The Rogue Guide to Salt

image

(Quick guide: the deeper the shade, the deeper our love!)

CHEF: Aaron Hoskins, The Rogue Gentlemen         

http://www.theroguegentlemen.com/

I realized recently that the number of different salts in my kitchen was drastically at odds with the tiny amount of salt knowledge existing in my brain. (I’m pretty sure I bought a few of them simply because they ‘looked fancy’.) I wanted some advice from a culinary badass, so I sat down with the incredibly gracious Aaron Hoskins to eat and talk.

The salts: pink Himalayan (medium grain), French grey velvet (very fine), smoked Maldon (the classic coarse diamond shape), Sel de Guerande (medium grain), fleur de sel (fine grain).

The salt vehicles: Victory Farms heirloom tomatoes, RG’s homemade brioche and unsalted butter, pan-roasted Manakintowne shishito peppers.

Aaron’s insights are pretty fantastic, and so very useful to the home cook. Or the food geek. Or the amateur scientist. Here’s what he had to say during our taste test:

HEIRLOOM TOMATO

image

Pink Himalayan: The very light, small granules put it closer to an iodized salt, you don’t pick up texture or heavy minerality with this one.

French grey velvet: Great minerality. I also like this one with fatty things – helps cut through richness that would stick to your tongue, pulls deep flavor out of things like bone marrow and helps you taste the beef and iron and all the things that make marrow as unctuous and wonderful as it is.

Smoked Maldon: I love regular Maldon for pretty much everything. What’s cool about Maldon is that the flakes are so big that they sit on top; it’s not the greatest thing to season with when cooking because it doesn’t break down, but it’s great to add flavor and texture at the end.

Sel de Guerande: This one’s mild and takes a second to hit you. I feel like I’d season everything with it – you don’t get the granule punch, you just get the saltiness blended into what your’e eating. Cool thing about salt: it suppresses bitterness. Tomatoes taste extra sweet with just salt and pepper on them.

Fleur de sel: This tastes more like ocean salt than the others do, especially against the tomato acid. I like the size of the granule – a little smaller, more manageable than typical fleur de sel.

Favorite: Maldon or fleur de sel.

BRIOCHE AND BUTTER

image

Pink Himalayan: Again, really light. Nice with the butter because you can really taste it; not too overpowering.

French grey velvet: Really, really good. Obviously heavier than the pink salt – but the minerality also really works with the butter. Adds an almost grassy, earthy taste, or at least it amps that up in the butter. Which is, along the chain of things, basically made of grass.

Smoked Maldon: The smoke isn’t overpowering at all, it’s actually really mild and works really nicely – and I love the texture. Maldon has a really bright pop to it – it’s salty, but it’s not like a spoonful of salt. The crystals take a long time to break down so that you get to taste the layers in what you’re eating.

Sel de Guerande: I’m trying to think what the smell reminds me of – it’s almost chemical. Maybe the magnesium content. Metallic. This is very mild, again, small grains and not overly noticeable as a texture, a good everyday salt. I don’t get much of the minerally, magnesium taste on it. Just the smell. Salt’s everywhere – it really changes based on where you get it – from mines, from the oceans. France is known for their salt, although I think about half the world’s salt comes from the US.

Fleur de sel: The small crystals have a very strong, oceanlike saltiness on the butter; again, you can tell it was harvested from the ocean. This one’s much more useable than most fleur de sel because the crystals are smaller. Fleur de sel crystals are usually round, diamond shaped crystals which can be hard to eat, like biting into  a little rock as opposed to a thin sheet like the Maldon.

Favorite: Either grey velvet or Guerande. Brioche has a hard bitter crust because the sugar is caramelized so far – the Guerande really helped mellow that out.

SHISHITO PEPPERS

image

Pink Himalayan: Too mild. I don’t know if works well with something like shishitos. I got a lot of char and astringency in that bite. It would be really nice on raw seafood, a crudo, because it’s subtle.

French grey velvet: It really masks the bitterness! I like that. Brings out that touch of sweetness from the maillard reaction, the chemical process of caramelization.

Smoked Maldon: When we make these here, I cook them with kosher and finish them with plain Maldon. This is how I’m used to tasting them, by far my favorite of the finishing heavier salts.

Sel de Guerande: Nice as well – combining this with Maldon would be the perfect type and amount of salt for me.

Fleur de sel: A lot more pungent – in this situation, I liked it. It’s more combined with the shishito flavor, which has to do with the size of the grain.

Winner: The Maldon or the grey velvet; the fine grey salt adds an almost umami-esque thing. One of my favorite flavors, the lingering earthiness.

image

(Aaron making orecchiette.)

[YOU ARE]: Brittanny Anderson / Metzger Bar and Butchery

[YOU ARE]: As in ‘you are what you eat’. Chefs share food-related details from their lives outside the restaurant.

Brittany Anderson, Metzger Bar and Butchery - Richmond, VA

http://www.metzgerbarandbutchery.com/

image

image

Transcription:

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I worked FOH (front of house) since I was in high school, and in my early 20s I realized I wanted to know EVERYTHING about restaurants, so I cooked for free for a month & was like, yes. This is what I want to do.

