Smoking is back in – and it’s legal.
Not literally you understand but on the Food and Photography workshop in Somerset organised by the fabulous creative team behind P2P – I visited my very first smoking house.
I was rather excited by this as my Grand-father was a keen – if sometimes misguided smoker. And having chatted with my new found friend Ruth who told me that her father-in-law has a smoking house in his garden and that he makes all manner of delicious food stuffs, I was really enthused.
I always thought smoking food was akin to being an Alchemist – mixing different burning elements to get a certain flavour, smoking it long enough – very much a lot of trial and error if I remember Grandad’s trials and tribulations.
So this little writing piece was again put together by myself and my team members and friends Alexandra and Nitin. The photos of the article are Nitin’s and Alexandra’s (I’m still grappling with shutter speed, White Balance, Fstop……!) although some of the not so good ones are mine. The exercise was to convey all five senses in our written piece about our visit once again on a time constraint.
An alchemist’s Smoking House
Grand-pa’s smoking endeavours were akin to an alchemist’s experimental process he tried all kinds of meats and all kinds of smoking ingredients. Many were tested on the grand-children – most were rather palatable, but a few were disgusting. I remember one instance when he decided to use chestnut husks as a smoking ingredient for a beef fillet – the taste of a wet dog comes to mind.
The though of smoking food always made me wonder why people used this process. In earlier days it was used to preserve the food and the practice lost its significance for many years before its recent renaissance.
I was rather excited when I got the chance to visit an artisan smokery in Somerset called Brown & Forrest. The owner Jesse Pattisson, an ex-currency trader, got drunk and bought the smokery from its previous retiring owner.
This rather colourful character went on to explain how they hot and cold smoke various meats, fish, cheeses & other more unusual products.
One would think that smoking food is just a matter of producing enough smoke to kill a dead fish further. As I found out it is a rather difficult process. It is about pairing the ingredients to marinate the meat, keep the moisture locked in and making sure that every batch is of a consistently high standard.
To produce an artisan product is a very experimental process. It involves a lot of research and exchanges of ideas with like-minded people such as food producers, chefs and customers. Jesse is proud to partner with the best suppliers from the British isles. For example his salmon comes from Loch Duart in Scotland where the fish is able to swim freely and thereby develop a strong dorsal fin, the sign of a good quality fish. For Jesse the point of smoking is not to overpower the taste of the produce but rather to enhance it’s already superior flavour.
After hearing Jesse’s passion for his craft I was anticipating a taste explosion. I was not disappointed. The idea of jellied eels has always made me gag. But Jesse’s smoked eel was other worldly – the texture was smooth, the bite was light and elegant. The duck actually tasted of duck with a hint of smoke and was not overpowering. The smoked salmon was probably the best I had ever tasted. I could feel the firm texture as I picked it up from the plate and it was succulent and sweet.
My visit to Jesse the Alchemist’s smoking house was a revelation. The process, the passion and the tasting took me back to my childhood and to see this craft renewed by such artisans was comforting. A new generation has taken the mantle over and is taking smoking into the future.
Nitin, Alexandra and Françoise
Photos by Nitin, Alexandra and myself (the not so good ones!)