The fascination of making bread with just flour, water and salt, no yeast, is intriguing.
The secret of success is a good starter. Now, undoubtedly the easiest way of doing this is if someone gifts you some of their established starter but in the absence of such a benefactor you’ll need to make one yourself.
The easiest way of doing this is to mix 50 gm of bread flour and 50gm of water in a preserving jar (holding the lid down loosely with an elastic band rather than the catch) or a bowl with a plate on top – something that will keep things clean but allow airborne yeasts to colonise the flour and water mix. After a day add a further 50 gm flour and 50 gm water. You now have 200gm of flour/water mix. The next day and on subsequent days throw half of it (100gm) away and top it up with 50gm flour and 50gm water.
In a few days, you should notice air bubbles forming and after 4 – 7 days there should be significant bubbling within a couple of hours or so of adding the fresh flour and water.
The starter may smell beery. It may also look split – just mix it together it’ll be OK. In the event of it really smelling not nice – just throw it away and start again.
If you are not going to be making bread every day or couple of days you can store the starter in the fridge and just top it up weekly.
This is classed a 100% hydration starter: that is the water weighs 100% of the weight of the flour. This method of calculating recipes is known as baker’s percentages. They differ from normal percentages in that all ingredients are expressed as a percentage of the flour rather than the total amount of dough.
I decided to follow my friend Paul’s instructions for cooking the corned beef. He said to braise it slowly in chicken stock; I hadn’t any defrosted and so used water with the meat sat on a sliced onion.
I tasted the liquid after about 30 minutes of cooking at 140°C to see if it was salty. I would have changed the water had it have been but in this case, it wasn’t. The meat took about 4½ hours to be tender when probed. Its internal temperature was way up to 100°C at this stage.
I left it in the liquid for a good half-hour to rest; it was covered during this time.
It was very nice. It’s not a strongly spiced as I thought it may be nor is it as salty as I feared it may be, both good things. We ate it with the Irish potato and cabbage dish called colcannon and some boiled carrots. If it’s as good cold as it is hot, it will be a regular.
The recipe is:
To every 1kg of brisket or silverside of beef use:
22gm salt 15gm Soft brown sugar 2.4gm Cure #1 0.18gm Saltpetre (Optional) 1.2gm Black pepper 1gm Coriander seeds 1gm Mustard seeds 6 Juniper berries 2 Bay leaves 2 Allspice berries 1 Clove
Cure #2 can replace Cure #1 and Saltpetre – use the same amount as you would have used of Cure #1.
To make Paul’s original recipe use 4 juniper and 4 Allspice berries per kilogram of meat.
Crush the spices in a pestle and mortar or similar. Mix the cure ingredients together well and then rub them into the meat. Vacuum pack under light pressure or seal in a food grade bag for 20 days.
Rinse and then cook by braising it slowly as above.
It was only 8 years ago that I wrote a post forecasting that barbecue would be the next big food craze to hit the UK. Amazingly, not only was I correct but the craze seems to have now filtered down to home cooks. TV chefs feature US-style barbecue in their programmes and pulled pork and brisket feature on both restaurant and home BBQers menus. Back then, I wrote:
Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw that said: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language”? Barbecue, abbreviated to BBQ, really goes to prove this.
What we know as Barbecue or bbq is generally referred to as grill or grillin’ in the US. Their BBQ is a method of cooking meats for a long time at low temperatures. It often includes smoking the meat for part of the cooking time. Times of 10 or 20 hours are not unusual in this type of cooking.
BBQ guys take their hobby seriously and hold competitions where the prize-money can be 1000’s of dollars. Although on the face of it the same as hot smoking, the temperatures are usually higher.
I can see this type of cooking being ‘the next big thing’ in the UK. We’ve already seen slow-cooked meats increasing in popularity with slow-cooked pork belly featuring on virtually every menu you see nowadays! Pulled pork, a classic BBQ standard, is featuring more and more in blogs and among the celebrity chef circuit. We’ve also seen a move towards better quality in burger joints and vans and an increase in general in the quality of street-food. This, accompanied by a number of TV programmes featuring US BBQ joints, such as Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, makes me think that this’ll be the next culinary craze… …Oh, and also look out for the currently trendy use of brioche buns to be upstaged by buns cooked like pretzels.
I’ll write further about the options currently available in UK for both smoking, grilling and BBQ shortly.
