Q: What do you think about cooking on a salt slab and what would you use one for?
A: Salt slab cooking has become the latest “trendy” way to cook food… similar to the way plank cooking and “stone grill” cooking was a few years ago. The concept is simple: you preheat a block of Himalayan salt to a screaming high temperature on your grill, oven or stovetop and cook whatever you like. During cooking, the food picks up salt from the block so you don’t need to salt your food before cooking.
The blocks may also be frozen and used for cold-food presentation such as caviar, sashimi, ceviche, smoked salmon or fresh fruit.
I have a couple of Himalayan salt blocks that were provided by poshsalt.com: an 8 x 8 x 1 1/2-inch block and a 4 x 8 x 1 1/2-inch block. They retail for $36 and $12 respectively.
The first food I prepared with a salt block was a Szechuan citrus scallop and shrimp appetizer (this could also be an entrée if you increase the number of shrimp and scallops per serving). Following the manufacturer’s recommendations I placed the dry, room temperature salt block on an unheated grill and turned the grill on to its lowest temperature allowing the salt block to warm (this also removes any moisture that might be on the block). Then I slowly increased the grill’s temperature until the salt block reached the desired temperature… for me the process took about 45 minutes until the block reached 550 degrees F. The key is to slowly increase the temperature, otherwise the block may shatter.
Once the block is at the desired temperature, add the food and cook until done. For the shrimp and scallops, it only took about two or three minutes per side until they were done.
The second item I prepared was classic Thai street food: Crying Tiger Beef. But instead of cooking a whole piece of marinated skirt steak (the traditional method), I bias-sliced a partially frozen steak and marinated the sliced beef with reduced-sodium soy, Thai chiles, ground coriander, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and sugar for two hours in the refrigerator. When the block was hot, I quickly seared the steak strips to medium-rare, about three minutes per side. (The longer food stays on the block and the higher the food’s moisture content the more salt it will pick up from the block.)
To accompany the steak, I grilled marinated asparagus on the salt block until crisp-tender and served it with Jasmine rice.
Allow the block to cool to room temperature before removing from the grill and cleaning.
Cleaning the block is straight-forward. Rinse the block under running water and brush the block with a nylon brush or green scrubby and allow the block to air dry on a wire rack. I store the block between two side towels.
Eight dry-packed sea scallops, tendon removed and rinsed
Eight large (U-21) shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely shredded lime and lemon peel
1 tablespoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns (or more to taste)
Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lime juice, the lemon juice, peppercorns and olive oil in a small container. Add the shrimp and scallops and marinate, refrigerated, for one hour. Drain the seafood and discard the marinade.
Prepare the salt block for high-heat direct cooking (500 to 600 degrees F.) and cook the shrimp and scallops for two minutes. Turn and cook another two to three minutes or until done. Using tongs remove the shrimp and scallops from the block and divide the shrimp and scallops onto two warmed serving plates.
Garnish the seafood with the lime and lemon zest and drizzle with the remaining lime juice. Sprinkle with additional crushed peppercorns if desired.
Mike Stines is a professional chef and the Grilling and Gadgets Editor for the Burn! Blog. Mike holds a “Doctorate of Barbeque Philosophy” (Ph.B) degree from the Kansas City Barbeque society. His book—Mastering Barbecue (Ten Speed Press, 2005)—has been called the “go-to” book for BBQ knowledge.