Smoke Gets in Your Food

smokepowderThey, asked me how I knew,
My true love was true,
I of course replied, something here inside,
Can not be denied.

They, said some day you'll find,
All who love are blind,
When you heart's on fire, you must realize,
Smoke gets in your eyes.

Written by Jerome Kern (music) and Otto Harbach (lyrics) for the musical "Roberta" in 1933

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is supposed to be romantic, but it just makes me hungry. It's completely primal. With all due respect to raw food adherents, smoke has been appealing every since we discovered that the combination of fire plus food equals delicious. The smell of smoky bacon or barbecue has been known on occasion to make even committed vegetarians weak.

Sadly, I have nowhere to put a grill let alone a smoker. I use my cast iron grill pan, and make-shift smokers in the oven and stove top and char my eggplants and peppers under the broiler. But it's not the same. Smoky flavors are elusive. So far my favorite smoke-enhancers are chipotle pepper, cumin and smoked paprika. But now I have a new weapon in my arsenal.

I got this idea from Sally Schneider. Her books, A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook are filled with cool and unexpected ideas. One of her ideas is to make what she calls "smoky tea essence" by grinding up Lapsang Souchong tea. Lapsang Souchong is tea that is withered over cypress, pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine where it absorbs the smoke. I tried Schneider's version, and found that adding just a bit of salt and sugar really took it to another level. The tea is primarily smoky but also adds a slightly earthy flavor too.

So how to use this new smoky seasoning? I tried it first on some leftover bland Chinese food. Then I added it to scrambled eggs. I also added a pinch to some baba ghanoush. It would be great in a spice rub for any kind of fish, poultry or meat, or in soups, stews, chili, anywhere you want a touch of smoke without the burn. You could also make your own smoky blend by adding a bit of cumin and smoked paprika or chipotle. Note: I made this with teaspoons to start, but you can use tablespoons, cups, whatever amount suits you.

Smoke Seasoning

2 teaspoons Lapsang Souchong tea or roughly 2 tea bags
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Grind together with a mortar and pestle, spice mill or blender until powdery and well combined. Add to soups, stews, rubs, anywhere you want smoky flavor.



Amy Sherman is a San Francisco–based writer, recipe developer, restaurant reviewer and all around culinary enthusiast. She blogs for Epicurious , Bay Area Bites and Cooking with Amy.