It is a popular device in modern restaurants to serve clouds of perfumed smoke as a way to enhance a dish, adding another layer of sensory experience. Smoke can be produced with a small smoking gun, or expensive paraphenalia, and served to the diner along with the rest of the food under an enclosure. Alinea fills plastic bags with the smoke, wraps them in beautiful pillowcases, punctures them with a pin, and rests the plate on top.
When I was using dry ice for a homemade anti-griddle, I got to thinking about whether the beautiful fog it produces could be a different way to produce a scented "smoke". It turns out the answer is yes, in the simplest possible way. If you simply make a strong infusion of whatever aroma you want to carry, and then at the last minute add a small chunk of dry ice, you can pour the fog into your serving vessel, cover it, and bring it to the table. When the diner removes the top, the scent greets them right away, and if in a glass, it can actually be drunk.
My first experiment was with lapsang souchong tea. This tea is profoundly smoky to begin with, so I thought it would be kind of amusing that the fake smoke actually smelled like smoke. In the picture above I served it with drinking chocolate, cherry-smoked Japanese salt (from The Meadow in Portland, Oregon – a terrific salt & chocolate shop), and lapsang souchong pudding. I would have preferred cherry blossoms, but only the plums are in bloom this week.
I also tried cinnamon and that carried just fine too. Looking forward to experimenting with other volatiles.
[By the way, not surprisingly it turns out that this idea has been used for several years by Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal, and no doubt others. Thanks to Alex from Ideas in Food for helping me find the reference.]
One potential advantage to this technique is that you can make a low temperature infusion, preserving the unheated natural aromas. I think I'll try lemongrass next, as that would be an example where traditional smoking might not work so well.
A couple of words about safety. First of all, dry ice is really cold. It can hurt you. Learn how to handle it safely before messing with it. Second, inhaling too much of that smoke or using it in an enclosed space can be toxic. It is CO2 after all. Here is some basic safety info (which I don't vouch for, just passing along).