Gastronaut Files: Smoked Foods
Pit masters are not known for delicate flavors. Indeed, any cooking process that involves smoke, like pit barbecuing, seems like an assertive, even aggressive, way to transform the taste of an ingredient. So it's a surprise to hear Virginia chef Jason Alley talk about smoke the way other chefs speak of salt and pepper—as a seasoning. Alley uses wood chips and an indoor smoker (it resembles a covered roasting pan) to smoke food in less than a minute on the stove, then finishes cooking it with whatever method he chooses. "You can really taste the individual wood, like hickory or apple, without covering up the flavor of the thing you're smoking," he says. The technique is perfect for home cooks who may not have the space for conventional smoking gear—Alley relies on it in the cramped kitchen at his Richmond restaurant, Comfort. In fact, even though he plans to install a big, pit master-worthy smoking rig at Pasture, the charcuterie-heavy small-plates restaurant he'll be opening in Richmond later this year, he claims he'll continue to use his stovetop technique there as well. "It's a seriously low-budget method," he says. "I'll never not use it."
Stovetop smokers and wood chips can be ordered online at cameronscookware.com.