If you’re pinching pennies this holiday season but still feel the urge to offer a token of sentiment to the ones you love, fear not. There is another option besides shoplifting: Homemade flavored salt.
Before you screech, “I don’t have time for that!” let me assure you that you do. It’s SO easy and SO cheap, and it only takes about an hour. Let me tell you how I did it. First, here’s what you need:
• A gas or charcoal grill (I used gas)
• Tin foil (heavy duty is best but I used regular)
• Hickory wood chips (available at Publix)
• A box of Kosher Salt (like, $2.50)
• Rosemary (or any herb)
• Containers (I found cute small jars at Winn Dixie for $4.98)
Don’t get discouraged yet. It’s really easy, and so much cheaper than buying gourmet salts at pricey kitchen stores. I love me some Williams-Sonoma, but Lord…$15 for salt is reeee-diculous! Read on for your first step.
First things first: soak your hickory chips in a bowl of water. They need about 30 minutes of bath time before you use them, otherwise your smoke will be short-lived. Up next…time to get clever.
It’s MacGyver Time. You’re going to improvise a “smoker basket.” It’s really easy. Simply tear two 2-foot long pieces of tin foil and lay them atop each other. Next, pile your soaked chips in the middle like you’re building a burrito. Finally, wrap the sucker up and poke some holes in the top. If you like to amuse yourself, you can use a knife and make that noise from Psycho. I did. Meanwhile, fill a (preferably disposable tin) pan with two cups of kosher salt.
Third: Fire up one side of your grill, and put your hickory foil burrito (yummy!) on that side. Place your pan of salt on the unlit side of the grill. Close the lid and grill on medium for an hour. That’s it!
Fourth: The Herbage. The rosemary you use is up to you. I prefer fresh, mainly because I have Seymour the Man-eating Rosemary Bush in my backyard and I yearn for any excuse to prune his tentacles (so if you need rosemary, come by and snip away ANY time). But feel free to use dried…it’s not as pretty but it gets the idea across. Chop up fresh really finely, then mix it into your cooled salt. If you’re lucky, your smoked salt has taken on a kind of smoky amber color. Use about a quarter cup of rosemary to 1 cup of salt. Stir, then pour into a container, make a cute label*, and you’re done.
Other Kitchen Gifts: Super Easy Vanilla Sugar
If you cook anything with vanilla beans, after you’ve scraped out the insides, save the bean husks. Throw them into your sugar canister** and they’ll seep out vanilla goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Simply pull out one husk and a cup of sugar, throw them in a jar, and you’ve given a friend the gift of vanilla sugar. Love it!
Courtney’s Ancho Chile Salt
I named this for my faux-Mexican friend Courtney because even though she’s not Mexican it’s fun for me to pretend thus. This recipe isn’t as simple as vanilla sugar, but it’s easier than the rosemary smoked salt. Simply stop by the Mexican section of your grocery and get a bag of dried ancho chiles. Heat three of them in a skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally. You want them to harden a little. When they’re less like a raisin and more like an eggshell, remove and discard the stems and seeds and grind the peppers in a food processor. When they’re finely minced, stir them into about a cup of kosher salt. Use about ¼ to ½ ancho pepper to 1 cup of salt.
* My “cute” labels are actually just “cheap.” Paper Piggly Wiggly sack, Sharpie markers, leftover raffia. “Cute” is relative…unemployment is absolute! 😉
** While vanilla sugar is fun, it’s easy to forget that you placed discarded vanilla beans in your sugar canister. So when you go to scoop out some sugar and unearth a shard of vanilla bean, you may experience what I term a “litter box moment.” Just giggle, offer up a sigh of relief, and keep scoopin’. 😉