- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The smoky scent of grilling food carries far on the breezes of these summer evenings. That’s small comfort if you live in a condo or apartment with no access to a barbecue grill. But where there is smoke, there is not necessarily fire.

There may be Danish smoked salt, an artisanal condiment made in a style developed by the vikings. Sprinkle the smoky crystals over oven-broiled steaks, burgers or a rack of ribs, and you’ll think you are in the great outdoors.

Should you think of vikings, you might think of two-horned helmets, formidable sailing ships and single-digit centuries when Scandinavian warriors ruled the waves. Would you think of their cuisine? Probably not. History shows, however, that the vikings were known for a smoked salt made by boiling down sea water over a wood fire.

About a dozen years ago, Brent Dahlin, a crafts teacher in a town just outside Copenhagen, read about smoked salt in some old books. He saw descriptions of the flavor but no recipe. Undaunted, he set out to create one.

The salt is produced by an evaporation process that takes place in a big metal vessel over an open fire. The firewood was the key to success. Mr. Dahlin’s experiments led him to a combination of oak, cherry, elm, beech and juniper woods.

The result is a salt that is said to taste like a bonfire. Mr. Dahlin makes it every summer when he goes to viking camp, where real and wannabe weekend warriors gather to re-create the joys of ancient pastimes, such as toolmaking and leather working. (Looting and pillaging are frowned upon.)

Cut, now, to my friend Marianne Kronmark, a Danish jewelry importer in France. While researching her own Danish roots, she discovered Mr. Dahlin and his smoked salt.

She found that some savvy chefs in Copenhagen were experimenting with it. She immediately sent a package of smoked salt to her brother Lars Kronmark, who is a chef instructor for the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena, Calif.

Mr. Kronmark began to use it in his classes. There was only one problem: No one in America knew about the product. The siblings found an exclusive importer with the Cooking School of Aspen in Colorado, and now Danish smoked salt is available by mail order.

Use the interesting but expensive condiment sparingly as a topping. Here are a few ideas:

• Sprinkle it on breakfast eggs and potatoes.

• Sprinkle a bit on bacon before frying to intensify the flavor.

• Consider it another add-on for baked potatoes, along with grated cheese, chopped scallion, sour cream and bacon.

• Pinch a few grains over savory tarts and quiches.

• Pinch a few grains over a savory soup such as zuppa di fagioli.

• Use it as a dry rub by itself on meat or as one of the ingredients in a dry rub.

m Use a few grains to top slices of goat cheese or heirloom tomatoes.

m Add just a pinch to bloody Mary drinks.

• Grind it in a spice grinder with equal parts cumin seed and kosher salt and use the combination to dust a surface or to dredge fresh ahi tuna. Then sear and cook the fish to the doneness you prefer.

Danish smoked salt is sold exclusively through the Cooking School of Aspen. Two ounces cost $11, plus shipping. For more information, the Cooking School of Aspen, www.cookingschoolofaspen.com or 800/603-6004.

Barbecued baby back ribs

After the initial baking, the ribs can be finished under the broiler or on the grill.

2 racks pork baby back ribs

Stock or water

2 tablespoons Danish smoked salt

cup red wine vinegar

cup Worcestershire

cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 2 lemons

1 12-ounce jar chili sauce

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon yellow mustard

cup brown sugar

cup ketchup

Place pork ribs, bone side down, in a high-sided baking dish in about inch of stock or water. (Don’t cover ribs so that they stew. They need only enough water to steam.) Season ribs with smoked salt. Cover pan tightly with foil and place in 325-degree oven for 2 to 2 hours, until cooked through.

In a bowl, combine red wine vinegar, Worcestershire, lemon juice, 3/4 cup water, chili sauce, yellow mustard, brown sugar and ketchup. Stir and set aside.

Remove ribs from oven. Place under broiler or on a grill and baste with barbecue sauce as they cook. Grill until crisp on the edges and browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Apple fennel slaw

2 fennel bulbs

2 green apples, cored but not peeled

cup sour cream

cup mayonnaise

cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Shred fennel as thinly as possible, reserving the green fronds for garnish, if desired. Slice apples as thinly as possible. (A mandolin works best for this.) Then stack apple slices and cut into thin slices.

In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss apple and fennel with the dressing, using as much as you like for creaminess. Use fennel fronds for garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.


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