Of The Patriot-News

The grownups are playing with their food again.

It used to be about the oil, especially first-cold-press extra-virgin olive oil. Then it was vinegars, some with tarragon sprigs that seemed to be growing inside the bottle.

Now salt is the “it” item at the center of the plate.

“It’s a new trend in high-end dinner party accoutrement,” said Jan Rumberger of Silver Spring Twp., a home cook and entrepreneur who does a lot of entertaining.

He has done a ribeye steak with ranch fries and petit peas, all unseasoned, and then presented with a selection of salts from NapaStyle for spicing at the table.

“We put it out so people can learn to play with salts for finishing,” he said.

At Bricco, the teaching restaurant on Second Street, chef instructor Michael Finch takes a different approach to salt presentation.

“We actually do a compound butter that we blend the Peruvian pink salt crystals into, because they’re a large crystal. We’re using that as a finish for grilled or broiled fish. When you chill that down and slice your butter, you’re getting the flavor as well as the color and texture of the salt.”

Welcome to the new big thing.

Salt is a rock we eat. As Canadian food writer Margaret Visser put it, “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.”

It’s more fascinating now that NapaStyle, Williams-Sonoma and other gourmet purveyors are putting pretty pictures of pink salt, black salt and red salt all over the Web. Salts even made the short list of hot items for 2007 in a survey of American Culinary Federation members, the nation’s top chefs.

Salt brings a meal into focus by acting on the dish — but also on the diner, said Tim Harris, president of the Harrisburg ACF chapter and head of the Culinary Arts program at HACC. Literally, it makes your mouth water.

“People are relating to it as a finishing product because salt activates the glands in your mouth and saliva starts building. Salt pulls it out of the glands.”

The range of gourmet salts is worldwide, from the ancient salt marshes of France to the new Quoddy Mist Sea Salt taken from the Bay of Fundy, which has the greatest tidal range of any body of water on Earth.

The far-flung salts include:

* Hawaiian Sea Salt, baked in red clay for color and flavor.

* Smoked Sea Salt, sometimes done over exotic materials such as coconut shells and kaffir lime leaves.

* Cyprus Black Lava Flake Salt, salt from the Mediterranean combined with activated charcoal.

And dozens of others, with varied pricing. You can find a collection of a half-dozen salts for about $25. Most are finishing salts. Kosher is the major cooking salt in commercial kitchens.

Even the fanciest of salts can be used in vain.

“If you spend a lot of money on a fancy French sea salt and you add it to a pot of soup that’s going to simmer for two hours, it’s going nowhere,” said David Kamen, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

The one exception is smoked salt, which Harris says is excellent for cooking strong meat.

“To me this is like, barbaric,” he said, handling smoked, black grains. “You want something that will stand up to this, like a heavy beef or a game meat — venison or elk or a caribou. I’d use it as a dry rub, to cook and melt in the salt.”

PAT CARROLL : 255-8149 or



For some unusual salt varieties check out:


1 Response to “Savory Delights”

  1. February 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Thanks for finally talking about >Savory Delights | Out
    In Harrisburg, Eating <Liked it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


email news and reviews to: or


In culinary school and getting ready to trade the writing life for the cooking life. Or not. Might do both. At the moment I'm a feature writer for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. My name is Pat Carroll.

%d bloggers like this: