Smoky Jo and Smoky Georgina show us around the The Wild Boar smokehouse in Crook
- Credit: Archant
High-flying police officers quit their jobs to make delicious food have been given a royal seal of approval. Sue Riley reports
Not many people can use a filing cabinet to cook food fit for royalty. Then again, not many of us will have ever really tried. However, once you’ve learnt the art of smoking food in a filing cabinet - or any other contraption come to that - you’ll be hooked.
A course run in the Lake District is one of the best ways to find out how to create smoked foods similar to those sold in prestigious stores like Fortnum & Mason. It’s shops like that which Jo Hampson and Georgina Perkins used to supply when they ran the award-winning Old Smokehouse near Penrith where they also ‘smoked’ for Prince Charles.
Now, the couple who refer to themselves as Smoky Jo and Smoky Georgina pass on their knowledge at day and weekend courses, showing people how to smoke in their back gardens or for commercial use without the need for fancy kit. ‘Once you have picked up the principle it is easy to smoke at home. There are one or two cookery courses but no one understands the history and theory,’ explains Jo. ‘It’s an art not a science.’
The courses, held at their home near Shap and also at The Wild Boar at Crook near Kendal which has its own smokehouse, covers the fast hot smoking method and the more traditional cold smoking which imparts more flavour. The one-day course looks at food suitable for smoking and the range of equipment on the market.
‘You can’t get it wrong, it’s whether you like it or not,’ says Jo. You learn how to brine food, either covering it in salt or putting it in a salt water solution with your choice of flavourings. ‘It’s a love affair between salt and smoke, the salt attracts the smoke,’ says Jo. The only things Jo wouldn’t brine are vegetables, shellfish, processed foods like sausages and cured items like gammon. Then it’s a case of rinsing, drying and smoking.
‘The key is to separate the food from the fire so the smoke is cool, it needs to be under 30 degrees,’ she says. You get to try all the food that’s cooked on the day, sampling the different flavours and spice combinations. Typically you would brine a chicken fillet for about three hours in a litre of water to 120g of salt and 40g sugar, although measurements vary depending on taste. You can even brine in the bag to keep washing up to a minimum and with the quicker hot method of smoking commonly used by TV chefs the food is put into brine then straight into a smoker. Salmon steak takes about eight minutes to smoke and chicken breast about 20.
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The course tends to attract foodie enthusiasts who certainly get fired up (no pun intended) judging by Smoky Jo’s website where people have posted pictures of the smokers they have made – from biscuit tins to far more elaborate creations including 300ft trenches and old CCTV covers. It’s a testament to Jo and Georgina’s make-do attitude as they share lots of practical advice and teach you that smoking food is for everyone and doesn’t require expensive equipment. Mostly people attend from across the UK although they did have one woman travelling from Nigeria specifically to meet them.
Just about anything can be smoked – from cheese and meat to oranges and avocados. The smokers use different types of woods - always hard woods, particularly oak, beech and fruit woods - or tea leaves, rice or peat which all give off smoke. Jo recommends a series of smokers from Landmann’s Grand Tennessee which sells for about £300 although there is a smaller version in Asda for £130down to an Eco-cardboard box which retails at just £25.
The courses are great fun and Jo and Georgina are lighthearted hosts, perhaps belying their former lives as a Chief Supt and Detective Inspector in London. They gave up their police careers in 2001 to take over the smokehouse in Penrith which went on to win a succession of food awards. They say their change of life was a whim.
‘I didn’t like smoked food then and Georgina only really liked smoky bacon crisps,’ said Jo. How things change. When they sold the smokehouse three years later Jo was clearing out a filing cabinet containing lots of her police papers and thought it would be quicker to set fire to the whole lot rather than shred everything. Then she had a brainwave and lit a fire in the bottom and put a salmon in the top. When she served it for dinner all their friends wanted to know how to smoke food and the courses were borne.
Since moving to Shap they have also taken over the community chip shop and are now selling wonderful sounding items including smoked halloumi, a Smoky Jo sausage and they are also developing a smoked haddock in batter. In the end, it always comes back to smoking for this pair.
Learn to smoke
Jo has written a no-nonsense book, Smoking Food at Home with Smoky Jo which is available from their website or on Amazon. Their next smoking course at The Wild Boar is on Wednesday, September 18 which costs £109 including lunch and dinner (hotel stays are available at a reduced rate) and they are also running popular Christmas courses at the hotel in November where you are taught to smoke duck and goose.
For more details visit www.smokyjos.co.uk or ring 0931 716 638.