Eat Drink Savor

Eat, Drink, Savor: Off the Hook Essentials add flavor intensity

Off the Hook Essentials explores new flavor options and expands into seasonings
Off the Hook Essentials finishing salts. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Off the Hook Essentials finishing salts. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Corina Gitmed and Sara Spencer at The Smoke Point BBQ. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Corina Gitmed and Sara Spencer at The Smoke Point BBQ. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Five years ago, Corina Gitmed began selling fresh fish at Farmers Markets as Off the Hook Essentials. A couple of years later, she brought on Sara Spencer as a partner and together, they created a line of essential oil-infused finishing salts. It was an odd product pairing that has grown into a thriving business.

“I had known Corina for years,” Spencer said. “When I found out that she was selling fish, I asked her if she was open to teaching a cooking class using essential oils because people use these oils without having any idea what they are about.”

They created a seasoning that would go with fish, which they could hand out as samples to their customers.

“It took us one week to create our first salts,” Spencer said. “We started with our Citrus and Thai salts and gave them out with every fillet we sold. The next week, one of the distributors for the Safeway’s meat and seafood section who had tried the salts came back and wanted to know how we had gotten so much flavor into them. He said, ‘I want it in my store, let’s make it happen.’”

With Safeway interested in buying their salts, Gitmed and Spencer increased their product line to five salts: Citrus, Pico de Gallo, Thai, Celery, and Italian.

The first versions of their infused salts used only Mediterranean sea salt, but they decided that it provided just one single flavor note that was too intensely salty. So they started experimenting, cutting it with sulfurous black lava salt and earthy red clay salt, both from the Himalayas, along with Hawaiian sea salt, which gave the mixture a greater depth. These four salts are now the basis of all of their infusions.

“Sara also insisted on going with companies that gather the salts at their origins,” Gitmed said.”So each of the salts is pure and harvested sustainably. And every part of our packaging is eco-friendly. It was a little crazy at first trying to figure it all out, but if you can do that at the foundation, then it grows easier.”

The aroma explodes out of the jars when you open them, and the intensity of the salts makes them perfect for finishing a dish rather than being used as an ingredient in cooking.  The grains of salt are large and pack a lot of flavor, so they should be used sparingly, but they are perfect for sprinkling over meat and vegetables. You can also use them in salad dressings and marinades.

Besides their use in cooking, Spencer said the salts have tremendous health benefits.

“The citrus oil helps flush out your liver and kidneys, for example,” she said. “I’ll take soda water with a couple of drops of citrus oil, then rim the glass with Citrus Salt. It makes a wonderful and energetic electrolyte drink.” 

Spencer and Gitmed are currently considering new flavors of salts and have also expanded into a line of infused sugars, including lavender, citrus, and peppermint flavors currently being used at Johnny’s Bar & Grill in Hollister.

“It is our energy and love that makes these salts special,” Gitmed said. “As cheesy as it sounds, that is what makes it work. It is a very natural process for us.”

 

The salts sell in three-ounce jars with a suggested retail price of $10. They are available locally at The Smoke Point BBQ in San Juan Bautista and Farmhouse Cafe in Hollister.

 

The Oil-Infused Finishing Salts of Off the Hook Essentials

 

Citrus – Besides being one of the first products they developed, Citrus is also their most popular salt. The aroma leans towards the wild orange oils, but the bright and uplifting flavor profile is led by the lemon and lime oils. “It is the most versatile of the salts,” Spencer said. “I put it on chocolate chip cookies and ice cream, I use it in cocktails. I can even get my kids to eat their vegetables by adding just a sprinkle of this salt.” The sweetness and citrus sharpness make a great combination and would elevate any bland dish to a minor masterpiece.

 

Thai – Made with lemongrass, basil, and ginger oils, this salt gives off a deep musky aroma. The flavor picks up some sweetness from the ginger, and the lemongrass adds a light citrusy note in the finish. “This one goes perfectly with pork or shellfish,” Spencer said. “It really works well with something like a Moscow Mule or any kind of vodka tonic.”  The oils in this one mesh well but might be a bit elusive to identify, which would provide a nice twist to everyday cooking.

 

Pico de Gallo – “The first version had cumin, but we tweaked it and took it out,” Spencer said. “I think this works well with a Bloody Mary or, of course, on tacos.” The flavors are cilantro, lime, and black pepper, but the profile is more subdued than the other infusions, laying under the salt taste rather than riding above it. I would save this one for foods that need a bit of flavor-enhancing without the oils taking over the dish.  Steamed cod, rice, and potatoes come to mind.

 

Italian – “We think of this one as a heavy hitter,” Spencer said. “It’s a fun one, it has all the go-to Italian flavors, but it’s very potent. It makes a great dry brine on meats—you sprinkle it on the night before and let it sit. The salt is going to pull moisture out initially, then it balances out and the water goes back into it. So the flavor is going to be there inside and out.” This is their most aromatic salt, with a strong taste from the rosemary, oregano, and basil oils. Though more than a pinch or two would be overpowering, this is my favorite and I think it would enhance anything from grilled meats to an omelet.

 

Celery Salt – “I always wanted Celery Salt for my Chicago dogs,” Spencer said. “So this one is probably less for fish and more for steak. And if you put a little pinch of this one on your tongue, it will help diminish headaches.” Only celery oil is used for this salt, which gives it a sweet, almost minty taste. The flavor is much more subtle and balanced than traditional celery salt, which uses ground-up seeds for flavor. While Spencer favors the Citrus Salt as the most versatile, I would suggest this one as a good place to start for it’s overall usefulness in the kitchen.

 

The reporter was given samples of the salts to review as part of this article.

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.