June 2016


MAPLE SPRING-SUMMERIf you paid attention to our previous article on the Maple tree (“Oh, The Mighty Maple”) then you know that this hardwood is a great addition to any wood-fired cooking technique whether you want to hot smoke, grill or ember cook.  But let’s take a closer look at how this hardwood actually flavours the foods you cook.

Wood contains a variety of complex organic compounds with two that tend to be more contributory to actual flavour – lignin and cellulose. The short of it is, these compounds are sugars (cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate).  Here’s the kicker, – wood, regardless of species, burns incompletely and unevenly.  It is directly dependent on oxygen as well as the percentage of water it contains.  The four stages of combustion actually occur simultaneously (thus, variation in temperature of the actual fire).

That being said, woods do have different percentages of lignin and cellulose and so we tend to lean towards certain hardwoods over others for specific cooking techniques.

Which leads us to one of our favorite hardwoods – the mighty maple.  With over 100 varieties and just as many sub-varieties, just about every one of them is ideal for any type of wood-fired cooking technique.  Maple, in general, is known to infuse mild, smooth, sweet components to foods cooked in or over it.

We do, however, stand firm on using this wood bark-free as we’ve found that the bark causes too much variation in temperature and only contributes to the ash build up.  Plus, being the driest part of the tree, it will burn up quickly and then cause the fire to stall when it reaches the more moisture rich wood cores.

Keep in mind, you can do any cooking technique (baking, grilling, roasting, braising, pit roasting, hot smoking, cold smoking) with maple.  Know that baking is generally done in some type of cookware (my preference is cast iron) that is placed either within an outdoor oven, on the grilling grate of an LP grill, or right in the hardwood coals of a charcoal unit.  With grilling, you can add chunks of wood to the diffuser or use wood chips either in a smoker box, foil pouch, smoking tube/pipe, or again, contained within a pan.  Roasting is done in similar fashion to baking.  Pit roasting should be self-explanatory.  Hot smoking will be a temperature generally below 275 degrees F.  And, cold smoking done at temperatures below 80 degrees F.

When you use maple you can be sure of getting a nicely balanced flavour but keep in mind, smoke is a vapor.  What is released is very dependent on the amount of airflow stimulating the wood and the amount of water still held in the wood.  Most of all, using a clean, bark-free wood will ensure that you don’t get an abundance of bitter flavonoids.

Here’s another piece of advice – we view the hardwood as a flavour or an ingredient.  Thus, you need to be sure you balance the wood’s flavour with the other ingredients you are using, especially with regard to any rub, sauce, glaze or brine ingredients.  With maple, because it already offers a sweet undertone, you would not necessarily want to use an overly sweet sauce or glaze, meaning one that has sugar (weather brown or white) or corn syrup or fructose as one of the first ingredients.  Rather, one that balances a sugary component say, fruit based sauce with a bit of heat (chiles, hot sauce, etc.).  When done correctly, the outcome is spectacular.

There are no rules – simply use the basics of balancing the 4 flavor levels: bitter, sour, sweet, salty with all the ingredients included with the food item.  This is the main reason why you can’t go wrong when you choose Maple as your primary cooking wood.

 

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Asparagus on the Hot Embers

Its Asparagus season and that means you should get the most out of this sensational vegetable while it’s fresh!  Learn how easy it is to ember roast this thick skinned vegetable to bring out the fantastic flavor of this vegetable as a side dish, or used as an ingredient in other recipes like a refreshing dip, soup, or stuffing for meat or fish.

You’ll need:What You Will Need

  • Hibachi or other small charcoal equipment
  • SmokinLicious ®Grande Sapore® Wood Chips in your choice of species
  • Fresh asparagus with thick stalks (or store bought is fine)

PREPARING TO EMBER COOK:

Clean the Hibachi or small charcoal grill unit of all previous ash, as well as any leftover wood and charcoal.  Add the SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products Grande Sapore® Wood Chips in the base of the Hibachi on the charcoal grates. If not using a Hibachi unit, then place the wood chips in the charcoal area of your small charcoal grill. I like to use Wild Cherry Grande Sapore® Chips to bring a balance to the asparagus’ flavor.  Since I plan to use my roasted asparagus as an ingredient in other recipes, I’m using the chips in their natural state rather than soaking in a flavored liquid but feel free to soak in wine, alcohol, juice or other liquid of your choice.

