Smoking Meat

Added on by Julius Schneider.

posted by Julius Schneider

Once our cold smoker was ready we started putting in all sorts of meat to smoke. We started with some wild pigeons and wild ducks that we had around the lab.

The pigeon breasts were cured for two days in vacuum bags, with a range of different aromatics: black garlic skin, malt extract, freeze-dried blueberries, yoghurt, salted walnut paste – though birch sirup and a spice mix made out of juniper and coriander seeds turned out to be most flavorful.

The breasts were smoked for two days in the cold smoker and rested afterwards for one day in a 6°C fridge.

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Here are the recipes for the two best outcomes:

- 15g juniper/coriander mix + 12g salt

- 20g birch sirup + 10 g salt

Rub each breast on the bone with the mix, and vacuum-pack. Cure for two days then put in the smoker for two days. We didn't wash off any of the curing before smoking. After two days the breasts should aerate in a cool, dry place. Debone it and slice it thinly. Delicious!

The duck breasts turned out best when dry-cured for two days and smoked for the same length of time. All of them had a basic mix of 2% salt and 1% sugar. The most flavorful were the ones cured with fennel seeds and dried, powdered trompettes. We let them rest as well for one day in the fridge at 6°C before slicing them up thinly. 

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What turned out to be a real delicacy was the hot-smoked bacon.  Try to get a big piece of pork belly (we did 2kg pieces) with skin on. The recipe we adapted is from the highly recommendable book 'Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing' written by Ruhlman and Polcyn.

The recipe we made adds cold-smoked garlic and bay leaves. If you have a cold smoker, you can make your own cold-smoked garlic, but if not just use regular garlic.

50g salt, 50g sugar, 12g pink salt, 4 bay leaves, 3 garlic cloves, for a 2kg piece of pork belly

Slice garlic and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Rub all over the belly, then pack it in a plastic bag and seal. We didn’t vacuum it since the belly should be in its own brine after a while. Cure the meat for seven days, turning it each day to ensure even salt distribution. After seven days, wash off the cure, pat dry and put it in the fridge uncovered overnight.

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For hot-smoking, heat the charcoals until white-hot and don’t forget to soak your wood chips in water for 30 minutes before using them. Once the charcoal is hot, hang the meat in the smoker and put the soaked wood chips on top of the charcoal. The smoking took one hour but this might differ depending on your smoker. We took the bacon out when the core temperature reached 65°C. Let it cool down slightly and remove the skin.

Eat it luke warm, which is amazing, or let it cool, pack it airtight and slice it when you have the craving for such a delicacy. 4kg of bacon lasted one day in the lab.

How to build a cold smoker

Added on by Julius Schneider.

posted by Julius Schneider

Smoking meat is one of the oldest methods of preserving meat, but besides this it produces delicious, complex flavours in meat and other foods. What could be better than building your own smoker and having endless possibilities to play with. To build one is not too complicated when you have the right tools. Here’s how you can do it:

First thing you need is an accessible box made out of wood or metal, but wood is easier to work with and safe to use as well since it's going to be a cold smoker and temperatures should never exceed 25°C. I found an old wardrobe in a used furniture store. It was a perfect fit since it already had a rack to hang things on and shelves to place smaller things as well. Once you found the perfect size for your homemade smoker you’ll need a few more features to make it ready to use.

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The first thing to do is to create a constant airflow. Start by drilling holes in a line close to the bottom where the smoldering will be, to ensure a constant supply of air.

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The outgoing air at the top goes through a chimney, which should be at least 80cm high to ensure the chimney effect occurs. If the chimney is not completely open, a "dirty" taste may appear, as we experienced on some cold-smoked salmon. Keep the chimney open,  regulate the incoming air, and make sure  rain cannot enter through the chimney into your smoker. Condensation will accumulate at the chimney inside the chamber, so you need to find a way to install a small box with sand or cardboard beneath the chimney to collect the dripping water.

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To make your smoker smoke, you’ll need a place for fire, which is in this case a smouldering source of heat. An important thing to do is to make your smoker fire-safe if it’s made of wood. We covered the bottom of the cabinet with a metal plate to protect it from the glowing wood dust. The place where the wood dust smoulders is called a cold smoke generator, and it needs to be in a shape that allows the fire to smolder as long as possible. We used a perforated metal plate and formed it into a u-shape (see picture). Fill the whole “U” with smoke dust, compress it slightly and start burning the wood from one of the sides to facilitate smoldering as long as possible from one end to the other. Our smoke generator has an length of about 200cm and will burn for around 32h. To start smouldering, we use a blowtorch and hold it up to one minute to ignite the wood at one end. Once the smouldering starts, get your meat and vegetables and start smoking.

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Waxed legs

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

In November I traveled to the Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago north of Scotland, west of Norway, and south-east of Iceland. It has a tumultuous history, occupied, subordinated; and, though now part of the Danish kingdom, this place is a world apart from Denmark.

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These islands seem desolate, barren – a cluster of rocks sticking up out of the sea. But they hold a richness, and a Faroese will tell you so.

