Welcome back to Dirty Work , our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce. In the latest installment, Ben Jacobsen, founder of Oregon-based Jacobsen Salt Co., turns the last of our summer harvest into a quick herb-infused salt.
It’s fortuitous timing when Ben Jacobsen, founder and owner of Portland’s Jacobsen Salt Co. and Bee Local Honey, stops by the MUNCHIES test kitchen. November is right around the corner, but it’s all blue skies and sun on our rooftop garden today. Ben sets down a tub of pure flake finishing salt, then we head outside to forage for something to flavor it with.
Guided by culinary director Farideh Sadeghin, we explore the last growths of the season, from a variety of sweet and spicy peppers to tiny radishes and a whole lot of herbs. Even as the garden winds down for the winter, there’s still more than enough here for what we need.
Ben suggests making a James Beard-inspired infused salt, though it’s quickly scrapped due to our current lack of rosemary. That’s fine, we’ll make our very own MUNCHIES Garden house blend. Armed with scissors and a sheet tray, Ben gets to work gathering herbs. He settles on a six-herb selection of sage, Thai basil, scallions, red clover blossoms, and sweet-smelling pineapple sage flowers.
Back in the kitchen, Ben washes and dries the herbs, then plucks the ends and roots off the scallions. He grabs a clean spice grinder and we’re ready to get to work. (Note: only use the coffee grinder if coffee-infused salt is the goal—which, by the way, Jacobsen makes using both Stumptown Coffee cold brew and espresso beans.)
“Start with an equal ratio [of salt and herbs],” says Ben. “If it’s too much or too little, adjust from there.” He starts with just the green herbs and a handful of salt flakes and grinds them into a coarse mixture. Though we’re using flaked salt, kosher works too. “[It] might get too fine, but it’s also part of the experimentation,” he says. Then, why not, he goes all in and adds the flowers too.
After few seconds in the spice grinder, Ben pours the mixture onto a plate. With discrete clumps, the mixture looks somewhere between a bright green snow cone and tiny nugs of weed. That’s because the herbs we’re using still have some moisture. If you’re not in a pinch, Ben recommends putting fresh herbs in the oven at the warm setting for ten minutes, just enough to dry them out—that’ll extend the shelf-life of your seasoned salt.
When you make this at home, Ben says, “You don’t want to blend the herbs without salt in there.” For Jacobsen’s rosemary salt, they initially tried blending the herbs and salt separately, but the mixture quickly turned brown (i.e. won’t look as good on your Instagram). If you blend them together, though, the herbs won’t oxidize or lose any flavor.
Beyond that, he says, “There’s no way you can screw up. You can always try something different.” Because of the moisture from fresh herbs, you’ll want to use this pretty quickly instead of letting it linger in the pantry. “Use immediately, and don’t be afraid to use it,” he says. That shouldn't be too difficult.
We scoop up small pinches with our fingers. The salt mixture is bright, fresh, and even summery. Ben mentions that it would make a good rub—the idea of roast chicken is floated—or used as a finishing salt.
Compared to some commercial salts, Ben says, Jacobsen salt is “briney and super clean tasting.” He adds, “Some people describe our salt as super sweet. It sounds like a weird description, but I get it. [Compared to Diamond Crystal] you taste a sweetness.” That crisp flavor shines in this vibrant preparation.
His favorite way to taste salt though? “Just a baguette and some really good unsalted butter.” Yes. Make this and then do that.