THE FIREMAN FASCINATED BY FOOD SMOKING

 

Turan teaching his food smoking class

Turan teaching his food smoking class

A relaxed and genial figure, Turan T. Turan is accustomed to the idea that his day job – a fireman – coupled with his hobby – food smoking – causes amusement. “The guys at the station tease me,” he laughs, “My colleagues say why don’t you take food in with you when you go into a fire?!”

Such is Turan’s fascination with food smoking that he runs courses on the subject and is the author of a book on food smoking, a characteristically practical how-to guide. Turan kindly invited me to attend one of his day courses at Hackney City Farm in October 2013. Here I got to see him in action demonstrating how to smoke an assortment of foods, passing on his enthusiasm, which he did with commendable clarity and in an appealingly down-to-earth way. The group of would-be food smokers are transfixed when Turan announces “I’d like to teach you how to smoke food in a cardboard box” and, true to his word, brings out a cardboard box which he has adapted into a smokebox and used as such for three years.

Turan with cardboard box smoker

This rooted, humorous approach continues through the day; “We need to use a damper. I use something technical, like a flowerpot!” As a fireman, safety is obviously very important to Turan; “food smoking is an outdoor pursuit” he emphasises, as well as explaining about the need to have a damper to slow down the combustion process. In a fascinating session, he takes us outside and demonstrates by burning various woods the different aromas they have when burnt, from the light sweetness of apple wood to the distinctive scent of hickory. The aromatic fragrance of burning bay shavings (de-barked, dried and planed by Turan) evokes ‘oohs’ of appreciation. It was a fascinating and engaging day, offering a real insight into the principles of hot and cold smoking, hospitably rounded off by a chance to sample all the foods we have watched being smoked, including Turan’s excellent smoked salmon.
Talking to Turan after having seen his practical nature amply demonstrated during the course, I am not surprised to learn that as a boy Turan “had a fascination with how things worked. My dad came into the garage one day and discovered that I’d pulled his red leather radio apart to see how it worked. My hobbies were all about building stuffing and making things.” This hands-on aspect is a theme throughout his life; “I built my first car, built my house.” He began his working life as a sixteen-year-old electrical apprentice. A few years later he applied to London Fire Brigade and has worked there ever since, currently in the position of a Station Manager.
An interest in food has been part of Turan’s life ever since he was a boy growing up in West London. His Turkish Cypriot father worked in the restaurant business all his life – “some of that interest in food rubs off.” Turan’s first attempt at smoking food was, in fact, prompted by a conversation with his father. “It was in the 1990s. He was saying that smoked salmon in the supermarket was a joke and simply didn’t taste nice, so I thought I’m going to have a go at making that. I got a whole salmon, cured it in salt and smoked it in a rudimentary box I’d built. I made a mess of it the first couple of times because I over-salted the fish. I persevered and worked with the tail end fillet until I got it right. You know what, it was the simplest thing. I just used salt, allowed it to cure for a short time, for a tail end typically around 4 hours, then exposed it to smoke for 6-8 hours, which gave it the chance to dry out and firm up, improve the texture. When I carved it and tasted it, my dad said it was the best smoked salmon he’d ever tasted. That meant a lot to me. That’s what got me started on smoking food.” Even now, so many years later, there is a warm pleasure in Turan’s voice as he relives this moment in his memory. “My dad died a couple of years ago and when we were visiting him in hospital we’d take in plates of food because he didn’t like the hospital food. I would bring him smoked salmon on triangles of nice brown bread, served with cracked pepper and slices of lemon. You’d see the people around the ward looking to see what he was eating. My dad would say, ‘This is the smoked salmon my son made. It’s the best smoked salmon in the world.’ It was quite embarrassing!”

Turan with his freshly smoked salmon

Having become interested in food smoking, Turan, in his own words, “got a bit geeky about it!” Asked by a friend to show him how to make a food smoker, he spent 2-3 months putting together the drawings for the food smoker he’d made. “He said I should put them on the Internet and I did. They went online in 2008 and today I must have sold 700 plans. I get photos from people who’ve built the smoker, showing me what they’ve done.” A few years later, Turan was invited to run a course on food smoking at Hackney City Farm, where he has since taught two courses a year ever since.

