Root Beer Ribs

Root Beer Ribs

My love for a good root beer goes back to my childhood when we would pull into the only drive-in diner in town and the carhop would bring out a big tray of frosty root beer floats.

2 racks baby back ribs
1 (12-ounce) bottle root beer (get the good stuff without any ingredients that you can’t pronounce)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the root beer to a boil and cook until the volume is reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Add the vinegar, paste, sugar, honey, salt, and Worcestershire. Wisk to combine. Return to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 minute. Taste and adjust for sweetness, acid, umami, and salt.

Turn the heat off and add the paprika, pepper, onion, garlic, chili powder, pepper, and cayenne. Wisk to combine. Bring to a boil again then reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. Reduce heat to lowest setting and let sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Bottle and store in the fridge.

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at low (300°F) heat. I set the Big Green Egg with a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

While the grill is getting up to temp, season both sides of the ribs with your rub of choice. Toss in a chunk of smoking wood (sassafras this time), and when the smoke changes from white (bad) to blue (good), put the ribs on bone side down for an hour.

Flip the ribs bone side down and let them go for another hour. After 2 hours total, start checking for doneness. The slabs should bend and crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat should have also started to pull back from the bones.

Root Beer Ribs

When the ribs are showing signs of being done, sauce the meat side with the Root Beer Barbecue Sauce and let them cook for another 10 minutes. Flip them and sauce the bone side and let them go for another 10 minutes. Flip them meat side up and give them a final coat of sauce and let them cook for a final 10 minutes.

Remove the ribs from the grill and let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving with more sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The sauce is a winner and I really like the way the sassafras added to the anise flavor. The end result was very rich, sweet, and spicy. The bark ended up being a little too thick and dry for my tastes, probably from flare ups caused by cooking directly over the coals.

Tuna Steak

Grilled Lemon Tarragon Tuna

Tuna is the perfect fish for grilling – firm and lean with a meaty flavor that goes with just about anything.  Here I’ve bumped up the taste a little bit with an herby marinade.

1 1/2 pounds yellowfin tuna steak
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled (pickled, in this case)
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 cup olive oil

Make the marinade by combining the lemon juice, honey, peppers, salt, garlic, herbs, and olive oil in a food processor and giving it a whirl until everything is well-blended and has started to thicken, kind of like a thin mayonnaise.

Put the tuna in a lidded container, cover with the marinade, and turn to coat. Stash in the fridge while you get the grill set up.

Set your grill up for a direct cook over high (600°F) heat.

Grilled Tuna Steak

I treat tuna steaks like beef steaks – grill them hot and fast to just medium-rare. Grill the tuna steak for about a minute per side, checking for doneness often. The tuna should yield gently when you press on it with the tongs. Not too firm, or you’re headed toward cat food territory. It’s best to pull the steak off the heat just before it’s done and let the carry-over heat finish cooking it.

Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Tuna is a nice change of pace from steaks and chops and a great fresh and light taste for summer.

Pickled Garlic

Pickled Probiotic Garlic

I am still on my lacto-fermentation kick. My latest project came to me as the answer to the question of what to do with the 3-pound bag of garlic I bought at Costco – pickle it, of course.

1 pint wide-mouth canning jar
1 pound garlic cloves, peeled (about 4 to 5 heads)
1 cup bottled or filtered water
9 grams (about 1 tablespoon coarse sea or Diamond-brand kosher salt)
3 dried red chiles, (arbol in this case)

In a small saucepan,  heat the water to a simmer. Add salt and stir until it dissolves. Remove  pan from heat and let to cool to room temperature.

Put peppers in the jar first, then top with garlic. Fill jar to within an inch from the top with tightly packed garlic cloves. Pour cooled brine over garlic, filling jar to within a half inch of the top.

Seal jar with a lid that will keep room air out while letting CO2 gas escape. A setup with an airlock like Pickl-It or Kraut Kap work great.

Let the jar sit on a dark spot on your counter for 7 days, checking every day to make sure that you are seeing small bubbles at the top of the brine and that nothing funky is growing there.

After a week, open the jar and take a whiff – it should smell very garlicky, but also sour and slightly fermented. You should smell little bit of sulfur, but it shouldn’t smell rotten. If it does, pitch it out and try again.

Now take a taste – a sour, salty, tang should have replaced  a lot of the garlic’s bite and mellowed out the flavor.

Does it taste good to you? If so, seal the jar with an airtight lid and move it off to the fridge. If it’s not quite done enough,  reseal it with the airlock and check it again in a few days. When it’s ready, seal and stash in the fridge. It will continue to slowly age there and store well for up to a year.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The end result is a little less punchy than fresh garlic, but has a much more well-rounded (almost roasted) garlic flavor.

You can use it just like fresh garlic. I sliver raw cloves and toss them into salads, or blend them into salad dressing. They also add a big kick to hummus, guacamole, and salsas. When the winter holidays roll around, I plan to put whole cloves out with a bunch of toothpicks and serve them as appetizers.

Pork Steak

Pork Steak

I love a good pork steak. It’s one of those foods that has just enough fat in it to fry it in its own juices.

Pork steak is cut from the shoulder (a.k.a. Boston roast). It’s a very active muscle group and not particularly tender.  It does have a lot of marbling and connective tissue, which makes it very flavorful and moist if cooked right.

2 large pork steaks
Season salt and/or Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning

Heavily season both sides of the steaks (about a teaspoon per pound) and stash in the fridge uncovered while you get the grill set up.

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at medium-high (350°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg, I used an extender ring to raise the cooking grate up away from the heat a bit.

