Tag Archives: smoking

Smoked and Dried Habaneros

As you will now if you’ve visited these parts before, I am into preserving at the minute, in particular smoking and drying. When I saw these gorgeous Habaneros on a trip to Whole Foods, I had to bring the best of the bunch home, and since I would never use six Habanero peppers in the time it would take them to get past their prime, I decided to fire up the smoker.



I started by giving them an hour in the stove top smoker, over a mix of pine cones, assorted herbs and tea leaves, dampened with a little water to create the necessary smoke.



Since it’s a hot smoker, the process also cooks the peppers, leaving them soft and fragrant.



I could probably have pureed them up at this stage into a super-potent hot sauce, with the addition of some vinegar and sugar. I decided to go one stage further though, so I’d have Habaneros on demand for a while. I put them in the oven at 100C, with a wooden spoon wedged in the door to leave it open just a crack. This lets out any moisture and humidity, and helps the chilis dry better.


After two hours in the oven, the chilis were mostly dried. Not completely, especially the big one, but on their way. I took the decision to let them finish off drying au natural, just by leaving them out in the air. Now they are preserved! I have this notion to collect and dry lots of different kinds of chilis, and string them together into a ristra, like you see in proper kitchens. I like the idea of having a mix of chilis on hand whenever I fancy them, and being able to hang them up somewhere out of the way instead of trying to find drawer space, which is in increasing demand in the Rock Salt kitchen…



Another thing I could do with them is to make a new batch of ultimate chili powder, trying different ingredients in this one. Habanero, orange and rosemary, maybe? That’s just off the top of my head, you understand.


What do you think? What would you use smoked and dried chilis for?

Home Smoked, Home Dried Chilis

So, you can buy chili powder at any supermarket and probably even a lot of corner shops. There are many such shops very near my flat. On the other hand, you can spend two days smoking, drying and powdering chilis in your own kitchen, then adding other smoked/dried/powdered ingredients until you have something a lot more interesting. It’s up to you…

I first got the idea for this project from Jillian at Whisky Drinkin’ Chimney Sweep, whose every blog post is frankly an inspiration to me. I made a much, much smaller batch than she did, but I did have my own take on proceedings – namely, starting with some fresh ingredients as well as ready dried ones. It’s hard to know where to begin telling the story of all the ingredients and the individual processes for each one, because there’s a lot to it. It’s kind of an epic tale, which requires being split into two parts.

I’ll begin with the chilis, given that they are the ingredients with the most work and they’re the star of the show. Don’t tell the rest of the ingredients, especially the ones that came out of a jar – they already have a bit of an inferiority complex. The fresh chilis that I started with were three each of long red chilis and short, fat green chilis – these might have been jalapenos, they were just labelled as ‘green chilis’. I’ll use jalapeno to describe them, unless anyone has any objections, and furthermore I’ll call them chipotles after smoking. A chipotle (if you’re not sure, you say it chi-pote-lay) is nothing more than a smoked jalapeno, after all.

I read up a bit on the best way to smoke your own chilis, and I found that hot smoking is tricky because if you apply too much heat to the peppers, the flesh will cook and get soft and mushy. The home smoker that I have sits on the stove top, and having an electric hob makes it really tricky to regulate the heat properly, so I was concerned about softening and ruining them. To try to compensate, I started by partly drying the chilis in a low, low oven. I sliced them open, removed the seeds from the green ones, and baked at just 50C for an hour and a half. The skins started to toughen and curl a little round the cut edges, while the flesh stayed firm. A good beginning.

I then fired up the smoker. For a bit more information about the smoker I have, see this post about smoked pheasant, this post about smoked garlic, this post about smoked chicken and ham terrine or this post about hot smoked salmon. I filled the tray with broken down pine cones, dried thyme and some chives which were so far past their best that they had forgotten what it was like, and could only remember the dark dankness of the salad drawer. I thought the soggy chives would help produce more smoke. I’m not really sure if I was right. I sprayed all this dry fodder with some Guinness, hoping to add more flavour to the smoke and, therefore, the chilis. The first photo shows the smoker box, and the second the result of half an hour of smoking time. Notice the change in colour of the green chilis.

When I checked them at half an hour, I was concerned about how soft the chilis were getting. I decided to take them out and fully dry them at this stage, sacrificing smokey flavour for the right texture. With the oven still at 50C, I dried all the chilis on a bed of thyme leaves, with occasional sprays of Guinness for added flavour, for about an hour and a half.

