Oysters!

Being about as far from either coast as you can get, fresh oysters are a real treat around here. This year we got some fresh-shucked, farm-raised MONSTERS, so I had to make our usual oyster stew and a new (for us) treat – fried oysters.

Fried Oysters

6 large fresh oysters, shucked
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used Ener-G Gluten Free crumbs)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup peanut oil
Hot sauce

Drain shucked oysters in a colander.

In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs and spices. Pour the beaten egg into another shallow dish. Dip oysters in the beaten egg, and then into the bread crumb mix, coating each oyster thoroughly.

Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat until it just starts to shimmer. Add oysters a couple at a time and fry until they are golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for another 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown and edges are curled. Remove from frying pan and serve immediately with some hot sauce on the side.

Oyster Stew

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 pint oysters and liquor
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 stalks celery,  finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and celery and sweat until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add celery salt, Bay seasoning, and hot pepper sauce.  Add the cream, milk and bring to a simmer. Do not let boil.  Add the oysters, lemon juice, and parsley and simmer until the oysters start to curl, about 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with crusty bread and more hot sauce.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
For as rich and elegant as these two dishes are, they took no time to make. I wanted to serve the fried oysters as an appetizer, so I got a little over a pound of oysters and separated out a few of the biggest ones for frying. I got the oyster stew done to the point of adding the oysters and just set the heat to low while I fried up the reserved ones. When we’d finished with the appetizer, I add the rest of the oysters to the pot, raised the heat, and the stew came together in minutes.

The fried oysters were briny and sweet, with a crunchy coating – wonderful. And the oyster stew was rich and savory. The oysters were so big this year that they really stood out in the dish. Of course, I used hunks of gluten-free baguettes to soak up all the broth.

2010 – The Year in Review

We’re coming up on the end of the year and, all in all, it’s been a good one here at Food & Fire. I thought I’d share some of our milestones:

I finally got around to naming my Big Green Egg – Bella, and got her a personalized handle.

With the help of my dear wife, we cooked pulled pork for a graduation party of 120 people.

I updated the site to include a rating section for each recipe. This has really helped me to evaluate the dishes and make notes on what worked and what didn’t.

We got a new deck that gives us a whole lot more eggin’ and entertaining space and hosted a deck warming party that featured the best prime rib I’ve made to date.

Food & Fire hit its 200th post.

We roasted hot dogs in the fireplace during our first ice storm and ensuing power outage.

We had family over for a nice Thanksgiving and I made the best grilled turkey. The nieces thought it was so juicy that they called it “steak turkey.”

We survived the “snowmygawd” blizzard that dropped 17+ inches and took down the Metrodome.

I bottled my first hot sauce.

Thanks for your readership, support, advice, and comments throughout the year. I hope 2010 has been just as good for all of you too! I’m looking forward to see what 2011 brings our way.

Sweet & Spicy Almonds

Just in time for the holidays, my dear wife has been whipping up batches of these nuts for gifts and parties. It’s impossible to eat just one or two. Most people take a couple to taste and then quickly come back for a handful. As much as I like to pick on Martha, this is based on one of her recipes.

1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2  1/2 cups whole, raw almonds
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Spread the almonds out onto a 12×18 jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet. Toast the nuts until they are fragrant and start to get golden-brown, about 10 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper.

In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the water, honey, and olive oil . Cook until the mixture starts to bubble, about 1 minute. Add in the toasted almonds and stir until they are evenly coated.  Cook for another minute.

Stir in the sugar mixture and continue to cook until the mixture has thickened and the sugar starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Spread nut mix onto a baking sheet in a single layer and let cool to room temperature.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Quick, easy, tasty – these have been a huge hit with everyone who has tasted them. There is a good bit of heat to them, and it hits you right up front, but then the sweetness catches up and you’re right back in the bowl for more.

Grill Fried Chicken

This recipe is another in my ongoing quest for fried chicken on the grill. By marinating, then breading the chicken, I’m hoping to get that spicy, crunchy, smoky, tender combination that I’ve been looking for.

Buttermilk Marinade
3 pounds fresh chicken wings
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons Ranch dressing mix (I used Penzeys)
1-2 tablespoons hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt (depending on how salty the dressing mix is)

Combine the buttermilk, dressing mix, and 1 tablespoon of the hot sauce. Add more hot and and/or salt to taste.

Put the wings and thighs in a zip-top bag and cover with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is better, but don’t go over 24 hours as the buttermilk can make the chicken mushy.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (350°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg I used  an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat.

Breading

While the grill is heating up, pour the chicken into a colander and let it drain throughly before breading.

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free rice flour)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Ranch dressing mix
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Combine the breading mix in a shallow pan (I like a pie tin). Dredge chicken pieces through the breading, making sure to coat all sides.

