Thank you for Smoking ... the new food trend
It's the food trend getting chefs excited - now Charlotte Pike's new book shows you how to smoke everything from ribs to caramel at home
Smoking is an ancient and delicious art and has to be one of the most magical ways of cooking food, according to Ballymaloe- trained chef Charlotte Pike. "It is much easier and quicker to smoke your own food than most people think," she says. "There are endless opportunities for creativity with a great number of ingredients and combinations of flavours of wood, whose aromas can be incorporated. Little is required in terms of equipment and space, and there are many pieces of portable kit available. If you have no garden, you can smoke on the stovetop in the kitchen, or even take a portable smoker to the beach or countryside on a picnic, shoot or fishing trip.
"Building your own smoker is an option but only if you feel so inclined, as there are many excellent ready-to-go smokers on the market at a range of prices. To start to smoke your own food is to embark on a never- ending adventure. The real joy of smoking is that there are very few concrete rules to follow. You will find your way as you go and very soon you will be able to tailor your smoking to suit your personal tastes."
SMOKED BEEF RIBS
Beef ribs, also sold as short ribs, are the rack of ribs cut from the flank, or the middle of the animal, rather than from the back. They are really meaty and the flesh just melts in the mouth after a long, slow cook. Braising beef ribs works especially well. There are several ways in which beef ribs can be smoked and prepared - and I cannot urge you strongly enough to try my recipe for Oriental spiced smoked beef ribs (opposite). Beef ribs are a great cut to experiment with: they can be cured with salt and sugar before smoking, or - for a quick and easy version - simply dried fully, seasoned with salt and pepper, and hot smoked for about 2 hours to impart a subtle, delicious smokiness, then cut into generous chunks and braised or casseroled.
2 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
To hot-smoke 6 ribs, simply mix the sea salt with the caster sugar and rub onto the ribs. Set aside to cure for at least 2 hours. Pat the meat dry with kitchen paper once cured (or wash the cure off if you prefer) and hot-smoke for at least 2 hours. If the smoker runs hot, then they will be ready to eat; otherwise they can be finished off in the oven at 180°C (fan)/160°C (standard)/350°F/gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes.
ORIENTAL SPICED SMOKED BEEF RIBS
These dark, sticky ribs are a real treat. Rice wine and soy sauce combine to make a delicious sauce in which the ribs are briefly cooked with warm spices before hot-smoking. You can ask a butcher to cut the ribs for you, for ease.
125ml rice wine
125ml dark soy sauce
100g light brown soft sugar
70ml white wine vinegar
½ tsp sea salt
6 cardamom pods
50g fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
100g tomato ketchup
1kg beef ribs, cut into large chunks
Jasmine rice and stir-fried pak choi and/or broccoli, to serve (optional)
1 red chilli, finely sliced, to serve (optional)
Method Put the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, salt, cardamom, ginger and ketchup in a large saucepan over a low heat. Whisk briefly to combine all the ingredients together. Add the beef rib chunks and gently simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.
Remove the beef from the pan and set aside on a plate while you preheat the hot smoker. Meanwhile, return the pan to the heat, without the beef, and boil steadily, until the sauce has reduced and is thick and slightly sticky.
When the hot smoker is ready, place the ribs in and smoke for 30-45 minutes. Brush the meat every 5-10 minutes with the sticky marinade, and turn the meat regularly.
Once the ribs are hot, lightly smoked and chewy-edged, remove them from the smoker and serve with jasmine rice and some stir-fried pak choi and broccoli with a little finely chopped fresh red chilli, if you fancy some heat.
My go-to smoker is my Big Green Egg (above), which I keep in the garden and use to both barbecue and smoke. I have one in a large size, which is enormous, but has plenty of room to smoke whole fish and large joints of meat, such as legs of lamb, on the grill rack. I also have a small one, which is portable, and it is useful for keeping in the back of the car and taking out to the beach or countryside to smoke on.
Garlic can be hot or cold-smoked but hot-smoked garlic is preferable because the flavour penetrates the cloves better. Try using your smoked garlic in homemade garlic butter, stuffing a whole bulb in a chicken before roasting, or adding it to risottos or pasta sauces.
4 bulbs fresh garlic, unpeeled
1½ tsp hickory wood chips
Preheat your smoker with the wood chips inside. When the smoker is at 90°C, add the whole garlic bulbs and smoke for 20-50 minutes until the bulbs are smoked to your liking. Store the garlic in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days before using. The smoked garlic will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks in an airtight container.
BARBECUED LOBSTER WITH SMOKED BUTTER
Smoked butter is a great place to start if you haven't smoked anything before. It's quick, easy and so delicious. Try melting smoked butter on steamed vegetables, chargrilled steaks and even sweet treats such as chocolate brownies for an extra dimension of smoky flavour. Fresh lobster is always a real treat but the sweet flesh tastes particularly sublime when cooked with smoked butter. It makes a really special centrepiece for a barbecue or summer supper, enjoyed al fresco. I like the flavour of cooking the lobster over oak and hickory wood charcoal on the Big Green Egg here.