I did write another post that explained the differences between the types of smoking and barbecue and the available equipment at that time. The post has been reposted here.
Wow, how things have moved on. There’s equipment available now that we could only dream of then – unless you could make it yourself or had very deep pockets that is.
It can still be an expensive game but it doesn’t have to be. There’s far more equipment available across a range of prices and also more advice and support is available for people building their own equipment – not least because of social media groups on Facebook and the like.
It’s great that so many more people are now cooking quality meals using barbecues. Yes, there are many who have just replaced a plate full of cheap meat products with a plate full of expensive meat products and yes, there’s still an element of the UK equivalent of ‘redneck’ in attitudes to non-meat-eaters on some online groups. But there are also more and more people using barbecues, in whatever form, to cook balanced meals whether meat or vegetable-based.
I have to say that although I’ve had a smoker that could produce barbecued food for years, it’s only in the past couple or three years that I’ve cooked more barbeque and grilled food – since I bought a covered BBQ grill (Weber) and my nephew built me an Ugly Drum Smoker. I hope to write more of these in future posts. I’m by no means an expert but hopefully have a head start as I know a good number of people who are, including a very good friend from North Carolina who is my go-to for advice on traditional US-style barbecue.
I hope to post some traditional recipes, along with some alternative ideas over the next few months.
The dry-cured beef that was put to cure on 29th August has now been curing for 20 days. How did I calculate the cure time? Well, it depends somewhat on the type of cure. Older cures tended to use lots of salt and then cure for a number of days per inch of meat. You still see people advising this online. However, that doesn’t apply in this case as the cure was formulated so that however long it’s left there can only be 2.5% salt in the meat. That’s about the same level as in mild bacon. I’ll braise the meat in liquid which will reduce this level further.
More important is that I chose to cure it for 20 days to give plenty of time for the saltpetre to work. Unlike the sodium nitrite in Cure #1, saltpetre (potassium nitrate) has to react with bacteria in the meat to lose an oxygen molecule and become potassium nitrite. It’s that nitrite that gives the meat protection and its colour.
We get a lot of questions about meat not looking as people think it will after curing so here’s a picture of the beef fresh from the cure:
You’ll note that some parts look red and others quite brown.
It’s even more noticeable after rinsing it. This is one side:
And, this is the other:
You can see that it looks very different. It’s nothing to worry about.
Another thing that worries people is weight loss or lack of it. This piece of meat weighed 1885gm after it was trimmed. The cure added to it weighed 83gm making a total of 1968gm. Now it’s cured, rinsed and dried it weighs 1918gm. That’s actually a 1.75% increase in the original weight of the meat.
As long ago as 2007 I wrote about a chilli dipping sauce. I still use that recipe; it’s so quick to make.
This one is a proper sauce – as in not a thin dipping sauce. I’ve added red pepper to it as not everybody likes a sauce that grabs you by the throat. Feel free to reduce the red pepper and increase the chilli or add a couple of scotch bonnets.
1 dessertspoon Cornflour (Cornstarch) a little water Salt to taste ¼ teaspoon is a good starting point
Weigh the sugar and set it aside. Then weigh the water and apple cider vinegar and place them into a pan with everything but the sugar, cornflour and salt. Cook the mixture in the pan until the pepper and chilli are nearly soft. Add the sugar and bring it back to a boil. Mix a little water into the cornflour to make a loose paste. Add it to the pan whilst stirring – thicken it to the consistency you like – you may not need it all. Let it cool a bit and then taste and season it.
in 2007, I wrote about making a simple sweet chilli dipping sauce:
Apparently, it’s National Chilli Week from 26th November to 3 December 2007.
It’s a bit of a coincidence really, ‘cos on Saturday I experimented with making my own Sweet Chilli Sauce
I put about ½ cup sugar in a pan with ¼ cup water and ¼ cup vinegar. I added a finely chopped chilli and boiled it all for about 5 mins or so. This gave me a light dipping sauce with the chilli floating on top. I wanted the chilli mixed in the sauce and slightly more heat so I thickened it with arrowroot and added, in the absence of another fresh chilli, a bit of chilli powder. I also added some paprika (about ¼ teaspoon) for colour.
The sauce is better than I expected – It’s just like the stuff you buy.
