Sauces


from Saveur, #110.

In most respects, I’m not squeamish. It’s true I might duck the opportunity to witness the slaughtering of an animal, but I’d be there soon after to watch the butchering. But ever since I read years ago a study of the contents of your typical can of tomato paste, I have reluctantly used it. “Fly larvae” is all I’ll say. Hence, the appeal of this recipe in Saveur a while back. Seemed very straightforward. And so it is.

The Amish Paste plum tomato plants in my garden are performing wonderfully. What a tomato! Where has it been all my life? Forget San Marzano, Roma, and the others. This baby beats them all for meat and flavor.

The one drawback of this recipe is the ratio of tomato to paste. It takes one pound of good, meaty tomatoes to render two tablespoons of paste. If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I figure it’s worth it. At the end of the long, slow bake, the paste tastes like candy. It was tempting to stand at the counter and eat it with a spoon, the paste was so sweet and tasty. But I didn’t and you shouldn’t. Do what I did and freeze it in 2-tablespoon amounts.

First of all, you have to make it…

5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

A food mill

1. Heat oven to 300. Roughly chop tomatoes. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a 12″ skillet over high heat. Add tomatoes and season lightly with salt; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until very soft, about 8 minutes.

Shadowcook: If you don’t have a food mill, you’re only choice is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and removing the skins before you chop them. Then you can put them through the food processor in batches after  this step. But it’s good to have a food mill.

2. Pass the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the pulp through the sieve as possible, leaving the seeds behind.

3. Rub a rimmed 13″ X 18″ baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; spread tomato puree evenly over sheet. Bake, using a spatula to turn the purée over on itself occasionally, until most of the water evaporates and the surface darkens, about 3 hours. Reduce heat to 250, cook until thick and brick colored, 20-25 minutes.

Shadowcook: The tomatoes became scorched in spots for reasons that were not clear to me. I recommend keeping an eye on the tomatoes and turning the pan around in the oven once or twice over the 3 hours. Actually, I liked the flavor of the char in the paste at the end. I let it roast for only 2 1/2 hours before turning it down. The paste was very caramelized by that point. The aluminum foil I lined the pan with was not just useless but also a pain in the ass to remove afterward.

4. Store sealed in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month, or freeze, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for up to 6 months.

Shadowcook: As you can see, I measured out 2 tablespoons on sheets of plastic wrap, folded them into packets and then put them all in one small ziplock plastic bag.

from Big Small Plates, pp. 295-99.

It’s time to refocus on eating at home, eating less meat, and eating more vegetables. Recently, I had dinner for the first time at the home of foodie friends, who introduced me to Cindy Pawlcyn’s cookbook. Before that night, I knew Pawlcyn only as the chef/founder of Mustard’s Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, both in the Napa Valley. That night, after tasting my friend’s version of her Avocado-Tomatillo salsa, I decided to invest in the book.  Now that I’ve made probably the most complicated recipe in the book, I am determined to mine this book with the dogged determination of a miner panning for gold.

It’s a relatively straightforward if long recipe, but, if you try it, you’ll be glad I went first. Because it makes more food than I and my two guests, Mr. and Mrs. Guinea Pig, could eat, I’m going to break the recipe down in such a way that you’ll be able to plan several meals out of it. You’ll have plenty of mole, some salsa, and some beans left over.

The dish consists of 5 recipes, some of which can be made the day before. I did not follow the order of instructions as Pawlcyn laid it.

First, the mole:

The day before you serve the chiles, make the mole:

8 dried chiles negros (about 2 oz)

8 dried ancho chiles (about 2 oz)

Shadowcook: If you live in California and can’t find dried ancho chiles, just accept the possibility that everyone will try to convince you that dried pasilla chiles are the same as dried ancho chiles. I can’t find a straight answer in any of my books, not even in Rick Bayless’s limpid works, as to whether they are or not. So, if you can’t find ancho, use pasilla. You will undoubtedly find one or the other.

6 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

6 whole cloves

5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

2 slices French bread

1 large tomato, halved and cored

1 large onion, cut into 4 thick slices (lots of surface area for caramelizing)

1 large clove garlic

2 tablespoons salt

4 cups vegetable stock or water

3 ounces (1 disk) Mexican chocolate, coarsely chopped

Shadowcook: Do not go looking, as I did, for chi-chi, boutique Mexican chocolate. Diane Kennedy, the doyenne of Mexican cookbooks in English, calls it Mexican drinking chocolate. My friend Sherry tells me it’s a concoction of chocolate, sugar, almonds, and spices. I found two types, one of them made by Nestle’s. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it, so I opted for the chocolata para mesa made by other brand, El Campisino. It was as far from artisanal chocolate as Nestle’s, but it is what you want.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Stem the [dried] chiles, slit them, and carefully remove and save the seeds. Toast the chiles in the preheated oven 30 seconds to 1 minute, until a little soft and aromatic. Do not toast the chiles too much, or the sauce will be bitter. Put the chiles in a pan with enough warm water to cover and set them aside.