100g smoked butter (see Method, below)
2 cooked lobsters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into wedges, to serve
To make 250g salted butter, set up the cold smoker using a wood of your choice and light it. Put the butter in a heatproof, non-metallic dish. When the smoker is at the correct stage, with a thick cloud of smoke appearing in the cold chamber, add the butter and smoke for 30 minutes. Remove the butter, wrap well and store in the refrigerator. Leave it for 24 hours before eating.
To cook the lobster, preheat the barbecue until very hot. Split the cooked lobsters in half lengthways. It is easiest to do this with a large chopping knife and insert the point of the knife in the middle of the tail, working back carefully towards the head in one, careful slice.
Melt the smoked butter in a pan and brush a little over the flesh of the lobster. Set the remaining melted butter aside, keeping it warm. Barbecue, cut side down, for about 5 minutes until the meat is piping hot and lightly chargrilled.
Remove the lobster from the grill, remove the meat from the shell and immediately drop it into the warm melted butter. Toss the lobster in the butter, season with salt and pepper and serve in warm bowls, with lemon wedges on the side. Enjoy warm, either on its own with some excellent bread to mop up the smoked butter, with a crisp, green salad, or even, for the ultimate indulgence, spooned onto a barbecued steak.
The smoked butter will keep for up to a month in the fridge.
SMOKED SEA SALT CARAMEL
Salted caramel is a wonderful thing. It is a very useful ingredient, both as a spread and as a thick sauce for spooning onto desserts and ice-cream. I like to add smoked sea salt to caramel for another layer of complexity.
Makes 1 x 400g jar
300g caster sugar
100ml cold water
150ml double cream
40g salted butter
½ tsp smoked sea salt
Put the sugar and 100ml cold water in a large pan. Stir occasionally and gently warm the sugar. When it has dissolved, increase the heat to high and boil without stirring until the caramel turns a deep, rich brown.
Remove the pan from the heat. You may wish to cover your hand with an oven glove and step back a little, as you pour in the cream. Add the butter and the salt and stir to form a thick, smooth caramel.
The caramel can splutter, so do take care.
Set the caramel aside to cool. It is wonderful served over ice-cream or as a pouring sauce with dessert, stirred into brownie mixture, spooned onto biscuits or drizzled on chocolate mousse.
It will store well in the fridge for up to a month, when kept in a sealed, sterilised container.
Which woods to use?
There are no fixed rules for pairing woods with meat and fish. I've suggested some woods for smoking below but as you gain in exprience, you will get to know your own preferences.
Alder Poultry & fish
Apple Poultry, fish, cheese, ham & game
Ash Pork, fish, poultry & lamb
Beech Pork, fish, poultry, lamb & cheese
Birch Pork & poultry
Cherry Duck & game, especially venison
Hickory Beef & pork
Maple Cheese, pork, poultry & vegetables
Mesquite Beef, pork, lamb & vegetables
Oak Beef, pork & game
Pear Cheese & poultry
To create a more aromatic smoke, try using hay, bay leaves, lavender, juniper branches, nettles, pine needles (not pine wood, though, which can contain toxic resins) and rosemary sprigs, towards the end of your smoking time. Feel free to experiment with the combinations of smoking material you use.
Rubs and marinades
For a further layer of flavour to your hot smokes, try adding a rub to the ingredient when you are salting it.
Make up a dry mix and rub it into the meat, leaving it for at least 1 hour before smoking. Make your own mixes using dried spices and herbs. You can use any-thing from black pepper to chilli, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, caraway, cumin, fennel seeds, oregano, rosemary, thyme and mustard in the form of ground spices, crushed seeds or pre-made mixes. Ensure the sea salt is mixed in, and a little sugar too, if you would like some sweetness. You'll just need about 8 tbsp of a rub to cover a few steaks or a small joint: this could be made up with 2 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp sugar, and 2tbsp each of, say, cumin and thyme.
Marinades are another way of adding flavour. They mostly contain oil - perhaps olive, sunflower or sesame - an acid, such as citrus fruit juice or a wine vinegar and some flavourings, which might include garlic, ginger, chilli, citrus rind and fresh herbs. Again, 8 tbsp will probably be enough here, so why not try 3 tbsp oil, 3 tbsp citrus juice such as fresh lemon juice and 2 tbsp chopped herbs and garlic.
Again, marinate for at least 1 hour before smoking, but longer, or even overnight, will work fine - it will just intensify the flavour. The quantities you make for rubs and marinades can be multiplied or divided to suit the amount of food you are smoking in one batch.