Friday, 15 February 2008

Warning: Smoking Thrills

For the first time in about a year I smoked in my kitchen last night. I didn’t even bother to go outside. I just stood in my kitchen, smoked away and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience filling the house with the rich, woody aroma of delicious hot smoked salmon. You didn’t seriously think I was talking about cigarettes did you? Come on.

I’d got two pieces of salmon fillet from the fishmonger a couple of days before and they were reaching the end of their natural life, any longer and they would have quickly transformed from the delicious to the inedible stinking the fridge to high heaven in the process. Salmon is one of the easiest fishes to cook. It is robust and large enough to give the chef enough leeway either side unlike something delicate like sole which can overcook in a matter of nanoseconds. It is hearty with a meaty enough texture to tempt even the most ardent carnivore and also has a whole host of related health benefits.

The sort of smoked salmon we are all familiar with is known as ‘cold-smoked’ and whilst the good examples of this delicacy are delicious it can be a withering, soggy disappointment, not to mention very difficult to achieve at home without a large smoking room (I immediately think of shelves lined with leather bound books, rich mahogany furniture and darkened red leather sofas in front of a log fire whenever I hear this term but alas, in this context it has a quite different meaning) and I wasn’t sure I had the time or energy to convert my garden shed into an outdoor smokery so I had to settle with the hot smoked variety. Whereas cold-smoked salmon only reaches a temperature of around 80 degrees which creates more of a cure (similar to gravadlax) rather than a cooking, hot smoking, on the other hand, raises the temperature of the fish to something approaching 150 degrees thus cooking the salmon in the process. For this reason the process is much quicker and easily achievable in the domestic kitchen with a few simple ingredients.

For one night only my trusty cast iron wok took on the role of a home-smoker, a little kitchen foil layered in the bottom with a handful of smoking powder nestling happily in the base (if you try this make sure you don’t forget the foil as the burning wood could easily ruin your precious wok) and a roasting rack over the top. The salmon was dried, rubbed with a little olive oil, the merest dribble of lemon juice and half a turn of the salt mill before being placed onto the waiting rack. The whole lot was then tightly covered with more foil and placed over a high heat directly on the hob. Easy hey? Well, it gets marginally trickier here, but only slightly. Because there is very little to see, hear or even smell, cooking in this fashion takes a bit of guesswork and trial and error to get the process perfect but the results are well worth it.
Between five and ten minutes should get the wood powder nice and hot, smoking a sufficient amount to flavour and cook the salmon, after which you can simply take the wok off the heat and let the sweet smoke work its tasty magic. When you take the foil off twenty minutes later you should be met by two pieces of perfectly cooking salmon with a rich smoky smell and a hint of deep colour on the flesh. If not then curse the idiot what wrote this, replace the foil and cook it a bit longer. Unless it is overdone in which case curse the idiot what wrote this and plough on with the eating remembering to leave a strongly worded message on the website.

Luckily I didn’t have to chastise myself as the salmon was barely cooked, still slightly translucent in the middle and moist throughout. Not to everyone’s taste but just the way I like it. I served it with some steamed sugar snap peas, boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and finely chopped garlic and plenty of quivering mayonnaise.

So there you have it – hot smoked salmon in the comfort of your own home and an entire piece free from puns. Incredible. There was strong evidence to suggest it may happen, but no smoking pun.

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