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Ever since humans have eaten meat, they have sought ways to preserve it and ensure a supply throughout leaner times. There have been countless methods of preservation employed throughout millennia, including salting, drying, chemical methods and storage in naturally cool places like caves. With the advent of cool storage, first the cheap production of ice then domestic refrigeration in the 20th Century, these fascinating food handling methods have begun to dwindle and decline into obscurity.

The antiquarian food preservation methods that remain today are not employed to prolong the life of food, but to enhance flavour. Two notable styles of preservation that remain today are salting, as you would find in salted meats such as corned beef and proscuitto (Parma ham) and salted fish, such as baccalo and gravlax. The other method is smoking.

Smoke for food preservation is normally provided by wood chips or sawdust. Different woods are chosen for the subtle flavor differences that they impart, such as apple wood and cherry wood. The smoker then has a second choice, cold smoking or hot smoking.

Cold smoking involves burning the smoking wood in one room and transferring the smoke to a second room, which remains cool and houses the food to be smoked. Depending on the desired result, this can take up to several days. The end product will be raw, but imbued with a heady smoke flavour. Smoked salmon is the most renowned product of this method.

Hot smoking, of which tea smoking is one style, requires the smoldering wood and food to be placed in one chamber. A much quicker method as heat is cooking the food at the same time as smoke is flavouring it. This takes minutes rather than days. It also has the added advantage of being practicably achievable at home.

Tea smoking is a wonderful Chinese variation on the smoking theme. Instead of wood; tea leaves, rice and sugar are burned to instill a deep, mysterious flavour to foods. Poultry is the main ingredient used by the Chinese, but fish works equally as well, especially the salmonid family, such as salmon and trout, I have even smoked tomatoes, they are delicious.

Here is a recipe for tea smoking mixture and how to smoke food at home.

Ingredients

Method

Mix the smoking ingredients together and store in an airtight jar. The mix lasts for ages.


Now, how to smoke. You will need a heavy fry pan (skillet) or saute pan and a steamer that fits snugly on top. Make a small square of tin foil and turn up all four sides about an inch. Fill with about 1 cup of tea smoking mix, place in the dry fry pan and set over high heat. After a minute or two the mix will begin to smoke. Set the food you want to smoke on a plate and place into the steamer. Cover tightly. When the tea is really starting to smoke up place your steamer on top, turn down the heat and let it go. The longer you smoke, the more flavour you get. A small fillet of salmon takes about 10 minutes.

Other ingredients to try are chicken, quail, beef, tuna, oysters, mussels, mushrooms or tofu. Bear in mind that the longest you will get smoke from this method is about 25 minutes, so larger ingredients, such as chicken and beef cuts will require partial pre-cooking. For a 1.5 kg (2 ½ lb) chicken, steam or poach for 20 minutes, then smoke for another 20 minutes.

Oh, by the way, make sure you open your kitchen window first!

This node title put me in mind of my teenage years, when we would have tried anything to get high. We'd smoke or eat weird stuff, and end up with blinding headaches and sore throats, but we never tried smoking tea...but I digress.

These days, my adventurous side turns more often to culinary pursuits. I was intrigued by the good sneff's recipe for smoked tomatoes and thought I'd try it out for an antipasto platter I was constructing to accompany an Amarone. The tomatoes were very nice, but I'd like to add to sneff's excellent instructions a few words of warning and clarification, if I may.

Sneff's recipe recommends smoking the tomatoes for 10-15 minutes, but I did mine for a mere 5 minutes, which was enough to impart a strong flavour.

The smoke can escape from the smoker and set your smoke detector a-wailing. It helps to have bits that fit tightly together to contain the smoke, and I also deployed carefully placed fans to lead the smoke out the window. I won't be preparing this in the winter.

Finally, the pots and dish that you use for smoking will get covered in brown guck which can be difficult to clean off, so don't use your best china or top-of-the-line cookware.

Other than that, it worked like a dream. I used organic green tea and jasmine rice, with beautiful summer tomatoes, and the results were excellent. Another winner from sneff, the king of ching.

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