Yeah, you read right. This month’s challenge was smoking. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when the challenge was first announced, because I was. Smoking + apartment did not sound like a friendly match to me. I had two images in my head of the smoking process: 1) Papa Wilder from Little House on the Prairie when he fills the dead tree with wood and hangs the meat inside of it to smoke (which Ruhlman references) and 2)the big old smokers used in BBQ competitions. Neither of them are really apartment safe, if you know what I mean.
Then Mrs.Wheelbarrow posted a link to this NYTimes Mag video of how to make an indoor smoker. My mind? Blown. I struggled for about half a second about whether to buy either a wok or an indoor smoker and the wok won out– it’ll get more use. Sure, there will be lots of foil involved and yeah, I’ll probably smoke meat more often than I think I will, but there’s no room in this apartment for a unitasker like the smoker. Wok it is!
And then, dear friends, came the decision for wood chips. Because smoking is just that easy: enclosed container+ wood chips +meat+ fire– Voila! I went with the Cameron 4 pack sampler on Amazon because it offered both hard and fruit woods…and I got free shipping. the hardest decision was what type of wood to use for each protein! I went with Alder for the salmon since that seems to be the traditional wood. But for the bacon I was stumped. I’d done a sweet rub for the meat so it seemed logical to do maple, but that didn’t come in my pack so I had to decide between Hickory (stronger, more savory) and Cherry (lighter, frutier). The decision was so hard I almost did them both since I had two pieces of belly to work with, but I wanted to roast one of the bellies so that wasn’t an option. I decided to go with hickory because, well, why not.
Oh my god, guys. While the roasted bacon was delicious and unlike any bacon I’d had, the smoked stuff was out of this world. I had cracklins (yay!) and just…salty, bacon awesome. I didn’t add much other than the basic cure to the meat and it turned out just so layered with flavor. The hickory was a really great choice since I did have a little bit of brown sugar in the original cure. I would like to try cherry next time just to see how the more sublte flavor would work. But wow. WOW. Made for Epic eggs and bacon. And just eating whenever.
The pork loin for Canandian bacon went similarly. It took a couple hours to cook (3ish?) and I went with hickory again, but I think next time I’d want to do a lighter smoke. I haven’t done much with it yet other than just eat pieces during breaks from writing my thesis (gah). But we have plans.
And then the salmon. Because I got carried away with this challenge. Just a bit. The salmon turned out really well. I definitely wish I had a way to cold smoke, but hot smoked salmon is also really delicious. As a born west-coaster, though not PNW-er, I’m about equally familiar with hot and cold smoked salmon. Such different textures and tastes. The salmon took all of about 15 minutes to smoke. I had some right after I made it just by itself. So good. And then I paired it with some delicious greens from the farmer’s market for a few lunches. Local, delicious and healthy! Far and away the healthiest meals I had during the thesis-writing jag.
If you do decide to pick up a smoker, or make one like I did, definitely consult a recipe on how to prepare the protein. I can definitely see this not going well if one just throws an unprepared piece of meat in the smoker and that would be so very sad. Smoking meat is a very distinctly flavor profile and one, again, I never thought I’d be able to find at home. I feel like a broken record saying this each month, but this process is really making me rethink what is possible in a home kitchen and realize how much say we give to other people about what goes into our own bodies .
And if you don’t believe how good this stuff is? It’s steal worthy.
What next? Well, we’re going to make eggs benedict soon so check back for that! And I definitely want to make some tea-smoked duck. A monster has been created. A delicious, delicious Smoke Monster*.
*I think I get +10 for the Lost reference, no?