The Wonders of Smoke

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]itnessing the transformation of raw food into something edible and ultimately delicious is always a marvel. From the prehistoric discovery of flame (inexorably leading to the carbon pervaded carcass, which is to this day a technique still to be exacted), to avant-garde movements such as molecular gastronomy, the development in the art of cooking has been profound. Whether you prefer sauteeing your spinach, boiling your brussels, or fricasseeing your chicken over any other method, a process that you should take note of in this wonderful world of cooking is hot and cold smoking.

There is something primal about the practice of smoking food. It imbues the meat, vegetable or other comestible with aromas and flavours that are totally unique, exhilarating, texture changing. It is an art that undoubtedly is gaining more exposure due to a quest to perfect it, and indeed to experiment with novel products.

New Zealand’s smokehouses are rather famous, and if they are not, with time they certainly will be. Variation in size and their speciality is significant. Some of the best New Zealand smokehouses and their products out in the market right now are profiled below for your own appraisal.

Aromatics, Hawkes Bay
The aptly named Aromatics, based in Hawkes Bay is the baby of chef Noel Crawford. For Noel, Aromatics gives prominence to the pinnacles of his cooking career and love for local cuisine. The common theme running through this artisan, gourmet business? Wonderfully unique smoked products. The food industry has recognised this too as Aromatics was awarded a coveted Cuisine Artisan Award for their Wine Barrel Smoked Mushrooms. These tasty fungal specimens are intense, one slice open of the packet and nostrils are filled with that gorgeous smoked wine soaked-oak aroma. They ensconce themselves in a vinaigrette which ensures they’re never dry, yet equally they’re never too oily. Perfect to eat unabashedly by themselves, on an antipasto platter, or toss them through a simple risotto base (with a few drops of Aromatics Magical Mushroom Essence) for an impressive dinner party starter.

Another standout Aromatics product is their Smoked Aubergine Pickle. This is just divine with a vintage cheddar / gouda, or to accompany a good open steak sandwich.

Aromatics Wine Barrel Smoked Mushrooms ($NZD10.00)
Aromatics Magical Mushroom Essence ($NZD8.50)
Aromatics Smoked Aubergine Pickle ($NZD9.00)

New Zealand Manuka Egg Company

Courtesy of Just Edible Blog

One of the more intriguing products I’ve come across was during a recent trip to Hawkes Bay. However the New Zealand Manuka Egg Company is located all the way down south in the small Otago town of Lawrence, hardly you’d think a thriving gourmet food destination. But it seems their distribution channels, by virtue of this novel product, have propagated nationwide. This little business employs a specialised cold-smoking process to convert their Organic eggs into a subtle Manuka smoked egg. Note well, the egg remains raw, this does change the texture a little, meaning they are a little tricky to poach. But they have a fantastic flavour profile, and elevate any bacon and egg breakfast into a blessed affair. As you can imagine, New Zealand’s chefs are having a great old time experimenting with these oeufs, and you’ll find them on some of the country’s top restaurant menus.

NZ Manuka Egg Company Organic Manuka Smoked Eggs – 1/2 doz ($NZD6.80)

Aoraki Smokehouse (Twizel)
Of course no article on the range and variety of smoked products in New Zealand would be complete without mentioning the glories of smoked salmon. Aoraki Smokehouse based in Twizel benefits from the synergy it has with sister company Benmore Salmon which raises quality Chinook salmon from the glacial lakes based around the MacKenzie Country.

Owner Matt Evans draws on Scottish smoking techniques to produce gorgeous smoked salmon products – both through hot and cold smoking processes. A beatific standout is the Oak Roasted (Hot Smoked) Salmon Fillet. The best thing about Aoraki Smokehouse is the ready accessibility – you can order online or via phone/fax for guaranteed next day delivery within New Zealand. Try the Hot Smoked Salmon in a simple white wine fettucine with shallots, garlic and a touch of cream. Bliss!

Aoraki Smokehouse Oak Roasted (Hot Smoked) Salmon Fillet – ($NZD44.48p/kg)

It seems the art of smoking is alive and well in New Zealand with talented Smoke Masters among our ranks churning out innovative, delicious products on a daily basis. This secondary process of food preparation is one to admire, experiment with and enjoy.

It’s even more exciting contemplating a tantalizing wine match. I know one variety that screams “give me something smokey!” – and that my dear friends is cool-climate Syrah. Next time you have a smoked product whether it be gourmet mushrooms, salmon, bacon or redeemed vegetables, try pairing a Northern Rhone or Hawkes Bay Syrah with it and be blown away with the combination’s result.

Suggested Smoked Food Wine Matches:

Bilancia Syrah 2008 (Hawkes Bay) – aromas of bacon, cracked black pepper, brown button mushroom, toasty oak, and layers of intricate dark fruit beguile in this Syrah from Hawkes Bay. It’s ethereal, silky yet ripe tannins can hold their own in the culinary presence of smokey food. For instance, whip up an Aromatics Smoked Mushroom and Bacon risotto and pair with this wine for an incredible harmony of flavours. 94 points $NZ29.99 –

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008 (Kumeu, Auckland) – this Chardonnay even with its beautiful fruit spectrum of citrus and pineapple has more to bestow upon its drinker. Think lovely autolytic yeasty aromas, plus a mineral, struck match complexity that is entirely attractive. The use of quality slightly toasted oak and well-balanced acidity makes this a wonderful match with a Smoked Salmon Fettuccine dish. 93 points $NZ25.99

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 2009 (Crozes Hermitage, Rhone) – An outstanding, underrated producer from Rhone, the Graillot Crozes Hermitage is all about savoury characters. There’s a juniper berry / cracked pepper spice element, and a coal tar note that is a unique identifier for this wine. It would pair wonderfully with a grilled venison or beef fillet with smoked mushroom and blueberry jus. 92 points $NZD44.95