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Smoked delicacies made easy

People have been smoking their food for thousands of years. It started out as a way to preserve everyday things such as meat and fish before there was refrigeration.

Jeff Tiedeman
Jeff Tiedeman

People have been smoking their food for thousands of years. It started out as a way to preserve everyday things such as meat and fish before there was refrigeration.

But now, many of those common foods have become delicacies, and a lot more people have turned back a page in time rather than heading to the supermarket or meat market for their smoked salmon and chickens. You can count me among them.

I recently bought a Masterbuilt electric smoker at Cabela's (they sell for about $200 before tax), and already it has turned out several pieces of salmon (smoked with alder and apple chips) along with a couple of pheasants (mesquite).

My interest about smoking was piqued by Adam Sorum, who works as a trainer at Altru's Health and Fitness Center. Adam told me he had purchased one of the smokers and was quite pleased with its performance.

The smoker has several appealing features, including digital controls for time and temperature and a nice delivery system for wood chips. And it's easy to assemble. My grandson, Rakeem, and I put ours together in no time. The guide that came with the smoker also contains several recipes, a couple of which I've already tried. I've discovered that the one for smoked trout works great on salmon. (See recipe at www.grandforksherald.com/ event/tag/group/Features/tag/food/.) And there are ones for two types of jerky, which I plan on trying with ground venison and elk roasts.

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Here are a couple of things I learned while researching the smoking process:

n Completely thaw meat or poultry before smoking. Because smoking uses low temperatures to cook food, meat will take too long to thaw in the smoker, allowing it to linger in the "danger zone" (temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees), where harmful bacteria can multiply. Defrosted meat also cooks more evenly.

n Always marinate food in the refrigerator, and don't reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food unless it's boiled first to destroy harmful bacteria.

n Follow the manufacturer's directions for igniting charcoal or preheating a gas or electric outdoor cooker.

I've always liked smoked foods. I remember as a kid when my dad used to bring home delicious fish that he had been given by my Uncle George, who also made homemade head cheese and dabbled in beer-making, but that's another story. And it seemed we always had a can or two of smoked oysters -- Geisha brand, I believe -- in the cupboard. (They were great alone or on crackers.)

More recently, Orris Gulson, a retired Grand Forks educator who lets me garden in his former backyard raspberry patch, has given me some smoked northern pike that's been quite tasty.

Not only do smoked foods such as fish and meat make a great meal or appetizer, they also lend themselves to being great ingredients in other dishes, which brings me to Jerry Dufault.

Jerry, who happens to be my second cousin (his grandmother, Valerie Regeimbal, and my grandfather, Albert Menard, were siblings), heard me talking about my new smoker while we were exercising at the Health and Fitness Center, and he told me about this great recipe he had for smoked salmon spread. It's comprised of smoked Alaska king salmon, fat-free cream cheese, onion, dried basil leaves, garlic powder and fresh ground pepper.

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At that time, Jerry said he liked the spread on crackers and that it kept very well in the refrigerator (which also enhances the taste) -- if everyone hadn't devoured it immediately. A couple of days later, he brought me a sample, and after trying it, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the recipe to give it a try.

And there was no question about how long it would last in the fridge, either.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FOOD
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