For Charcutepalooza challenge #4 we confronted hot smoking, and I got to spend some time with an old friend, my New Braunfels style vertical smoker. When my wife gave it to me as birthday present years ago, I can’t imagine she realized the Faustian bargain she had entered into. Sure she enjoys the quality eats with regularity and accepts my subsequent eccentricities. But I don’t think she could have foreseen the sometimes multiday stretches I would be spending in the backyard tending to a smoldering oak fire, befriending stray cats, dozing in lawn chairs and quietly listening to Townes Van Zandt alone in the wee hours of the morning. All that is not to mention the countless nights she’s spent sleeping next to a man who smells like a bearded, snoring side of beef. Such is my devotion to the smoker that it has dictated not only sporadic sleeping patterns, but also where we might live whenever we’ve been in the market for a rental. Like a member of the family, if there’s no room for the smoker, the house will not be considered. Period. No discussion.
As a rig, it’s beginning to rust. At least one wheel has fallen off. Simply passing near it will mark you with a nearly impossible to eradicate, resined beef-and-oak musk. And the two metal dampers that function as its only temperature control are so bathed in wood tar that they barely move. In short, it’s just coming into its prime.
For me the brilliance of smoking has always been its power to transform: ordinary pork loin into perfect cold cuts, rough brisket into melting barbeque and otherwise antisocial activities (namely gluttony and burning things) into perfectly acceptable behavior. Call it backyard magic, call it hillbilly cookery, I call it perfection.
Even if you completely ignore the food, smoking has two major things going for it. It forces you to be outside for an extended period of time (I don’t want to hear any bullshit about how using one of those food bongs with a thimble of burning oak splinters qualifies as smoking), and you get to play with fire. If you’ve got a kid who’s kind of a bastard firebug, before putting him in a home, buy him a smoker and let him go to town. Your barbeques will get better. There’ll be lots of good food to go around. And he’ll have some happy family-time bonding memories to share with his future shrink.
Moreover, smoking is versatile. You can put nearly anything from seafood to nuts to potatoes to entire pigs into the smoke box and come back with something not just good, but amazing. I’ve smoked everything including maple syrup filled bacon wrapped jalapenos, candied pecans, salt, tomatoes, briskets, shoulders, homemade sausages, bacons, ribs and even chicken bones for smoked broth, all to tasty ends. There are only two things that are strictly not allowed when the smoker is going: don’t open the goddamned smoke box and don’t ever tend another man’s fire. Observance of these holy tenets can be startlingly difficult for the uninitiated. But, like a good single malt, the smoker is the domain of men not squirrelly tit-bastards fresh out of pecker camp, so limits must be set. The meat wants to cook, the fire wants to burn and, if you look deeply enough, you want to sit. You just have to possess the wherewithal to let it all happen.
The following are three recipes that answer Charcutepalooza’s April call and show the range of my old backyard friend, from the surprisingly delicate to the brutally carnivorous. Starting with the brutally carnivorous, of course.
Sometimes one kind of pork just isn’t enough. Sometimes you want to eat something just to see if it will kill you instantly. Sometimes you just want an assload of meat. Enter The Piganator: hatch chilies wrapped in homemade chorizo wrapped in pork loin wrapped in bacon and smoked for four or five hours. It’s great if you slice it and serve it with a bright tomatillo and cilantro salsa verde on the side. Although it’s probably better if you just hit it with a stick till it falls apart and then threaten to bite anyone who gets near you while eating.
1 butterflied pork tenderloin
Homemade chorizo, removed from casing
Several slices of bacon
Roasted hatch chilies
Lay the sliced of bacon vertically on a board, slightly overlapping them. Place the butterflied pork loin perpendicularly on the bacon slices. Pack the chorizo into the pork loin. Lay the hatch chilies on the chorizo. Roll the whole thing like a cigar and tie it like a roast. There’s no need to salt, as the bacon and chorizo have plenty. The chilies provide a nice bit of heat to cut through the fattiness. Smoke at 200 degrees for four or five hours. Beat with a stick, bite your friend on the hand and enjoy.
Pork and Seeds
This is originally an Asian dish, although this iteration owes its roots to an Idaho smokehouse of my childhood. There hasn’t been a Thanksgiving in my life where smoked pork and seeds wasn’t a part of the mid-afternoon antipasti and I deliver plates of this to friends and particularly good neighbors every year. It’s good enough that I hear about it if I don’t.
Brine (water, salt, brown sugar, garlic, juniper, coriander, black pepper, bay leaves)
Roughly cracked black pepper
Coleman’s dry mustard
Combine the water and other brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Chill the brine thoroughly and add the pork. Brine the pork at least overnight. Remove and rinse the pork loin, let it rest in the fridge for a few hours. Roll the loin in the cracked pepper, coating on all sides. Smoke at 200 degrees for 3 or 4 hours. Chill the meat overnight or longer. When ready to serve, slice it thinly. Toast the sesame seeds. Mix the dry mustard with the cold water to a good consistency. When ready to eat, dip the loin in the mustard and then the seeds. Eat. Repeat.
Smoked Salmon Bruschetta
There’s good bites and then there’s tingle inducing, blood left my head bites. This is the latter. It’s subtle and balanced to the point that it’s hard to imagine it came from a black iron smoke belcher. The key elements here are familiar enough to anyone who has ever walked through a good Jewish deli, but the additions of crème fraiche, heavier oak smoke on the salmon and wood grilled bread make it something you want to do dirty things to.
Dry Cure (Salt, sugar, toasted fennel seeds, allspice, black pepper)
Home pickled red onion
Toasted almond slices
Fresh dill and chives
Good quality bread
Pack the cure around the salmon, wrap it in cheese cloth or a clean kitchen towel. Place on a plate, weight it with another plate and and refrigerate it for about 12 hours. Rinse the salmon and return it to the fridge for several more hours. Smoke the fish at 200 degrees for about 2-3 hours, remove and let it rest. Slice the bread into thick slices and grill over wood, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Spread a good portion of crème fraiche on each piece of bread, followed by the pickled onions, then the capers, then some salmon, then almonds, dill and chives.