How can something so simple be so transformative? I read about wine salt in a New York Times article some years ago and the concept intrigued me. Combining the properties of marinades (adding flavor and tenderness) and dry rubs (helping create a crispy exterior and adding yet more flavor), wine salt is what it sounds like: wine and salt (and a bit more). But its impact on proteins is magical. Besides tenderizing, it encourages juiciness and adds subtle but enhanced flavor.
For awhile now, I’ve been putting wine salt on fish, meat and fowl because everything is just BETTER with this stuff. And it’s so pretty that I make some and give it as gifts, too. I’ve started seeing wine salt (usually the red wine kind) as a high-priced cooking item but the best approach is to make it at home. It’s not difficult and it lends itself to a bit of creativity as home cooks experiment with different kinds of wine (red, white, rose) and flavorings (citrus, herbs).
In essence, wine salt combines sea salt, super-reduced wine, citrus zest and fresh herbs, adding a fruity tang and also making a great salt substitute for all sorts of things (tomato slices, salads, whatever). Use it before grilling, roasting, broiling, baking or sauteing. Some of my favorite wine salt experiments have been:
- White wine salt made from gewurztraminer, Meyer lemon zest and lemon thyme
- French rose wine salt with cara cara orange zest and rosemary
- Red wine salt with syrah, Eureka lemon zest and thyme
My husband cooks a whole lot of salmon in our household and it’s now unthinkable to him to make it without a dose of wine salt. I like all three of my mainstays (the aforementioned red, white and rose varieties) but some home cooks object to the look of red wine salt on, say, halibut. Personally, I don’t mind but chacun à son goût.
Ideally, wine salt should be rubbed on the item to be cooked a few hours ahead of time so it can do its work on the protein. No additional salt is needed, of course, but other flavorings like garlic, herbs and spices can be added right before cooking. I’ve read about wine salt being sprinkled on a chocolate dessert to punch up flavors and one family member who now insists on getting wine salt on a regular basis uses it as an all-purpose finishing salt. It surely makes a remarkably effective addition to a home cook’s go-to pantry.
Below is a recipe for wine salt and another recipe that uses it. You’ll quickly become addicted to its magical properties!
750ml bottle of wine (something you’d drink)
2 cups coarse sea salt (ie, not the super-fine stuff)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 T chopped thyme leaves or other herb
zest from a lemon, lime, orange, etc. (use a microplane)
- In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, simmer wine until it is reduced by half, 20 to 30 minutes; adjust heat to low and continue to cook down to 4 tablespoons. Cool completely.
- In a food processor combine salt, sugar, zest and herbs. Pulse 2 or 3 times. Add reduced wine (scrape out all that you can from pan) and pulse again until mixture has the consistency of damp sand. If your mixture is moister, spread it evenly on a sheet pan and leave it out on the counter for several hours or overnight.
Grilled Pork Loin with Wine-Salt Rub
One 3.5-pound center-cut boneless pork loin, patted dry
Place pork in a baking pan. Spread about 1/2 cup of the wine salt all over the pork. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Light the grill for high-heat indirect cooking, piling charcoal on one side of the grill and leaving other side unlighted. (For gas grills, turn on the heat on one side of the grill only.) Spread a piece of foil or place a disposable metal roasting pan underneath grill on the unlighted side to catch any drips. Place pork on the grill over the foil. Cover grill and cook, turning every half hour until meat reaches 140 degrees, from 1 hour to 90 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes before carving.