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Smoking experimentation March 27, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Relapse, Vegetables.
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I must admit that the concept of smoking food scares me a little. Well, hot smoking, that is. I’ve done a fair bit of cold smoking, such as this tea leaf smoked duck, but I’d not previously hot smoked anything. Cold smoking – where you smoke for flavour only – has always seemed safe to me because the food is then cooked afterwards. Hot smoking – where the smoking cooks the meat – seems a riskier prospect to me. However, with the April challenge for Charcutepalooza being hot smoking, I knew I’d have to get over my fears! To begin my familiarisation with the hot smoking process, I decided to smoke a few ‘safe’ things before moving on to more meatier concerns.

First of all: my smoking setup. As I’m in an apartment, smoking indoors isn’t preferable – but I don’t have a lot of space outside, either. Luckily, my local hardware store supplied a solution. I found a small cast iron pan with a fitted lid, and a rack that fit inside. I put some hickory chips I’d soaked in water into the bottom of the pan, and used some heat beads to (hopefully) ensure an even distribution of heat. I also added a sprig of rosemary which I figured would add to the nice flavour – and yes, I was thinking of Der Raum’s Ben Shewry cocktail!

As you can see, I had a bit of trouble controlling flare-ups at the start, but I soon got it smoking at a relatively even (and hot!) temperature.

I decided to being by smoking some mushrooms, which I had tossed in balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

I arranged the mushrooms on the rack over the smoking chips, and put the lid on, leaving a little gap as I was concerned the heat beads wouldn’t get enough oxygen to stay alight if I closed it completely.

While I did certainly have quite a hot smoke going, it still took about 40 minutes until the mushrooms were done. I think this was mainly due to the uneven heat, meaning that some areas of the tray got done before others. However, it was ultimately successful, with the mushrooms cooked.

Next, I decided to try some (tinned) snails I had in the pantry. I’ve only ever cooked snails in butter and garlic, and thought smoking them might be interesting. I added some salt and garlic powder, and smoked them for about 30 minutes.

Finally, I followed the recipe in Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie for smoked almonds. These took the longest, requiring to be smoked for a couple of hours, tossed in a spice mix, then baked in the oven for 15 minutes or so.

In the end, I had three different smoked things to try!

The mushrooms had absorbed the most smoke flavour, with the balsamic vinegar adding an almost sweet contrast to the smoky mushrooms. The snails were also very nice, and it was good to try them with slightly different flavours than usual. But the standout for me was the almonds – smoky and roasted, the mix coating the almonds giving them a tangy, spicy flavour.

As for the verdict on this attempt at hot smoking: while I definitely succeeded in hot smoking some things, I’m not sure I’d want to use this method for cooking larger ingredients – and I’m not sure it would be viable anyway. I did have to monitor the smoking fairly closely and make sure there was enough even heat being distributed, so it was more fussy than I was anticipating. I’d also like to try some different types of woods to smoke – I could only find hickory, so I’d like to try some others. However, as a first attempt, I was pretty happy with the results. Various items were successfully smoked, and – best of all – I didn’t burn anything down. Definitely a success!

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