Why You Need a Himalayan Salt Block for Cooking
You may have already used Himalayan Mountain Salt as a natural, healthy and flavorful alternative to manufactured table salt, but did you know that the pretty pink crystals also come in great big slabs that you can use for cooking?
Himalayan salt blocks are causing a stir in cooking circles today and with good reason. Thanks to their incredible thermal properties, they’ll hold any temperature. You can cook on them – on the stovetop, outdoor grill, or in the oven. Or chill a salt block to serve up cold food, you can even freeze them. They’re perfect for caramelizing food too. And any food cooked or served on salt blocks picks up a delicate flavor and benefits from the healthy minerals that give Himalayan Salts their amazing color.
*Trivia Alert* – The ancients were well aware of the necessity of salt and valued it highly. Salt is frequently referenced in the bible and ready access to salt was a prerequisite of civilization. Roman legions were sometimes paid in salt, which is where the word salary comes from. It’s also the origin of the phrase “worth his salt”. Closer to home, in the 1800’s salt was worth four times as much as beef on the frontier. Imagine that!
Here’s a quick look at the benefits of using a Himalayan Salt Block
- Adds healthy minerals to food
- Has a more complex flavor than table salt
- Is a naturally anti-microbial surface
- Has high temperature resistance
- Distributes heat evenly
- Can be used hot or cold
- Cures food through contact
- Blocks make stylish and tasty serving platters
What’s So Great About Himalayan Mountain Salt Anyway?
Isn’t salt, just salt? Short answer, NO! Unlike table salt, Himalayan Mountain Salt is 100% natural and very, very good for you. Salt is essential for life, and it makes sense to choose a salt that supports your life instead of one that shortens it.
Read on for the terrible truth about table salt.
Table salt isn’t true salt. It’s a manufactured form of sodium called sodium chloride and has synthetic chemicals added to it. Chemicals like, fluoride, potassium iodide and aluminum. To stop the salt from caking and to make it flow nicely, Ferrocyanide, talc, and silica aluminate are added. Aluminum – has been linked to neurological defects. It bioaccumulates in the body over time and leads to degeneration.
Talc is a known carcinogen banned from all other food products. The FDA however gives salt manufacturers a pass and allows up to 2% talc to be added to table salt.
Do you ever get the feeling that the FDA sometimes drops the ball?
Table salt is purposely stripped of its minerals during the manufacturing process. Those minerals are then sold on to supplement manufacturing companies. And it’s those minerals which are necessary for healthy circulation and stable blood pressure. The nerve of these people!
When salt was identified as a contributor to high blood pressure, the health profession didn’t distinguish between healthy natural salts, and the poor imitations packing supermarketing shelves across the nation.
These same health professionals then recommend a low sodium diet, and food manufacturers, ever quick to respond to demand, cooked up a plethora of low sodium, processed foods. Which was another face slap to the public because these foods are usually loaded with the excitotoxin, monosodium glutamate. MSG provides the flavor that’s missing once the salt has been removed.
MSG is a thoroughly nasty little beast and should never be consumed – but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, suffice to say that MSG can cause heart attacks in people who are deficient in magnesium. And it’s thought to be a possible reason why young healthy athletes sometimes drop down dead after competing at sporting events. Their excessive sweating causes a further imbalance in their electrolyte levels and bam!
Natural salt isn’t white, it’s off-white, gray or pink. The reason table salt is pure white is because it get’s bleached with chlorine. And if everything I’ve told you so far isn’t enough to send you scurrying into your pantry to toss your table salt into the trash can, then maybe this will. The raw material that is the starting point for table salt manufacture often comes as a byproduct of digging for oil!
Okay enough about cruddy table salt, let’s talk about Himalayan Mountain Salt!
This gorgeous pink salt is the purest salt on the planet, uncontaminated with toxins or pollutants. It’s over 250 million years old and it’s been locked away, safely untouched by the barrage pollutants that we’ve hurled into our environment. Its long isolation is just one of the reasons that it’s superior to other natural salts.
Himalayan salt is mined and washed by hand. Under an electron microscope it has perfect crystalline structure and is immune to damage from electromagnetic fields. Unlike table salt it never clumps and has no need for the addition of silica.
