The Secret Garden Club held its second smoking workshop on Sunday March 18: the notes that follow reflect the activities of the day and vary slightly from the blog post following the first smoking day in November 2011.
Smoking is a technique which imparts a distinctive flavour to food and can also change its texture slightly. Our ancestors smoked food for its preservative effect, and while food which has been smoked will take longer to go off, these days, it is for the smoke flavour plus any aromatics that may have been added to the smoke mix, that makes the food so delicious.
We looked at three different methods of smoking food during the afternoon. Tea-smoking uses a mix of sugar, rice and tea leaves which are heated until they smoulder to produce a fragrant smoke which both cooks and flavours food.
Hot-smoking over wood applies heat to wood chips in order to cook food and to flavour it more strongly. Cold smoking involves exposing food to cool smoke for a much longer period of time, from several hours to a couple of days and will both flavour and preserve food without cooking it.
Tea-smoking uses a mix of tea leaves, brown sugar, raw rice and optional aromatics as the smoking medium. With the mix set in a pan under a steamer, the smoke generated infuses foods in the steamer basket with a delicate, elusive tea-smoke flavour.
Secret Garden Club tea-smoking mix:
Half a (US) cup of tea leaves (about 4 tbsp)
Half a (US) cup of brown sugar (about 4 tbsp)
Half a (US) cup of raw long-grain rice (about tbsp)
Mix the ingredients together, then make a foil saucer that fits into the bottom of the base pan. Pour the smoking mixture on to the foil (this is to protect the pan itself from staining), set it over the heat and fit the steamer basket and lid.
The trout fillets were laid on the steamer basket just as the smoke began to curl upwards through the slats, and steamed for around 20 minutes. Times will vary and our fillets were quite chunky. With fish, remove from the smoker as soon as they are opaque all the way through so that they don’t overcook. With tea-smoking, less is definitely more: over-smoke the food and you’ll be left with a distinct aftertaste of fag packet.
Hot-smoking over wood applies direct heat to soaked woodchips so that they smoulder gently. The wood and the food are both in a sealed unit so that the heat and smoke permeate the food to cook and smoke it at the same time. You can use the same equipment as for tea-smoking, above, ideally on an outdoor cooker. The process will produce much more smoke than with tea-smoking, so if you do have to hot smoke over wood indoors, open all windows and doors first and turn up your extractor fan – although you will probably set off your smoke alarm even so.
Important: when smoking food with any kind of wood, it is vitally important that the wood is raw, and untreated. Any sort of treatment, coating, glue or varnish will give off potentially toxic fumes when smoked – NOT what you want coating your food. If the wood you want to use has been cut with a chainsaw, beware – there could easily be oil residues on the wood from the chainsaw. It’s highly satisfying to use wood that you have chopped or sourced yourself, but you must be 100% certain that the wood is free of any chemicals.
We used a proprietary hot-smoker – very similar to this one – set up outside on the terrace.
- Sweet peppers, sliced in half and with seeds removed;
- Lemons, cut in half;
- Tofu, cut into thick slices and marinaded for two hours beforehand in soy sauce and maple syrup;
- Sweetcorn, on the cob;
- Halloumi cheese
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsps olive oil
Half a teasp of English mustard
If you don’t want to shell out for commercial kit straightaway, try the tin + soldering iron method instead. For this you need a deep container, again such as a kettle barbecue, a soldering iron, an empty 400g food tin, and your woodchips. For this method you’ll also need access to a power supply.