The smoking of meat, originally linked to basest survival, conjures up feelings of hearth and home, or perhaps the image of an experienced pitmaster tending a live fire for hours. Pioneered as a method for meat preservation, it had the added benefit of imparting tremendous flavor and improved texture. But what was formerly done for longevity is now being utilized in contemporary kitchens to apply innovative flavors and texture to non-meat dishes, ingredients and cuisines one would never expect; even a favorite libation or two!
Creating the perfect consommé is a rite of passage for every culinary student, The simple broth, fortified with flavor but still clear enough to read a dime at the bottom of the pot, is the pinnacle of classic French cuisine. This process is seen as a sign of purity and extravagance, taking a lot of labor and ingredients to produce a small amount of final product. Now, more efficient techniques are bringing clarification out of the textbooks and classroom and into the contemporary kitchen.
Historically, pressure cookers were utilized as the means to create canned products that could safely last on the pantry shelf. Even though somewhat easy to use, the unit was intimidating due to the pressure gauge, relief valve and clamps resembling a bomb more than a cooktop device. Now they’re seen as old-fashioned and collect dust in kitchen cabinets everywhere, but contemporary chefs are starting to apply pressure cooking’s unique ability to quickly build and preserve flavor. Pressure cookers produce succulent fare using simple physics, in a fraction of the time other cooking methods would take. Because the cooker is tightly sealed and valved, the liquid inside builds pressure, keeping liquid from boiling so the temperature and pressure keep rising. The pressurized environment, hotter than boiling water and intensely moist, cooks the food inside much faster than traditional methods. The tight seal circulates moisture, requiring less water that might dilute flavor, thereby producing more-intense flavor compounds and aroma.
Fermenting pickles is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods, one that develops complex flavors and new textures, a refreshing contrast to the bland, textureless profiles of some more modern techniques. Though it takes advantage of complex biochemical reactions, the process is very simple, and is open to new innovation. Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and preeminent authority on the subject, describes fermentation as a “creative space between fresh food and rotten food where most of human culture's most prized delicacies and culinary achievements exist.” Katz and others have begun a revivalist movement, with chefs, artisan producers, and even local ferment swap groups manipulating the bacteria that have been nourishing humans for millennia. With a bit of understanding of the science behind it, contemporary chefs can harness and apply these techniques and flavors in novel ways.
There is active discussion in the culinary world in regard to whether meat should be brined or marinated. But let's take a look at why brining is pure magic and my preferred method: