Open your eyes to the new world of smoked meats
Smoked meat, huh?
On the night before travelling on the sleek 310K-an-hour AVE train from Madrid to Cadiz, we stayed in an unpretentious little hotel a couple of blocks from the sprawling Atocha station. Like most areas around railway stations, it was a bit unkempt, but friendly enough for a walk in the dark in search of a coffee.
We found coffee and sipped it with a tableful of tapas, shared with a couple of señoras de la calle, who stopped in for a break. But the best part of the walk was not all of this, but the discovery of one of Madrid’s Museos del Jamón. Yep, museums full of musty, smoked ham. No Goyas, Dalís or El Grecos in this museum. Just walls, countertops and showcases loaded deep with beautiful smoked hams from all over Spain. What a sight, and in due course, what delicious tastes.
Some of the hams at the Museo del Jamón were as black as night. The most expensive was jamón ibérico de bellota, a luxury of taste from a free-range black pig that dines on nothing but acorns and herbs as it leads a free-range life in forests of oak. Then, as I discovered, it is slaughtered and the meat is cured with smoke and love for three years, sometimes four. It’s worth the 10 or so euros for 100 grams.
We had some, of course. And so did the mangy, half-starved hound outside the door. My sympathetic partner begged for some scraps and got them and the appreciative dog wagged his Spanish tail as we wandered back to the hotel.
Spain salutes smoked meat with museums in recognition of an industry. But notwithstanding the hams of Spain, the juicy smoked brisket sandwiches of the great delis in Montreal, and elsewhere, are right up there as iconic items of Canadian taste. Sit down to a large-plate seasoned, marinated, smoked sandwich at Schwartz’s on Saint-Laurent and you’re hooked forever. And maybe you’ll be prompted to walk a labyrinth of brands and prices to purchase a smoker of your own.
It was a long, long time ago that smoked meat first became part of mankind’s yummy diet. Research is scarce, but my guess would be that in one distant wildfire some poor critter — pig or other — lost its life and in embers that could have glowed for days, the leftovers were smoke-cured. And not only were they partly eaten and enjoyed at that stage, but the remainders were lugged back to the cave and because the smoke had preserved the flesh, it lasted to be enjoyed again and again in the season ahead.
Over time, clever evolutionaries didn’t wait for wildfires. As the First Nations people do with salmon, they threaded raw flesh onto sharpened canes and set them over smoking pits. In time, the flesh was dehydrated and smoke-cooked. And by doing so, it was preserved.
Eventually smoke ovens came along. The flesh of all kinds — fish, birds and beasts — were smoked, sometimes for days. The chips of exotic flora — hickory among them — were added to enrich the flavour. Scoured intestines were stuffed with ground meat to make sausages and these too were smoked. The world had all kinds of great tastes that today are hot. Indian candy? What a treat. Beef jerky? Of course. Alaska Black Cod? Even smoked vegetables for vegetarians and vegans.
This is where we find — on Vancouver’s always-exciting Granville Island, a loosely defined patch of previous and current industrial land in the middle of everything — the fifth-generation sausage stuffer John van der Lieck, who holds sway and wins fans exponentially at his Oyama Sausage Company. Only John knows the number for sure, but about 15 per cent of his deliciously tempting array is smoked in a smokehouse in the south end of the city.
John is a guy who speaks with passion about food simplicity and flavour, reflected always in the sausages and other meats that he sells and which he has sold at the market for 14 years. Of course he has supermarket needs from time to time, but clearly indicates that the whole food retailing industry has shelf-lifed and artificially coloured and flavoured itself to death. Give him stumps of hardwood alder and maple, some well-chosen meats and seasonings that matter and he’ll turn you out chorizo to die for.
And more about simplicity? He told of a dinner he made that was duck confit, served with red cabbage liberally dabbed with butter.
“Know what people talked about later? The cabbage. That’s the kind of thinking that goes into a smoky, or any other Oyama sausage.”
