I tell him the sea salt was incredible on the foie gras I had the previous night—used in a dish with brown sugar notes that artfully recalled French toast, the salt making the delicious fat all the more enjoyable.
“We definitely still use red diamond kosher as our workhorse in the restaurant. But we use the salt I make for finishing—our replacement for Maldon if you will,” Miller says.
“My chef sits at the pass and before it goes out a lot of times—say a nice piece of seared fish, the foie, or a protein like lamb with a smothering of really good extra virgin olive oil—it gets a pinch of the sea salt.”
But if you’re painting a romantic picture in your head of how Miller harvests it, you’ll have to dial it back a bit.
“It’s just me going down to the ocean with three five gallon buckets,” he laughs.
“In all, on a given day, I’m doing 45 gallon batches–three runs with three five-gallon buckets.”
He accumulated a “beta-run” of 300 tins during this past off-season and tries to make more runs during his rare days off.
Five-gallon buckets aside, I ask if he rises before dawn like a French salt harvester carrying on a 400 year-old family tradition or if he gets to it whenever he finally wants to shake off endless shifts—his recent birthday marked a marathon string of no-days-off—and post-shift drinks.
“It could be either actually,” he laughs.
“I try to fish with my old man as much as possible and that usually starts my day before the sun rises. I’ll go on a run before I fish to have it going so when I get back, it’s ready. It depends, once we’re open seven days a week, I have to do it, you know buck rack”—in other words, he’ll have to man up to get any extra curricular activities done in the little spare time that comes with working non-stop.
After hitting up the inlet—to avoid the crashing waves and any churning up of the bottom that can come with it—by the lighthouse on Barnegat around 6am, he’s back at the restaurant where he’ll set 15 gallons of seawater in a massive stock pot on “low”—meaning over one burner on full bore as opposed to cranking two burners up all the way when he’s not stepping out.
The second reduction takes awhile.
“I usually sleep on it,” he says.
The water from the initial run is placed in hotel pans that sit across two burners that he turns down as low as they’ll go.
“There’s no movement in the water at all. It’s a slow steamy evaporation. Each hotel pan holds five gallons I’d say.”
“By six pm that day, if I’ve done three runs of reducing and putting into hotel pans, by the next morning, I’ll have a pretty significant amount of crystallization that I scoop out of the bottom of the pan. It sits for at least 12 hours.”
But it’s not a total evaporation as you might expect.
“In order to keep it white and to keep funk from seaweed, minerals, and iron [from affecting it], you want to crystalize it while it’s still in water and scoop it out. If you keep drying it, it starts to just get a brownish hue to it. I’m not sure if that’s due to a mineralization or iron, or if that’s due to silt,” he says.
Before the salt goes in the dehydrator, he filters it and, using water he has reduced, washes the salt in a salt solution—which has to be above 26% salinity he says—to get the salt nice and clean.
But, that doesn’t mean the salt isn’t without extraneous flavor.
He says there’s the slightest hint of something more there that heightens any of the rubs he’s experimenting with. For the dry aged New York strip on the menu, they apply a dry rub of sea salt blended with dried shitake and kombu (edible kelp).
“It’s a super subtle thing—you don’t taste mushroom, you don’t taste kombu, but for whatever reason, when you bite into that steak, it’s just an oh my God super umami. It’s sort of background, trying to put your finger on what’s going on, but it’s super delicious,” Miller says.
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