"Maybe I should blog about this. I bet other people have smoke alarm issues," I said. "You definitely should. By the way, what's that smell," said Jason. I opened the oven door and... Oh no!!! I put the skillet in the oven right with the handle mitt and there goes the smoke alarm.
Ok, so maybe I am not the smoke alarm master I thought I was. But as long as I don't cook my oven mitts at 500F, my smoke alarm prevention system really works. Really.
Here are some tips on how to keep your alarms at bay.
With hood that vents outside
If only we all were this lucky. If your hood vents outside, your job is easy. Turn it on low at least a few minutes before doing something smoky. It will create air flow that will suck that smoke right up. If you turn it on after the smoke is starting to build up, it will not catch up effectively.
No hood that vents outside, but there are windows in the kitchen
Let's get real -- that thing above my stove is useless. I stopped turning it on, and try to create air flow in other ways. Opening the windows in the kitchen and on the opposite side of the house works well for me. Just make sure to do it before you start searing. Opening the windows after the smoke starts to build is not effective. In winter, it might get chilly. You didn't think you'd get something for nothing, did you? If I could find a way to vent the smoke outside without effecting the temperature of your room, I'd be a rich woman.
No hood that vents outside, and no windows in the kitchen
This one is tough. You'll need a fan. Set it up so that it blows the air out of your kitchen and open as many windows as possible in the adjacent room. This is a trick my brilliant husband Jason came up with. Blowing air into your kitchen seems more intuitive to me, but it doesn't get rid of the smoke. Just like with the above two cases, you have to get your fan blowing and windows opened before searing.
Now that we got some air flowing, let's talk about the smoke itself. Believe it or not, some of it can be avoided. Not only will your house be more peaceful because the smoke alarms stay quiet, but your dish will taste better because you won't burn your fond (those lovely brown bits at the bottom of you skillet).
Use Canola Oil
I love olive oil as much as anyone, but it's not for searing. Its smoke temperature is too low. Use canola oil, and you'll create less smoke.
Fill in the gaps
Choosing the right size and shape of skillet for searing and high heat roasting (over 450F) is very important. If it's too small, the food will steam rather than brown. If it's too large, the exposed parts of the skillet will overheat resulting in burnt brown bits and smoke alarms. In an ideal world, you'd have a perfect batterie de cuisine that includes a pan in every size and shape (even those really cute oval roasters that fit a pork roast and chicken perfectly). But this is not an ideal world, so we have to learn to cook with what we have.
Most roasts are oval, but most skillets are round. Don't get hung up on keeping that roast in one piece. If necessary, cut it into smaller roasts that will fit into your skillet better. I always end up cutting a rack of lamb and pork tenderloins in half to better fit them into my 10 inch round skillet. If there are still empty areas on the bottom of the pan, I fill them with chunks of carrot to absorb the heat. If done correctly, this method won't compromise the quality of the sear. Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Use veggies that are low in moisture to avoid creating steam. Large carrots work the best (make sure to dry them very thoroughly before using, and don't use the overly moist baby carrots). If you don't have any carrots on hand, there are always celery and onions, but they tend to create more steam making it more difficult for your protein to brown.
- Cut the carrots into 1/2 inch thick planks or 1/2 inch thick slices on the bias. You want the pieces to be rather large. This will help you to keep them from under the protein you are searing or roasting. Your protein needs to be in direct contact with the skillet, so don't let those carrots sneak under.
- Let the protein sear as long as possible without adding the carrots. I usually sear on the first size, then flip and add the carrots, but you'll have to use your judgement based on how much empty space you have in the skillet and how much smoke is created. Keep in mind that it's good to have some space between your pieces of protein (1/2 - 1 inch) to keep them from steaming. But if you have lots of empty space in your skillet, you'll need to fill it in.
Chose the right type of smoke alarm
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes the smoke alarms go off anyway, so it's good to get ones with a button that you can press to shut them up. Keep a broom handy, so that you don't have to climb up on a chair.
When all else fails
If your smoke alarm goes off no matter what you put on your stove (even a pot of water for pasta), it might be time to get new smoke alarms. With use, alarms accumulate a layer of gunk on their sensor and the slightest whiff can send them over the edge. If you cook a lot, it can happen faster than the manufactures indicate. I had to replace mine after 6 years of use.
Do you have any other strategies for dealing with smoke alarms? I'd love to hear them.