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Salt block cooking seems mysterious and exotic, something you'd experience at a fancy restaurant but not a technique you'd venture to try at home. While salt block cooking may seem daunting at first, it's actually a very fun way of cooking everything from steak and vegetables to chicken and seafood.
For tips on how to master salt block cooking we turned to Mark Bitterman, co-owner of the specialty shop The Meadow in Portland, Oregon and New York City and author of Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks.
To ensure optimum cooking you'll need salt bock that is thick enough to conduct heat evenly. Salt blocks that are two inches (5cm) thick are ideal. However, you could get by with one that is at least 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) thick.
TAKE IT SLOW
The first step in salt block cooking is heating up your chosen block of salt. This is a process that should be done slowly to prevent cracks in the salt block (which will eventually happen but slow heating will prolong its lifespan). Place the block over a gas range or grill on low heat until it reaches 200F (93.3C) then keep increasing the heat slowly, about every 10 minutes until it reaches 500F (260C).
*If you have an electric range you can obtain the same results by elevating the salt block using something like a ring mold as a base.
HOT MEANS HOT
If your salt block isn't hot enough for cooking it will crack much easier. To ensure you've reached proper heat try drizzling a drop or two of water on the block. If the water sizzles and evaporates immediately then you are just steps away from salt block cooking. If not, keep increasing the heat slowly till it reaches 500F. A hot salt block will allow food to sear on contact, preventing it from becoming too salty.
SLICE FOOD THINLY
Steaks, veggies and fish will cook in seconds if cut thinly so keep that in mind when you are prepping your food. Aside from obtaining a mean sear on meats, chicken and seafood, the salt block could be used to compress food on a grill. Also, avoid plastic utensils when cooking on a salt block. Metal works much better at scraping adhered food.
CLEAN IT WITHOUT SOAP
Washing a salt block with soap is basically a sin. That's because the potent ingredients in dish soap will strip the block of its mineral content. Instead, use very little water and a metal sponge to scrape away bits of food. Be sure the salt block has completely cooled (it's a good idea to wait at least an hour) before cleaning. Then pat dry with towels and store in a secure place that doesn't get a lot of moisture.
IT'S NOT JUST FOR COOKING
So say the whole process of salt block cooking just sounds too complicated for you. No problem! You can still use salt blocks in your kitchen. They make lovely platters and a unique way to serve food. They can also be stored in the freezer and used as a bed for refreshing dishes like ceviche or salads.