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Old 11-12-2004, 01:05 PM   #1
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Rock salt and prime rib?

BW ran across a recipe this morning that calls for a bed of rock salt below a wire rack upon which a prime rib roast is cooked.

WHAT IN BLUE BLAZES IS THE ROCK SALT FOR????

It does not touch the meat, and salt doesn't vaporize at oven temperatures, so it cannot possibly flavor the meat. Salt is an excellent "heat sink", so the oven heat will not reach the bottom of the roast quite as quickly with the salt there. Probably not an appreciable difference, however.

The only purpose I can imagine is to "absorb" any fat dripping off the roast,. What that accomplishes is beyond me. Except to make the roasting pan easier to clean.

Please, help this old coot to understand!

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Old 11-12-2004, 05:15 PM   #2
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Manufacturers of rock salt need to increase profits????
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Old 11-12-2004, 06:09 PM   #3
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Hi "old coot" ... I'm going to speculate here and say I'm betting you don't have a complete recipe.

There are 100's (well maybe not 100's but a lot) of foods that can be, and are, cooked encrusted in salt. Potatoes, chicken, fish, various beef roasts, etc.

I remember 100 years ago Jeff Smith, the "Frugal Gourmet" had a rock salt crusted chicken recipe where you made a paste with salt, water, maybe an egg, and maybe flour, .. but you rubbed the paste all over the chicken sealing it, roasted it, then you "cracked" the salt covering like breaking a jar or pinata... it was supposed to more evenly distribute heat and NOT make the chicken salty.

I suspect your recipe, where it says, "pour layer of rock salt in bottom of roaster" should have a second paragraph that says:

"Place roast on salt, rib side down, cover with rock salt and dampen. Salt must cover meat on all sides to form a "seal"." or something like that...

That's my best guess.
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Old 11-12-2004, 06:18 PM   #4
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Lutzzz, I have two of FG's cook books I will look it up to see what it says. I have heard of encrusting a prime rib with the salt, putting it in a preheated 500 degree oven for 15 minutes, turning off the oven and letting it sit for several house without opening the door. I have never tried it.
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Old 11-12-2004, 08:22 PM   #5
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Oldcoot - I've got to go along with your idea about thermal insulation/heat sink to perhaps even out the cooking - prevent the bottom of the roaster from generating more direct heat than the air circulating around the rest of the meat from the top and sides of the oven? Since the salt is placed under a roasting rack it's obviously not a recipe for baking in a salt crust.

Would be curious to know the source of the recipe, and how old it is. In Ecouffier's day he only acknowledged two types of salt - sea (gray) and rock (table). Technically - that is still true today, there is only sea and rock (mined), but rock salt now comes in more varities such as pickling, table, kosher, a food-grade rock, and everyday rock (aka ice cream) - depending on how it is processed, it's mineral content (impurities and/or additives) and how large the final crystal grains are.

All of the recipes I have run across, and cooking demonstrations I've seen on TV over the past 30 years, that are using salt for a baking crust all called for either sea, table or a few times kosher salt. Rock salt wouldn't seem to make sense since the idea is to form a relatively solid shell around the food .... due to it's larger and more angular structure rock salt would never be as effective in preventing moisture from escaping as the others.

The ordinary ice cream rock salt you find in the store is generally used to making ice cream the old fashined way with a hand/electric cranked tub filled with ice, or as a bed for baking/broiling shellfish on the half shell. It is not refined, containe impurities, and is not intended for consumption. Just read the label ....
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Old 11-12-2004, 09:04 PM   #6
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rock salt is used for icecream because it increases the salinity of the water, and hense the freezing point. In other words, you can get the liquid salt/water slurry below 32 degrees farenhiet. And that is essential for making ice cream. As for encrusting a roat (and salt encrusted prime rib or standing rib is a classic recipe) the sallt serves two purposes. It does in fact act as a buffer betwen the heat and the meat surface, creating a moisture barrier against evaporation.. At the same time, it creates a layer of conductivity, moving the heat more quickly into the meat. Thjis allows for a faster cooking time with lower heat. The meat is steamed inside the shell. Because of the steam pressure, the salt is not absorbed into the meat.

I don't believe placing a layer of salt on the bottom of a pan would serve any usefull purpose. But then again, I may know some physics, but I certainly don't know everything. And don't even get me started on the eutechtic properties of salts. :P

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Old 11-12-2004, 11:08 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Goodweed of the North
I don't believe placing a layer of salt on the bottom of a pan would serve any usefull purpose. But then again, I may know some physics, but I certainly don't know everything. And don't even get me started on the eutechtic properties of salts.
Ah, but goodweed - cooking is an art - not a science.

Before you rip me apart .... yes, art has a scientific foundation ...
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Old 11-13-2004, 02:02 PM   #8
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Hooboy! Did I open a can of worms?

First of all, the recipe is a "classic" from Lawry's Seasoned Salt. That bunch should know what their doing - but I'm inclined to doubt it! :) \

The recipe specifically prohibits allowing the meat to touch the salt bed. (The meat is rubbed with Lawry's Seasoned Salt)

Now, on this salt thing. Salt - sodium chloride - is salt. No matter its its immediate source. All of it originated in seas that accumulated salt dissolved from rock, and the the seas dried up, leaving vast deposits of "rock salt". Alternatively, seawater is evaporated, also resulting in common table salt.

The difference between "sea salt" and table salt is purit. Sea salt is much less purified. Table salt (according to Leslie Salt Co - is 99.9% pure sodium chloride. I shudder to think what the impurities in sea salt may include! :x

Salt encrustation is commonly used - as in the case of ham or bacon - to REMOVE moisture from the meat in order to preserve it. Salt is very deliquescent, absorbing moisture at every opportunity (hence the lumping os salt in humid weather). So I cannot conceive that it would work to retain moisture in meats as they cook.

Salt absorbs great quantities of heat, but once heat saurated, it will re-radiate additinal heat at the same rate it absorbs it.

In an oven, (gas variety) the flame warms air, which in turn circulates about the item to be cooked. Heat is absorbed most rapidly by the coolest portion of that material. (All substantiated by the laws of Thermoddynamics).

And, finally - cooking is a complex set of chemical and physical actions and reactions, and is therefore totally scientific. However, as practiced, these scientific principles are poorly understood, so it becomes an art in that ssense. And a highly subjective art, at that - as all of us have different flavor preferences, hence the myriad of recipes for esentially the same stuff.

But what the heck - it's fun, and frequently good! :D
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Old 11-13-2004, 02:18 PM   #9
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Knowing the science allows me to better develop the techniques for fine-tuning the art. Think of it htis way, when the artist know what his tools do, and why they do it, he/she is better able manipulate the tools, thus creating better art.

The difference between art and science is that art is more intuitive, while science is more the observation of cause and effect. Both are similar, and there is a definate blurring of the line in many areas.

Being a scientific kind of guy, I prefer to think of myself as a cooking engineer with a strong cerative streak. And just as engineers can create works of art (think many of the suspension bridges, or the work done with fractals to produce recurring artwork, and even snowflakes), so to can I produce recipes that are both artistic, and easily duplicated.

Having the broad knowledge base also allows me more creativity in a wider range of culinary categories.

Seeeeeya; ;Goodweed of the North
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