Mussel work

This week we have had some wonderful meals using mussels that TB smoked at home.

The mussels came from Fishco Downunder at the Belconnen markets, our favourite place to buy seafood in Canberra. First TB steamed the mussels open, then brined them overnight in the fridge. The brine solution was 100gms of salt, 100gms of sugar to one litre of water.

After the brining TB took the mussels out of the brining solution and put them on a rack in the fridge to dry out. Once dry the mussels went into the smoker for three hours. The mussels were ‘cold smoked’, meaning that the smoke only gave flavour to the food, rather than cooking the food. After smoking we stored the mussels in canola oil in the fridge. They will keep for several weeks this way.

The next bit is where I came in. I consulted my favourite Italian cook , Marcella Hazan, and found a simple recipe for mussel and basil pasta sauce (in her book Cucina). We had all the key ingredients, tomatoes, basil, parsley and onions from our garden; with just the oil and chilli powder from our cupboard.

musselbasil pasta

Wow what wonderful flavour! (Oh when will blogs come with smell and taste included?) This recipe surpassed our expectations and will definitely be on the menu again.

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‘Smokin’!

Yes, TB has smoking habit, but at least this is one I can support.The smell of smoke rising from the back yard tells me that a luscious piece of ocean trout or better still a smoky section of pork belly is coming my way (or perhaps he’s set the compost bins on fire again).

The smoking process is fairly straight forward, first you ‘cure’ your product and then you smoke it. But life is rarely that simple. You can ‘hot’ smoke or ‘cold’ smoke food. The hot smoke actually involves cooking the product at the same time as the smoking process. By contrast the cold smoke only flavours the food with the cure or other processes such as air drying or subsequent cooking, being relied on to ensure the product is safe to eat.

The ‘cure’ for smoked products is usually salt, which helps draw the moisture from whatever you are smoking, often with the addition of sugar (to balance the salty taste and as a preservative in its own right) and any other flavourings to the smokers preference.

Oceantrout1

Here TB cures his fillet of ocean trout in a salt, sugar and pepper mix. This ocean trout was cured for about 12 hours and was then hot smoked in the barbeque.

Oceantrout3

When the coals were at the right temperature, TB put some apple wood prunings, which had been thoroughly soaked, onto the coals to create the smoke. In this picture TB is testing the temperature to check that the fish is properly cooked.

Oceantrout2

You can see here the difference between the raw cured and smoked product. Given that a fish is un- even in thickness, the tail becomes saltier than the thicker parts of the fish. The perfect remedy is to use the tail meat as an addition to your scrambled eggs and then you don’t have to add any salt!

Eggsalmon

Now while smoked fish is pretty darned yummy, as far as I’m concerned it runs second best to smoked bacon. TB bought a pork belly to cold smoke for as bacon which he cured for several days before it was smoked.

Smoke1

Yes, it is smoky in there!

Smoke2

The ‘in there’ in this case, is an old drying cupboard. You can see the smoking wood in the bottom of the dryer. The most important thing in a cold smoke is that the goods are sufficiently far from the smouldering fire to ensure that it gets the flavour of the smoke, without any heat. A cold smoke takes hours (about 8 in this case) up to a full day or more, depending on your patience in maintaining the fire at a slow smoulder. A hot smoke is generally a much faster process as you trying not to overcook the smoked goods.

Smoke3

Here is the finished product which can be cut thin for streaky bacon or in larger thicker chunks for full on porky luciousness.

Now I don’t have to tell you that smoking is addictive. It is also an arcane science which has many followers. If you think you are likely to succumb to this obsession, TB recommends ‘Cured’ by Lindy Wildsmith, ‘Charcuterie’ by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Poleyn (considered ‘the bible’ by many), or ‘The Art of Charcuterie’ by John Kowalski and the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA).