The perfect gift for the host who has everything is something you’ve made yourself. I know this well, since I’m often at a loss of what to bring to that special dinner or the coveted (read: begged for) weekend invitation to the country. Cooking something tailored to the tastes of your hosts is about the most thoughtful thing you can do and will probably be the most appreciated, too.
The important thing here is to be specific and really think about the predilections and habits of your hosts. Are they the steadfast health-conscious, eat-right types? Homemade vinegars, spice rubs, and infused oils work better than sugary jams and curds. Or do they have a hidden sweet tooth, as evidenced by the small stash of bittersweet chocolate-covered almonds you once found in the linen closet behind the towels? Sicilian pistachio brittle and hand-made candied ginger might be even more welcome than they let on – and gone before the weekend’s out.
This porcini salt was developed with a wine lover in mind, because few things pair better with fine vintages than earthy, funky mushrooms. The recipe is based on the flavors of a French duxelles, a softly cooked mixture of minced mushrooms with shallots or garlic, thyme, black pepper, and sometimes nutmeg that is smeared on meats a la beef Wellington, or maybe mixed into omelets or served spooned on toast for an hors d’oeuvre.
I use all the same aromatics in my salt mix except for shallots, which don’t work because of their moisture content. To stand in for their complexity and sweetness, I added pink peppercorns, which have a sweet pine-like flavor that adds another dimension, and works really well with the woodsy mushroom character.
Best of all, making the salt couldn’t be easier: Just pulse everything up in a spice grinder, taking care to leave some texture in the mix. Take care to pulse slowly; the mix can turn from pleasingly granular to powdery in a few seconds. Use short staccato bursts when pulsing.
Then sprinkle your mushroom salt on everything in arms reach. It’s divine on meats before grilling, superb on poultry before roasting, and elevates humble roasted fingerling potatoes into a snack fit for the gods – especially if your grateful host breaks out an excellent bottle of wine to sip with them.
Makes 1/2 cup
0.6 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
6 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns, optional
Using your hands, break the mushrooms into small pieces. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or a spice grinder (if using a spice grinder, prepare in two batches). Pulse the mixture 2 to 3 times until it is just coarsely ground. Discard any remaining large chunks and transfer mixture to an airtight jar. Stored in a cool, dry place, salt will keep for up to 6 months.
If you’d rather use fine sea salt, pulse the mushrooms and pink peppercorns in the food processor until coarsely ground, then stir in the salt and other seasonings by hand. You want some texture here, but it can come from the mushrooms if your salt is fine.
You can use any dried mushrooms here, just so long as they are completely dehydrated (any moisture will dissolve the salt, which you don’t want). Chanterelles, morels, and black trumpet would all be lovely substitutions.
This amount of salt makes enough for two gifts – or better, give one as a gift and then keep one for yourself. Find small, 4-ounce jars to pack it in, and don’t forget to tie a silky ribbon or other festive bauble to the lid. It’s a present, after all.