Thursday, 6 June 2013

Brunch Club Recipe no. 1 - Earl-Grey Smoked Salmon

Smoking - best done outside

Whenever I read a piece about smoking foods, someone's always quick to evoke the addictive nature of this 'foodie' pursuit. They'll say things like: "you'll want to smoke everything, even the dog food"; "I can't leave for work without my smoking gun"; "Tarquin's only three but smoked hummus is already his favourite food". So is it all it's cracked up to be? 


Joking aside, it's a good idea to speculate whether it's worth making certain foodstuffs at home, and this applies equally to home-smoked goods. Several items at our Brunch Club have reached such pricey highs in the supermarket that we rarely buy them, preferring to make our own. Take granola for instance: oats, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, mixed together and toasted for more than a Bhutanese family spends on a weekly shop. The cons of making things yourself are usually time- and equipment-related; the pros are you have a better understanding of what's gone into your food and can produce a product that suits you. With our earl grey smoked salmon you get the added benefit of saving a shed-load of money.

Let's take a similar product as a comparison: Heston from Waitrose Lapsang Souchong Tea Smoked Salmon which sells for £4.99 per 100g. I went to Out of The Blue (preferred fishmonger alert!), purchased a side of salmon at roughly £9, cured it and smoked it, ending up with enough salmon to feed 8 people and plenty leftover to fit snugly into several cream-cheese filled bagels. (This said with the caveat that I purchased a smoking gun to facilitate the whole process; but if you can see yourself eating a lot of smoked food, then it's a worthwhile investment and a very fun toy.) Regarding the smoking, I found several recipes which state simply "light the tea leaves" or recommend heating in a wok until smoking. From experience, the former is actually rather tricky to do and produces very little smoke, as anyone who's ever tried to light a cigarette without drawing on it will testify; the latter is prone to filling your house with smoke, never mind the sucking power (ooh,er) of your extractor fan. And burning earl grey is particularly acrid, believe me.

So some sort of dedicated smoking device (a tin or a gun are the cheapest options) will stop your house stinking like Waynetta Slob's ashtray. (The aforementioned problems might be to do with tea so if anyone's got a reliable tea-smoking method do let us know). I don't want to get into the logistics of smoking here as I'm going to assume if you've got a tin or smoking gun then you've read the instructions. If not I'd recommend a blowtorch to get those pesky tea leaves to burst into flames. What I will say is that there are a lot of variations when it comes to curing and smoking times; and my advice is not to obsess about it. The longer the salmon is in contact with the curing mix the drier it will become; with the smoke, the smokier it becomes. Simple. Curing with a 2:1 salt to sugar ratio for 16 hours and smoking for three half-hour periods with fresh smoke gave us a very palatable product. Tea smoke is more subtle than the traditional oak so the salmon can probably take a little more.

Earl Grey Smoked Salmon

1 Side of salmon (approx. 900g)

250g salt
125g granulated sugar
A few sprigs of dill, roughly chopped
Leaves from 1 earl grey teabag

For smoking:
Leaves from 2 earl grey teabags

1. Mix salt, sugar and dill together; and moisten the tea leaves with a little water.
2. Cut salmon in two if too large to fit in any container you own.
3. Spread a thin layer of curing mix on the bottom of a container.
4. Place the salmon skin-side down and cover with the moistened tea leaves then the remaining cure (spread less cure on the thinner tail-end areas to prevent over-salting).
5. Cover and place in fridge for 16 hours.
6. Rinse off cure and leave salmon uncovered in the fridge to dry for a couple of hours.
7. To smoke, place salmon on a cooling rack above a bowl of ice inside a large seal-able container (see picture).
8. Use your preferred method to light the tea leaves. Get a decent amount of smoke in the container then seal. Do this outside if possible!
9. Let smoke for half an hour then repeat.
10. Store covered in fridge and slice when ready to eat.

- If you're going to the effort of smoking your own salmon then you might as well buy a side as it's more time efficient and the salmon will keep well
- If you do, however, buy a smaller piece just mix up less cure

The finished product