After this time I took out the red chilis, which were almost dry. While the smoker was on, I’d thrown in a clove of garlic to smoke – I thought I may as well make the most of it, if my flat was going to smell of barbecue for a week anyway… At the ninety minute mark, I removed the garlic and turned off the heat, then put the red chilis back in the smoker and closed the lid. They sat inside the smoker overnight, with no heat, to absorb what flavour they could.

As for the thicker jalapenos, I left them in the oven overnight, with the door propped open to allow more air to circulate. Yes, this meant leaving the oven on overnight. I would never recommend that anyone leave an oven unattended. I don’t always practise what I preach.

In the morning, this is what I found:

The one on the bottom left is dried. You cannot argue with that. It is dah-ried-ah. The other two were still a little too soft, so I took the decision to put them back in. I had a clever plan; I heated the oven to 200C, put the two not quite ready chipotles, plus the red chilis AND four bird eye chilis that were partly dried from hanging out in the fridge for a couple of weeks, inside on the thyme bed, sprayed with Guinness and left them for ten minutes before turning the oven off and wedging the door with the wooden spoon again. You will notice that while I was willing to have the oven on while I was asleep, I drew the line at leaving it on while I was out of the house.

When I came home, I found these:

Again, those green ones look absolutely cremated, but the truth is that they’ve just been blackened by the higher heat, they are still usable. Alright, a little over-dried, granted, but usable. I used my brand new electric spice grinder to turn all the chilis into powder, doing just one variety at a time so I could compare the colour, flavour and smell of the different chilis.

The red chilis were thoroughly dried without the same loss of colour the green chilis experienced

The chipotles broken up into the spice grinder…

…and after – that dust is potent stuff, do NOT inhale.

The final products; clockwise from top right: chipotles, bird eye chilis, long red chilis

As I mentioned, I took the seeds out of the jalapenos before smoking and drying, but I left the long red chilis as they were (there were hardly any seeds in them anyway) and also retained the seeds in the bird eye chilis. Therefore, the bird eye chili powder was the hottest, with a sharp, searing flavour. The red chilis really benefitted from their overnight stay in the smoker, and the powder had a full, rich, smoky flavour with a little sweetness and a pleasant warmth more than a heat. The chipotle powder was the fruitiest, with a medium tingling heat and more aromatic flavour.

I will pause to allow you to scoff at my highfalutin’ descriptions of those flavours.

Now that we’ve done that, I think this is a good time to take a break from this tale of two-day chili powder. On Friday we will have the second installment, which will show the other six ingredients and give the recipe for the finished chili powder. It’s a doozy.

Home Smoked Salmon

Picture the scene. I arrive at work, on Wednesday morning. It is a normal Wednesday, which is to say that I can’t think of any real way to describe it. I had no great expectations of the day – in fact, I had spent the first half hour convinced that it was Thursday, so it hadn’t really been the best start. I arrived in the office to find a package on my desk. The package had my name on it, via the medium of a yellow Post-it note. It was a present! I opened it to find a home smoker box – I have to say, I was surprised but suitably delighted. All thanks to Miss M for being so generous and not just keeping it all to herself.

I mentioned smoking food before in an earlier post, and I’ve often meant to try the biscuit-tin method as put forward by the ever-so-charming gastronaut Stefan Gates – the biscuit tin link is unaccountably  not working but browse the rest of the site anyway. Now I have the proper equipment, I couldn’t wait to get started. Today is Thursday and I had my first attempt at home-smoking a salmon fillet. I would say that it wasn’t wholly successful, in that while I did end up with perfectly edible food, it wasn’t particularly smoke-flavoured. My mistake was adding too much liquid to the material that I was intending to make the smoke with, which created a lot of steam which, in turn, cooked the fish before the smoke really had a chance to get going and flavour it. In fact, even though I only had the salmon in the smoker for ten minutes, it was overcooked, as you can see from this picture. The white stuff coming out of the fish shows that it is overdone, although as yet I don’t know *why* it shows that, or what it is.

The fish did have subtle hints of the smoke flavour but I was disappointed not to have had a better result – though pleased not to have had a worse one. I had to look up how to work the smoker, and then promptly had to not follow the directions. Here is the website for the make of smoker that I now have (woo! it’s all mine!), but to follow their instructions you have to have methylated spirits and special wood dust, neither of which I had. What I *did* have were an oven hob and some pine cones collected from a car park on my way home. Close enough, right? I certainly thought so. It’s possible that these substitutions were the reason that I didn’t get the result I wanted – a second attempt using less liquid on the pine cones will prove this either way, but I think that the theory was sound. Next time I’ll keep them much drier and perhaps turn the heat right down once I’ve got some smoke going on in the box, to stop the fish (or whatever) from cooking so quickly. Lots of things to experiment with, which I absolutely love.

The part of the process that took the longest was preparing the pinecones. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t unwittingly sending any tiny creatures to a fiery death and also had no desire to have any tiny creatures crawl out and onto my hand at any time. Nobody needs surprise beasties. To try to achieve this lack of surprise beasties, I gave each pine cone a good old shake before putting it in the collecting bag, then when I got them home put them all into a colander and gave them another good shake to knock out anything that was trapped in them. I then poured boiling water over the whole lot in an attempt at cleansing. I didn’t feel excessively concerned about the cleanliness beyond this as I knew that they wouldn’t touch the food at any time, and would in fact be held under a drip tray, under the grill tray on which the fish would sit. Perhaps I was wrong about this but I feel like I did enough. Furthermore, to create a flat, thin layer of material on the bottom of the smoker, the pinecones then had to be pulled apart, giving further opportunity for any nasty surprises to reveal themselves. Thankfully, none did. At first I was trying to take them apart by hand but I soon wised up and got out my pliers, which made the job easier, though still time-consuming. It’s not every day you have to take pliers to something in the kitchen, but there you have it. Once I had enough pine cone bits to cover the bottom of the smoker – about five – I added two teabags worth of orange flavoured rooibos tea, which I hoped would add flavour. It certainly added a lovely scent to the smoke but, alas, not to the salmon. I drizzled over too much water, then – next time I think that the water the pinecones get from being rinsed might be enough, or I might just mist a little moisture over the top if it looks like the mix is too dry. I then put the smoker on to the hob, which was at a high heat. I covered it about two thirds of the way with the lid, and left to start to smoke. I knew that initially what was coming out was steam, but soon I could smell smoke so I though we were good to go. I was wrong about that, as it turns out. I turned the heat down to medium, popped the salmon on to the grill tray which I had lightly coated in groundnut oil, and then closed the lid over. After just three minutes I could smell the smoke, scented with the orange tea as I had hoped, and had to turn the overhead fan on to extract the smoke. It wasn’t like the towering inferno or anything, don’t get me wrong, but much as I like that kind of barbeque-y smell, I didn’t want my kitchen to reek of it for the next fortnight. The extractor took the smoke away no problem, though there is still a hint of it in the air, which is quite nice. That’s all there was to it, I left the salmon in for ten minutes and then took it back out and ate it. Finis.

Some early thoughts on things to experiment with:

  • Apple wood from my parents’ garden
  • Different kinds of tea leaves, and in varying amounts; from a mix of wood chips and tea to just tea on its own. Types that might work include the spiced tea I used to make the Chai Loaves, green tea with vanilla or lemon, hibiscus tea and caramel rooibos
  • Different liquids other than water; rose water, beer, wine, lemon juice…
  • Dried fruit peel
  • Herbs; specifically bunches of home-dried herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary
  • Spices; things like cloves, star anise, cassia bark. Dried chili flakes, too.
  • Rice? I think I read something about using rice, once…
  • Cheese? This would mainly require cold smoking, I’m not sure if I can manage to build up smoke in the box, take it off the heat and then open the lid without losing it all immediately. I don’t think I can make this particular one into a cold smoker (which also means that the kind of smoked salmon you’d buy in the shops is out, too, as it is cold smoked). However, I think cheeses like feta and halloumi would work pretty well as they withstand heat better than your average cheddar
  • Veg, like aubergine, asparagus, corn on the cob
  • Meat, like partridge breast smoked over pear wood…
  • Home-made sausages; I’m thinking heart-based with various spices, something like a chorizo but different

These are just some off the top of my head. There are so many different things I want to try, and it’s actually a pretty easy thing to use, although it might be difficult to perfect. For now, here’s a picture of the item in question in action:

It’s a vintage piece, which means it already has a lovely smokey ‘flavour’ to it, you can smell that as soon as you take off the lid, and very pleasant it is, too. Now I just need to find somewhere to put it in my tiny wee kitchen…

Tunes: It kind of has to be… Smoooooooooowke on the waaaaaaawtehhh…

Movie: Maybe I should change ‘movie’ to ‘DVD’… Right now I am thinking of Eddie Izzard’s classic sketch about salmon. It’s on what is still my favourite of all his DVDs to date – Definite Article. It’s not really family friendly, and watching the clip out of contaxt is a bit odd. I recommend you buy it and watch it all, over and over again, like I have.

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