Steeped in history, Himalayan Mountain Salt is obtained from The Khewra Salt Mine. The Khewra salt mine is Pakistan’s largest and oldest salt mine and the second largest salt mine in the world. The Khewra salt deposit was first discovered by Alexander The Great’s troops in 320 BC.
The Khewra mine is 288 meters (945 feet) above sea level and begins about 730 meters (2400 feet) into the mountain from the mine entrance. The underground mine covers an area of 110 km2 (43 sq. miles).
The mine at Khewra is a major tourist attraction, where a quarter of a million visitors a year marvel at its amazing caverns, hewn through the beautiful white, pink and red salt formations. It’s so large that it houses a mosque and an electric railway. There’s even an asthma clinic set deep in the mine where it’s believed that the antibacterial salt particles in the air help to clear the lung passages. So if you’re ever in Pakistan go and visit!
Himalayan Mountain Salt contains at least 84 naturally occurring trace elements. The Fresenius Institute in Europe analyzed the composition of Himalayan Mountain Salt and found that it contains a wide array of vital trace minerals and elements, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
The health benefits of natural Himalayan Salt include
- Balancing the water content in your body
- Regulating pH balance in your cells, particularly your brain cells
- Stabilizing blood sugar
- Aiding the absorption of food particles through your intestinal tract
- Improving respiratory health
- Promoting sinus health
- Prevention of muscle cramps
- Promoting bone strength
- Regulating your sleep
- Improving vascular health
- Maintaining a healthy blood pressure
So you can see why incorporating this salt into your diet is a really good idea! And one unique way to gain the health benefits of Himalayan Mountain Salt is to prepare your food on a Salt Block, which also gives the food an incredible flavor. Himalayan Mountain Salt has a more delicate and far more complex flavor than table salt – slightly sweet and slightly salty.
Himalayan Salt Blocks are stunning to look at – slabs of luscious translucent pink crystal salt – and will be a talking point at your dinner table when you serve food to guests. They come in all sizes ranging from a tiny piece to hold a pat of butter to side plates and serving platters, to large food preparation and cooking blocks.
Aside from their ability to impart healthy minerals and a unique flavor to your food, salt blocks can also be used to compress food due to their weight.
For example, you can heat up your salt block on the grill, then place some butterflied chicken underneath the hot salt block. It will press it and sear it with the delicate salt at the same time.
How To Choose A Himalayan Salt Block
Since Himalayan Salt Blocks are a natural product, they do of course come with imperfections, so it’s important to choose the right grade of Himalayan Salt Block for your needs. If you want to chill, cure, or serve food on a salt block platter, then you can select a lower grade, which has more crystalline irregularities.
However those same irregularities and imperfections would soon become fractures if you attempted to heat a low grade salt block to a high temperature. So for cooking make sure that you look for ‘cookware grade’ salt blocks, which have high crystalline uniformity.
The higher number of irregularities in the lower grade make them a delight to serve on because those imperfections are what gives the Himalayan Salt Blocks their stunning good looks!
The more uniform and ‘boring’ looking the salt block, the better it will stand up to high temperatures. The highest purity salt blocks have been tested and found to be able to withstand temperatures of 900℉, but for home use with cooking grade Himalayan salt blocks 450℉ is the recommended upper limit.
Thickness is important. For the structural support needed for high temperature cooking choose a block that is at least 2 inches thick. Thinner blocks are more likely to contain fissures which make them more prone to cracking.
Cooking On A Himalayan Salt Block
Salt blocks need to be tempered before use. This is what you do:
Place the salt block in your oven on a low rack
Turn to the lowest heat setting (usually 170 degrees)
Heat for 30 minutes at this temperature
Raise the temperature by 50 degrees and heat for another 30 minutes
Repeat this process, a 50 degree temperature increase every 30 minutes, until it reaches a temperature over 500 degrees
Turn the oven off and leave the salt block to cool in the oven with the door closed. When it has cooled to room temperature it is tempered and ready for use.
You won’t have to temper your salt block more than once but you will have to bring it up to temperature slowly each time you cook with it.
In Salt Block Cooking Mark Bitterman offers the following advice for beginners
- Salt blocks can crack if heated too rapidly. So heat them slowly.
- Salt blocks can pop and fracture. Only use cookware-graded blocks.
- Salt blocks get very hot. Handle them only very briefly and wear high-temperature oven mitts.
- Salt blocks hold enormous energy. Protect your counters and tables with temperature resistant mats before setting a hot salt block down.
Bitterman recommends heating Himalayan Salt Blocks on the stove at a rate of 15 minutes on low heat, then 15 minutes on a medium heat and finally 15 minutes on high.
If you have a laser thermometer, point it at the salt block and check that it registers 500℉. No fancy thermometer? Then just sprinkle a few drops of water onto the surface and see if they sizzle and evaporate on contact.
You also need to gently pre-heat before using the salt block in the oven or on grills.
An oven or gas grill preheat follows the same procedure as the slow increase in temperature used on the stove top. For charcoal grills the method is a little different. Put the charcoal on one side of the grill and the salt block on the other. Heat output on charcoal grills is pretty unpredictable so keep a close eye on how the temperature of the salt block is progressing.
Don’t place a salt block directly onto an electric cook top. The salt block will need to be raised up a little to allow airflow underneath. A wok or tart ring is ideal for this. But note that if you raise it too high, it will take much longer to heat up.
Given this fairly long pre-heat time make sure that you take the extra time into account when you plan your cooking. You can also use the time to prep your meat, seafood and veggies.
Let food come up to room temperature before you start to cook it on the block, and don’t add oil to the surface. Oil will work into the microscopic cracks and holes where it will lurk and slowly turn rancid, which will spoil the flavor of your salt block.
Remember to heat your salt block slowly, then remove it from the heat source. Now you’re ready to cook.
Lightly toss your meats, seafood and vegetables in oil, herbs and spices, then place directly on the salt block and cook until done. Stir and move around as they cook as you would when using any grilling method. The salt block will retain its cooking temperature for about half an hour.
To protect your countertops or tables, my advice is to have a wooden cutting board on hand that’s a little bigger than the salt block you intend to use for cooking. That way you can quickly don some oven mitts and transfer the hot block to the board before safely carrying it to the table. Because salt blocks are smooth, with no grooves or hand holds, you really want to spend as little time as possible handling the hot block. You have less chance of dropping it that way.
Some Foods To Cook, Cure or Serve Chilled On A Salt Block
Choose foods that are quick to cook. A salt block is not the place to slow cook a roast chicken. Things like steak, thin cuts of chicken or pork and scallops, shrimps and seafood work well. Vegetables should be ones that cook quickly, so anything that you would normally quickly sear in a pan before serving. Peppers, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, etc.
In the oven, cook pizza, scones, dinner rolls and flat breads.
Use chilled to serve, sushi, cold cuts, shellfish, cheeses, fruits, crudites, cold dips, salads, cold appetizers, ice cream, and chilled desserts.
A salt block is perfect for serving cheese and crackers, since it will add a hint of salt to the moist cheese but won’t add to the saltiness of the crackers.
Cure thinly sliced tuna, salmon or other fish, shrimp, prawns, scallops and carpaccio with ease on a salt block.
How To Cure Food on A Himalayan Salt Block
When left on the Himalayan Salt Block for an extended period of time, room temperature, thin slices of meat and fish – salmon, tuna and cod etc, will start to cure due to the salt, which acts as a preservative.
There are 2 kinds of cure. Partial cures draw out up to 10% of the moisture and add just enough salt to the food to extend its life for a short while.
Gravlax is an example of a partial cure.
Full cures, which extract more moisture – upwards of 30% – increase the salinity of food, allowing it to last a lot longer. Beef Jerky is an example of a full cure.
Simply chill your salt block in the refrigerator for several hours, then place the thin strips of meat or fish directly onto the block.
How To Clean Your Himalayan Salt Block
Never, never ever put your salt block into the dishwasher! Unless you want to make a big salty soup in there, of course.
Let your salt block cool to room temperature before attempting to clean it. Don’t use dish soap or antibacterial sprays. Salt is naturally antibacterial, and needs no help from you to bust bugs.
Use a slightly damp sponge or scourer to remove any food residue, then give a final wipe over with a damp cloth. Towel dry, then leave it to fully air dry.
You have to wait for 24 hours before you can use your Himalayan salt block again. Otherwise residual moisture could expand and cause your block to crack upon heating or chilling.