Smoking is for just about all creatures. I’ve smoked rainbow trout in BC’s Cariboo in a home-fashioned oven loaned by a fellow fisher. What a treat to enjoy rainbows a season later.
Check the web and you’ll find all kinds of smokers, some big enough for a Christmas turkey and more. Prices are all over the map. A foodie friend has an Emson smoker the size of a pressure cooker and uses it often in his Kitsilano apartment. Bradley is a name big in the smoker business. Smokers are at all of the big name stores. You’ll be entering a whole new world, which is not for the impatient or the faint of heart, so good luck.
montreal smoked meat
This recipe is attributed to Chef Paul Shufelt who writes that it will require some skill, special equipment and ingredients, and a lot of patience. You can find more at chefpaulshufelt.com
1 brisket (3 to 5 lbs)
4 l water
180 g kosher salt
60 g curing salt #1
60 g dextrose
75 g pickling spice
30 g Montreal steak spice
rub for smoking
45 g pickling spice
30 g Montreal steak spice
for putting it all together
Fresh rye bread (the more it smells like coriander the better!)
Mustard (yellow, Dijon, hot; use your favourite)
Combine the water and spices, stir to combine. Rinse brisket off to remove any and all blood.
Place brisket in brine, fat side down (if cooking more than one brisket, go meat against meat and fat against fat). Pour the brine over the brisket and ensure it is fully submerged.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge, for up to 60 hours, but 48 should suffice. Once brined, remove from liquid, pat dry. Rub with spice mix.
Fire up the smoker and get a good smoke going. Place the meat and smoke for 2 hours, feeding the chips as necessary. Remove from the smoker and place in a pan with 2 cups of water.
Cover with aluminium foil and place in a 250˚F oven for 3 hours. Remove from the oven, allow to rest 5 minutes, slice, pile high on rye bread and enjoy!
This recipe, gleaned from Food.com presumes that you have a smoker. And of several recipes, it appears to be the simplest for you to make not exactly candy, but smoked and sweet salmon bits that are chewy and delicious.
1 cup pickling salt
2 l water
2 cups dark row sugar
1 cup maple syrup
Salmon, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch strips
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
Mix together the water, salt, sugar and syrup, and stir until all ingredients are dissolved. Add salmon and brine for 24 hours.
Remove fish and smoke anywhere from 8 hours to 1 1/2 days, depending on your smoker. Use the 3/4 cup honey mixed with the 1/4 cup water for basting.
Don’t over smoke or you’re going to have jerky. Apple and cherry woods are great for this recipe.
smoked alaskan black cod with hoisin and ginger sauces
You won’t be doing it yourself, but this smoked fish has a gentle buttery taste and a really melt-in-your-mouth texture. Gently steam a fillet or two, or pair it with these two distinctive tastes. It’s the best of seafood. And it’s also sustainable.
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tbsp chopped green onions
1 tbsp honey
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 1/4 tsp hot chili paste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 Alaskan black cod fillets (approx. 200g each)
A day ahead, whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Preheat oven to 450°F.
Stir hoisin and chili paste in another small bowl. Heat oil in heavy, large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.
Add cod, skin side up. Cook 2 minutes, then turn cod over. Spoon hoisin mixture over fillets, dividing equally.
Transfer to oven and bake until fish is just opaque in centre, about 5 minutes. Place one fillet in each of 4 shallow soup bowls.
Spoon ginger sauce around fish and serve with steamed rice.
maple-marinated pork tenderloin
This recipe from the Bradley smoker site presumes that you have a smoker. A different take on an old favourite.
1 pork tenderloin, silver skin and fat removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Whisk together ingredients for marinade. Place tenderloin and marinade ingredients in a freezer bag and allow to marinate overnight in the fridge.
Remove tenderloin from marinade. Smoke for 2 1/2 to 3 hours in preheated smoker at 225°F with maple bisquettes. Remove from smoker once an internal temperature of 160°F is reached.