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When your neighbours see you in the garden in the middle of winter fiddling with the Weber Kettle barbecue, and you tell them that you are smoking your own salmon, they may look at you funnily. They may even ask you why you bother to go to the lengths of doing something that you can easily buy in the supermarket. It’s a good question.
The Good Life
I’m certainly not advocating ‘The Good Life’ style subsistence living, neither do I anticipate that ‘the end is nigh’; I’m not looking to develop essential artisanal food skills to keep me in the nosh to which I have grown accustomed while the dust settles from nuclear fallout.
I am an engineer, and I like to understand how things work. From the broadest possible picture, which for me started in science and ended in spirituality, to production processes which give us the wonderful things we enjoy on a daily basis from food to fridges.
As a part of my job I get to implement energy solutions into communities and businesses, and in assessing business energy requirements I am allowed to investigate their processes, which for me is a lot of fun.
I have just eaten a lunch which I made completely myself. It was smoked salmon on sourdough with home churned butter. There was a bit of black pepper on the top, but I did grind that myself.
You see, there was an old pot of double cream in the fridge ready to be thrown away, so I decided to turn it into butter. I was browsing one of my favourite books of the moment: Food DIY the other day, which gave me the idea.
I put the cream in a small tupperware box and sealed the lid and shook it until it wouldn’t be shaken anymore. Then I opened it up and stirred it with a fork until it started to coalesce and then magically turn into butter and buttermilk. I had always wondered where we find buttermilk, and now I know. I also know how butter is made, having made it myself (my arms are still burning). Of course you can churn in a food mixer, but that’s not hands-on enough for me.
My sourdough bread is a regular on the house bread board, and when I bake, I make two loaves and usually freeze one. The sourdough freezes very well and comes out looking like a freshly baked loaf.
The smoked salmon this time was a nicer fillet with far less marbling of fat. I wouldn’t call it sushi grade, but the centre portion of the half side fillet was lean, which is how I like it. This time I used a 50:50 mix of sugar and salt (around 250g in total to coat both sides of a half side of salmon), with a little bit of ground black pepper. I coated the fillet, placed it in a freezer bag and left it in the fridge overnight for 18 hours.
I then washed off the cure, patted the (much firmer looking) fillet dry, and left it uncovered overnight again (18hrs) on a cooling rack to develop a pellicule, a sticky coating which helps the salmon to absorb the smoky flavours. You can hang the salmon from its string if your fridge has racked shelves, but mine solid glass ones.
The following day, first thing, I loaded up the ProQ with Beech dust and was aiming at 10-12 hours (1 burn of the ProQ) smoking. The last time I did a 24hr smoke which was too strong for my taste.
Very good, and better I would say than shop bought smoked fish. The 50:50 salt to sugar gives a more mellow cure. If you like your salmon saltier then try 60:40 cure rub, salt to sugar.
The 10-12hr smoking itself is well judged. After you have removed the side from your smoker, place it inside another freezer bag and leave it in the fridge for a few days. This helps the raw smokiness to mellow somewhat and provides a much more pleasant smoky taste.
So there you have it. £6 salmon half side from the supermarket, and a week later, smoked salmon in the fridge.
What’s the Point?
What does all of this tomfoolery give me? Like any subject, the more we know about it, the more we appreciate it. Someone who has never tasted wine cannot possibly appreciate a fine one. A musical luddite cannot hear the delicate rhythms inside a modern jazz quartet, and he who has never made his own food cannot possibly understand what is good and what is not, and the effort required to produce the end product. Someone who has only ever tasted plastic bread cannot imagine the flavour, texture and nourishment available from a naturally leavened loaf.
I do this because I like the idea that I can do it myself. I do this because I want others to discover joy in their own food, and to appreciate the wonder of these great ingredients we take for granted.
I do this because I am a hands on person, and I prefer to learn by doing, rather than by reading. Smoking salmon or making my own butter won’t be a regular part of my activities, at least until I have my own Scottish estate complete with wild salmon fishing, but when it does, I will know exactly what good quality salmon tastes like, know what good bread tastes like, and if I have a few cows, I’ll be making my own butter from their cream.
Next up: HomeCheesemaking……..
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