Saturday, March 13, 2010

Low and Slow and Dalmore

Spring is no longer just threatening but overtaking winter as we speak and I’m all too glad to see the snow removed without me having to use a shovel. I love it when you walk outside and you can smell the sweet lingering of someone lighting up the grill for the first time. I fall head over heels for the euphoric and intoxicating smell of meat that is being smoked slowly. Honestly I can think of no better way to spend my Saturday/Sunday afternoon than to have a glass of Dalmore on the rocks in one hand, Maker’s Mark cigar in the other, and slowly smoking a pork shoulder all day long.

BBQ, especially smoking is a very long, uncomplicated, and tempting process. Depending on what techniques you use this process can be much more difficult. There are many different variations on how to achieve bbq, however that will not be discussed for the time being. What I am going to talk about is the ingredients. In the past year I’ve done many different flavor variations for bbq, and I think I’ve finally come up with some of my own preferences after many trials.
One of the least expensive cuts of meat and yet one of the largest, is the pork shoulder. Commonly this cut of meat is used in none other than Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Honestly I’m a huge fan of cutting the shoulder into inch thick slices and serving it more as a steak vs. pulling it to serve on a sandwich.
For a long period of time I was very bias when it came to how to infuse meat with flavor properly. I’ve been on both sides of the fence both dry rub and wet marinade, no doubt that makes me a hypocrite in some eyes, but I’ve finally come to my place of zen and now I’m just happy to be doing it period. The two aces that I would pull out of my sleeve if I ever wanted to impress a crowd would include the following.
Standard BBQ Dry Rub
3 tbsp Light Brown Sugar
1 tbsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Powdered Mustard
1 tsp Freshly Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp of salt
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Incorporate all ingredients in a small mixing bowl using a small wire whisk making sure there are no clumps of brown sugar. Sometimes it’s simpler to use the back end of a small spoon to incorporate because the brown sugar may clump together due to moisture. Before applying the rub to your pork shoulder, be sure to clean off any blood residue that may be left over from the packaging. This can be easily accomplished by using a dry paper towel to clean all of the surface area. When applying the rub mixture to a pork shoulder, be sure to spread an even layer over the entire surface area, including any bone. While applying a rub, be sure to press the mixture into the surface of the meat to create a solid crust which in turn maintains moisture during the cooking process. Finish by wrapping the pork shoulder in two plastic wrap and allow it to set in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.
To me this is one of the most personal and intimate experiences that one can engage with their food, hands on preparation. Handling food that will be consumed by your friends, family, and loved ones is like touching their soul, nourishing their bodies and that is not something that should be treated lightly. You have the opportunity to feed them something truly wonderful, or possibly give them the gastrointestinal ride of their lives which they won’t thank you for. So PLEASE for the sake of your friends and family PLEASE remember to wash your hands before, during, and after preparation, and by during I mean before and after handling any kind of meat.
BBQ just isn’t complete unless there is sauce to go along with it. Last year for Father’s Day I decided to explore the realm of this legendary sauce and create one for my dad. Yah it’s a bit sappy, but the man is difficult as all hell to please in any other form of gifts so I thought I would go the more sentimental route. I researched many different recipes to get a basic idea of what generally goes in a BBQ Sauce, and it really matters where you’re looking. South Carolina differs from North Carolina which differs from Texas which differs from Memphis etc…Ultimately this is what I came up with.
BBQ Sauce
1 cup of ketchup
1 cup of water
1 medium sized carrot peeled and sliced
2 jalapeno peppers with stems/seeds/ & ribs removed
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
3-4 tbsp of brown sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp coarse grain mustard
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp powdered mustard
1 pinch of salt
½ tsp of fresh cracked ground pepper
In a blender combine water, carrot, jalapeno, garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and liquefy until it resembles that of a frothy carrot juice. I generally recommend blending in stages so the mixture incorporates more thoroughly (aka sans Chunks). Next add this mixture to a medium sized sauce pan on a stove and add the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the butter. Then using a wire whisk incorporate all ingredients slowly without the burner turned on. Once the ingredients have been incorporated together thoroughly, turn the burner on to low. For example if the stove you are using ranges from 1-10 use a 2. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes on a low heat and then incorporate butter. Once the butter has been incorporated, discontinue whisking continuously and allow the sauce to simmer (uncovered) for an additional 15-25 minutes whisking every few minutes. After this has finished simmering remove from heat and allow the sauce to come to room temperature. Usually I will store this in a squeeze bottle in the fridge for no more than 2 weeks.
On to the cooking process, god I love this part. It’s like 8 hours worth of torture because you’re oh so close to a truly intoxicating meal and yet so far away it’s only a blur on the horizon. Torture man, it’s pure torture to be the person doing this job. Thank goodness for my 2nd glass of Dalmore otherwise I’d probably be falling into complete mental hysteria.
The process of smoking is a delicate process and it takes time. With a 5 lb pork shoulder I highly recommend giving it a solid 8 hours to smoke so that all of the flavors melt into each other and create what I believe to be one of the most perfect reasons NOT to be a vegetarian. I’m not a traditionalist and I use an electric smoker. I know I know I know, it’s blasphemy to not be doing it the old school way, but it’s what I have and I’m pretty proud of my smoker thank you! In essence start the cooking process at approximately 170 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly over the next hour bring the temperature up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Ultimately what you are looking to accomplish is an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. At the 6 hour mark do the reverse and start bringing the temperature down but much more gradually. Once the cooking process has been completed remove the pork shoulder from the smoker and allow it to rest for at least 20-30 minutes so the juices inside can redistribute throughout the meat.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In the Beginning

I’m not a firm believer in having a ton of rules when it comes to cooking but I do believe in a few guidelines, and they are just that; guidelines. They can be bent, broken, followed to the T, or ignored completely. I don’t expect for everyone to have the same beliefs that I do, in fact I expect I shall be offending people from time to time (e.g. vegetarians (especially those damn vegans). Although my intentions are not deliberate, it’s inevitable I will be offending someone probably within this very article. So for the faint of heart, if your feelings are easily bruised and your ego requires constant stroking please go buy a puppy. You will not find that kind of caressing here.

Guideline # 1 – Have something to drink, Always! This musing is called Two Drink Minimum for a reason. I don’t believe any meal is cooked properly unless those who are cooking the meal have some sort of alcohol based refreshment. I implement this guideline for a multitude of reasons, because cooking should be something fun, exhilarating, and adventurous. Cooking should not be mundane, boring, conventional, or dreaded. Whether your preference is Wine, Beer, or Hard Liquor it really doesn’t matter, well it does matter but again these are guidelines. Some of the most delicious things I stumbled upon while I was far from sober and decided to try something on a spur of the moment drunken whim.

Guideline # 2 – Don’t be afraid. Dear god this is so important. The honest truth is we all fail, we all have failed, and we all will continue to fail. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but don’t be afraid of failing. Making mistakes is how we improve one tiny step at a time. I’m not a professional cook, and I have no intention of becoming one, for two very specific reasons which I will discuss at a later time. So having an unyielding passion to learn to cook I’ve had to do research and find out how to improve on various tricks of the trade. What to look for, how to determine what mistakes are being made, tips and tricks to avoid making those mistakes again. I highly recommend the internet. Access to the internet is not free, but 99.999% of the information on it is!

Guideline # 3 – Be adventurous. In a way this sort of relates to the last guideline, but not really. Try new things, explore what you don’t know, new techniques, new flavor combinations, cultures outside of your own. Life is all too short to live with the ordinary. Adventure brings life to the table, and in turn to you the cook. Are you used to having meatloaf on Wednesday nights? Using the same recipe you have for decades, and you wonder why not only you but your family wishes it was any other night but Wednesday? There is a reason why local restaurants change their menu regularly, because cooking the same food night after night brings mental anguish that no living thing deserves. So quit suffocating your friends and loved ones with the same menu and do something new.

Guideline # 4 – Invest in quality not quantity. It doesn’t get any simpler than the old Chinese proverb “you get what you pay for”. Ok that proverb may not be Chinese, in fact I’m not quite sure of the origin. What is for sure clichés are clichés for a reason… They are true. The sad part is quality doesn’t always cost you more, but simply takes more time to develop. Consider the $15.00 stainless steel “chef’s knife” that you have lingering in your drawer amongst an assortment of other knives. How often do you replace these? Once every 6 months? Once a year? Once every couple of years? If that’s the case the only thing that can help you is a very stiff drink and therapy. Will expensive tools and gadgets make cooking easier for you? Not always, higher price does not always indicate higher quality. Does a high quality set of knives make cooking easier? Oh F#*k yah it does, as well as safer and a hell of a lot more fun.

The quality of the food that you’re using is also just as important. Instant food that comes in a box, contrary to popular belief, is NOT FOOD! That bottom feeder fecal matter is nothing more than saw dust that is one molecule away from being plastic and has been drowned in salt and MSG in order to mask how absolutely terrible it is. Look around at your local grocery stores/farmer’s market/market places etc… to find out what they have to offer. Talk to the butchers, fish mongers, and bakers to find out what they know. These people are the heart and soul behind quality food and they can give you priceless information you otherwise would not have known.

I cannot impress enough how great it is to cook quality food. Cooking in many ways has been a life saver for me and I don’t expect it will be for everyone, but let me just say this. To all the people that think food “is just food”, are too lazy to go into the kitchen and make something, think Sandra Lee is actually talented, purchase instant mashed potatoes or any other food that doesn’t belong in a box; QUIT WASTING THIS PLANET”S F@#KING OXYGEN! Ok that’s a bit harsh, but seriously people I implore you to think outside the box (no pun intended).