If North Florida regions were defined by taste, the coast wouldn’t even have to change its current tagline. Salt life is the way of life at the Jacksonville beaches, and it’s also the area’s most prominent flavor. After all, everything from the sea to the air to the sand beneath our toes is engrained in salt. It’s even eating away at the paint on our cars.
Of the five tastes, salty is the only one humans (and animals) need in order to survive. This demand wires us with a built in taste for salt. Our body aims to maintain a healthy salt balance, but high concentrations of sodium are actually dangerous to our health. For those cases, we are programmed to taste when there is too much salty flavor present as an avoidance mechanism to help us survive.
The salty receptor on the mouth is the simplest of the taste receptors, and is made up of two elements — sodium and chloride. The sodium chloride blend creates a hot, heavy and moist taste on the tongue that falls between sweet and sour on the taste spectrum.
This blend makes the salty taste pair great with other flavors, which is why we often see sweet and salty or sour and salty combinations in the food that we eat.
We sat down with Chef Christopher Polidoro, owner and head chef of Restaurant Doro, to explore the secret of salty and how he uses it in his cuisine to achieve distinctive and transformative flavors.
Chef Polidoro opened Doro in the Neptune Beach Town Center in late August last year. The restaurant can seat 32 people and has a crisp industrial design with a light coastal flair. Inspiration came from mixing Long Island beach design with Southern influence to create a space that is unique, but true to the North Florida culture.
Doro is the first restaurant Chef Polidoro has owned and operated, although he’s been working in the food industry for most of his life. He began as a dishwasher when he was 16 years old, and went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America. Most recently, Chef Polidoro worked with Matt Lauer of The Today Show as his personal chef, a gig he held for over 12 years.
Polidoro spent most of his 20s developing his craft in restaurants around the east end of Long Island, mentoring under various chefs while also honing his craft. He took some time away from the hustle and bustle of restaurant life to work the land on an organic farm in his early 20s. Here, he was able to explore the root of cooking and he credits these years to shaping his vision for food.
“On the farm, I learned about how food came out of the ground, and it taught me how to cook simply,” Chef Polidoro explained. He still utilizes fresh and organic ingredients whenever he can, and is a regular at the Jarboe Park Farmers Market in Neptune Beach and the aquaponics farm in Ponte Vedra. He also gets weekly deliveries from Frog Song and Siembra, two organic farms near Gainesville, and buys his seafood local and fresh.
Chef Polidoro admits that he is more of a visionary than a consumer when it comes to his menu.
“I don’t really try anything whole on the menu,” he said, laughing. “When I’m cooking and putting it all together, I know how it will taste.”
While Chef Polidoro does look up to some of the greats for inspiration, such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alain Ducasse, most of his creativity for new concepts and dishes comes from visual stimulation.
“I don’t like reading cook books, but I like looking at pictures to get ideas for colors, shapes and textures that I can transform.”
Today, Chef Polidoro’s cooking philosophy is to keep it simple and fresh.
“I don’t like heavy manipulation,” he said, adding he does like contrast, and he has found that pairing the salty tastes with other taste flavors is a simple way to create artful recipes.
Generally speaking, cooking starts and ends with salt.
“Salt itself is a super important ingredient, and I use it in everything,” he said. “It opens up your palate and taste buds. You’ll squeeze them tight first, but the saltiness eventually opens the pores and allows you to taste other things.”
Polidoro describes the salty flavor as a brininess that brings out other flavors. In cooking, salt helps release the juices in food.
“It’s a really important element in proper cooking,” he said. ”If you salt something, all the juices come to the surface, so the salt is helping sear it or creating a crust or bringing out the natural sugars and flavors.”
Polidoro uses two types of salt in his cooking. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt for cooking, and then a gray French sea salt as a finishing salt.
He prefers the Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt to other kosher salts due to its low salinity. The gray French sea salt is a larger crystal that pops open when released to make your mouth water. He also utilizes sodium-rich substitutes such as soy sauce and miso to achieve the salty flavor.
At Doro, Polidoro recommends the coffee-cured salmon and short ribs glaze for unique salty flavors. The coffee-cured salmon is cured in salt and sugar, which both work together to strip the moisture and fat out of the fish. Then, the salmon is soaked in coffee to add another more acidic dynamic to the dish.
The short ribs glaze are “bake-steamed,” and afterward, Polidoro creates a glaze using soy and miso to shellac the meat in a salty-soy flavor. Like the salmon, the ribs are a thicker, fattier meat and the salt helps break down the fat and release more flavor.
Chef Kevin Gaston at Eleventh South recommends their tuna tartar. The dish uses both salty and sweet flavors with a soy marinade and ginger aioli paired with fresh mangos, jalapenos and bell pepper. The fish is glazed in a blend of soy and caramel and brown sugar. The salty and sweet balances each other out for a perfect marriage of flavors to enrich the tuna.
Seachasers recommends the Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese dish, which blends lobster, truffle oil noodles and creamy cheese to create a rich salty flavor.
Recipe — Preserved Lemons
This condiment is very easy to make and adds another level of flavor to salads, pastas and so much more.
- ½ cup Kosher salt
- 4 Lemons
- 4 squeezed lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice
- You will also need:
- Knife & airtight jar or tupperware
- Cut 4 lemons in quarters lengthwise.
- Toss with 1/2 cup kosher salt and place into an airtight jar or tupperware.
- Squeeze approx. 4 additional lemons to create 1 cup of fresh lemon juice.
- Cover cut lemons with 1 cup of lemon juice.
- Seal the lid and shake vigorously.
- Place in a cool place room temperature and shake once a day. They take about 11 days to fully cure and can be kept indefinitely in the refrigerator.
- Before use rinse under cold water.
- The skins can be julienned and used to add that unique bit of lemon and salt.