The title of this post reads as convoluted, but the assembly of the dish is so simple that it hardly merits being called a recipe. It is more like something to eat while you create bacon and, more importantly, a way to optimize smoker space and wood smoke. I am a big fan of optimization. I plan my days to minimize wasted motion and waste in general, so when I light the cold smoker, my mind goes into overdrive with the question that would be asked if IFC created an offshoot to Portlandia called Austindia, “Can You Smoke It?” The smoke is there until it is gone and if you don’t use as much grill space as you can, you are wasting the smoke.
This one started with starting the smoker for the Country Bacon and an as yet to be named project. The smoke from the pecan hulls pushed strongly through the HVAC pipe and into the Webber Smokey Mountain. In addition to the two items alluded to above, I had a colander of tropea onions sliced thinly, 8 ounces of extra sharp 3 year old cheddar picked up on a recent trip home to Wisconsin and two satchels of oatmeal, one steel cut and the other rolled.
A day later, I pulled them from the smoker. The cheese had darkened a little, but not as much as I had expected. The oatmeal was beautiful and aromatic. The onions smokey as hell and ready to be pickled. As described while making salmon pastrami earlier this year, the pastrami pickled onions are a must have. Now with a full quart of them, they’ll be in the rotation for months. The oatmeals are bound for some interesting granola bars and savory oat risotto applications. While I pondered what to do with the cheese, I put a few cinnamon sticks on the smoker with a pair of…well, pears.
Finally, during a second trip to Wisconsin, I found okra from a local farmer that had to have been the biggest okra that I had ever seen. They were nearly banana sized. As you can see when compared to a standard pint sized deli container, they are ridiculous, but when I saw them, I instantly thought that they would be perfect stuffed. As my mind goes much of the time to the Low Country, I thought that with pimento cheese I could make a sort of Low Country jalapeno popper. With a half pound of smoked extra sharp cheddar at my disposal, I turned that block into smoked pimento cheese using the basic pimento cheese that I have been using for years.
Next, I sliced the giant okra from stem to stern. The seeds inside were the size of corn kernels. I’d imagine that they would roast extremely well, but never made it that far. They were fantastic snacks raw. Once the okra were stuffed and reassembled, I wanted to wrap them or tie them to keep them closed. What better way to seal the great okra and keep pimento cheese from leaking all over than to wrap them in the great Southern country ham. As Cathy Barrow said recently, a Southern Holy Trinity. To be sure.
Country ham (and anchovy and laksa) connoisseur Dan Schleifer let me use a bit of his ham and it was a delicious addition to the okra. As I am awful at slicing, I did not get a perfectly thin slice, but I got them thin enough to wrap the stuffed okra. The ham hugged the okra as they broiled like a salty porky cling wrap. As the okra cooked, I tasted the second day of smoker optimizing experiments. The cinnamon was absolutely a win. Smoke and cinnamon are a surprisingly amazing pair. The pear, however, surprised me in the opposite way. I was sure that smoked pears would be tremendous, but not only were they not tremendous, they were barely edible. It ends up that the pear was too delicate in both taste and texture to survive the smoke. It was a squishy mess tasting of smoke and little else. After a bite, I was ready to check the okra.
Once the ham crisped up and okra cooked through, I let them cool a bit. Grabbing a shorter okra and tasting it, I was overwhelmed. The crispy, salty ham with the tender, but al dente okra stuffed with creamy, piquant pimento cheese kissed with pecan hull smoke. It really covered the flavor (no bitterness, though) and texture spectrum in a single bite. Trying to do the same with the larger okra proved to be treacherous as cheese and ham were strewn this way and that, so keep in mind that as your okra become larger, the need for a genteel fork and knife delivery system makes sense.
In the end, the bacon made on the cold smoker was the best that I had made, but the excitement of creating a few extras that proved nearly as delicious provided more excitement than bacon making. With making the most of the smoke and time on a project already started, there was only the work of thought. The rest was almost instant payoff and with my own discovery of smoked pimento cheese, the value in at least trying, despite the massive failure of the pears, made it all worthwhile.