My grandma Young used to do a lot of fruit bottling and jam making; I suppose everyone who had fruit trees did in those days as they didn’t have freezers or even a fridge in grandma’s case. She used to make a jam that she called Marrow Cream; it was very much like lemon curd. I’ve since learned that it’s more commonly called marrow curd.
Poor old marrow curd, it’s a superb lemony concoction that’s up there with the best of them but has nothing going for it in the name stakes, does it? So for everyone’s benefit, I’ve renamed it Autumn Curd. Of course, a good PR man would also double or treble the price to make it even more attractive but as you’ll make your own, this doesn’t really apply!
I couldn’t find Grandma Young’s recipe, but this one seemed very similar.
I’ve amended it slightly to make it more like the jam I remember:
The ingredients: 2½ lb cooked marrow flesh (about 3½lb before cooking) 2 – 2½ lb sugar (depending on how sweet you like things!) Juice and grated rind of 4 large lemons 6 oz butter
Method: Steam the marrow until soft. Leave it to drain in a sieve or colander squeezing as much of the liquid out as possible. Mash or liquidise it and squeeze again. Place it into a pan with the sugar and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and grated rind then the butter. When the butter has melted, bring it all to a rolling simmer, stirring to prevent sticking. Simmer it until thick – about 5 – 10 minutes and then bottle it into sterilised jars.
I tasted some of this warm and it was superb. On cooling, I found it to be very sweet. I’ll maybe add more marrow and lemon or less sugar next time. That said, it’s still bloomin’ good.
The Charcuterie Board’s ‘Summer of Charcuterie 2021’ review is nearing its close. The products for the final round of tasting are with the reviewers of which I’m honoured to be one.
Tomorrow night I’ll be tasting and reviewing these products:
I’m sure that many of them will be superb and hope that I’ll be able to add some constructive suggestions to improve them further. This review differs from the run-of-the-mill competitions in that the whole package is reviewed – packing and labelling as well as taste texture etc.
An honourable mention must go to the sponsors of the event without whom this wouldn’t be happening
I’ve written before about cold smoking food and there’s even a full review of the smoker that I use – it’s simplicity itself to use. However, I realise that there can be a tendency to worry or even panic the first time you smoke something like a salmon. Questions like, should I brine or dry cure it? What brine or cure should I use? What strength should it be? How long should I cure it for? So, here’s a breakdown of what I did with the salmon I smoked for Christmas.
I bought a side of salmon, ready filleted, from the local trade wholesaler, Makro. It’s a ‘bog standard’ farmed salmon, nothing fancy, most supermarkets have similar fish on promotion around Christmas. If you can only get a whole fish you’ll need to fillet it. The filleting-fish.com website has excellent instructions and a video tutorial on how to do this. I will say, it’s a lot easier with a good filleting knife. I use a very good and very reasonably priced Victorinox. My salmon fillet weighed 1160gm. I decided to dry cure it rather than put it into a brine; it’s a lot simpler this way.
I started the salmon by covering a plastic food grade tray with salt, placing the salmon skin side down on top of it and covering the salmon with 200gm of salt. You can add all sorts of fancy things, sugar, whisky, beetroot, all sorts of stuff, but I prefer to keep mine simple.
The salt I used was medium sea salt. Ordinary table salt’s fine if you can’t get anything better but try to use one without any additives. Anyway, it shouldn’t be difficult to get some decent salt. Maldon Sea Salt’s fantastic and widely available from most supermarkets.
The salmon was put into the salt for 10 hours. Then I rinsed it and put it to dry on a cake cooling rack in the fridge with a tray below it to catch any drips. It weighed 1080gm at this stage.
14 hours later I put it in to smoke. Why 14 hours? No reason, other than that was how long it was between me putting it into the fridge and getting up the next day!
It smoked from 1 pm on 15th December ’till half past midnight on the 16th. It was getting very cold then, down to freezing, so I brought it in and put it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, when the weather had warmed up a bit, I smoked it for 11 hours more then put it back in the fridge again.
On the 17th (are you keeping up?) I put it in to smoke at half-past eleven. Unbeknownst to me, the smoker went out. I guess from the amount of sawdust that it had used it had burned for about an hour.
I re-lit it and it smoked for 7 hours more before I returned 5the salmon, yet again, to the fridge. It weighed 1040gm at this time. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it illustrates that you can smoke in stages, in fact, many would recommend it. Also, the odd setback like the smoker going out isn’t a problem.
