Monday, 21 November 2011

Learn to smoke

The Secret Garden Club returned on November 20 with a session on techniques for smoking food. Taking in tea-smoking, hot-smoking and cold-smoking, Zia Mays explained the principles of each method, using a wide variety of ingredients, while MsMarmiteLover turned the smoked foods into a delicious smoky-themed tea for everyone.

Guests were welcomed with a vodka and smoked lemonade cocktail, before the fires were lit in earnest and smoke wafted into the air.

Smoking techniques
Tea-smoking is a method of hot-smoking, ie, the food is cooked at the same time as being smoked. It uses a mix of tea leaves, brown sugar, raw rice and optional aromatics as the smoking medium. With the mix set in a pan under a steamer, the smoke generated infuses foods in the steamer basket with a delicate, elusive tea-smoke flavour.

Secret Garden Club tea-smoking mix:
Half a (US) cup of Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (about 30g)
Half a (US) cup of brown sugar (about 75g)
Half a (US) cup of raw long-grain rice (about 75g)
This was used to smoke:
Trout fillets - marinaded for one hour beforehand in whisky;
Tomatoes - cut in half hemispherically and lightly roasted in the oven for 20 minutes before smoking.

Also good with chicken - use thin fillets to ensure they are cooked through, duck, quail. With tea-smoking, less is definitely more: over-smoke the food and you'll be left with a distinct aftertaste of fag packet.

Hot-smoking over wood applies direct heat to soaked woodchips so that they smoulder gently. The wood and the food are both in a sealed unit so that the heat and smoke permeate the food to cook and smoke it at the same time.

Important: when smoking food with any kind of wood, it is vitally important that the wood is raw, and untreated. Any sort of treatment, coating, glue or varnish will give off potentially toxic fumes when smoked - NOT what you want coating your food. If the wood you want to use has been cut with a chainsaw, beware - there could easily be oil residues on the wood from the chainsaw. It's highly satisfying to use wood that you have chopped or sourced yourself, but you must be 100% certain that the wood is free of any chemicals. 

We smoked vegetables in the hot-smoker:
  • Sweet peppers;
  • Pumpkins, cut into thin wedges and marinaded for two hours beforehand in a mix of soy sauce and maple syrup;
  • Chillies;
  • Tofu, cut into thick slices and marinaded for two hours beforehand.
  • Sweetcorn, on the cob;
  • Apples, following a baked apple recipe but with added smokiness.
Basic marinade for the tofu, pumpkins:
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp maple syrup
A dash of sesame oil
A dash of olive oil
Half a teasp of English mustard powder

The sweetcorn and baked apples were particularly successful. We've had variable results with tofu: firstly, try to get firm tofu so that it doesn't disintegrate when you try to handle it. Tofu definitely needs to be marinaded first for a good two hours - and a more Japanese style marinade with mirin and wasabi would also work well here.

Cold-smoking is the technique we associate most with fish - think smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, smoked haddock - and meat - smoked bacon. However, it's also used to smoke cheese (such as applewood-smoked cheddar) and bulbs of garlic. When you expose food to cold, or cool, smoke, the food does not cook, although the smoke will penetrate the food more thoroughly than when hot-smoked. 

Fish (and meat) will need to be salted, or brined, before it is cold-smoked. To salt, say, a side of salmon, cover completely in salt and keep it, weighted down, in the fridge for around 18-24 hours. Brining it creates a sweeter cure: make up a salt/sugar solution, completely immerse the fish in this and store, covered, in the fridge for around eight hours. (Smaller fillets may take less time.)

Simple brine
100g brown sugar
75g salt
1 litre water

Plenty of other flavours can be added to this, eg, fennel, onions, garlic, herbs.

Reasons for brining:
·         The salt and/or sugar in the brine help the preserving process;
·         Salting/brining inhibits bacteria which might otherwise multiply while the fish is being smoked;
·         Both salt and sugar add flavour to the fish;

Once salted/brined, rinse the fish well to get rid of excess salt, then dry it, ideally for a couple of hours or so, in a cool, well-ventilated place. Only then it is ready to smoke. We also smoked cheddar cheese and garlic bulbs – these do not need brining or curing but can go straight into the cold smoker.

