A delightfully odd topic of conversation on Western and Eastern dinner tables alike, roasting or grilling over an open flame has been imperative to global culinary cultures since the dawn of man. Ever since early humankind discovered the various and fruitful utilities of fire and burning, smoked food and its incredible flavors have been enjoyed from generation to generation.
No Smoke Without Fire
Smoke has been a relatively recent, hip addition to restaurant menus all over the globe, and has been sparking up a frenzy as a fervent food trend. Fillets of meat and fish that have been slowly hot-smoked over hours and sometimes even days, to encouraging individual facets to take on a smoky attribute in the invention of a brand new dessert or starter, smoking as a tool to cure and flavour dishes is utilised in increasing diversity, and has provided many cunning aficionados with a stunning new weapon in their repertoire.
Smoked foods are huge this year, meaning cooks are studying the implementation of smoking with fish, pork, vegetables, beef, dairy products, desserts and beyond. One particular gourmet restaurant will introduce a beef chuck rib, slowly smoked on a low heat for seven whole hours with an accompaniment of coleslaw, whilst another bistro will offer a fermented chorizo oil drizzled over potato soup which contains the bold tones of smoked celeriac. Norwegian and Swedish-inspired fine-dining dives even boast smoking a certain type of whitened forest moss, putting it on the plate alongside vanilla ice cream, which has also gone through the smoking process!
Hot vs Cold Smoking
Chefs in all nations are constantly conducting experiments to suss out the most efficient way to preserve and flavour using the genius of smoke. They are normally carried out in a variation of one or two ways.
Hot smoking, a process usually used for cooking and flavouring your favourite varieties of fish and is normally practiced in a dedicated smoking chamber, either professional or makeshift, using a consistent temperature of around 130 degrees celsius or 266 degrees fahrenheit. Using an ever so slightly lower heat for a longer period of time may impart even more flavour.
Cold smoking requires that any proteins are penetrated through its flesh with salt or a concentrated brine. The low temperature will dramatically improve the flavour but will not cook it thoroughly, so it is imperative that it is cured thoroughly. The temperature in a cold smoking chamber will be around 35 degrees celsius or 95 degrees fahrenheit and the food will set in there from anywhere between one to thirty days at a time.
Smoking at Home
Portable smokers, dedicated smoking chambers that are usually placed in your back yard or garden, are all the rage nowadays and are found for relatively low cost online or your local DIY and hardware store. Hard wood or propane is normally used to fuel these simple contraptions, not unlike a household barbecue.
The Chinese have been known to adopt a simple makeshift method of smoking in the average household kitchen aptly named tea smoking, which involves taking a wok and lining it with a combination of loose leaf tea, an array of dried or fresh herbs and spices, and then covering the wok. Be sure to have your extraction fan on full blast for this if you’re attempting this at home – you don’t want any smoke alarms sounding off when you’re just trying to get dinner together for the family!
Smoking (Food!) Socially
Food that has been put through billowing clouds of smoke may be favoured by international foodies due to the comfort derived from its inviting aroma and full-bodied flavour. As ancient tribes would settle down socially around the campfire of a late evening, there is an embedded social ambience around char-grilled and blackened food that has been passed down to us in our DNA. Laughter, friends, good vibes and a hearty slab of smoked protein often form part of the same territory.