Add zing to your dishes by exposing it to aromatic smoke
You don’t need elaborate gadgets and special rooms to smoke food and ingredients. You can quite easily do so using ovens, woks and metal containers.
Smoking began millions of years ago with the cave man. They lived in caves that became smoky when they lit wood fires, and the meat and various produce that they hung to dry would take on these smoky flavours, which they enjoyed. They also discovered that the smoked meat preserved better.
Smoking is the process of cooking, preserving or flavouring food by exposing it to smoke from burning material. The most common material used for smoking is wood. You can smoke many kinds of produce but the common ones include meat and fish. Creative producers also smoke cheese, vegetables, bread, salt, tea, herbs and spices, and fruit. Even alcoholic drinks such as beer and whiskey are smoked using barley malt material.
Woods and materials for smoking
In Singapore and Southeast asia the traditional woods and material used in smoking include coconut husk and wood, charcoal made of mangrove wood, tea leaves, banana leaves and bamboo.
The traditional wood used for smoking in Europe include oak, alder and beech, while North America favours hickory, mesquite, maple, and fruit tree woods, such as apple and cherry. Travel south to Mexico and South America and you’ll see smoking done with corncobs, guava wood, and other native tree woods.
In Argentina charcoal is usually made of quebracho blanco (white quebracho), as well as algarrobo (carob tree) and quebracho rojo. Quebracho blanco wood is probably the most popular. It’s from the Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco, an evergreen tree indigenous to the northern parts of Argentina.
The Chinese often use rice and tea leaves for smoking. Their famous Peking duckare Chinese tea-smoking uses a mixture of uncooked rice, sugar, and tea, heated at the base of a wok. Some North American ham and bacon makers smoke their products over burning corncobs.
Historically, farms in the Western world included a small building termed the smokehouse, where meats could be smoked and stored. This was generally well-separated from other buildings both because of the fire danger and because of the smoke emanations.
Types of smoking
Cold smoking – can be used as a flavor enhancer for items such as chicken breasts, beef, pork chops, salmon, scallops, and steak. The item is hung first to develop a pellicle, then can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavor. Some cold smoked foods are baked, grilled, steamed, roasted, or sautéed before eating. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are typically done between 20 to 30°C. In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. Meats should be fully cured before cold smoking.
Hot smoking – exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment. Like cold smoking, the item is hung first to develop a pellicle, then smoked. Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hams and ham hocks are fully cooked once they are properly smoked. Hot smoking occurs within the range of 52 to 80 °C (126 to 176 °F). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185 °F (85 °C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle, or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are “cooked” away.
Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is commonly referred to as “barbecuing”, “pit baking”, or “pit roasting”. It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood-fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250 °F (121 °C), or in a conventional oven by placing a pan filled with hardwood chips on the floor of the oven so the chips smolder and produce a smokebath. However, this should only be done in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Smoked salt – The cheat’s way of getting smoked flavour to your food is by sprinkling smoked salt onto it. You will find smoked salt at many supermarkets these days.
Liquid smoke –
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups wood chips (soaked for 1 hour) or charcoal chips
2 cups coarse sea salt
Line the bottom of a wok with aluminum foil and place the wood chips on top of the foil. Set a round wire cake rack above the wood chips in the wok. Spread the salt in a thin layer in an aluminum foil pie pan and place on the wire rack. Place the wok over high heat. When smoke begins to emanate from the wok, reduce heat to medium, cover the wok tightly and continue to smoke the salt for 20 minutes. Cool the salt to room temperature before use.
Green tea smoked salmon with citrus sauce
For the fish:
2 teasp grapeseed oil
2 250g-salmon fillets
Pinch of sea salt
For the sauce:
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
¼ cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice, plus zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp water
1 teasp honey
1/2 cup raw jasmine rice
1/4 cup green tea leaves
2 tbsps brown sugar
The sauce – In a saucepan, heat grapeseed oil and cook the garlic until fragrant. Add the soy sauce and water and bring to boil. Add the lemon juice, zest and honey. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to serve.
The fish – Brush both sides of the salmon fillet with grapeseed oil, sprinkle with a little salt and place the fish in a heat-proof dish.
Smoke – In a wok fitted with a lid, line the bottom of the wok with aluminium foil. Combine rice, tea leaves and sugar in a bowl and spread it out on the aluminium foil, folding up the edges slightly. Cover with lid and preheat the wok over high heat until the tea mixture begins to smoke. Turn the heat down to low, place a cooking rack in the wok, and set the dish of salmon fillets on top of the rack.
Cover the wok with lid and smoke the salmon for about 8 minutes. Do not flip the salmon. The salmon fillets will be a beautiful pink brownish hue with a perfect medium rare doneness.
Plate the salmon fillets and drizzle the citrus sauce on top. Serve immediately.