PUBLISHED: 09:00 15 August 2014
If there’s one big foodie trend this summer, it’s home smoking. Chef/owner of the Holt in Honiton, ANGUS McCAIG, shares both his passion for smoking food and some of his own favourite recipes
Smoking and curing is all about preserving food and so since we all have fridges at home, you might ask why bother going to all this trouble when you don’t need to?
The answer is that there is something a little magical in the process of smoking and curing and actually, it’s just as much of an art as a science.
Smoking adds a complex depth of flavour to foods and people are often surprised to learn that you can smoke vegetables and nuts, as well as fish, meet and cheeses.
My aim, when I run smoking courses at the Holt, is to simplify these traditional techniques that have either been forgotten or been made to look so complicated home cooks find themselves mystified by the whole process.
I really believe it’s worth getting to grips with curing and smoking techniques because it will open a whole new world of flavours to you. At the Holt, for example, we make a delicious ice cream using smoked milk, we put smoked ice cubes in our vodka and we serve smoked poached eggs with some of our favourite dishes.
Here is a our basic guide to get you thinking about smoking at home, plus a few of my own favourite smoked food recipes.
The Cure: Curing with salt draws out both water and microorganisms to help preserve food. It will also dissolve soluble proteins in the food you are smoking, bringing these to the surface to form what is called a pellicle. If you are smoking meat, curing helps to soften the muscle structure which will result in a firm, rich finish.
The Rub: This is where your inner chef will take over. We blend salts, sugars and spices to make a cure (rub) which we then literally rub over the meat, fish or cheese we plan to smoke. The food then needs to rest to allow the protein pellicles to form and allow time for it to dehydrate before smoking. Resting the food also allows these deeper flavours to develop.
Wood smoking: The wood you use to smoke food should come from hardwood trees. The most popular woods to use are oak, beech, apple, pear, cherry, alder and hickory. The idea behind smoking is that having chosen your wood chippings you gently burn them so that they release the volatile oils that will give your smoked food its smokey flavour. The key here is to master the burning of the chips; burn your wood too hot and your food will taste acrid and bitter and inedible.
I like to use the smoke as more of a seasoning, rather than the main flavour and if I have one single tip to share, it would be don’t reuse wood that has already burned to an ash. You won’t get good flavour so it is a false economy.
Smoking: There are two basic smoking techniques – hot smoking and cold smoking. Hot smoking is the process where the food is both cooked and smoked at the same time. With cold smoking, the temperature is kept below 20 degrees C and so the food is smoked for flavour but not for cooking. A simple example would be that you would hot smoke chicken (at between 74 and 80 degrees C) but cold smoke cheese.
One of the key things I teach all my smoking students is that the best results will come from monitoring and recording what they do – including temperatures, resting times, rub mixes – each time they smoke a particular food. The science bit is important, and not least because there are health risks if you don’t follow the proper steps but the art of smoking is where experience, intuition and the joy of good flavour and food comes in.
It seems to me, sometimes a considered and more peaceful approach to our food opens a door to something special and this is what I like so much about smoking food and drink.
You will need some basic smoking equipment to get started at home but you don’t have to spend a fortune to be able to smoke your own food. Cooker top home smokers start at £??. Freestanding ones are around £500. For more information visit bradleyssmokers.com
Smoked dried fruits & nuts
Dried fruits and nuts are great to smoke because they are already dehydrated, they take the flavour of the wood and then impart that flavour to any dish they are added to.
Recommended fruits are. Apricots, dates, prunes, cherries, raisins, sultanas, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, pine nuts.
Just place them on a piece of muslin on the smoking racks.
Smoke them at as low a temperature as you can, ideally under 30 degrees C for an hour. Let them rest for an hour at room temperature and put them in sterilised jars.
Smoked fruit and nuts make an excellent accompaniment to cheese boards and autumnal salads or you can add smoked fruit to brandy, rum, vodka, whisky or gin to impart their flavour. These liquors can then be used for sauces, ice creams or drinks.
Smoked prunes soaked in a vanilla rum or brandy for 2-3 months is a satisfying addition to coffee!
Smoked fruit can also be used in tarts (frangipane, walnut, smoked date) and served with vanilla ice cream.
Again keeping the temperature down is important for this. We achieve this by placing a tray of ice in our smoke chamber. If the temperature exceeds 25 degrees C you will need to let the smoker take a break to cool down. (Smoking in the early morning or evening helps because the ambient temperature is lower.)
Hard cheeses smoke the best, and it make sense to use milder cheeses because the complex flavour of a very mature cheese plus wood smoke can lead to a overcomplicated and sometimes bitter aftertaste.
Cheeses that smoke well are: Cheddar, halloumi, mozzarella, gouda, edam, emmental, monterey jack, mild gruyere, red leicester.
Just place in the smoker for an hour and let them rest for another hour at room temperature. Wrap in silicone paper and place in the fridge. For the wetter cheeses (Halloumi, mozzarella) pop them in to a jar of olive oil or rapeseed oil; rest for 24 hours and then use this oil in your dressings.
These all work well as cheese board items or cooked in your favourite recipes. Smoked cauliflower cheese; smoked quiches and tarts and smoked cheddar rarebit are all bit hits with customers dining at The Holt.
Simple smoked cheddar rarebit
(Serves two people)
250g smoked cheddar (grated)
2 egg yolks
2 shakes worcester sauce
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
(Optional, thinly sliced ham)
A pinch each of salt and ground black pepper.
Gently mix all of the ingredients together.
Simply grill one side of sliced bread until toasted, turn it over and place a generous amount of the rarebit mix on the bread.
Then grill until the rarebit is bubbling and brown.
For those of you who can’t smoke your own cheese, just buy one already smoked.
Serve with peppery leaves, roasted tomatoes, and sliced radish.
Smoked duck, roasted root vegetable and walnut salad
For all meat and fish a cure is needed. This imparts the flavours you add to the finished product. Also the cure will slightly dehydrate the meat, encouraging the best elements of the smoke to attach to the surface (protein pellicles).
For the cure: In a pestle and mortar bash 1\2 star anise, 1 cloves garlic, 10 g salt, 15 grams demerara sugar.
To cure your duck legs:
Rub this all over the duck legs. Place in a small tub and place in the fridge for 24 hours.
Remove from the cure and rub any excess cure off with a paper towel, and place back in the fridge for 12 hours uncovered to res .(this will prepare the meat’s surface for the smoking process.)
Smoke the duck legs for one hour with any of the following woods; oak, apple, cherry, hickory.
Keep the smoke temperature low, but don’t worry if it gets higher. You will be cooking them straight out of the smoker.
Turn your oven on to 150 degrees centigrade.
2x Beetroot peeled
2x sticks of celery
1x head of fennel
1x sprig each of rosemary and thyme.
Roughly chop all of these, place in a small baking tray and place the duck legs on top, place in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the duck legs are tender and well browned.
You can shred the meat and serve on top of the vegetables or serve the duck leg whole. We serve this at The Holt with chicory, watercress and smoked walnuts.