Clare Teale: Smoke signals a whole new world of flavours at home

Muddy and I were thrilled when Rosie gave us a home smoking kit, but much as I have admired its smart shiny appearance I have felt quite intimidated about actually using it. So for the last 12 months it has sat on a shelf next to various tubs of assorted wood chips.

Not wishing to seem ungrateful and as Rosie was coming to stay, last Friday presented the perfect opportunity to visit the big smoke. A home smoker is basically an oblong metal box with handles and a removable lid and embarrassingly couldn’t be easier to use. Simply choose what you want to smoke, select the appropriate wood chips, assemble a heaped tablespoon of said chips in a little pile at the centre of the smoker, place the drip tray atop, then sit the cooking rack holding your chosen morsels on top, close the lid, then put the whole thing on the stove or barbecue till the food is sufficiently smoked, cooked or both. Why did we wait a year to try it? Our first experiment involved a big piece of salmon sprinkled with pepper and lemon juice – interestingly no salt – then smoked for 25 mins. We used Alder chips which are apparently, “the chef’s smoke of choice” for salmon and famous in the Pacific Northwest. My friends – it was absolutely stunning! Not at all overpowering and super moist.

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While the salmon had been cooking, Rosie who has a natural cooking ability, unlike the author, pricked a couple of aubergines and placed them alongside the smoker directly on the barbecue. I think they only took about 15 mins to cook through giving off a lovely caramel-y whiff, she then peeled and mashed them adding fresh garlic, lemon juice, salt, oil and chopped parsley, we ate this with toasted pitta, whilst waiting for the potatoes to boil.

Just as we were about to tuck in to the main event, we placed four bulbs of garlic in the newly washed smoker, this time using hickory chips. The bulbs had had their tops sliced off and were salted and oiled and happily sitting in little foil parcels, on they went for an hour. You can store these fellas in a jar for up to a month to use whenever you fancy a more intense flavour.

So there you have it smoking – in this instance – is good for you.