Smoke’s flavor burns hot as one of 2014’s top food trends.
By Mary Brown Malouf, Photos by Adam Finkle
No wonder the flavor of fire was named one of the top food trends of the year. Americans are eating more smoked seafood and meat than ever. They’re also eating smoked corn, smoked cauliflower, smoked chocolate gelato. They’re sipping smoked vodka and, yes, even smoked water. Weird. How about smoked ice cubes? Forbes reports that Ian Tulk, lead bartender at Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colo., “puts ice cubes in the kitchen’s meat smokers; after the cubes melt, he pours the water back into ice cube trays and freezes them.” Tempted to take up smoking? We’re here to help you get started.
It was one of those wedding gifts.
Between us, we had accumulated three ex-spouses and had set up households in five different states before we settled together in a small house in Salt Lake City. In short, we had amassed more small appliances—blenders, toasters, juicers, salad spinners, mandolin slicers, hydraulic cork extractors, wine snorkels—than we could use and had no space to store them.
And this Cameron smoker, a gift from a foodie friend, seemed like just another kitchen gadget—that year’s bread mixer, pasta machine or panini maker. So, the smoker stayed shiny and untouched in its box, next to a forlorn earth-toned crock pot, for two years. Then one day, as we loaded it in the car with the other detritus of life destined for Deseret Industries, my unreconstructed packrat of a husband said, “Look, it even comes with wood chips! Let’s at least try it once before we dump it.”
So we bought a piece of salmon and followed the instructions, sealing it in the pan and placing it over low heat on our gas stove, just to see. Takeout Chinese was always an option.
Fifteen minutes later, we considered ourselves smoking geniuses. The fish was moist and rosy, just tinged with the taste of the alderwood. We added a tiny squeeze of lemon.
And the house was not, as we had feared, filled with choking fumes.
We’re chain smokers now.
Traditionally, the art of smoking was limited to trained professionals because of the size of the equipment and the overpowering odor of smoke that accompanied the process, but modern tools put smoking within reach of home cooks.
A stove-top smoker is a more authentic way to get that irresistible aroma. About the size of a brownie pan, the smoker has a rack, a perforated pan and a sealable top, as well as assorted wood chips.
The battery-operated smoking gun allows you to smoke virtually everything. Load it with your combustible of choice, point and shoot cool smoke flavor into anything. Because it’s cool, you can smoke anything from salad to meringue. If you want to.
Liquid Smoke, that ‘50s favorite, is actually made from real smoke. Who knew? The smoke from wood chips is condensed into solids or liquids, then dissolved in water by a process called destructive distillation.
Into the Woods
Woods from fruit- or nut-bearing wood are generally good for smoking, however, avoid woods with too much resin or sap. Mesquite smoke is strong and can overwhelm more delicate foods if you use too much.
- Cherry and Apple: Slightly sweet and fruity; mild, so good for poultry and ham
- Hickory: Popular and pungent, so use it on heavy beef
- Oak: A strong but not especially pungent smoke; good for beef
- Alder: Is great with fish, especially salmon
- Maple: A lighter, sweeter hardwood good with pork
- Pecan: Use on large cuts of meat.
Tip: Spice up your smoke by adding one or more of these ingredients to flavor your wood: tea, fresh orange or grapefruit peel, jasmine rice, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise pods and rosemary branches.
Here in Utah, all the buzz is about Viet Pham’s new restaurant in Park City, Ember & Ash. Back in September, Pham’s foodie friends received a photo on Facebook: “a sea of mussels smoking gently over blue spruce.” Wow. The very idea makes one’s mouth water.
“I think it’s a primal thing,” Pham says. “The smell of smoke is the essence of cooked food, part of the basic human relationship between humans and food.”
That said, Pham offers some cautions to would-be smokers: “Less is more. Smoke is a strong aroma and can easily overpower other flavors. It’s best when used subtly–an elusive hint of smoke is often best.”
Get It Here
Even if you don’t have time to smoke your own, there are lots of products you can purchase that will add that inimitable flavor and fragrance to your food.
- San Simon smoked cow’s milk cheese from Spain, available at Caputo’s, is just one (though one of the best) of the many smoked cheeses. Others include smoked Gouda, smoked mozzarella, smoked Cheddar, Bruder Basil, Rogue Creamery Smoked Blue Cheese and local Apple Walnut Smoked Beehive Cheddar.
- Smoked shellfish—oysters, clams and mussels—are available at gourmet markets like Liberty Heights Fresh.
- Coarse or sea salt smoked over wood is a great way to add a final fillip of flavor. Several local stores carry smoked salts, including Harmons.
- Chipotles are just smoked jalapeno peppers. A teaspoon or more of them, chopped, adds extra flavor to baked goods, meats, salads, casseroles and just about anything.
Smoke in the City
Chefs around town are firing up their menus, using smoke to pump up the flavor in many of their traditional dishes.
Gnocchi with smoked tomato nage from Pago.
- House Smoked Rainbow Trout — Tin Angel’s kitchen guru Jerry Liedtke uses a Little Chief aluminum box electric smoker loaded with a mix of apple and hickory to smoke Utah trout, which he brines first. 365 W. 400 South, SLC, 801-328-4155
- Smoked Meatloaf — Pat’s BBQ smokes meatloaf, along with more traditional brisket, pork and ribs, transforming every mom’s favorite dish into a beer-worthy feast. 155 W. Commonwealth Ave., SLC, 801-484-5963
- Smoked Tomato Nage — Pago Chef Phelix Gardner smokes trays of ripe tomatoes, then makes a nage for poaching gnocchi which he serves in the liquid, thickened lightly with cream. 878 S. 900 East, SLC, 801-532-0777
- House Smoked Salmon — Smoked salmon is a standby, but the house-smoked salmon at Caffe Niche is different because it’s hot-smoked in-house, so it cooks while it smokes and comes out moist and flaky. 779 E. Broadway, SLC, 801-433-3380