Smoked shrimp linguini, anyone? How about smoked trout and greens salad, smoked oyster salsa, smoked Chinese chicken salad, smoked wild duck pate? Everything, but everything, seems to go with anything smoked these days.
Since prehistoric times and up to the days of the discovery of refrigeration, smoking food was relied upon as a preserving technique for meats and fish. Because of the distinctive smoked flavor it imparts, it has remained as a stable food preparation method. It's classic--some foods like smoked salmon, bacon and ham, just taste good--or better--smoked. While smoking, an exotic woodsy flavor is effected from the chemical components in the vapors that are released from burning hard wood. As smoke circulates around the food, these natural chemicals, which can also destroy bacteria, yeast and mold, are absorbed into the moisture of the food.
A smoker can be as elaborate as a customized masonry edifice, an electric model, an old-fashioned smokehouse, or as crude as a gridwork of branch sticks over a campfire. Smoking enthusiasts like game hunters have been known to be successful, however, with makeshift smokers that are framed from cardboard boxes, chests, old ice boxes, metal drums or garbage cans.
A relatively recent method that is simple to do at home is smoke cooking or steaming. It requires far less time than age-old customs of cold smoking, which needed lengthy heating periods at low temperatures, usually below 120 degrees. A convenient form of smoke cooking is the new Camerons Stainless Steel Smoker Cooker ($45) from C. M. International, Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo. "We've gotten a lot of interest from our test market a year ago and since we introduced it in October," said Anne Malone, owner/president of the company; "This no-mess, no-fuss cooker is really something for the meal of today, you can get a delicate smoke taste in the food with no salt, no fat and no water, as the food steams itself and comes out very moist."
Much larger than an older similar design introduced a few years back, the smoker set resembles a large rectangular baking pan with a handle and a flat lid. It can be placed directly on the rack of a charcoal, gas or electric barbecue or used indoors over any electric or gas stove.
There are four parts to the smoker unit: a tight-fitting flat lid, a smoke-cooking 15x11x3-inch pan, a food rack and a drip tray. A two-pronged handle is uniquely designed to fold back to the sides of the pan to save space in storing and packing. The set comes with small samples of smoke dust made from woods of mesquite, oak, maple and hickory. A four-ounce bag is available through the dealer for $2.95, and this will last for about 40 smoking sessions, Malone said.
Here is how the Camerons smoker cooker works:
Depending on taste, about two teaspoons of smoke dust is sprinkled evenly on the bottom of the pan. The drip tray is set on top of the smoke dust and then topped with the rack. The food is arranged on the rack, leaving small spaces for each piece for smoke to circulate freely.
Combination of Foods
Actually a combination of foods can be used, Malone said; "You can put chicken and fish together without affecting each other's taste." The lid is slid into the closed position and the pan is then placed on the heat source. The temperature should not exceed medium on the burner or over coals. Recommended cooking times for most meats, poultry and game is 10 minutes for every 6 ounces and slightly less then that for fish. For instance, if the total mass of food is 30 ounces, then cook and smoke for 50 minutes.
One great thing about the drip tray is that it can smoke and flavor vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, onions or sweet peppers. "Smoked mushrooms are super," Malone said, "juices will drip down so that any vegetable will catch these tasty meat juices while steaming." Because of the limited height of the covered compartment, large fish may have to be filleted, birds halved, chops or steaks should be sliced not more than 1 inch thick and cheeses should be trimmed or cut into blocks weighing no more than 4 ounces each.
Although a tender, steamed texture will result, some people may want crisp or browned smoked food. Malone suggests taking the food out of the smoker and finishing cooking it in the oven or broiler.
Cameron's aromatic woods come directly from a mill. Malone suggests experimenting with woods to taste. "Mesquite can be used for almost everything, hickory is strong and may be used for cheese or meats, while delicate oak or maple is great for fish or chicken," she said. Most hardwoods work, but avoid using painted or treated timber. Softwoods should never be used for any smoker because they produce strong flavors and resin that taints the food. Examples of softwoods are cedar, cypress, fir, spruce, pine, hemlock and tamarack.