Omakase and San Jose's Adega Restaurant. All were well-known local favorites. I loved each and every one of them.
Looking over my notes and photographs getting ready to write about the trip, I noticed something interesting. In four of the restaurants, chefs had taken special notice of the flavor enhancing qualities of specialty salts.
For years I have been using sea salt and additive-free Diamond Crystal kosher salt when I cook. On this trip I was impressed with the ways in which chefs used flake salts to finish their dishes.
Two chefs curated high quality flake salt
In Oakland at A16 Rockridge, as the pizzas I had ordered were baking in the wood fired oven, Isaiah Martinez, Executive Sous Chef, served me a plate of roasted calamari with deep fried Corona beans and paper thin slices of lemon. I took at bite. Delicious.
Before I could take another bite, Martinez sprinkled flake sea salt on the dish. I tried another bite. The flavors were brighter and cleaner. At A16 Rockridge, Jacobsen's Sea salt is not used during cooking but as a finishing salt, sprinkled on at the last minute to protect its delightful crunch.
Two chefs transformed flake salt by adding flavor
At Craftsman and Wolves, an upscale artisanal bakery and cafe in the evolving Mission District, chef William Werner creates inventive pastries and baked goods. He makes brownies flavored with Marcona almonds and salted caramel. His morning buns are beautiful works of art and inventively flavored with wild bariani honey, vanilla and Meyer lemon.
Calavera Mexican Kitchen & Agave Bar in Oakland's Uptown, Veytia uses a lot of roasted tomatoes to make salsas and sauces. He found himself throwing away mounds of tomato skins that were still full of flavor.
His solution was to roast the skins until they were parchment-paper-crisp before crumbling them together with Maldon flake salt. The result was a tomato salt that he sprinkles on special dishes like his Ensalada de Tomate. He dresses a richly flavored sampling of local summer-ripe tomatoes with a light cheese and crumbled chorizo dressing. Scattered along the sides of the plate are tomato flakes. A few of those sprinkled on a tomato and a superior dish becomes an extraordinary dish.
So I could try Jacobsen's and Murray River flake salts in my own kitchen, I ordered them online as soon as I returned home.
carbon steel pan, I cooked the salmon and veggies in the kitchen where I could more easily control the amount of char.
Even if you do not yet have these wonderful flake salts, you can have fantastic results using sea salt.
Charred Vegetables and Salmon Filets With Flake Salts
If you have a quality flake salt like Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River, all the better, but definitely sprinkle on sea salt just before serving so the salt retains its crunchy freshness.
Murray River flake salt has a delicate minerality which is why it works so well with the steaks at Alexander's. Made with water harvested from Netarts Bay off the Oregon Coast, Jacobsen's has a lighter, more delicate flavor and a bit more crunch than Maldon's.
Murray River does not sell its products directly online except in Australia. Jacobsen's is available directly from the company. Both are available online from multiple sources. Maldon Salt is widely available in kitchen supply stores, upscale markets and online.
These salts cost quite a bit more than supermarket sea salt, but you only need a little to add a lot of flavor.
Serve with a tossed green salad, steamed rice or pasta.
Time to prepare: 15 minutes
Time to cook: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
1 pound fresh salmon filets, skin on, bones removed, washed, pat dried
1 large yellow onion or 5 shallots, washed, peeled, stems and ends removed
4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, pat dried, cut into 3" sections
4 medium sized carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into slabs 2" long, 1/2" thick
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, cut into thick slices (optional)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon flake salt, Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River to taste
Mix together the two oils and set aside.
Carefully check the salmon filets for bones. Remove any that might have been missed before. Using a sharp knife, create pieces 3" long and 1" wide. That size piece is easy to handle.
Prepare all the vegetables before beginning to cook.
Put the cast iron or carbon steel pan on a high flame with the overhead exhaust fan on. Do not add oil until the pan is hot.
When the pan smokes, drizzle on a tablespoon of the mixed olive oils. Season with a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Using long tongs, sauté the vegetables separately since they cook at different speeds. Start with the carrots. When they are charred on both sides but not burnt, remove and set aside.
Do the same with the onions and mushrooms (optional).
Add more of the mixed oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.
Put the cut pieces of corn on the cob into the pan.
Turn the cobs in the hot pan until most of the kernels are charred. Work in batches if necessary.
When all the vegetables are cooked and reserved and the rice, salad or pasta has been prepared, add a bit more mixed oil to the pan.
Place the vegetables on a plate. Add the salmon. Just before serving, top with flake salt. Serve immediately.