Because I don’t have a proper smoker, my experiments with smoking foods have been pretty limited. Really, smoking can be viewed as two different processes: a cooking process, and a flavouring process. Smoking on a gas grill like mine mostly falls into the “flavouring” category, because the heat of the grill’s burners, rather than the smoke itself, do the cooking. The problem is that when you can’t control the smoke and heat independently, you run the risk of overcooking your food by the time it’s adequately smoked, or undersmoking it by the time it’s properly cooked. I’ve run into exactly this problem in the past when smoking bacon and Andouille sausage: by the time it was cooked how I wanted it, the smoke wasn’t nearly heavy enough.
Fortunately, there are lots of great smoky ingredients out there to boost that flavour in a dish: Pimentón de la Vera, chipotles, and lapsang souchong tea, to name just a few. But my current favourite is smoked salt.
I got to thinking about smoked salt when reading the recipe for pulled pork in Douglas Baldwin’s book Sous Vide for the Home Cook. To simulate the smoked flavour of traditional pulled pork in a sous vide context, he calls for 100 grams of smoked salt to be used in a brine for the pork shoulder (along with some regular salt). It struck me as a good idea, but commercially smoked salt can be expensive, not least because they usually start with expensive salt, which is indistinguishable from plain old kosher salt once it’s dissolved.
The obvious solution was to smoke some salt myself. Unlike meat, salt can’t be overcooked, so I could smoke it as long and as hot as I wanted. And since I add salt to almost every dish I make anyway, smoked salt could add a smoky component to anything, from bacon or Andouille to uncooked or extremely temperature-sensitive foods (like custard). As well, it gives me the option to make cheap smoked kosher salt if I’m going to dissolve it in a brine, or smoked fleur de sel if I want a finishing salt – and I can make as much of it as I like at a fraction of the price of the commercial product.
How to make smoked salt
Making smoked salt really is as simple as it sounds: I took some fleur de sel from Just a Pinch, which a friend had found at a steep discount and given to me, placed it in a repurposed foil pie plate, and put it on the grill with some hickory wood chips in a foil packet on the burner. I smoked it for a couple of hours, stirring intermittently to get even coverage, then let it cool. It’s quite a light smoke on this batch – I was just piggybacking on some meat I was smoke-roasting at the same time – but it’s still distinctively smoky.