THE SMOKING PROCESS

FOOD PREPARATION

Whatever you are intending to smoke, good preparation will give you a better finished product. If smoking fish make sure it is completely cleaned and free from scales and slime. Removing scales prior to salting and smoking allows both the salt and smoke to penetrate more effectively. You can either butterfly your fish with bone in and head on or off or fillet it. With very large fish filleting is recommended. If smoking meat trim away any dangling or loose flesh and remove any visible blood vessels, sinew and cartilage.


SALTING, BRINING AND CURING

Salting or Brining is an essential step in the smoking process. Salt retards unwanted bacterial growth, seasons and enhances flavor plus removes excess the moisture that bacteria need to multiply.


BRINES

The strength and duration of salting or brining depends on the size and type of food you are intending to smoke. Fish is generally brined in an 80% solution this is a fairly strong brine however due to the high water content in fish it is required to remove sufficient quantity for smoking. This strength of brine also creates a good sticky surface called a (pellicle) once dry, which the smoke will readily stick to.

To calculate the amount of salt required for your desired strength of brine use the following calculation.

A 10% brine solution uses 26g of salt in 1litre of water. Therefore to calculate the quantity of salt required for an 80% solution, simply multiply 26 by 8 = 208g of salt per 1 liter of water. 1 liter of brine is sufficient for about 1.5kg of fish.

Brining times will differ for hot and cold smoking, plus weight and thickness of the product to be smoked. Hot smoke brining is used more for moisture removal and flavor than a preservative. Cold smoking on the other hand requires a larger salt content to stabilize the meat for storage. A basic guide using an 80% brine solution is ……………….. 


CURES

As a rule of thumb if you intend to smoke it you should use a nitrite cure. The use of Nitrite cures in addition to salt provides a few useful functions. Although very rare nowadays botulism poisoning is a risk that you run without the use of nitrite cures. In fact the word botulism is derived from the Latin word meaning sausage. Regardless how clean you are in your preparation work, the temperatures that cold smoking and to a degree hot smoking require are within the danger zone for botulinum to breed and multiply. Potassium nitrite is extremely effective in preventing botulinum and its spores manufacturing toxins. The use of readily available cures that contain potassium nitrite and nitrate give peace of mind and prevent you poisoning your friends and family.

The other useful functions of nitrite cures is fixing colour. The distinctive pink appearance to your see in smoked meat and sausages is due to the potassium nitrite used in the curing process. It also adds flavor.

Pork, fish and poultry all benefit in colour and flavor from adding curing salt, less so with beef and lamb.

Cures come under many brands however they all contain potassium nitrite. In NZ they are sold as pink salt. Not surprisingly they are pink in colour to distinguish them from normal salt. Cures can be obtained from a friendly butcher or butcher supply company.

The two main varities of available cure are as follows.

Cure N01 (Pink Salt) is 6.25% potassium nitrite in normal salt, used for general smoked sausage and other products that are not going to be stored for long periods of time.

Cure No2 6.25% potassium nitrite and 4% potassium nitrate Used for dry cured meats and salami. The addition of potassium nitrate is a slow release way of introducing potassium nitrite to the food. It is the Nitrite that kills botulism. The nitrate is converted into nitrite over time by bacterial action prolonging the protection plus keeping the colour of the food attractive for longer.

General quantity guide for cures.

  • For sausage including salami the rule of thumb is 0.25% cure by weight. That is 2.5g or ½ a level teaspoon per 1kg of raw meat or fish.
  • For dry cured products such as bacon where the cure is rubbed and pressed into the surface, cure should be added in quantities of 1% by weight. That is 10g or two level teaspoons per 1kg raw meat or fish.
  • For brined products cure should be added at approx 3% that is 30g or 6 level teaspoons per litre of brine solution.

REFRESHING OR SOAKING

After salting or brining you may need to soak the fish or meat in order to remove any excess salt to sweeten it a little. Dry cured bacon for instance can be too salty to be eaten as a breakfast rasher if it is not soaked a little before it is smoked. Why not give it less time in the salt? If you are intending to keep your smoked product for a long time it is important to ensure that the salt has fully penetrated right through to the centre and removed the desired amount of water to become stable. In these circumstances’ it might become unpleasantly salty and need a couple of hours in fresh water. Alternatively if you are making farmhouse style bacon you are intending to hang in a larder you will probably need the extra salt to preserve it. With this traditional style of bacon you can cut off what you want soak it before cooking.


DRYING

Whether cold or hot smoking, the drying process is essential. If the surface of your food is wet smoke will not adhere and bitter water soluble compounds from the smoke will be deposited, resulting in an unpleasant flavor and giving you an inferior product

The key to drying your food for cold smoking is to place it out of direct sunlight in a drafty place until it has equalized to the ambient temperature and dry to the touch preferably tacky. If you smoke your food directly from the fridge condensation will collect on the surface as it is exposed to moisture from the air. If you are hot smoking you can dry your food in your smoker by bringing it up to 50degC until it is dry or tacky to the touch before increasing the temperature and applying the smoke.