"Some say umami is the fifth gustatory sensation, or taste. I say that smoke is the sixth taste," says author Edward Lee ("Smoke and Pickles"), who appreciates things that are smoked, like these hops on juniper wood (photo).
More and more amateur chefs and consumers seem to share his opinion. A look at the shelves in any regular supermarket speaks volumes: smoked cheese, smoked pimento, smoked ham (of course!), but also smoked chips, smoked sturgeon, smoked salt (photos), smoked tea, and a whole lot more. There were times when such delicacies could only be found at Texas barbecues, fish joints along Canada's Atlantic coast or specialty food stores in New York. Today we are experiencing a renaissance of smoky flavors and the ancient conservation technique of smoking. The are many reasons for this. Number one: Most consumers are unwilling to pay ridiculous prices for foods that are often pretentious. Honesty counts.
Barbecue stores like London's Pitt Cue are a huge success. In the first year it was open, the line of customers often extended into the street. Today the typical clientèle consists of more high-brow finance managers than Joe Sixpack types.
Number two: Smoked foods simply taste wonderful – always new and surprising. You can buy not only sausages, but herbs, nuts, ice cream, cauliflower, corn, olive oil, ice cubes and even mineral water that are smoked, or you can smoke them yourself. Each time you consume one of these, you have a new taste experience.
Number three: Like pickling, smoking is a great way to conserve taste. Lots of smoke at low heat over a long period of time make for juicy consistency and varied flavors.
These days, smoking has become a home cooking technique just as much as pickling vegetables or making jam. There are some tools that make the process easier. Since its beginnings in 1968, for example, the "Smokehouse Little Chief Smoker" has never been more popular than today.
Like the river making its bed, the smoke goes where it wants to, no matter which tools are being used. People for whom the "normal" smoking of clams in mustard cream (photo) is still too complicated still have an alternative: a few drops of scotch or bourbon is all it takes to add a touch of smoke to any dish. Both types of whiskey get their smoky flavor from the oak carrels in which they mature.
This type of refinement works best with dishes that cannot be heated such as smoke-flavored mustard ice cream (which, by the way, is the perfect side dish for smoke rabbit pie).
Maybe we have reached the end of the carnivorous era despite delicacies like smoked ox leg slices (photo). After all, the trend goes toward vegetarianism, which is certainly healthier. But as long as we have a longing for the flavor of wood species like almond, alder, hickory, maple, mesquite, oak and pecan, our shopping carts, pantries and menus will go up in smoke. And let's not forget that by now we have also learned that vegetables taste great when they're smoked.