When presented with something unique and new, we just have to give it a try….and we’ll try anything once. You know. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Such was the case, when a Himalayan Salt Brick showed up under our Christmas tree. It was an 8″ x 10″ x 1-1/2″ block of natural, pink salt. It was iridescent and beautiful. And it was almost a shame to smear oil over the surface and heat it up for cooking but how else were we going to find out how well it worked?
Our first attempt with the salt block was with a side of fresh asparagus for Christmas dinner. The use of the block was as much about show for our guests as it was about cooking the vegetable. As the block heated up (slowly over the course of about 30 minutes so as not to cause it to crack), the asparagus started to sear. It certainly would have been easier to broil or grill the spears rather than turning each stalk, one at a time, on the salt block but cooking with a salt block is as much about showmanship as it is about the resultant subtle, salt flavor. Standing there sipping an interesting California pinot, I didn’t mind the slow path to salt-seared veggie perfection.
The asparagus was a hit. The salt block cooled down over night and, in the morning, we wiped it off and made a second attempt cooking with the block; this time with eggs. Again taking 30 minutes to heat things up slowly to avoid block damage was challenging for me but, once up to temperature, we cracked a couple of eggs on the surface and watched.
They cooked beautifully just as they would have in a frying pan. We did have to take care not to let the egg whites run off the edge as there is nothing to stop things from falling off the block but, aside from that, the block worked just as well as the pan and it imparted its subtle, salty flavor to the eggs. Another success.
Cleaning the block is much like cleaning a cast iron skillet; a simple rinse and wipe down. After all, it is salt so it isn’t going to harbor bacteria and too much scrubbing will just erode it away. I have to say that now that the block had been used a few times, it wasn’t quite as beautiful as it was before it was used. If I had planned to use it solely for presentation, then I shouldn’t have cooked on it.
Perhaps the best course is to have two blocks – one for cooking and one for presenting.
Considering perhaps acquiring a second block, I went back to the box in which block number one was packaged. I discovered that the block was harvested from the Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan. After doing a little research, I found that the Khewra Salt Mine is the second largest salt mine in the world sitting on over 6 billion tons of rock salt! Supposedly it was discovered over 2300 years ago when the horses of Alexander the Great wouldn’t stop licking the rocks in the area…a natural salt lick. Very cool.
Interestingly, the Khewra Salt Mine isn’t actually in the Himalayan Mountains though; they are merely just close…about 160 miles away. I suppose some marketeers decided ‘Himalayan Salt’ had a nicer ring to it than ‘Pakistani Salt’ in the western market. Or, when they make the claim that the salt is pure and pristine since it is being harvested from salt stores that existed millions of years ago (long before modern-day pollution), it sounds better if that salt comes from an old, snow-covered mountain range. Perhaps they learned that from all the beer producers and water bottlers who market their mountain stream water as making a better product. Sorry, my cynicism is showing!
Marketing aside, cooking with the block is fun when you want to put on a show or do something a little bit different. The flavor that the block imparts on the food is pleasing (as long as you don’t try to cook something with a lot of water as the water draws the salt up from the block rather quickly). Serving on the block makes for a nice presentation. When the block finally does crack or its patina become objectionable, it can be smashed into bath salts or used as a natural pumice. You can’t do that with your frying pan!
All in all, the Himalayan Salt Block experiment has been a success. We are glad we received it as a gift and were able to give it a try. We look forward to trying new things on the block, and, if we ever get to Pakistan, we now have a destination that we really want to tour. (As well as Goderich, Ontario, Canada where the largest salt mine is located.) Something ventured, something gained!