The islands are wet. Waterfalls spring from nowhere along every ridge. All roads defer to these older, shifting veins. The mountains are abrupt and ribbed, covered in grass and moss and water underfoot and scree in some of the higher valleys. It is a heath that baptises every step.

The waters around the islands hold some of the best fish and seafood in the world. The langoustines are renowned. My host's father runs a scallop fishery – bay scallops of a disarming suppleness, a taste sweet and clean.

The Gulf Stream warms the climate from the south-west, with alternating winds coming in occasionally from Norway. This creates climactic conditions very particular to the islands: consistent winds across cool summers and mild winters readily air-cure any foods left to hang. Fish and sheep are the most traditional. There is a concept called ræst, a specifically Faroese understanding of fermented flavour – the flesh is dried by the winds as it ferments, creating layers of flavour both mellow and deep.

The fish – ræstur fiskur – is often hung on racks exposed to the elements, while the sheep – ræstkjøt or, specifically, skerpekjøt  – is more often hung in wooden huts called hjallur, with small gaps between the slats to allow the winds to pass through and dry the meat.

My host's brother gave me a hare he had hunted on the heath. Since November, we have been aging the legs according to the method we developed for venison, to see how it would work with a smaller beast.

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These hare legs would provide a good opportunity to test a technique we thought of since the original recipe: coating them in wax to both slow the fermentation and keep in the remaining moisture.

Certain traditional aged hams, like Prosciutto di Parma, use a similar technique to seal up the open flesh where the leg was separated from the body. They use rendered pork fat. We had no rendered hare fat, so instead we used beeswax from our friends at Bybi.

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One of the most divine smells. The lab was enveloped as it melted in the pan.

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One leg we rubbed with honey; the other, we left bare. After basting both with the molten wax, we hung them to harden fully. We are interested to see how the honey will not only add sweetness but change the texture, remoistening the meat and softening the outermost layer.

We made a quick balm with the rest of the melted wax. Nothing like beeswax to keep the brisk winter at bay.

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'Nordic Food Culture' in Anthropology of Food

Added on by Josh Evans.

Mark's masters thesis, entitled 'Creating Terroir - an Anthropological Perspective on New Nordic Cuisine as an Expression of Nordic Identity', was accepted for publication to the journal Anthropology of Food as part of a special issue on 'Nordic Food Culture'.

In addition to Mark's thesis, AoFood requested a shorter piece on Nordic Food Lab, exploring our ethos, methodology, and research interests. We had Josh write this piece as an overview of where we've come these past few years and where we hope to go.

Check out both and the rest of the issue at Anthropology of Food online.

Under the sea

Added on by Ben Reade.

By Ben Reade

What about the oceans? About 2/3 of the surface of the planet is salt water, and the diversity of edible species waiting to be discovered or rediscovered is enormous. During the last month or so Nordic Food Lab had the opportunity to explore the delights of the salt water world, working with fishermen and suppliers to help them promote the best, which is often not the most obvious.

So from collecting periwinkles and limpets (perhaps the abalone of the north) along rocky shorelines, to hand-dived arctic urchins and Faroese langoustine we are presented with a host of luxury ingredients. These are very difficult to improve upon through processing, and more often than not are best served raw or almost raw very simply to allow the true character of the ingredient to shine through.

A north Atlantic delicacy, langoustine is a sweet and delicious treasure when it is in premium quality but can easily arrive to chefs long dead and far too long frozen. The small archipelago of the Faroe Islands, halfway between Northern Scotland and Iceland is perhaps the home of the world’s biggest and best langoustine. Peeled raw from a living specimen provides what must be some of the sweetest sashimi it’s possible to eat. It's only really possible to peel them raw if they are still alive, otherwise a quick dip into boiling water will be necessary to bring the membrane away from the meat making peeling possible. Here we have served the tails blanched for 15 seconds with oyster and tarragon emulsions and chive sprouts.

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Famously known as 'uni' in Japanese, sea urchins are delicious and also very interesting from a pharmacological point of view – Many species of urchin contain the cannabinoid Anandamide which has been shown to produce feeling of both bliss and hunger: could urchins be a perfect start to a winter meal?

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Searching for new or unusual things to eat is a favourite pastime of ours and enjoying our urchins so much we had to wonder what else might be there in the same family. Urchins are Echinoderms, a phylum of species which includes sea cucumbers and starfish. Sea cucumbers are harvested for food in pretty large numbers especially in Southeast Asia where they are considered a delicacy – although one must be careful to prepare them properly not to ingest the poisonous parts.  We got pretty excited about working with starfish. Again, starfish are eaten – but the only record I can find is in China and it appears they have more novelty value, being sold in markets alongside fried scorpions and other such oddities. However, do starfish offer another abundant source of good food? In our preliminary trials we found that both the gonads (in tweezers in the photo below) and the digestive apparatus of various different species can be eaten, and some species seem to taste better than others. We’ve now boiled, dried whole, dried separate organs, roasted, fried and eaten raw a number of different species and we will be continuing this investigation throughout the year to see how these various species change through the seasons. Bear in mind, many species in the Echinoderm phylum contain toxins which can be fatal - take your time, and do your research properly before you put anything in your mouth!

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