It might seem like an odd thing to do, but Mark Bitterman has roamed the world tasting the best salt this planet has to offer.
“Here in the States, salt is something you go to the grocery store and pick up from the bottom shelf of the baking aisle,” says Bitterman. In other places in the world, though, salt is more than just a basic ingredient.
Bitterman decided he wanted to share his appreciation of salt as the unsung hero of the kitchen.
“I told my wife that I wanted to open a store and sell salt and wine, and she said, ‘Can I sell chocolate and flowers?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’ and that’s how The Meadow was born.”
Bitterman and his wife opened their store on Mississippi Street in North Portland. They offer exotic salts, a cornucopia of chocolates, and an impressive selection of wines and bunches of carefully arranged flowers.
At the store, Bitterman hosts classes and private events to educate and entertain the “epicurious” about new ways of using the mineral. In one of his most popular classes, he demonstrates how to use a salt block as a cooking surface.
When we visited his class “Chilling & Grilling on Himalayan Salt Blocks,” Bitterman demonstrated the delicately controlled process of heating a dictionary-sized block of 600 million-year-old salt extracted from a northern Pakistani salt mine. He heated the block to 500 degrees and then proceeded to sear an unmarinated flank steak directly on the surface of the block of salt. After a brief time on the block — just to the point of searing — Bitterman began serving the now transformed meat to his appreciative Prosecco-sipping guests.
The secret of the salt block is that the salt is thoroughly absorbed into the meat (or other foods) using its natural moisture, allowing for an even infusion of flavor throughout. It’s really scientific, actually. Scientifically delicious.
Bitterman’s bold exploration of food and salt led him to write a book that contains the bulk of his discoveries and innovations. “Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes” was released in 2010 and won a James Beard Award.
Beyond the success of his book, the store has proven quite popular. A few months ago, Bitterman opened a second store in New York City’s west village neighborhood.