March 08 page 2

Posted on March 26, 2008 in Archives

March 26, 2008
 
My sister Sue and my brother Mike are here for a week, so I made barbecue. Barbecue in the South Carolina lowcountry is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever had it. I don’t mean the hickory-smoked meat, which, as far as I’m concerned, should be done the same everywhere:  slow-smoked over smoldering hickory until the fat has dripped through the meat and it falls from the bone in shreds. The sauce is mostly irrelevant, though if I am going to use a sauce at all, I do prefer an Eastern North Carolina style hot pepper vinegar sauce (see March 17, below), doused on the meat as I chop it — after it is thoroughly cooked by the smoke.
 
What distinguishes lowcountry barbecue is both the presence of rice at the meal and a stewed meat dish called “hash” atop that rice. There are two main versions, one with, and one without liver. The one with liver, usually called “liver hash,” follows basically the same recipe, with poached hog’s liver ground and added to the finished stew. It is found in the upper coastal plain, specifically in Williamsburg and Florence Counties. The plain version is typical of Orangeburg County, where I grew up, and which was settled in 1730 by Germans and Swiss protestants seeking religious freedom. I have long contended that wherever you find good barbecue in America, it’s where Germans — or folks with strong charcuterie skills — settled.
 
Many people have asked me over the years why I didn’t include a hash recipe in my lowcountry cookbook. For one thing, it’s not typically Charleston: you have go about 70 miles inland to find its roots in the upper reaches of the lowcountry. For another, though I had seen hash made many times, I never really liked what I saw: canned butterbeans, tomatoes, and corn thrown into the pot, as well as lots of store-bought of mustard, ketchup, and barbecue sauce. Here’s what I wrote then:
 
When barbecues are given al fresco, the whole hog is cooked over a pit dug in the host’s yard. Cinder blocks hold a grill, four by six feet, about a foot over the coals. The entire pit is covered by a hinged wooden top. An upright fifty-gallon drum, with both the top and bottom removed and a grate inserted a foot above the base, holds a roaring fire of green hickory and oak. As embers fall through the grate to the ground, they are removed by shovel to the pit. A split hog is hot-smoked over the coals for several hours, the men taking turns at tending the fire and refilling “coozies” (the foam rubber holders for beer cans which keep beers cold and hands warm).
The hash, too, is cooked outside over a gas burner. Traditional hashes, sometimes called liver hash, contain a Boston butt (the shoulder), the hog’s head, several organ meats, and tomatoes cooked for a long time until the the meat falls apart and the consistency of the sauce is uniform. Nowadays, restaurant hash is likely to contain no pork at all, and certainly no organ meats. When invited to a barbecue, I offer to cook the hash. A shoulder, a head, and a liver are simmered in homemade tomato catsup to cover. When the meat begins to fall off the bones, I strain out the solids, then add the shredded, cooked meat of the shoulder to the sauce. It is awfully rich, but people love it over rice.
 
That’s how I did it in South Carolina, in a huge pot outdoors. Here’s an indoor version, without the head or organ meats:
 
Orangeburg Barbecue Hash
 
a pork shoulder or Boston butt or picnic ham, weighing about 4 pounds
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, shopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon chili sauce (I use tuong ot toi, Vietnamese garlic chili sauce)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
freshly ground black pepper
 
Place the pork in a large pot, cover with water, and simmer until the meat is fully cooked, about 2 hours. The thickest parts of the meat should register 165o on a thermometer. Remove the pork from the water and set aside to cool.
 
While the meat is cooling, make a barbecue sauce by sautéeing the onion and garlic in the butter until it is soft, about 5 minutes, then adding the vinegar, ketchup, chili sauce, salt, and ginger. Stir well and allow to simmer until well blended and thick, about 15 minutes.
 
When the meat has cooled, remove all the fat and bones and chop the meat. Run the meat through the larger disk of a meat grinder and add the ground meat to the saucepan. Add 4 or 5 cups of water (you can use the pork poaching water if you want), so that the hash is slightly liquid. Add lots of black pepper, stir it all well together,  and simmer for an hour.
 
Run the hash through the fine disk of your meat grinder. Reheat and serve over rice with barbecued pork (below) and coleslaw (see August 7, 2007). It should have the consistency of a very thick gravy, like a sloppy joe chile, but without any chunks.
 
Makes 2 quarts, 16 servings. (Yes, you can freeze it.)
March 24, 2008
 
I have never cared for my big KitchenAid mixer as a mixer. Its design doesn’t lend itself well to small batches. The blades don’t reach the bottom of the bowl and it’s awkward to get a rubber spatula down in the bowl to scrape the sides down. If I’m making a big cake or whipping lots of egg whites, I’ll use it, but I normally use my mother’s old mixer that is at least 30 years old.
 
But the meat grinder attachment is another story, and I have used it several times in the past few days. The first time was to re-create a dish that my friend Donna Skill and I made not really by accident but out of necessity once when her boyfriend asked more people to come join us for brunch when I arrived with homemade sausage and she had found gorgeous fresh shad roe. Realizing that we didn’t have enough to go around, we improvised by mixing the roe with the sausage, adding some egg and bread crumbs, and baking it off like a meatloaf. We rounded out the country breakfast with plenty of eggs and toast.
 
Mikel and I had Elizabeth Schneider and her beau Seth Shulman over for dinner on Saturday night. I promised not to go to too much trouble and they offered to bring salad, wine, and biscotti. I’m on assignment for the Washington Post to write about Royal Red shrimp (see March 10, below), and I spent much of Friday on the phone with fishmongers trying to find them. Scott Weinstein, the fishmonger at Black Salt, not only knew the delicious but elusive deep water species, but was willing to try to get them for me as well. He also told me that he had filleted shad coming in from South Carolina, so I went to get some to serve Elizabeth and Seth. I also picked up some fresh sardines and a set of roe while I was there. I had bought some shrimp earlier in the day to perk up homemade mayonnaise that was to accompany tomato aspic. I found some gorgeous asparagus, with no sprouting heads. All I needed were some leeks to cook with the shad and a bottle of Champagne to begin our Saturday evening festivities.
 
Elizabeth says that I always make meals at my house feel festive, and why not?! I spend most of my time alone in my kitchen and at this desk, so having friends for dinner has long been my major social activity. Tomorrow my sister Sue and my brother Mike arrive for a week, so I did more shopping today to stock up. I took Easter Sunday off and we went back out to China Star, the authentic Szechuan restaurant that I wrote about back in February.
 
Here are some of the things I’ve been preparing:
These shad roe cakes topped with a poached egg were delicious. I make them the same way I make old-fashioned oyster sausages. Just substitute an equal weight of roe (a large set will weigh about 8 ounces; just cut the recipe below in half). You can also make these with store-bought sausage: just grind the roe and sausage together and add the egg yolk and bread crumbs. I pan-fried these in clarified butter cut with a little oil and used a splatter guard because the little fish eggs will pop.
 
You could also stuff them into casings, as below, and poach them in a court bouillon or water mixed with milk.
 
Oyster Sausages (from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)
These sausages were once common on Lowcountry tables, when oysters were more plentiful than meat, but few people make them today. They are either made into patties or stuffed into casings, and are made with either veal or pork (though Sarah Rutledge made hers with both beef and mutton). I have made them with lamb, using some fresh pork fat, and I have increased the ratio of oysters. The marvelous thing about sausage making is that, as soon as the mixture is ground all together, you can fry off a little and taste it to correct not only the seasoning, but the ratio of ingredients as well.
If you plan to stuff the sausage, you will need about four feet of hog casings. Because this sausage is more delicate than the casing, be sure to poach stuffed oyster sausages rather than frying them. Save the drained oyster liquor in which to poach them, with a little milk added if necessary. Serve with a relish such as the one below or with a poached egg and salad, as in the photo. If you plan to make patties, fry them in clarified butter until golden brown and serve on a bed of lettuce with lemon wedges.
1 pint fresh, raw, shucked oysters
1 pound fatty pork, cut into 2″ chunks
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
salt and black pepper
cayenne
herbal mix (see recipe at Feb 4, 2008)
optional: hog casings, about 4 feet (available through most butchers)
Drain the oysters, reserving the liquor in which to poach the sausages if they are to be stuffed into casings. With your meat grinder set on the coarser setting, run the oysters and the pork alternately through the grinder. Add the yolks and the breadcrumbs, then season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, and mixed herbs. Mix the ingredients well together, then take a little spoonful and fry it in a pan until golden brown. Taste it and correct the seasoning. Then run the mixture back through the meat grinder set on the finer grind (and with the sausage stuffer attached and the casings tied at one end and placed over the end of the funnel, ready to be filled, if you want stuffed sausages).
Tie stuffed sausages off into 4″ links. Cover the sausages and place immediately in the refrigerator. Use within 24 hours, cooking them as described above.
Yields 2 lbs.
 
Sweet Pepper Relish
Make this sweet pepper relish in midsummer when bell peppers are red and sweet, and when sweet onions such as Vidalias are available. Use it with spicy patés and with sausages such as the Oyster Sausages, above.
4 large red ripe peppers, seeded, ribbed, and roughly chopped (3-4 cups)
4 medium sweet onions, roughly chopped (about 3 cups)
1 quart boiling water
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
Put the roughly chopped peppers and onions in a large nonreactive mixing bowl or pot and cover with the boiling water. Allow to sit until the water has cooled, about 30 minutes, then drain into a large colander. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables and allow them to drain thoroughly for several hours.
Proceeding in batches, put the drained vegetables into a food processor and process in quick bursts to finely mince them. Add the vegetables to the sugar and vinegar in a nonreactive pot and boil for 5 minutes. Put in sterilized jars and seal, processing in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or storing the relish in the refrigerator if not processed.
Yields 2 pints.
 
Grilled Sardines and Asparagus
 
I’m a huge fan of sardines. Growing up on a boat, ironically, we often kept a store of both canned sardines and canned salmon in case of inclement weather and we weren’t able to catch our own fish. Funny that neither of the canned fish we stocked were local. We never had canned tuna, though, and I’ve always found it telling that, when canned, it’s called “tunafish.” I never ate canned tuna until I lived in Italy and had the lovely ventresca — the fatty and hence more flavorful belly meat that I also learned to love as toro in sushi bars. The best canned sardines were always those packed in sardine oil, but since the discovery of the benefits of omega-3-rich fish oils, they’re no longer packed in their own oil.
 
I’m not going to get into the difficulty of common names here. What we know as sardines aren’t the same as sardines in Europe. But never mind. I’m thrilled that I can now find them fresh in fine markets such as BlackSalt and I always buy them when I do. I scale them and gut them, salt and pepper them, sprinkle them with freshly grated lemon peel and juice, chopped garlic, and parsley, then drizzle them with olive oil in a shallow pan. I shake the pan around to coat the fish and let them sit at room temperature for up to an hour. Since I had found pretty asparagus, I also seasoned it with salt and pepper, drizzled it with olive oil and grilled them at the same time I grilled the sardines, using a metal grilling platter on the grates so that the asparagus didn’t fall through. What a perfect first course!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Our second course was tomato aspic with shrimp mayonnaise. The recipes follow.
 
Tomato Aspic with Shrimp Mayonnaise
(from Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah)
Tomato aspic is a harbinger of spring, a favored starter course throughout the South. Shrimp are often added to the aspic, but here it is served with a dollop of homemade mayonnaise flavored with a few cooked shrimp. You can add all sorts of things to the aspic, as I did this weekend; pureed roasted peppers are particularly welcome.
For the aspic:
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
2 cups tomato juice or V-8 or 1 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes, pureed
1 celery rib, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Lettuce leaves for garnish
For the mayonnaise:
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon prepared
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Several cooked shrimp, peeled
To make the aspic, pour the boiling water over the gelatin in a mixing bowl and stir well so that all of the gelatin dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Rinse six 1/2-cup ramekins in cold water and fill them with the aspic. Refrigerate to set and chill. To unmold, dip in hot water for a few seconds and invert onto a bed of lettuce.
To make the mayonnaise, put the mustard, salt, and egg in a blender and blend for about 20 seconds. Add the oil very slowly, at first by droplets, continually blending until all of the oil has been bound with the egg mixture and the mayonnaise is thick and creamy. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, add the lemon juice, and blend briefly. With the motor running, start adding cooked shrimp one at a time, blending well after each shrimp is added. Continue adding shrimp until the desired flavor is reached. Store well capped and refrigerated for no more than 3 days.
Serve the aspic with a dollop of mayonnaise. In the photo I have served it with parlsey and cilantro leaves.
 
With the leftover shrimp, I made shrimp paste to serve on toast points made from baguettes. We nibbled on those and olives while having a bottle of the newly released Aubry NV Brut Champagne. I have raved about this small grower-producer’s product before. The new bottling, disgorged in November 2007, boasts a new label and is even better than before.
 
Shrimp Paste (from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)
 
There are innumerable recipes for shrimp paste, many of them very old, and often calling for mace. This unbaked version includes no mace or onion juice, but otherwise follows a recipe from Charleston Receipts, the Junior League’s venerable cookbook from 1950. Is there anything better than shrimp and butter?!
1-1/2 pounds unpeeled shrimp
1/4 pound butter
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon sherry, preferably Amontillado
salt and pepper and cayenne, if desired, to taste
Put shrimp in boiling salted water and cook no more than three minutes. Cool immediately, peel, and grind together with the remaining ingredients. Chill and serve on crackers, on white bread with the crusts removed, or on toast points. I like to slice baguettes thinly on the bias and dry them out in a warm oven shortly before my guests arrive.
 
Shad and Leeks with Sorrel Sauce
 
Several years ago in Charleston, Crosby’s Seafood started carrying boned shad filets. They had a Haitian who could perform the delicate removal of the two extra sets of noisome bones that seem to float in the supple flesh of this delicious fish. Recently in Barbados I watched the local women in the fish markets boning flying fish, which have similar bone structures, and realized that that would explain how a Haitian would come to know the process, since shad don’t travel in the Caribbean.
 
My friend Bessie Hanahan first showed me this great recipe, which she credits to James Beard, though it was developed by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It’s even called the Canadian method, and it’s a good one, though not foolproof. It calls for a hot oven — 450o – and 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of flesh. Bessie cuts thin strips of leeks and makes a bed of them, sprinkling them with salt and pepper. She adds shad filets to the leeks and stuffs thin lemon slices down between the folds where the bones have been removed. She then sprinkles the fish with Old Bay seasoning, splashes the pan with white wine — a half cup is plenty — and drizzles it all with olive oil. The leeks and the fish should be done at about the same time, although shad filets are rarely an inch thick and 10 minutes is about right for the fish. Sometimes the leeks aren’t quite done:  just zap them a couple of minutes more in the microwave.
 
I like to serve shad in the classic French preparation, à l’oseille, which Elizabeth has jokingly wondered if the French didn’t invent just for the sound of it: alose à l’oseille (shad with sorrel) is pronounced basically ah LOZE ah lozay. But of course it’s a brilliant combination. The tartness of sorrel is just the thing for the distinctive taste of shad. Sorrel sauce could not be easier to make. You simply apply heat to sorrel leaves and they melt. Unfortunately, they do turn an unattractive drab olive color, so most folks make the sauce with cream. You can add melted sorrel leaves, though, to Greek yogurt to a marvelous effect.
 
To clean leeks, pull off any ugly or really tough outer leaves and cut off the toughest green tops. Slice the leek vertically down through the center, all the way to, but not through, the base. Rinse the leeks thoroughly under running water, be careful not to let the leek fall apart, but cleansing it thoroughly of any dirt, mud, or sand.
 
Place the leeks on a cutting board and slice off the base. Carefully turn each leek half onto the board and cut into the thinnest strips you can manage. Don’t be afraid to use some of the darker green parts, they’re tasty as well.
 
Preparing sorrel is just a matter of removing any tough stems and cutting the leaves into a chiffonade. Heat does the rest.
The stems will pull right out of the smaller leaves, which is what you want to use. I have a couple of plants that I’ve had for over 20 years that provide me sorrel throughout most of the year (see August 2007). Be sure to use a stainless steel knife when cutting the sorrel or both sorrel and knife blade will darken.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The easiest sauce is to simpy add the leaves to cream with a big pinch of salt and cook until the leaves melt, but I like to make the more full-flavored classic sauce by wilting a chopped shallot in a little butter, adding some white wine, and reducing it until the liquid is almost all gone and the mixture is syrupy, at which point I add the sorrel and cream. OR you can add the sorrel leaves with the wine and cook for a few minutes until the leaves melt, take off the heat and set
aside to be mixed with cream or butter or yogurt at the time
of serving.  Note the drab color of the sorrel but how it totally melts. Whisked into cream and reduced just before serving, it makes a distinctive sauce for which it is worth overlooking its appearance.
 
 
 
 
 
 
March 18, 2008
 
I’ve had a single ribeye in my freezer for a month and I hate to keep foods frozen very long, so I thought I would cut it into thin strips and make an Asian stir-fry tonight. I picked up some peppers and bean sprouts and snow peas at the supermarket on my way home from the gym this morning, so I think I’ll make some spring rolls to go with the meal, along with a plate of rice and a side of greens.

