Friday, 12 October 2012

smoke'em if you got'em!...

As per an earlier entry, the smooth sounds of Bob Marley echo in my flat as I reap the blackberry harvest and embark on my seasonal jammin' sessions. For the record, that is as much Bob Marley-ism I embrace in my life, so this entry has nothing to do with some of the "other" influences often attributed to the rasta-reggae legend.

Rather, I am referring (that's re-fer-ring, not reef-er-ing) to my recent discovery at the art of smoking food. With my varied exposure to cooking methods around the world, for some reason smoking meat has never occurred to me as a reasonable way to prepare a meal. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I was never a happy camper growing up (and to this day still much prefer the great indoors), so I was never exposed to the impact campfire can have on food and clothing.  Maybe it is because, as an rule-obeying child fearful of harmful consequences, I never played with matches and therefore never took an interest in cooking skills related to smoke. Or, maybe it is simply because I never developed a smoking habit myself; i never got the point of it, and my palate has both lost out and benefited from that in the end.

Whatever the reason, I am now a fan of the smoke.  Earlier today, I bought a bone-in turkey breast for dinner but was not yet sure how I wanted to cook it.  Autumn rains upon us mean grilling on the BBQ isn't as fun, but the temperature doesn't quite merit slow-roasting in the oven. A perfect compromise: through a few hickory chips in the un-unsed smoker try (which is not to be confused with the ashtray for smokers located near the BBQ), work up a smoke, and let sit for about an hour. To this, I added fresh-picked rosemary, thyme, sage, and lavender set atop the turkey, adding an herbaceous complexity to the otherwise unseasoned meat.

The final catalyst to the to smoke or not to smoke debate was, naturally, the wine I happened to have on hand.  Leftover from a class I instructed last night was a bottle of Pinotage; a uniquely South African red that is the love-child of a brief and torrid Cape Town affair between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.  Back in France, a long-distance relationship is just one of the many factors that keep the light and delicate Pinot Noir of Burgundy away from the full-bodied and rustic Cinsault; the two are just not meant to be together in French wine. However, thanks to the clever Cupid hands of scientists, South Africans have adopted their love child Pinotage as their own signature grape as it is intended to balance the polar opposites of its parent's characteristics. A typical Pinotage should be medium bodied with medium tannins, show a combination of red and dark berry flavours with a hint of wild game, barnyard, and toasted coffee beans, and is a wine that benefits from oak aging.

And with oak comes flavours of smoke, thus inspiring my dinner tonight. One of the basic food and wine pairing elements is to balance flavour intensity of the food with that of the wine. Intensity of flavour often comes from the method of cooking. Something poached will be delicate in flavour, so match with a delicate wine. Something slow-simmered will be deep and complex in flavour, so balance with a fuller-bodied, complex wine. With smoked food, the match is simple: oaked wine. The fact that smoke and oak rhyme is the best way to remember this pairing!

Although I broke two cardinal laws by not only eating meat on Friday but also having red wine with white meat, the dinner was excellent. Sure enough, the smokey notes of both wine and turkey matched each other perfectly, served with a side of spiced rice n' beans with cabbage. As a result, I have a new cooking skill added to my repatoire, so if you ever here me say that I need a smoke, you'll know that I am hankering for a nice dinner!

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