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.