I’ve not done
much any charcuterie yet this year but for the three or four people who read my blog and have been haranguing me to write, I thought I better post something pronto.
Thinking ahead into 2012 I’ve decided not to get overly experimental with meat. Instead I plan on perfecting my technique and smoked Salmon is high on the agenda. I also promise to try and improve the dismal photography on this blog.
When I first started smoking food last spring, advice sought on Twitter pointed me in the direction of the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator (CSG). I was a little suspicious of the American name, plus it just seemed too lo-tech and easy to be true. It was also cheap – £25 from MacsBBQ. Occasionally life throws up effortless pleasures, and this would appear to be one of them.
Equipped with my ProQ CSG I needed a vessel to smoke my foodstuffs in. Any enclosed receptacle will do really, so long as one is sure that toxins will not leach into the food during the smoking process (avoid plastic for example). Even for cold smoking I decided to exercise caution.
After conducting some research I realised that by purchasing a terracotta pot I could transform an otherwise boring task into a culinary adventure: I used it as an excuse to justify an expedition to Petersham nurseries.
I finally arrived there after journeys by train, bike and bus, then spent a long while sizing up which of the many pots would be suitable. Eventually my over keen interest in plant pots aroused the suspicions of the staff, so I picked one, and decided to reward my strenuous efforts with some light refreshment.
After ordering I sat down under the humid glass panels inside the warm micro-climate of the greenhouse/teahouse and enjoyed an Eccles cake of supreme flakiness and a civilised pot of Earl Grey tea.
To work off the lardening effects of the Eccles cake I then proceeded to carry the great rust coloured hulk home, walking a significant part of the way before finally arriving home exhausted from my pot procuring efforts.
I had already purchased a side of Salmon but before smoking some beauty spa treatment is required to prepare the fish for smoking. I massaged the Salmon with a cure of salt, sugar, maple and some spices, wrapped it in clingfilm and then it rested in the fridge under a heavy weight (my copy of Leiths cooking bible wrapped in a protective bag if you must know) for a day or two.
The Salmon was rinsed off under cool running water after the cure had worked its magic, gently patted dry and then returned to the fridge for a day or so to develop a pellicle. Pellicle. Say it again. Pellicle is now one of my favourite words and also the name of the slightly tacky surface that develops on cured goods, to which the smoke sticks.
I filled the CSG with Maple wooddust and on top of that I sprinkled a fine layer of ground up peat from Islay, kindly delivered to me by whiskey fiend Joel of Caskstrength who sourced it for me on a tasting trip to that fair isle. Of course there was whiskey in the cure to complement the peat too.
I ‘fired up’ the smoker with a tiny tea-light put it in the bottom of the flowerpot, then the Salmon on a grid and finally on went the lid and I off to bed.
In the morning I came downstairs with all the excitement of a child on Christmas day and was not disappointed. Not only is the flavour of home cured salmon more complex than mass-produced stuff, but somehow so is texture. As with bacon – no more store bought for me (I would, however, fork out for Hansen Lyderson’s salmon which is beautiful and delicate).
Buoyed by that first success I’ve since made a fair amount of smoked Salmon with various cures: Fennel and orange, whiskey and maple, gin and juniper. This year I’d like to make a more concerted effort to play around with different flavours and tweak the cures until they’re just right.
I can’t wait to tuck in to more of the good stuff.