Stir-Fried Beef with Snow Peas or Green Beans, adapted from my Fearless Frying Cookbook

Stir-frying is one of the easiest ways to cook. This recipe can be used as a blueprint for other meals. What’s important is to cut the meats and vegetables into small, uniform pieces so that they cook quickly and evenly. You can serve this dish hot with rice as the main course after a clear soup and fried spring rolls, or you can chill it and serve it as a salad.

You can also make this dish with green beans, in which case simply stir-fry the same quantity of green beans in the peanut oil to begin with, cooking them until they just begin to soften and change color, before adding the beef.

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil or chile sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 pound flank steak, thinly sliced on the bias, or 1/2 pound sirloin or ribeye, trimmed of all fat and
         thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh snow peas
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon beef bouillon or water
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 scallions, trimmed of root ends and most of the green and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts (optional)

Mix the soy, sherry, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil together in a shallow container. Add the hot red pepper flakes or use a chile sesame oil. Add the sliced meat and toss to evenly distribute. Set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Put the snow peas in a pot of rapidly boiling water and cook for a few minutes until they are bright green and just lose their raw flavor, about five minutes. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and set aside. Mix the cornstarch with the bouillon or water in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add the meat and its marinade and stir-fry for about 2 minutes more; the meat should still be pink. Add the scallions, water chestnuts, and snow peas, and toss well, evenly distributing the ingredients. Immediately add the cornstarch mixture to the wok, continuing to stir. Allow the liquid to come to a boil, then swirl it around in the wok until it thickens. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a salad, 3 as a main course over rice.

Spring Rolls (from The Fearless Frying Cookbook)

Friends who have lived in Asia tell me that the heavy egg rolls common in Chinese-American restaurants bear little resemblance to authentic spring rolls. Nancie McDermott, an expert on Thai cooking, says to look for frozen spring roll wrappers in the freezers of Asian markets. “They contain no egg and fry up crisp and golden, no bubbles,” she told me.

You can fry these in a wok and save oil, but if you’re not proficient with a wok, you may be more comfortable with a flat-bottomed pan. I assemble these rolls several hours in advance and keep them in the refrigerator; the chilled rolls cook more evenly and don’t burn on the bottom. I serve them as appetizers before all sorts of meals, with Nancie’s Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce (below), and, like the Vietnamese, with lettuce leaves to hold the hot rolls.

1 tablespoon tiny dried cloud ears (see Note)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound bean sprouts
Peanut oil
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped shallot or onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce such as nuoc mam or nam pla
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound small raw shrimp, peeled and minced
1 pound (1 package) spring roll wrappers, thawed in the refrigerator if frozen
Nancie’s Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce (below)
Cilantro and lettuce leaves for garnish

In a medium bowl, cover the mushrooms with warm water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain, saving about 2 tablespoons of the water. In a small bowl, make a slurry of the mushroom liquid and cornstarch. Place near the stove. Trim the mushrooms of any hard parts and slice them into very thin strips. Place the strips in a bowl with the bean sprouts.

Meanwhile, place a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil, swirl it around to coat the surface, and then add the celery, onion, and garlic. Stir-fry until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, pepper, and shrimp and toss well, then add the mushrooms and bean sprouts. Stir-fry the mixture so that everything is well mixed and warmed through. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix in well. Turn off the heat and lift the contents out of the pan with a wire mesh skimmer or slotted spoon so that excess liquid drains off. Place on a platter to cool. Remove the package of spring roll wrappers from the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce.

Open the package of spring roll wrappers and gently separate them, placing them back in a pile and covering the pile with a damp towel. Have a small bowl of water and a pastry brush handy. Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment and place it nearby. Place 1 wrapper smooth side down on a counter, a pointed end toward you. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling about 1/3 of the way in from the point closest to you. Spread it out into a 4-inch log. Fold the point nearest you up and over the filling, tucking it in. Fold up the right and left sides in toward the middle and gently pat them down smooth. Paint the exposed flap lightly with water, then finish rolling the spring roll. Place on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Continue with the remaining wrappers and filling, placing them so that they don’t touch on the baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap. You can make 2 layers if you need to. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.