Turan demonstrating hot smoking

Turan demonstrating hot smoking

Although initially rather nervous at the idea of teaching, he obviously relishes the chance to communicate his knowledge. “I love seeing people going oh right, that’s not hard is it? The point I make with the cardboard box is that it is simply an enclosure to hold smoke in an environment where your food is. It doesn’t have to be a very expensive, fancy, stainless steel smoker. To me, demystifying it is very satisfying. Teaching my course gives me pleasure because it means that people will go away and do food smoking for themselves and it will be nice and safe and easy for them to do.”
Details of Turan’s courses can be found on his website:  http://www.coldsmoking.co.uk/

 

Turan's hot smoked trout

Turan's hot smoked trout

 

 

Turan carving his freshly smoked salmon

FOOD, BOOKS, MEMORIES: An Interview with Diana Henry

 

Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry

The cookbooks which have a special place in my affections are those with a human voice, a sense of the personality behind them – cookbooks by Jane Grigson, Margaret Costa, Simon Hopkinson and Nigel Slater come to mind.  Diana Henry’s Salt  Sugar Smoke definitely falls into that category. Reading it, I found myself beguiled not only by the delectable recipes – Aubergine, cardamom and pomegranate ‘jam’, Beetroot-cured Gravlax,  Maple Vinegar – but by Diana’s vivacious authorial voice,  conveying an infectious enthusiasm.

Having visited Diana’s house for a wonderfully hospitable tea party to launch the book and seen the long, living room bookshelves lined with cookbooks, old and new, it was obvious that her love of both books and food runs deep.  “All my cookbooks are in my living room,” she explains. “The other books are elsewhere; the place is coming down with them! I just adore them. I don’t think cookbooks in the printed book will go. Recipes are things that intersect our lives. Even if I just look at the spines of my cookbooks, I get a warm feeling from them. My whole life is there – different decades, different times. It’s a bit like smelling a perfume, it evokes a time.”

She grew up in Northern Ireland with a mother who was an excellent cook; “to be honest, she’s more skilled than me,“ says Diana candidly. “Mum started to go to night classes in the 70s where they taught dishes like moussaka, lasagne – exotic then, especially in Northern Ireland. My god, the hunt we had to get Parmesan cheese  . . .” Diana began cooking as a girl –  “The first grown-up cookbook I bought was Prue Leith’s Cooking For Friends when I was 12” – and cooked through her teens. “I was giving dinner parties when I was sixteen. I really wanted to create  – and my friends just laughed at me! I think I’m quite a selfish cook, to be honest. People always think cooking is about sharing and I think it’s only partly that for me. It’s about making stuff and making stuff that is beautiful; there’s no question about that. I’m thrilled by the act of creation and I’m quite a visual cook. That’s why I like Middle Eastern food a lot. I spent three days cooking for my husband’s 50th birthday party.  All Middle Eastern and it looked beautiful and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was.”

Diana’s fascination continued through her student years at university at Oxford, though she remembers her interest in food being regarded as odd. “Other women thought you shouldn’t be interested in food. I was kicked out of my consciousness raising group because my conscious wasn’t raised enough!” she laughs. Undaunted by being out of step with what was considered fashionable, Diana continued to cook, drawing much comfort from her beloved cookbooks. “I discovered Elizabeth David at university but I’m not a massive fan. Sacrilege I know. I think she’s a bit cold and bit snobbish. I’m much more into Jane Grigson. She had a big influence early on. I bought her Vegetable and Fruit book. Those are really well-thumbed.” Having moved to London as a post-graduate and while living in a little basement flat in Islington, Diana vividly remembers buying two cookbooks “which both made my spine tingle”.  One was Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Cookbook and the other was Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cookbook. “I used to lie on the sofa and read them. Claudia’s was fully contextualised, with the stories and history. The Alice Waters was ‘my god, you can give people fillet of pork with char-grilled peppers for supper, that’s brilliant!’ My goddesses are definitely Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden and Alice Waters. It’s been added to over the years – Stephanie Alexander, Skye Gingell.”

