Hot Sauce

There are thousands hot sauces out there designed to boost the flavors of food and give them a fiery kick. My dear wife has noted that we sometimes have more condiments than actual food in our pantry, so I’ve tried to limit my collection of hot stuff.  I’m not big into adding a lot of heat for heat’s sake, so all of these sauces have been selected for the other qualities that they bring to the party and the way they compliment the way I like to cook.

Búfalo Picante Clasica – We fell in love with this thick, mild sauce while eating gambas (breaded shrimp) at a little seaside restaurant in Mexico. I particularly like it as a shrimp cocktail sauce  mixed with ketchup, ground horseradish, and little lime juice.

Cholula – It’s all about the pepper – not much heat, very little vinegar, but a solid chili taste that works great on almost any Mexican dish. Very tasty in tacos, nachos, and chili.

Crystal Hot Sauce – Cheap and tasty sauce with good cayenne heat.  If I were to have one Louisiana-style sauce, this would be it as it tends to go well with just about everything. Great in gumbo or jambalaya.

Frank’s RedHotThe hot sauce for making Buffalo wings. Rounder heat and less vinegar than most Louisiana-style sauces. Also great in sausage gravy.

Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce Hot– Brings back fond memories of meals in Belize, where an old Crystal water bottled filled with the homemade version of this hot pepper, carrot, garlic and lime blend is found on every table. Plenty of heat, but good on almost everything. Excellent on selfish and in jerk recipes.

Mae Ploy Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce – Hot and sweet. It’s good as a dipping sauce for egg rolls. I use it a lot as part of a marinade for scallops.

Sriracha – a.k.a. Rooster sauce, this Thai sauce is a sweet and spicy blend of hot peppers and garlic. Very nice mixed with some mayo as a remoulade. Some folks use it as a spicy replacement for ketchup, but I’m not quite there yet.

Tabasco – Ubiquitous and tasty. Another Louisiana-style sauce, but hotter than Crystal or Frank’s and has a fuller flavor. Very good in anything Cajun. Love it on eggs and it’s truly excellent in Bloody Marys.

Planked Steak and Scallops

This dish makes good use of plank cooking to not only flavor the food, but to create a simple yet mildly-dramatic “one pot” meal on the grill. Don’t skimp on the chipotle or cayenne. The chilies help to balance the robust woodsiness of the cedar, and provide an unexpected kick without overwhelming the meat.

Bacon-wrapped Tenderloins with Smokey Compound Butter (stolen largely from Pinch My Salt)

For the Steaks:

2 beef tenderloin steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick or better
2 slices bacon
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Tightly wrap one slice of bacon around each steak, securing with with a toothpick. Season both sides with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

For the Compound Butter:

1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature, divided in half
1 tablespoon Smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Melt half of the butter and pour into a mixing bowl. Add the spices and mix until until well-combined. Let cool until mostly solid. Add the remaining butter and whisk to combine. Spoon mixture onto a large ramekin, cover with a sheet of waxed paper, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Chili Lime Scallops

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder or cayenne pepper
1 lb sea scallops

Whisk lime juice, oil, garlic, chili powder, salt, and cayenne together in small bowl. Add scallops and toss to cover with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate, basting once with marinade, for about 30 minutes.

Asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Please the spears on a plate and drizzle with a little oil and vinegar. Turn to coat then sprinkle with salt.

The Cook


The goal is to put everything on the grill at the right time so that it’s all done at once. It’s important to work quickly, so have your mis en place, some warmed plates stacked nearby, and an oven set on low as a backup in case you need to stash a dish that finishes early.

Use a food-grade plank that’s been soaked in water for at least an hour. Set your grill up for direct cooking at high heat (about 500°F).

When the grill is up to temperature, put the plank on by itself for about 5 minutes, or until you see the first wisps of smoke coming from the board. Flip the plank over and set it beside the grill with the warm side up.

Sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side. Put the plank back on the grill with the warm side up and move the steaks and the scallops to the plank. Close the lid and cook until the steaks and scallops are right around 120°F internal, about 10-15 minutes.

Add the asparagus to the grill. Leave the lid open and grill for about 5 minutes, turning frequently, until the spears begin to brown and caramelize.

Ideally, the asparagus should be done at the same time the steaks have reached 135°F internal (medium-rare) and the scallops are opaque and have just started to flake a bit. Remove everything to warm plates, top the steaks with a pat of the compound butter, and serve.

Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Meaty portobellos stuffed with a spicy crab and cheese filling. This was a big hit as an appetizer on Valentine’s Day. You could do them in an oven, but since the rest of the meal was grilled (of course), it was just as easy to throw these on beforehand. Many thanks to my very tolerant and understanding wife for waiting for me snap this photo before we dug in.

Ingredients

1 can (6 ounces) crab meat, drained
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2-3 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Olive oil

Directions

Set the grill up for an direct cook over medium-high heat (400°F). Grease the bottom of a small, smoke-proof baking dish (a disposable, 9-inch pie pan works fine) with a little olive oil.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine crab meat, cream cheese, parsley, onion, Parmesan, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, garlic powder, black pepper, red pepper, and the diced stems. Mix well to combine.

Stuff the mushroom caps with the crab mixture, top with bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

Arrange the stuffed mushroom on the baking dish and grill for about 20 minutes, or until the caps are tender and the tops are brown and bubbly.

Grilled Buffalo Wings

I doubt that Teressa Bellissimo knew what kind of sensation she was creating when she served up the first buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York,  in 1964. The crispy spiciness of the wings and the cool, creamy tang of the blue cheese sauce are a terrific flavor combination

This recipe gives a nod to tradition by using the same Frank’s RedHot sauce that Teressa tossed her wings in. It’s got a little heat, excellent depth, and vinegary tang. While frying is the standard way to prepare buffalo wings, I really think that grilling them is the best way to go. Grilling lets some of the fat render out, but you still get nice, crispy wing plus all that extra flavor that the smoke brings to the party.

Ingredients

3-4 pounds fresh chicken wings (about 16-24 wings), whole
1 1/2 cups  Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preparation

Combine hot sauce with melted butter in a large container with a lid. Mix well. Place the wings in the container, seal, and shake to make sure that they are covered with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight, turning the pieces occasionally.

Set up your grill for an indirect cook at 350°F. Use a pan under the grate to catch any drippings and further diffuse the heat.

Remove the wings to a plate, reserving the marinade. Put the reserved marinade in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Put the wings on the grill and cook about 15 minutes, flip the wings, and baste them with the reserved marinade. Repeat every 15 minutes until the wings are done (about 45-60 minutes).  Serve hot from the grill with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.

Baby Back Ribs

If I had to pick a cut of meat that benefits the most from the art of barbecue, it would be the lowly rib. It’s amazing what the proper application of smoke, spice, and a low flame does to this otherwise tough and fatty piece of pig.

I’m partial to baby backs, the ribs that come from closest to the backbone, underneath the loin muscle. They are generally leaner, more tender, very tasty, and a quicker cook than their spare rib cousins. While there are a lot of good rib recipes out there,  this is my sure-fire, simple, no-frills recipe that consistently produces good results with a minimum of fuss.

Preparation

The night before the cook, prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back side of the ribs and trimming any large amounts of fat or stray flaps of meat. Slather both sides of the ribs with a thin coating of yellow ballpark-style mustard. This acts as a marinade. The vinegar in the mustard helps make the ribs moist and tender, and it gives the rub something to hold on to.

Apply a generous coating of your favorite rib rub. This basic rub works great. The rub adds not only a whole medley of flavors, but helps to form a nice bark – a dark brown crust on the meat.  Start on the back side and apply a medium-heavy coating, actually working it into the ribs with your fingers. Turn the ribs over and put a heavier coating on the top side, also working it in.

Wrap the slabs in plastic wrap and store them overnight in the fridge. By morning the mustard will have almost disappeared, melting into the rub and forming a glaze on the ribs.

The Cook

Set up your grill for an indirect cook that will burn for at least 6 hours at between 225 to 250°F. Use a drip pan under the ribs to catch the fat.

Once the grill is up to temperature, add your smoking wood. If using a gas grill, place 2-4 cups of soaked wood chunks in the smoker box. If using a charcoal grill, toss a fist-sized lump right into the coals.

Take the ribs straight from the fridge, unwrap, and arrange bone side down on the grate. Use a rib rack if you need more room. Close the lid and for the first 2 hour of the cook, do nothing – no peaking, no looking, no touching, no nothing. The more often the lid gets opened the less actual cooking is going on and the greater the chance that they’ll dry out.

After the ribs have been on for 2 hours, flip the slabs. Cook for another hour and flip one more time.  Again, no peeking. Continue cooking bone side down until the ribs have been on about 4 hours total, then start checking for doneness.

