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Barbecue Bible!

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Season 2

Show 201: High on Hog

The professor goes whole hog with a curriculum running from Bratwurst with Grilled Bell Peppers to an 18-pound Cuban Christmas Eve Ham called lechon asado, which emerges from the grill after 8 hours of slow cooking a beautifully burnished golden brown. He also demonstrates a classic Tuscan take on one of America's favorite parts of the pig: a spit-roasted Rosemary Grilled Pork Loin.

On the menu (page numbers indicate page in the Barbecue! Bible, unless otherwise noted):

  • Lechon Asado (page 157, recipe follows) with Mojo (page 157, recipe follows)
  • Rosemary Grilled Pork Loin (page 159)
  • Pork Tenderloin Adobado (page 161)
  • Grilled bratwurst (BBQ USA p 352), w grilled bell peppers (How to Grill, p. 383) and grilled polenta (p 428)

What makes a brat a brat?

In general terms, there's the meat (pork), the grind (coarse), the casing (natural), and the seasonings (which include salt, pepper, and for a touch of sweetness, nutmeg or mace). Ralph C. Stayer isn't about to go into the particulars, but he does remember the moment his father realized that bratwurst was the family calling. He recalls his father saying, "One day a customer came in and ordered forty pounds of hamburger and ten pounds of bratwurst. When he returned the following week and ordered forty pounds of bratwurst and ten pounds of hamburger, we knew we had something special." Today bratwurst is big business, and Johnsonville Sausage sells seven different brat varieties (cheddar or roasted garlic anyone?) in all fifty states and as far abroad as Japan. Last year, the company sold something on the order of 400 million brats!

And what is the best way to cook brats? Here's the younger Stayer's method: "I make a vodka gimlet and light my charcoal. When the gimlet is finished, I rake out the coals. I make a second gimlet, and I put the brats on the grill." Stayer believes in working over a moderate fire. By the time the second gimlet is finished, the bratwurst is cooked.

Talk to other Wisconsinites, and you soon realize that there's a wide divergence of opinion on the proper way to cook and serve brats. Some people like to parboil the sausages in beer or wine-with or without sliced onion-before grilling. Others like to brush the brats with oil or melted butter to make the casings extra crisp. Onions are generally considered to be essential, but debate rages over whether they should be raw, sautéed, or grilled (and for that matter minced, diced, or sliced).

There's little disagreement that the proper roll for a brat is a Sheboygan hard roll (a.k.a. hearth roll), sometimes called by its German name semel, a roll that's crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, and often dusted with cornmeal. "You only find it in Wisconsin and it's highly perishable," says Stayer. "If we could figure out how to give it an extended shelf life, we'd sell millions." But do you butter the roll, toast it, or both? Stayer favors toasting the roll, then slathering it with a dark, stone-ground, German-style mustard. He also likes a touch of finely chopped onion. Unlike many of his compatriots, he eschews sauerkraut. Dark mustard is the requisite condiment, but should you be open-minded enough to allow ketchup or relish, too?

One thing is for sure: As long as there are brats, there will be heated debates about the best way to serve them. And that's the way it should be. Down on the set at BBQ U, I came up with my own way to dress up Brats: with grilled peppers and polenta. But for the traditional Wisconsin take on Brats (and the best method for cooking them) see the recipe in show 212.

GRILLED PEPPERS printer-ready version

It's hard to imagine a world without roasted peppers, those soft, smoky, flame-charred strips that turn up in antipasti, salads, sauces, soups, and sandwiches. Traditional recipes call for roasting the peppers on the stove or under the broiler, but the easiest way to roast a pepper is to grill it. There are three dishes you can burn in How to Grill and this is one of them. By charring peppers, you actually make them sweeter. Roasted peppers are great to eat drizzled with olive oil or in salads. Purée them with olive oil, garlic, and cayenne to make rouille, a French sauce for fish.

1. To set up a charcoal grill for direct grilling, first light the charcoal in a chimney starter.

2. Using a garden hoe or other long-handled implement, rake the burning coals into an even layer.

3. Preheat the grill to high.

TIP: The traditional way to roast a pepper is to char it so black that you have to remove the skin. This produces superlative peppers with an unrivaled smoky flavor, but it is a little messy and time-consuming to peel them. So sometimes, I'll grill a pepper until the skin is golden brown, not black. I serve the grilled pepper skin and all. Peppers grilled in this fashion make a great no-fuss side dish and have a flavor all their own.

Arrange the peppers on the grate and grill until their skins are nicely charred, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Turn the peppers with tongs to ensure even charring.

1. Place the hot peppers in a baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 20 minutes as they cool down.

2. Pull or scrape the skin off the peppers, using your fingers or a paring knife. Don't worry about removing every last bit. A few burnt specks add character.

3. Cut out the stem end and discard.

4. Cut open the peppers and scrape out the veins and seeds with a knife.

Tips: If you are removing the pepper's charred skin, steam helps loosen it from the flesh. To create steam, place the hot grilled peppers in a baking dish and cover it with plastic wrap or wrap the individual peppers in wet paper towels. Any type of bell pepper can be grilled-green, red, yellow. You can even grill chile peppers. Indeed, this is one way Mexicans roast chiles for making salsas.