One of the appeals of Diana’s food writing for me is the open-minded way in which it draws  inspiration from many cuisines – Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Japanese, South East Asian influences all manifest themselves in Salt Sugar Smoke. While growing up, however, she wasn’t well-travelled. “I didn’t leave Northern Ireland until I was sixteen. The first time I went abroad it was by myself on a French exchange. It was very simple but had an amazing effect on me.” At the age of 22 coming to London, where she now lives, was another key experience in terms of opening up new culinary worlds. “You get to London and it’s not just London you find, but the whole world. It blows your mind!” she exclaims. “ At the end of my road in Islington there was a Turkish shop and then I went to Edgware Road . . . I remember going to Ridley Road in search of Turkish peppers but finding a shop that had five different types of feta cheese in tubs, which all tasted different.”

Salt Sugar Smoke was, like all her books, “years in the making”, with Diana suggesting the idea eight years ago to her publisher. “I always have a list of books I’d like to write,” she explains, “and it changes. This was on the list for ages. I didn’t come up with the title for quite a long time. In fact, I’d nearly finished the book before I thought that would be a great title. I wish my books could be VAST; there’s so much I want to put in! But I do think if a book’s too long and overwhelming, people don’t use it as much. Cookbooks shouldn’t feel encyclopaedic. I think they need to be huggable!”

Diana’s enjoyment of the culinary exploring she did while working on Salt Sugar Spice comes through both in the book itself and her affectionate memories of working on it. “I’d been making gravlax before, but I’d never done bacon, never done bresaola. I felt so proud. Indian chutneys are amazing. I’d never realised how important pickles are in Japan. Using pickles is a brilliant way of accessorising dishes. The work’s been done in advance and you can serve them with something quick and simple and they bring dishes to life.” Characteristically, she relished pushing the boundaries of what goes into a preserving book. “So often, jam kind of begins and ends with strawberry,” she observes.  Diana’s recipes for jams, which include recipes such as Melon, lime and ginger, white peach and raspberry, summer pudding jam evoke the Mediterranean, the Middle East and summer living.  She herself is enjoying cooking from Salt Sugar Smoke. “It’s when you have a cookbook out with all the recipes gathered there, that you can use them too. I love that,” she says with satisfaction. What is her hope for the book? “I hope that it captures people’s imagination. I want people to look at preserving in a fresh way and think this is great. It’s not hard to do. This notion that certain areas of cooking can only be done by people who’ve been doing it for 20 years – it’s nonsense.”

Salt Sugar Smoke

 

Salt Sugar Smoke cookbook

MORE PANDAN PLEASURES

 

Pandan rice pudding

Home-made rice pudding, gently baked for hours in the oven, has long been a favourite comfort food of mine. The recipe my mother used was from her copy of Bee Nilson’s Penguin Cookery book. As a child, I was always amazed that such a small amount of rice could swell and expand to create a whole pudding; in fact, it still amazes me.

When making rice pudding, I’ve always stuck to traditional flavourings – a grating of nutmeg, a touch of finely pared lemon zest or a fragrant vanilla pod. The other day it struck me, however, that pandan leaves would work well in a traditional British rice pudding. There is an affinity between pandan and rice. Pandan leaves and pandan juice are traditionally used to add flavour and colour to rice in the making of various Malay kuih (Malay cakes). So, I experimented, adding coconut milk, freshly-made pandan juice and a whole knotted pandan leaf to a classic milk-based rice pudding, which I baked for three hours in the oven.

Flavouring the milk with pandan juice

I was very pleased with the result – creamy, soft-textured rice, ever so easy to eat, with a wonderful, grassy pandan fragrance which lifted the whole dish. Comfort food with a tropical twist.

PANDAN RICE PUDDING
Serves 4-6

70g short grain rice
1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot
600ml full-fat milk
50ml water
6 pandan leaves, chopped
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
60g caster sugar
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 150° C.

Place the rice, knotted pandan leaf and milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pandan juice. In a food processor, blitz together the water and chopped pandan leaves into a green sludge. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve to extract the green pandan juice.
Stir the pandan juice, coconut milk, caster sugar and salt into the simmered rice.
Transfer the rice mixture to a buttered ovenproof dish. Bake in the oven for 3 hours.

Pandan rice pudding

Serve warm or at room temperature, rather than hot, as this enhances the flavour.

