When I first heard of cooking something entirely in salt, I was positive that I was on the receiving end of a very good joke.
It just doesn’t seem possible that you could cook something entirely encased in salt and have it turn out okay, but before you discount it remember a few things about salt:
- It’s a rock! If you use large crystals (coarse kosher salt) they won’t dissolve easily.
- Because it’s a rock, retains heat and moisture really nicely.
So when you’re cooking something in salt, it’s as if you are cooking something in its own little custom-built cave – a cave that keeps all the delicious moisture and flavor trapped in the meat.
The way to do this correctly is to make a dough out of the salt and then completely wrap your subject in this dough.
What can you cook in salt? Well, you’re going to want to cook large, thick things in it. So while you wouldn’t want to cook a fish fillet in it (too thin and fragile), you could cook an entire fish in it. Again, a larger fish like a snapper would be best.
One of the easiest things to cook in salt is beef – specifically a beef tenderloin or maybe a prime rib.
For this walkthrough on the salt cooking process, I decided to cook a Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Making the salt dough isn’t hard at all. You do need a lot of salt though! Be sure to use coarse kosher salt for this. If you use table salt you’ll be in for a very unpleasant experience.
Add the egg whites and water to your salt and stir it well to combine everything. Then add your flour and stir it together to form a dough ball. Knead the ball for a few minutes until it forms a firm dough. If it’s sticky at all, knead in more flour!
Wrap this up in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. You could make this hours in advance if you wanted, though.
On to the tenderloin! The amount of salt dough in this recipe is for a two pound tenderloin. If you wanted to do a full tenderloin (approximately 6 pounds), then you would want to multiply the salt dough recipe by three to make sure you have enough.
Cut off any large pieces of fat or silver skin from the tenderloin (or ask your friendly butcher to do it for you). Then season it with salt and pepper and sear it really well in a very hot skillet with olive oil.
It should sear for about 3 minutes per side and be very nicely browned.
Once it’s seared, let the tenderloin cool down to room temperature. If your tenderloin is misshaped at all, tie it with some kitchen twine so it’s a nice even shape. This is actually fairly important so you get an even temperature in your finished tenderloin.
Once you’re ready to bake this thing, roll your salt dough out on a flat surface. You want it to be about ¼ inch thick.
Add a few sprigs of fresh herbs and then plop your tenderloin right in the center.
Fold up all the edges and crimp them together really well so they tenderloin is completely sealed in the dough. Cut off any excess dough around the edges, but make sure there aren’t any holes!
Bake this guy at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes for a medium rare tenderloin. Once it comes out of the oven, let it rest for another 30 minutes. There’s tons of heat trapped in the salt dough and it will continue to cook long after you take it out of the oven!
Note that because it’s an even thickness, even if you were cooking a 6-pound tenderloin, you would still only need to cook it for 35 minutes and then let it rest for 30 minutes.
While your tenderloin is cooking and resting, feel free to play with any extra dough you have left over.
It acts (and tastes – couldn’t help myself) pretty much like Play Dough.
I made a little Play Dough cow while I was waiting.
Sorry. Back to the tenderloin. After a 30-minute rest, use a knife to carefully break into the dough. It’ll be really strong.
Once you crack it open, delicious smells will fill your kitchen.
Peel back the dough from one end of the tenderloin and then carefully slide the entire tenderloin out of the shell.
Then just slice it up! Mine was a perfect medium rare.
I served my tenderloin with some roasted potatoes and a cucumber and tomato salad.
The beef is so tender and juicy it doesn’t even need a sauce. It’s perfect as is!
This is kind of a strange preparation, but I promise the results are worth it. Plus, it’s a showstopper when you pull out this strange salt-encrusted thing out of the oven and start breaking it open!
Perfect Pairings: Salty-Sweet DessertsWhen Nick was a kid he used to eat Play Dough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be sure to check out his blog, Macheesmo, and his Tablespoon Profile!