Some foods have always been viewed by many as “delicacies” and owing to their expense or unusualness, were only enjoyed on special occasions. Foods like foie gras (now relegated to the ranks of “not really acceptable to enjoy” by some), truffles, pigeon, birds nest soup, lobster, abalone, caviar and many more. The list goes on. There was even a time when roast chicken was a treat sometimes only enjoyed once a month.
One thing that doesn’t seem to lose its appeal as something special is smoked salmon. There’s something about the colour, texture and delicate taste that sets it apart from other dishes. But even this noble dish has become mired in controversy and a victim of cost-cutting. It seems that suppliers and nouveau-suppliers (the new guys on the block) saw that people regarded salmon as something very special and decided to make it available to everyone at much more affordable prices. The problem being that traditional smoked salmon is that way because of … well, traditional methods of producing it. But, true to the thinking of “making-it-available-to-all-at affordable-prices-and-to-hell-with-the-consequences” idea, they cut corners.
So now, there are selections of smoked salmon products on the market that makes this item available on any table – just choose which to buy according to your budget. It always was available but not everyone had the budget to indulge in it except on special occasions (there’s that phrase again). But now you can have it any time you like. Just pop down to the local supermarket and choose your plastic bag of sliced pink fish. Short-cuts have been followed in the attempt to make this product reachable to all shoppers and warning bells are being sounded about the methods employed to produce it and the health effects that may result. Of course, the various supermarket chains will take issue, claiming that they “only choose the best products” and that they “have undergone rigourous quality checks” etc etc. Didn’t they say that when horse meat was discovered on the shelves stacked with beef burger boxes?
Many restaurants and chefs choose to smoke their own salmon and other foods the traditional way in their efforts to retain quality and that ‘specialness’ that discerning diners want. Jon Rutter and his stocktaking team have seen items like maple, mesquite, hickory, pecan, oak and beech chips appearing on their customers inventories as they seek to maintain their edge.
In fact many other smoked products are now available in restaurants than ever before – many of them home-smoked exclusively for their customers. Apart from the traditional salmon, there’s trout, chicken (yes, smoking DOES cook it so that it’s not raw), various fruits and vegetables, drinks even and of course the variety of meats and spices.
And with the growth of the internet and its accessibility to so many, don’t be surprised if you roll up to a family get together and find your host has some delicacy that they have smoked themselves. It’s now easy to even get plans to construct your own hot, cold or even water smoker. However, home-smokers don’t realize that just cracking up a smoker and bunging in half a salmon for a few minutes is not going to give the same effect as that delicious product you get at your special restaurant. The traditionalists will give you just one one word – time!
Personally, I go with paying the premium and making the experience really special. There’s nothing like that special taste on the odd occasion, not the cheapened, anytime-I-want, alternative version.