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Cold Smoking - A quick Introduction
Cold smoking differs from hot smoking in that food remains raw rather than cooked. Food is infused with cooled wood smoke flavour, at temperature levels of no more than 20 degrees centigrade and too low to cause the food to start to cook. Most cold smoking is carried out in conjunction with curing or salting and its at this point where most people believe that it enters rather technical territory, however, curing is much easier than it at first appear and you don't necessarily need any specialist equipment. The combination of curing and smoking was originally designed to preserve and prolong the life of various foods in the days before refrigeration. However, these days, this culinary cooking art is seeing a strong resurgence for its role in intensifying and enriching flavours.
Smoked salmon, bacon, air dried and smoked hams, saucisson and chorizo are just some examples of cured and cold smoked foods. Once cured and smoked foods can be eaten 'raw' or cooked when required, eg bacon. It's only fresh meats and fish which need to be cured prior to smoking and, depending on the flavour result you are seeking, once cured, these foods don't have to be cold smoked. Cheeses, garlic, chillis, nuts, salts and oils can all be smoked without any requirement for curing.
What is Curing?
Curing is a traditional process by which fresh raw meats and fish are 'salted' to draw out excess moisture and thereby removing the moisture which would otherwise provide a breathing ground for bacteria. These days there is no imperative to salt foods in order to preserve them, however, curing has taken on a new life by imparting richer, deeper flavours into our foods for a long lost, unique taste and texture experience. There are two main curing techniques, dry curing and brining (or wet cure). Dry curing relies on a mix curing salts and sugar along wtih any herbs and spices you wish to add being rubbed directly into the flesh of the food and left in place whilst it draws out the moisture content. This can take between 12 hours and 4 or 5 days, depending on what you are curing. Fish just need an overnight cure, whilst bacon joints benefit from 3 to 4 days and larger joints of meat longer still. The moisture extracted should be poured away daily and a little more cure mix added, until the moisture loss stops.
Brining is arguably an easier method whereby a salt and sugar solution is created in which food is immersed.
A halfway house between the two techniques is to start with a dry rub and then vacuum pack your meat of fish which then cures in the liquid base created by the intial dry cure application.
Cure mix quantities are smaller than you think. The professional ready mix cure, Supraure, should be used at a rate of only 60g per kilo of meat. Some recipes recommend that large joints of meat are packed in salt and left for several weeks. This certainly works well in curing terms, but care needs to be taken to wash off the salt as carefully as possible or the end result can be just too salty.
Air drying is an essential phase in curing and smoking. After curing, the food needs to be washed well and even submerged in a sink full of water. This seems counter-intuitive having just spent a good deal of time using salt to remove moisture, however, the job of removing moisture from inside the food will have been done at this stage and a quick soak won't undo this but it will remove the salty residues which could otherwise make the end result rather inedible. After washing the food then needs to be patted dry with kitchen towel and left to dry at room temperature on a rack or hanging in a ventilated compartment so that the air can fully circulate. This drying process really helps in the success of the next stage as moisture and cold smoke are not great bedfellows. The smoke particles are attracted to moisture droplets and this can create a bitter taste as the smoke flavour does not blend with the food itself. Drying also serves a purpose in further intensifying flavours. For some foods it also allows for a pellicule to develop. This is a waxy coating on the outside of the food which helps seal the food to bacteria.
Creating Cold Smoke
Producing smoke without heat is not as easy as it sounds. The goal is for the wood product to smoulder extremely slowly and without any open flame. There are a number of pieces of kit which will achieve this - see our Cold Smoking Equipment section. Other techniques offset the heat or burning of wood products to create smoke flavour from the food compartment and then piping the smoke into the compartment. Particularly if there is an upward curve in any piping structure, the smoke will lose its heat on its journed to the food compartment. The Bradley Cold Smoking configuration is a great example of this.
HOME CURED & SMOKED BACON
* Fresh pork loin or belly pork joint (or both)
* Supracure cure mix (2kg is £7.50)
* Demerara sugar
* Mixed peppercorns, crushed
* Juniper berries, crushed
* Fresh bay leaves
* Cold smoke generator (ProQ, Smokai, Bradley equipment). Instructions below are for the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator
* Oak wood (dust, chips or bisquettes, depending on equipment used)
* Food grade plastic containers
* Food preparation gloves
Selecting Your Meat
Ideally source your meat from your local farm shop or butcher. You should be able to buy outdoor reared and even rare breed pork. If not, look for local producers who sell direct from the farm. The rare breed pork will have a thicker layer of fat than that bought in supermarkets. Don't let this put you off as 'fat is flavour'! Choose a loin joint for bacon or a belly pork joint for streaky bacon or pancetta.
