My Citizens! Today I am very excited to share with you a lost recipe to history – one that is both delicious and rare in the extreme! You may have heard of smen – the Moroccan butter left to ferment for years until almost cheese-like. It’s an indispensable ingredient in tagines and many other dishes of the country and in fact the entire North African region.
…but have you heard of the SMOKED version of this ancient dish? Read on, because I will now give you the only recipe on the Net for it!
I will even give you a shortcut recipe for smen that will only take a DAY to make with virtually no compromise in flavor! So you are getting not one, not two, but *3* recipes in this post: traditional smen, shortcut smen and smoked smen!
Smen (from Arabic: سمن or سمنة also called sman, semn, semneh, or sminn) is salted fermented butter, an important cooking ingredient widely used in Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian cuisine and most common in other North African and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is produced using the butter made from the milk of sheep, goats or a combination of the two.
The butter is brought to boiling point for about 15 minutes, then skimmed, strained into a ceramic jar called a khabia, and salted before it curdles. Thyme is often added to it to provide a yeast and enzyme starter. Other plants or fruits can be used. The result is then aged, often in sealed containers.
It is then traditionally buried in the ground for temperature stability purposes, just like cheese is left to mature in underground caves because they have cooler and more stable temperatures.
It is similar to ghee and Ethiopian niter kibbeh, but has a characteristically strong, rancid, cheesy taste and smell. Matured smen is very similar in taste to blue cheese because likewise it is a high-fat form of cheese.
The older the smen, the stronger—and more valued—it becomes. Smen is traditionally used mainly in the preparation of couscous and trid, as well as of tagines and kdras, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find due to its increasing replacement by peanut oil, a non-native culinary element introduced from Senegal and other West African countries.
Smen made during winter is believed to be more fragrant than those made during a warmer season. In constant warm weather, closer to the temperature where butter becomes liquid, smen matures very slowly.
In lower temperatures, one month is considered an acceptable time to start using the smen in cooking, although its flavor will not be strong. In a constant warm weather, like in equatorial countries, it can take up to four months to develop the equivalent amount of flavour.
Smen holds great cultural significance, particularly as an indicator of familial wealth. As such it will often be used as a token of honor for esteemed visitors to a household, akin to other cultures’ customs such as using the “fine china” or serving an especially prized wine.
Berber farmers in southern Morocco will sometimes bury a sealed vessel of smen on the day of a daughter’s birth, aging it until it is unearthed and used to season the food served on that daughter’s wedding.
In Israel and Yemen, Jews prepare a special version of smen known as semneh (סאמנה), which is smoked with aromatic herbs inside of a gourd in order to impart deeper flavor and aid in preservation. I prefer to smoke my semneh over olive wood chips for truly authentic flavor – you can buy it here.
Needless to say, it’s imperative you cold smoke this dish and do it in the fall or winter, or it will melt away to nothing. This cold smoker is inexpensive and can be added to any grill.
Prepare yourselves body and soul, Citizens – here comes 2 incredibly ancient and one modern take on smen! How do I achieve in a day what normally takes a year in the modern version? Easy – start with cultured butter and mix in some blue cheese for the needed funkiness!
Semneh (the smoked smen) is unbelievable on a steak and of course amazing in North African cuisine – use it anywhere butter or oil is called for!
No matter which path you choose, it will be DELICIOUS!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- ¾ cup best-quality European cultured butter, or if you have access to it, use goat or sheep milk butter
- 4 tbsp. Stilton cheese (or use Gorgonzola), feel free to use more to your taste, but not less
- A few strands of saffron (optional)
- 1 tbsp. wild thyme (preferred) or use regular dried thyme
- 1 tbsp. wild oregano (preferred) or use regular dried oregano
- 1 tbsp. dried marjoram
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 bunch dried wild herbs of your choice (TFD prefers dill, sage and oregano)
- A small amount of smoking wood, to your taste (TFD strongly prefers olive wood)
- A charcoal grill and a cold smoker (cold smoker preferred)
- In a small saucepan, boil water, saffron (if using) oregano, thyme and marjoram with salt until water reduces by half, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Strain this “herbal tea” through a fine-mesh sieve directly over the butter. Discard leaves. Blend tea thoroughly into the butter with a wooden spoon. Let cool. Transfer to another strainer. The next day, pat mixture with paper towels to absorb moisture.
- Set aside at room temperature in a covered bowl for two days.
- If making old-school smen:
- Spread mixture on a clean cutting board. Using paper towels, mop up any pockets of moisture. Spoon the mixture into a wide-mouth jar or clay pot.
- Seal for at least a month, or as long as you can (up to many years!) at cool room temperature – a basement is perfect. You can even bury it, as the Berber tribesmen do (just remember and mark where you buried it – it may be there for a while!).
- If making TFD one-day “smen”
- Combine the softened stilton with the butter – use as you see fit, store in the fridge
- If making smoked semneh:
- When cold smoking, it’s key that the outside temperature is cool enough so your butter will not melt.
- Add your olive wood and the bunch of wild dried herbs (wet them thoroughly first so they smoke and don’t burn!) to the cold smoke generator. Crumble the herbs if needed to fit.
- Soften the one-day smen or long-aged smen at room temperature. Roll neatly into a cylinder shape, wrapping in cling film to get a nice even surface. Chill till firm.
- Remove the cling film, and place the butter on a clean wire rack. Now put the butter into the smoking chamber.
- Smoke for 2 hours, longer if you wish. An ideal temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Then, remove from the smoking chamber and leave to rest at room temperature, uncovered for a couple of hours. Then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, but preferably longer – 48 hours will be fine. Resting the butter will mellow the smoky flavor, ensuring a more palatable taste.
- Now that the flavor of the butter has matured, serve or use in any North African recipe where apropos.
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 373.2 kcal
- Sugar: 0.28 g
- Sodium: 216.68 mg
- Fat: 39.26 g
- Saturated Fat: 24.82 g
- Trans Fat: 1.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 3.71 g
- Fiber: 2.04 g
- Protein: 4.1 g
- Cholesterol: 103.01 mg
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