I’m looking out the window at a crisp layer of frost melting in the morning sun. I’m trying to remember what mornings in the golden summer and hazy fall felt like. The smells were different. The air was different. The light was different. I was different. Many of our farm experiments are meant to slow down time and extend the seasons. We do that by pickling, drying, and controlling light and temperature in our storage rooms. We do it by infusing alcohol and vinegars. We do it by making flavored salts.
At first, I just wanted a smoked salt. I started by smoking imported sel gris over cherry and oak. I thought the coarse, slightly damp salt might absorb the flavors of the smoker more effectively than other types. That proved to be correct. When I saw the salt next to the other ingredients that we smoke-preserve, including chiles, garlic, apples, pears, and the stems of studier herbs like dill and fennel, I had an idea.
Many of our farm experiments are meant to slow down time and extend the seasons. We do that by pickling, drying, and controlling light and temperature in our storage rooms. We do it by infusing alcohol and vinegars. We do it by making flavored salts.
I’ve written about our dry house, and how we save the season in a bottle. This year, I married our smoked salt our with dried herbs to create another layer of preservation. The salt holds the flavors of our freshly dried harvests, keeping them in our pantry year-round. Each time I use one of our salts, the flavor and aroma evoke memories of cutting the herbs and loading the smoker, and I forget for a moment that it’s twenty-three degrees out and the first flurries of winter are leading us to the solstice.
Making your own flavored salts is a good way to preserve and share your harvest, even if you only grew patio herbs this year, or you only have a few stray sprigs or chiles from the farmers’ market. You don’t need much. You could make an intensely flavored condiment by adding as much dried herb as salt, but I prefer something subtler. You don’t need a smoker, either, though I like the depth of a smoked salt, which you can buy. You can use any kind of salt. And you can mix smoked salt with unsmoked to keep its flavor in check and highlight a more delicately flavored herb or flower.
I use our salt blends to build, boost, and finish dishes. If I’m making something with an onion base, I’ll use a salt with anise flowers or fennel pollen to round out the onion sweetness. For roasted and grilled meat, I’ll use a salt flavored with woody thyme and rosemary, but I’ll slip in some lemon verbena salt for balance. We had an abundance of togarashi peppers this year, so I smoked those and added them to an oak-smoked salt for a finish reminiscent of smoked paprika.
If you don’t have access to anything I mentioned, try something new with what you do have. If it’s only sage or rosemary, that’s fine. Pulverize a few leaves and add them to your favorite salt. It’ll stretch the flavor for months. And if you want buy your seasoned salt, contact or visit my friends Dana and Jill at Marcel’s in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I dropped some of our salts at the store just before Thanksgiving.
The Farm Seasoned Salts
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups, kosher, maldon, or sel gris salt
Dried herbs or chiles (start with about 2 tbsp. and increase from there)
I like to pulverize the herbs, flowers, or peppers in a mortar and pestle before adding them to the salt. The more finely ground they are, the further you can stretch the flavor. For inspiration, here are some of my go-to additions:
Floral seasonings (best for sweeter vegetables): anise flower, bronze fennel pollen, citrus marigold petals, lemon verbena leaves
Woody herbs (best for meats and more savory vegetables): rosemary, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, sage, oregano, parsley
Smoked peppers: jalapeno, habanada, habanero, togarashi, Melrose, Jimmy Nardello