When they are done, a full slab will “break” or almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. At this point the meat should also have pulled back from the bone at least half and inch from the end of the bones and a gentle tug on a couple of adjacent bones shows that they will come apart easily.  Expect around 5 to 6 hours of total cooking time to get to this point.

Once the ribs are done it’s time to sauce. Purists will skip this step, but I like a little sweetness added at to the ribs at the end of the cook. I think it helps to balance the flavors and keeps the bark a little chewy. For a commercial sauce, I like Bone Suckin’ BBQ sauce. If you want to make your own, my Thick & Tangy BBQ Sauce – v2.0 is particularly good on ribs. Sauce both sides with a light coating, put the ribs back on for 15 minutes, then sauce them again just on top.

Remove the ribs from the grill and let them stand for 10 minutes before serving.

More Canadian-Style Bacon

I’ve been making my own Canadian-style bacon for the past couple of
years. I started out doing it because it was kind of fun and unique (in an old-timey-frontier-kind-of-way) to preserve my own food. But once I
got the hang of it, I realized that it really wasn’t that hard to make
Canadian-style bacon that tasted a lot better than the grocery store
brands at a fraction of the price.

Ingredients

1 boneless pork loin (8 to 10 pounds)
1 tablespoon Morton Sugar Cure (Plain) per pound of loin
1 teaspoon white sugar per pound of loin
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper, ground
4 tablespoons maple syrup (for glazing)

Instructions

Trim excess fat and remove the silver skin from pork loin. Cut the
loin into two equal pieces.

Combine the Morton Sugar Cure, white sugar, brown sugar, and pepper.
Mix well. This is your dry cure. Place the loin pieces in a large
freezer bag and coat with the cure. Rub the cure into the meat,
covering all sides. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Store in
the refrigerator for 5 days, flipping the meat over once a day. Liquid
will begin to collect in the bag – this indicates that the cure is
working. Do not drain it off.

On the 6th day, remove the meat from the cure and soak in cold water
for 1-2 hours to remove some of the salt. Dry off the meat and
refrigerate uncovered for an hour.

Set up your grill or smoker up for an indirect cook at 225°F for at
least 4 hours. Once the cooker is up to temperature, add your smoking
wood (I like hickory for this recipe). If using a gas grill, place 2-4 cups of soaked wood chunks in
the smoker box. If using a charcoal grill, toss a couple of fist-sized lumps
right into the coals.

Cook at 225°F until the internal temperature of the loin hits 150°F,
about 3 hours. Baste the top side with half the maple syrup. Cook
another 20 minutes, flip and baste the other side with the remaining
syrup. Cook another 20 minutes or until the internal temperature
reaches 160°F

Remove from the smoker and let cool before cutting into 1/8 inch thick
slices.

Basic Pig Rub

Fine for almost any swine – rub this into the meat generously the day before you cook it.

Ingredients

4 tablespoon brown or turbinado sugar
4 tablespoon Smoked Spanish paprika
2 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoon cumin seed, ground
2 tablespoon chile powder
2 tablespoon black pepper, fresh cracked
1 tablespoon sage, ground
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme

Preparation

Combine all ingredients together and transfer to an air tight container. Makes about 1 cup.

Swiss Steak

No, I did not grill Swiss steak. It was a cold and dark Sunday afternoon,  -19°F outside with an ugly North wind, and I was craving some meaty comfort food. This oven-braised dish fit the bill perfectly.

This is mostly just an update to my Grandmother’s recipe. While she would have never used wine, fresh garlic, or Spanish paprika, her Swiss steak was always heavy with onions and tomatoes.

Ingredients

3 pounds minute steak (about 6 steaks)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Trim the steaks of any excess fat and cut into into individual serving sizes. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Place the flour mixture into a large plate.  Dredge  both sides of the steaks in the flour and set aside.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or a large, lidded skillet, add enough of the oil to cover the bottom and set it  over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the steaks to the pan two or three at a time, being careful not to overcrowd. Cook about 2 minutes per side until golden brown on both sides. Remove the steaks to a plate, add more oil to the pan,  and repeat until all of the steaks have been browned.

Remove the last steaks from the pan and add the onions and garlic. Saute until soft, but not browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, and wine.  Stir to combine and cook for a minute or so, scraping the bottom to loosen all of the brown bits. These will help flavor and thicken the sauce.

Lay the steaks across the top of the sauce. Try for a single layer, but stacking or overlapping is fine if you have to. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the sauce is brown and bubbly and the meat is falling apart tender.

I love to dish up the steaks on a plate with whipped potatoes and sweet corn and then smother everything with the remaining sauce.