At this point in my love affair with food, I rarely stumble across a cooking concept that is entirely foreign to me. This is not say that I have personally tried every cooking technique or idea out there – not by a long shot. However, I do have a pretty good grasp on current trends and classic cooking methods.
So, imagine my excitement when I came across Salt Block Cooking, by Mark Bitterman. Even to the uninitiated, the author is clearly a well-respected salt aficionado. In fact, if you Google the term “salt block,” you’ll soon see his name appear over and over again in the search results.
Originally published in 2013, Salt Block Cooking weighs in at just over 200 pages. Inside, you will find 70 recipes related to curing, preparing, serving and cooking food with Himalayan salt blocks. You’ll also find a lot of background information on the topic, plus in-depth information on how to use and care for your investment.
As of this writing, Salt Block Cooking has garnered nearly 220 reviews on Amazon. Based on those reviews, it has earned a respectable 4.4 star ranking (out of 5 possible stars). 83% of those who reviewed this book gave it a 4 or 5-star ranking.
Before digging into what works – and what doesn’t – in Salt Block Cooking, let’s take a closer look at who the ideal audience is for this book. This is important because ultimately it will decide if you should plop down your hard-earned money for it or not.
For starters, I will say that this is NOT a cornerstone cookbook that deserves a spot in every home cooks library. No, this is a niche product that is perfect for those who are passionate about food and/or who love to try to new techniques and styles of cooking.
The book is rich in detailed information regarding how to use salt blocks in different applications, including curing, serving, chilling and cooking. For example, it seems every page that involves cooking with a salt block includes a reminder on how to safely prepare them for heat applications. The blocks themselves may contain small amounts of moisture that makes them prone to breaking or even exploding when heated.
Not surprisingly, the need to follow proper safety precautions is imperative and is stressed throughout the book.
For a complete salt block beginner, like myself, it is important to pay attention to proper technique to avoid overly salted results. I tend to “wing it” in the kitchen and as a result, my first 3 attempts with different foods resulted in salty disasters. A bit more focus the second time around yielded the intended results in each case.
In fact, the salt-cured lemon recipe alone has made this culinary experiment a smashing success, in my opinion. I have used them in so many recipes since I discovered this technique and plan to have them on hand as much as possible in the future. They are really fantastic.
That said, there were a couple times I was confused by the way information is presented in Salt Block Cooking. For example, in the section on curing the directions on how to make salt-cured, candied strawberries are not clear. I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed, so I decided to test a few different methods to see what worked best. This approach worked out just fine, but I love to cook and enjoy tinkering around with new recipes. Clearly not everyone feels that way. As a result, this cookbook could stand some refinement in this area.
Salt Block Cooking also falls a bit flat with those who are looking for basic, beginner-level recipes or those who have just a passing interest in cooking. In fact, one major complaint among reviewers who rated it 3 stars or lower is that there just aren’t enough basic, everyday recipes in it to justify the investment. Even as someone who loves to cook and try unique combinations, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed when I first flipped through the recipes.
Now, I don’t want to leave you with the impression I don’t like Salt Block Cooking. I really do, but I want to make sure I present it from every angle. I found the book fascinating and I look forward to trying more recipes. (At this point I have only used my slabs for curing and other cold applications). The blocks turn color when heated, so you can’t use the same blocks for cooking as you do for serving. Plus, they have that annoying capacity to explode under stress, so I decided to hold off on heat applications for now.
So, to wrap up my thoughts… this book is a great purchase or gift for the devoted food lover in your life (or anyone else who loves to tinker around in the kitchen and try new things). The pictures are beautiful and many of the proposed flavor combinations are provocative.
In short, this is a cool, informative little cookbook that will lead to some rewarding time spent in the kitchen. If this sounds like you, or someone you know, you can check it out for yourself here:
|Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks (Bitterman's) $13.35|