodies who claim to be able to taste the difference between different salts, say one from the Sea of Japan and one from, [tastes scrapping from a huge chunk of halite] mmm, former East Germany. Scientists claim that the trace elements that make these salts unique, make up less than one percent of the total salt, and are therefore undetectable by the human tongue. Fine.
    But lest we forget, genetically speaking, there is less than a percent difference between us and them. [holds a puppet ape up] Chimps, not puppets. Anyway, the thing that really separates one salt from another is texture.

During the Renaissance salt storage boxes or "cellars", crafted
for wealthy tables, we often fashioned from gold and jewels.

SCENE 9
The Kitchen

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    If we're going to talk texture, we'll have to talk about shape. And to talk about shape, we really need to employ the X19.3 Laser Scope. Pretty sweet, huh? Lights! Laser scope! Excellent!

    Behold table salt. Small, uniform, hard cubes. Think of it as, well, in the precipitation world this would be sleet.


Table Salt

    Now let's compare that to Fleur de Sel. A naturally evaporated sea salt harvested from the coast of France. Notice the open architecture, the lightness, the irregularity. They are essentially snowflakes.


Fleur de Sel

    Here we have two examples of kosher salt, both coarse and fine. And, ooh, it looks like we even have one of the pyramid shapes that is indicative of a specific kind of vacuum pan processing. What unifies all of them is that they are generally flat, which means that they will stick to the side of meat and slowly dissolve. That means they're good for pulling juices out of meat and that is what defines them as "kosher" or "koshering" salt.

Coarse
Kosher Salt

Fine
Kosher Salt

    Also of interest: pickling salt. Composed of tiny, tiny, little, uniform cubes that are smaller than table salt, and also don't have any additives, which I like. Since the cubes are so small they dissolve very easily in cold water so they're great for building brines, and pickle bases. Things like that. They also stick very well to things like French fries, popcorn, and the occasional slug. Lights!


Pickling Salt

    What salts do I keep around? Well pickling salt for sure. But I have to say my workhorse is kosher salt. No surprise there. But I also keep two condiment salts around, salts that I only use at the table and never cook with. One is a sea salt from Wales which is unique because the flakes are gigantic. It's almost like, I don't know, Corn Flakes, only just a little smaller.
    And I also like Scandinavian smoked salt. This stuff is basically evaporated over big wood fires, and they, they build this thing that makes the smoke go across the top of the crystals as they form so it all permeates into the salt. [tastes a sample] Mmm. Reminds me of my grandfather's smoke house. Put this on a steak, instant barbecue.
    I also like plain old rock salt. Not only is it good for de-snowing, de-icing your, your front stoop, it's good for, of course, making ice cream, and believe it or not, for baking stuff.
    Rock salt is a darn fine cooking medium. In fact, the only cooking medium capable of conveying dry heat into food faster is frying. But here we have the advantage of not having any fat. What's it a good method for? Ah, lots of stuff. You'll see.

    Our hardware includes one four-pound box of rock salt. One metal bowl or oven-proof baking dish that can hold it. One baking pan; 9 x 13 would be good. Put half of the salt in the pan. Put both of these in the oven. And set the oven to 400 degrees. Now when the oven says it's ready, give it another fifteen minutes.

4 lbs. Rock Salt

400°

75% of the sodium we consume is in the form of processed foods.
Food for thought... no?

    Now that I know the salt is nice and hot, it's time to add some software. Perhaps some, ...

THING: [hands AB some shrimp]

... ooh, shrimp. A plate of shrimp. I'd say about a pound of jumbos here. Okay, here we go.

1 lb. Jumbo Shrimp Heads On

    Basically just going to row these up on the salt. You don't have to get them perfect. Watch out for the salt, it's kind of hot. There we go. Now just pour the second batch of salt on top. There we go. And use your hot pad to spread that out and pack it down. I want as much contact as possible between the shellfish and the salt. There we go. Let this roast for seven to eight minutes.

England towns that were once salt centers have wich
in their names (Norwich, Greenwich). In Germany and
Austria, salz or hall are used.

    Mmm. Eight minutes later and our shrimp are perfect. Now you can either just cool them briefly and remove the salt when you take off the shell, or you can give them a quick dunk in white wine before consuming. Why bother with this? Because salt roasting concentrates the flavor of the shrimp without making them salty, without making them soggy. It just plain makes them, I don't know? Good eats.
    If you want to reclaim your salt, just let it cool down, put it in a colander and stick it under cold running water—very, very briefly—until it's clean. Then spread it out on paper towels, put it on a clean pan, and back in the warm oven. It'll be good as new.

    Or you could take about one and a quarter pounds of that, put it in a pot along with 2 quarts (that's 4 pounds) of water, and 2 pounds of small fingerling potatoes. Bring to a boil.

1 1/4 lbs. Rock Salt
2 qts. Water
2 lbs. Small Fingerling
    Potatoes

    [looking at pictures in a Viewfinder] Now this procedure hails from New York State where salt is produced from brine springs which develop when natural spring water passes through a large salt deposit on the way to the surface. Now some of these springs contain so much sodium chloride that they are "saturated", meaning that they're like 25% salt. Well, maybe 26. That's about the most the water can hold in a dissolved state. Now salt works like these have been in ... [notices we can't see the pictures he sees] Oh, sorry. [holds the Viewfinder up to the camera]


    [voice over] Lake Onondaga, NY is essentially a spigot for a massive underground brine deposit. Many of the towns around that area, like Syracuse, were born of that salt business. Even the Erie Canal was dug primarily to move salt. Eventually the boilers' need for fuel deforested the area turning the New York salt boom to bust.

    There are two things I really love about this procedure. For one thing, the potatoes cook very quickly. That's because the water is so dense with dissolved salt that the boiling point has risen from 212 degrees to 226 degrees. A very, very big difference.
    The other thing I love is that they are going to be perfectly seasoned. That's because of the salt. The only catch to this procedure is that since there are different sizes, you're going to have to kind of pull the little ones first and check them, then the medium ones. Just slide in a paring knife. If you feel bare resistance, you're good to go.
    Oh, and here's a little serving suggestion: let them cool on a rack and you'll be rewarded with a microscopic layer of salt crystals. Ready for butter and chives I'd say. Yum!

The Chinese were pumping brine from wells before the time of Christ.
They even devised bamboo pipelines to transport it to the boiling facility.

    Although everything tastes better with a little salt on it, it's salt's unique preservative power which, more than any other force, shaped our modern world. Oh, you don't believe that from a TV cook? Well fine, maybe you'll believe it from a nutritional anthropologist. You're on, Deb.

DD: Alton, salt's influence on humankind is so all-encompassing, I don't know where to begin.
AB: Well, why don't you just pull out a few contrasting high points, and from that we'll extrapolate the whole. Continue.
DD: Okay. At least a million years ago animals would track down the streams to the salt licks and the humans ...
AB: Yes. Deb. Awesome. This is a, this is a visual medium. You need some, you know.
DD: What do you suggesting Mr. DeMille?
AB: Well now that you ask, let's take a ride. Come on! [whistles and a roller coaster type car enters] Ladies first. Please watch your hands and feet. Please bring the safety bar firmly across the lap. Ready to go, are we?

Many American frontiersmen, including Daniel Boone,
were taught how to make salt by Native Americans.

SCENE 10
Alton Brown's SALT FUN HOUSE

DD: Early man tracked animals by following them to natural salt outcroppings called "licks". The paths they cut eventually became trails and cart paths and even major roadways. Some cities grew into world powers because of salt. Take Venice for example; In the first millennium it grew from being a small fishing village on the banks of the Po River up into the richest, most powerful city-state in the world for centuries, and that was all because of their Doge—that's what they called their king—used military force to funnel all the salt in the region through Venice. And he taxed every ounce of it.
AB: Why bother taxing something as common as salt?
DD: It's perfectly taxable because everybody needs it. Have you ever heard of "le Gabelle"? It's a tax that the French crown placed on salt. It was widely hated because it was disproportionally hard on the the poor people. And it spawned a huge salt smuggling empire that eventually had to be fought by a secret salt police.

AB: Heh, heh. What happened?
DD: Oh, well it became a factor in the French Revolution.
AB: Just like the French to fight over a spice.
DD: Oh, Americans, too. During the American Civil War, one of the strategies of the northern forces was to destroy the salt works of the Confederacy because they needed salt to cure meat, and without meat they couldn't feed their army. And as Napoleon said, ...
AB: ... "Armies march on their bellies."
DD: That's right. So after destroying the salt works in Louisiana, and along the Chesapeake, they went on to Saltville, Virginia and they launched a series of bloody offenses against the southern forces there. On the third attack, Saltville fell.
AB: Wow, I guess you could say it was a case of "gone with the brine".
DD: Heh. Guess you could. Hey, why isn't this thing moving?
AB: Oh, we're still kind of working out the kinks on this thing. Um, I'm sure it'll be fixed soon.

[the lights go out, AB and DD are in total darkness]

DD: Okay, well just keep your hands to yourself.

SCENE 11
The Kitchen

GUEST: Demon

    Anchovies, ham, capers, jerky, corned beef, bacon, sausage: just a few examples of foods that are preserved by salt's ability to turn them into microbial wastelands. But salt can also be used to judiciously limit microbial action without actually shutting it down. For example: bread, cheese and sauerkraut. Which, aside from being good and good for you, is unique because it depends on wild microbes.

    The software begins with five pounds of green cabbage. To that, we're going to add 3 tablespoons of pickling salt. 1 tablespoon of juniper berries, available in the spice section of your local mega-mart. The same as 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds. Now we're going to toss this together using my favorite kitchen tools, these [indicates his own hands] But make sure they are very clean, as in 20 seconds of washing with warm soapy water because any strange bacteria could get in here and definitely throw off the flavor of the kraut. Here we go.

5 lbs. Green Cabbage,
     Chopped
3 Tbs. Pickling Salt
1 Tbs. Juniper Berries
2 tsp. Caraway Seed

    Once it's good and mixed, let it sit for 10 minutes. Because in 10 minutes the cabbage will be nice and wilted and ready for containment. Now when it comes to kraut containment we always have choices. For instance, mason jars have always been popular.

THING: [brings a mason jar out from under the counter]

But since we want to gain access to the surface of the kraut, not so convincing. Then we have a pickle crock ...

THING: [comes out empty handed]

... but who ever has a pickle crock? Nobody. So I go with plastic containers, and my favorite is this loaf bread container.

THING: [hands AB the container]

I like it because it's kind of got this trombone thing inside meant to pull the bread out, and it's also a very effective plunger. Which is very nice. So, we load [the wilted cabbage into the container.]
    And get all the juice. Now the plunger. Now over time the cabbage is going to give up more and more moisture and the moisture will start to rise over the plunger, but we still could use a weight on top of this thing. Excuse me.

THING: [hands AB a jar]

Oh. A mason jar full of water. A very clean mason jar should do the trick. Now all we need is a nice cool place to stash this. I don't know, between 65 - 70 degrees. Excuse me.


Some of the first American ad campaigns were for the many
salt companies that popped up at the close of the 19th century.


10 Days Later

    After a day the cabbage will have given up enough liquid to be completely submerged. Nice. Now, check on this every other day for 2 weeks. If you see any scum form on the surface of the brine or on the jar, just wipe it or skim it off, wash the jar, and put it back.
    Now at about 4 weeks you're going to have kraut. Now during this time two different naturally occurring bacteria are going to do tag-team work on the cabbage. One will produce CO2, paving the way for the second bacteria that will produce the acid, therefore putting the "sour" in the kraut. Now both of these bacteria can tolerate certain saline levels, but the kind of bugs that would throw this process off, can't. So in this case the salt is acting as a biological bodyguard, rather than a bouncer. Nice.
    [takes a bite of a hot dog with sauerkraut on top] Mmm. Oooh. That, more than almost anything else I know, is good eats.
    Hey, did you know that when it comes to sayings and superstitions, no food can touch salt? For instance, in Japan, when a braggart needs to be humbled, they say, "his greens need to be salted". To be "untrue to salt" in Iran means to break a promise. And the old saying, "he's not worth his salt" comes from the days when Roman soldiers were paid a "salary" just for buying salt. Why, I can remember when I was a kid, and somebody that didn't have any practical sense would, you know, talk to my grandmom, and she would turn and say "Somebody forgot to salt the popcorn". I never understood that. But I like it. Back in the Dark Ages, people thought that spilling something as pure and sacred as salt might bring on demonic attack from behind.

DEMON: [creeps close to AB]

    Heh heh. The only cure was supposedly to take some salt and throw it over your shoulder. [throws salt over shoulder and into the Demon's eyes]

DEMON: [falls back because of the salt in his eyes]

    Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Those wacky peasants! Where do they get that stuff?

During the Middle Ages salt was used as a symbol of purity not only because it could preserve things, but because it was often the whitest thing around.

SCENE 12
The Kitchen

    If you recall our episode Hook, Line and Dinner, you'll no doubt recall that we cooked an entire fish—striped bass, I think—in a salt dome. It's a method that creates a very succulent meal, full of flavor, and, and very, very juicy. But it's kind of a messy method. And in fact it's, it's really best suited to things that are flat. Okay? Tall things, round things, it's not so easy to do.

