The guys at Marula Mercantile have created a custom smoker out of a filing cabinet and the results are there for everyone to sink their teeth into.
The saying goes: good things come to those who wait. Chef Anthony Huth of Marula Mercantile takes this to heart with his smoking techniques, ready to spend the better part of a week preparing the perfect smoked brisket.
“I believe that food cooked without love and care is bland, a bit boring.” Chef Anthony is an energetic man, eager to share the thinking behind his methods. We are sat at Marula Mercantile in a quiet corner of Karen where he is the Head Chef, soft music playing in the background as the staff move around purposefully. They are preparing for a private event that is to be held in a couple of hours and the meticulous chef is supervising the chilling of wines. Elements of his vast experience are evident in his smooth leadership, guiding the staff and still running the kitchen with the sureness of someone who is intimate with his craft.
A classically trained chef, Anthony has gained a wealth of experience since his training at the Prue Leith Academy in Johannesburg. He points to working at Jamie’s Italian in Manchester as a key time of his career. “I was the grill line chef, having to prepare an assortment of dishes for 500 people. I did not receive a single complaint that night, which was very gratifying.”
Chef Anthony’s passion is evident in the fact that he, in tandem with his partner Tim Challen, decided to build a smoker from scratch, one that would cater to their more specific needs. After modifying a design they found off the internet, Chef Anthony had a brilliant idea: a smoker made from an old filing cabinet. the meticulous Chef still frets that it is letting some smoke out through gaps in the doors on its front. It is a simple design, hinged doors in place of the drawers, except for the bottom section, where two simple charcoal jikos are burning specially selected damp wood. He says he prefers using wood from apple and plum trees which give off a bluish, mild smoke that is not acidic or stringent. He dampens the wood with water, having once tried wine. “I quickly realised that wine is expensive”, he chortles.
In the level above the jikos is a drip pan, collecting the dripping juices while simultaneously keeping the meats moist. There is a temperature gauge that tells him how hot the inside of the smoker is, key to keeping tabs on the process as it goes along. A probe that he inserts into the meat as it cooks, tells him how well done it is. “When smoking a brisket, there is a point where the meat’s temperature seems to plateau, called the crunch. This is usually somewhere between 175-190 degrees Fahrenheit.” He explains that this is to be expected, and at this point he usually wraps the meat in tin foil, to even out the heat transfer. “It will stay at this temperature for about 6 hours, at which point the temperature will get up to about 200 degrees. At this point the meat is almost ready.”
Given his cooking credentials, Chef Anthony was never just going to throw the smoked brisket into the oven after smoking it— this would really dry the meat out he says. “I am currently playing around with cooking the smoked brisket sous vide” he says, referring to a method which involves vacuum-packing the meat and cooking it for many hours at a controlled temperature in a water bath. Considering he has already marinated the cut in a specially made brine for five days prior to smoking, his desire to retain the moisture that captures and highlights the flavours is the motivation behind this move.
In the end, the brisket is sublime, soft and chock full of flavour, complimented by a barbecue sauce whose secret ingredient is one bottle of coke. It is a meal that should be savoured, but is so delicious that however slowly you eat it, it still feels like it is gone too soon.