To pan-fry, pour enough oil into a large skillet to come at least halfway up the sides of the rolls. You can pan-fry or deep-fry the rolls, but deep-frying is easier to control. To deep-fry, pour 3 inches of oil into a stockpot, a wok, or a Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium heat to 365. Preheat an oven to 200. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Slip the rolls 1 at a time into the oil, carefully monitoring the temperature. Do not let it go below 350. Fry 3 at a time in a wok; you can fry more in a skillet or Dutch oven, but do not crowd the pot. Fry the rolls until they are crispy and golden brown all over, about 4 minutes. Use tongs to gently lift the rolls from the pot, letting any excess oil drip back into the pot. Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet in the oven to stay warm and drain further while you fry the remaining rolls. When they are all fried, pile them on a platter rimmed with lettuce leaves and cilantro, and serve with ramekins of the dipping sauce.
Makes about 24
Note: These dried mushrooms, also known as tree ears, wood ears, and wood fungi, are found in Asian markets. If you can’t find them, use 1/4 cup of coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms, sautéed until very soft.

Nancie’s Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce (from The Fearless Frying Cookbook)

I adapted this recipe from Nancie McDermott’s Real Thai (Chronicle, 1992). Though the sauce is an authentic one from Thailand, it is awfully close to the hot pepper vinegar barbecue sauces of Nancie’s home state, North Carolina. Serve it with all sorts of fried foods or with spareribs.

The ground fresh chile paste is called by different names in different cultures, but all varieties are basically the same combination of ground chilies, vinegar, and salt. Some have garlic as well. Look for half-pint plastic jars of it; Vietnamese versions (tuong ot) are widely available. Sriracha is a popular Vietnamese brand. A chunky version with seeds, Tunog Ot Toi Vietnam, is made in California. The Indonesian version, Sambal Oelek, is also made in the states. If you can find none of these, make a purée of hot red chilies, garlic, and salt, with just enough vinegar to make it pliable. Or you can use any other hot chile sauce such as Tabasco.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground fresh chile paste, chile-garlic sauce, or any hot chile sauce

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is syrupy, but not as thick as honey, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chilies. Cool to room temperature, then place in a jar.

Use for a dipping sauce or store tightly sealed at room temperature for 2 or 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

 
March 17, 2008
 
Mikel’s birthday was last week, but we spent the weekend celebrating at the home of our friends Chuck Dalby and Bruce Rashbaum on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Mikel’s mother, Dixie, had sent him her homemade chocolate cake. To southerners, that means one thing: a “white” or yellow layer cake with chocolate icing. The icing is a chocolate version of a caramel icing. I made a caramel cake — yellow layers with caramel icing. I’ll post those recipes later if I can finagle Dixie’s from her.
 
Champagne and Caviar
 
On Friday night we had Walter’s Caviar with Gaston Chiquet Champagne. Another small grower-producer, Nicolas Chiquet is an eighth-generation winemaker of classic, traditional sparklers full of terroir. The importers Michael Skurnik and Terry Thiese can barely contain themselves while describing the Chiquet. From their website:
 
I think if you asked me to sum up Chiquet’s wines in one pithy phrase, I’d have to say either “delicious and articulate” or “articulate and delicious” depending on which you preferred. (Maybe “salacious and ticklish,” in a pinch . . .) I myself tend to peg Nicolas Chiquet’s wines as “innately lovable” and so it always surprises me to rediscover just how focused and precise they are, as if the prose of E.B. White were rendered in the form of Champagne. They taste effortless, tactful, yet attractive. What I’m tasting are wines of pure terroir. They are, in effect, anti-varietal.
 
Even Chuck and Bruce, not ordinarily Champagne drinkers, admired this affable sparkly. Mikel loved that it isn’t as sweet as most, but I noticed that it also isn’t tart. It was, for me, perhaps a bit too well balanced, so perfect that it seemed almost unnoticeable alongside the caviar, like a model on a runway full of beauties. We followed the Chiquet with the L. Aubry, which I have written about elsewhere on this blog, and which, to me, with its crisp apple overtones, is better suited to caviar. That’s not to belittle the delicious Chiquet. Here are more published notes on it from the Skurnik site:
 
45% Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. Dosage is 8.8 grams per liter; Nicolas does what several growers do, lowers dosage with successive disgorgements, as the wine’s been on the lees longer; The current cuvée is 81% 2002, 6% 2001 and 13% 2000. The vines average 25 years old. In fact this is everything that N.V. Brut should be. Let me repeat that: THIS IS EVERYTHING THAT N.V. BRUT SHOULD BE. With one,
maybe two exceptions, this would wipe the floor with anything from any négoçiant. It’s so silken and fine, full of oleander, pumpernickel and mimosa, and the palate has exceptional grace and detail. You know, this is what Moët should smell like, with all that skill and all those machines. This cuvée is riper and fuller bodied than last year’s but it’s as silky and precise as ever.
I would have to agree that the wine is silky and certainly better than any of the NM producers’ wines (see my January blog: scroll down to January 3rd), but I would definitely choose the more acidic Aubry (also imported by Skurnik) the next time we splurge for caviar. I hate to keep quoting others on my blog, but Skurnik and Thiese are the experts and the importers of these fine wines and their web notes are helpful:
 
