You’re absolutely correct. Smoking as a cooking technique has a long history, but modern chefs have indeed embraced it with new technology and innovative approaches. Smoking is a method of flavoring and preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering wood or other combustible materials. Here’s how modern chefs have reimagined and elevated this traditional technique:
Controlled Smoking: Modern chefs use advanced equipment like electric and pellet smokers, which allow for precise control of temperature and smoke levels. This control ensures consistency and reliability in the smoking process.
Variety of Woods: Chefs have access to a wide variety of wood chips and pellets, each with its unique flavor profile. This allows them to experiment with different types of wood to impart specific flavors to the smoked food. Common woods used include hickory, mesquite, applewood, and cherry.
Cold Smoking: Cold smoking is a technique in which food is exposed to smoke without heat. Modern cold smoking setups use smoke generators and specialized chambers to keep the temperature low, preserving the texture of the food while infusing it with smoky flavor.
Smoking Accessories: Smoking accessories like smoking guns, which produce controlled smoke that can be infused into dishes, have become popular in modern kitchens. These tools allow chefs to add a smoky aroma and flavor to dishes without actually cooking them in a smoker.
Creative Applications: Chefs are finding innovative ways to use smoke in various dishes. Smoke can be used to infuse flavor into cocktails, cheeses, vegetables, desserts, and even non-traditional items like butter or ice cream.
Pairing with Modern Cuisine: Smoking is often used in conjunction with other modern culinary techniques, such as sous vide cooking or molecular gastronomy, to create unique and unexpected flavor profiles and presentations.
Smoked Ingredients: Chefs are also exploring smoked ingredients like smoked salts, smoked oils, and smoked spices, which can be used to season and enhance the flavor of dishes.
Artistic Presentation: Smoke is sometimes used for its visual impact, creating dramatic presentations where dishes are served under a glass cloche filled with smoke, which is released when the cloche is lifted.
International Influence: Modern chefs draw inspiration from international cuisines that have a rich tradition of smoking, such as barbecue in the United States, smoked fish in Scandinavia, and smoked cheeses in Europe.
Health Considerations: While smoked foods can be delicious, there is a growing awareness of health considerations related to smoked and cured products due to the potential formation of harmful compounds. Modern chefs are exploring techniques to mitigate these risks.
The embrace of smoking as a culinary technique by modern chefs highlights the blending of tradition and innovation in the culinary world. By leveraging technology and creativity, chefs are able to push the boundaries of what’s possible with smoked foods and elevate the dining experience.