Pandan rice pudding

Pandan rice pudding

British Street Food Awards 2012

Fish Hut at the British Street Food Awards 2012

Street food has always had a special place in my affections. My earliest and most vivid food memories are of hawker stalls and night markets from my time as a child in Singapore – hungrily watching the satay man fan the flames as he grilled skewers of beef satay, watching the roti canai man deftly stretch and spin out the dough to form a flatbread, served with a side of curry sauce, crunching into freshly deep-fried pisang goreng (batter-coated fried bananas) . . .

The rise of street food in Britain, therefore – witnessed by the Eat Street collective and the sudden presence of stalls selling interesting, tasty food at food markets – is to be celebrated. This weekend sees the British Street Food Awards taking place in London for the first time, in the cobbled street outside Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, so I went along to see what was going on. The sun was shining, the music was blaring and the place was heaving with people who were either about to eat, eating or had eaten an assortment of food from the street food traders there. Mexican burritos, kedgeree, artisan ice cream, bhel puri, mussels, rendang . .. the choice was huge and the queues were long.

Journalist Richard Johnson, founder of the British Street Food Awards, explained to me how about nine years ago how, following a heavy night’s drinking session with Marco Pierre White in New York,  he and Marco “in the need for serious sustenance”  had come across “the best burger I’d ever had in a park in Manhattan”  and wondered why there was no equivalent good street food in Britain. “I started looking into it and there was the beginnings of something coming out of the farmers’ markets’ movement, where people were selling foods like sausages from rare breed pigs. The idea of presenting food in interesting trucks and trailers came over from America. I thought ‘Hang on, let’s get some awards going as a benchmark, a line in the sand to say this is what can be done.” Now in their third year, this is the first time the British Street Food Awards have taken place in London. “The easy thing to do would have been to make it a London fad, so at the beginning we went to Ludlow Food Festival, which is rooted in the community, in local produce, that felt important. The second year we were in Suffolk at Harvest at Jimmy’s. Next year we won’t be in London – I want to take the Awards up north.”

As Richard talks about the  traders taking part in the Awards – explaining why what the food they are offering tastes so good, one can hear the relish in his voice. “There’s been a huge upturn in street food. People are getting more imaginative, mixing flavours, trying extraordinary ways to sell their street food. I think the next Jamie, the next Gordon, the next Heston will as likely come out of street food as from a restaurant. These people have to be costmongers, have to be big mouths, have to be enthusiasts – miserable gits don’t do terribly well in street food.”

At Fish Hut from Southwold, Suffolk, Nick Attfield is doing a roaring business in his trademark fish and chips, using day boat, line-caught cod freshly fished from off the Suffolk coast, coated in a melt-in-the-mouth crisp batter. “I started selling fish and chips from a beach hut to publicise the run-down pub I’d bought” explains Nick, “and it’s taken off! Why do I do this? It’s fun!”

Cathy of Lullabelles at British Street Food Awards 2012

Over at Lullabelles, keen baker Cathy McConaghy is serving cakes and cups of tea to an appreciative crowd. “We’d only been going for 3-4 months when we were nominated for Street Food Awards in the first year they started. We were absolutely over the moon just to be nominated and we thrilled when we won.” Summer is Lullabelles’ busy season, with Cathy touring the festivals. “Winter is quieter, which is fine, because we work so hard in the summer. It’s long days, long weekends in the summer, but it’s fun. You have to be tough. To be honest, nothing stresses me out any more. This VW van is 53 years old and breaks down every two minutes – you just have to go with it and get on with it.”

The judging panel will be served “a banquet of street food” from which to pick the category winners and the overall winner. “The winner gets a sit down with Marks and Spencer and a sit down with Wahaca,” explains Richard, “They want to be of help, whether it’s putting something in their stores for M & S or something on the menu at Wahaca, they’re hugely experienced and can offer a lot.”

As the turn-out for the British Street Food Awards demonstrates –  with long queues at each and every stall there –  the public appetite for good street food in Britain is certainly there.

http://britishstreetfood.co.uk/2012/09/and-the-winners-are/

Fish Hut Fish and Chips - so good!

Sorbitium Ices at British Street Food Awards 2012

Manjit's Kitchen at British Street Food Awards 2012