Shadowcook: Do you have at hand your rubber gloves that you reserve for working for chiles? You’ll need them.

Heat a small skillet over high heat and toast the chile seeds lightly, 30 seconds to 1 minute, shaking the pan continously and watching carefully so they do not burn. Put them in a small bowl.

Shadowcook: Normally, I’d recommend that you let the toasted seeds cool. Grinding warm seeds turns them into paste. In this case, it’s pretty much what you want to happen.

Using the same pan and shaking it all the while, toast the sesame seeds until they turn a nice golden brown. Set 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds aside for a garnish. Put the rest in a spice [or clean coffee] grinder along with the chile seeds and grind them to a fine powder. In a separate batch, grind the peppercorns and cloves. Add the ground spices to the ground seeds and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat and fry the bread until it’s nice and toasty on both sides. if the oil is hot enough, the bread will not soak up much of the oil. Scoop the bread out into a large bowl. Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of oil to cover nicely the entire surface of the pan. Now fry the tomato, cut sides down first, till caramelized all around and heated through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Shadowcook: Try not to move the tomato while it’s frying. The edges and flat surface of the tomato will be crispy so long as you let it fry undisturbed This principal applies to the following step, too.

Scoop the tomato into the same bowl. Return the pan to the heat and coat it again with some of the remaining oil. Toss in the onion and garlic and cook until they are caramelized and tender throughout, 8 to 10 minutes. This goes into the bowl, too.

Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water. Working in 2 or 3 batches, puree the chiles, bread, tomato, onion, garlic, ground seeds and spices, and salt in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding as much of the soaking water as needed to get a thick, saucelike consistency.

Shadowcook: If you try it in a food processor, it will not be as smooth as the consistency a blender produces.

Heat the remaining oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat. When the oil is very hot (but not smoking), carefully pour the sauce into the pan and “fry” it 1 to 2 minutes, stirring.

Shadowcook: She’s not kidding when she says “carefully.” It will spatter.

The sauce should bubble up on contact with the pan. This is the step that brings the sauce together. Reduce the heat, add the stock [or water], and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the chocolate. Simmer another 30 to 45 minutes, till dark, rich, and reduced. Set the mole aside, and refrigerate if not using within the hour.

Shadowcook: When you’ve finished the mole, you will begin to suspect that you’ve made far too much for a measely coating of the plate under 6 stuffed pasilla. And you’d be right. So, make up your mind to freeze half of what you’ve made and use it with chicken or pork in another meal.

Assuming you’re not trying to make the entire dish in one day, before you go to bed, cover half a pound of black beans with enough water to reach two inches above them, and let them soak overnight.

2. Cumin-scented Black Beans:

8 ounces black beans

1 small dried guajilla chile or 3 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded

1 bay leaf

4 to 5 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/3 onion, minced

2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems, minced

Rinse the beans well, picking through to remove any small stones. Put the beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches and soak overnight. The next day, pour off the soaking water and add fresh water or stock to cover. Toast the chile and add it to the beans, along wiht the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook about 1 hour, until the beans are tender, but not so long that they are breaking apart. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface as the beans are cooking. Iff the beans dry out before they are cooked, add a little water and reduce the temperature further. When the beans are done, drain them, reserving the liquid for finishing the dish; return the beans to the pot and set aside.

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the cumin, cook a minute longer, then scrape this mixture into the pot with the beans. Add just enough of the reserved liquid to make the beans saucy but not watery. Stir everything around well and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes more, to infuse the flavors. Add more of the liquid if the beans become too dry.

To finish the beans: blend about one-third of them with just enough of the remaining liquid to make a thick paste. Stir this paste back into the whole beans and add a little more liquid, just enough to get a nice consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.

Note: If you want to use canned beans, two 14 1/2 oz cans should do it. Rinse the beans well and put them in a saucepan. Add the toasted chile, bay leaf, sauteed onions and garlic, and ground cumin. Add enough stock to moisten, and simmer 15 or 20 minutes. Finish as described in the preceding paragraph, but be careful with the seasoning, as some brands of canned beans are already pretty salty.

Shadowcook: I promise you, you’ll have more beans than you’ll use to stuff the chiles. Either save the remainder for another meal, or serve the beans as a side dish here.

3. Cherry Tomato Salsa:

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 scallions, white and light green parts only, minced

1 shallot, minced

1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves only, choped

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix gently but well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as you like. Refrigerate until needed.

4. Cumin-Lime Crème Fraîche

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1/2 sour cream

Shadowcook: I bought freshly-made Mexican sour cream, “crema,” which is a touch saltier than commercial sour cream.

2 teaspoons finely ground toasted cumin seeds

Pinch of salt

Juice and grated zest of 1 lime

Combine the crème fraîche, sour cream, cumin, salt, and lime juice and zest in a small bowl. Mix well and keep chilled until needed.

5. Stuffed pasillas:

1/2 cup basmati rice

3/4 cup water

1/4 stick cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 pasilla chiles

Cumin-Scented Black Beans

5 ounces Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice

9 ounces soft fresh goat cheese or feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems only, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the rice, water, cinnamon, and salt in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat to low and steam, covered, for 20 minutes or until the water has evaporated. Meanwhile, place the chiles on a baking sheet and roast about 5 minutes, till the skins are blistered.

Shadowcook: I don’t think so. At least, not in my oven. It would take ages for the chiles to blister. I turned my broiler on high and broiled the chiles until the skins were blistered. Took the same amount of time.

Put them in a sealed plastic [or paper] bag and let them rest. When they are cool enough to handle comfortably, peel them and cutout the stems as if you were carving a pumkin. Remove the seeds and ribs from the insides of the chiles and the stems.

Shadowcook: Be aware that the chiles should be so soft that you risk splitting them when you try to scrap out the seeds.

Set the chiles and stems aside. Combine the black beans, rice, and Cheddar cheese in a medium-size bowl and mix well. Carefully fill each chile with some of this mixture, leaving enough space at the top to get the stems back in securely.

Shadowcook: I’d go so far as to advise you to stuff less rather than more. The stuffed chile comes very close to being stodgy if it’s too filled. Don’t pack it in or mashed in the rice mixture.

The pasillas can be held overnight in the refrigerator at this point.

Shadowcook: But I think that would make it much stodgier. If you need to prepare that far in advance, prepare the mole and the pasillas the day before. Leave the rest for the day you serves them.

For the final preparation: start reheating the mole.

Shadowcook: I’d reheat in a saucepan no more than 2 cups of the mole. You only need as much as it takes to pour a pool of it on each of six plates.

Grill the chiles over medium heat, turning often to ensure they don’t get burned. If you prefer, the pasillas can also be pan-sautéed or baked in the oven at 450 F, 20 minutes if the chiles have been refrigerated, 10 minutes if at room temperature. Whichever method you choose, cook until the chiles are hot through.

Shadowcook: The stuffed pasillas are pretty delicate, so I chose to bake them. Even though they had been at room temperature for a few hours, I baked them about 15 minutes. The Cheddar cheese, which brightens the flavor of the dish, needs to melt.

Pour some hot mole into the center of each of the plates, and top with a stuffed chile and then some salsa. Finish off with a drizzle of the crème fraîche, followed by a sprinkle of goat cheese, the remaining toasted sesame seeds and the chopped cilantro.

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from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, pp. 293-94.

For reasons I only slightly relate to, the tongue recipes I’ve posted are some of the least popular on my blog. Despite the fact that tongue is one of the most tender parts of any animal, most people I know recoil from the opportunity to cook one. Just goes to show how ethnically limited my social circles are, I suppose. I have to admit it takes getting used to handling a fresh beef or lamb tongue. The shape and texture of the skin is very evocative of its source. There’s no chance of detachment when preparing to cook a tongue.

I got over it. And now here is another selection from Diane Kennedy’s classic cookbooks, re-edited into one volume. I suspect her recipes and notes have not been updated, because I found a food processor dealt with the grinding better than my blender, although the cost of switching from  one to the other emerged in the grainy sauce that resulted. This recipe also made me better aware of the merits of lard.

But the recipe is pretty straightforward:

Serves 6 to 8

A 5-pound (2.25-kg) fresh beef tongue

1 small white onion, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

8 peppercorns

salt to taste

The sauce:

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

6 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

2 ancho chiles, wiped clean, seeds and veins removed

2 oz (60 g) unskinned almonds — a good 1/3 cup (85 ml)

1 small dry tortilla, broken into pieces

Shadowcook: Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but I wish Kennedy had specified whether she meant a flour or corn tortilla. I used what I had: corn tortillas.

1/2 cup (125 ml) tongue broth or water

1/8 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, preferably Oaxacan

6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

6 sprigs fresh majoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/2-inch (1.5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick, crushed

2 pounds (900 g) tomatoes, finely chopped (about 5 1/3 cups/1.3 L)

salt to taste

1/2 cup (125 ml) pitted green olives

Put the tongue into a saucepan with the onion, garlic, peppercorns, and salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the tongue is tender — about 3 hours. Let the tongue cool in the broth, and as soon as it it cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Strain the broth and return the tongue to the broth. Keep warm.

Shadowcook: The tongue I prepared weighed about 3 1/2 lbs, smaller than what she calls for. Even still, the only pot big enough to accommodate the tongue and enough water to cover it was my stock pot.

Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet over low heat, stirring them and shaking the pan from time to time until they are a deep golden color — take care not to let them burn — about 5 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the lard in a small skillet and fry the chiles over medium heat for about 1/2 minute on each side — the inside flesh should turn the color of tobacco. Drain and set aside.

Shadowcook: Actually, I think 2 tablespoons would have been enough. I used my 10-inch cast iron skillet and found 3 tablespoons an abundant amount for the chiles, almonds and tortilla shreds.

In the same lard, fry the almonds over medium heat, turning them and skaing the pan until they turn a darker color. Drain and crush them well (so as not to strain the blender).

In the same lard, fry the tortilla pieces for a few minutes until crisp. Drain and set aside.

Shadowcook: My blender and then my food processor had no problems handling the almonds. The tortilla shreds, however, made the machine jump!

Put the 1/2 cup (125 ml) tongue broth or water into the blender jar, add the dried herbs and spices, and blend as smooth as possible. Gradually add the chiles, tomatoes, sesame seeds, almonds, and tortillas, blending thoroughly after each addition.

Shadowcook: The amount of broth didn’t seem enough to make the pureeing easy, which is partly why I transferred it all from the blender to the food processor. True, the sauce did not come out smooth. But I would not have gotten much further if I had increased the amount of liquid in the blender. And I didn’t mind the grittiness. I used roma tomatoes, which may also explain why I needed more liquid.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons lard in a heavy pan, add the sauce, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time to avoid sticking. Stir in salt to taste. The sauce should be of medium consistency and lightly cover the back of a wooden spoon. Add broth to dilute if necessary.

Shadowcook: Again, 3 tablespoons seemed like a lot. I tried to figure out the point of this cooking process. To cook the tomatoes? Maybe. 10 minutes isn’t very long. The flavor of the raw tomatoes brightened the sauce. To reduce the amount of liquid? Well, there wasn’t much to start with? To intensify the flavors? Yes, I suppose so, but in the end the sauce had a fresh, slightly sweet flavor to it. Now I know ancho chiles favor sweet spices. At this stage, be sure to check the salt. I found it needed more.

Drain the tongue and cut into thick slices. Arrange on a large platter in one slightly overlapping layer and cover with most of the sauce. Sprinkle the top with the olives and serve immediately. Pass the rest of the sauce separately.

Note: This dish can be prepared several hours, even a day, ahead and reheated. Leftovers can also be frozen sucessfully.

Shadowcook: The sauce did not much resemble the other Mexican chili sauces I’ve made out of this book and Rick Bayless’s. The almonds made a difference, I think. I liked it so much that I may use the remainder for another kind of meat, like pork.

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from the Essential Cuisines of Mexico, pp. 275-76.

Ever since I bought half of a slaughtered pig, I’ve promised myself that I would venture into the world of Diane Kennedy’s cookbooks on Mexican cuisine. No time felt right. Too busy, too hot, too distracted.

Last night, I went to hear Slaid Cleaves perform his heart-wrenching songs at the Palms in Winters. Something about his sad Texas stories, punctuated by aphorisms in foot-tapping folk-country twangs, created the mood for puerco en adobo. Then again, maybe it was the acordion.

At any rate, this afternoon, I rounded up all the ingredients and got to work:

Serve 6 to 8

3 1/2 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 1.8 kg) stewing pork with some fat, cut into 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) cubes

1 pound pork neck bones

1/2 white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves

8 peppercorns

1 tablespoon salt

Shadowcook: One of the reasons I first set my sights on this recipe were the neck bones it called for. One of the benefits of buying half a pig — I got half the neck. I imagine a meat counter at a Latino market would have neck bones. Another reason to get out there and investigate those markets you always pass and wonder about.

The Adobo:

6 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed

10 pasilla chiles, seeds and veins removed

1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick, crushed

5 whole cloves, crushed

6 peppercorns, crushed

6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

6 sprigs fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoon mild white vinegar

The Final Stage:

1/4 cup (65 ml) lard

2 Mexican bay leaves

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 cups (750 ml) reserved meath broth

salt to taste

2 cups (500 ml) thinly sliced white onions

Put the meat, bones, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and salt into a large saucepan and barely cover with water. Bring the meat to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer it until it is just tender — about 35 minutes. Let the meat cool in the broth.

Shadowcook: The amount of bones and cubed pork on hand required a bigger pot than I expected. When it came to a boil, I skimmed off as much of the scum as I had patience for.

Drain the meat, reserving the broth. Set them aside.

Toast the chiles lightly, turning them from time to time so that they do not burn. Cover them with hot water and leave them to soak about 10 minutes. Transfer the chiles to the blender with 1 cup (250 ml) of water. Add the rest of the adobo ingredients and blend to a fairly smooth texture.

Shadowcook: It pays to organize yourself ahead of time. Seed and devein the chiles before you start. The chiles burn easily, so they bear watching closely. If this was a Rick Bayless recipe, he would advise straining the adobo paste through a medium-meshed strainer once you’ve blended it to a paste. Now that I’ve tried the end result, I’m inclined to think it would be better if I had done so. Regarding the spices for the adobado, I put all the dried spices in a coffee grinder I reserve for spices and ground them very lightly by pulsing the blade a few times.

Melt the lard in a large casserole. Add the adobo sauce, bay leaves, and sugar to the dish and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring most of the time to avoid sticking. Keep a splatterproof lid handy. When the sauce becomes a very dark red and thickens so that it will barely slide off a wooden spoon, it is cooked. Add the cooked meat.

Shadowcook: I do not have a splatterproof lid, but I did take care when I poured the adobo sauce into the hot lard. Step back as you pour, because it will splatter at first. Once it settles, there is no danger. I also found 15 minutes a trifle long. I would say 10 – 12 minutes is sufficient to darken and thicken the sauce.

Gradually stir in the broth and add salt as necessary. Add the meat and continue cooking the adobo over low heat for another 10 minutes.

Shadowcook: The “add the meat” direction here must be an extended typo — unless I’ve missed something. I boiled it for about 20 minutes to reduce the liquid and thicken the sauce.

Serve topped with the onion rings.

Note: The sauce can be made 2 or 3 days ahead — in fact it improves in flavor — up to the point of adding the broth. the pork can then be cooked the day you are going to use it. If there is any left over, the sauce freezes very well and makes a very good filling, mixed with shredded meat, for tacos.

Shadowcook: The pork came out exceedingly tender; the sauce deep, rich, and smoky. The chiles supplied heat, but not so much that it obscured their slightly sweet flavor. My only reservation concerns the fat. Defatting the sauce would diminish the richness, Im sure. Still, some might prefer to store the stew overnight and scoop the fat off the surface before reheating it the next day.

And while you’re at it, buy one of Slaid’s CDs. As well as deserving support, the poor guy looks like he needs it.

from The Kitchen Diaries, p. 271.

I returned late Saturday night with abundant evidence of my friends’ generosity. My basket barely held the mound of eggplants and tomatoes that I collected from their vegetable patch before dinner. From their patch to their house, from their house to my car, from my car to my house, tomatoes rolled off the mound and split when they hit the ground. I picked them up and piled them back on.

I must do something with all these tomatoes. This morning, I took out of my freezer a flank steak from grass-fed beef. Charcoal. Definitely a night for charcoal.

Nigel supplied the framework for my steak.

Dressing:

grain mustard – 1 tablespoon

the juice of half a lemon

mint – a small handful (about 20 leaves)

egg yolks – 2

olive oil – about 4-5 tablespoons

To make the dressing, put the mustard, lemon juice, mint leaves and egg yolks in a blender and whiz for a few seconds. Pour in the oil slowly, stopping when you have a dressing the consistency of double cream.

My version:

I had a feeling that this dressing would come in handy for much more than sliced beef. So, I doubled the amounts. I followed the directions carefully — even counting out forty leaves of fresh mint from the jungle around my peach tree. I used kosher salt, of course. I wish I had had some really high quality extra-virgin olive oil, because I think this sauce is only as good as its foundation. Still, what I made was pretty damned good.

I lit a chimney filled with hardwood charcoal. While that burned, I soaked some wine barrel oak chips in water. This is the first time I’ve used them. Meanwhile, I sliced a big tomato and arranged it on my plate, because I knew I wasn’t going to leave the flank steak long on the grill.

In a small bowl, I mixed together 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 tsp of garlic salt, and several grinds of black pepper. I thought I still had some good chili powder, but I was wrong. The flank steak required little attention. I scored it lightly on the diagonal, but waited to apply the salt mixture.

Before heading outside to put the whole act together, I drained the wood chips, even though they had been soaking only fifteen minutes. I piled up in my arms the steak, the bowl of salt, pepper and garlic salt, tongs, and chips.

When the coals were glowing, I poured them over half of the lower grate and put the upper grill in place. I then sprinkled on the sodden wood chips, which I feared would lower the heat too much. But hardwood charcoal burns hot, so I needn’t have worried. The bottom vents were fully open. I closed the vents on the lid half way. To allow the kettle to heat up, I put the lid on for a few minutes, then raised it to place the flank steak on the grill.

I put the steak directly over the coals, which were smoking heavily. If my nice neighbor
hadn’t distracted me, I would have been careful to let the steak sear on one side a full two minutes. But I figheted and turned it too soon. In all, I cooked the steak about five minutes in all. I would have preferred another two minutes.

I took it off the grill, still chatting to my neighbor, placed it in the pan and covered it with foil. Now I could chat for another few minutes with impunity. The meat settled in its juices.

A dollop of the dressing, a few thin slices of the flank steak on the slant, a glass of rosé from Corbières and I had a delicious meal that required a lot of discipline not to continue with extra helpings.

from The Barbecue! Bible (by way of Epicurious.com and Gourmet Magazine, May 2008).

This summer, I have dedicated myself to learning how to grill over a charcoal fire. My only guides are Raichlen’s big, fat How to Grill and the advice in the Gourmet Cookbook, and a very useful podcast I downloaded from The Splendid Table‘s website. My first attempt to make barbecue baby back ribs a few days ago ended in a charry disaster. It became immediately obvious that controlling the heat of the coals was the key to success. Raichlen has a lot of useful information and so does Gourmet. But, after the ribs fiasco, I learned the most crucial bit of information from Lynn Rosetto Kaspar’s interview with the executive editor of Gourmet Magazine, John Willoughby. The most common mistake in barbecuing is putting too many brickettes on the fire.

So, before I tell you what I did, here’s Raichlen’s instructions:

Grilling Method: Indirect grilling

Advance preparation
3 to 8 hours for marinating the meat (optional); also, allow yourself 4 to 6 hours cooking time

Special equipment
6 cups hickory chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained

For the rub (optional)
1 tablespoon mild paprika
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the barbecue
1 Boston butt (bone-in pork shoulder roast; 5 to 6 pounds), covered with a thick (1/2 inch) layer of fat
Vinegar Sauce
10 to 12 hamburger buns
North Carolina–Style Coleslaw

1. If using the rub, combine the mild paprika, brown sugar, hot paprika, celery salt, garlic salt, dry mustard, pepper, onion powder, and salt in a bowl and toss with your fingers to mix. Wearing rubber or plastic gloves if desired, rub the spice mixture onto the pork shoulder on all sides, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, preferably 8.

If not using the rub, generously season the pork all over with coarse (kosher or sea) salt and freshly ground black pepper; you can start cooking immediately.

2. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and place a drip pan in the center.

If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips in the smoker box and preheat the grill to high; when smoke appears, reduce the heat to medium.

If using a charcoal grill, preheat the grill to medium-low and adjust the vents to obtain a temperature of 300°F.

3. When ready to cook, if using charcoal, toss 1 cup of the wood chips on the coals. Place the pork shoulder, fat side up, on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and smoke cook the pork shoulder until fall-off-the-bone tender and the internal temperature on an instant-read meat thermometer reaches 195°F, 4 to 6 hours (the cooking time will depend on the size of the pork roast and the heat of the grill). If using charcoal, you’ll need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour and toss more wood chips on the fresh coals; add about 1/2 cup per side every time you replenish the coals. With gas, all you need to do is be sure that you start with a full tank of gas. If the pork begins to brown too much, drape a piece of aluminum foil loosely over it or lower the heat.

4. Transfer the pork roast to a cutting board, loosely tent it with aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 minutes.

5. Wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves if desired, pull off and discard any skin from the meat, then pull the pork into pieces, discarding any bones or fat. Using your fingertips or a fork, pull each piece of pork into shreds 1 to 2 inches long and 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide. This requires time and patience, but a human touch is needed to achieve the perfect texture. If patience isn’t one of your virtues, you can finely chop the pork with a cleaver (many respected North Carolina barbecue joints serve chopped ‘cue). Transfer the shredded pork to a nonreactive roasting pan. Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the vinegar sauce, enough to keep the pork moist, then cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it on the grill for up to 30 minutes to keep warm.

6. To serve, mound the pulled pork on the hamburger buns and top with coleslaw. Let each person add more vinegar sauce to taste

Here’s the Vinegar Sauce:

VINEGAR SAUCE
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, or more to taste
5 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
4 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Combine the vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and white pepper with 1 1/3 cups of water in a nonreactive medium-size bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt dissolve. Taste for seasoning, adding more brown sugar and/or salt as necessary; the sauce should be piquant but not quite sour.

Now, my efforts went something like this:

The one piece of equipment I contributed to the recipe is a pizza stone. I kept it close to the kettle and on it I kept a chimney of hot coals. Perhaps I learn to judge better how long it takes to start coals in the chimney, but far more coals were consumed than I used on the fire. I wanted to be sure always to have ready hot coals to add to the kettle over the five hours.

With a plan to put the pork butt on the grill at 2 pm, I prepared the rub early in the morning. I smeared the meat with it and then put it in the fridge for hours.

I followed the directions exactly, including soaking the hickory chips, up to the point that the coals were ready to put in the kettle. I closed the vents on the cover half way, but left the bottom vents fully open. Mindful of Willoughby’s advice, I put about 8 coals on each side of the drip pan. I threw on handfuls of hickory chips. Then I put an oven thermometer on one side of the grill, the pork on the grate and the cover on. Hickory scented smoke billowed out of the sides and vents.

I confess I lifted the lid about every 20-25 minutes, but that had the beneficial effect of allowing me to control the heat, which never rose above 350. I settled for that. Every half hour, maybe less often, I tossed in an equal number of glowing brickettes on either side, no more than 2 or 3 to a side at a time. After the first two hours, I noticed that from then on, the internal temperature of the meat rose about 10 degrees an hour.

After four and a half hours, I grew impatient. Within fifteen minutes, I had it off the grill and settling under aluminum foil. I kept the vinegar sauce at room temperature, so that after I had hand-shredded the meat (the rubber gloves are a big help with the hot meat), it didn’t changed the temperature of the meat much when I poured it over it in the rectangular pyrex baking dish. I put it back on the kettle grate over the dying coals and returned the lid. Meanwhile, I got the cole slaw ready.

To summarize what I learned from this process, first of all, I never had more than 8 to 10 hot coals on either side of the roast on the grill at one time. It’s true: it takes a lot less fuel to keep a fire at 300, 350 degrees, than I expected. Second, you use up a  lot more charcoal than you actually use on the fire just to make sure that you’ve got coals when you need them. Third, I got over my hangup about taking the lid off and releasing heat. Taking the lid off is a good way to manage the temperature — not that I ever went over 350 degrees. Fourth, I went easy on the soaked  hickory chips after the first big handfuls. I didn’t want too heavy a flavor. But they’re essential.

And the recipe’s guideline of shoot for 195 degrees is perfect.

The upshot: a 6 and 1/2 lb bone-in pork butt, grilled steadily at 350 degrees or a little below takes 4 1/2 to 5 hours.

Last thoughts:

Easily, one of the best meals I’ve made. Excellent recipe. I have friends coming over next weekend. This will work very well for four adults and four kids. The good news is that I won’t have to heat up the house with cooking. The bad news is that the temperature outside is supposed to reach triple digits. Grilling really is a sweaty job.

Next time, I think I’ll make a cole slaw with a light creamy dressing. After listening to the root vegetable piece on the same Splendid Table show, I like the idea of a creamy dressing running into the vinegar sauce and pork.

I’ll probably update this after I make it the next time, but my next big grilling adventure will be lamb. I’ve got to starting using up some of the thirty-five pounds of frozen lamb in my freezer.

dsc00017.jpgThe Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking, pp. 34 and 184.

About four years ago, when I started the Weight Watchers diet that over 8 months enabled me to lose 30 pounds, I made a horrible discovery. An oil-based dressing contributed a disproportionate number of calories to a meal that consisted mainly of salad and either a protein or a starch. It was shocking to realize that out of a daily allowance of 20 to 24 points, 1 tablespoon of olive oil consumed 4 points. — the equivalent of one glass of wine! That’s too expensive for my taste. Barely enough to coat four lettuce leaves. WW’s proposed alternative, balsamic vinegar, served well in a pinch, but it didn’t really satisfy.

I wish I had known about Mai Pham Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce when I was losing that weight. With recourse to a delicious salad dressing that contains no oil, I would have been much happier. A year ago, Sherry introduced me to Pham’s cookbook, The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking. So far, every recipe in it that I’ve made has turned out well. Now that I’m back on my diet for a while, I intend to make the most of this sauce.

First, I present the Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce, which I use as a salad dressing. Then, I’ll offer the Warm Beef on Cool Noodles recipe with its ancillary recipes. When I describe how I prepare it, you’ll see that I’m combining the two recipes, eliminating some of the ingredients, and substituting others. But for those of you who do not feel the need to be on a diet, enjoy the recipes to the fullest.

Mai’s version:

The dipping sauce:

Makes 2/3 cup.

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 fresh Thai bird  or any chilies, chopped, or 1 T ground chili paste

2 T very finely minced fresh ginger

1/3 fish sauce

2 T fresh lime juice preferably with pulp

1/4 cup water

4 T sugar

Place the garli, chilies, chili paste, and ginger in a mortar and pound into a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. Transfer to a glass jar and cover with a tight lid. If refrigerated the sauce will keep up to 3 weeks.

My version:

I use only chili paste and not the finely chopped chili. I also use only 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar. All the ingredients go straight into a jar to be violently shaken.  It sits on my fridge shelf in between  the times I use some for salad.

Warm beef on cool noodles:

the salad:

2 cups shredded romaine lettuce

2 cups bean sprouts

1 cup julienned cucumbers

1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup chopped fresh Thai basil leaves

noodles

1/2 lb dried rice vermicelli boiled 4 to 5 mins, rinsed and drained

topping

1 lb top sirloin, thinly sliced across the grain about 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches long

2 T minced lemon grass

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sugar

2 T vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

garnish

2 T fried shallots (recipe to follow)

2 T chopped roasted peanuts

10 fresh cilantro sprigs

Vietnamese dipping sauce (recipe to follow)

Combine all salad ingredients and toss gently. Place about a cup of the salad mixture in individual pasta bowls. Top each with about two cups of the noodles. Set the prepared noodle bowls aside.

Combine the beef, lemon grass, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick fry pan over high heat. Add the garlic ad onion and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Remove beef from marinade and stir-fry until just done, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Divide the beef topping among the bowls and garnish each with shallots, peanuts, and cilantro. Invite each guest to drizzle on 3 to 4 T of the Vietnamese dipping sauce. Have them toss the noodles several times with chopsticks to blend the ingredients.

fried shallots

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

Line a cookie tray with paper towels and spread the shallots on top. Let sit for 15 to 20 mins to air dry. (This technique helps make the shallots crispy.) Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat. (The oil is ready when a piece of shallot slowly bubbles and floats to the top.) Add the shallots and using chopsticks or a small spatula, stir the shallots so the do not tangle. Fry the shallots until golden, about 5 mins. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the shallots and drain on paper towels. Save the oil for another use. When the shallots are cool, transfer to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. They keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.

vietnamese dipping sauce

2 small cloves garlic, sliced

1 tsp ground chili paste

1 fresh thai bird chili, chopped (optional)

1/4 cup fish sauce

2/3 cup hot water

2 T fresh lime juice with pulp

1/4 cup sugar

2 T shredded carrots for garnish

Place garlic, chili paste in a mortar. With a pestle, pound into a paste. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, finely mince the garlic and chili.

Combine the garlic mixture with the remaining ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Ladle sauce into serving bowls and float the carrot slivers on top.

Putting it all together:

Instead of the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, I use the Ginger-Lime one above at top. I chopped everything in the G-L Dipping Sauce, but then pulse it in the food processor. From there, it goes into a jar.  Since rice noodles are only slightly more forgiving than pasta made of wheat, I cut the amount for my serving in half. Sherry boils the noodles, removes them from the water, and dries them on paper towels. If very tangled, she uses scissors to cut them into bunches,  separates the strands with her fingers, and strews them over the lettuce in the bowl.

I am renouncing red beef — in fact, most meat — for the time being, but I’ve followed the directions to the letter and the result has been wonderful. Instead of meat, I am going to substitute shrimps or prawns, perhaps scallops, maybe even a small bit of grilled salmon.

The fried shallots are a great garnish to have on hand. However, they, too, will be used sparingly for the next while.

Last thoughts:

I could live on this salad for most of the year. It’s that good and simple. It requires assembly, which is always a little tedious, but the results are very satisfying.  Now that I think of it, Mai Pham’s book has quite a few recipes that I’ll be trying while I shed a little extra weight.

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