[Sca-cooks] Smoked Meats in Northern Europe

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius.magister at verizon.net
Mon Oct 9 10:02:07 PDT 2006

On Oct 9, 2006, at 11:38 AM, Sandragood at aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 10/8/2006 9:22:45 P.M. Central Daylight Time,
> adamantius.magister at verizon.net writes:
> I'm unsure of  the extent to which smoking was actually used all over
> period  Europe.
> There's that term again that everyone hates...;o)

Not enough of them, I suspect ;-). But I took a chance that my usage  
was pretty clear as referring to "all-Europe, all-the-time", so to  

> The most common preservation techniques used in Europe were salting  
> (either
> dry salted or brined) and pickling (wine and vinegar) sometimes in  
> combination
>  with other spices.  For the most part they relied on simple   
> ingredients.
> Although we do know that sausages and hams were smoked as  well as  
> fish.

What do we actually know about fish being smoked? For example, I was  
pretty shocked to see Mark Kurlansky state in his book about cod,  
that Basque fishermen essentially discovered the technique of salting  
fish while still on board ship, thus greatly extending their travel  
range -- this is another of those things that makes great common  
sense, and one which you'd assume had been known since pre-history,  
but Kurlansky says, as I recall, that this was first implemented in  
something like the thirteenth century. So, my question is, is there  
really a lot of very old evidence for smoking fish in Europe, or do  
we simply know they do it now, could have been doing it for  
millennia, and it's a terrific idea?

> Smoke contains alcohols, acids, and other substances which inhibit   
> bacterial
> activity.

It was my understanding that smoke contains creosotes and other  
tarlike substances that inhibit insect infestation, and that it  
doesn't do much against bacterial activity unless the food is also  
dried and/or salted.

>   Although the  main use was for preserving meats, there are records
> of smoked cheese in Celtic  lands.  Some non-European sources  
> include smoked
> fruits  (China)  and smoked olives kept in oil (Arab).  A Chinese  
> source has a
> technique for  smoking thin strips of pork that have been rubbed  
> with crushed
> garlic and  marinated in vinegar.  Smoking was  usually, not  
> always, used in
> conjunction with other methods.

Even things like uncured jerky are effectively dried over the same  
heat source that provides the smoke. Can you provide an example of a  
food that is only smoked, expressly for the purpose of preservation?

>   Smoked hams were a combination of  salting or
> brining and smoking.  The  meat would be rubbed with salt or soaked  
> in brine
> for several days.  The meat would then be hung in a chimney  or  
> smoke room to
> dry.
> nor can I recall any references to "if the meat be smoked do X",   
> as there
> are with, "If it be salt," or "if it be soused, do  Y".
> Some of this may be the fact that salted or pickled meat requires   
> different
> preparation i.e. soaking salted meat to bleach (remove) the  salt  
> from the
> meat.  In the example above, when referring to cooking  methods, it  
> is more
> likely because the given method for salted meat gives  better  
> results than for the
> fresh meat.  For example, you would get a more succulent piece of  
> meat from
> boiling or  stewing salted meat compared to roasted salted meat.   
> This  is due
> to the fact that salting dries out the meat, even when brined.   As  
> you know,
> boiling or stewing helps keep the meat moist while  cooking.   
> Smoked meat ,
> unless salted, doesn't really require any  special preparation and  
> could be used
> in place of fresh meat.

How well is such meat preserved?

> When referring to condiments or spices, this may be a personal   
> preference of
> the cook, or the person for which he was cooking, or the  regional  
> fad at the
> time.  I've seen French examples where they used  mustard on salted  
> meats and
> another condiment for regular roasted meat in the  same recipe.

Yes, if you look at the Opusculum Saporibus or the Enseignements,  
they're full of such distinctions: "mackerel gets a sauce of  
verjuice, minced onion, sage and parsley, and if salted, it gets  

>   I think this
> has to do with flavor preferences.   Condiments were used to  
> enhance a dish,
> and something that enhances a salted  dish might be overpowering to  
> a regular
> dish.  Depending on the source, the  use of smoked meat may have  
> been limited,
> thereby reducing the number of  references on how to serve it.

That's pretty much what I was thinking. We do know, and can prove,  
that the technology for smoking meats existed, and was used, but what  
remains unclear (to me, anyway) is the extent to which it was used,  
and in which locations.

Or, to put it another way, how comfortable would you be having the  
hero of the medieval historical novel you're writing pack smoked meat  
into his saddle bags for a journey, all other things being equal?

>   Depending on
> the region of the cookbook  would explain the lack of references in  
> general,
> i.e. references being found in French or German sources and not in   
> English or
> Spanish, or coastal recipes vs. inland.
> Liz

That's a possibility I'd considered, but then regionalism could be  
secondary in some cases since many of our surviving cookbooks  
represent court cuisine.


More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list