Rachel Allen says there's... No smoke without fish
With the foodie world going mad for the oldest method of food preservation, Rachel Allen says that it's not all smoke and mirrors. Photography by Tony Gavin
Way back when, after our ancestors started using fire as a means of heat, they discovered the transformative effects of flames and smoke on meat. Not only did smoking bring great flavour, but it also preserved the food, which was, of course, essential for survival in primitive times.
These days, everyone's at it: from smoked beer, bourbon and vodka to cheddar, chocolate and yoghurt, the world has gone smoke mad! While cold-smoking is, without doubt, a complex and time-consuming process, the good news is that hot-smoking is totally achievable and easy to try at home with just an old biscuit tin and a wire rack.
While cold-smoking does not actually cook the product, hot-smoking does. If you're hot-smoking at home for the first time, then I would recommend starting with a simple fillet of fish, as it's quick to do and it's easy to tell when it is cooked.
While there are countless websites and great kitchen shops selling smoking equipment for home use, you can manage perfectly well with some basic things that you might already have kicking about in your house. A biscuit tin with a lid is brilliantly handy in place of a proper smoking box, and you'll need a metal rack to put into it. I use an old cooling rack that I cut and bent into shape so that it fits snugly inside.
You can, otherwise, use a wok with a rack sitting inside, but you'll need a lot of tinfoil to trap the smoke inside, which is why the biscuit tin is ideal, as it comes with its own lid.
Next, you need something to sprinkle into the base of the tin which, when put on the heat, will burn and create smoke. Wood shavings are the norm (order online or ask your local sawmills for something like oak, apple or cherry), but then you can start to experiment with tea leaves, rice and spices - now that's smokin'!
Hot-smoked trout with a toasted almond, garlic and parsley butter sauce
This recipe also works well with mackerel fillets - see the hot-smoked mackerel, watercress and apple salad recipe, below right.
Serves 4 as a starter or a light lunch.
You will need:
4 x 110g (4oz) fillets of fresh trout, with skin on
15g (½oz) salt, plus extra for seasoning
50g (2oz) whole almonds, with skins on
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
75g (3oz) butter
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
First, prepare the fish for smoking. Put the trout fillets, skin-side down, on a plate or tray, and sprinkle them with the salt. Allow them to sit somewhere cool for one hour. The salting process draws out excess moisture and inhibits the growth of bacteria, as well as adding flavour.
When the fillets have been sitting for one hour, pat them dry with kitchen paper, then leave them, uncovered, for another half an hour. This process will dry the surface of the fish fillets, which will allow them to soak up lots of good smoky flavour.
While the fish is drying, you can start making the toasted almond, garlic and parsley butter sauce. Slice each of the almonds into three or four shard-like pieces and place them in a frying pan or saute pan on a medium-to-high heat. Toss or stir the almonds every so often and cook them for about three to four minutes until they are golden brown and toasted. Add in the finely sliced garlic and the butter and cook for another few minutes until the garlic is soft and the butter is foaming. Squeeze in the lemon juice, tip in the chopped fresh parsley and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, then set aside.
When the fish has dried for half an hour, it's time to smoke it. Sprinkle in enough wood shavings to almost cover the base of the smoking box, biscuit tin or the wok, whichever you are using, and place a rack sitting in the bottom. Lay the fish fillets, skin-side down, on the rack, in a single layer. Turn on the heat to high (this can be done on a gas or electric hob, or on a stove or Aga) and once the wood shavings are smoking, turn the heat to low and cover the smoking box, the biscuit tin or the wok, whichever you are using, with a tight-fitting lid or one made of tinfoil, and cook for four minutes.
After four minutes, take the smoking box, tin or wok off the heat and, still covered, allow it to sit for another four minutes. When it is ready, the fish should look cooked in the centre and have a rich, golden colour on top.
Reheat the toasted almond, garlic and parsley butter sauce, place the hot-smoked fish on warm plates, pour the sauce over the top, and serve.
Hot-smoked salmon with horseradish sauce
The hot-smoked salmon can be served hot or it can also be allowed to cool and used in everything from omelettes to pasta sauces. Once smoked, the fish will keep in the fridge for five to six days.
Serves 4 as a main course.
You will need:
4 x 150g (5oz) pieces of fresh salmon, filleted, skin still on, all pin bones removed
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
150g (5oz) uncooked rice
50g (2oz) tea leaves
2 tablespoons wood shavings
Boiled new potatoes, to serve
For the horseradish sauce, you will need:
4-6 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish, depending on how hot you like it
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream, measure when whipped
First, prepare the fish for smoking. Put the pieces of salmon, skin side down, on a plate or tray and sprinkle with two tablespoons of the light brown sugar (keep the remaining one tablespoon for smoking the salmon) and the salt. Allow the fillets to sit somewhere cool in the kitchen for 30 minutes.
When the salmon fillets have been sitting for half an hour, pat them dry with kitchen paper then leave them, uncovered, for another half an hour to dry out slightly. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of light brown sugar, the uncooked rice, the tea leaves and the wood shavings in the base of your smoking box, biscuit tin or wok, whichever you're using, then place a wire rack inside.
Next, make the horseradish sauce. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the white wine vinegar, the lemon juice, the Dijon mustard, the salt and the freshly ground black pepper and the sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream, but do not over-mix the sauce or it will curdle. The sauce will keep in the fridge for five to six days.
Put the salmon pieces, skin-side down, in a single layer on the rack of your smoking box, biscuit tin or wok, whichever you're using. Turn on the heat to high (this can be done on a gas or electric hob, or on a stove or Aga) and once the wood shavings are smoking, turn the heat to low and cover the smoking box, tin or wok with a tight-fitting lid or one made of tinfoil, and cook for eight minutes. Then, take the smoking box, biscuit tin or wok off the heat and, still covered, allow it to sit for another four minutes. When it is ready, the fish should look cooked in the centre.
Transfer the warm salmon to plates and serve it with the horseradish sauce and hot boiled new potatoes.
Smoked mackerel, watercress and apple salad
You will need:
1 apple, quartered, cored and cut in to wedges about ½cm (less than ¼in) wide
2 fillets of hot-smoked mackerel, flaked into bite-sized chunks (see hot-smoked trout recipe, above left, for instructions on hot-smoking the fish, or, alternatively, see my Tip, above left)
2 handfuls of watercress
25g (1oz) chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the apple wedges, the hot-smoked mackerel chunks, the watercress, the chopped walnuts, the extra-virgin olive oil and the lemon juice in a bowl and gently toss everything together.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.
If you'd prefer to smoke outdoors, then a barbecue is the answer. Make a a shallow bowl from tinfoil to hold the wood shavings. Place it on the coals under the rack. Pop your fish or meat on, then cover it with a lid or an upturned metal bowl.
If you really want to get to grips with the whole food-smoking vibe, there are a pile of books out there that are brilliantly informative and super-inspiring too. Unsurprisingly, my first port of call would be Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Cathie, which is the go-to tome for everything from how to keep hens, ducks and pigs to foraging, sausage-making and smoking.
There's also the Pitt Cue Co cookbook by Tom Adams and Jamie Berger, from the London-food-truck-turned-restaurant, published by Mitchell Beazley. It's full of great, American-inspired smoky recipes for meat, accompaniments and, incidentally, some fab cocktails too!
Sunday Indo Life Magazine