(If you want to know more about food smoking you can visit our youtube channel Coldsmoking Digital Cookery School for lots of resources to get you started)
For me, smoked food one such delight. Whether it’s hot or cold doesn’t really matter, just that wonderful scent of wood smoke triggers something primitive within me. It has to be said there is little archaeological evidence to suggest the exact origins of food smoking but as huntergatherers, our ancestors would have hung their meat high up, out of reach from prowling animals on the lookout for a free meal. It’s quite plausible to suggest that wood smoke from their fires would have bathed their quarry, infusing their meat with that wonderful aroma and flavour, not to mention keeping the insects at bay. This process would have also helped dry the meat, preventing bacterial growth and making it last longer. It’s all speculation, of course, but it’s likely this would have become part of our early food culture and a preferred taste which we have grown up with through millennia and one which we still enjoy today.
|Smoking whole sides with Cherry wood smoke|
For the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of passing on my knowledge of food smoking to people up and down the country. The courses I host attract a broad range of people from all walks of life but the one thing that bonds them all together is their love of food and obviously their passion for smoked food. It never fails to amaze me, every time I open the door to the smoker to show people the inner workings, the first thing they do is stick their head in, take a deep breath and say ahhh! I completely understand; I never get bored of that either.
So, what’s food smoking all about? And how can you add it to your culinary palate of skills? Food smoking falls mainly into two categories, cold and hot smoking. Cold smoking is nothing more than a process of adding smoke flavour to your food by infusing it with the unique characteristics of different wood smoke. The process has two main steps, firstly brining or dry salting and then exposing your food to wood smoke. It’s really important to remember that cold smoking your food is not a cooking process so if it’s salmon you’re smoking it’s worth remembering it is essentially a raw product.
To smoke a side of salmon, first fillet the fish along the backbone from the gills to the tail. Remove the rib bones and then carefully take out any pin bones along the middle part of the fillet using fish tweezers. This is really important as it prevents small pieces of bone in long-sliced smoked salmon. Dry salt the fish for about 4 hours, rinse it and then dry it for 24 hours in the fridge. This forms the pellicle, which is a thin, slightly sticky salt glaze which helps the smoke adhere to the fillet. Then it’s ready for the smoker. I prefer a light smoke of around four to six hours but it’s really a matter of taste. I know friends who like their salmon smoked for a couple of days and that’s fine too.
|Nadiya Hussein & Turan|
Hot smoking on the other hand is a cooking process which uses much higher temperatures. The nearest thing to hot smoking is cooking on a barbecue with some damp wood chips laying on the coals allowing the food on the grill to bathe in the smoke and heat until it’s cooked. Temperatures are typically much higher than with cold smoking, often above 80°C or sometimes even greater. Hot smoked mackerel is a typical example of this process and foods that are hot smoked are usually ready to eat straight away.
Hot smoking can either be achieved on a dome barbecue or there is a range of stove-top hot smokers that can produce some stunning results without firing up the grill. One of my favourite hot smoked delights is roast shoulder of lamb. Season the joint with salt and pepper and, using a dome barbecue or similar, roast the shoulder on medium coals, turning after 15 minutes. To retain moisture in the meat I cover the top of the shoulder with foil until both sides are roasted. Then I remove the foil and place the shoulder on a raised trivet to one side of the grill, away from the coals. Soak a cup full of hickory wood chips in water for about 30 minutes. Drain off the water and sprinkle the damp wood chips on the coals and cover the barbecue. Smoke for 20 minutes and you’re done.
A good tip is to tear off some sprigs of fresh rosemary and throw them on the coals for the last five minutes of smoking. This will produce a wonderful rosemary smoke finish and add depth of flavour to the meat.