If you’ve ever been to a BBQ party, with all the men gathering around the Barbie, as if they were hiding animal print loincloths and clubs under their modest, summer shorts, you’ll be aware that the human preoccupation with food smoking over a fire is all but ancient history.
Australians, known for their love of BBQ, went smoke mad on their version of Master Chef by smoking duck breast and trout, alongside slightly less obvious options such as yoghurt and chocolate.
The advantages of smoking food
Smoked meats take longer to spoil, and so had a crucial part to play in the development of modern human beings. Successfully preserving foods often meant survival through difficult winters and famines.
Many anthropologists believe that hominids were smoking meat up to 250,000 years ago. Smoking is everywhere throughout history, from smoking houses in Ireland, dated at 2,000 BC, to smoked cheese from the Greeks and Romans. 3500 BC, Sumerian Tribes were smoking fish.
The best woods used in the smoking process change depending on where you are in the world. In Europe, it’s the alder or oak. In America, it’s generally hickory, and in Iceland, it’s traditional to smoke over sheep poo! Nice.
Although smoking might conjure up images of heat, ‘cold-smoking’ is another important way to infuse food with a great flavour and preservation qualities.
Hot-smoking is performed by people every year, on warm summer days, over BBQs – anything that involves a puffy, open fire. Cold-smoking is a technique that takes much longer, and preserves meat in its raw state – for example, smoked salmon; but you can even cold-smoke cheese!
The preparation involved in smoking food has hardly been adapted over the space of an entire millennium: the basics stay the same. You begin by brining the meat for a few hours, so it picks up all those flavour-enhancing salts, and then you dry it before chucking it on the smoker.
If you think you can’t afford to buy a fancy smoker, don’t worry, you can do it at home easily; all you need is a wok, a rack, and some kitchen foil.
For the smoking material, standard wood chips work just fine, or tea leaves, herbs, spices, sugars, fruits, vegetables, and rice. Combine these for a subtle smoke fragrance. And don’t forget to switch off the smoke alarm or open some windows first!
Line wok with foil
Add smoking ingredients and cook until they smoke
Balance rack above them
Lay on food
Cover with foil and lightly close
For a hot, oven-like smoker, leave the hob on for the entire time. For cooler temperatures, heat for 1 minute every 10 minutes
Unfortunately the wok method may need extra cooking at the end in an oven or grill, but this is an easy, do it at home smoke-infusion method that anyone can try
For those that just want a quick way to add a little smoky flavour to their dishes, smoked spices are rising in popularity.