You will need to cure and smoke your bacon over the course of 5 to 6 days. Day 1 to 4 is the curing process which will take about 20 minutes each day, Day 5 is the drying day, Day 6 the smoking day and you are then ready to eat or store your bacon.
Day 1 - Mix the cure
You will need to use 500g of Supracure for every 10kg of meat. A typical pork loin will weigh approximately 1 to 2 kg, so you'll need just 50g to 100g of the mix. Put this in a bowl and add 10g to 20g of demerera sugar. The sugar should be around 10% of your total mix. You can use a white sugar, but we like the caramel flavours which the raw cane sugars introduce. Crush a few peppercorns and add a few crushed juniper berries to the mixture. Chop up the bay leaves, leaving out the leaf stems, with a pair of scissors and mix this in too.
Day 1 - Apply the cure to your meat
You will need to use about one third to a half of your cure mix in the first application. Keep the other half back to use up over the next few days with new applications. Vigourously rub the cure mix into every surface of the pork joint, includng the sides. If the joint is particularly thick, pierce with a wooden skewer to help the cure mix penetrate. If you are curing two or more joints of meat at once, stack them on top of each other meat side together.
Day 1 - Store in the fridge
Place the meat in a food grade plastic container in the bottom of your fridge. Wedge under one end so the container is on a slope. This allows for any liquid which is extracted from the meat by the osmosis effects of the cure is drained off to one side and can easily be poured away.
Day 2 - Pour off excess liquid
After 24 hours, remove the bacon joints and pour off excess liquid including any sludgy cure mix. You'll notice that the meat has started to darken in colour.
Day 2 - Apply more cure mix
Sprinkle more cure mix onto your pork joints and massage into both meat and Sprinkle more cure mix onto your pork joints and massage into both meat and fat sides as before. Keep back enough cure for another one or two applications.
Day 2 - Put back in the fridge
Store in the bottom of the fridge as before with the plastic container wedged at an angle. You will find that the most liquid comes out after day 1, but continue to drain off any excess on each subsequent day.
Day 3 to Day 4 - Repeat Day 2
Repeat all steps for Day 2 on the third and fourth days. You can shorten the process by a day, but the longer you cure, the better the meat will keep and the more effective the cold smoking stage will be.
Day 5 - Remove & Wash
Take each pork joint out of the plastic container and throw away any remaining cure. Rinse the pork under the tap to remove all cure residues. If you don't like your bacon to be too salty we recommend you fill the sink with cool water and soak the joints for around 30 minutes. It does seem the wrong thing to do having spent days trying to remove moisture, but this last quick soak doesn't penetrate the meat and really does reduce any residual excess saltiness.
Day 5 - Dry the pork
Using kitchen towel or clean tea towels, dry each joint as thoroughly as possible. Then place the pork joints on a metal mesh tray (such as a cooling tray or roasting grill rack) and leave for one further day in the bottom of the fridge.
Day 6 - Remove from fridge
Leave the pork for an hour or so to come up to room temperature. This will prevent any condensation during the smoking process which would inhibit the absorption of the smoke flavour, as the smoke will attach itself to liquid or water droplets.
BEETROOT CURED SALMON
A twist on classic cured salmon, this beetroot cure provides both colour and a delicious depth of flavour. Allow 3 days preparation time. Choose to eat purely cured or add a cold smoke process to add additional flavours.
Whole side of salmon
500g Coarse sea salt
300g Muscovado sugar
10g whole Juniper berries
20g Whole Peppercorns (include mix of pink, green and black if available)
2 Cooked Beetroot
Remove the pin bones from the salmon (locate these by running a finger ‘against the grain’ along the central ridge and use a pair of tweezers to extract them)
Place in a plastic container or porcelain dish, skin down.
Mix the salt and sugar together in a bow
Crush the juniper berries and whole peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and add these to the salt/sugar mix
Grate the beetroot coarsely and add to the cure mix
Spoon three quarters of the cure mix onto the salmon flesh and massage gently into the flesh. Cover the salmon with a layer of cling film and allow to stand for half an hour. A reddish liquid will very quickly begin to gather in the tub or bowl. Place in the bottom of the fridge and leave overnight.
The following day, pour away the liquid and add the remaining cure mix to the salmon. Massage gently and cover once again with a layer of cling film before returning to the fridge. Less liquid will be produced, but this should be poured away again the following morning.
Leave for one further night in the fridge, then remove the salmon from the tub and wash carefully to remove any cure residues. To completely remove any saltiness, submerge the salmon in water for 15 minutes or so. Dry with kitchen towel and place the salmon on a drying rack and leave at room temperature for a short while before returning to the fridge. Allow to dry for a further day.
Slice the salmon using a thin sharp knife and working from the tail end first, cutting diagonally from head to tail end into thin slices.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon and flatbreads.
To store, slice and then freeze, or vac pack and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.