Thin-slice steak and asparagus cooking on salt block on top of the barbecue.
#100daysofcooking, Recipes

Day 94: Pinch me. We’re cooking on a salt block


Salt-Block Grilled Beef, Shrimp and Asparagus


In case it isn’t obvious, Dan is way more adventurous in the kitchen than I am — whipping up Panko-like crumbs from broken tortilla chips, utilizing the “leftover booze” in apple pies and inflaming the neighbours with his smoker.

Supportive wife that I am, I like to encourage his creativity with thoughtfully chosen gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Since our early dating days, I’ve outfitted him with items like a mortar-and-pestle, the aforementioned smoker, and a potato masher shaped like a duck.

A few Christmases ago, inspiration took the form of a Himalayan Salt Block. In terms of the wow factor (and, come to think of it, the weight factor), this was a winner. In terms of practical use, well, I gotta say it had us licked. In a manner of speaking.

At that time, the quality of information available on how to cook with it ranged from “Isn’t it pretty!” to “Don’t put it in the dishwasher!” to “Heat it slowly!”

We gave it a shot once, cooking pieces of tuna on the block after heating it — to the best of our ability given the information at hand — over one of the stove-top elements. Fair to say neither of us were particularly dazzled with the results, but really we had no idea what we were doing.

What better time to give it another shot than during this Kitchen Castoff cooking and blogging challenge? And time is clearly running out.

Happily, I’d located some useful tips from the blog Wellness Mama, which gave a good overview on preparing and using the salt block as well as a handful of cooking ideas, too.

First off, we had no idea about tempering a salt block, which involves slowly heating the plate in the oven up to 500 degrees then letting it cool back to room temperature. This took us a whole evening: you start with the plate in a cold oven, then turn the heat to 170 degrees. Once it has reached that temperature, you leave it for 30 minutes, then increase the temperature by 50 degrees. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until it has been in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then you can turn the oven off, leaving the salt block inside until it has cooled completely.

Tempering is said to be important to avoid “cracking, breaking or shattering,” according to the U.K. website for the kitchen-ware company Flint and Flame.  It doesn’t say anything about exploding salt plates, but apparently that is an issue as well.

A wickedly fun Virginia Pilot story about salt-block cooking quoted extensively from the list of warning and hazards in the Mark Bitterman cookbook “Salt Block Cooking.” Here’s an excerpt from the Pilot article, written by Lorraine Eaton:

I’m even more wary when, two pages later, I find this lawyerly disclaimer, something I’ve never seen in a cookbook: “Cooking on salt blocks poses risks. If you wish to cook on one, please understand that you assume all responsibility. Neither I nor my publisher is responsible for damages, injury, or loss related to the use of Himalayan salt products.”

He’s not kidding, and he’s not finished yet.

Think you’ll just heat your new salt block in the oven and be on your way? Think again.

“The result can be, quite literally, explosive, resulting in severe damage to your oven and even injury to anyone nearby. I know of many dozens, if not hundreds (the emphasis is mine), of exploded salt blocks, broken oven doors, and shattered nerves.”

Luckily both Eaton’s story, and ours, turned out successfully: no explosions, just a fun cooking experience resulting in foods that take on an unusual and deep salty flavour.

Kitchen Castoff Used

Dan’s Himalayan Salt Block. And because everything turned out fine, we’ll keep it around

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This is how we did it

Before we get to the recipes, a few considerations for salt-block cooking

  • Heating a block can be done in an oven, on the stove (with a metal ring, like a wok ring, to keeping the block off the element) or on the barbecue. We chose the latter. Like tempering, you want to bring the heat source up slowly, raising the temperature slightly every 15 minutes or so. Ours heated on the grill for about 50 – 60 minutes.
  • The block is ready when you can splatter a few drops of water onto the stone and they evaporate immediately. If your block isn’t hot enough, it will take longer to cook the food, which means they will absorb more salt.
  • A salt block needs to be clean and dry for at least 24 hours before using it.
  • Don’t put oil on the block, although it is OK to very lightly oil food before cooking it.
  • For cleaning, wait until the block has cooled completely, then use one of those plastic scouring pads to remove food mess from the block. In effect, you are almost sanding the dried food away. You can do a wipe with a damp cloth, but refrain from using too much water — unless you want your salt block to dissolve.

Ingredients

Served with a green salad and Dan’s House Dressing, this was a nice Friday night dinner for two

For Thin-Sliced Steak

  • 1 strip-loin steak, sliced into thin strips and dusted with a sprinkle of onion powder and pepper

For Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

  • About 1 dozen frozen white jumbo prawns, thawed, tossed in 1 or 2 tsp crushed garlic, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tbsp lemon juice

For Asparagus Spears

  • Trimmed asparagus, brushed with a tiny bit of olive oil

Method

We cooked everything in shifts, during which the salt block cooled a bit. As a result, the asparagus (cooked last) were noticeably saltier than the steak, which cooked first.

As well, our block didn’t heat evenly because we only turned on one of the grill burners. So, we chose to cook the steak followed by shrimp on the hotter side, and the asparagus on the cooler side.

The steak took about 1 – 2 minutes per side — they cooked super fast and were absolutely done to perfection. We covered them in foil and put in a warm oven. (Note: we did our steak in strips, but I’ve seen more than a few recipes online to just cook a full steak on the block. The heat sears in the juices, and the block’s earthy salt flavour permeates the steak.

The shrimp came next and took slightly longer — say 2 – 3 minutes per side. They definitely stayed on the block until they turned pink and looked cooked.

Once the shrimp and steak were both done and off the block, we spread out the asparagus, tossing it once or twice. It was probably on for about 7 – 8 minutes total and, as mentioned, took on more salt flavour than either the steak or the shrimp.


Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.

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