    But we can get the same flavor and even better thermal characteristics by graduating from a dome to a dough. The software begins with fresh herbs. About half a cup, chopped. And I like parsley, and thyme, and sage. The only one I'd probably skip is rosemary, too stemmy, woody. You're also going to need 5 egg whites. 1/2 Cup Fresh Chopped
    Herbs
5 Egg Whites
THING: [hands AB each item through a cupboard]

    From the dry goods department, we will require the services of 5 cups of all-purpose flour, along with 3 cups of kosher salt, and 3 tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper.

AB: Thank you, Thing.

5 Cups AP Flour
3 Cups Kosher Salt
3 Tbs. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper

    As far as hardware goes, you could bring this all together in a stand mixer, if you've got a really, really beefy mixer. I prefer just to use a big bowl and a potato masher. We start by just bringing all of the dry goods together. And in the meantime, why don't you have your assistant chop up those herbs.

    Oh, and separate those 5 eggs. Oh, and mix them with a cup and a half of water.

Whisk Egg Whites With
     1 1/2 Cups H2O

    Once the mixture is homogenized, add what your assistant hath wrought: the egg and water combo, and ...

AB: [to Thing] ... thank you very much ...

... the herbs. We're going to save about half of this, okay? I'm going to only put in about 2 tablespoons worth. Put a wet paper towel on top of this [remaining herbs] and stash them in the ‘fridge. Now we mash.
    Now when it gets too tough to mash, just get out your trusty bowl scraper. You've got one of these? Fifty cents, right? Scrape down the side of the bowl, and get your hands in there and do a little kneading. Just kind of bring it together into a solid mass. There you go.
    Now, it's still going to be a little bit crumbly, but we're going to give it time to to hydrate. And to do that, we're going to need to shove it into a bag, a zip top bag. Don't try to do it in one piece, just break it up and shove it in there. Now we're going to let this sit out on the counter for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. Why? Well, it doesn't need to rise. There's no yeast in there. And with that much salt, even if there were, it'd all be dead by now. What all we want is for the flour to soak up all the moisture from the eggs. That's going to make the dough more pliable. So stash this. Do not try to use it now or you will have a terrible mess.

Number of crystals in a pound of table salt: 5,370,000.
Number of crystals in a pound of kosher salt: 1,370,000...
give or take a crystal or two.


4 Hours Later

    There. Now that we have our dough rolled out to, I don't know, I'd say about, I don't know, 3/16 of an inch, time to contemplate what is going to go on here. And unlike our dome, which really did require something flat, here we can use just about anything we want, say, maybe a ...

... tenderloin roast. Looks good, doesn't it? 6 - 7 lb. Beef Tenderloin Rubbed With 1 Tbs. Olive Oil

    What's with the the griddle? Well, this piece of meat is going to be going inside a dough. And if it's inside a dough it's not going to get brown in the oven. Right? So we need to sear it beforehand. I like to use an electric griddle because to tell you the truth it's the only thing I've got that's big enough to hold this. Just turn it all the way up to high, let it get really, really hot, rub a little bit of oil on the meat, and sear away. A few minutes on each side. Whatever you do, don't salt the meat. There's going to be plenty of salt later on.

AB: [to the roast] I'll be back.

Some of the oldest roads still in use in Europe
and Africa were originally built to move salt.

    Once the roast is seared, be sure to let is rest for several minutes on a cooling rack. If you try to put this meat directly on the dough now, it'll be so hot the juices will just dissolve the dough and all your work will be for nothing.
    So while this cools off we will tend to the dough itself. I like to trim it up and I like to use a pizza cutter for this. I'm just barely going to trim the edges. It's going to make it a little easier to fold, and we can always use those spare pieces to patch holes later if we have any. The rest of the herbs. Shoot for the middle two-thirds. The very edges of the the dough don't really matter. I'm looking for kind of a solid layer. There. Now press them down just a little bit. And now the meat. Right in the middle. There.
    Now gently take one side, flip it over one way, and then fold that edge back again thusly. Now bring up the second edge so that you've got a nice big crimp right on top. And just squeeze that to seal. It's not tight. It's important that it's not tight because a lot's going to be going on in there. Steam's going to be produced and you don't want to have tight dough. This is not Beef Wellington. I'm going to bring that up and crimp on the side, and the same on the other side. I've still got a little excess dough. There. Sealed up all the way around. Feel for any holes, and if you do find some, just take a little piece of your dough, put a little water on your finger, rub it, and then just basically patch it on like that. That'll do it.
    Now I'm just going to scoot this over a little bit and move the whole thing onto a sheet pan. There. Now temperature monitoring is going to be important, so I'm going to insert the probe from my favorite thermometer right in the middle.

