I started smoking again last night. And it was great.
I'm not talking cigarettes or other exotic cheroots, of course. That ship has long since sailed, although not, I hasten to add, because of any state nannying. No, the smoking in question was of the culinary variety and took place in my kitchen with one of these:
This was a very welcome gift from Howard for my birthday last year that had predictably gone the way of many kitchen gadgets and been utterly neglected beyond an initial (modestly successful) experiment with some pheasant breasts wrapped in bacon just after I got it. A Gordon Ramsay article in last Saturday's Times, however, inspired me to dust it off and have another go. This recipe in particular recalled memories of a single, dazzling smoked potato at L'Arpege back in May. Would have been rude not to give it a go...
The smoker is pretty simple and would have been easy enough to bodge with an old biscuit tin or some such. Wood chips are scattered across the bottom of what is basically a tin box with a sliding lid. A tray sits on top of this to catch any drips and to deflect the direct heat from the hob and the food sits on a raised grill to allow the smoke to move freely around it. It's a hot smoking process so the food cooks as well as smokes, and it's amazingly effective.
We had the smoked potato salad recipe more or less exactly as Ramsay suggested (I couldn't be bothered to peel that many tiny potatoes – maybe that's why we were only served on each in Paris!). It was really tasty, an unusual but welcome departure from the potato salad I usually make, which is full of goodies like mustard and egg and never hangs around too long. (If you're planning on trying this recipe I'd recommend adding a couple of minutes to the parboiling time: the potatoes were teetering on the edge of hardness.)
We also smoked some Halloumi, a standard sized block of corner-shop stuff sliced down the middle to form two appropriately fag-packet sized patties. I bottled out of using the expensive organic stuff, but I needn't have worried. A little squeaky it may have been but this is surely what home smoking is all about. Faintly coloured and with just enough delicate smokiness to lift the flavour beyond what you'd get through simple grilling.
I'm told that the vegetarian holy grail is – hardly surprisingly – a proper bacon substitute. It's still untested at this stage but I would have thought that a slice or two of smoked Halloumi quickly finished off on a griddle might be just the thing.