Using the Big Green Egg adds a specific flavour to each dish or ingredient. If you're thinking of adding extra flavour, why not try smoking your dishes in the Big Green Egg? Apart from smoking fish, you could also smoke meat and fruit. In this special, Big Green Egg expert Ralph de Kok explains the technique of smoking food in detail and shares three of his smoked dishes.
At one time, smoking arose as a necessity. In the past, it was a way to keep insects and other animals at bay and it also had a preserving effect. Originally, it was never intended as a flavour-enhancer, although it did add a delicious flavour to the food. Despite all the modern conveniences currently at our disposal, smoking is still used as a cooking or preservation technique. However, the smoking is now mostly used to add delicious flavours to certain products.
The type of wood used for the smoking process makes all the difference. It is, after all, the smell of the wood that is released during the smoking process that gives ingredients and dishes this unique flavour. Some types give soft, subtle or even sweet aromas and flavours, while others ensure a more robust smoky flavour. Apple and cherry, for instance, are mild types, where apple provides a natural sweetness and cherry a light fruity aroma. Although pecan gives products and dishes a bit more 'oomph,' it is also slightly sweet. Walnut, on the other hand, ensures a fairly concentrated smoky flavour. If you are planning to smoke fish, do take into account that fish varieties such as salmon and mackerel already have quite a distinctive taste. Pecan would suit them quite well. White fish, however, has a far more subtle taste and to not overpower it with a smoky flavour, it would be better to use a more ‘milder’ type of wood, such as apple. In addition to the different wood types, it is also possible to use hay or pine branches to create a spectacular flavour sensation.
Hot and cold smoking
There are various ways of smoking foods. The most commonly known and often used methods are hot and cold smoking using wood chips. Cold smoking normally means that the ingredient is smoked for a longer period of time at a temperature of up to 28°C. The Big Green Egg is perfect for hot smoking and it has become a very popular technique. In the case of hot smoking, the most common temperature is between 65 and 90°C, which means that the food isn't only smoked, but also cooked. As there are always exceptions to the rule, hot smoking can also be done at temperatures above 90°C, depending on how much they wish the product to be cooked. Both the smoking and the cooking process have a preserving effect. Smoke will extract moisture from the product (moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria) and will leave a film-like layer that provides protection against penetrating bacteria. The temperature ensures that the product is cooked and that the bacteria are destroyed.
Smoking on a plank
Smoking on a cedar smoking plank is very popular; it involves smoking the product or dish on a plank, meaning that the food is always heated indirectly. The plank itself is placed directly above the glowing charcoal. The wood will start to smoulder, releasing a subtle smoke aroma that is absorbed by the product or dish. Smoking on a plank requires a high temperature, approximately between 175 and 225°C, because the plank will not start smoking at lower temperatures. And while this takes place, the product or dish is being cooked. One of the most commonly known smoking recipes using a plank is salmon on cedar wood. It is a tried and tested method to achieve a great flavour combination. But those that give their fantasy free reign will soon discover that smoking on a plank has much more to offer than just that. For example, I used this cedar wood plank to create a delicious dessert by stuffing apples and smoking them on the plank.
Soaking it in brine or not?
Where meat and fish are concerned, the process of smoking often starts with soaking the product in brine. How essential is this though and what exactly does it do? Using a brine does several things; it can have a preserving effect, it can strengthen the natural flavour of the product and it affects the colour and structure of the fish or meat. For preservation purposes, the salt must be applied by rubbing it into the product (often in combination with sugar) or to use a wet salt solution of, at least, 156 grams of salt to 1 litre of water. The high salt content extracts the moisture from the product, which is fatal to bacteria. When smoking cold, you must extend this treatment for at least 24 hours, as smoking at low temperatures is not bactericidal. Furthermore, it would be better to use nitrite brine salt instead of regular salt here. When hot smoking, it is not necessary to soak the product in brine, provided the smoking process is carried out at a temperature of 65°C or higher. You can always apply a dry brine, or if a wet brine is preferred, you can stick to a salt percentage of between 50 and 100 grams per litre of water, provided it is for the purpose of hot smoking. This will guarantee the previously named advantages such as flavour, colour and the (positive) influence on the structure of the meat. You could opt to add additional aromatic flavours, such as spices, and the process of osmosis will ensure the penetration of these flavours into the product.
The strength of the Big Green Egg
Smoking in the Big Green Egg has one big advantage over other appliances: thanks to the ceramic used in its construction, the Big Green Egg optimally retains the moisture and juices of the ingredient or dish. Contrary to steel cooking appliances, such as water smokers, there is no need to place a container of water in the Big Green Egg to prevent the product from drying out. The presence of water often results in hot steam, which could cause the proteins on the outside of certain products to set, which is not a particularly desirable situation in most cases. In addition, the ceramics ensure that it is possible to cook at a very constant temperature, despite any adverse weather conditions!
