Saturday, January 1, 2011

Smoking- tasty, cheap and portable, for preparing your wild foods.

Smoking- tasty, cheap and portable, for preparing your wild foods.

Using a smoking box is a portable, tasty and fun way to cook a range of foods. All you simply need is a smoker, some sawdust, or dried mauanua/kanuka foliage, fish, salt and brown sugar for seasoning. Some paper towels also come in handy.
Ideally use a gas cooker, which is economical alternative to methylated spirits (although if optimising portability is a must, then “meths” is best.) Also by using gas you can control the intensity at are which you smoke the fish. Very oily fish are best smoked quickly at a high temperature and less oily, or more delicately flavoured fish (such as rainbow trout and salmon), smoked at a lower temperature for a longer time.

It is best to dry out the fish by wiping them dry with a paper towel and hanging, or placing in fridge with a light covering of salt and wiping off moisture after several hours. If the fish is too moist then it will steam, as much as it will smoke, and produces a less intense flavour. The dehydration process concentrates the flavour. The fish is split down the backbone, cutting through the bones of the rib cage, and with its skin and scales still on placed lying skin down on the metal grill plate. Having the scales on will help the flesh from burning during the smoking process. Also place a small amount of cooking oil in the wire grid to stop the fish’s skin stinking to it and to produce an eye pleasing glazed effect. By placing some brown sugar, which will caramelise, your will have a golden glaze over the flesh also. For many species the skin will turn a golden colour, which along with the enhanced smoky taste, makes a dish, which is very appealing to the senses. With a moderate heat on a gas cooker, an average sized fish is often smoked within 15 to 20 minutes.

Trout is a great fish to hot smoke as is freshwater eels, as both have high oil contents.
Of the sea fish snapper, jack mackerel, kahawai, tarakihi and blue moki are my favourites. Also some fish such as wrasse (or parrotfish) are at their best for eating when smoked, and at a pinch large spotties aren’t too bad in the smoker either! Just take care to be aware of the small bones. Fish with flaky white flesh and low oil contents such as blue cod can also be smoked at a lower heat. You can also smoke mussels. But they are best steamed first in a pot and then left to dry and then lightly smoked for only a few minutes. Otherwise the excess moisture just simply steams the mussels and will also make a mess of your smoker.

Other than fish- chicken, rabbit and red meats can be smoked. Smoked vegetables such as pumpkin and kumara are also very nice. You can cook your vegetables first and then dry off, and then just smoke for a short amount of time to add that aromatic smoky flavour. Mushrooms also smoke up well. A favourite of mine is Portobello mushrooms stuffed with a mixed of fish slices, spinach and blue cheese, and lightly smoked with a seasoning of cracked pepper.

Use stones to set up a smoking platform at home. It is important to have your smoker set up in a sheltered location, and often a fish bin or a similar object will do the trick. Manuka and kanuka are the most popular woods to use. You can also use rosemary, thyme, and other woody herbs, or vines. Try to avoid using too much wood or sawdust in the smoker as excess amounts, of resin in the wood, result in the fish (or meat) tasting bitter. It is best to avoid highly resinous woods such as pine and eucalyptus, as these woods produce a bitter taste. Use horopito (native pepper plant) to add a little “indigenous heat” to your smoking attempt. Indeed the dried branches of horopito with infuse an exciting, tangy chilli flavour. If using horopito leaves then use in moderation.