Best of 2010: Crack open the cookbook cream of the crop
"Salted"
By Mark Bitterman Ten Speed Press, $35, 312 pages 

The subtitle of "Salted" says it all -- "A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral" -- because this book isn't really a cookbook, not in the recipe-driven sense of the word. It's more of a user guide, and an inspiring one at that from author Mark Bitterman, who owns the North Portland salt boutique The Meadow. From the lively introduction, in which Bitterman recounts his first experience with sea salt, to the geeky chapters on the history and science of the stuff, to the slim selection of recipes broken into categories like "brining," "curing," "salt crust" and "cooking on salt blocks," this book is aimed at inspiring and educating people on the virtues of natural salt. Bitterman's passion is infectious -- especially after reading his Salt Reference Guide, which takes up the bulk of the book and provides poetic mini-essays on dozens of salts. The Salish Alder Smoked, for example, "sizzles with intense smoke flavor. ... grinding a few crystals over hearty dishes effortlessly evokes the traditional flavors of the Pacific Northwest." How can you not want to cook with that salt? Short bulleted lists describe the salts' characteristics at an oft-hilarious glance -- one salt's crystal structure is described as "heavy-bottomed shot glasses for mice"; another has the flavor of "electrified frost." Though borderline silly, the playful guide does give readers a sense of what to expect from each salt and how best to use it.

Recipe we liked: Flambéed Bananas With Cyprus Hardwood Smoked Salt -- Danielle Centoni

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