I spent last Sunday smoking an array of nuts, fish and cheese in a filing cabinet and wooden cupboard named Freddie and Woody. As you do.
If an article introduced like that was published on April fool's day, it would immediately receive a flurry of comments decrying its authenticity, and quite rightly so. As it stands, Freddie and Woody are very real and very efficient members of professional chef Brenda Anderson's family. Bear with me: if it sounds bonkers, it's only in the most delicious way.
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Anderson isn't the kind of woman to do things by halves. As the founder of Tasting Scotland - an events company offering gourmet food tours of Scotland - she has dedicated her life to eating, be it in the form of her previous venture as the head of food studies at Glasgow City Studies, her current UK ambassadorship for the World Food Travel Association or any of the foodie endeavours she is allowed time for in between.
One of Tasting Scotland's events is a day course on how to smoke your own food at home, and so it is entirely appropriate that it is held in Anderson's own house - Tasting Scotland HQ - in Rutherglen. Dispel any notions of that being in a stranger's home (and by that I mean properly in it - using their bathroom, sitting in their summerhouse, and meeting their cat) might be awkward, because Anderson's home is so well-suited to this kind of thing that it soon becomes apparent that to hold it anywhere else would be to miss out on a special kind of intimacy that bonds you with everyone else on the course.
Anderson's house quickly demonstrates why it is known as Tasting Scotland HQ. Its gardens, especially, are so wonderfully lush and well-tended that they bring envious tears to the eyes of the city centre dwelling guests. There are courgette plants with their starfish blooms half unfurled incubating their vegetables and netted herb gardens hosting all manner of produce. It is the kind of garden that works perfectly for an event where cooking is the onus, because when a suggestion is made that a borage flower head or a sprig of fennel might make a dish better, there it is in its natural environs. It is the kind of supremely personal touch city centre catering schools would find difficult to challenge.
But it is smoking we are here to learn, not the ways it is possible to envy a green space. We meet the smokers, who we half expect to be actual people by the way they are introduced. They have names, of course - a few are so-called after their brand names, but the real characters are Freddie and Woody.
Freddie started life as a filing cabinet, and from the outside not much has changed, save from being sprayed in black heat-resistant paint which gives him an ultra-cool Nightrider effect (if that's possible for a piece of office equipment.) But open Freddie and the secrets of his new life are revealed: holes drilled into the bottom of a tray allow him to metamorphose into a simplistic, but completely effective, hot smoker. A circular hole was cut out of the top of Freddie and one out of the back of Woody (a wooden cabinet procured from a second-hand shop) in order to connect the two and allow the latter to receive Freddie's cool smoke but not his hot temperature. Woody, thus, became Anderson's cold smoker, and both cost no more than about £12 and a couple of hours work to create.
There is something really special about watching a squat filing cabinet connected to a charmingly bashed-up wooden cabinet be filled up with the most delicious food - gem-hued peppers, fat white light bulbs of garlic and duck breasts in hot Freddie, and a sunrise of cheeses with a big tray of salted cashews underneath in cool Woody - and just left to simmer away emitting the most delicious smoke on someone's patio.
Both smokers hold things that should not be cured before smoking - vegetables, processed food like cheese and sausages and shellfish, though a little wine or lemon is fine for the latter. Everything else, however, must be cured to add flavour, so we set to work in Anderson's kitchen wet-brining our chicken breasts in salt and sugar. The general rule of thumb when curing meat is to add a mixture of five parts salt to one part sugar (the salt is what smoke will 'stick' to while in the smokers and help lock in the unique flavour, while the sugar keeps things tender) before adding to a poly bag and filling with water until the breast is covered. The meat must then be refrigerated - a whole turkey, for example, demands a full day in the cool, but for all other meat Anderson advises 12 hours per kilogram of weight.
There is already a beautiful great lump of brisket in one of the three professional smokers (this one's called Brinky), so our chicken, alongside some cured salmon and langoustines, goes into Tennessee, arguably the most prestigious member of Anderson's smoking family. Tennessee, much like Brinky, can also be used to barbecue, but smoking seems to be almost opposite in terms of the attention food needs while 'cooking' (almost none) while the end product remains immeasurably tastier and at less risk from blackening. A further benefit, Anderson explains, is that cooking temperatures from as low as 60c will kill food poisoning bacteria providing food is held at that heat for 45 minutes. Hot smoking - in other words, slow, cool cooking - it seems, is the opposite of fast food, in the kind that rewards richly in its taste dividends.
And what taste. Part of the day is to eat a lunch of what we have smoked in the garden and talk about the easiness of preparing food this way. We pile our plates with beautifully tender duck, juicy langoustines and hot smoked salmon as well as cous cous and fresh salad with strawberry balsamic dressing - after all, who better to prepare the perfect supplements to our smoked goodies than a professional chef? Everything we don't have space for is neatly packed up for us to take home in tinfoil boxes as the ultimate doggy bags.
Who could have guessed that a filing cabinet named Freddie and Woody the wooden cabinet would prove that home smoking isn't just for those who can afford expensive equipment? Certainly not me, but I wouldn't have believed anyone apart from Brenda Anderson if they'd told me that even a metal chocolate tin can be used for the same purpose. As for exactly how that one works, you'll need to ask Anderson herself. I imagine she'll be only too happy to fill you in.
Tickets for the next home smoking event by Brenda Anderson are available from www.tastingscotland.com/class with a special discount for HeraldScotland readers when quoting Herald10.