A Day at the Smokehouse

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My curiosity often gets the best of me. If I’m able to get professional guidance for something I’m not quite sure about doing, then I go for it! Very fortunately, our food photographer Margaret has some great contacts in the food industry. We managed to setup a meeting and tour with the owner of the Casa Boix (pronounced boy-sh) smokehouse, Jaume who was nice enough not only to give us a full and very in-depth tour of his facility but also let us in on some trade secrets that I’m going to share with you.

In this particular case I was quite interested in learning about how to smoke a whole side of bacon and how to cook the delicatessen style turkey breast they make. Having worked with this particular company’s great products in the past, I knew of their excellent quality and was quite keen on getting the tricks that the professional artisans use and then reproducing what I would learn using the Fornetto.

Step 1. The meat! Be it pork or turkey, the first step is imperative. This is the step where the proteins are broken down and a pellicle is formed. The manner in which it is performed at the smokehouse is by submerging it in a seasoned brine for 4 days, lightly massaging it on a daily basis until the 4 days are up. The salt not only acts as an antibacterial agent but flavours the meat and begins the curing process. The brining breaks down protein chains in the meat, rendering it more tender and ready for cooking or smoking. Once the meat has been prepared, it is hot-smoked or slow-cooked (depending on the end product) to retain the juices and minimise the amount of shrinkage. (Need some more info about pellicles and hot-smoking? See our “Smoking In Barcelona” post)

Step 2. Prepping for the oven. Once the brining process is complete, the meat is then trimmed of any excess fat or skin and is placed in plastic moulds as is the case with their turkey. Their brined pork is placed in metal moulds or muslin to make various ham products.

It takes practice to make perfect and the workers at Casa Boix are real perfectionists! It’s at this stage that the turkey breast seen above is placed in the oven.

When it comes to the ham products, the pork is set into metal moulds or muslin before being placed in the oven.

Once the ham comes out of the metal mould, it is packaged and ready for shipping.

Once the turkey breast is cooked, it can be removed from the plastic film that was holding its shape and can be placed in the smoker for cold-smoking (refer to the end of the post) or consumed as is.

Perfect turkey breast ready for a sandwich! The great thing about preparing turkey breast in this manner is that it’s extremely lean and an excellent source of protein!

Another technique that is used for making ham, more particularly smoked or roasted ham as seen above is to wrap it in muslin. This keeps the shape and allows the smoke to penetrate if being smoked. It also allows liquids to evaporate during the cooking process which makes for a drier style deli meat.

What we will look at in a couple of posts from now is the “how-to” process for making your own bacon and turkey breast deli meat in the Fornetto from scratch.

NOTE: How we prepare our foods prior to smoking has changed significantly. The original process of salting or salt-water brining before smoking pre-cures foods and readies them for storage once smoked. This technique combined with exposing the foods to long periods of hot-smoking, up to several days in fact, ensures proper curing. Although this approach is still widely used, there are three methods that are more commonly used at home:

  • Cold smoking involves cooking the foods first and then exposing them to smoke for flavouring in a relatively cool environment, 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F). This results in foods that are rich in smokey flavour yet retain their moisture. Foods that are cold-smoked must be cooked first as cold smoking does not cook or cure meats, fish or poultry however, it is the technique that should be used for smoking cheese for an obvious reason; its low melting point. (We will examine cold smoking more closely in a future post.)
  • Hot smoking requires the foods to be subjected to moderate heat, 52 to 80 °C (126 to 176 °F) as well as hot smoke which cooks the food at the same time as it’s being smoked. Hot smoking fully cooks the foods ready for consumption directly from the smoker. The moderate temperature not only cooks the food but prevents it from loosing moisture and rendering its fat. This is important for foods that require a certain fat content to remain palatable, such as smoked salmon or bacon.
  • Smoke roasting / baking is any technique where foods are cooked and smoked at temperatures exceeding those of hot smoking. Examples of these are barbecuing over charcoal or wood, tandoor cooking or pit roasting. Since the temperature used for this technique is quite high and cooks very quickly, this method of smoking creates foods with the least amount of smokey flavour.

When smoking cured or raw meat, fish or poultry remember to always allow it to form a pellicle, a slightly tacky (not viscous, unless they’ve been brined) layer of protein on the surface of the food you’re smoking. Times will vary based on if the foods are raw, have been cured or depending on if it’s meat, fish or poultry. A good rule of thumb is to do so uncovered, on a rack in the fridge overnight. Fish, for example, creates a pellicle quite quickly whereas meats and poultry take longer. A proper pellicle on the food that’s about to be smoked is what will ensure adhesion of the smoke and will determine the amount of smoky flavour and colour it absorbs. It equally acts as a protective barrier that will ensure your food doesn’t dry out during the smoking process.

Many thanks to the team at Casa Boix for opening their doors to us at Fornetto and to revealing some of their great techniques!

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