Liquid smoke, an additive that imparts a charred wood flavour to food without using a smoker, has been dismissed as both "cheating" and "nasty" but, if used with a delicate hand, it can produce some tasty results.. I love liquid smoke in my apartment-approved, smoke-free, sous vide ribs, but it has other clever uses, none of which have anything to do with meat.
Photo: Marc Babin (Unsplash)
As someone who lives in a tiny studio apartment, I don't get to do a lot of grilling, smoking, or any other outdoor cooking. This makes me very sad, because I do love smoked and grilled meats. (Grilled vegetables are also fantastic, but we're not talking about those right now.) Fortunately, a sous vide setup - which I happen to have! - can help you come close to the texture and flavour you get from low and slow smoking.
Again - and I can't emphasise this enough - the key to using liquid smoke lies in restraint. Just a hint adds a lovely taste of woodsy char, but more than 1/4 teaspoon in anything can result in an unpleasant, artificial aftertaste. However, because you are adding such a small amount, you can incorporate liquid smoke into existing recipes without messing anything up. Here are just a few ways I like to use the condensed smoke juice:
Rather than add it directly to the shaker or mixing glass, add a 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke to your coupe or lowball, swirl it around, then fling it out into the sink (hold on tightly to your glass), removing as much as you can. Build your cocktail as usual, and enjoy. (This is particularly good in bourbon, dark rum or tequila-based beverages.)
Sauces and dressings
Liquid smoke can help temper too-sweet sauces and marinades, especially those of the BBQ variety. Just add a drop or two, taste, and add another if needed. Repeat until you reach your desired level of smokiness. The same process can be used in salad dressings; I particularly enjoy adding three drops or so to sesame oil-based vinaigrettes, potato salads and even plain ol' ranch.
Add a couple of drops to your caramels for depth and complexity.
Cheeseballs and spreads
Heck, last night I made an impromptu dip with two tablespoons of cream cheese, two tablespoons labneh, about four drops of liquid smoke, and a healthy sprinkling of chives. It was very good.
Another important detail to remember when working with liquid smoke: Be careful, and don't spill it on yourself, unless you enjoy smelling strongly of charred hickory. (I know this seems obvious, but it's easier to do than one would think.)