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Beluga lentil smoked mackerel and watercress salad with horseradish yoghurt

Smoked food seems to be experiencing a resurgence at the moment. Southern-style barbecue is the latest big thing in street food, with the likes of food van-turned-restaurant, Pitt Cue Co, and restaurants that boast their own on site artisan smokehouse, such as American smokehouse chain Porky’s and classic contemporary Barnes Pub the White Hart.

But it’s not just meat. Smoke is increasingly being used in restaurants to flavour vegetables, cheese, bread, beer, cocktails and even ice cubes, taking smoke far beyond its traditional use. I have also seen a growing demand for smoked garlic, spices, salt and sugar from some customers. These restaurants are not only adding complex flavours, natural preservatives and antioxidants to their produce, they are enhancing the core value of their ingredients, through taste and profit margin. It is not unheard of to charge a 40% premium on a product that has been applewood smoked at no cost to the restaurant. According to Mintel menu insights, recipes using smoked ingredients are priced on average 67% higher than those that do not. Although an initial investment is required, the benefit of having an onsite artisan smokehouse , is the very low cost of smoking ingredients, paired with the opportunity to maximise profit.

Smoked Applewood photoshopped

This trend has manifested itself in London in an array of diverse BBQ and smoke house restaurants. Last week I was delighted to visit Neil Rankin’s decadent Islington pub and dining room, The Smokehouse. What Neil manages to get spot on is the local and provincial essence of smoking whilst having an obvious international inspiration with dishes such as oak-smoked pil pil mackerel, smoked pork rib eye with lardo and pancetta, and classic Scottish dish lamb stovies. As a true carnivore and fan of smoked and cured ingredients I was in my element. With the recent invasion of American barbecue style cuisine to London, it was a breath of fresh air to see the smoking process used to create an all-encompassing menu, sympathetic to the diverse roots of the process itself, yet still provincial in its core.

It’s this diversity that I love most about using smoked produce. With its origins developed throughout history and invented by cave dwellers, the process has since been adapted by various cultures over the years. This can be seen through European cuisine such traditional German smoked meats, in Scotland where smoke houses have been traditionally popular and of course in Italy with its vast smoked cheeses, meats and pasta. Crossing the hemisphere it has also developed into Baracoa, native to the Caribbean and of course the famous and very popular American Texan Barbeque.

My dream would be to have my own smoke house at home so all of my cooking could include artisan smoked ingredients. Unfortunately space in a London abode doesn’t permit, but being able to visits restaurants such as The Smokehouse makes up for it!

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