Russ Parsons, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, raves that the salt-roasted spot prawns he was served at Providence “had the deepest, purest taste of shellfish” he’d ever experienced. So, when he realized how simple salt-roasting is—the only necessary equipment is a roasting pan and a box of salt—he tried the technique at home, pouring rosemary-spiked salt on some fingerling potatoes:

I lifted off the salt crust and brushed away the stray flakes that clung to the potatoes. They didn’t look all that different from regular roasted potatoes. I took a bite. The flavor was amazing. Not only was there the strong, minerally overlay of newly dug potatoes, but there was also a gentle, almost haunting, fragrance of rosemary. Despite having been cooked with 2 cups of salt, the potatoes weren’t too salty.

What followed this experiment was a two-week, 18-pound salt-roasting extravaganza. Parsons tried the technique on whole snapper, spiny lobster, and even pears, which unfortunately (but not surprisingly) “came out tasting weirdly savory.”

Then, Parsons spoke to the Salt Institute’s technical director, Morton Satin (who coincidentally shares his first name with a common brand of salt). Satin is a molecular biologist, but he couldn’t give Parsons a formula to explain why salt-roasted food tastes so darn delicious.

“I have no idea how it works but I can tell you that I lived in Italy for 20 years and always cooked fish that way,” he said. “I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I never stopped to analyze it. It’s not steaming, and it’s not roasting, but it’s a kind of hybrid of the two. And it’s very, very good.”

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