The weekend could have ended in potential food disaster but suffice to say, it didn't. In fact it started well with Man telling me that we were going to smoke a side of Salmon in his smoker on the weekend. On my journey out of London and into the country, I realised that I had the perfect recipient for some home-smoked salmon and promptly offered the side to my friend who was hosting the Saturday night dinner party. After they duly (and without hesitation) accepted said side of smoked salmon, I did begin to wonder how I'd managed to miss the Smoke House in Man's back garden. I was envisaging one of those lovely old circular stone or wooden smoke houses and was finding it hard to believe I could have been so blonde as to have missed this building in his garden.
Once in situ in Bedfordshire and having given a cursory glance out the kitchen window, it was obvious that no smoke house existed in the garden. On questioning Man as to how we were going to smoke the salmon without a smoke house, he simply raised an eyebrow, smirked and then took me to the garden where he presented his Silver Smoker. You would be forgiven if you thought this was one of those super duper £300 ProQ Excel Food Smokers, as in fact, it is a tin dustbin, with four holes in the bottom and an old grill shelf rammed about a two-thirds of the way down. Man proudly pointed out his inspired safety catch [read: two bricks sitting on top of the dustbin lid] which when applied ensured that cats/dogs/wildlife where not tempted to pop into the 'smoker' for a nibble.
The Silver Smoker is a cold smoker, which means you need to cure the meat or fish before smoking to ensure the finished product is stable. The main difference to the two procedures (other than heat) is that hot smoking also cures the produce, creating a self-stable meat or fish which can be stored in more varied conditions than cold smoked meat. When cold smoking, the meat or fish need to be cured through brining, salting, wind drying or a combinations of these techniques, prior to the cold smoke.
When meat or fish is hot smoked, it is enclosed in a smoker along with a fire or pit of coals. Aromatic woods such as cedar, hickory or apple, among others, are added to the fire so that they will generate strongly scented, flavourful smoke. The heat from the fire or coals cooks the meat, curing it so that it is less likely to decay, while the smoke penetrates the meat or fish, infusing it with a rich flavour. It is not uncommon to marinate or brine meats or fish before hot smoking them – this adds deeper flavours such as honey and sugar.
Subjecting meat or fish to cold smoking is fairly straight forward, the product is hung in a smoker, with the smoke being generated in a separate chamber (or in the case of the Silver Smoker just lower down in the belly of the dustbin) and the temperature is kept much lower, typically a little warmer than room temperature. The cold smoking process can take days or weeks, as the smoke slowly penetrates the meat without heat.
But for the Silver Smoker, it took just under 48hrs. Fortunately Man in his infinite wisdom had already cured the salmon several days beforehand [the recipe for that is here], so all we really needed to do was wipe down the flesh, place on the grill shelf and then into the dustbin. The only area that I was allowed to participate in was the watching of the Q Smoker being filled with wood dust. I was also allowed to choose the combination of wood dust for the smoking (added flavour), so I plumbed first for a little Beech with a top layer of Oak. I was also sent scurrying around the house looking for the relevant tea-light which was to set the wood dust ablaze, only to return with prized tea-light in hand to find Man setting alight the Q Smoker and it's wood dust with a small kitchen blowtorch!
It really was such a simple process, we placed the Q Smoker in the base of the Silver Smoker, the cured salmon resting on the grill shelf was then wedged into place, followed by the Silver Smoker's lid and brick safety catches. After such hard work, we decided to gather up the salivating hounds, put on our walking boots and head to the local for a much-needed refreshment.
The Smoked Salmon was utterly delish as our starter on Saturday night and it was clearly a howling success with all 10 dinners as there were nothing but empty plates in sight. Eaten rustically from an old wooden chopping board with some crusty bread, avocado and lemon hunks makes it a great sharing platter and keeps conversation flowing.
What is also great about the homemade smoker is that it can be a fairly inexpensive hobby and lots of fun. Man decided to branch out from just Salmon this weekend and procured half a side of Pork Belly to make into Smoked Bacon. That's currently curing and set for the smoker this weekend, we'll just have to see how that works out - if I don't blog again, it may be because I am in the hospital!