Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summertime... and the livin' is easy...

Sorry for this not so brief hiatus. Summer hit and the barbecues have started. And of course so has the senseless slaughter of the little grey cells in the noggin. After all, you do need somthin' to wash down all the dogs, burgers, chicken, and ribs... and then its lunch time. I do love a good early turn at the grill. Everyone thinks I'm outta my mind eating like that at 8 in the morning, but the clock in my stomach is still set three hours ahead of the locals, so it all falls in line. And besides that, what do they know? They still think beer before noon is sacrilege. Hey- it's five o'clock somwhere!

I sat down thinking this was going to be a quick post, but since I'm here already, might as well give you a glimpse at the Big Guy's summer diet. Generally, the burger-and-dog thing (either or both, depending on the previous night) is a great starter for the day- nice and fast, chase it with a pint out of the tap and the day is rolling in the right direction. After the foundation is down, you can start to think about the more involved meals for later in the day.

After breakfast, I like to get things prepped for the rest of the day. I always figure that doing more work early on gives me more time to relax in the pool with a pitcher or two (or three) of Margarita’s. And I do make a killer Margarita- who knows, I may even share the recipe later. Ok- so first I start with three racks of baby back ribs. (3 racks? of course 3... the Big Guy never likes to eat alone) I like to trim them a little, and put a nice starter cut alongside the bone to save me from having to find it later. I have a great dry rub- little of this and a little of that (come on- you didn't think I was gonna give away that one, did ya??) and I like to put a good coating on the ribs, massage it in and let it sit on for a few hours before I cook them.

While the ribs are gettin' all happy with their little flavor party, I move on to the ladies. Depending on the crowd, I figure two is enough to entertain everyone. I like to grab 'em by the legs and lay 'em on their backs and go right to work... stripping the legs, the thighs, the breasts... hey wait- I'm talkin' about chickens here... where was your head at??!!?! ...So anyways, like I was sayin', once I have them out into all their pieces (usually 10 pieces- cutting the breasts in half, but more about why later), they go into a covered bowl and can sit in the fridge until about an hour before I'm ready to eat.

Ok- now it's time to get the ribs cookin'. I get a nice fire going with the charcoal in the chimney. Then I set a couple of handfuls of wood chips in a big bowl of water. I like to use a combination of chips for my ribs; usually apple and maple, or cherry and pear. Once the coals are good and hot, I set them up for a little indirect heat in piles on either side of my trusty Weber kettle and top the coals with the soaked chips. The ribs go on the rack at 11 am and the cover stays on for about 3 hours with just the slightest venting on the top and bottom. My great grandfather, Paulie, always said things need to be cooked low and slow- it'll be worth the wait. And he was definitely right about that... by the time you take these out of the smoke, that meat won't be falling off the bone, it'll be jumpin' off!

Now that we have set the wheels in motion for the mid-afternoon mange and have the main prep work finished for dinner, time to take care of lunch. I like a nice sangwich for lunch in the summer. And I can't think of a better way to go than with sausage and peppers. I have this guy... he makes a great parsley and cheese sausage, nice and thin, perfect for the grill. But before I get that going, I need to slice some onions, peppers, and a couple of potatoes. Throw it all into a big pan with some olive oil, some salt and pepper and start coking 'em. And don't forget what Paulie says- low and slow. You don't want to take a chance on crisping these; a long slow cook will draw the sugars out, the perfect counterpart to the sausage. Once these are started, it's time to get the sausage on the grill.

Gotta keep this low and slow too, so it doesn't burst and bleed off all the good juices. After the peppers, onions, and potatoes are softened up, it's time to start making the sanguinies... open up a good roll (and by roll, I mean roll.. not bun- that would be a hanging offense), lay in some sausage and add a nice scoop out of the pan right on top. And don’t skimp- the peppers may get second billing here, but it wouldn't be the same without a nice pile on top. I'll tell ya what- you'll know you did it right if your hands are a mess when you're eating it. Don't bother cleaning it up till after you're definitely done. And by the way- that mess is delicious; I never waste a napkin.