GRILLED POLENTA printer-ready version

Polenta, of course, is Italian cornmeal mush. But, oh, what mush! Cornmeal simmered to a savory paste, enriched with butter and cream, then smokily browned on the grill. You could serve grilled polenta by itself as a side dish or you could top it with any other of your favorite pasta sauces. For a whimsical touch use a cookie cutter to cut out stars, triangles, circles, or other fanciful shapes.

Serves 4.

  • 2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil for enriching the polenta (optional), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil for basting

1. In a large, heavy saucepan combine the cornmeal, water, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Bring the polenta to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, whisking steadily.

2. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and stir in the cream and 2 tablespoons butter or oil. Gently simmer the polenta until the mixture thickens enough to pull away from the sides of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes. It should be the consistency of soft ice cream. You don't need to whisk the polenta continuously, but you should give it a stir every 5 minutes. As it thickens, you'll need to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste: the polenta should be highly seasoned.

3. Pour the polenta it onto a non-stick jelly roll pan or cake pan. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it until firm, at least 4 hours. The recipe can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead.

4. Preheat the grill to high. Oil the grate. Cut the cold polenta with a knife or cookie cutter into squares, rectangles, or other fanciful shapes and turn it out of the pan. Brush the polenta pieces with melted butter or oil. Grill the polenta until sizzling hot and lightly browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve at once.

LECHON ASADO (CUBAN CHRISTMAS EVE PIG)
printer-ready version

Pit-roasted pig is the traditional centerpiece of a Cuban Nochebuena (Cuban Christmas Eve supper)--a holiday that stirs the same sort of emotions--and digestive juices--in a Cuban heart that Thanksgiving does in ours. Come Christmas Eve Day in Miami, the sky fills with fragrant smoke, as thousands backyard barbecue buffs--everyone from brick layers to bankers--cook whole young pigs that have been marinating overnight in tangy adobo (garlic-cumin-sour orange marinade). This recipe calls for a more managable size cut of meat: a fresh (uncured) ham, which has the dual advantage of being more widely available than whole pigs and of being able to fit in your refrigerator.

Cubans don't generally go in for smoke flavor, but you could certainly add a couple of cups of soaked wood chips to the coals or the smoker pan while the pork cooks.

Serves 16 to 20

  • 1 young pig or 1 whole fresh ham

For the adobo marinade:

  • 2 heads garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon teaspoon ground bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups sour orange juice or lime juice
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 to 8 cups hickory chips, soaked in cold water for 1 hour and drained, or a couple of small hardwood logs

1. Have your butcher split the pig through the belly. The backbone should be partially split, so you can lay the pig open like a book. Make shallow slits in the pig or ham, skin side and meat side, using the tip of a paring knife.

2. Mash the garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, pepper, bay leaves, and olive oil to a paste in a mortar and pestle or puree in the food processor. Add 1 cup sour orange juice. Rub this mixture all over the pig, forcing it into the slits. Place the pig or ham in a plastic bag with the remaining sour orange juice, sherry, and onions. Marinate overnight, turning several times.

3. Build small fires at the opposite ends of the grill. The heat should be medium-low, about 275 degrees. Place the pig on the grill, skin side up. Cook tightly covered for about 2 hours. Place the wood chips in the smoking pan and replenish as needed. Invert the pig and baste with any excess marinade. Continue cooking until the skin is very crisp and the meat is fall-off-the-bone-tender. Baste often with leftover marinade. The pork will be safe to eat when the internal temperature reads 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Cubans like their pork really well done, about 180 degrees. Replenish coals and wood chips as necessary.

4. To serve, pull the meat away from the bones. Discard the bones. Chop the meat with a cleaver and cut the crisp skin into shards. Serve the meat and skin with Cuban bread and mojo.

MOJO (CUBAN GARLIC CUMIN CITRUS SAUCE)

No, it's not pronounced "mo jo." Mojo ("mo ho") is Cuba's barbecue sauce, a sort of cumin and fried garlic vinaigrette that's splashed over every imaginable dish, from palomilla (Cuban steak-check out show 202's "rundown page" for a recipe) to lechon asado (see above). Cubans make their mojo with the acidic juice of the naranja agria (sour orange). Sour oranges look like bumpy greenish-orange oranges and can be found at Hispanic grocery stores. But excellent mojo can be made with fresh lime juice mixed with a little orange juice for sweetness. Serve the mojo in a bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid, so you can shake it up before pouring.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 8 large cloves garlic, cut into paper thin slices or finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup fresh sour orange juice OR 1/2 cup fresh lime juice and 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or flatleaf parsley

1. Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and a pale golden brown. Do not let brown too much, or the garlic will become bitter.

2. Stir in the lime juice, water, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stand back: the sauce may sputter. Bring the sauce to a rolling boil. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the cilantro.

Serve the mojo in a bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well before serving.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort