Celery Salt Is More Than Just a Chicago Hot Dog Topping
The spice blend offers a bracing, vegetal savoriness to just about anything.
Celery salt is one of those ingredients you probably only know vaguely, but have most likely tried. It plays a role in various seasonings, like classic Old Bay and, allegedly, KFC’s secret spice mix. It sits on the rim of a Bloody Mary, and, if you’re in the Midwest, tops a Chicago-style hot dog.
The spice blend, which is made up of ground celery seeds and salt, offers a slightly bracing, vegetal savoriness to foods like coleslaw and deviled eggs. “It really perks up a lot of different dishes,” says Domenica Marchetti, cookbook author and creator of Domenica Cooks. “It has that umami quality—that ability to enhance other flavors somehow.”
Marchetti’s mother, an Italian cook, always kept a little bottle of celery salt in her spice cabinet. “It would make its way into various things, like tuna salad or potato salad, used here and there as an enhancement,” she says. “I grew up loving that flavor, so I’ve always kept it on hand myself.”
While celery salt is a natural addition to any chilled salad or pickled dish, Marchetti recommends adding it to holiday plates as well. “There’s that saying, ‘What grows together goes together,’” Marchetti says. “And since good, fresh celery is typically harvested in the fall, it goes great with fall flavors.”
Marchetti has added it to her Thanksgiving stuffing, amplifying the flavors of chopped celery, onion, and sage, as well as pot roasts and beef stews. “I think celery has a real affinity for beef,” she says. It’s also great on roast chicken and any roasted, root vegetable.
While celery salt is available at most grocery stores, making it at home will offer you a more nuanced taste. And as we approach the tail-end of celery season, now’s the time to grab that celery while you can at your local farmer’s market and turn it into salt. By doing so, not only do you make use of the vegetable in its entirety, but also prolong its flavors to carry into winter.
“If you think of the celery we see at the supermarket, with the leaves cut off, it's pretty flavorless most of the time,” Marchetti says. “But if you get celery at the farmer’s market, it’s a completely different vegetable. It even has a bit of sweetness.”
Marchetti explains that we see celery stalks without leaves at the supermarket because they tend to soak up the energy, leaving the stalks soft and bendy. So when you buy a stalk at the farmer’s market, it’s advised that you remove the leaves right away for optimal storage.
“You have all of these leaves and then what do you do with them?,” Marchetti says. “One day I was like, ‘Ok, I need to find something else to do, besides chopping them up and putting them in a salad or soup.’” And her celery salt was born.
“You chop up your celery leaves, finely mince them, and spread them out on a baking sheet, letting them sit out at room temperature for a couple of days until the leaves are completely dry,” Marchetti explains. “You don’t want to have any moisture in there.”
She continues, “Then you just blitz the leaves with salt in the food processor, because that really breaks up the minced leaves even more and combines the salt and the leaves well, so that you end up with a flavored salt.”
While you can get a similar product by mixing together celery seeds and salt, the leaves add a more nuanced touch. “Celery seed has a real distinct flavor,” Marchetti says. “But the leaves are a bit more subtle and there’s a slight bitterness to them that's really nice.”
Store your creation in a tightly lidded jar, kept in a cool, dry place, and it’ll last you an entire year. Or wrap a little bow around it and give it as a gift at your next holiday gathering.
Homemade Celery Salt
Yield: 1 cup
- 4 packed cups (2 ounces) celery leaves
- 3/4 to 1 cup fine sea salt
1. Wash and dry the celery leaves. Mince them finely with a chef's knife or mezzaluna. You should end up with about 1 cup or slightly less.
2. Spread the minced celery leaves on a rimmed baking sheet and leave them out to dry completely, about 1 day. Measure the quantity—the volume should be reduced to about 1/2 cup or slightly less. Put the leaves in a bowl and add twice the volume of salt; if you have 1/2 cup leaves, add 1 cup salt. Mix thoroughly.
3. Place the mixture in the work bowl of a food processor and process until thoroughly combined and finely ground. If the salt mixture feels at all damp, spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet and let dry completely. Store in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (I use a jam jar).