It’s been a very long time since smoking was fashionable, but it’s back in a big way. Of course, we’re talking about either hot or cold smoking fish, meat, cheese and vegetables. An almost primal act that speaks to something ancient within our psyche.
There are two ways to smoke your meat, fish or vegetables: hot and cold. Both are equally popular methods but are used for different purposes. Basically, cold smoking imparts a flavour to your food, but doesn’t fully cook it; hot smoking means you are cooking and flavouring at the same time.
“The reason behind cold smoking is preservation by drying and also the smoke particles are antibacterial.”
Keep it cold
In cold smoking, food is placed in a chamber or box and smoke is pumped through the chamber for a period of around 12- 48 hours. The temperature of the chamber is kept between 20-25°C, and the fire producing the smoke is kept away from the food. Food is generally cured before cold smoking, which helps draw out moisture so the smoke can better penetrate. Curing also helps cold smoked food keep for a long time without refrigeration.
“The reason behind cold smoking is preservation by drying and also the smoke particles are anti-bacterial,” Rodney Dunn, Rodney Dunn, co-founder of the Agrarian Kitchen School and Eatery, tells Maeve O'Meara on Food Safari Water.
Smoke may well have anti-bacterial properties, but it’s still critically important to get the smoke temperature right when cold smoking. This is especially important for foods eaten raw after smoking, like salmon, cheese or vegetables.
A recipe made for me by the cheeky chaps from The Melbourne Pantry. It came about after (my now partner) Sharlee asked if I knew someone who could smoke butter for a top British chef who was appearing at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. It made me think, how would smoking yoghurt be, and... well, it rocks. Add the recipe to carrots, their tops, honey and smoked yoghurt.
I lived in Asia for five years and I’m a big fan of Japan’s flavours and techniques. This dish came about from a very traditional Japanese recipe for eggplant – grilled, peeled and dressed, then finished with togarashi, a mixed chilli seasoning. We’ve developed it a little further using local produce.
Typically, cold smoking is used for ready-to-eat foods that can be eaten raw, however, any food can be cold-smoked, then cooked at a later time. Cold smoking imparts a subtle smokiness that intensifies the longer the smoking time. It’s important to cure the food before cold smoking.
"The end product would just be dry and smoky-flavoured, but smoky-flavoured like tongue-kissing a trout with a pack-a-day smoking habit."
“I tried cold-smoking trout a few times in the new cold smokehouse with terrible results,” Rohan Anderson writes in A Year of Practiculture. “I was so distracted by getting the amount of smoke right that I always forgot to cure the fish and the end product would just be dry and smoky-flavoured, but smoky-flavoured like tongue-kissing a trout with a pack-a-day smoking habit.”
So, definitely cure fish before cold smoking! Anderson recommends soaking in a good brine then hanging to air dry and form a “gooey layer called the pellicle.”
Turn the heat up
In hot smoking, food is placed alongside the fire that produces the smoke. Food is smoked and cooked simultaneously using this method. Depending on what’s being cooked, the temperature of the chamber is generally kept between 80 and 150°C; so much lower than other methods, hence the long cooking time. Hot smoking generally imparts a smokier flavour than cold smoking, although cooking time will impact this in both hot and cold methods.
Foods cooked in a hot smoker are tender and juicy with a subtle smoky flavour. If you’ve never eaten a hickory smoked brisket roll at a summer music festival, you haven’t lived!
Get the recipe for Texas beef brisket here.
Smokers devote hours to experimenting with different wood chips to find the best type for smoke flavour. The wood of most fruit trees, especially apple, peach and cherry, are favoured for smoking, but hardwoods like hickory, maple and oak are the top three for many. Closer to home Australian hardwoods like ironbark, black wattle and manuka are considered to produce good flavour.
“Some of native Australian hard woods will burn hot but will give you a bitter, acrid smoke which is completely undesirable and inedible."
“Manuka wood is… one of my favourites,” Jay Beaumont writes at Australasian Barbecue Alliance. “It permeates a distinctive smell, which is hard to describe, almost sweet, and musky, awesome for all meats and definitely a go-to.”
Beaumont recommends experimenting before throwing anything into an Australian wood-fuelled smoker. “Some of the native Australian hard woods will burn hot but will give you a bitter, acrid smoke which is completely undesirable and inedible,” he says. “Play around with different woods and see what you prefer.”
Matter of taste
Hot smoking can also be a quick way to cook fish, so it remains juicy and tender. Chef Anthony Simone (Baby Café & Pizzeria) makes a smoked rainbow trout with wild fennel and mushrooms on Food Safari Water. Outside on the riverbank, Simone uses a hot smoking method to cook the trout, setting up a simple smoker using a gas-powered frypan. By turning up the heat, the trout was perfectly smoked and cooked within five minutes.
A fast method like this imparts a very subtle smoky flavour. A great tip from Simone to add a “beautiful perfumed smoke” flavour to fish is to tuck a few eucalyptus leaves in with the hickory chips before smoking.
This week it's all about freshwater seafood on Food Safari Water with Maeve O'Meara 7.30pm, Wednesdays on SBS and then you can catch-up on all episodes via SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.
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"Earlier in the year, we road tripped through America’s South from Kentucky to Texas, where we stopped at many a roadhouse and indulged in some delicious southern-style cooking. One of our favourites was smoky slow-cooked ribs! We’ve tried to replicate the taste back home using some of the advice we picked up on our journey. The most important things to remember are: the ribs have to be dry-rubbed, cooked slow, mopped with sauce and, just when you think you’re done, add more sauce! Yee-haw! Best served with coleslaw – mmm... flavour town." Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2