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Wine salt? Don't knock it before you've tried it

Melissa Clark

It used to be that whenever I wanted to marinate a piece of meat, I'd douse it in wine mixed with garlic, black pepper and bay leaves and let it bathe overnight in the liquid. The cooked meat was tasty, but the exterior was never as crisp-edged as I wanted it, even when I wiped the surface dry before cooking.

Then a few years ago I switched my default to dry brining. I would coat the meat in a mixture of salt, spices and the occasional aromatic (garlic, ginger, scallion) and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. This makes the meat flavorful and gives it a nice crust when I sear it.

The only thing missing was the fruity tang of the wine. But liquid has no place in a dry brine.

Then recently I heard about a wine salt that John Eisenhart, the executive chef of Pazzo in Portland, Ore., was slathering all over pork, chicken, fish, even squash.

To make it, he simmered wine until it was syrupy, then added coarse salt, sugar and seasonings.

Next, he dried out the mixture in a low oven (or you can leave it out on the counter overnight) and used it to marinate things before cooking.

His earliest wine-salt experiments involved leftover open bottles of pinot noir. He eventually switched to gewuerztraminer for aesthetic reasons (the red wine turned everything purple, he said, which was just unappetizing on a piece of sturgeon).

Making wine salt is a clever idea, and not at all hard to do.

Eisenhart sent me the recipe, and I made it immediately, rubbing it onto a nice fat-covered pork loin that I grilled slowly over indirect heat. The sugar helped the meat caramelize, while the salt, lemon and thyme permeated the flesh. I'll make it in the winter, too, slowly roasting the meat in a 325-degree oven, then broiling it at the end if it needs color.

It was so good that I already have plans to try the rub on lamb chops with crushed coriander seeds mixed in, and on swordfish that I'll roast with peppers. It's also nice as a finishing salt, sprinkled on sliced tomatoes, radishes with butter or sliced cucumbers. And I'll bet it does wonders for salting eggplant, zucchini and cabbage.

Eisenhart said that the wine salt would keep for weeks in the refrigerator. But in my house, I think days is more likely. Next time I'm making a double batch.

Grilled Pork Loin With Wine-salt Rub