Salt-roasted root vegetables are appearing on more and more menus lately. Is salt-roasting worth doing at home?
Roasted in a hot oven, dense root vegetables can cook unevenly and dry out on the exterior before their interiors are tender. Salt-roasting—burying the vegetables in salt—is touted for being a more gentle approach due to the salt’s insulating effect. It also has presentation appeal since the salt becomes a hardened crust that can be cracked open at the table. Still, we were skeptical. In the past, we’ve found that wrapping beets in foil for roasting does a pretty good job of gently cooking them evenly. The foil doesn’t insulate as well as salt, but we wondered if we could get comparable results if we used a lower oven temperature and cooked foil-wrapped beets longer.
To find out, we compared beets buried in salt in a saucepan and roasted at 400 degrees to beets seasoned with salt, wrapped in foil, and roasted at 325 degrees. Both sets of beets were tender in 2 hours. Very few tasters found any differences between the two batches, including level of saltiness (which made sense since we roast beets skin on and peel them once cooked, which removes most of the seasoning).
Our takeaway? Salt-roasting may make for a showy tableside presentation, but it doesn’t deliver a flavor or texture improvement over roasting beets gently in foil. Plus, checking for doneness is tricky, cleanup is messy, and it uses a copious amount of salt.