I love having that smoky flavor in my food- even in the winter. A subtle hint of woodsy smoke is one of my absolute favorite flavors in a dish - meat-based or vegetarian. Of course, cooking food on a charcoal grill will give us the flavor we crave, but we can think of a few more ways that we can use inside the house during these long winter months. One way is to make an indoor smoker: It's not as hard as you might think and can be done quite easily on your stove top using a wok and a grilling grate. Fill a wok with wood chips, set a round grate on top, and voila, you have a miniature, indoor smoker. In the past I have tented the pan with foil to minimize smoke in the house but don't forget to take the battery out of your smoke alarm!
A second way to increase that smoky flavor is to add a strip or two of bacon: Cut the bacon into pieces and render out the fat before any other cooking. Use the rendered bacon fat to cook the rest of the ingredients and then add the bacon back in at the end for a subtle smokiness. Smoked chorizo, tasso, and other cured meats also work very well here. Cook with a Dark Smoky Beer: Used in a marinade or substituted for some of the broth, dark beers will add a very nice undertone to the dish. Look for porters and stouts and ask the sales person for help with flavor profiles. Last but definitely not least, use Liquid Smoke: Some people consider this cheating, but we think it makes sense when grilling isn't possible. Liquid smoke is actually an all-natural product and adds great smoky flavor to slow-cooked braises and stews. Here is one of my favorite smoked polenta recipes.
Calabrian Smoked Polenta Squares with Leeks and Sage Brown Butter
1/3 cup apple or cherry wood chips
5 ounces whole-grain cornmeal (about 1 cup)
2 cups water
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup of minced leeks(optional)
16 small sage leaves
Pierce 10 holes on one side of the bottom of a 13 x 9–inch heavy-duty disposable aluminum foil pan. Arrange wood chips over holes inside pan. Spread cornmeal onto far opposite side of pan. Place hole side of pan over stovetop burner. Turn burner on high. When wood chips start to smoke, carefully cover pan with foil. Reduce heat to low; cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat; uncover pan, reserving foil. Carefully remove wood chips with tongs; place on foil. Wipe any wood fragments out with a damp paper towel. Pour cornmeal into a bowl.
Bring 2 cups water, milk, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually add cornmeal, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Cover and keep warm.
Place butter and sage in a small skillet over medium heat; cook 3 minutes or until sage crisps and butter turns brown and smells very toasty-fragrant. Pour the polenta into a lightly oiled, shallow baking dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours and up to 2 days in advance.
Run a knife around the edge of the baking dish and unmold the polenta onto a cutting board. Cut into 3-inch by 3-inch squares and keep cool, wrapped, until ready serve. Top each serving with sage leaves and butter and a spoonful of warmed Bellisari’s Calabrian & Sweet Tomato Fennel Spread.
Adapted from a CookingLight recipe