#33 | Project Smoke
By Steven Raichlen
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Steven Raichlen: I'm Steven Raichlen and my latest cookbook is Project Smoke.
Suzy Chase: USA Today said, "Where there's smoke, there's Steven Raichlen." Is smoking the new grilling?
Steven Raichlen: Smoking is absolutely the new grilling. After two decades of becoming really good at grilling, smoking is the new frontier and there are many reasons for this. I mean, first of all, we are obsessed with barbecue more than ever, but we've realized that you can get those great authentic smoked flavors at home, you don't necessarily need to go to a barbecue joint.
Suzy Chase: What's the difference between smoking, grilling, and barbecuing?
Steven Raichlen: Well all three are related processes and all three involve live fire, but in grilling you cook directly over the fire, over a high heat very quickly, so you would typically grill a stead or a hamburger. True barbecue is an indirect method, you're cooking next to the fire not directly over it at a much lower temperature for a much longer period of time. Foods you typically barbecue would be pork shoulder, brisket, ribs, etc. Smoking involves the use of wood smoke to flavor the food like barbecue, but not all smoked foods are barbecue. Think of smoked salmon, think of smoked cheese, you can think of bacon; these are three classic smoked foods that aren't really barbecue.
Suzy Chase: What is your favorite food to smoke?
Steven Raichlen: I'd have to say the beef plate ribs on the cover of the new book Project Smoke. That's what I've been smoking a lot of lately. These are the biggest ribs on the planet. Each one weighs about two pound. Simple preparation, just coarse salt, freshly ground or cracked black peppercorns, and hot pepper flakes. The whole key is to smoke them low and slow for about 10 hours.
Suzy Chase: Now why is it low and slow? Why can't it be fast?
Steven Raichlen: Many of these cuts like a beef brisket or beef plate ribs or beef ribs, require a low heat because they're loaded with connective tissue and collagen, and if you cook that ... Well, I mean first of all a lot of these foods are big. A whole pack of brisket is 14-18 pounds, so if you try and direct grill that, what you do very quickly is you burn the outside while the inside stays raw, but even more to the point, the connective tissue requires a low heat and a long cooking time to melt out the collagen and render the meat tender.
Suzy Chase: Quail eggs, cocktails, and ice cream; three things I never though about smoking. Tell us about your quail egg recipe adapted from Noma in Copenhagen?
Steven Raichlen: Yeah, so you know whenever I write a new book, the first thing I do is pack a suitcase and this one took me throughout Scandinavia, throughout the U.K, Italy, Mexico, and of course I crisscrossed the United States. Noma of course, the world's top restaurant, ranked in the top 50 restaurants by San Pellegrino for I believe four years running. Based on a startling premise and that is to use foods only found within a 50 kilometer radius of Copenhagen.
The idea of a pickled egg, this is a popular bar food found throughout Europe and of course throughout North America, and the idea of smoking it and then pickling it, that's kind of taking a bar classic. Smoke a traditional perseverative for preserving meats throughout the long winter before refrigeration and then the Noma sort of three-star ultimate restaurant experience is shrinking it down to a quail egg, which is very delicate. You can eat it in one bite and at Noma it's actually served on a bed of hay in an egg shaped ceramic dish that when you lift the top of the lid the hay is actually smoking, so you're kind of reinforcing the smoke experience.
Suzy Chase: The term hay-smoking pops up in your cookbook, what exactly is that?
Steven Raichlen: So this is a technique that is used in Italy to smoke mozzarella, scamorza, and other cheeses, and hay smoking is really useful because we mentioned low and slow earlier and usually smoking requires a time commitment of hours if not half or three-quarter days, but in hay smoking when you burn hay or straw you release fragrant clouds of smoke in a matter of seconds and hay-smoke cheese can be done in 10 minutes or less. It's a really quick process. It's a nice counter point and counter balance to a traditional low and slow smoking.
Suzy Chase: For the smoking novice, what recipe out of Project Smoke do you recommend?
Steven Raichlen: Well I would start with the Carolina pork shoulder. Why pork shoulder? First of all, unlike brisket or ribs, pork shoulder is intrinsically tender. You can actually cut it into steaks and direct grill it, which is what they do in St. Louis. Also, pork shoulder's extremely well marbled and it's well marbled both on the inside and the outside. Thick sheath of fat on the outside, generous marbling inside, so even if you get a spike in temperature or you over cook it or your timing isn't quite right, you'll still wind up with a tender, luscious piece of pork.
Suzy Chase: So I started out doing cookbook publicity in Kansas City for Pig Out Publications and I remember working on your cookbooks back in the '90s. As one of the original barbecue gurus, what are your thoughts on the proliferation of barbecue restaurants and experts?
