Till last week, I hadn’t smoked anything in years.
As much as I like urban living, it has drawbacks. In Seattle my neighbors were really close-in. One in particular, and she always made her presence felt. In the first week that we lived in the house, she complained about my dogs, my parking and the noise our movers made. And the first time I lit my grill she let me know how much she objected to the smell of a genuine wood fire.
Of course, if it hadn’t been the grill, she could have found something else. But since smoking nearly anything is a project measured in hours, (a huge attraction for me) I reluctantly gave up my smoker, and became a high-speed, high-heat outdoor cook.
Charcutepalooza has changed that. I don’t have a dedicated smoker anymore, but here in the suburbs of Boise the neighbors are a little farther away, and a lot less intrusive, so I’m using my grill to smoke -so far, trout, salmon and the bacon you’ll soon be reading about. This kind of smoking isn’t for everyone, you have to enjoy constantly fussing with fire, building it up, and dampening it down, while trying to keep the flow of smoke constant. But I love exactly this kind of worry-wart cooking. And hell, when it’s 18 degrees and you want to go outside, what else, really is there to do, but build a fire?
To smoke properly, you need a really low fire – one with a temperature no more than around 200 – preferably even lower. The only way I know how to achieve that is to build a big fire, let it die down, just enough, keeping it alive in the right temperature range using just enough, wet aromatic wood.
But I hate wasting the initial hot fire –if I am going to add extra CO2 to the air, I need to get everything I can out of the fire. One day, I may be organized enough to cook dinner on the grill, and then smoke over the embers of the dying fire – but that will have to wait for a distant long summer night.
For now, I’m making relish. It’s so simple you don’t need a recipe –just put any combination of vegetables in a pan over a hot fire on the grill, with a few tablespoons of your favorite oil. (You can also do this while the fire is dying down, after your main meal.) When the vegtables are done, ( I like mine to show some char) run them through the food processor -being careful not to overprocess – adding vinegar and salt to taste, and then store your concoction in the refrigerator for up to a month.
My decidedly non-local red pepper relish is just peppers (peeled, after roasting), chilies, onions and mustard oil, all roasted on the grill and processed with salt, cumin, vinegar and a little lime juice. I’ve used it as pizza sauce, as part of a humus platter and in quite a few sandwiches. It’s a spicy relish with a subtle smoky flavor and it’s almost gone.
Next time I light the fire, I’m going to experiment with some seasonal flavors – maybe Apple Parsnip Chutney. Now I just need to figure out what to smoke next.