When I was a little girl, I fell in love with a magic kingdom of beauty and tranquility: a salt mine. I was in primary school and our teacher organized a visit to this salt mine, as a one-day trip. I can still remember the trepidation I felt and the myriad of questions that came into my mind as we approached the location. Were there any dangers waiting for me inside the mine? Any monsters of the underworld? Any dark corners filled with dangerous ghosts or enticing whispers? Buried deep into the mountain, the salt mine hosted nature-made shapes of various kinds, whose detached serenity, ice-cold touch and transparency made a lasting impression on me. Who knew salt could be so beautiful? 🙂
These memories came back to me recently, when I attended a holiday-inspired dining experience courtesy of Morton Salt. The Next Door Chef: Chicago event looked like a great opportunity for me to learn more about different types of salt and how they could elevate my dishes in terms of flavor, texture, but also looks. Salt can make or break any meal – yet, how often have I really thought about the versatility of salt and about using Morton Kosher or Sea Salt instead of the standard table salt when cooking? The answer is: hardly ever. Anxious to learn, I accepted Morton Salt’s invitation and brought my friend Marina along, as a guest.
Morton Salt’s Next Door Chef event was a truly unique experience. For one day, a novice chef had their home transformed into an actual restaurant, and cooked delicious dishes under the guidance of acclaimed chef Jason Vincent. Vincent runs Giant, a new restaurant in Logan Square, which has recently been named one of Chicago’s 10 hottest dining spots!
The novice chef was Cara, a bubbly Chicago native whose condo was turned into a one-day-only pop-up restaurant, aptly named Cara’s.
Cara and the staff were all smiles when we arrived. The evening was off to a good start!
I was amazed with the transformation inside Cara’s apartment. The atmosphere was cozy and warm, thanks to the aesthetically pleasing wall decoration and the unobtrusive candle light, which dominated the dining room. At the same time, the faultless table seating exhibited all the marks of a professional restaurant.
What better way to begin an upscale dining experience than with ice-cold margaritas, served in Morton Kosher Salt rimmed glasses? They were so flavorful and refreshing!
For the appetizer, we had Brussels sprouts with pecorino crispies. The dish was made of bosc pears and Brussels sprouts seasoned with Morton Kosher Salt and cooked in butter, with honey, almond, raisins and walnuts. The sweetness of the plump golden raisins was counterbalanced by the sliced pecorino, while the grated ginger and fresh lemon juice provided a tartness which made the dish complete. Finishing the dish with Morton Coarse Sea Salt (as opposed to standard table salt) added a contrasting texture to the cooked vegetables and made them seem “meatier.” Using the right kind of salt can make such a difference!
As you can see from the pic below, I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the appetizer. My friend Marina loved it too!
One of the key tips I learned at this event was how to properly baste and brine the turkey, a simple trick that provides for a more tender, flavorful meat. Chef Vincent used different kinds of Morton Salt in his turkey brine, stock and rub recipes, and the results were spectacular. He used kosher salt for its natural flavor (in the brine) and large, excellent meat-piercing crystals (in the rub). As for the stock, Chef Vincent used fine sea salt for its quick-dissolving properties and to avoid over salting.
The turkey was paired with spicy rice, and its main ingredients were peanuts, toasted and chopped Thai chili, roasted garlic, ginger and cilantro. As Chef Vincent explained, he decided to use Morton Kosher Salt in this side dish because it thoroughly dissolved in the water, letting the peanuts act as the textural component.
The turkey had been kept in brine for several hours, and it showed: It was delicious and sooo succulent! Again, what a great difference from the turkey you usually get when using standard table salt!
And… there was more: a sweet potato side dish featuring Applewood smoked bacon, butter, sour cream, grated parmesan, maple syrup, anchovy fillets and Morton Kosher Salt. This dish was creamy, luxurious, and truly addictive. Along with the tender turkey, the sweet potatoes were undoubtedly the highlights of our dining experience at Cara’s:
For dessert, we had chocolate chip cookies rustically served straight from the pan. Again, Morton Kosher Salt was the star ingredient, and complimented the sweetness of the cookies beautifully. As a finishing touch, Morton Coarse Sea Salt was sprinkled on top of the cookies to give them a delicious crunch.
Cookies served at candlelight – what a great way to finish the day!
You can go to MortonSalt.com/NextDoorChef to download your own hosting kit complete with recipes and how-to steps to add that extra something to your meal. And if you do host your own “Next Door Chef” party or have a recipe idea for using Morton Kosher or Sea Salt, make sure to post your photos and ideas on social media using the hashtag #NextDoorChef!
My friend Marina and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Next Door Chef and learned a lot about how different types of salt transformed food, giving it a professional edge which cannot be achieved by standard table salt. I tried great dishes in an inviting atmosphere and made some new friends in the process. Equally important to me, I was pleased to remember my childhood trip to the salt mine. So much time has passed, I’ve learned so much, and there’s still so much to learn along the way. Who knew salt could be so beautiful – and so versatile? 🙂
*Disclaimer: I was financially compensated by Morton Salt for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.