Smoke Eater Bread
Every year my wife & I run out of her famous 'smokey tomato sauce' -- mostly because we end up giving some away to people who seem to like it. This sauce, made from fresh ripe Roma tomatoes, takes a bit of extra effort to make, because the tomatoes have to be smoked over smouldering fruit wood. We eat it sparingly because it is so precious, and it remains a nice special treat -- for pizza, lasagna, or wherever else you might use a tomato sauce.
We made a double batch this year, hoping to give more away and keep more for ourselves. But we didn't have any fruit wood to burn, so we originally used maple wood. Big mistake! The sauce took on inexplicable bitter flavours that ruined the entire batch. Luckily, a friend found some apple wood for us (and more tomatoes!) and delivered them up to us for us to make another batch. This time it turned out okay.
Every time we make this, I am amazed at how much tomato skin, cores, seeds and pulp is left over. We have a tomato processor, a little grinder with a plastic flywheel that removes all this stuff almost effortlessly without the boiling and peeling common to many other tomato sauce recipe methods. But I look at the pile of this stuff when we're done and I think, "If I was eating a tomato, I'd have eaten all that stuff along with the juice we've extracted." I hate to waste it.
So this year, instead of throwing it away into the compost, I thought I'd try a couple of different things with it. First, for most of it I would try fermenting it, following the method of Sandor Katz, in his book "The Art of Fermentation". Second, I would use a small portion of it to add to bread dough.
I tried to 'quick ferment' the portion of tomato pulp with a tablespoon full of my sourdough starter overnight, before putting it in the bread dough. My thought was that fermenting the smokey skins might help eliminate some of the possible toxins (Katz' book talks a little bit about this). I put 200g of pulp in with some sourdough starter and 200g of water, and left it as I would a sourdough starter refresh. The next day I removed the water by squeezing the pulp over a sieve. If I had been thinking ahead, I might have used this reserved water in the bread itself, but I had already measured my water.
- 1000g ww flour
- 200g wheat germ
- 200g sourdough starter
- 750g water
- 20g salt
- 200g tomato pulp
This dough rose nicely. It had an extra long fermentation time, but that was in the fridge, because I was working days. I mixed it up in the morning, added the salt and did one turn, then it spent 14 hours in the fridge. That night I took it out of the fridge, let it sit for an hour and a half, then divided the dough and shaped it. Back into the fridge to proof for about 22 hours, until I had time to bake it. It was baked on a stone with steam.
I wasn't sure that the bread would be edible, but it is, and it reminds me of eating barbecue. When you eat a slice of this bread, you are in fact ingesting some smoke molecules. To be honest, I don't think that eating much of this is going to be good for you.
The pulp carries a lot of the smokey scent, and it imparts it to the bread. I cracked into this bread while it was still hot, because I was going to be fasting the next day. Eaten with a softer cheese like mozzarella, or cream cheese, it was pretty good warm. It did not go well with almond butter though.
The pulp had more of a smokey taste than a tomato taste, but it wasn't awful, the way eating the pulp by itself seems to be. I've tastes some of the half-fermented crock that I started, and I usually end up spitting out some of the skin before I swallow it. I don't have that trouble when its in bread. You can slice it fine enough that the skin cellulose isn't a chore to eat.
Most of us who bake bread are familiar with the "lock and key" analogy of enzymes, developed by Emil Fischer to explain how one molecule can break apart another (and often one enzyme can repeatedly break apart many such molecules). The theory states that the enzyme is like a key which is inserted into a receptor-site (the lock site) on larger molecule, and the shape of the enzyme, and its chemical polarities, then work to tear apart the big molecule*.
The same thing happens when a smell enters our nasal passages. When we catch a whiff of something, it means a gas or soluble molecule from a volatile liquid or solid thing we are smelling has travelled through the air to reach us. It has entered our olfactory passages, has been warmed and moistened, and has lodged itself, like a key into a lock, at a receptor site on one of our olfactory hairs, in the mucous membrane. This changes the electrical polarity at the site, and the olfactory nerve carries the current to our olfactory bulb. This sense organ is primordial. It sits atop the brain stem, in what may be, on the evolutionary scale, part of the most ancient sensory apparatus of our brains. It makes sense for life forms, even on the smallest evolutionary scale, to know in advance whether they should move toward something tasty or away from something rotten. The sense of smell isn't merely an evolutionary advantage: it is vital for survival.
The old stereochemical theory of odour says there are only seven primary odours based on the nasal receptors (much the same way it is conjectured that there are 4-5 primary tastes -- salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami). These original odours were identified by early proponents of the theory as camphor-like, musky, floral, minty, ethereal, pungent and putrid. Although experimenters still think that the shape of a molecule is most certainly the biggest determinant of its scent, the 'seven primal smells' part of the theory has largely been ignored, or superseded. Now it seems impossible to predict how gas molecules will change shape or behave in mucous solutions, and many molecules will fit different receptor sits in different ways. There are in fact thousands of receptor sites, and humans can distinguish over 10,000 different smells. Dogs can do much better and with a lot fewer molecules to work with.
A new dining and dieting craze that came out of Europe last year, and is currently making the rounds of the world's trendier experimental restaurants ("It's a cultural experience!") who are constantly on the lookout for new culinary treats is "Le Whaff".
Chefs make meals as usual, and then the food is distilled; the distillate is then vaporized by ultrasound to turn it into a cloud. The cloud is inhaled (check this amazing YouTube video) -- through the mouth, usually -- so that the scent and the taste is experienced -- but nothing is actually eaten. There are obviously few calories to be had this way. Does the scent satiate, or make you hungrier, though?
The idea of "Le Whaff" came from the mind of David Edwards, in Le Labatoire, Paris, and it was further developed by food designer Marc Bretillot.
This new technology could blur the lines between people with different dietary requirements. Would a vegan still be a vegan if they inhaled a roast beef sandwich, I wonder? Would someone with religious convictions against eating pork be able to actually taste bacon without eating it and still keep their faith?
I can't imagine "Le Whaff" appliances for the home, but it may happen. For my part, if I'm going to take the trouble to make a meal, I think it would be awful to just turn it into a cloud to inhale and not get any other benefits from it. But there may be other ways to use such an apparatus. What if you put those cloud molecules into a food that would otherwise taste merely bland? Like flavouring tofu. Or bread. Then the taste molecules would be present, but not as many calories, I suppose.
What sorts of clouds could I put into bread, I wonder?
Besides the smoke from our smokey tomato sauce, I mean.
Besides the smoke from our smokey tomato sauce, I mean.
Notes to Myself
- *In practice, the enzyme is often the larger molecule, and act like tiny engines doing specific tasks at breaking down and moulding molecules.
- I had posted the recipe for the smokey tomato sauce here but my wife made me take it down. She says its supposed to be a secret. I think that she still wants to tweak it a bit.