May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
When it comes to smoking, meat is no longer the meat of the matter.
These days chefs apply the technique to most any food—and they're not necessarily investing in fancy equipment to do it either. Just ask Alex Figura, chef/partner of Lower48 Kitchen in Denver, Colorado, who uses a portable charcoal grill lined with hickory or applewood chips to give everything from melons to egg yolks that campfire savor. You already know how to make your own DIY smoker at home; now here's what to do with it.
Herbivores, rejoice: The possibilities for smoked produce are myriad. Take cabbage: Figura cuts a head in half and places it directly onto the grate of a medium-hot smoker for 10 minutes, then removes the charred outer leaves; with the still-raw remainder, "We can make smoked coleslaw, kimchi or sauerkraut." Or consider carrots: Blanching and then smoking them whole for one to two minutes over medium heat "balances their sweetness with an umami note." Or try mushrooms placed in a small pan over medium heat for 10 minutes; these Figura likes to pickle in an extra-strong brine "to counteract the smoke." Using his methods as guidelines, you can experiment with most firmer-fleshed vegetables and fruits.
Neutral-flavored grapeseed oil is a cinch to smoke and use: Simply pour about two cups' worth into a stainless-steel container and, once the smoker is going "full blast," place it under the lid. After about five minutes, voilà: smoked oil to incorporate (once it cools, of course) into homemade mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, pesto and other sauces.
Smoked butter is equally versatile. Though Figura makes his from scratch by cold-smoking sour cream in an ice bath and churning it, store-bought sticks will work, too. Just cut them up and put the pieces into a metal container, then, "as soon as the smoker's producing a lot of smoke, shut off the heat and set the butter inside for two or three minutes. Fat absorbs odor quickly, so it doesn't take long," Figura says. Even so, it will have melted some—but after you chill it and whip it with a hand mixer, "it turns out fluffy and spreadable."
Starches, Sweets and Other Surprises
By now, the trick to creating smoked dishes should be clear: Focus on their key ingredients. Dreaming of smoked pasta? Start with the flour: Figura suggests cold-smoking a portion of the amount your recipe requires for about 10 minutes, then mixing it with regular flour to control its flavor intensity. How about ice cream? Work with the milk: Figura gives it 10 minutes over high heat, then cools it and adds some to his ice cream base. And to wash it all down, why not make cocktail ice with smoked water? (Unless you're tired of slaving over a hot smoker. In that case, pour yourself some excellent mescal and call it a day.)
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.