What was the first meal that you prepared that really made you sweat?

I guess my finals meal in culinary school. At FCI, they assemble a panel of great chefs to judge the final & when I learned I would be making a souffle for Mark Ladner & Adam Kaye, I started sweating a bit.

What excites you at the grocery store?

Right now it’s stone fruit - if I see a fat plum, I. MUST. EAT. IT! Tomatoes are killing it right now, too.

Strongest food-related memory from your childhood?

My family is from the Northern Neck, so lots of seafood stuff - crabs, oyster stuffing. But I remember the weird stuff most - cold spinach out of the can with vinegar, my grandma’s crazy jello salads, salt & pepper canteloupe, eggs & pineapple.

Number one place on earth you’d go for food adventures? Why?

Florence, Italy is amazing! Meat heaven. They have whole hog porchetta in the markets that kills me! I’m also excited about an upcoming trip to Scandinavia!

Most unusual thing you’ve eaten? Where?

Cured puffin in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was chewy but tasty.

Dish in your repertoire that you’re proudest of?

I think cooks usually hate everything they put out & that’s what motivates us to move forward & be more creative, so I’m not 100% stoked on one particular dish, although I do think I make a mean pork chop. :)

What keeps the flame burning?

My husband Kjell is always pushing me to grow & is so supportive and that really helps in this industry. I’m also constantly inspired by other chefs in this awesome RVAdine community! XO

image

(Pickled eggs with mustard aioli.)

image

(Pork schnitzel, duck fat potatoes.)

image

(Rockfish with summer vegetables and crispy speck.)

[STORYTELLING]: Retro Menu Redux

I miss fried mushrooms with horseradish sauce. In fact, that’s the backbone of this entire article—the fact that, after spending at least two decades on nearly every appetizer menu in America, they are now an endangered species, and I am sad about it. I’m not saying that the food industry doesn’t occasionally retro-fashion itself (hello again everywhere, wedge salad), because it does. But in my mind, there are some delicious things currently missing from the reprise lineup.

image

(Because I have no deep fryer right now, I grabbed this picture from http://vegans-have-superpowers.blogspot.com/ where you can learn how to make a gluten-free/vegan version of this most valuable treasure.)

Comeback-Dish Wishlist:

1. Seriously, fried mushrooms. Cornmeal-battered and dunked in hot oil until they’re all soft and luscious inside, and when you bite into one and burn yourself, you don’t even care because the juices taste so earthy and salty and good. Not to mention that you can immediately tend the burn with an extra swipe of cold, creamy horseradish dip, which is like the crack version of sour cream.

2. Clams casino. Good god. I mentioned these to a friend the other night and he’d never even heard of them, which really bummed me out because everyone should experience the joy that is clams broiled with bacon and breadcrumbs (even people who don’t like clams). My father’s version is killer: he adds Parmesan and Vidalia onion. You can still get your fix in RVA at Bookbinder’s. And you should—they nail it.

3. Seven-layer salad. Okay, this is one of those things that most people probably think vanished for a reason, but I’m southern and I like it, damn it. It’s important to note that I’m not talking about the Mexi-inspired seven layer dip. It’s a salad, and like all good southern salads, it’s got a bunch of mayonnaise in it, along with fresh green peas, lettuce (iceberg, of course), crumbled bacon, chopped boiled eggs, cheddar shreds and onion. Pro tip: sweeten the mayo. Gross? Maybe. But then again, no.

4. Potatoes au gratin. Also, baked potatoes, stuffed potatoes, potato skins, Pommes Anna… anything other than garlic mashers. What the hell happened? Errybody likes a potato. There should be at least five variants of America’s favorite vegetable on every menu, right? 

5. Beef stroganoff. AKA Noodles Marmaduke, if you splash a bit of Burgundy into it. I seriously haven’t seen this on a menu since the 80s. Someone please enlighten me as to why any mixture of sour cream, noodles and tender beef could ever lose popularity. Sometimes I wolf down huge wooden spoonfuls of it while I’m stirring in the sour cream at the end so that it appears to my tablemates that I’m consuming a normal-person portion.

6. Shrimp cocktail. Did this get boring or something? Because I am a huge fan, down to the cocktail sauce. I’m into the idea of saucing it differently—a coconut chutney or something lime-infused—but keep the ketchup/horseradish thing going, too, for all of us whose childhood disgust turned into adult obsession.

7. French onion soup. It’s probably a huge pain for chefs to deal with, and that’s why it sang its swan song (for the most part) in the 90s. When was the last time you poked your spoon through a layer of crusty, cheesy bread to get to your soup? And did that soup contain the brilliance of buttered onions cooked down in beef broth? Outside of the fact that it’s probably on the short end of healthy, it’s the best soup ever invented. Luckily, it hasn’t disappeared entirely: you can get your fix at Can Can, Max’s and the Viceroy.

8. Jellied salmon mold. The way the sweet lime flavor gels around the briny salmon and celery… just kidding, and also massive gag. May the world never revive experimentation with Jell-O.