Grilling/BBQ


DSC01288I feel secure in my prediction that I will never move to Lubbock. A stroll through the aisles of the local Sprouts market reinforced the grim impression I had of the place when I drove into town. However, I could not resist one last stop at a BBQ place, Tom & Bingo’s Hickory Pit BBQ (call me conflicted). At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the two youngsters who owned the place were slicing up the last of the day’s brisket. I asked for just a few slices. “Well,” Bingo said, looking at her husband, “normally we don’t sell it that way, but we’re closing soon.” So they wrapped some slices in foil and I carried back to my desolate motel. It was pretty good. Juicy, good flavor, not as good as Franklin’s, but I’m prepared to believe they’re the best in town. Once I’m back in Arizona, where I will be among family and friends who eat well and healthily, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll be almost home.

Tomorrow, back to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Now there, I may finally get to try some Hatch chilies.

The joints on most Best BBQ lists seem mostly to be located in North Carolina or Texas. Time, however, compelled us to eschew the tried-and-true barbecue trails. We boldly went where relatively few BBQ lovers have explored before. Racing three hours down the freeway to the Tennessee-Virginia border, we engaged in some intense guerrilla barbecue action. Four barbecue joints over ten hours and 460 miles. Afterward, the Englishman among us was appalled at the mileage, but he is a passionate BBQ hound as well as a good egg. The American expatriate and I, in contrast, once drove forty-five miles for a good taco, so 500 miles was a walk in the park to us.

DSC01214Our first stop was Phil’s Dream Pit in Kingsport, Tennessee. Great ribs with a wonderful rub, good sauce. The owner’s wife sat down with us and told us the story of how she and Phil gave up their third-party logistics business (don’t ask) and opened this joint about 8 years ago.

 

 

 

DSC01226Then, we drove an hour to Ridgewood Barbecue (no website) in Bluff City, Tennessee, operating for sixty years now. It’s a bigger operation than Phil’s. The Ridgewood people claim to be the only place in the region that doesn’t use pork shoulder. Their pork sandwiches come from the ham. What got our attention, though, were the baked beans. They tasted of the smoke and the bbq sauce.

I’ll skip over the third bbq joint not just because it was unmemorable but also because I don’t want give the impression that we were gluttons.

The last stop, Due South Pit Cooked BBQ in Christiansburg, VA was, by consensus, the favorite. Seriously, check out the website. Queasy as we were, how could we have passed up the chance to eat chicken that was smoked and THEN deep-fried? In addition to beans, slaw, and potato salad, Due South offers fried tomatoes, fried okra, hushpuppies, mac & cheese, sweet potato casserole. Making the entire visit sublime, two guitarists played Django-Reinhardt-swing music. The chicken was outstanding, by the way.

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More than 24 hours later, I’m still full. Boy, do I have a lot of reconstructive dieting to do on my ride home!

As of tomorrow, I can scratch the Texas BBQ portion of this road trip. I have arrived in the Land of Boudin. Louisiana boudin, however, differs profoundly from French boudin. Both may be peasant/poor people’s food, but, unlike the French kind, there is no blood in Lousiana boudin. More’s the pity. As far as I can tell it’s all rice, mystery meat, and sausage casing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It took me 5 trips to pack my car this morning. The amount of jarred Hatch chile salsa (purchased outside of Las Cruces at a farmer’s market), roasted chiles, and Texas bottled bbq sauce, in addition to my almond milk, cereal, coffee, and peaches, is ridiculous. I can barely see out my back window for all the bags of Mi Nani’s tortilla chips behind me.

On the way to Interstate 10, I drove through little towns I remembered from my Best of Texas BBQ list, but I couldn’t envision driving half a mile out of my way to investigate brisket at 9:30 am.

Then I passed through Luling. There, right next to the turn off for I10 was Luling BBQ and the sign said “OPEN.” At 9:45! What could I do? I needed a control group for Franklin bbq!

