Smoking food dates back thousands of years and originated as a way of preserving meats and fish long before the convenience of refrigeration was invented. As with most trends and fashions, old traditional cooking methods have come full circle and made a popular resurgence. Smoking foods is one of these trends.
Top chefs around the globe have taken smoking to a new level, imparting a beautiful smoky flavour on products such as cheese, butter, salt and tomatoes, as well as the normally mundane vegetables – parsnips and potatoes.
Anyone can do it!
It might seem daunting and a bit tricky to get your hands on specialised smoking equipment but anyone can rig up a homemade smoker with general kitchen equipment and turn your home kitchen into a make shift smokehouse!
Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between hot and cold smoking. Cold smoking wafts cooled smoke over the food product leaving it smoked but importantly, uncooked, such as cold-smoked salmon. This is setup in a way that the heat source is kept away from the product so as not to cook it. It’s a little trickier to setup at home so let’s focus on hot smoking which is a bit simpler.
To fashion your own home smoker, all you will need is a deep metal roasting tray, a wire cooling rack that fits well into the tray, tin foil and some tea, herbs or wood chips.
Before you begin, it’s important to salt your product. Be it a steak or a fillet of fish. The salt draws out the moisture of the flesh and makes the flavour more pronounced.
Rather use rock or flaked salt than fine salt as the fine salt can tend to be a little harsh and not as easy to remove. (Note: only meat and fish products need to be salted, you don’t need to season veggies, butter or cheese.)
Cover the meat or fish in a handful of salt and let sit for around 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the product. If you are smoking a large cut of meat it you will need to leave it a little longer than for example a small fish fillet. Wash off the salt and pat dry.
Now prepare your homemade smoking chamber! Place the cooling rack inside the roasting tray and scatter your smoking material in the tray. This is the fun part. You can go the traditional route and use smoking chips such as oak or maple; get creative and use hard herbs such as thyme and rosemary; or dry teas such as Rooibos or green tea.
Scatter a small handful of whatever you are using onto the bottom of the tray. Be careful, smoke is pungent so a little goes a long way! You know what you smell like after standing next to a braai!
Place the raw meat or fish onto the cooling rack and cover the tray tightly with tin foil. Place your tray onto the stove top, either on the gas flame or on the hot plate on full heat. After a while you will see smoke escaping from the tray. Leave for around 20 minutes, depending on what you are cooking.
Once cooked, remove the tin foil from the tray and carefully remove the perfectly home smoked meat. How easy was that!
Experiment with different meats and fish, teas and herbs and soon you will become a ‘smoking’ master! Play around with the smoking time to achieve your desired level of smokiness.
Check out this quick and easy recipe for a delicious home smoked angle fish pate!
Hot smoked mackerel pate on toasted bruschetta
100g coarse sea salt
2 angel fish fillets
coarsely ground or cracked black pepper
100g cream cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
10g chopped flat leaf parsley
crusty bread, thinly sliced
Rooibos tea leaves to smoke
Scatter half the salt on a plate or tray.
Place the angel fish on top.
Scatter on the rest of the salt over the fillet and leave for five minutes.
Wash quickly and pat dry.
Season well with cracked black pepper and smoke for five to 10 minutes, until the flesh is opaque and flakes when pressed with a knife.
Mix the cream cheese, angel fish, lemon juice and zest as well as the parsley until a smooth paste forms.
Spread onto toasted bruschetta and garnish with micro herbs.