    Now this whole thing is ready to move into a 400 degree oven. I'm going to slide it right into the middle, close the door, hook up my thermometer, and I'm going to set this for 125 degrees. Not because I plan on eating my beef at 125 degrees, but because I know it's going to carry over 10 more degrees once it comes out of the oven.

400°

To make home-made playdough, mix 1/2 cup of salt with 1 cup
of flour, 2 Tbs. of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of water.

SCENE 13
The Kitchen

GUESTS: 5 Scientists: Peterson, Smithson, Hobson, and 2 unnamed

    The other thing I really like about this dough is that it provides excellent insulation. I pulled that thing out about an hour ago and I'm willing to bet that it's still piping hot inside. Let's find out.
    After all, this my favorite part. See, you bring this to the table, right? And everybody looks at it and says, "Oh, you made a loaf of really ugly bread." And then you grab your knife and you make the first cut, and say, "Surprise! [gaspas] It's not a loaf of bread at all. It's a beautiful roast!" Now, just reach in with a pair of tongs and basically extract the roast from its crust. This [used dough] you can just, I don't know, drop that in the yard. It's salty enough to attract wildlife from miles around.
    Now, let's give it a taste, shall we? [does so] Mmm. Perfectly seasoned. Slightly herbal. Kind of like butter made from a cow rolling in the grass ... well, you know, something like that. Trust me, it's really good eats.

The majority of salt produced in the
United States is used to keep winter roads ice-free.

    We've been receiving salt-related cards and emails ever since our first program dished up the kosher stuff back in 1999. Since we've got a little time on our hands I thought it would be nice to answer a few of these along with the help of the finest salt minds science has to offer.

AB: [to the scientists over his shoulder] Hi.
SCIENTISTS: [all wave]

    Good. So here we go. "Dear Mr. Brown, Why do chefs use so much salt? Don't you know it causes high blood pressure?"

AB: [turns around] Peterson, you've published on this
      matter in the Lancet, have you not?
PETERSON: [nods and rises to answer the question but AB speaks first]
AB: Excellent, excellent!

    You have to remember, salt is an essential nutrient, okay? It provides the, the ying to water's yang, thus maintaining our, our moisture levels, okay? Without salt, a three block walk in summertime would probably kill you.

SMITHSON: [waves hand in the air frantically]

    I know, Dr. Smithson, I know. I know. Without salt you wouldn't be able to walk in the first place, because sodium works with potassium to generate the electricity that fuels our nervous system. Besides, there have been countless medical studies in the last twenty years trying to condemn salt. All they've been able to prove is that if you have two healthy kidneys, you have access to plenty of water, and as long as you don't have a genetic predisposition toward sodium-related hypertension, you can eat all the salt you want. Science says! You're not buying it. Okay. Hobson, say "aaah."

HOBSON: [sticks her tongue out]
AB: [puts a magnifying glass in front of her mouth]

    This device [the tongue] only detects four flavors: sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Now a lot of things taste sweet, right? And a lot of things, most of them toxic, taste bitter. Sour? Plenty of things. But only one thing tastes salty: salt. Now, think of this: this tongue evolved the way it did to taste food and keep us alive by telling us what to eat. If salt was bad for us, would this thing have evolved liking salt? Well would it? No.

    Let's take time for one last letter. "AB, Was Lot's wife turned to kosher salt or sea salt?" Ha ha. That's a good question.

SCIENTISTS: [all raise their hands to answer]

    You know, we just took a delivery from the Middle East this morning. So let's find out, shall we? [approaches a white "salt covered" manikin]

AB: [to the manikin] Ahem. Sorry, I ... [kisses the manikin on the cheek]

Mmm. You know, it just plain tastes salty to me.
    Well I certainly hope that you've gained a little more appreciation for the only rock we eat, salt. In the words of, famed authoress and wit, Irena Chalmers, "Salt is what makes things taste bad when it's not in them." See you next time on Good Eats.

AB: [to the manikin] Do you mind? [pulls one of the manikin's fingers off] You don't need it. Ah. Heh heh heh. Margaritas anybody?
SCIENTISTS: [all raise their hands]


*Actually, according to AB the location was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

Transcription by Mike DiRuscio

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010