I have a group of wonderfully green-fingered veggie-gardening friends, and every so often we get together with a pot luck supper. In my diary these events are referred to as ‘The Kailyard’ – an old Scottish word for the kitchen garden (because even in coldest, windiest parts, you can always grow kail, or kale). To avoid confusion I will add that there is a somewhat derogatory use of the term kailyard, applied to a school of writers who indulge in sentimentalised renditions of Scottish life. I want to rescue this lovely old word ‘kailyard’ from such snobbery, and apply it in its traditional sense. Rant over.
At our last meeting in the first half of June, with the gardens just about beginning to produce the goods, we had a lovely buffet with some homegrown produce, some from the shops. The menu included smoked trout pate; a couscous salad with broad beans, herbs and lemon; a sourdough focaccia with green olives; a mushroom salad with pumpkin seeds; green beans Provençal; and for dessert, some chocolate pistachio fudge.
However the absolute piece de resistance was produced by Caroline and Robin who brought their portable smoker, and after the ‘first course’ (above), demonstrated the smoking of their own catch of rainbow trout and cod before we gobbled it all down with delight.
The principles of smoking are quite straightforward and low-tech – after all, this is a process that has been used for centuries if not millennia as a way of preserving the summer’s catch for the winter larder. Having said that, it’s not something I’ve tried myself – yet! Robin carried his smoker in his rucksack, and as you can see from the photos, it consists of a 3-burner gas stove with a smoking box on top. There’s a trivet inside with a grill above it, on which you lay the food, with a narrow gap round the edges of the trivet to let the smoke through. Under that, on the floor of the box, you sprinkle some sawdust and set light to it. Then you put the lid on and wait awhile – depending on how big or dense your piece of food is. Our pieces of fish took about 20 minutes.
I can barely describe how delicious this fish was to eat. Partly of course because it was freshly caught – the cod from about 25 miles up the coast and the trout from the loch at the top of the hill, a mile away. But the smoking imparted such an aromatic, slightly salty flavour and the texture was beautifully firm-tender. I unashamedly took home a doggie bag and had it in my sandwich at work the next day – and enjoyed it even more than before, bringing another wave of home-wrought delight into the world of the stills. (Every time I do a tour I talk about the impact of peat smoke on malting barley; it’s the same process.)
It matters what kind of sawdust you use – obviously you don’t want anything with chemicals in it, but otherwise you can experiment with different types of wood. Fruit tree shavings of various kinds apparently work beautifully, and we have no shortage of those in our area. The best online guide I found was provided by Wikipedia – with clear info about food hygiene as well as different types of cooker. These come in a wide price range, from about £25 up to silly realms. But you can also improvise with an old biscuit tin over a low fire, and that’s what I intend to do.
Other types of food and drink to try … tea, peppers, prunes, beef, pork, turkey, chicken, sausage, fish and seafood of all kinds, eggs, cheese, nuts, tofu, paprika, salt … as suggested by Wikipedia. Happy Smokin! Smoke responsibly.