Tuesday 29 January 2013

Smokers' paradise

In our third afternoon workshop on smoking, the Secret Garden Club used three different food smoking techniques to demonstrate a wide variety of foods which can benefit from this time-honoured method of preparing and flavouring food.

We started with tea-smoking, a method using the smoke from heated tea leaves to infuse food with a delicate flavour. Then we moved outdoors, on an unseasonably bright winter's day, to hot-smoke vegetables, tofu and halloumi cheese. Finally we turned our intention to our tried and tested home-built cold smoker, made without any specialist equipment, and with no engineering or woodworking skills required.

Further details on smoking generally and the set-ups required for the three different techniques can be found on this blog here (lots of detail on creating a cold smoker) and here (which includes info on different heat sources for cold smoking). Below I've summarised the techniques and give recipes for the food we smoked on the day.

Tea-smoked food

This is a good way to smoke foods quickly and can be done on a conventional hob, although it’s difficult to do without setting off your smoke alarm. I would advise opening all windows and doors before you start.

Tea-smoking mixture comprises loose leaf tea, raw long grain rice and brown sugar. American measuring cups are a boon here, as you need equal quantities of each by volume, thus to smoke food in a 20cm pan, you'll need:

½ cup tea leaves (or 30g if you don't have cups). Use plain black tea, or Lapsang Souchong. Some people like Earl Grey in smoking mixtures, which I find a bit too floral.

½ cup raw long grain rice (or 75g)
½ cup Demerara sugar (or 75g)

Tea-smoked trout fillets
3 trout fillets, preferably from organic or wild fish
1 quantity of tea-smoking mixture as above

A 20cm pan with a steamer basket and a tight-fitting lid.

Cut a square of foil slightly larger than the diameter of your pan and line the bottom of the pan to form a kind of pouch or foil dish within it. Mix the sugar, rice and tea leaves together well and pour into the foil pouch, taking care not to spill over on to the pan surface itself.

Fit the steamer basket and set the pan on a high heat. You should start to see wisps of smoke within 10 minutes. Lay the trout fillets in the steamer basket, trying to keep them to a single layer as much as possible. Put the lid on the steamer basket, and turn the heat down slightly, so that you get a steady stream of smoke feeding into the basket holding the fillets.

Depending on the thickness of the fillets and how well done you like your fish, they will be cooked and ready in 10-20 minutes. Lift the lid cautiously after about seven minutes to see how they're getting on and check regularly after that.

Hot-smoked food
Hot-smoking is usually done by heating up wood chips until they give off smoke, which comes into direct contact with the food. Because the environment is hot, the food cooks as well as being smoked.

Note, when smoking 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. 

Smoked marinaded tofu
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
1 teasp sesame oil
2 teasp Dijon mustard
(this is based on the tofu marinade used at the last smoking workshop in March 2012, but I've amended the recipe slightly to give a fuller, more robust flavour.)

1 carton firm tofu, sliced around 4-5mm thick

In the morning, mix all the marinade ingredients together in a shallow dish. Slide the tofu slices in, cover and marinade in the fridge for 4 hours or more.

When the hot smoker is ready, lift the tofu pieces on to a piece of foil on the rack and hot-smoke for 30 minutes. Some guests felt the smoky flavour of the tofu was quite strong - you can experiment by smoking for 15 minutes, say, and then checking whether the flavour is right for you.

Smoked halloumi
Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese with a firm texture and mild flavour. It has such a high melting point that it can be fried, grilled - or hot-smoked.
If you cut a block of halloumi into slices 5-10mm thick, and hot-smoke these for 25-30 minutes, they make a delicious addition to a red pepper or tomato salad.

Cold-smoked food

Smoked semi-dried tomatoes

Before going on to the cold smoker, the tomatoes were slow-roasted in the oven at 130 degrees for three hours. I would love to call them smoked sun-dried tomatoes, but sun is in rather short supply at the moment, so semi-dried in the oven it has to be.

MsMarmiteLover explains more about smoking tomatoes in her post here.

Smoked camembert
Take one whole camembert, not overripe. Place on a square of foil on the smoking rack and cold-smoke for about 6 hours.
To let the flavours develop through the cheese, remove from the smoker and wrap in foil or cling film. Place in the fridge for 3-4 days before returning to room temperature and letting the cheese ripen fully.

Smoked quail's eggs

Put the quail's eggs in a pan, cover with cold water and bring steadily to the boil over a medium heat. Boil gently for 4 minutes - they will be cooked all the way through. Plunge the eggs into cold water to stop the cooking process, then store in the fridge until you're ready to smoke them.

Once the cold smoker is set up, peel them and lay on a strip of foil on the smoking rack. Smoke for 4-6 hours - the surface of the eggs should be just beginning to brown, like a light tan. Remove and serve with salt for dipping the eggs into - we also smoked the salt (spread thinly on a plate and cold-smoked for 2 hours) at the Secret Garden Club.

Smoked salmon
Salmon is usually split into two sides with the backbone removed, or cut into fillets before it is smoked. Unless you're an experienced filleter, it's probably to buy the salmon ready-cut or get the fishmonger to do it. Before it can be cold-smoked, salmon also needs to be cured, ie, steeped in sugar and salt for 18-24 hours before you put it on the smoker. This curing process helps to preserve the salmon, inhibiting the possible multiplication of bacteria that may otherwise take place during the smoking process.

Curing usually means covering both sides of your fillets with a mix of equal parts of sugar and salt, plus flavourings such as herbs - dill is a classic ingredient in salmon cure. Cover the bottom of a baking tray with half the salt/sugar mix, strew with the herbs and lay the fillets, skin side down over the mixture. Now spread the rest of the salt/sugar over the exposed salmon flesh until it's all covered. Wrap the salmon and tray tightly with cling film and place on a shelf in your fridge. You also need to weigh down the salmon - I placed full milk and juice cartons on top of the salmon while it was curing.

Slender fillets will probably need only 18 hours in the cure mixture. For a thicker side of salmon keep the salmon curing the fridge for 24 hours or more. After 24 hours you can also scrape away the used salt/sugar and replace with another batch.

At the end of the curing process you'll find the baking tray full of liquid. Pour this off carefully, then rinse and dry the salmon. You should find the fillets are less pink, more golden in colour and feel firmer or stiffer to the touch.

Finally leave the salmon fillets to dry out slightly before putting them on the cold smoker. We smoked our salmon in a mix of oak and beech wood chippings for a total of 12 hours.


  1. there are various smoker used in market today, which is used widely and help in making good food and also preserve its original taste.

  2. Oh wow Christina your smoked salmon looks amazing, I am going to give that a go!


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