By Iñaki Alava
Appearance, pretensions, lordliness … there are many expressions in English for those who take pride, about thinks what they do not know. At the stoves, this mistake is unfortunately often committed. In “cutting edge” culinary way, foods are often smoked and often also incorrectly.
Smoke or bloat is one of oldest food preservation methods and probably the best studied. Like all complex culinary techniques requires be careful and calm.
When we light a fire, we are creating a complex physical-chemical reaction. In the center are single atoms, inside a plasma (a “soup” of electrons and more or less ionized atoms), the high flame temperature kept atoms separate in this state. As we move us away from the flame, the carbon from fuel and aromatics that could evaporate, are cooling as they go away from the flame and recombine in new molecules or are deposited on the nearest cold surfaces. This recombination is more active, if we are closer to the heat source and when soot become cool, atomic agitation stop and go to form stable molecules. It is for this reason, that smoke it is always recommended to do so “cold”, i.e. when the temperature of the soot plume is a temperature under <70 ° C (158º F). A right smoky, is a long process, requires at least five steps: first a salted or in brine pretreatment, cleaning and preparing food for the smoke process, giving an appropriate medium for slat infiltration and let growth halophilic bacteria. Second, the salt excess is necessary to rinse, (we want to smoke, not salted or pickled). The third step is the seasoning, smoked is complemented with many spices or aromatic additives (dill, pine needles, lemon, orange, etc.), this step must be prior to exposure to the smoke itself. Smoked itself consists of exposing food to smoke produced by some woods that are rich in "esters" (aromatic, solid or liquid substances resulting from paraffin molecules, produced from an acid when combined with alcohol) that have pleasant smell and biocidal effect. These substances are released from burning wood and adhere and penetrate food, providing good taste and odor, while the preserving decomposition. If instead of using the "cold" smoke (<70º C, 158ºF), we smoke in "hot" (> 70º C, 158ºF) the composition of gas mixture deposited in the food is dangerously variable and can range from, a more or less safe bukifurelenos soot, to very dangerous sub products such as tars or resins that may also contain benzopireno or other carcinogenic products.
Finally, tradition of smoke is a heritage from our ancestors across multiple cultures: Norse, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs, means to mature smoked food in a cold, dry environment for two to three days. This allows the salt and aromatic molecules to penetrate in food, exert their scavenging action on mesophilic bacteria, giving food a homogeneous taste and durability over time.
When we read a modern recipe of food smoked in “hot” way, we will consider that in reality, we are smoking food, too close to the heat source, then food is subjected to a process of surface cooking (70-110 ° C, 158 – 230 ºF), which closes its pores and limits the penetration / diffusion of salt and organic molecules into food. It creates a crust of smoked flavor that will not prevent food spoilage at medium time, especially if the internal temperature does not reach 70º C (158º F). This makes food susceptible to spoil if not consumed immediately and be rich in carcinogenic substances if the technique is not properly controlled.
Many “modern” chef’s (self-importance, smoky chef’s), forget that smoke is an ancient technique, that it is necessary to know and properly control it, to provide a safe and palatable product. That smoke is really, more than just filling food with soot.