In India for a festival, Melbourne chef Sebastian Simon shares hacks to turn the humble ingredient into a flavour bomb
Crepe with roasted figs, prosciutto and lemon mascarpone
When we hear Sebastian Simon is down for the Bengaluru edition of gourmet food festival World on a Plate (WOAP), our salt taste buds wake up. Simon, who has chefs and enthusiasts globally going gaga over his smoke salt infusions, noticed, as an executive chef at a Melbourne restaurant, that customers would order steak but they never translated into repeat customers.
"One day I changed the seasoning a bit, and cold smoked the salt used in the steak with hickory. Out of 24 customers who ordered a steak that day, seven asked me what I had done differently. I told them I infused my salt with hickory wood chips, which had caused the massive shift in the seasoning," he says.
When in 2015 he branched out on his own to start his artisan salt brand, Lava Salt, he pledged to use locally produced, natural sea salt flakes harvested from ancient sea beds. "I don't work with pink salt because it already has a great flavour and doesn't need tampering."
"The salt I use has the perfect moisture content and pH level consistency for infusion. The salt I source is hand harvested, and naturally drained to form natural crystals. "You can pep up your salts at home too," he tells us giving us the example of all the spices or aromatics from our masala dabbas — cinnamon, cardamom, cloves.
"Take an empty air-tight jar, add sea salt and add spices that have been dry roasted (make individual infusions for each spice). Put the lid and give it a good shake. The infusion is ready in three to four days. Keep it away from humidity and sun," he explains.
The cinnamon salt, he says, can be used on an apple when you roast them to make an apple crumble. The infusion time, mind it, depends on the fragrance depth of the spice. Home chefs, he warns, should remember that strong and pungent smelling ingredients will infuse faster. Lighter, subtle smells and take longer up to a week.
In cold smoking, food is placed in a chamber or box and smoke is pumped through the chamber for a period of around 12- 48 hours. The temperature of the chamber is kept between 20-25°C, and the fire producing the smoke is kept away from the food. Cold smoking is a process of 12 hours. Simon usually smokes the salt for six to 12 hours and leaves it in barrels for ageing. Cold smoke happens from 18C - 25C degrees and the smoke collects in a chamber valve and indirectly perfumes the salt. At home, one can use the dum pukht method like how you would put pieces of coal in a small bowl while making chicken curry. Homemakers can also experiment with woods. "I would recommend mango wood or good charcoal or a classic oak or grapevine which has a natural smokiness and fruity flavour," he says."
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