60% Pinot Meunier (“Don’t call it Pinot Meunier,” they say, “but simply Meunier;” this I henceforth do) and 20% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Aubrys make a strong case for taking Meunier seriously, and this wine stands with the Non Vintage from Jose Michel, Gaston Chiquet and René Geoffroy as the finest “basic” Meunier Champagnes I know. Meunier is resistant to frost and thus it’s often planted in marginal vineyards and therefore despised! Treat it well and it responds with all those pretty flavors of pumpernickel and sorghum this wine has. It’s playful and lithe, like a dancer. It flies on a giddy trapeze of fruit, at once both tingly and velouté, almost starchy. This is 50% 2002, 30% 2001 and 20% 2000-1999; it’s the one we stock now, and it’s as
frisky and crackery as always. Later this year there’ll be a new blend—50% 2002, 40% 2003 and 10% “other” (they wouldn’t say!) and it’s high-colored and generous, with lower dosage (5 g.l.) because the base wines are so ripe. They really do maintain a fixed flavor over the years, with more or less body and substance depending on vintages.

I took a break from the computer and the phone during the entire weekend, not looking at either as we celebrated Mikel’s birthday, spending a lot of time in the gloriously sunny outdoors. I sketched a sycamore tree in pastels and hope to be able to use the study (right) to help me complete a canvas before the leaves appear.
 
I don’t have a lot to report about the foods we had because I prepared some of Mikel’s favorites, most of which I’ve already written about here. However, I did make North Carolina-style barbecue ahead of time, following my wine guru Debbie Marlowe’s flawless recipe:
 
Debbie’s Homemade Eastern North Carolina Style Barbecue
(from The New Southern Cook)
 
Barbecue sauce changes hue and tone as you cross county lines in the South, but most afficionados agree that real southern (not Texan) barbeuce is pork — preferably a whole hog pit-cooked with hardwoods. In North and South Carolina, there are vinegar-, mustard- and tomato-based sauces, infinitely varied, but the cooking is mostly the same. It’s an all-night (or all-day) affair that usually involves a bunch of good-ol’ boys and beer. Some people cook just the shoulders, some cook three shoulders to one ham, and traditionalists still insist on the whole hog cooked over smoldering hickory or oak coals. Some chop the meat, some pull it from the bone, and some shred it, but a Carolinian would never slice barbecued pork.
Some of the tastiest southern barbecue is in the Carolinas, and many people think Eastern North Carolina’s is the best. My friend Debbie Marlowe (whom we call “Lady Merlot” for her vast oenological knowledge, and whose wine recommendations added so much to The New Southern Cook) lived for many years in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. A genius, too, at the grill, Debbie is not one to let men claim the province of barbecuing. Debbie has successfully duplicated Eastern Carolina barbecue in this home version. It still takes all night, but you can smoke enough meat on 2 home smokers (and the electric ones require little attention) to feed a crowd of 50. Her buttery vinegar sauce may seem like gilding the lily, but it is absolutely delicious.
 
This past weekend, I used only two big picnics, weighing a total of 16 pounds. I cut the sauce recipe in half. The picnics had not been trimmed of their outer skin, which meant that I had to cook them longer than usual. You want the meat to be falling off the bone, and for most of the fat to have melted away, dripping down through the meat and flavoring it along with the smoke.
 
