Liz Huff knows a thing or two about cooking with Himalayan sea salt. Everything she grills at Catalpa, her restaurant in Arrow Rock, Missouri, is cooked on slabs of the stuff. But had you asked her four years ago what would happen if she created a griddle out of 2-inch salt blocks attached to her gas grill, her guess would have been as good as yours.
Huff was inspired by a Himalayan sea salt block salesman’s live cooking demonstration at a vintage market a few years ago. After the demo, she did a little research of her own. She then built a 24-by-24-inch salt griddle by fitting and applying six blocks of high-grade Himalayan sea salt to her kitchen’s flat-top gas grill – but couldn’t find anyone who had built this exact setup before.
“The key is experimentation, because I didn’t know if that was going to work – I had no idea,” she says. “I just spent $300 on salt blocks and put them on my grill to see what would happen.”
Her gamble paid off: Although it takes three hours to fully heat the grill, the results were better than expected. Huff likes how evenly it cooks food compared to a standard grill, how it requires little to no cooking oil, the slight saltiness and mineral flavor complexity it adds to food, and how fun and unique it is to use. She says that if her kitchen had the space, she’d double the size of the grill. “It’s the best surface I could imagine," she says.
It works so well because Himalayan salt blocks are great conductors of heat. They hold and distribute heat much more evenly than traditional grills or ovens, and their lack of porosity lightly seasons food with earthy mineral flavor. Huff cooks almost everything on it, from Alaskan salmon and mushrooms to asparagus and fruit. “Anything you can put on a grill works well," she says.
Over time, her light-pink salt griddle has deepened into a darker black, almost like cast iron. It’s now seasoned so well that to clean it, all Huff does is spritz it with a little coconut oil from a spray bottle each night. The veggies, fish and meats cooked on the griddle require no oil or salt.
Huff has a few recommendations for anyone hoping to replicate a similar setup at home. For starters, don’t go for inexpensive thinner Himalayan salt blocks. Salt blocks are graded, and the higher grades have been X-rayed to make sure there are no microscopic cracks, which is an important element of how they hold even heat. Second, you should introduce the blocks to high heat gradually by heating them in the oven at escalating temperatures so as to not cause immediate fissure. Huff heated her blocks in a standard oven for 12 hours at 250°F, then for 12 hours at 300°F and then for another 12 hours at 500°F. Her most important advice: “Keep cooking! You can’t give up, that’s the thing. If it sticks, you have to just keep going.”
Early on, when the salt blocks became sticky, Huff bought the most inexpensive meat she could find at the grocery store and cooked it on the griddle until the blocks were well seasoned. Four years later, after cooking countless meals on the griddle, Huff says it’s completely nonstick.
In a few years, when the more loved portions of the surface have disseminated further, Huff says she’ll have to take a sledgehammer to the griddle and build a new one. Yet knowing what she knows now, she wouldn’t have worried so much in the first place. “It turned out great,”’ she says.
Catalpa, 503 High St., Arrow Rock, Missouri, 660.837.3324, catalparestaurant.com