01 January 2017
3x smoking: smoked carpaccio, tub garnard and star apples
Using the Big Green Egg adds a specific flavour to each dish or ingredient. If you’re thinking of adding extra flavour, why not try smoking your dishes in the Big Green Egg? Apart from smoking fish, you could also smoke meat and fruit. In this special, Big Green Egg expert Ralph de Kok explains the technique of smoking food in detail and shares three of his smoked dishes.
Smoking, a flavour-enhancing preservation technique
At one time, smoking arose as a necessity. In the past, it was a way to keep insects and other animals at bay and it also had a preserving effect. Originally, it was never intended as a flavour-enhancer, although it did add a delicious flavour to the food.
Despite all the modern conveniences currently at our disposal, smoking is still used as a cooking or preservation technique. However, the smoking is now mostly used to add delicious flavours to certain products.
The type of wood used for the smoking process makes all the difference. It is, after all, the smell of the wood that is released during the smoking process that gives ingredients and dishes this unique flavour. Some types give soft, subtle or even sweet aromas and flavours, while others ensure a more robust smoky flavour.
Apple and cherry, for instance, are mild types, where apple provides a natural sweetness and cherry a light fruity aroma. Although pecan gives products and dishes a bit more ‘oomph,’ it is also slightly sweet. Walnut, on the other hand, ensures a fairly concentrated smoky flavour.
If you are planning to smoke fish, do take into account that fish varieties such as salmon and mackerel already have quite a distinctive taste. Pecan would suit them quite well. White fish, however, has a far more subtle taste and to not overpower it with a smoky flavour, it would be better to use a more ‘milder’ type of wood, such as apple.
In addition to the different wood types, it is also possible to use hay or pine branches to create a spectacular flavour sensation.
Hot and cold smoking
There are various ways of smoking foods. The most commonly known and often used methods are hot and cold smoking using Wood Chips.
Cold smoking normally means that the ingredient is smoked for a longer period of time at a temperature of up to 28°C.
The Big Green Egg is perfect for hot smoking and it has become a very popular technique. In the case of hot smoking, the most common temperature is between 65 and 90°C, which means that the food isn’t only smoked, but also cooked. As there are always exceptions to the rule, hot smoking can also be done at temperatures above 90°C, depending on how much they wish the product to be cooked.
Both the smoking and the cooking process have a preserving effect. Smoke will extract moisture from the product (moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria) and will leave a film-like layer that provides protection against penetrating bacteria. The temperature ensures that the product is cooked and that the bacteria are destroyed.
Smoking on a plank
Smoking on a cedar smoking plank is very popular; it involves smoking the product or dish on a plank, meaning that the food is always heated indirectly. The plank itself is placed directly above the glowing charcoal. The wood will start to smoulder, releasing a subtle smoke aroma that is absorbed by the product or dish.
Smoking on a plank requires a high temperature, approximately between 175 and 225°C, because the plank will not start smoking at lower temperatures. And while this takes place, the product or dish is being cooked.
One of the most commonly known smoking recipes using a plank is salmon on cedar wood. It is a tried and tested method to achieve a great flavour combination. But those that give their fantasy free reign will soon discover that smoking on a plank has much more to offer than just that. For example, I used this cedar wood plank to create a delicious dessert by stuffing apples and smoking them on the plank.
Soaking it in brine or not?
Where meat and fish are concerned, the process of smoking often starts with soaking the product in brine. How essential is this though and what exactly does it do?
Using a brine does several things; it can have a preserving effect, it can strengthen the natural flavour of the product and it affects the colour and structure of the fish or meat.
For preservation purposes, the salt must be applied by rubbing it into the product (often in combination with sugar) or to use a wet salt solution of, at least, 156 grams of salt to 1 litre of water. The high salt content extracts the moisture from the product, which is fatal to bacteria.
When smoking cold, you must extend this treatment for at least 24 hours, as smoking at low temperatures is not bactericidal. Furthermore, it would be better to use nitrite brine salt instead of regular salt here.
When hot smoking, it is not necessary to soak the product in brine, provided the smoking process is carried out at a temperature of 65°C or higher.
You can always apply a dry brine, or if a wet brine is preferred, you can stick to a salt percentage of between 50 and 100 grams per litre of water, provided it is for the purpose of hot smoking. This will guarantee the previously named advantages such as flavour, colour and the (positive) influence on the structure of the meat.
You could opt to add additional aromatic flavours, such as spices, and the process of osmosis will ensure the penetration of these flavours into the product.
The strength of the Big Green Egg
Smoking in the Big Green Egg has one big advantage over other appliances: thanks to the ceramic used in its construction, the Big Green Egg optimally retains the moisture and juices of the ingredient or dish.
Contrary to steel cooking appliances, such as water smokers, there is no need to place a container of water in the Big Green Egg to prevent the product from drying out. The presence of water often results in hot steam, which could cause the proteins on the outside of certain products to set, which is not a particularly desirable situation in most cases. In addition, the ceramics ensure that it is possible to cook at a very constant temperature, despite any adverse weather conditions!
Do you want to try smoking on the Big Green Egg? Give these 3 recipes a try!