New Potatoes Baked in an Orange Scented Salt Crust with Mint and Rosemary

Baked new Potatoes in an orange scented salt dough crust with mint and rosemary.

Baked new Potatoes in an orange scented salt dough crust with mint and rosemary.

At the End of April 2016 I attended the first Scottish Symposium of Food in Edinburgh, ‘Scotland’s Foodscape’.  I had two brilliant and vibrant days discussing food, farming, the ecology of land and sea as well as the more thorny political issues that surround food and its production at both a local and global level. I met like-minded and passionate people and came away energised and inspired. The plea of the Symposium leaders was that we use our energy and knowledge to go out there and do… in whatever way that means for us. My way is to cook; to be inspired by the food, the produce and the producers that I hap across and work with, and to pass the skills and recipes on in a ‘doable’ format for you.

The inspiration for these scrumptious potatoes came from the Symposium dinner. We were treated to a feast of all things Scottish cooked by the fabulous catering company Appetite Direct, http://www.appetitedirect.com/.  On the menu was a tender casserole of local hogget, wild garlic dumplings and the tastiest potatoes that I have every encountered. Salted to perfection, the texture soft yet waxy and the flavour encapsulating everything that a potato should be. Importantly, these qualities all combined to ensure that these potatoes were best eaten with no further adornment. No butter, no olive oil, no ‘any other’ sauce needed. These potatoes had been baked in a salt crust with mint and rosemary.

Salt crust cooking is an ancient method that derives from the fact that salt preserved foods, particularly  could be kept edible for longer. Soldiers and traders on long journeys apparently packed cuts of meat in salt. The salt leached some of the meat juices, effectively encapsulating it in a damp salt crust which was then cooked in the embers of a fire. On contact with heat the salt formed a hard casing protecting the meat from direct heat. The casing was then removed and the cooked meat eaten. Flour and water pastes are reported as being similarly used to cover foods for cooking over open fires by the Egyptians and later the Greeks,  again this paste was to protect the cooking item and not intended to be eaten.

During the medieval period the cooking of pies in elaborate casings became something of an art form. Magnificent constructions and decorated ‘crust’, cases adorned the table filled with a variety of cooked meats and sweetmeats. These decorated pie cases were called subtlelties. However  subtleties it would seem were rather more than decorated food containers. At the nobleman’s banquet they were highly ornate structures and containers made of flour paste, but could also be made of wax or wood. Some contained food delicacies that were served between courses, whilst others might house live birds (as alluded to in the nursery rhyme ‘sing a song of sixpence’) or even musicians and actors , who would spring into action as the pie was cut. These masterful creations were primarily entertainment,  not food (Anthropologists Cook Book).

For those pies destined to be food however,  and at a rather more practical level, it would seem that  the paste crust helped to extend the shelf life of the pie filling in a time of no refrigeration. Food historian Alan Davidson (1999) indicates  that pies baked in these hard crusts could be kept for 15 days or even as long as a month. This suggests that salt was used in the paste for its preserving and antimicrobial properties.

Today salt has something of a bad reputation health wise. Both the food industry and the individual being encouraged to cut down on their use and consumption of it. However there is no getting away from the fact that salt is a major enhancer of taste and contrary to what you might think salt-crust baking does not yield food that is salty – just perfectly done. The thick salt crust traps moisture and the flavours are forced to permeate the food rather than allowing them to escape, as can happen in water based methods of cooking. Any flavouring that you add to the pastry will also infuse the cooked food. Searching online I came across a Raymond Blanc recipe for pigeon in a salt crust that called for clove in the pastry mix (link below). In the recipe here I use zest and juice of orange, this in combination with the mint and rosemary  gives the finished dish a deep and complex flavour.  I have also made the same recipe with cumin seeds instead of the orange.

The egg whites may seem a bit wasteful but they help to bind the salt into the pastry more effectively than water and the crust becomes sturdy and hard when baked. To counteract the waste either seek out pasteurised liquid or dried egg whites from the supermarket or, if using fresh eggs then plan to use the egg yolks in an ice-cream or custard preparation.

 

Ingredients:

Serves 6 -8

700g plain flour

300g coarse Rock Salt

200ml egg white or the whites of 6 eggs (use the yolks to make an ice cream or Crème Brule).

Zest and juice of one large orange made up to 175 ml in volume with water

650g charlotte potatoes or other any variety medium sized new potato

2 sprigs fresh mint

1 sprig fresh rosemary

 Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 5.

Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the egg white and the water. Mix with a wooden spoon to incorporate the liquid. When the dough is too stiff to stir finish mixing by hand, kneading the dough into a malleable and softish paste. You can add a sprinkling of additional flour if the paste is a bit wet.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured clean surface and knead gently to form an even shape. Cut the salt pastry in two pieces and roll each into circles of about 3cm thickness.

New potatoes and fresh herbs on the rolled salt crust base

New potatoes and fresh herbs on the rolled salt crust base

Line a flat baking sheet with parchment and put one of the rolled circles onto the tray. Arrange the potato and herbs in the centre of the pastry circle keeping a margin free at the edges. Wet the margin edges and then lay the second pastry circle over the potatoes and press the edges together to seal.

cover the potatoes with the second circle of salt dough

Roll out the second circle of salt dough. Wet the edges and place over the potatoes on the base layer.

 

Cook the potatoes for 45 minutes in the preheated oven. The Pastry should be golden and hard.

To Serve:

To serve the salt crust baked potatoes break open the crust

To serve break open the crust and allow your guests to spoon their potatoes directly.

 

To serve break into the pastry case and either allow your guests to help themselves from the pastry case or else remove the potatoes to a warm serving dish and garnish with additional mint.

The texture and flavour of the potatoes means that they need not additional oil or butter. Any potatoes not eaten can be used cold with mayonnaise or fried for a later meal. They would lend themselves delightfully to a mezze style meal and go with just about any dish meat, fish or vegetarian with which you would usually serve potato.

Alternative Flavours:

If you are after a more traditional light mint flavour then simply omit the rosemary and the orange juice and zest and add 175 ml of water instead to the pastry.

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2-3 sprigs mint

References:  

Angela Boggiano 2013. Pie. Mitchel Beazley

Alan Davidson 1999. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford Press

Jessica Kuper 1999.  The Anthropologists cook book – chapter – food and feasting in Late Medieval England

 Raymond Blanc – http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/pigeonsbakedinasaltp_93491

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s