Smoked meats are the product of a technique of preparing white meat, red meat, and even seafood that originated in the Paleolithic Era sometime before the arrival of farming. Smoking provides juiciness, adds texture to meat through the Maillard Reaction, and added flavor through the Annealing reaction. Smoking also releases free radicals from the meat thus enhancing its health benefits. Modern methods of smoking, such as smoke racks and smokeless barbecue, make use of modern smoke curing techniques. These techniques have improved the quality of smoked meats over time.
Perhaps one of the earliest evidences of smoked meats was the fact that early man could preserve meats and other foods longer than they can now. The reason for this was because the bones in these foods would remain intact during the smoking process, preserving many of their vitamins and minerals. In fact, smoked meats were a popular delicacy among ancient man. Many of the legumes and vegetables preserved with smoke were eaten on a daily basis. Fish was also smoked and the salty taste gave fish a more delightful taste. Smoked salmon was a particularly favorite among Mediterranean men.
Over time, smoking developed into an art form. The best smokers mastered the art of creating moist and tasty smoked foods. They also learned how to cure their foods so that the aroma did not escape the smoke. It is possible to cure almost any type of meat with smoke; chicken is an excellent example. Fish and pork are two other examples of cured foods that can be smoked.
Smoked salmon is available today at most well-stocked butcher shops. Faux fillets of all sizes, from cuts that are large enough to feed a small family to those that will feed a large group, are made from the strips, neck and shoulder of this fatty fish. The salmon fillets are smoked for up to three weeks in advance, curing them in a process that uses salt, dry ice, wood chips and, depending on the manufacturer, both oxygen and sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate has been linked to cancer. Oxygen and sodium benzoate are added because they help create a moist atmosphere in which the curing takes place.
Smoked meats, along with smoked fish, provide a variety of flavors. The pahages of Eastern Europe are a delicious example. These lean cuts of meat are marinated in brine for several days and then are smoked over hard wood. Pahs are the most popular meat of choice amongst Eastern European countries, but there are other examples of good smoked foods. Smoked turkey is another popular choice.
Smoked cheese is a very common practice. Smoked cheese is made by treating the cheese with fat that has been soaked overnight in water. This soaking creates an optimum situation in which the cheese can be smoked. Smoked cheese is available in several styles; smoked and aged cheeses make for excellent smoked cheese. Smoked brie, goat cheese and even smoked American or Swiss cheese are all options.
Smoked fish is also a very popular practice. In the United Kingdom, smoked cod is a very popular dish. Other dishes include smoked salmon and smoked grits. All of these options have the advantage of adding to the flavor of the food, while also raising the value of the food.
The curing of meats can take several forms. From the simple act of smoking meat over a fire to the incredibly complicated process of curing fish, there is a technique for every type of curing. For more information, please refer to the following resources: Smoker’s Smoke, by Gary Rhodes and Andrew Rundle, Smoke Signals, by Jim Wertheimer Smoke Meats, by Jim Wertheimer Smoke Cooking, by Jim Wertheimer, Curing Cures, by Jim Wertheimer. These excellent books provide detailed information on curing and smoked meats. For a more detailed overview, please follow the links below.