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Gourmet salts and flavored puso

/ 06:35 AM September 28, 2013

I GREW up knowing only three kinds of salt: unrefined or natural sea salt, refined or table salt and iodized salt. Then, we drove all the way to Las Piñas, known for its premier white salt, to buy sacks of it for the kitchen of our big household. There we saw the salt beds and how salt was harvested.

I was introduced to gourmet salts a few years ago during my regular trips to New York. They come in fancy packaging in different colors, flavors and crystal shapes. I also came across Himalayan Pink Salt or halite in Legaspi Market in Makati being sold by health food advocate, Arthur Tanco, together with his wheat grass, yogurt products and herbs.

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Halite contains a full spectrum of 84 minerals and is mined from salt caves in the Himalayas.

Over at the Puso Bistro & Bar of Quest Hotel Conference Center Cebu along Archbishop Reyes Avenue in Cebu City, not too far from Ayala Center Cebu, PR Manager Mia Mae Sy introduced the bistro’s latest culinary perk—“Pinch My Salt”, featuring the gourmet salts of Aro-en, which translates to “to love” in Pangasinan. Glenn John Khonghun whose family owns Salinas Food Inc. and its salt farm, Pacific Farms, Inc. in Pangasinan, graced the introduction of Aro-en gourmet salts. The name Pangasinan, literally means “the place where salt is made”. Glenn and his older brother Gerard, who are both graduates of Ateneo de Manila University, grew up exposed to the family’s salt business. While the company has been developing various kinds of salt, collaboration with the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) to develop gourmet salts gave the company a better grasp of the culinary aspect with the expertise of CCA’s chefs. After earning his degree, Gerard took up Salt Engineering in China Salt Institute, to put his company in the forefront of salt production.

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Gourmet salts bring out and enhance the flavors of food. With Glenn introducing the salts — Smoked, Fleur de Sel (flower of salt), Sel Gris (gray salt), Bitter Salt, to name a few, I helped myself to fresh salmon and shrimps for grilling, using Smoked and Sel Gris as suggested.

Discovering what gourmet salt pairs well with specific foods is challenging to the palates.

Not to be missed is the Flavored Puso (hanging rice) that I paired with my grilled seafood. A concoction of F&B Manager, Bojic Bacaltos, its flavors include Adobo, Paella, Curry and Nasi Goreng. A foodie with many years in the hotel and restaurant industry, Bojic hails from Nueva Ecija where she was exposed to the fine cuisine of the province. The procedure to make the flavored puso, Bojic explains, is a laborious one. Uncooked rice is soaked in the prepared broth with the desired flavors overnight before the rice grains with the addition of choice seafood or meat stuffing are placed in the woven coconut leaf and boiled in the same flavored broth. Since saffron is quite pricey, “kasubha” is used instead to impart the yellow color and distinct flavor for the Paella. Executive Chef Kiko Tugnao served up three freshly cooked flavored puso–paella, adobo and curry, which we enjoyed with the finishing salts of Aro-en.

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