Never settle when it comes to salt

There are numerous differences between table salt and the rest—sea salt, kosher-certified, kosher-style—as well as several reasons why you should never substitute one for the other in recipes.
I have visited friends’ and family kitchens and, in impromptu fashion, offered to help with dinner, only to search their cabinets and find only table salt, then instinctively utter that special word under my breath: “shit.”

      The main problem with table salt when cooking: It absorbs too quickly in the location you drop it, so that patch of meat will later throb with a salty flavor; whereas larger grains of salt (found in kosher-certified and kosher-style) are more easily spread around and will extract moisture (increasing succulence) before settling it.

Think of this analogy: Table salt—that friend that comes over and immediately cracks a beer and plomps down on your couch for the game. Larger grains of salt—that friend that helps straighten up the place then asks permission for a beer for taking a seat on your couch.
Both end in the same result, but one gets more done prior to the finish.
Table salt contains anti-caking agents, such as calcium silicate or sodium ferrocyanide. Some forms of table salt contain iodine, a method that dates back to when goiters (the result of not enough iodine in one’s diet) were a national concern. Since iodine discrepancy in soil is less of an issue these days, and fewer people are walking around with footballs on their necks, iodine in salt is often considered superflous by most chefs.
Still, there is nothing wrong with sprinkling some dust from the salt shaker onto your dinner, though when my wife does it, I always feel like I did something wrong. Through my ongoing sessions of kitchen counseling and with the many self-help tapes I ordered from Amazon, I hope to one day no longer feel salty when someone adds salt to a dish I prepared. 
Baby steps… Baby steps.      
     
Salt should be considered an anvil in the kitchen, as it determines the balance of flavor in many instances—whether dishes turn out too salty or too bland. I dare say I have seen restaurants go under because the cooks never knew how to properly apply salt.
Chemically, salt causes molecules to “breathe” and further release flavors. Biologically, salt triggers one of the primary sensory nodes on your tongue and, in certain dishes, counteracts other nodes, such as bitterness and sweetness.  
Additionally, the physical construction of different salts greatly varies—from the granular texture of sea salt to the minuscule nature of table salt. This is the very reason you cannot substitute one salt for another when it comes to a recipe description.
Just as rocks stack differently than sand, so do different salts comprise varied space inside a measuring tool. Morton Salt, my preferred source for anything salt, offers a great conversion chart.
So the question remains: what to purchase from the store? We’ve ruled out table salt (non-iodized and iodized) except for a small amount for shakers.
If it’s in a box, that’s a good sign. I have noticed a consistent pattern when it comes to salts in cylinders—regardless of what they claim to be, they always end up containing “too fine” granules of salt for my liking. Maybe that is the result of some stranger coming along and shaking every salt cylinder like maracas.
Makes sense to me.
Still, you never know what a box contains until you get it home. If you can pitch and punch it, consider that a good sign.
Most local stores don’t carry the exotic varieties, but my good friend and former kitchen manager, Kevin Russell (of The Elk Public House) swears by smoked salt. He adds it to most of his grilled meats, feels naked grilling red harvests without it.
Not ready to spend nearly $35 a pound for salt? If you’re spending $35 for a cut of steak, or dedicating hours in the field waiting for that antlered encounter (minimum $70 worth of pay per most minimum wage pay scales), isn’t a tablespoon out of that $35 salt worth it?

(Photo credit; Kevin Russell)

Wild Turkey Schnitzel

I can probably get most turkey hunters to agree the sport satisfies nearly all the five senses – the smell of pine and dew in the early morning, the throaty gobble of a tom, the sight of his majestic strut, the texture of your heart in your throat as he draws nearer. However, when it comes to taste, most turkey hunters wouldn’t rate the bird’s culinary merit any higher than shoe leather. This is where we disagree.

      Last fall season, my friend, Kevin Russell, and I hunted a piece of private land north of Spokane, Wash. Among 40 acres of stone ridges and pine forest, we set up beside a pond that sits between two common roost locations. In this particular Game Management Unit, our daily and possession limit was two beardless turkeys. Ambling hens were our target.

We took our seats in a couple bushes a half hour before sunrise, and waited. Shadows began to take shape. The western sky before us softened. Geese flew overhead, honking as they passed, and their noise spurred the yelps of hens roosting nearby. We sat in the intersection of their conversation. Hens in the ravine behind us carried on with clucks and yelps while hens off to our left, overtop the pond, did the same.
I called only a few times – enough to keep them interested in our spot, curious, but not so much so that they might become suspicious, or even spot the motion of my hand on the slate.
The yelps grew louder to our left. Within minutes the sounds were quieter, off in the distance. I swear, sometimes, it seems turkeys can enter the wraith world, and pass by unseen, unheard.
Once we were certain they were out of range, we stood and assessed our options. While one group of hens had headed elsewhere, we knew there was a good chance we could change spots and try to call in the second group of hens from the ravine.
Certain to stay low and keep ridges between us and the next path or patch of flat land, we spotted a group of hens a couple hundred yards away. Because they were frolicking and moving about, instead having their heads bent to the grass, we knew they would be moving soon. There were only two directions they could go, since we knew they wouldn’t head out to the field where there was no cover and no food or water source.
Kevin and I confirmed the spots where we would post up behind a ridge. Knowing each other’s location, we sat backs against a rock, facing the direction of the turkeys, waiting. A few minutes later, I heard a gunshot. Hunt over for the day.
 I wouldn’t know until I met Kevin in the field that he had taken two hens with his one shot. Because he is a generous fellow, after tagging both birds, he gave me one to take home.  
I butterflied both breasts and lightly pounded them to a 1/8- to ¼-inch thickness. I brined them in six cups of water and one tablespoon each of sugar and black pepper, quarter cup of non-iodized salt. After 24 hours, it was dinner time.
For the gravy, I sautéed my onions on low heat in butter until they were soft then added my sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and garlic. I let those simmer for a few minutes then deglazed them with marsala cooking wine. Don’t skimp when it comes to marsala. There is a big difference between the cheap stuff and the quality $12-a-bottle stuff.
While the wine simmered and reduced, I started the canola oil to fry the breaded turkey breasts and also turned the oven on to 425 degrees. I mixed two cups of flour with a tablespoon each of salt and pepper. I beat three eggs and mixed in a half cup of buttermilk.
Once the wine had reduced, I added my beef stock and cream and continued to let that simmer. I took each turkey breast, rinsed and pat dried, and tossed it first in the flour, giving it a nice coat, then threw it through the egg mix and finally, a bowl of panko breading.
With panko now covering square inch of both sides, I laid each breast in the oil and let it cook until the edges and the facedown side were golden brown. I flipped the turkey breasts and placed them in the oven, still in the pan of oil, for two minutes.
I added my tablespoon of flour to my lightly bubbling gravy pan. (Do not add flour unless pan is slightly bubbling, otherwise you’ll get clumps of flour throughout.) Feel free to add an extra tablespoon of flour if you prefer a thicker gravy. Stir often.
After two minutes in the oven, I placed two slices of swiss cheese overtop each breast and let them cook for another two minutes. One finished, I ladled on the gravy, garnished with chives and served with potato pancakes and sour cream.
Never let another hunter tell you turkey just isn’t good eating. My friend likes to cook his wild turkey while never revealing the dish’s true identity. When his friends and family respond with enthusiasm, only then does he reveal the secret.
    
To recap…
             
Makes two servings.
2 turkey breasts, 8 to10 ounces each. 
Schnitzel gravy:
1 yellow onion sliced bi-julienne (julienne stylei n half)
1 ½ cups brown mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Marsala cooking wine
3 cups beef stock
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbl freshly minced garlic
1 Tbl flour
To Brine: Butterfly both breasts and lightly pounded them to a 1/8- to ¼-inch thickness. Brine in 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon each of sugar and black pepper, 1/4 cup of non-iodized salt. Let breasts sit in brine, covered in refrigerator for 24 hours.
To make gravy: Sauté onions, cut bi-julienne, on low heat in butter until soft then add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and garlic. Let simmer for a few minutes then deglaze with marsala cooking wine. Let wine reduce to half, add beef stock and cream, continue to reduce and simmer. Reduce to one third. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to lightly bubbling gravy. Stir often. Keep on low heat until ready to serve.  
To cook turkey breasts: Rinse and pat-dry breasts. While liquids reduce, heat 1/4 inch of canola in large sauté pan to 350 degrees and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix 2 cups of flour with a tablespoon each of salt and pepper. Beat three eggs and mixed in 1/2 cup of buttermilk. When liquids have reduced, take each turkey breast and toss first in flour, then egg mix and finally, a bowl of panko breading. Place breast in oil and let it cook until edges and facedown side are golden brown. Flip the turkey, then immediately place in oven, still in pan of oil, for two minutes. After two minutes, place two slices of Swiss cheese overtop each breast and let cook for another two minutes.
To serve: Remove from pan, let sit in bed of paper napkins for couple minutes to dry oil. Place on serving plate and douse in gravy, garnish with chives and serve with potato pancakes and sour cream.