About Chef Salt
Chef Salt was conceived when Andrew Schloss and David Joachim, who make a living as award-winning cookbook writers and chefs, met international salt expert Mark Bitterman. The three of us instantly found common ground on the subject of flavor. We agree that the best flavor comes from ingredients carefully grown and harvested in small batches by experienced farmers. We also agree that there are tricks to making these ingredients work together to achieve the best results. Everyone wants the flavor of great restaurant food in their own home, but many people lack the time, experience, or expertise to make it. After hours of riding bikes, tasting salts, cooking food, and sipping Scotch, the three of us had an idea for a line of seasoning blends that would match the world's most majestic salts to equally magical combinations of herbs and spices. Each blend would bring the art and craft of professional cooking into the home kitchen. Our thought was to put the chef in a jar.
We scribbled a few ideas on cocktail napkins such as a Maple Pig blend with maple sugar, bacon bits, ground mustard, and Sugar Maple smoked salt. Then we spent the next year developing twelve different blends. We tweaked and tasted each one, adding or omitting ingredients and refining the proportions. We then tested each one extensively, taking advantage of our extensive connections in the culinary community to share the blends with scores of professional chefs, food experts, and home cooks. We used the blends in a huge range of preparations, from rubbing them into dry-aged steaks to sprinkling them on roasted donut peaches to swirling them with clarified butter in classic chicken vindaloo.
Painstakingly developed and meticulously perfected, every flavor of Chef Salt is the product of over 50 years of collective culinary expertise (and tastebuds). The result is some of the finest, tastiest, and most effective seasoning blends available anywhere.
Here's a closer look at everything that goes into a jar of Chef Salt—from the salts, herbs, and spices to the preparation, mixing, and packing.
Salt is the single most effective flavor enhancer for food. Salt intensifies flavors, adds complexity to them, and even develops new ones. Using salt right can mean the difference between a good meal and a great one. Most cooks recognize this but few have mastered it. We are the leading experts in the craft of using artisanal salt to achieve the fullest flavors in food. Most salt blends use cheap sea salts harvested from the San Francisco Bay, or they use artificially refined kosher salt. These salts are inexpensive and convenient, but they can't match the character of a natural salt packed with trace minerals and boasting a wild variety of crystal shapes and sizes. That's why we scoured the earth to discover only the finest salts for Chef Salt. Our salt expert, Mark Bitterman, has traveled the globe in search of the most flavorful salts hidden in mineral-rich salt ponds and little known natural deposits around the world. The salts in Chef Salt come from countries, regions, and states as diverse as Morocco, Hawaii, Japan, France, Pakistan, Bali, Wales, the Himalayas, Italy, Korea, and coastal Maine. Each salt was carefully chosen for its outstanding flavor and color as well as its unique mineral content, moisture content, and crystal shape. We carefully match each salt to the particular mix of peppers, leaves, roots, barks, buds, seeds, and other herbs and spices in each blend.
To say we paid close attention to the herbs in Chef Salt would be an understatement. We obsess over herbs because they are subtle, fragile, and require skill to use right. Herbs are the fragrant leaves of plants, and some leaves are so delicate that when dried, they lose most of their fragrance. For instance, the broad, delicate leaves of fresh basil release intoxicatingly floral aromas; but when dried, the leaves are too fragile to hang on their aromatic compounds and the complex aromas are lost to the ether. Sturdier leaves like those of rosemary and thyme dry much better, keeping more of their aromatic oils intact. To make the Chef Salt blends as flavorful as possible, we use only the most aromatic dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and sage. We also use whole leaf herbs whenever possible because an herb's aroma begins to dissipate as soon as the herb is cut. We work hard to keep the maximum amount of aroma in the jar so Chef Salt is highly aromatic when it gets to you. When using Chef Salt, activate its full flavor and aroma by pinching some up and rolling it between your fingers to crush the herbs!
Most of the Chef Salt blends consist primarily of spices. Like artisanal salts, quality spices bear the fingerprint of the exotic locales where they are born. Sourcing these aromatic dried roots, barks, buds, fruits, and seeds of plants is an adventure we revel in. Bringing them together to make flavors greater than the sum of their parts is as challenging as it is rewarding. We use roots like ginger, turmeric, onion, and garlic (the last two are technically swollen leaves but we use them here like spices); bark such as cinnamon; dried flower buds like clove; fruit like tomatoes (sundried), mango (dried and powdered into amchur), Tellicherry peppercorns, green peppercorns, and ancho, chipotle, piri-piri, and cayenne chile peppers; and seeds such as coriander, caraway, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, cardamom, and cumin. We also use a few special spices like saffron threads, which are the stigmas (sterile female sex organs) of a purple crocus flower that exude beautiful aromas and colors when heated. As with the herbs, we seek out the most aromatic air-dried spices. Drying spices with air (or even better yet with freeze-drying) preserves more of the essential oils in the spices. The application of heat, on the other hand, hastens the breakdown of those aromatic oils. We use only air-dried and freeze-dried spices in Chef Salt to retain maximum flavor in each blend.