And so we find ourselves at the first intermission, a little lull in the action. Seems a highly appropriate time to mix the first pitcher of Margarita’s. And now, if you promise to just keep it between us, I'll tell you how to make a great Margarita. The key to a great Margarita is simple: quality ingredients. A great tequila is essential. As a minimum for quality you need to start with something like Sauza Hornitos or if you must go with a Cuervo product, try the Tradicional. Second, get yourself a bottle of Cointreau. And then we come to the sour-mix, easy enough to make on your own. So... here we go- 5 parts sour mix, 1 part Cointreau, 2 parts Tequila (using a 2 cup standard, it's 1.25 C, 0.25 C, and 0.5 C respectively)...a squeeze of blood orange right on top... put it into a shaker tin, shake vigorously and strain into an ice filled glass, with or without salt. Drain. Repeat. (Follow these last two steps as often as necessary)

Now that we're all feelin' so niiice... time to get the ribs off the smoke. Depending on how tenacious I am feeling, I may glaze the racks with some fresh made barbecue sauce and let it bake on in the grill, but only for a few minutes. When you sit down to go to work on these, its going to be a mess, too, like the sangwiches. And in much the same way, don't bother with the napkins till after you're done. Even then, why waste all that goodness?

At this point, it's time for pitcher number 2 (at least) and a little dip in the pool to cool down. I like to spend a little time floating around, digest a little, and let myself wind down. It's mid-afternoon and just one more meal left on the day. After the way the day has already gone, good thing it's only a light meal of chicken and some corn on the cob.

I like to wait till the sun starts getting low in the sky before I get my chicken on the grill. I take it out of the fridge and set it out on a big baking sheet with the pieces all linked up like a big game of Tetris. I prep them the way Mom taught me so many years ago with a good coating of coarse Kosher salt. I let them sit for about 10 minutes or so and use the time to put a few inches of water in a big pot and set it to boil. As a general rule, I don't boil my corn. I like it steamed; it seems to retain a little more body in the kernels and not shrivel up after coming out of the boil. Once I get a boil going, I throw the corn in and cover it for 9 minutes... not 8, not 10; 9.

After one last rinse for the chicken and a quick pat dry with a towel, it's onto a nice hot grill they go. Chicken is ruined by so many rookies... either burned over a flame that is way too hot or dried out and over cooked out of fear of a visit from that lovely couple, Sam and Ella. That's bush league stuff. It's easy to avoid this. First, make sure the pieces are as uniform in size as possible. As I mentioned previously, this is why we whack the breasts in half. Second, be sure to cook over a medium high flame and keep the pieces moving every few minutes. I always find that the more I turn my chicken, the more likely I am to get great chicken.

Wings and backs will, of course, always be done first. These fall under the "Chef's Prerogative" rule. These are open for consumption by the chef and anyone he chooses to share the booty with. These pieces need not ever make it to the main platter. (It's a rule. No; really... it is!!) After the last turn that sets them skin side up, it's time to hit them with the sauce. Dab a good coating on with a quality brush, close the top and let it bake on. Once the glaze is baked on nicely, I set the chicken out on large platters and watch it disappear. Always great to watch the bowls fill with bare bones and gnawed cobs.

After the sun is down, it's time to move from Margarita’s to the good stuff, straight up. Shots of tequila and whiskey get poured. But this is the sippin' kind... not built for slamming back, take your time and enjoy it. I always say have a few; after a day of eating like this, a hangover is going to be easy compared to how the rest of your body feels.

And if you have the right group, all the fun is just starting... but that's probably better left for another post.

So there you have it; a blueprint for any given Summer day. If it's a barbecue you want, you have to start early and keep it going strong all day. There is no other way to do it. 'Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!!

1 comment:

Shauna said...

Hey Johnny,
I love your writing, you made me hungry! What are you making this weekend?:)