My brother turned me on to electric smokers years ago and I swear by them. And my father, a chemist by training, taught me to make a little distiller so that the smoke lasts longer:  Use disposable deep-dish aluminum pans to put the soaked hickory chunks in. Wrap them well in heavy duty aluminum foil and set them in the smoker raised above the electric heating coils (I put pieces of brick down amongst the lava rocks so that the pie pans don’t touch the coils.) Poke holes in the top of the foil so that the smoke can escape. You won’t have to replace the hickory as frequently and the distiller should provide a constant supply of smoke for several hours. If you grow your own chiles, be sure to dry them and crush some for use in your favorite recipes. The ones pictured below are some that Chuck grew on the Eastern Shore.
For the meat:
30-35 pounds of fresh pork to include a picnic shoulder or two, a blade or butt roast, a loin, a ham, and
     one set of ribs
several pounds of hickory chunks, soaked in water for several hours or overnight

For the sauce:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
64 ounces (2 quarts or 1/2 gallon) white vingear
16 ounces apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons red pepper flakes (or your own dried, crushed chiles)
juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grease the racks of your smokers and set aside. Prepare the coals or preheat electric smokers. Fill the water pans. Evenly distribute the meat on four racks, placing them fat-side up. When the coals are ready, add a good handful of drained wood chunks to each smoker, then quickly add the water pans and racks of meat to the smokers and cover them well. Resist the temptation to peek, because each time you do, you will lose precious heat and moisture. You will probably need to replace coals every two to three hours; wood chunks will last a little longer. In the meantime, prepare the sauce.
Add all of the sauce ingredients to a 3-quart saucepan, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat immediately. Allow to simmer slowly for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Set aside until ready to use. Since the sauces is mostly vinegar, you may want to cook this outdoors, as I do. I use the side burner of my gas grill.
The meat will take about 12 to 16 hours to cook, depending on your heat source and thickness of the cuts of meat. You should continue cooking it until a meat thermometer registers 160throughout the thickest cuts of meat. It should be beginning to fall from the bones. When replacing wood chunks, be sure to check the water level in the water pans; they will probably need to be refilled every 4 or 5 hours. The water level should not drop below 1/2 full. Replace with hot tap water, pouring it through the grates without moving the meat in order to minimize delays.
The ribs will probably be done in 4 or 5 hours. The meat will pull away from the bones. Brush them well with the sauce when you remove them. They are the cook’s bonus. You should baste the rest of the pork with reheated sauce only when it is ready to be turned, just before its last leg of cooking, about 2 hours before it is done, when it has reduced in size by about one fourth.
When the meat is done, remove it from the smokers to a large baking pan. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, then chop it using two cleavers or large knives, adding sauce as you chop. Debbie uses a ketchup bottle with holes punched in the lid to distribute the sauce through the meat. Serve warm, piled high on your plate or on hamburger buns, with potato salad and cole slaw.
40-50 servings.
NOTE: This recipe can be done in a kettle style grill, such as a large Weber, but because there is no water pan, the meat will cook faster. Debbie cooks 15-20 pounds of meat at a time on hers, but warns that you must leave only one of the vents open — and just enough to feed some air to the fire. She replenishes
charcoal and chunks at least once, after about four hours. The cooking takes about 8 hours total.
To drink, Debbie recommends lots of cold beer, John’s lemonade, or fruit-forward Zinfandel.
 
Mikel had specifically asked for lots of vegetables for his birthday, so we had many of his favorites, including sweet potatoes with horseradish, a radish salad, and roasted beets. Here’s how I did the beets:
 
Oven-Roasted Beets
This Mediterranean recipe can be prepared while you slow-roast pork in the oven. Doneness of the vegetables, not the temperature of the oven, is what’s important here. I used fresh herbs that had overwintered in my garden — rosemary, oregano, thyme, and mint.

12 small beets
Fresh herbs
Several cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 lemon, quartered or cut into eighths

salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

 
Scrub the beets well trim them of all but about an inch or two of stems. Place them in a roasting pan. Distribute the herbs, garlic cloves, and lemon slices amongst the beets, season them with salt and pepper, and drizzle a little oil all. Toss well, cover tightly, then place in a warm to moderate oven. Roast until the beets just barely give to the touch, or until they are cooked al dente. If you are cooking the vegetables at 250o, they will take about 2 hours. Remove the beets from the pan, peel them, and discard the skins, roots, and tops. Cut them into bite-size pieces. Discard the herbs, sqeeze the juice from the lemon slices and the pulp from the roasted garlic into the roasting pan, whisking the oil and juices into a smooth dressing. Return the beets to the pan, tossing well. You can serve the beets warm or at room temperature, adding a few more fresh herbs leaves — mint, especially — at the last minute.
Serves 4
The Eastern Shore never ceases to amaze me. Check out this roadside scene I saw on the road to Tilghman Island south of St Michaels!
What amazes me even more, however, are the delightful discussions I get into with you, my readers.
I’m posting some more of your posts in Readers’ Comments today.