Preserving Food by Smoking
Smoking food coats and permeates the flesh with anti-microbial substances which help to preserve many types of food. The smoking process also often involves a slow cooking of the food and possibly salting and the use of sugar, both of which make it hard for undesirable micro-organisms to get enough water from the food to live. Smoked food should not be regarded as a staple but rather as a treat, as smoke has been implicated as a carcinogen.
Whilst a camp fire will do a bit of a job, proper smoking facilities will give you control over the quality and make the work a pleasure rather than an inconvenience.
For Hot Smoking neat little smokers are available at most hardware stores or can be made quite simply. They employ a metho spirit burner under a metal plate upon which hardwood shavings or sawdust (particularly of red timbers) are sprinkled several millimetres deep. The heat of the burner causes the wood to smoke and the heat and smoke rise up through a series of grills with your fish or meat on them. Half an hour later you can be eating your Hot Smoked product.
For Hot and Cold Smoking a device giving smoke continuously is needed. This can be a diversion from your wood stove or a purpose-built smoker.
For fish you can simply place the scaled, gutted and split or filleted fish on grills or hanging in a hot smoking situation (65-90degreesC) for 30-40 minutes. If youd like to keep them longer than a day or two adopt more of the cold smoking techniques.
This is a relatively long thorough process which can produce food which will keep for some weeks. Split fish are placed in a 50% brine (salt solution) for an hour, dried, rubbed with olive oil and smoked for 6 hours in a cold smoking situation (30-40 degrees C). For fish pieces weighing more than 500gm the brining and smoking will need to be longer.
Mince lean meat and marinate in vinegar or wine for 12 hours, spice as desired (try 1.4 kg meat, 28gm salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, chilli etc) then add a big pinch of Saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate). Mix and stuff into sausage casing, the bigger the better (from the butcher). Then hang in a cool, dry place (16 degrees C is good never more than 20degrees). If you would like to smoke it, give it about six hours Cold Smoking.
Another recipe, for Mettwurst, involves 1kg lean beef, 1kg lean pork and 400gm skinless backfat. Chill the meat and mince finely (through 4mm holes) and the fat coursely (through 8mm holes).
Mix with 3 heaped tablespoons of salt, a clove of chopped garlic, a tablespoon of spirits (Gin, Vodka, Brandy), a Tablespoon of ground pepper, 2 chillis, a teaspoon of Saltpetre, a teaspoon of any spice that appeals (Caraway, Mustard seed, nutmeg etc). Then process as above.
Cut lean meat into half inch by half inch strips and for 12 hours marinate in a solution of 1 cup salt, half cup sugar, teaspoon pepper, a crushed garlic clove, 2.2 litres water.
Cold Smoke as above. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.
Hygiene and Safety
Commonsense safety rules apply. The freshness of produce is very important. The keeping time will depend on salt/sugar levels, length of curing, temperature etc.
For information on food safety contact the Environmental Health Officer at your local council. For informative reading: Food Poisoning and Food Hygiene by Betty Hobbs and Diane Roberts.