IMG_1269I bought a few small slices of brisket — I saw the owner take it off the grill far in the back — and one sausage link, all for less than $9. I ran to the car, open the styrofoam, and sampled. The link had jalapeño in it, which means it was an improvement over Franklin’s. I ate 2 chunks and stopped. The brisket was dry. It had noticeable smoke. The fat was sweet. But the brisket was dry. It was drier than Franklin’s smoked turkey (actually, unfair comparison, because I’ve never tasted such moist smoked turkey as Franklin’s).

For the next 6 hours, that dry brisket sat in my gut. Maggie is right: I better push my car to Virginia to work off all this meat.

As soon as I crossed into Louisiana, signs for boudin, crackling, and bbq lined the interstate. I saw more visible signs of bbq along I10 in Louisiana than I did in Texas. Tacos were far more prevalent in Austin, but that might be a reflection of the city’s demographics.

Even after several hours of no food, the most I was in the mood for local culture was Howlin Wolf and Lucinda Williams. But I’m a trouper. I set my navigation for Johnson’s Boucainière, about 2 miles off the interstate. Not a great picture, but an old man glared at my from the window and so I felt self-conscious.

IMG_1272I went through the same routine: please, pretty please, just a little sampling of a rib, a slice of brisket, pulled pork, and a boudin. They were very nice and obliging. And it was cheap, about $15 for meat, slaw and corn.

Within half an hour, I was checked into a room at the Fairfield Inn, seconds from my road tomorrow. I scored: they upgraded me to a suite. Once settled, I opened my second styrofoam container of the day. The boneless rib was by far the best of the sample. As for the boudin, I don’t get it. Neither does the native Creole lady at check-in. “I’m not a rice person myself,” she said. The rice wasn’t my problem.

I’ve reached a turning point in my trip. I mean, I’ve really reached a turning point. Tomorrow, I start heading north. I want to get off the interstate and crawl along the Mississippi. Tomorrow night, Jackson. Cue Johnny and June…

At the back of my mind, my goal to explore Texas and southern barbecue has always felt a little like a farewell tour. It’s not that I planned to gorge on meat to make myself sick of it. Instead, I wanted one last tryst before meat and I decide to end our love affair. The health reasons are obvious; the ethical ones are entering my blood stream like a slow-acting virus. I don’t think I’ll become a constant vegetarian or vegan, but I have been eating less and less of it to the point where I may naturally stop at some point. Why not end on a high note? is the way I look at my predicament.

Today, I hit a short, sweet high note at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. It began as an ordeal. I arrived there at 10:45, 15 mins before it opened, and found this.

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I got in line and half an hour later it looked like this:

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While I stood in line, I debated whether it was worth it. I grew more conflicted when Franklin employees came by with tubs of drinks to sell. How long a wait? I asked. Three hours, one of them said. Really?

According to my pedometer, I walked 5 miles to get there (I took a detour to visit a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the shore of Lady Bird Lake). Did I come so far to give up now?

103 degrees at noon.

I did not leave.  I stayed. It took exactly two and a half hours to progress to the door and step inside.

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It took another half hour to move from the door to the counter where I ordered. As I stood on line, I watched people eat mounds of meat. It was a little repellent.

I waited three hours and ate my order in fifteen minutes.

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A party of three were chowing down on the mound o’meat on the left. My order (below) looked positively monastic next to theirs. I could not finish the one link, the 1/4 lb pulled pork, the one turkey slice, and the 1/2 pint of slaw. Very good, but not worth the three-hour wait. However, I wolfed down the brisket. The sweet, crusty fat on the fork-tender brisket was infused with the smoke of white oak. That chunk of beef had one of the best, most memorable (I’ll never forget a roast pigeon breast in Avignon in 2008) flavors I’ve ever tasted. This, I realized, was Ur-Barbecue. Now I can hang up my samurai sword.

Actually, not yet.

from Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends, pp. 276-280.

I’ve been home from New Orleans for a month now. What with the rich food I ate there and the hot weather here, I haven’t much been in the mood to cook. Last night, I made up for it. Rick Bayless’s new book has a recipe for paella cooked over a wood-fire. My pyromaniac nerve twitched the moment I saw the photos in his book. I summoned six of my friends together on a weekend night and we had a feast.

However, Rick let me down a bit. I should have known better. The cooking times don’t work. Plus, I overestimated the number of mussels.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. His recipe is intended to feed 30 heartily and 120 stingily. I am going to adapt his recipe to feed 8 people with leftovers. As usual, you will benefit from my mistakes.

The paella pan: I bought an enamel-coated paella pan for 10 servings at The Spanish Table in Berkeley for a comfortable $34. A well-informed employee explained to me the differences between the various kinds of pan. The one I bought was a good quality low-maintenance pan. The enamel does not require seasoning like the carbon steel one does. I thought it worked very well. Now that I’ve used it, I am interested in finding other things to cook in it.

The rice: The man at the store said to calculate 1/3 – 1/2 cup short-grain white rice (like arborio or better yet Catalan rice) per person. I think 1/3 cup of rice per person is ample.

The plan: Organize, prep, organize. Set up a table by the fire. Carry out to it aluminum foil, a timer, tongs, a long grill spatula, salt, trivets. Prepare all the ingredients, except for the chicken, immediately after lighting the fire. I put everything in separate storage containers until I was ready to work at the fire.

The fire: You need a base on which to place the paella pan. If you don’t have a base like this, go buy a bunch of fire bricks — enough to stack them in a circle four or five bricks high with airholes between them. You’ll build your fire within the circle. I know, I know: this is a commitment.

Here we go…

8 chicken thighs

3 – 4 cups chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled

Salt

1 – 2 lbs ripe tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice (preferably fire-roasted)

1 large fresh poblano

1 large red bell pepper

1 large white onion, chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups short-grain white rice

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled (leaving the tail and final joint intact, if you wish) and deveined

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, any “beards” pulled off

2 cups peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup silver tequila (optional)

Heat the oven to 375. Put the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and roast until mostly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and put on the prep table outside by the fire.

At the end of the 30 mins, go out and start the fire. Make it a good one. Then go inside immediately and get the following chopping done as soon as you can.

Put the broth with crumbled saffron threads in a saucepan and heat until warm. Turn the heat off or keep on lowest flame. You’ll bring this outside to the prep table when the other ingredients have been cleaned and chopped.

Set oven rack 6 inches from the broiler flame. Heat the broiler. Put the tomatoes, poblano chile, and red bell pepper on the baking sheet and broil, turning once, until they are charred on all sides. Remove from oven, put the peppers in a bag while you peel and chop the tomatoes. When you’ve chopped the tomatoes and put them in a container that you’ll take outside, peel and cut up the peppers. Add the cut-up peppers to the tomatoes.

Chop the onion and garlic and place in container that you’ll take out to the fire. Chop parsley and store separately.

Either sausages into 1/2-inch discs or break up into pieces. Put in a container to take outside.

Measure out the olive oil and the rice.

Clean the mussels, ripping or snipping off the gross little bits that hang outside the shell. Store in container with the shrimp, which should be peeled and deveined already.

Now you’re ready to put it all together. Get everything outside on a table within easy reach of the paella pan on the fire. Make sure the fire is hot and that you’ve got wood nearby to keep it hot. The way to adjust the heat is to use a poker to remove a log out from under the pan.

Place the pan on the fire and pour in olive oil. Tilt pan to let the oil cover the entire surface of the pan. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down, salt the chicken, and let saute for about 10 mins each side. Remove and put back in the container they were in.

If there is still sufficient oil, don’t bother adding more. Add onions, garlic, and chorizo to the pan. Stir to make sure all of it will cook. In about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and the peppers. Stir and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, about 7-8 minutes.

Pour in the rice, stir up, and keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice has absorbed the oil and has become translucent, add most of the broth. Save some just in case it needs more moisture as it cooks. Stir thoroughly, assess the fire under the pan. And then don’t touch the rice for about 15 minutes. Adjust the fire, if need be. When the rice is almost soft, with still a little bite, quickly put the chicken, mussels, shrimp and peas in the rice. Bury the shrimp and mussels in the rice as close to the bottom as possible. If they sit on top, they won’t cook.

Cover the pan with foil to trap the steam. Remove the big logs underneath, but leave small pieces and embers. Push the burning pieces of wood and embers together so they form a hill. You want the pan to feel the heat but not enough to burn the rice. Let the rice stand covered in foil for 15 minutes. Test the rice and check whether the shrimp are cooked and the mussel shells open. If not, put one of the smoldering logs back under the pan for another few minutes. When the contents of the pan are cooked, you may sprinkle on the tequila.

Get the pan to the table and tell your starving guests sit and eat.

Then again, you could try all this with a small enamel paella pan on a gas grill. I may do that next time.

from New Food of Life, pp. 170-171.

In the early 80s, I shared a house in San Francisco with friends, two of whom were Iranian. One of those Iranians, a gentle man name Hamid, cooked traditional Persian dishes  most of the time. I count my time in that house as one of the most formative culinary experiences of my life. Persian cooking remains very high on my list of favorite cuisines. From the crunchy rice called tah-dig to gormen sabzi to this dish, I love the fragrant complexity of Persian spicing — cinnamon, cardomon, ginger, cloves, cumin, dried roseflower, mint, and saffron.

Imagine my joy when I discovered Mediterranean Market here in Sacramento. Never have I lived in close proximity to this halal store that has yet to let me down when I need an ingredient for the Persian, Greek, and Middle Eastern food I cook. Now I buy tins of Ceylon, Darjeeling, and Early Grey tea there as good as any I can find in London and far cheaper than I pay for tea at Peet’s. This is the only place in town, as far as I know, that sells barberries. They keep them in the refrigerated section.

To feed my friends, I decide to make my favorite Persian dish, Zereshk pollo. The tart red barberries look like rubies cast among the golden saffron rice. Delicious. I also made a Yotam Ottolenghi caponata, which was delicious. You’ll find it here.

I made a significant change in the Barberry rice and chicken recipe. Instead of roasting a whole chicken, I used the Gourmet Cookbook’s excellent Flawless Grill Chicken — essentially, you brine, grill, and then toss chicken thighs with a vinaigrette made with the spice in the rice. I think it worked pretty well.

Timing is everything…

Makes 6 servings; preparation time: 40 minutes; cooking time: 2 hours, 5 mins.

3 cups long-grain basmati rice

1 frying chicken, about 3 pounds, or 2 Cornish game hens

Shadowcook: Or an equal amount of chicken thighs. Make a brine of 8 quarts water, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup kosher salt early in the morning; let it cool. Six hours before grilling, brine the chicken pieces. Pat dry before grilling.

2 peeled onions, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced

Shadowcook: Or just one, if you’re grilling already cut up pieces.

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

2 cups dried barberries (zereshhk), cleaned, washed, and drained

2/3 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil

Shadowcook: Oh, the only way to go is ghee!

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 teaspoon Persian spice mix (rice advieh) or 1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

Shadowcook: I felt sheepish asking for advieh at Mediterranean Market. It turns out that advieh means “spice mix,” so asking for it won’t get you very far. Look for packaged rice seasoning and then look at the ingredients. You want to see a combination of cinnamon, cumin, cardamon, ginger, cloves, and dried rose bud flowers.

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

2 tablespoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.

2. Place the whole chicken in a baking dish. Stuff the bird with one of the whole onions, the garlic, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon saffron water. Cover and bake in a 350 oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

3. Clean the barberries by removing their stems and placing the berries in a colander. Place colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.

Shadowcook: Don’t skip this part. Sand does indeed settle to the bottom of the bowl.

4. Sauté 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons butter, add barberries and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tablespoons sugar, mix well, and set aside.

Shadowcook: The above is what I called Under-instruction. Give yourself time to sauté the onion. You are caramelizing the thinly sliced onion, but so to the point of greatly diminishing the amount of onion. The sweeter and more caramelized you get the onion, the best the contrast with the tart barberries.

5. Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains; if the rice feels soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.

6. In the same pot heat 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons water.

7. In a bowl, mix 2 spatulas of rice, the yogurt, and a few drops of saffron water and spread the mixture over the bottom of the pot to form a tender crust (tah-dig).

8. Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot, then sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon Persian spice-mix or cumin over the rice. Repeat these steps, arranging the rice in the shape of a pyramid. This shape allows for the rice to expand and enlarge. Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat.

9. Mix the remaining melted butter and saffron water with 1/4 cup of water and pour over the pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or paper towel over the pot; cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over low heat.

Shadowcook: You know have 50 minutes to pat dry the chicken pieces and prepare your grill. If you’re using charcoal, as I did, you should already have started a chimney of briquettes. Let the fire die down to medium-hot before putting the pieces on the grill.

10. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool, covered, for 5 minutes on a damp surface to free crust from the bottom of the pot.

11. Remove lid and take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside for use as a garnish.

12. Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with the saffron-flavored rice, some of the barberry mixture, and almonds and pistachios.

Note: You may place the barberries in the rice and steam them together but the color of the barberies will not be as red as when you layer them with the rice at the last minute.

Shadowcook: Absolutely right. Visually, the red barberries are very pretty.

from The Greens Cookbook, 109-110.

There is nothing in this recipe, as it appears in Madison’s book, about cooking the beans over a campfire. Nor does she call for any meat in it.  But this rich stew of black beans and chilies adapts well to rough handling, especially for a recipe that comes from such a venerable vegetarian cookbook.

When I bought The Greens Cookbook in 1987, I hadn’t yet been tapped by the Chez Panisse fairy. I thought more in the old Craig Claibourne way of thinking: the dish, the outcome, the ends rather than the means. Madison’s recipes looked like a scattershot of bytes and characters upon the page. I couldn’t take it in — yet. Many of my friends were using the book, but not me.

And then this year I decided to give it a try. Now that I’m working my way through it, I have to tolerate the amused smiles of all the friends who know the collection of recipes inside and out, as if it were a playlist of greatest hits.

This past weekend, to accompany a slow-grilled 7-pound pork butt I made these beans to cook over a wood fire. They were a sensation at the dinner party, but I was the only one who continued to ask, “where have I been all these years? Why haven’t I been cooking with Deborah Madison?”

The chili recipe:

2 cups black turtle beans, soaked overnight

1 bay leaf

4 teaspoons cumin seeds

4 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

4 teaspoons paprika

Shadowcook: Or smoked paprika, also known as pimentón.

1/2 cayenne pepper

1 chili negro or ancho chili, for chili powder, or 2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder

Shadowcook: If you don’t grind the chili yourself, use a good quality ancho chili powder.

3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

3 medium yellow onions, diced into 1/4-inch squares

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped; juice reserved

1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chilpotle chili

About 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Garnishes: 1/2 to 3/4 cup muenster cheese, grated

Green chilies: 2 poblano or Anaheim, roasted, peeled, and diced, or 2 ounces canned green chilies, rinsed well and diced

1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream

6 sprigs cilantro

Shadowcook: I confess I added 1/2 pound of bacon to the list of ingredients. Heretical, I know.

Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by a couple of inches, and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to color, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is trong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan — the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. To make the chili powder, put the dried chili in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds, and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or spice mill.

Shadowcook: I used 2 tablespoons of good ancho chili powder, which was hot enough for me and my guests.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they soften.

Shadowcook: This is where I introduced bacon. I diced the bacon and fried the bits first before adding the chopped onion.

Add the garlic, salt, and the ground herbs and chili powder, and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and about 1 teaspoon of the chilpotle chili. Simmer everything together for 15 minutes; then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 1 inch. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer, or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds’ pressure. Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered.

When the beans are cooked, taste them, and add more chilpotle chili if desired. Season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed, and the chopped cilantro.

Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chilies, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds, and dice.

Serve the chili ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese, and garnish it with the crème fraîche or sour cream, the green chilies, and a sprig of fresh cilantro.

Though served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, this chili is a great deal thicker than most soups — thick enough in fact to be served on a plate right alongside fritters or cornbread. It also, however, can be thinned considerably with stock, water, or tomato juice, to make a much thinner but still very flavorful black bean soup. When thinned to make a soup, it can be served as part of a meal rather than a meal in itself.

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