The Sugars—Sugar is another tricky ingredient. We use just a touch of natural sugar in each blend to season it, not to make it sweet. A small amount of sugar restores the natural sweetness of fresh herbs and spices, which is diminished during drying. A speck of sugar also amplifies the mineral flavors of the salts and the vegetal flavors of the herbs and spices. In some blends, such as 7 Salt, we like the clean, bright flavor of pure cane sugar. In others, like Bacon BBQ, we prefer the dark molasses taste of brown sugar. Other blends, such as Tunisian Fire and NY Steak feature more flavorful and colorful sugars like palm sugar and turbinado sugar.
The herbs, salts, peppers, and spices for Chef Salt are naturally harvested, dried, packed, and sent directly to us. Andy and Dave spend hours handcrafting each and every batch at the Chef Salt kitchen in Pennsylvania. We give each ingredient special care and work with small batches to ensure that every ingredient is treated right. For example, some of the salt crystals, such as the pyramidal salt called Bali Rama, are incredibly delicate. So we handle them with loving gentleness to preserve their miraculous structure and subtle crunch. On the other hand, the coarse Himalayan pink salt and the Cervia sel gris are too big for our taste, so we hand-crack those into smaller, more pleasing bits for the 7 Salt blend and the Tuscan Herb blend. We use huge cast-iron pans and wooden mallets to crack Tellicherry peppercorns and green peppercorns for the Tuscan Herb blend. For NY Steak, we chop whole ancho chile peppers into bits with an antique butcher's cleaver. For the Bamboo Curry blend, we slowly toast cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds in a cast-iron pan over a gas flame. Then we grind the fragrant, toasted spices to optimum fineness in an electric grinder. In the middle of batching, the aromas in the Chef Salt kitchen are so intense, so intoxicating, you can't help but stand there, breath deep, and let the perfume transport you to the great places, meals, and moments of your life. Once all of the ingredients for each blend are cracked, toasted, and ground to our liking, we weigh them to the gram on sensitive scales then mix them in huge stainless steel pans with oversized wooden spoons.
All of the Chef Salt blends are made in a certified kitchen in Pennsylvania. We fill, seal, and label each jar of Chef Salt by hand. The entire process is extremely time-consuming (and exhausting!), but it is the only way to make the chef crafted, carefully blended product that we had in mind when we first conceived of Chef Salt.
Everything we do from tasting and testing to sourcing and preparing to mixing and packing ensures that we capture as much flavor as possible in each and every jar. We put every ounce of our collective culinary expertise into those jars. They are the culmination of our curiosity, passion, and appreciation for food. We want you to be able to simply open a jar of Chef Salt, add some to your food, and share the most completely delicious dishes with your guests. Each of these blends brings the insights and inspiration of the professional chef to your kitchen. That's why we like to say "The Chef's in the Jar!"
David Joachim has authored, edited, or collaborated on more than 35 cookbooks, including the IACP award-winners The Science of Good Food and The Food Substitutions Bible as well as the New York Times bestsellers A Man, a Can, a Grill and Mastering the Grill, co-authored with Andrew Schloss. His "A Man A Can A Plan" series of books has sold more than 1 million copies. Joachim's writing and tips have appeared in numerous national magazines such as Cook's Illustrated, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, Cooking Pleasures, Relish, and Men's Health. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio and has taught in cooking schools and bookstores around the country. He recently served as judge for the Pillsbury Bake-Off and helped choose the million-dollar winning recipe. His website is www.davejoachim.com.
Andrew Schloss wants everyone to cook more, and he has devoted his career to ease the way. As a well-known teacher, food writer, cookbook author, and food product developer, he concentrates his decades of experience to streamline the tedious and illuminate the intricacies that make cooking good food a pleasure and a passion. Andy has authored 15 cookbooks and countless food articles. His first book Fifty Ways to Cook Most Everything was a Book of the Month Club Main Selection. The Science of Good Food (co-authored with David Joachim) won an IACP Cookbook Award, and their book Mastering the Grill was a New York Times bestseller. Schloss is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and the owner of more high performance digital scales than any one man needs.
Mark Bitterman is an international salt expert and selmelier at The Meadow, a Portland-based shop specializing in over 100 artisanal salts. Bitterman has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in Food & Wine, The Huffington Post, CNN Money and other publications. His book Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes will be published by Ten Speed Press in 2010.