UK BBQ Mag Winter 2017/2018 - Page 93

It’s estimated that man has been cooking over an open wood fire for around 2 millennia. And, whilst up to 3 billion people in other parts of the world still cook over an open fire today, the closest the rest of us get to doing this is in on our barbecue. Our modern take on open fire cooking is a constant search for authentic wood flavours, whether through the heat source or by adding wood to charcoals to infuse wood smoke flavour into our cooking.

We remember our frustration when we noticed a ‘wood smoking chips’ product on a supermarket shelf with no mention of what the wood actually was. We’ve spent nearly a decade defining the subtleties of one wood flavour versus another and bringing together a selection of wood types and flavours to suit any recipe.

One size does not fit all and different woods produce varying flavours and depth of smoke. The aim is to choose a flavour which complements the food you are cooking rather than overpowering it. You still need to taste the food, not the wood, and it’s very easy to oversmoke.

Denser woods generally produce a heavier smoke, Oak, Hickory and Mesquite are the strongest of all and should be teamed with robust flavours such as red meats, game and oily fish. At the other end of the spectrum, Beech, Alder and Lemon deliver a light, mild smoke flavour which is perfect for more delicate flavoured foods. Fruitwoods such as Apple, Cherry and Pear work well with poultry and white meat, whilst nutwoods such as Almond and Chestnut pack a slightly stronger smoke punch. The point is, there is a massive choice of woods to explore.

So long as they are a pure hardwood or fruitwood and are correctly seasoned they can be used either as fuel or flavour. Whilst general advice is to avoid anything too resinous, these tree species also play a role, for example Douglas Fir will add colour to a smoked dish.

Whilst we love to buy British, we also want to buy sustainably, so many of our woods are sourced from managed estates worldwide, where they either occur naturally or are grown commercially. These include Juniper from Denmark, Manuka from New Zealand, Maple from the USA or Vines, Olive and Orange from the Mediterranean, Pimento from Jamaica. Closer to home there are the evocative flavours of Gorse and Heather from Scotland.

The wood possibilities don’t end there, an increasing trend is for bespoke blends of different woods for restaurants and small producers, enabling them to create a truly unique taste. Woods can be combined with crushed whole herbs and spices, fragrant rice, tea or dried fruits and peel.

The combinations are endless and now, as the popularity of wood-fired ovens is on the increase, the choice of wood as fuel are becoming just as sophisticated. The benefits are in the final taste, nothing and certainly not a ‘paint on smoke flavour’ can replicate the wonderful subtle wood smoke flavour we can achieve with careful selection of woods in our outdoor cooking.

Alyson Murray

Hot Smoked

Twitter: @foodsmoking