We’re Smoking! How We Smoke Butter, Cheese and More in the EC Kitchen
It may only be June, but we’re already smoldering this summer. We’ve decided to forgo the grill for now and focus our outdoor party efforts on something a little sultrier—we’re smoking! The potent tang produced by the smoke, a combination of salty, sweet and bitter tastes, adds a deep umami flavor to any food. Anyone already familiar with the art of smoking food likely associates the method first and foremost with meats. But, here at EC we’re all about doing it differently. Instead of putting mains such as brisket, dry ribs, chicken or beef into our smoker, we put in our sides, sauces and extras for total versatility. EC’s own Chef Matt advised us on how to smoke butter, cheese and vegetables to add a subtle smokey component to any dish.
Though we have a range hood in above the stove in our kitchen that absorbs smoke and allows us to use our smoker indoors, most models should be used outdoors. We brought ours to a grassy knoll to get the most out of the rich scent of the vapor, which is heavy with campfire-laden memories. The experience of preparing food in this way engages all of our senses—the vivid green grass, the chirping birds in the surrounding trees, the heat of the burning charcoal and wood emanating from the smoker, and the smell of our dinner curing over the grill grates right there in front of us.
Chef Matt started the smoking process by heating a couple handfuls of charcoal in a small skillet over our industrial gas stove. Once the charcoal developed a noticeable amount of ash, he added in a handful of wood chips, which is what actually imparts that signature flavor. We used charcoal to keep the wood burning longer and help produce more smoke. We allow the wood to blacken slightly on the ends, then add the contents of the skillet to the smoker, leaving the lid on to allow smoke to accumulate.
Our wood chips before smoking
Chef Matt manning the smoking setup
Pick Your Products
Once our device was set up, we arranged our chosen foods directly onto the smoker grate. To keep our fare adventurous and on the lighter side, we’re smoking butter, cheese, tomatoes and onions. Our Chef Matt left our hunk of cheese uncovered overnight to allow it to dry out just a bit. This ensures that the smoke penetrates deep into the food and firmly adheres to it. Similarly, the longer you let smoked food rest after the process, the more potent the charred flavor becomes. When the dried food absorbs the smoke, it develops that nice, even layer of golden-leathery goodness around the outside. That shell is called a pellicle and is most likely to envelop cheese, fish and meats rather than nuts and vegetables. We added our selections to the smoker, covered and let it work its magic!
A pan of butter, Manchego and cheddar cheese, red and green tomatoes, and white onions on our stainless steel smoker
What We Made: Summery Smoked Food Ideas
First up: smoked butter. We simply smeared a nice-sized pat onto a sliced baguette and topped with thin slices of vibrant watermelon radishes, fresh oregano sprigs and the daintiest sprinkle of crystallized sea salt. Bonus bread! Chef Matt had also previously whipped up his own experimental smoked almond butter by first smoking the raw almonds, then puréeing them with a little water, olive oil and salt. We spread a spoonful of it onto another slice from that baguette, and garnished with microgreens and small edible flowers (pansies, to be exact) for color, freshness and a French-inspired aesthetic.
Next, we puréed our smoked heirloom tomatoes and onions with some olive oil and spices to create a smokey, creamy homemade tomato sauce. We chose to pair it with a classic oven-roasted chicken breast stuffed with herbs, bread crumbs and capers for an extra-special kick. The sauce adds a subtle smokiness to the dish, which feels at once luxe and down-to-earth. The tomatoes themselves are simple and grounded, but the elevated flavor profile of the smoke feels unexpected coming from the sauce rather than the meat. We finished the plate with a dash of chopped chives to brighten it. According to Chef Matt, this tomato sauce would also make a welcome companion of beef for fans of red meat and of grilled zucchini, bell pepper and squash for the vegetarian-inclined. A bonus for vegetarians and vegans? The smokiness adds an totally natural and animal-free umami element often missing from meatless dishes.
Finally, we have our homemade smoked cheese, the cornerstone of our take on a modern cheese platter. Because we allowed our wheel of Manchego cheese to dry out before smoking, it developed that smoke shell, encasing the soft, creamy interior. Our summer serving board includes both our smoked wedges, as well as our smoked butter, which we garnished with smoked natural sea salt crystals. The salt is actually one of the only items on our display not made by EC (including the board itself!). To serve our dairy, we added an assortment of grains to the setup, including a crunchy flatbread with both white and black sesame seeds, as well as raw pepitas. Our other options are more slices from the baguette we used for our bread and butter platter and a couple of small homemade rolls. Chef Matt wanted to finish the board with a smattering of pickled vegetables (onion, cauliflower and carrot) because the acidity of the vinegar balances the rich smokiness of the cheese and butter. And for an extra-special summer touch, we trimmed the board with w few sprigs of garden-fresh thyme and oregano.