I’ve left it to dry for 3 days in the fridge as it hadn’t lost much weight during curing and smoking. It’s now been vacuum packed ready for Christmas Day.
The target weight loss when smoking dry-cured salmon is around 15% with about half from the curing and half from the smoking. You’ll recall that the salmon started at 1160gms. It now weighs 1001gms, only 13.7% less with some 3.4% of this from the final drying period. It seems to be a common problem for home-smokers. Extra time salting or smoking leads to the salmon being too salty or too smokey. I smoked the salmon for over 30 hours! I purposely don’t let the smoke hang around in the curing chamber so that I can smoke for longer without the salmon being over-smoked. Many people using the same equipment only smoke salmon for about 12 hours; they get even less weight loss. Why worry? Well the weight loss, and salting, are the only protection that the salmon has. We don’t want to poison people! Why don’t we home smokers get the same losses as the ‘big boys’? I don’t know. I wonder whether it’s something to do with the age of the product we’re smoking? Some commercial boys virtually have the salmon swimming into their factories. Our’s has been gutted, travelled all over the country for days, and then sat on a fish counter. It must have lost a fair amount of weight before we even get our hands on it Or, is it because of the ambient temperature: less than 5°C? Temperatures around 20°C to 25°C would be better; perhaps someone could move Christmas to a more clement time of year!
One thing I do know though – it’s superb, and less than a quarter of the price of shop-bought.
Well, the weather finally performed as forecast and I got to test the ProQ™ Eco Smoker sent to me by Ian from ProQ™ .
The smoker arrived promptly and safely packaged.
It comprises a cardboard box with a further cardboard liner that strengthens it and forms the shelf supports, three metal wire shelves and two metal drip trays – one with handles.
Assembly is self-explanatory with instructions on the box and a video tutorial online.
The drip tray prevents nasty surprises!
A test batch of cheese and garlic is put into the box.
Fill the smoker with dust ensuring that the dust is not above the internal divides.
Light the smoker using a nightlight.
After a couple of minutes, it will start smoking, remove the night-light and place the smoke generator on the metal tray in the bottom of the box.
The box has a vent in the top to ensure a steady throughput of smoke.
After 8 hours.
This type of smoking uses only a trickle of smoke, this ensures that your food isn’t bitter. You can just see the smoke in this photo, there’s so little your neighbours won’t even know you are smoking food.
After 8 hours the food is taking on some colour.
After 11 hours the smoke generator was still going strong…
…but it’s 2 am and time for bed for me! The smoked food was wrapped well and put into the fridge overnight. The next day the colour has darkened slightly. I like to leave cold smoked food for a couple of days for the flavours to permeate the food.
So how’s it turned out? Well, it’s all as I expected really. The cheese is fine with just the right amount of smokiness. It’s a great way to add value to cheap cheese. It’s unbelievable, the difference between a rubbery Edam – only fit for erasing spelling mistakes, and its smoked counterpart.
At £30+ the generator may look expensive, but considering its ease of use and the length of time it burns – plus its economical use of dust – it pays for itself in no time at all. A couple of sides of smoked salmon will not only recoup your outlay but make you a lot of friends in the process! I guess that it’s only guys who’ve spent hours in the cold and rain tending other methods of producing cold smoke that really appreciate how brilliant this little gizmo is; take it from me it’s superb; you don’t even want to consider an alternative.
As to the Eco-smoker, well the obvious comment would be: “That’s a lot of money for a cardboard box!”. However, I know from experience that finding something suitable for use isn’t as easy as it seems at face value. There’s no doubt that given a suitable undercover space for storage and use, it will last for ages. Yes, undoubtedly you will want something more permanent in the longer term but this well thought out turnkey solution makes a great alternative in the short to medium term.
It will also be great for the hunting/shooting/fishing fraternity who may wish to have a portable smoking solution or anyone with too little space for a more permanent smoker. In my case, it will allow me to cold smoke food at the same time as I am using my purpose-built smoker for hot smoking – an advantage as I make batches of different types of products at once – some for hot smoking and some for cold.
All in all, what a great Christmas present for the foodie in your life.
The Eco-smoker and Cold Smoke Generator are available at various prices from ProQ™ and their stockists.
Update: Soon after I wrote this a friend bought a ProQ smoker and I gave him the Eco smoker box. I know for a fact that he was still using it last year to smoke salmon. That’s over 10 years of use. Amazing.
Food, Curing and Sausage