When developing flavour for our smoked dishes we can play around with seasonings, marination and brines, but the creativity doesn’t have to stop when you leave the kitchen, we have another element we can have some fun with - smoke! Alison uses turf, a fuel which is dying out for environmental reasons but which has a strong cultural significance in Ireland’s rural countryside where homes would be fuelled by the local bogs. The turf adds a rich, earthy tone to the smoke and her final hake dish but when it comes to getting creative with your own smoking, you can have a think about what represents your local landscape, traditions and seasons.
When playing around with flavouring your fire, you can choose to emphasise existing ingredients and aromatics in your dish, pulling flavours from your seasoning, marination, brine or the meat/fish itself or you can use the smoke as a way of complementing and creating balance to the final taste of the dish.
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are a great starting point when building the aromatics of your smoke. When picking which ones you go for, it’s best to go for hardy varieties which can withstand the heat and longer cook times. Great woody herbs to use are rosemary and thyme, which are at there most flavoursome picked fresh but otherwise if you do use dried herbs, just make sure to soak them in water first to avoid them pulverising in the flames. If you’re thinking of going down the spice route, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg and cloves work really well in the coals.
Your barbecue smoker is a great way of putting your scraps, peels and shells to good use. Leftover coffee grounds from your morning brew thrown directly onto the fire add rich malty notes to chicken or lamb. If you’re using lemon, lime or orange in either a marinade or brine, you can then add the leftover peels to your coals adding to the sharp flavours of your dish. You can also use the shells from cracked nuts - walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios or even coconut shells, add another dimension to your dish although the flavour will vary depending on the type of nut.
There’s something about cooking directly on the coals which brings you back to nature, and its a way of contributing both to the aromatics of the smoke but also for creating a nicely charred side or garnish for finishing off your dish. Again thinking about the seasons here, chestnuts cooked directly on the fire are a great one to try with poultry and garlic adds a mellow, nutty flavour to your smoke (tip: thinking about the presentation of your final dish a great way of smoking your garlic is to keep the whole bulb with outer skin intact or to slice it horizontally across through the middle to reveal the cross section). Continuing with the rustic look, shallots, halved lengthways with the skin on add a sweetness in the mix, which balances out those heavier meats.
Fire cooking is a great way of showing off nature’s bounty, which is why it’s so suited to Ireland’s rich, natural larder. By working closely with the seasons and getting out in the wild foraging, you’ll be surprised at the different natural aromatics around you. So to master your smoke, don’t be afraid to get creative and share your ideas with others in the community!