Steven Raichlen: Well, it's extremely gratifying. I like to think in small part that I helped set the trend in motion, but in a certain sense every generation reinvents barbecue and we've been doing this for almost two million years. I mean, we discovered the act and art of live-fire cooking, by we, I say we, it was a distant human ancestor called homo erectus about 1.8 million years ago, and throughout human history live-fire cooking, it's associated with evolution.
It helped us become the modern human beings we are. It's associated with religion. It was associated with discovery. I mean if you think of the great age of discovery when Europe discovered the New World and actually discovered a wooden grilling device called a barbacoa, that gave us our word barbecue. So, it's appropriate that things are much more accelerated now, but it's appropriate that a new generation of chefs and eaters and foodies discover barbecue in a new way. And I would argue that 2016 in some ways is the most exciting year, and certainly in my lifetime, for eating barbecue.
Great barbecue restaurants in places you'd never expect like New York City and Portland, Oregon, and Boston. Wood-fired restaurants proliferating like mushrooms after a rain storm. Think of the Dabney in Washington, D.C.-
Suzy Chase: Yup.
Steven Raichlen: Or in Portland, Oregon. It's a really exciting time for smoke and fire.
Suzy Chase: You know coming from Kansas City I love barbecue and I live in New York City, but there's my neighborhood barbecue place here and I won't name it, but they offer a bunch of salads as sides and I can't wrap my head around it.
Steven Raichlen: Well I would say one of the hallmarks of the kind of the new wave barbecue joint is a thoughtfulness and care about the side dishes. And so I've been thinking about like Mighty Quinn-
Suzy Chase: Yeah, that's Mighty Quinn's.
Steven Raichlen: Yeah, okay, is that your neighborhood?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Steven Raichlen: It's a fantastic barbecue restaurant. I think they have a sugar snap pea salad.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Steven Raichlen: Another thing that goes hand in hand with these new creative sides, which I happen to love, is much more attention on the quality of the meat that was missing from the old school barbecue joints, but the new guys are using grass fed beef. They're using chemical free and growth hormone free beef, heirloom and heritage varieties of pork, organic chicken, organic vegetables, wild seafood. I mean, I think this is just great. We're really reinventing barbecue for the food morality of the new age we live in now.
Suzy Chase: Apparently in the 19th century all beers had a meaty taste; Roush beer. On Saturday night I tried an original Bamberg smoked beer. It was the craziest taste, it tasted just like bacon.
Steven Raichlen: Yeah, absolutely. This brings this to what I call liquid smoke and I'm not just talking about the flavoring, but across the world and throughout human history we have smoked our beverages, so the beer you refer to associated with Bamberg, Germany, but now brewed across the United States is made with smoked barley. You know, barley is sprouted to make it sweeter and then it's mashed, but in order to dry it, it used to be cooked in a kiln, but in Bamberg they actually smoke it over a smoky wood fire.
Scotch whiskey is made by a very similar principal. You malt the barley, that is you sprout it to make it sweeter and then it's roasted in these giant ovens over giant kilns over peat, which I guess it's a precursor to coal and I have a picture of me in one of these kilns on [inaudible 00:09:58] Island and the camera was about five feet away from me and you can barely make out my silhouette, so that's how smoky the environment is, but when you taste scotch whiskey that's the flavor you get.
In Mexico, mezcal, which is a cousin of tequila, is smoked the same way. It's a really exciting time to be a drinker as well as to be an eater and we haven't even scratched the surface of smoked cocktails. Now, in Project Smoke there's a whole chapter on cocktails. Devices like the smoking gun or the Aladin handheld smoker, bartenders are smoking cocktails like crazy.
Suzy Chase: Right, and as someone who lives in New York City and I have a small kitchen, I can definitely get one of those handheld smokers and do cocktails at home.
Steven Raichlen: And not only that, but the handheld cocktails, in one of my favorite sections of the book is called, "You can smoke what?!" It's in the vegetable chapter. Over the course of several weeks I tried smoking virtually every flavoring and condiment I could think of including mayonnaise. Now, if you put mayonnaise in a bowl, you place that bowl over ice, you cover the mayonnaise bowl with plastic wrap, fill the bowl with smoke from your smoking gun, you will wind up with this incredibly, smoky mayonnaise, which makes a fantastic BLT or potato salad.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on tour, T.V., and on the web?
Steven Raichlen: I'm so glad you asked. I'm in Philadelphia this morning. I'll be in San Antonio tonight. In the next week I will be, let's see, in Tulsa, Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Venice, Italy. I finish up in Venice, Italy, which will be kind of fun. There's a barbecue festival about 20 miles from Venice that I'm going to be the guest of honor at. And for information on all things Raichlen and all things Project Smoke, you can go to my website, which is barbecuebible.com. In terms of my Project Smoke T.V. show, which is airing on public television even as we speak, that varies region to region, but we're in virtually every market of PBS now, and for a list of where the show airs in your area visit projectsmoke.org.
Suzy Chase: If you think meat is just for smoking, think again. Thanks so much Steven for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Steven Raichlen: Thank you.