LIGHTING THE FIRE

After loading the Hibachi or other unit with my Grande Sapore® Cherry Chips, I light the chips using a small kitchen size torch.   I let the chips burn down until I have about 2-3 inches of hot embers to cook with.  I need the layer long enough to accommodate the spears of asparagus and deep enough to ensure the embers encircle most of the spear.  I keep plenty of extra Grande Sapore® Cherry chips on hand to ensure I get the depth and size of the ember bed throughout the cooking process.  This includes maintaining a perimeter of unlit chips around the hot embers.

PREPARING THE ASPARAGUS

While I wait for the chips to burn down into embers, I start preparation of my fresh asparagus.  First, I gently clean the spears and then trim the bottoms just where they are a bit dried out and tough.  I gently pat dry and leave them in a tray to wait on the fire.  I drizzle some oil over my asparagus spears and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  The oil will help the seasoning stick to the spears and also ensure an even cook on the asparagus.  Letting the asparagus sit while you wait on the embers allows the seasoning to penetrate the stalks, giving it additional flavor.

EMBER ROASTING TECHNIQUE SmokinLicious® Wild Cherry Wood Chips

Once I have a bed of hot embers, I’m ready to cook!  I won’t be needing the grill grates as asparagus has a nice thick skin so it’s an ideal vegetable to be placed directly on the hot coals.  Prior to adding the asparagus, I add some more wood chips to the outside perimeter of my cooking area so that I will be able to bring in new embers as needed.  In addition to providing new embers, the unlit chips will provide additional heat to the grill as they ignite.

I lay my asparagus spears into the hot embers allowing the coals to wrap around the majority of each spear.  As I’m using very thick diameter spears, I will let the asparagus cook in the embers for about 10 minutes prior to checking on the char level.  Just like with conventional cooking, you’ll see the asparagus get a brighter green sheen as they cook through.  Once I see a nice layer of char develop to the skin, I will turn the spears with tongs. The oil will also give a nice golden hue.

I’ve turned the asparagus spears only as the char develops on each side until they are fully charred and the spears have tenderized. You’ll know the perfect tender level when you prick the spear with a knife tip and it just penetrates.

Now I’m ready to use these beauties in my recipes but only after a few spears are enjoyed as is.  Ah, the perks of cooking over hot embers.  Bon-Bar-B-Que!

 

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Continuing our feature on specific hardwoods for the sole purpose of wood-fired cooking, let me introduce you to very popular choice, especially when it comes to hot smoking or pit roasting techniques and meats.

Hickory hardwood is part of the Juglandaceae family of wood better known as the Walnut family.   The scientific names for the varieties we manufacture are Carya glabra (Mill.) sweet and Carya laciniosa (Michx.f.) but the common names for the varieties found in the Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania regions include: Pignut Hickory, Sweet Pignut, Smoothbark Hickory, Kingnut.

Hickory is most commonly used with animal proteins like beef (ribs, brisket), pork (shoulder, ribs), and game (elk, bison, moose, duck, deer).  Its overall flavour profile is more significant with a moderate level of infusion.  It often is described as having a bacon-like undertone.  Because the overall infusion is on the stronger side, it works well when mixed with a lighter hardwood or fruit wood like ash, cherry, or maple to balance the use of Hickory with non-animal proteins.

The overall color that results from the smoke vapor is on the brown or deep side.

 Heat Level: High – 27.5 MBTU

Fuel Efficiency: Excellent

Ease of Lighting: Fair

Ideal Uses: Grilling/Roasting/Braising/Pit Roasting/Hot Smoking

HICKORY TREE Oh, and the answer is no, you don’t need to be concerned with use of this wood for those with a nut allergy.  The trigger for an allergic reaction is contained within the nut themselves rather than the tree and occurs when the nut is cracked.  So enjoy this giant of the forest and Bon-Bar-B-Q!

 

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