Humans have been smoking and preserving meat and other foods over fire for thousands of years. Indeed, the smoking of meat was one of our ancestors’ first food preparation techniques and can be dated back to when homo sapiens first became cave dwellers.
But a technique as ancient as cave art has also evolved too, even if our fondness for the smoky taste and aroma meat, fish and vegetables infused by smoke has remained undimmed.
Smoking food as preserving method
“There are many methods to preserving food, salt for example, but historically smoking was used for the preserving of food because the rising smoke would help to inhibit bacterial growth,” says Florian Hartmann, Vice President Product Application iCombi, RATIONAL. “Now smoke has a significant cultural and traditional source to us – it is deep rooted in culture and various cuisines. It gives a nostalgic element to any dish.”
Food, says Hartmann, “is so emotional. It’s a reason why we like to eat smoked food, because we know it from the past. I can remember my grandma making her own smoked ham, so I’ve loved that taste since my childhood.”
Depth and complexity
“Smoke also provides depth or complexity to the taste of food,” says Hartmann. “It also enhances the overall flavor profile of a dish. Plus, it’s very beneficial because you can use it with various type of foods, such as meat or fish or vegetables. You can even smoke cheese.”
Aesthetically, smoking offers an additional visual appeal to a food product, leaving “a kind of caramelized color on the surface of the foods,” says Hartmann.
Today, different types of wood chips, including hickory, cherry, apple maple, mesquite oak, whiskey oak, pecan, and sweet chestnut, can be used for hot smoking on the BBQ or in a smoker at home. But in a restaurant or large foodservice facility, it has long been a challenge to replicate that home-smoked taste with any level of consistency. Until recently.
Professional equipment for smoking
For professional kitchens, RATIONAL’s VarioSmoker provides those beautiful, aromatic smoky flavors all without the need for smoke to be billowing around the chefs. Plugging directly into the iCombi Pro combi oven via a USB connection, the VarioSmoker gives meat, fish and vegetables a natural smoky flavor and the unmistakable color of caramelization. Indeed, the flavor can be refined and intensified according to the chef’s preferences. Low temperature cooking is also easily achieved.
“It’s an intelligent system because the smoke is controlled by the unit,” says Hartmann, who notes that different kinds of wood can be used in the VarioSmoker. “There is a whole range of words you can use for smoking. You can use bigger chunks of wood or sawdust – which actually creates more smoke.”
Smoke signals: hot feedback from chefs
The precision and control that the VarioSmoker in conjunction with the iCombi Pro provides has seen fantastic feedback from chefs, says Hartmann. “They love it – and the consistency it gives them.”
“We want chefs to have the opportunity to get the same result every time. To use smoke in cooking [conventionally] you must be very experienced. Add too much smoke to a product, it adds a kind of bitterness. It can taste like an ashtray! It can destroy the food itself. But with this system, controlled by the oven, spareribs, for example, are perfect. A nice and smoky taste, they are caramelized on the outside and juicy on the inside. And always consistent. As a restaurant, you need to have consistently good results otherwise you will lose your guests. You can trust the iCombi Pro will be the same every time.”
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Our desire for smoked foods will continue to tap into our primitive and eternal connection with fire and all the positive connotations incumbent to it – warmth, nostalgia, aroma, and flavor. However, modern technology is now able to ally all of that with the one thing that has been missing over the millennia: precision. No wonder it’s a sure-fire hit with chefs.