Friday, November 10, 2006

Salt Tasting with Ron Siegel at the Ritz

How many kinds of salt do you have? I've got kosher salt, Malden salt, smoked salt, truffle salt, fleur de sel and Hawaiian black salt. But that's nothing compared to what chef Ron Siegel of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton has. Siegel seems never to have met a salt that didn't find a place in his kitchen. He has a collection of about 40 different types including very rare salt from the Philippines, and many different Japanese salts, and one the consistency of powder.

Yesterday I got the chance to attend a salt tasting, organized by the Tablehopper and sponsored by TuttiFoodie. Those of us who thought we'd be tasting flakes of salt and gulping down water were delighted to find that the chef had prepared a light tasting menu to show the versatility of salt.

Siegel also took us back into the kitchen and demonstrated how he makes a lemon verbena salt. It turns out infused salts are easy to make at home. Many of the sea salts are moist so he cooks them over the stove to dry them out, he also dehydrates the leaves of the herb and uses a sieve to crush it into powder and then mixes the herb with the salt. He uses a similiar process when making citrus salts, grating the rind into powder and mixing it with the salt too. He emphasized that these salts don't hold their flavor for very long and should be made in small batches and used quickly. In Japanese style he had each of us mix the lemon verbena salt with lemon juice to make a dipping sauce for our spot prawns. Much of his cuisine is inspired by Japanese cooking.

Vanilla salt was paired with sashimi, Maldon salt was paired with foie gras and lovely poached quail eggs the consistency of custard were served with caviar, over a bed of smoky steam. Caviar is the one food Siegel does not believe in adding salt to but he loves salt with just about every kind of fruit, even bananas! He shared with us the importance of salting food during cooking as well as after cooking to add layers of flavor and dimension. Along with the tasting menu we enjoyed a light and refreshing 2004 Fritz Haag Riesling which seemed to complement everything. Now I am eager to check out the Salt & Pepper tasting menu at the Ritz. I also can't wait to try out the vials of salt we were given, though because Siegel as he says "isn't one to write things down" one of the vials is a bit of a mystery. Who knew salt could be so much fun to explore?