Sunday, 9 March 2014

Experiments in Smoking Part 2

A few weeks ago Mr. Smokerson came out of hibernation for a day; a day of cold smoking experiments. I have previously tried cold smoked cheese, which was delicious; and have been wondering what I could turn to next. I tried some salmon which was less successful. Pretty much all of the different meats I have smoked have been good, but I am keen to branch out. I’m still a total novice and generally just bung in a big bit of meat, some wood chips and hope for the best. There is yet to be any proper science applied to my experiments, but I will continue and hopefully the whys and wherefores will present themselves in time.

Back to cold smoking day... Butter was my first thought; smoked butter must be a good thing? So I decided to smoke the cream and make my own butter, just to make it a bit more interesting; in order for the flavour to run right through, rather than just smoking the outside of a block of butter. Then I thought eggs, and finally ricotta. Mr Smokerson has a couple of shelves inside so there is room to have a few different things going on at once.

Smoked eggs, it seemed like a good idea? They were the most complicated task, I wasn’t sure whether to cook them, shell them, keep them raw, or how long to smoke them for. I did a bit of investigating and there were a lot of different ideas on timing, anything from 20 minutes to 4 hours. I tried them cooked in the end, boiled for 7.5 minutes, a couple shelled and one with its shell still on. You can smoke them raw apparently as the smoke will permeate the shell, but requires a longer smoke. I was still confident that a smoked egg was going to be a wonderful thing, I like eggs, I like smoked stuff. Winner? I read about smoked egg salad, I dreamt up a smoked scotch egg, how could that be bad?

So I was all set, with a bowl of cream, ricotta on a plate and eggs a few ways. I have a little metal mesh tray thing for cold smoking that winds round and round like a maze. You fill it with sawdust, I think mine is oak, it came with my smoker. Then you light a tea light, pop it in at one end, wait until the wood begins to smoulder then take the candle out. The wood dust then burns round the maze very slowly, allowing you to smoke things for long amounts of time.

It is interesting how the smoke affects things differently. After an hour the taste and smell of smoke in the cream was incredibly strong; the ricotta seemed just perfect, a very light smoky taste; and one of the pre shelled eggs had a very mild smoke to it, hardly noticeable at all. So I returned the other two for another hour, there was no way the smoke would have got through the shell of the egg if it has barely affected the shelled one.

I have to say I didn’t really enjoy the egg in the end, and I’m yet to make the Scotch egg version, because every time I think about it, I think ‘I don’t want to eat another egg that tastes of smoke’. It was a bit like you’d had a house fire, gone back the next day and eaten the cold smoky boiled eggs you had left behind... Doesn’t sound that appealing does it?

The ricotta was lovely, mild smoky and creamy. I made some polenta, with fried mushrooms and rosemary, with a dollop of ricotta on top. I think it would be delicious on top of a simple tomato pasta too. I had something similar in Italy in the summer, which was a rich tomato orecchiette pasta topped with aged ricotta, which was so strong and delicious.

The butter is good, very smoky, very. I wasn’t sure what to do with it though. When you taste a bit on its own it is lovely, when you have a bit on bread it seems almost like you’re eating smoked cheese rather than butter. Perhaps it would work on top of a steak? Or to make a white sauce for a fish pie, that seems like a good idea... or wrapped up with corn on the cob to go on the bbq? It’s definitely a niche market however! And a few weeks later I’m not thinking, I wish I had some more of that smoked butter, so it’s likely it won’t material again for a bit...

I think I’m so used to smoking and eating meat that smoked things that aren’t meat end up seeming a bit odd. Why would you want your egg to taste of smoke I ended up asking myself? Which I guess means it probably shouldn’t. So a tick for ricotta, a project to find a use for the butter, and possibly give the eggs a miss next time round...

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Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x