With cold-smoking, the challenge is to generate smoke that is cool when it reaches your food. The ideal temperature range in the smoker is between 26 and 30 degrees Celsius (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit). If the temperature exceeds 37 degrees C (100 F), then the fish will get too warm. It will lose moisture and may start to cook.

An obvious way to do this is to burn your wood in one place, channel the smoke through piping so that it cools as it goes, and direct it into a smokehouse. But if you just want to try out some cold-smoking, this is quite a cumbersome operation. Remember also, your fire needs to burn wood only (see warnings about wood-burning, above), and your piping and smokehouse should be lined with non-reactive material.

Costs can be kept down by making your smokehouse from household items such as an old fridge (cut a hole in one side to take the piped smoke, or a filing cabinet (popular because the file rods are handy to hang fish fillets from), or even a cardboard box (remember, the smoke is cool when it reaches the box).

We demonstrated a method which is quick to set up, and uses everyday items so is handy for anyone who wants to experiment but isn’t sure that they want to spend time constructing a semi-permanent smokehouse. In this option, we use the smallest possible heat point to generate a comparatively large amount of smoke.

You will need:
A deep-based, or kettle barbecue, such as a Weber
A soldering iron
A tin can, eg a Baxters soup tin
Woodchips (see notes, on sourcing wood, above)
Silver foil
A standard outdoor thermometer (recommended)
A bag of ice (may not be necessary but have one on standby)
A power extension cable

Note: the soldering iron must have no solder on it AT ALL. This is your heat source and smoking lead is a very bad idea indeed. Best to buy a new soldering iron for about a tenner and use it exclusively for cold-smoking.
Many tins these days, especially supermarket own-brand cans, are lined. You should use an unlined tin. We haven’t researched exhaustively for suitable brands, but Baxters’ soup tins are unlined, and the soup’s OK as well.

While the tin is still full, make a hole in it at the end (we used a sharpening steel and a hammer), opposite the ring-pull if there is one. The hole needs to be just big enough to fit the tip and arm of the soldering iron. Empty and wash out the tin, and let it dry.

Carefully peel back the lid of the tin using the ring-pull about half way. Fill just over half the tin with your wood chips. Close the lid as far as possible, then push the soldering iron through the hole so that it’s fully inserted in the tin and the arm is in direct contact with the woodchips. This is your ‘firepit’.

Put the tin in the bottom of the barbecue. Lay the food to be smoked on the silver foil on the top rack. Gently ease the soldering iron cable out of the barbecue and plug into the extension socket. Place the lid on the barbecue as tightly as possible allowing for the fact that the soldering iron cable will prevent it from closing fully. Switch on the power to the extension cable. You should start to see wisps of smoke emerge from under the lid within 5 mins.

With tin, soldering iron and food positioned this way, the smoke around the food should stay cool enough to cold smoke properly. We recommend you place a thermometer on the rack next to the food and check the temperature regularly. On a sunny day, the outside temperature may make the barbecue heat up – and it’s not something to do in midsummer. Cold smoking this way is a wintertime occupation. If you do see the temperature rising much above 30 degrees, slide a bag of ice into the bottom of the barbecue. This should bring the temperature down to the safe range and keep it there.

While the woodchip tin is smoking, prepare a second one. The tins will last about 90 mins to 2 hours, so, when the first is exhausted, unplug the soldering iron, remove it and the tin from the barbecue, and switch the soldering iron from tin 1 to tin 2. Tin 1 can now be emptied and reused.

Cheddar cheese
Lightly smoked: 3 hours
Medium smoked: 6 hours

Garlic bulbs
Light to medium smoked: 6 hours

Salmon fillets
Lightly smoked: 12 hours

Secret Garden Club Smoking Workshop

Vodka and smoked lemonade cocktail

Tea-smoked trout and tomato, watercress salad
Smoked cheese and garlic toasted sandwiches
Smoked salmon with cucumber pickles

Marinaded smoked pumpkin slices
Marinaded smoked tofu
Smoked sweet peppers and hot chillies
Smoked glazed sweetcorn

Smoked baked apples with Jameson whisky 

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