Preparation time: 35 minutes (excluding 90 minutes for cooling)
1 kg round steak
50 g pesto
4 tbsp pine nuts
50 g rocket
50 g shaved Parmesan cheese
Preparation in advance: 20-30 minutes (excluding 2 hours of brining)
Preparation time: 40 minutes
2 tub gurnards
8 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 ½ tbsp sugar
For the sweet-and-sour salad:
200 ml vinegar
200 g sugar
1 cm fresh ginger root
½ red chilli pepper
1 stem of lemon grass
2 heads of little gem
Preparation in advance: 5 minutes (excluding 30 minutes for steeping)
Preparation time: 45 minutes
30 g raisins
splash of dark rum
6 star apples (small apples)
250 ml vanilla custard
8 tbsp apple syrup
4 tbsp honey
15 g almond shavings
vanilla ice cream for serving
1 sprig of mint
Smoking meat is a great way of adding flavour to a dish and it may be the last thing you would think of when preparing a carpaccio recipe. However, smoking carpaccio on hay is something we really recommend, as it produces a great flavour sensation. As the temperature is moderate, the inside of the meat remains raw.
Fully open the draft door on the ceramic base of the Big Green Egg. Ignite the charcoal in the Big Green Egg with three starter blocks and leave the lid open for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, wet a substantial handful of hay in a container with water.
After 10 minutes, or when about one third of the charcoal is glowing, place the grid in the EGG with a bed of wet hay on it. Wait until the hay starts smoking, place the steak on the hay and immediately close the lid of the EGG. Closing the lid immediately is important, as it prevents the hay from burning. At this stage, the hay should only smoke. For this reason, keep the draft door and the dual function metal top slightly open to allow enough oxygen to enter to keep the charcoal glowing, but to prevent the hay from burning. The temperature in the Big Green Egg can increase to a maximum of 130°C.
Turn the steak after approximately 7-8 minutes, close the lid of the EGG and leave to smoke for another 7-8 minutes.
Then open the lid and wait for the hay to start burning. Remove the steak from the Big Green Egg once the hay has burned down. Leave the meat to cool for a bit, wipe off any hay remains and wrap it tightly in cling film. To carve it into thinner slices more easily, place it in the freezer for about one and a half to two hours.
Carve the steak into thin slices and distribute these across the plates in overlapping layers. Allow to reach room temperature, if necessary. Top with little heaps of pesto, and sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the rocket, shaved Parmesan and pine nuts and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Do you like to smoke fish? If so, try this smoked tub gurnard. Brining the fish fillets first will make them firmer and tastier. The sweet-and-sour salad combines perfectly with the flavour of smoked fish fillet!
Preparation in advance
Fillet the tub gurnards (or ask your fishmonger to do this), but do not remove the skin. Mix the sea salt with the sugar and generously rub both sides of the fish fillets with the salt mixture. Cover and leave to brine for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
To prepare the sweet-and-sour salad, bring the vinegar to the boil adding 200 ml of water and the sugar. Peel the ginger root and slice thinly, cut the chilli pepper into rings and crush the lemon grass. Add to the boiling vinegar mixture, turn the heat down to low and allow to softly simmer for 15 minutes.
Allow the sweet-and-sour mixture to cool. Meanwhile, peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and shave the flesh into thin strips using a peeler. Wash the cucumber and shave into strips lengthwise. Remove the ginger and the lemon grass from the sweet-and-sour mixture. Halve the lime, squeeze the juice of one half (keep the other half separate) over the sweet-and-sour mixture and add the pumpkin and cucumber strips to it. Allow to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.
Soak a generous handful of Cherry Wood Chips in water. Fully open the draft door on the ceramic base of the Big Green Egg. Ignite the charcoal in the Big Green Egg with three starter blocks and leave the lid open for 10-12 minutes. In the meantime, rinse the tub gurnard fillets under cold flowing water and pat dry.
As soon as a third of the charcoal is glowing, sprinkle the Wood Chips on the glowing charcoal and place the convEGGtor and the grid in the EGG. Place the tub gurnard fillets on it, skin-side down, and close the lid of the EGG. Close the draft door to a gap of 1 centimetre and
slightly open the dual function metal top. The idea is for the temperature of the Big Green Egg to be between 65 and 90°C. Smoke the fillets for about 25 minutes. By then, they will be done and will taste absolutely fantastic.
Remove the leaves from the little gem heads and share among the plates. Cut the remaining lime half into four segments. Drain the sweet-and-sour vegetables and arrange them on the plates. Remove the tub gurnard fillets from the grid, halve them diagonally and position them nicely on the salad. Garnish with a segment of lime.
Smoking fruit is not that common, which is a shame, because many fruit varieties are highly suitable for it. Smoking apples on the Big Green Egg gives them a fantastic flavour. In this recipe, the stuffed apples are smoked on a cedar wood smoking plank. This is a delicious desert that looks great when served on the plank.
Preparation in advance
Put the raisins in a bowl and add a splash of rum. Leave the raisins to steep for 30 minutes. Optional: soak the Wooden Grilling Plank in water for an hour.
Ignite the charcoal in the Big Green Egg and heat, with the grid, to 190°C. Hollow out the star apples using a melon baller. Make sure to not pierce the bottom of the apples! Drain the raisins and mix into the vanilla custard. Pour a tablespoon of apple syrup in each apple and fill with the vanilla custard and raisins. Add half a tablespoon of honey on top and sprinkle with the almond shavings.
Place the stuffed apples on the Cedar Wooden Grilling Plank. Place it carefully on the grid and close the lid of the EGG. After 5 to 10 minutes, the cedar wood will start smoking and the smouldering bottom and sides will release a superb smoky aroma. Leave the apples to cook and smoke for about 20-25 minutes until soft.
Remove the Wooden Grilling Plank with the apples from the grid. Share the apples among the plates, place a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to them and garnish with a leaf of mint.