I rarely go to specialist food shops because I get all wanty. Want the imported Italian pasta sauce, want the 5 kilogram slab of Callebaut cooking chocolate, want this gadget for cracking eggs.
And because I am almost completely helpless in the face of stuff I find really amazing, I now own a block of this mesmerisingly beautiful Pakistani pink Himalayan salt that crystallised around 200 million years ago and has been compressing itself under the weight of that most lofty of mountain ranges ever since.
200.million.years. I’m pretty sure it’s the oldest thing in our house.
To be honest, everything I read suggests a different length of time for the origin of this salt. But I’ve gone with the oldest as that makes for the best story. Never let the facts get in the way and all that… But in any case, whatever its exact age, it’s in the millions. Which, even if it’s just 1 million, is pretty bloody impressive.
I was telling my Pakistani taxi driver about my salt slab the other day (as you do – well to be fair to me, we were discussing food) and he told me in the mines that these slabs come from, rooms have been carved from the salt and artisans have adorned them with decorative features carved into the salt. Can you imagine? Those are the kinds of places I lie in bed at night and dream about.
Anyway, it was just the look of the thing that drew me first. Sharply cut stone-like slabs of pink, coral and cream were stacked in piles. On closer inspection they looked like slabs of crystal. Which, indeed they are; salt crystal.
These things weigh a ton. I had to hand over my truffle grater, Italian passata and Spanish sherry vinegar to my mum so I could lug my prehistoric brick back to the car.
I never imagined one could love a brick of salt, but you can. I am intrigued by its colours, the way it is translucent in the light and its all-at-once grainy but smooth texture.
But what’s it for I hear you cry.
Well, you can use it as a serving platter or you can cook on it. As in put it on your gas burners or bbq and when it’s hot as blazers, cook steak or an egg or anything on it. And while it is doing any of those things, it will impart a delicious, mineral-ly, saltiness to whatever you’ve served or cooked on it.
My first experiment was as a room temperature serving platter. I bought some beautiful Italian buffalo mozzarella – the real stuff that makes you moan as you eat it – some heirloom tomatoes and some edible blooms. Then I just strewed them over the platter. Yes strewed. With gay abandon. Gay strewing of edible blooms.
And a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
I was delighted with how it looked and the saltiness that the creamy, moist mozzarella absorbed while it sat for a bit was delicious. I mean out-of-the-ordinary delicious.
Next up I’m going to serve sashimi on it. Or king fish carpaccio. Or warm it up just a little and let a block of excellent chocolate melt slowly on it and give guests strawberries and blueberries to dip in. Or chill it and serve scoops of caramel ice-cream on it and give everyone a spoon to dig in.
And it’s not just for grown ups. I left it on the couch after photographing it and discovered Olive (3 yrs) licking a corner of it as she sat watching tv. Pretty sure salt and sedentary behaviour are not what the doctor ordered. But if you come across a natural salt-lick and you’re an animal…well what did we expect?