Playing with Smoke

Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea, an uber cutting-edge restaurant in Chicago, plays with smoke and scents to engage the diner’s senses.  Lavender pillows that waft scent when the plate is placed in front of you. Smoke filled vessels that flavor the food and the air. 
If this sounds a little crazy, just think about it. Smell is a major component of tasting. Nothing tastes like anything when you have a cold. So, why not enrich the flavors by going directly to the nose? Direct olfactory stimulation wouldn’t give you the full range of flavor, because flavor aroma is also released during the process of chewing. So, no, an all smoke diet would not be satisfying.
The idea of smoke intrigues me. What would benefit from smoke, or a small whiff of mesquite? How can a home chef play with smoke? I don’t have a Smoking Gun, which is made by the nice guys at PolyScience,  although it certainly beats the hell out of burning your fingers on a little piece of flaming mesquite.
My first experiment: BBQ seared scallops with lime zest.  I marinated the scallops for about 45 minutes in a fiery BBQ sauce, pan seared them, added the lime zest, placed them is this sort of petrie dish, and lit a match.  Once I got the mesquite to light and smoke, I placed the smoldering wood shard inside the small glass dish and covered it. 
The question: was there enough smoke to flavor the scallops? The answer was a surprisingly delicate smoke flavor that went naturally with the BBQ flavor of the scallop.
So, what’s next? White beans and shrimp.  Poached chicken with smoky leeks. Smoked potato slices.  I’m not so sure about smoked lettuce….but, maybe if I play my cards right,  I’ll get a smoking fun for my birthday.

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