Sean Hormann strides towards us accompanied by his 4 rescue dogs all of indeterminate breeds. He turns back to call encouragingly to his newest dog, a small tobacco-brown 6 week old puppy. It’s stumbling about unsteadily and is now wavering uncertainly on its short little legs, stuck on the verandah, unable to follow Sean as boisterously as the others. We’ve arrived at noon on this drizzling misty day at the Aphrodisiac Shack Smokehouse Deli to talk about how Sean smokes Oryx Desert Salt and why he favours it for curing his meats.
A trained chef with 30 years experience in the food industry, Sean learned how to smoke food by apprenticing himself to a well-known Somerset smoker in the UK, Brown & Forrest, famous for their smoked eel and trout – and he’s been smoking ever since for the last 15 years. He has built his own smoking ovens himself on his smallholding. One is a cold smoker, the other for hot smoking. Cold smoking means infusing food with a smoke flavour without applying heat – this type of smoking is typically at below 14°C and is used for foodstuffs such as butter, chocolate and olive oil. Foods that are hot smoked are trout, bacon and duck.
Sean tells an amusing story of how his young daughter once introduced him to her class on a ‘father’s career day’ at school as: “this is my dad Sean. He smokes just about anything!”
Sean Hormann’s Aphrodisiac Shack Smokehouse Deli and the man himself
He takes us into his processing room where he shows us how he scoops carefully measured salt into the custom-designed wire-mesh wooden trays. The trays are then taken into the smoker and fitted into racks. Outside the smoke ovens, hang hessian bags of sawdust. Sean gets most of his sawdust from a local bespoke furniture manufacturing business. There’s Applewood, Oak, Beech and Candlewood from Knysna.
It’s time now to light the sawdust. Sean measures the exact amount required into a 3-sided metal tray. He creates a little sawdust ‘fuse’ and carefully lights it using a small piece of lit egg box carton. The sawdust begins to smoulder, giving off wisps and curls of aromatic smoke. He blows gently on the tiny glowing embers taking care not to create any flame. “It’s important to get the lighting of sawdust exactly right so that you know it’s ‘taken’ properly,” he says as he works. “The last thing you need is for all the sawdust to either burst into flames or fizzle out altogether.” After placing the sawdust tray inside the oven he closes the door.
Tools of the trade: Wood chips, and the lighting of the sawdust
Salt is cold-smoked and takes many hours during which time the salt grains are regularly moved around to ensure they get evenly smoked. “You’ve got to be able to see what you’re smoking when you open the door of the smoking oven,” says Sean. “If the smoke is too thick, it means the ventilation is wrong. Smoke has to move through the food, it’s not a case of the food getting saturated in smoke. That way the smoke will ‘settle’ and leaves a bitter tasting sediment. Smoking is a very subtle process. These days I just know when a food has been smoked enough by the look of it. It’s something I’ve learned to develop a feeling for,” he adds.
It was of course a process to figure out exactly how long the Oryx Desert Salt should be smoked for and which wood would impart the best flavour and the results speak for themselves. The aroma of fragrant ashy wood smoke mingles with the crystal tang of salt – the taste is sublime.
In the Aphrodisiac Smokeshouse, the Oryx Desert salt is places in trays, then stacked in racks in the smoke oven
The ethos of Aphrodisiac Shack holds that their suppliers use only the most environmentally respectful farming methods, and any waste generated by the product is recycled back into the farming structure or the community. All their meat products are chemical-, hormone-, preservative- and additive-free, traditionally free range and 100% organic, nor do they use any colourants, artificial preservatives (other than salt or sugar) or flavorants other than natural herbs and spices such as cloves, cumin and star anise. “That’s why we like to use Oryx Desert to cure our meats,” says Sean. “It fits right in with our own values; it’s sustainable, local and completely natural.” He’s pleased in more ways than one with Oryx. “Hey, they’ve got my smoked salt into Harrods!” he exclaims.
Before we leave, it’s impossible not to buy some gourmet goodies from Sean’s shop. There’s smoked Worcester sauce, smoked olive oil (Sean has created a fountain mechanism to smoke liquids so that it gets evenly smoked) butter, cheese, duck, chicken, bacon, trout, nuts, olives and saIt for sale. With all this bounty, it’s the easiest thing in the world to believe that Sean has indeed perfected the art of smoking just about anything.
Oryx Smoked Salt adds a deliciously delicate smoky-flavour to eggs, meat and fish. Try out the taste for yourself. Visit Yuppiechef or buy direct from Oryx if you’d like to buy this for yourself and your friends.
And here are some Oryx Smoked Desert Salt recipes to inspire you:
All Aphrodisiac Shack photos by @thesocialpostSA, with thanks!