CHEF JEFF: Flavor makes smoked meat appealingI can trace my fondness for smoked food back to the 1950s, when my Uncle George used to give to my dad northern and whitefish that he smoked in an old refrigerator he had converted into smoker. I’ve been a big fan ever since, gobbling up any food that was smoked whenever the opportunity arose.
Have you ever wondered about the origins of smoking food such as meat and fish?
Some theorize it dates back to cavemen, who discovered their smoky abodes (without chimneys) imparted greater flavor on hanging meats and acted as a better way to preserve them.
That makes sense to me, since what makes smoked food most appealing is the flavor.
I can trace my fondness for smoked food back to the 1950s, when my Uncle George used to give to my dad northern and whitefish that he smoked in an old refrigerator he had converted into smoker.
I’ve been a big fan ever since, gobbling up any food that was smoked whenever the opportunity arose.
Along the way, I fell in love with smoked chickens from the Forest River Colony of Hutterites near Fordville, N.D. And I discovered a number of delicious smoked items at L & M Meats in Grand Forks.
But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started “smoking” myself. That’s when I purchased an electric smoker from Cabela’s. And, the rest is history.
I smoke my own venison and elk sausage (some people would call it bologna) as well as fish, including salmon. (My favorite use for smoked salmon is in a spread, a tasty recipe given to me by Jerome Dufault, of Grand Forks.)
Most recently, I smoked some pheasant legs and thighs that were soaked overnight in brine (1 gallon water, 1 cup kosher salt, ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon each paprika and black pepper).
They then were patted dry and coated with some McCormick applewood rub, which contains sugar, spices and herbs (including chili pepper and red pepper), garlic, salt, onion, molasses and apple cider vinegar. Finally, I threw the meat into my smoker (loaded with water-soaked apple wood chips) for three to four hours.
The pheasant, which didn’t dry out much because of the brine, has been a hit with nearly everyone who has tried it — from a few of my co-workers to my grandson’s baseball team.
I’m not the only one who likes to smoke meat and fish. It’s a popular pastime for several in a region with so many hunting and fishing opportunities. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a homemade smokehouse or two on just about every block in most small towns around here.
I know that in Minto, N.D., several people got together a few years ago and built a smokehouse that’s in use year-round. According to Chris Misialek, who runs the Harvey Avenue Saloon and sponsors the town’s annual bologna contest each year, the smokehouse is used for everything from chickens to bologna. He said one group used the smokehouse for fish.
Do it at home
For anyone who wants to try smoking at home and doesn’t have access to an electric or homemade smoker or a smokehouse, a stovetop wok or a kettle-style barbecue will work — and here’s how:
• For the wok method, place 13 cup dry wood smoking chips directly into the bottom of a foil-lined wok. The drip pan comes next, followed by the rack. Cover the wok tightly with aluminum foil, so no smoke escapes. Then, cover with the lid. Heat over medium-high heat. The chips will smolder for about 15 minutes. This is good for foods that cook quickly: fish fillets, oysters, nuts and other small, quick-cooking foods.
• For the kettle-style barbecue method, make a fire of charcoal briquettes then push them to the side of the grill and place a drip pan in the center. Place soaked, drained wood-smoking chips on top of the hot briquettes, adding more as needed when the smoke begins to thin. (Two cups of chips will give you 30 minutes of smoking, and you may need extra charcoal.) This method is best for large pieces of meat, chicken or game and usually takes 1 to 1½ hours.
It’s so easy, even a caveman could do it.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.