Just when you think you have done everything, a new glimpse opens up a huge pathway of ideas. I thought we were pretty close to having smoked everything I would ever want to smoke. Boy was I wrong. Our class yesterday proved that. The class's original concept changed dramatically and I am really excited it did.
The class evolved into an exploration of cold smoke and dry ice. We explored ideas, the delivery of flavor, and the search for tasty. With watermelon rind on my mind and a fluid idea for the class slowly becoming structured, I realized that we had never smoked watermelon rind. We have smoked watermelon before, just never the rind itself. To smoke the watermelon rind we trimmed the top and bottom of two small melons so they would stand upright and used a vegetable peeler to remove the dark green skin, leaving the rind around the flesh. We put the peeled melons in a shallow dish and cold smoked them for several hours. We were also smoking: balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, aromatic spices, raw grits, maury vinegar, water and soy sauce.
Once the melon and its rind were smoked, we removed the flesh from the rind. We cut the rind into oblique cuts and put the red inner flesh, a handful of the smoked spices, and smoked cider vinegar in a pot. The rind was reserved on the side. We smashed the watermelon flesh, which was softened and tender, seasoned with a touch of smoke, and a more concentrated flavor from the warm heat in the smoker. The fruit released its juices, which blended with the vinegar and became infused with the spices. We strained off the seasoned juice through a chinois, pressing gently against the remnants to extract the liquid while being careful not to push the flesh through the strainer.
We returned the seasoned watermelon juice and the smoked rind to a pot and added a heavy dose of Steen's cane syrup. A pinch of salt and then a long, slow boil, skimming as needed, allowed me to realize my version of the pickled watermelon rind I was inspired by just two days ago. I should also note this was the first time in years that I have worked with pure cane syrup, an incredible product which will now become a staple in our kitchen. We were informed during the class that Steen's also makes a cane syrup vinegar. While we have not tried it yet, I can only imagine its complexity and usefulness in the kitchen.