Daily hacks: Power down? Try salt curing for a low-electricity alternative
From a chemical point of view, salt also has hygroscopic properties. When in contact with moist food, salt has the ability to absorb the water contained in the food.
Power cuts, rationing or sky-high energy prices? Who knows what this season will hold. Cooking without power may sound apocalyptic, but there are plenty of ways to get creative in the kitchen, all while keeping electricity use to a minimum.
One alternative is to cure foods with salt.
From a nutritional point of view, it’s recommended not to consume more than five grams of salt per day — the equivalent of one teaspoon — according to the World Health Organization. However, we all have fine table salt in our cupboards, if not coarse rock salt.
In terms of taste, while salt is not a flavour enhancer, contrary to popular belief, it acts more by enhancing the perception of sweetness and suppressing bitterness. But it is also a helpful culinary aid.
You probably already know the trick of salting the water to cook rice and vegetables, not to accelerate the cooking process, but so that the sodium penetrates to the core of the food for thorough seasoning.
From a chemical point of view, salt also has hygroscopic properties. When in contact with moist food, salt has the ability to absorb the water contained in the food. And it is this phenomenon that is interesting to note when it comes to cutting power use.
It is possible to cure foods, or achieve a form of “cooking,” which is compared neither to pan-frying nor to eating raw. This is the principle behind a recipe of Swedish origin called gravlax. It is usually prepared with salmon.
For the recipe to work, the fish must be extremely fresh. It should then be coated with salt (coarse salt, not table salt!) and wrapped up tightly in clingfilm before being refrigerated for at least 12 hours.It is often advisable to place a plate or a heavy object on the salmon so that the salt penetrates the flesh thoroughly.
While the salt serves to cure the salmon, flavour can be added by mixing it with pepper, pink peppercorns and dill sprigs, which are placed around the salmon. The end result is a slightly dried-out crust and a tender salmon interior that is easy to cut. And it’s a really tasty alternative for dinner parties or Holiday celebrations if you want to make a change from smoked salmon.
The idea is all the more interesting since salmon is not the only choice here. Trout can be prepared using the gravlax method, or white fish such as cod, or even mackerel if extremely fresh. While the chemical process is different, “cooking” gravlax with salt is a similar approach to dishes cured with another natural ingredient, namely the acidity of lemon juice.
And here, Peruvian ceviches are the perfect example. This recipe, popular in many variations across all Latin American countries, involves marinating very fresh fish in lemon juice, before adding flavour with onions and chilli.
It’s possible to mix things up by preferring a milder citrus fruit, such as orange, as long as you add another acidic source, such as cider vinegar.
And, if electricity is no object, you can experiment with another way to cook meat, fish and vegetables with salt. When cooked in the oven, wrapping beets in a salt crust will not only absorb the excess moisture but will also concentrate the flavours, in turn helping many people see this unloved vegetable in a new light.
The technique was made popular by the great master of vegetables, French chef Alain Passard.
Alternatively, a salt paste can be prepared from coarse salt, egg whites and water to coat a chicken before cooking.
In the pot, this natural protective crust will help keep the meat juicy and soft. No more dry chicken!More tips on cooking with minimal electricity: