From a young age I would go sailing with my family on the West Coast of Scotland, we would always barbecue on the back of the boat. I think this is where my love for cooking over fire and using smoke has come from. We would sail during the day and then at night time sit at the back of the boat and barbecue meat and shellfish from the local shops. There was nothing fancy about this cooking and I don’t think I appreciated just how good it tasted at the time but I look back on these times with fond memories and I do think it influenced the style of food that I enjoy to eat and cook. You can use it in so many different ways to add extra depth of flavour to the most simple of dishes. The first time I ate barbecued asparagus was a defining moment of just how good something could taste by having so little done to it but with the addition of smoke.
I use smoke in a number of different ways. For instance, it could be a light smoke on fish trimmings to serve in a traditional kedgeree dish at breakfast time, or it could be a marinated piece of beef rump cap that is then cooked over coals for a long period of time to get a lovely bark on the meat. The contrast between the charred outside of the meat and the inside is a wonderful thing. There is a very fine line when cooking with smoke, too much and you have ruined the lovely bit of produce you were cooking, not enough and your food won’t taste of anything. It’s all about finding the perfect balance to enhance the flavour of the raw product.
I don’t necessarily smoke the main element of a dish, I might make a smoked butter sauce or mayonnaise to serve alongside a piece of pan-fried fish. I love using smoked almonds, I am currently serving them with raw scallops, heritage tomatoes, and a tomato dressing, the almonds just lift everything and add another dimension to the dish both in terms of taste and texture. I am still learning all the time and finding new ways to bring smoke into my menu, both in the food and drinks, the possibilities are endless!
Roberta Hall McCarron, The Little Chartroom (Edinburgh, U.K.)