Well things at home are a little crazy right now as we are caring for my two grandsons, aged 2 and 1, so my culinary skills have been put to good use, just in smaller quantities.
This has caused me to start smoking. Not those horrible stinky cigarettes, but luscious tasty treats. Yep, you guessed it. I bought another gadget, this time a cold smoker. As my wife Debs pointed out to me when I was buying it “You already have a smoker!” , “Ah” me says “That’s a HOT smoker whereas this is a COLD smoker!” . Assuming this would be enough to calm her frustrations with me, I went and bought one. A simple cardboard box construction with metal shelves and an ingenious smoke producer.
But what is a cold smoker exactly?
Temperatures for cold smoking are typically done between 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavour, but remain relatively moist but most importantly uncooked. Meats must be fully cured before cold smoking. Cold smoking can be used as a flavour enhancer for items such as chicken breasts, beef, pork chops, salmon, scallops, and steak. After a cure has been applied he item is hung first to develop a pellicle ( a thin sticky surface film), then can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavour. Some cold smoked foods, such as bacon or hams, are baked, grilled, steamed, roasted, or sautéed before eating. Fish, I think is one of the best things to smoke.
Smoked Salmon is first cured in a mix of salt, sugar and aromatics such as dill, star anise for up to 12 hours. Curing with salt is an essential step in making the salmon safe to eat without further cooking. Removal of the salt is done by rinsing the salmon fillet under cold running water. Patted dry and placed in an uncovered dish. Refrigerated for 24 hours until the pellicle (a thin sticky surface film) has formed. The salmon is now ready for the magic to occur!
First light the smoke generator, I use my chefs’ blowtorch, or even a tealight until the dust starts to smoke. I then put the generator into the base of the smoker and wait until wisps of smoke can be seen coming out of the top. I then open the top and either hang or just place the salmon on the rack. I always try to find other things to smoke alongside the salmon. Cheese, garlic and salt have been tried alongside the salmon so far with great success.
The wood that is used imparts different flavours according to the type of tree it came from. Oak is commonly used for salmon and this is the only type of sawdust I have used on salmon so far. I have also smoked my own bacon (cured with maple syrup) with maple wood with great success. There are many types of smoking dust, Apple, maple, beech and hickory to name but a few.
The salmon is ready to be sliced at this point which is best carried out with a long straight edged blade. If it is not possible to find such a knife, a good alternative is a fillet knife.
Now to the most wonderful foodstuff in the world, BACON !!
Here is the start of my current makin’ bacon project!
I have a piece of, close on to two pounds, pork loin which is currently in a container with black treacle, salt and sugar cure mix.
Yep! dark sticky black treacle! I first came across this cure for pork when I was running a hotel in Suffolk. (My commis chef was asked to clean the meat fridge and promptly threw out a huge piece of Suffolk cured bacon as it was black and he thought it was off!!)
This piece of meat will be in this mix for about a week. I will then put it into the smoker and use oak wood chips ( it is almost sawdust to be honest!) to smoke the bacon. I will smoke this bacon for a minimum of 30 hours. I will post the pictures and taste notes when this is done!!
Well time has taken its course and here is the the bacon.This is the loin of pork (not bacon yet)
After the fifth day the cure is washed off the bacon (its bacon now!) then it is dried and left in the fridge for the pellicle to be formed. I set up the smoker and filled the burner with oak sawdust and lit it. The bacon is now ready to be smoked, it is placed in the smoker along with two bulbs of garlic, a piece of cheese, some sea salt and a single red chili. The hazy picture indicates how quickly the smoker works.
The end result is really pleasing. The bacon has an inviting deep colour with a quite complex taste. A bitter sweet flavour that makes the mouth water. The final flavour is an oaky saltiness. But its best and advisable for the reader to try this themselves.
As they say smoking is a habit hard to beat!
The oak smoked cheese is heavenly to eat. A simple run of the mill supermarket chunk of cheddar is completely transformed (something that the supermarkets would charge a premium price!)
One of the best and most surprising, and a big new foodie item, is the smoked salt! All that is needed is a tray with salt (I use Cornish or Maldon sea salt) spread out on a tray with the salt a few millimetres deep. I usually put it into the smoker and forget about it until I have finished smoking a lump of bacon.
The salt takes on a slight colouration but the flavour is a revelation. Sprinkled on chips it is fantastic! Smoked salt is best used as a condiment rather than used during cooking as the flavour may be lost.
Now for the good bit!! Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your postal address for the chance to obtain a sample of my smoked salt!! The first 10 emails will get a sample pack of the wonder salt!!! (I will not pass your details to anyone. If I feel the uptake for this salt and hopefully the comments from my readers, I may consider producing this on a small commercial scale .)
Oh if you want to make this bacon here is my recipe.
Black Treacle Cured Bacon
300g rock or sea salt
230g sugar (Demerara is good)
60g molasses (only a guideline is its tricky to weigh this stuff!
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
500g pork loin
In a small bowl, combine salt and sugar. Spread black treacle evenly over pork and massage into it , then coat with the pepper. Spread the salt and sugar mixture generously over the pork. Put it into an airtight plastic container and pop it in the fridge. Every day drain the excess liquid and turn over rubbing some of the remaining cure over it.
After 5 or six days take it from the box and wash it under running cold water and dry with a clean tea towel or good quality kitchen roll. I put this back in the fridge for a day uncovered to form a pellicle. Lay the pork in the cold smoker and smoke for anything up to 24 hours. Take it out of the smoker and let it sit at room temperature before slicing and enjoying. It will keep for3 weeks in the fridge.
Place the strips of bacon onto a sheet pan fitted with a rack and place into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bacon. Remove from rack and drain on paper towels. Enjoy.