Where There’s Smoke, There’s Desire

By Ellen Swandiak / September 10, 2011

Now Legal

You haven’t really tasted smoky, until you have had Ilegal Mezcal. This agave spirit tastes nothing like tequila. Before distillation, the agave heart is smoked in a pit for days rendering it sweet and ultra-smoky. Ilegal Mezcal is made with 100 percent agave in local communities where Jimadors use handed-down knowledge to craft the spirit. The least-aged Joven variety is the smokiest of the bunch, which I recommend straight up for those who crave maximum impact. Reposado, aged for two to 11 months, and the Anejo, aged for a year or longer, are mellower, with complex flavors of vanilla, apple, and caramel. Use them when you want to mix a smoky cocktail. You can meet owners John Rexer and Stephen Myers at Café No Sé, their eccentric Guatemalan bar and gallery, which also publishes La Cuadra, a cultural and political magazine. www.ilegalmezcal.com

Make a Bloody Maria Sabina

Intelligently Smoked

Whether flavoring salmon, cheddar, butter, parmesan, chicken, salt, or olive oil, the people doing the smoking at Organic Smoke House have perfected their methods and adjust their practices with each batch, just as it was done centuries ago. This Welsh company’s award-winning products are absolutely delicious. My favorite is the hot-smoked salmon with a honey and thyme topping. Stores in Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, and New York are carrying their goods, or you can order them online. www.organicsmokehouse.com

Better Bacon

It figures that someone in Vermont came up with the tastiest and most natural way for making bacon. Starting with animals that were humanely raised and using local maple syrup, a little salt, and smoked with ground corncobs and maple-tree shavings, you can’t get any more guilt-free. Vermont Smoke and Cure also smokes meats for other farmers, check out the list online for brands you may recognize, and make sure to order some while you are there. You can extend the life of bacon by keeping it in the freezer. I like cutting thin strips through the layers, and adding to scrambled eggs or salads. www.vtsmokeandcure.com

Tea Smoked Salmon

Perfectionists, I have the ideal recipe for you from John Currence, award-winning chef and owner of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. You can prepare it right on your cook-top. Start with line-caught salmon from Alaska. Fisherman Bruce Gore created his unique method in 1978, long before anyone was concerned about traceability or the effects of net fishing. To spare the fish any trauma, the boat travels at the same speed the fish swims. When caught, it’s pulled swiftly on board and humanely killed, cleaned, and frozen instantly, so that the fish never develops the lactic acid that would result from a struggle. You can really taste the difference—raw or cooked. It’s available at Central Markets in Texas and Town & Country Markets in Seattle. T&C will take orders and ship Bruce Gore Salmon anywhere in the country, call 206-842-0275 to order. www.triadfisheries.com

Make John Currence’s Coriander and Tea-Smoked Salmon

For Peat’s Sake

When it comes to scotch, people either adore smoky tastes or abhor them. Over the past year, the scotch tastings I have attended have nudged me into the smoky end of the spectrum. Then Ethan Kelley, head Spirit sommelier at Brandy Library in New York City, converted me with his perfectly blended cocktail. Ardbeg Scotch comes from the southern coast of the island of Islay (pronounced ai-luh), which is known for its strong peaty tastes. The other ingredients mingle with the hints of flavors in the scotch for an unexpected outcome—and a great way to enjoy scotch during the warmer months. To make the honey syrup, use a 50/50 combination of honey and simmering water, until the honey is incorporated. Store it in a squeeze bottle in the fridge for use in tea and future concoctions. www.ardbeg.com

Make an Islay Dawn from Brandy Library


Ellen Swandiak
Ellen Swandiak

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