Pork Steak

With the lid open, sear the steaks for about 2 minutes on each side. Close the lid and cook for another 5 minutes per side. Start checking steaks for doneness. The USDA says to cook pork to between 145°F and 160°F internal temp. That’s fine for leaner cuts, but these are some fatty steaks and there is little danger of overcooking them. I like to cook pork steaks closer to 190°F – about another 5 to 10 minutes per side. By then a lot of the fat has rendered out and what’s left has become chicharones-like crispy.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Crispy, salty, tender, and tasty – everything a pork steak should be.

Scallops

Fire-Roasted Scallops Piccata

If you’ve already got the grill set up for something hot and fast like steak, then this is a quick and impressive appetizer to throw on first.

1 pound sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 slice bacon
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers, drained

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium high (400°F) heat.

Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put a large, heavy skillet on the grill and let it heat up for a minute. Add the bacon and fry until nice and crispy. Remove bacon and set aside to cool.

Remove the pan from the grate and drain off all but a teaspoon of the bacon grease, then and add olive oil. Turn pan to coat it evenly and then return it to the grill until the oil begins to ripple, but not smoke.

Arrange the scallops in a single layer and sear about 2 minutes on one side. Don’t overcook. The scallops should have a nice crust on one side while still being translucent on the other side.

Remove the pan from the grill and add the butter, wine, and lemon juice. Flip scallops over to the uncooked side. Crumble in the bacon, add the garlic and capers then return the pan to the grill.

Cook until the garlic and butter have browned and the scallops are medium-rare (130°F internal temp or when the sides have firmed up but the center is still is translucent), about 3 to 5 minutes depending on how much the lemon and wine cooled off the pan.

Scallops

Serve right off the grill with any sauce left in the pan spooned over them and some crusty (gluten-free) bread to soak up the rest.

The Verdict: ?????
Tangy and sweet meets rich and salty – it’s a match that works really well together in this dish.

The 4 stars are because I can’t seem to find decent dry sea scallops. These were wet scallops that had been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate to plump them up. They tasted fine, but are almost impossible to sear so that they had a good crust on them.

Sunny Bang Hot Sauce

Sunny Bang Hot Sauce Review

I have been trying my hand at lacto-fermentation – making kimchi, sauerkraut, hot sauce, and veggie pickles the old-fashioned way using little more than salt, time, and  gut-friendly lactobacillus. It’s a little putzy and time-consuming, but I’m enjoying the results and am glad to be adding more probiotics to our diet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find Sunny Bang Private Label commercially producing a lacto-fermented hot sauce that is still “alive” when you get it. Of course, I had to give it a try.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The bright, orangey-red sauce comes in a very cool swing-top bottle. It has a nice, thick texture and a bright, fresh veggie aroma. There’s not much heat to it, but what there is comes all up front and doesn’t build up over time or linger. It has a bit if zip from the lactic acid and vinegar, but nothing harsh. The finish is all fruity sweetness with a little effervescence.

In short – this ain’t no bubba-slurping, taste-hiding, vinegary hot sauce. It’s harmonious (not a word I would ever imagine using to describe a hot sauce) – all the flavors work together to give everything you put it on a bright and tangy bit of heat.

Spatchcocked Chicken

First Chicken of the Year

Let the grilling season (kind of) begin!!!

We finally cracked above freezing around here (isn’t it amazing how good 35°F and sunny can feel?) and had to celebrate with the first grilled chicken of the year.

1 roasting chicken
1 tablespoon of your favorite rub (Plowboys Yardbird, in this case) per pound of chicken
Sea or kosher salt

Clean and rinse the chicken and pat dry. To cut down the cooking time, butterfly (spatchcock) the bird by setting the bird in front of you, breast side down, and cutting up through the backbone with either a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife.

Now spread the bird open like a book and locate the keel bone that sits between the breasts. Nick it with a knife to get it to open up, but don’t cut all the way through. Flip the bird over and press down on the center of the bird until it lies pretty flat.

Rub both sides of the bird with the rub, working it under the skin a bit. Set the bird skin side up and give it a good dusting of salt. Arrange chicken skin side up on a pan (I use a large jelly roll pan) and stash in the fridge, uncovered, for at least an hour. This not only lets the rub and the salt do their thing, but also helps dry out the skin so it stays crispy.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat. I used the plate setter with its legs up and my new monster drip pan to diffuse the heat and create a more convective cooking set up. I filled the drip pan with a couple of cups of water to keep the drippings from burning.

Spatchcocked Chicken

When your grill is up to temp, arrange the chicken on the grate skin side up. Close the lid and walk away – no poking, no flipping, no peeking (ok, maybe just a little peek to make sure everything is cooking evenly) for 60 minutes, or until the chicken is done – 180°F internal in the thickest part of the thigh and/or the leg joint moves easily and the juices run clear.

Remove chicken from grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
This chicken was a tasty way to kick off the grilling season, but in a way, it’s also the start of my larger search for the perfect grilled chicken – smoky, crispy, moist, and tender.

I’d like to stick with doing a whole bird, not pieces, although I am good with spatchcocking or halving (halfcocking?) it. I’d rather not wet brine if I can avoid it, so I’m thinking some kind of slather or dry brine. It’ll be tough to get the dark meat just about falling apart without drying out the breast, so whatever I do will have to involve keeping the moisture and the fat content up. Maybe start with the Zuni chicken recipe? Hmmmm…

Anyway, more on my chicken odyssey as the year unfolds. Wish me luck!