Smoking has slowly taken over from traditional barbecuing is now something of a trend. This is back to basics barbecuing but brought thoroughly up to date. Forget the charcoal briquettes; were talking oak, maple, or cedar chippings, hickory, tea, rice or anything really that will produce an interesting taste and aroma. Things have clearly moved on from a good old-fashioned camp fire although that too has seen a recent resurgence; probably dictated by our modern desire to get back to basics ( its no surprise that foraging and wild cooking are very popular now..food for free that evokes childhood memories of camping in the woods is always good).
It seems that nothing is immune from the smoke treatment; and really, I mean nothing.
There are two ways to smoke food; hot and cold. Hot is by far the quickest and simplest. Cold smoking is a complicated process and generally requires time and proper equipment. I say this but my other half attempted to build a cold smoker out of an old metal ballot box once. It kind of worked, but the fish ended up a little too smoky. I guess it just takes a bit of practise and experimentation and if you don’t mind some wastage (in my other half’s case he’d been out fishing and caught 70 mackerel…this is before they were OFF the sustainable list you understand…and they wouldn’t all fit in the freezer, so he had a go at smoking them).
I’ve hot smoked a fair bit using a small Cameron’s stove top smoker, mostly chicken, wild salmon, mackerel, trout, a variety of vegetables, garlic and mussels. They are also incredibly easy to rig up using a wok with a rack in it. Basically you line a wok with foil, put in your smoking ingredients (chippings, tea or other flavourings), then use a wire rack or tray that fits neatly inside the wok but doesn’t touch the base. Cover with a tight lid or foil to cover the top. Fish usually takes about 20 mins to cook through, chicken longer. Basically its an experiment.
Anyway, these days smoking has moved way beyond bacon, mackerel and haddock (although these are good). I’ve also tried smoked salt, cheese, butter, paprika, mushrooms and duck. Now I hear smoked beer and smoked vodka are on the market, while cookery programme contestants are coming up with smoked yogurt and chocolate! What next I hear you say?….well what next is SMOKED WATER.
The product, hailed as THE culinary sensation of the year since Heston jumped on the smoked water bandwagon, but I’ve been aware of it since its launched last year at the Abergavenny food festival. This unlikely product, made by none other than our very own Halen Mon salt who are just a few miles up the road from me, has taken off and orders are pouring in, but its taken me this long to get round to trying it..
This week I nipped over to visit them and picked up a few sachets while I was there. I was a wee bit nervous and sceptical at first. Some smoked products are quite overpowering and at first sniff the smoky aroma seemed quite intense. The instructions on the packet suggest that it is best used in stocks, for marinading, in risotto and Heston uses it to give seafood and potatoes a smoky taste, but it doesn’t suggest the amount to use so I proceeded cautiously. I first tried it out by adding it to a pan of hot water to blanch asparagus. I only used a third of a sachet, just to see how intense the flavour would be, but the outcome was pleasing. The very mild smoky hint didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the young fresh asparagus and turned out just right.
I got a bit braver so I decided to try it in a traditional udon noodle dish, using Schichimi Togarashi ( or Japanese seven spice), lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chilli and coriander. Again I used about a third of a sachet to see if it tasted stronger in a soup base. It did, but still not overpowering. The combination of spice, smoke and fish was delicious and proclaimed a winner…although not by the teen who said it was too fishy.
Udon noodles with a smoky spicy broth (enough for 3 to 4):
1 stick lemon grass finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
a thumb of ginger peeled and grated
half to one teaspoon schichimi spice
a quarter of a sachet of Halen Mon smoked water
1 dessertspoonful of vegetable oil
a quarter of a teaspoon shrimp paste (optional…it has a very intensely fishy taste and aroma)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (the pale coloured Blue Dragon brand is best)
1 litre and a half of good vegetable stock
2 to 3 small packs of Udon noodles
1 medium or 2 small pak choy finely shredded
2 handfuls of bean sprouts
half a small tin of bamboo shoots (optional)
half a small leek finely shredded
4 medium spring onions finely chopped
1 red chilli finely chopped
a good handful of chopped coriander
a squeeze of lime juice to finish
Heat the oil in a wok and add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and stir fry for no more than 30 seconds. Add the schichimi spice, smoked water and stock and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer.
Dd the noodles to the broth and cook according the instructions on the packet (probably 3 to 4 minutes if they are fresh noodles).
In a bowl put a smile pile of bean sprouts, pak choy, leek and bamboo shoots (as in he picture below)
Once cooked and piping hot, pile the noodles on top of the vegetables and then pour over the stock. Finish with a good sprinkle of spring onion, chilli and coriander and serve with some crispy sesame fish (recipe to follow) although it works just as well with some cooked chicken, or as a healthy fresh tasting bowl of noodles.