Arrange chicken on the grill. Cook for 45 minutes and flip. Cook for another 45 minutes, or until the chicken is brown and crispy and the thighs have hit at least 180°F internal.

I served the wings with a blue cheese dip and saved the thighs for lunches.

The Verdict: ★★★☆☆
The chicken was tasty and on the mark for being smoky and tender, but it was really lacking on the spicy and crunchy.

The overall flavor was good with a nice combination of the richness of the buttermilk and the blend of the herbs, but it didn’t have any kick – not enough salt, not enough heat, not enough tang. I’d double the amount of salt and cayenne/Tabasco in both the marinade and the breading and I’d add a healthy shot of vinegar to the marinade. The breading also fell short, ending up more gritty than crispy. I blame this on using just rice flour, rather than a gluten-free baking mix.

On the other hand – I got to lunch on fried chicken at work every day that week :).

Infamous Dave’s Habanero Hot Sauce

Remember that pint o’ napalm I brewed up a couple of months ago? Well, I decided to try bottling some of it up as “gifts” this Xmas.

I ordered a case of Woozy 5-ounce round glass bottles with caps and dripper inserts from Specialty Bottle and a pack of 2×4 Post It labels from 3M.

When I finally felt brave enough (after opening the kitchen window and turning on the exhaust fan), I took the original bottle out of the fridge, cracked open, and took a whiff – big mistake. This stuff hadn’t mellowed anymore than battery acid would have. I was surprised it hadn’t eaten clean through the bottle.

I tried to pour it into a sauce pan, but it wouldn’t budge out of the bottle. I added a little hot water and cautiously gave it a little shake to loosen it up. It grudgingly poured out like orange lava.

I rinsed out the bottle with a little more hot water and thinned the sauce with cider vinegar until it got to the consistency I wanted (about a quart of vinegar and a cup of hot water total).

Time to taste. I carefully stuck a toothpick in the sauce and was pleased when it didn’t ignite. I tasted the end of the toothpick – oh, it’s hot, but just hot with no other flavors really coming through at all.

All pain and no flavor makes for a dull hot sauce, so I decided to try boosting the taste. I added 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, a table spoon of brown sugar, and a few grinds of black pepper and gave it another taste – hot, but much better. I could just taste the onion and garlic. It was tangy, but still lacked the bite that the lime and orange juice were supposed to add.

I brought the mix to a simmer and added the juice of one lime and another tablespoon of salt – okay, still really hot, but there is enough other stuff going on taste-wise now to make the pain worth it.

It’s bottling time!

The Verdict: ★★★½☆
We ended up with 10 bottles – just enough to share for the holidays. It’s a fun little gift to give, and initial reviews have been favorable, but when I try it side by side with Marie Sharp’s there is just no comparison – my sauce has the heat, and some decent flavor, but not nearly as much as it should.

I almost think this is a case where I’d want to make the base (veggies, spices, vinegar) and get it tasting good before I add the chiles.  Certainly worth a try next time.

Another thing I noticed is that the sauce separates pretty quickly, with the clear vinegar moving to the top. This is probably why a lot of hot sauces add a little xanthan gum to the mix.

Shrimp Ceviche

My dear wife and I used to get this dish at a little palapa-covered restaurant that sat right on the Caribbean. We’d order the Ceviche de Camaron, a couple of margaritas, and just sit there staring at the incredibly blue water and sighing. Since we’re looking at up to a foot of snow and single-digit highs this coming weekend, it seemed like a fine time to make this dish.

This is an Acapulco-style version, so it has some Spanish and American influences. The shrimp is pre-cooked, not cured in lime juice, and there are some odd ingredients like ketchup, olives, and horseradish that aren’t found in traditional ceviche, but it has a great taste and is always a big hit as an appetizer.

1 pound cooked large (26-30) shrimp, shelled and deveined
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeños, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh horseradish
1 to 2 tablespoons Mexican hot sauce (Búfalo Clasica if you can find it))
16 – 24 pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For garnish:
Lime slices
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Chop shrimp into 1/2 inch chunks. In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine the shrimp, salt, and lime juice. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Add the onion, cilantro, ketchup, jalapeños, oil, Worcestershire, horseradish, hot sauce, and olives. Mix well and let sit in the fridge for about an hour so the flavors can develop.

Check seasoning and top with avocado cubes. Serve with lime wedges, tortilla chips or (strangely traditional) saltine crackers.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Spicy, tangy, and sweet with a good fresh shellfish flavor. This was so good I could almost feel the sand between my toes!

Steak Fajitas

As I write this it’s 4°F outside, so you know this is going to be a stove-top recipe.

I pretty much just plain stole this from Chris at Nibble Me This. It’s not an exact copy, but close enough. I really like how he uses the marinade as the base for a finishing sauce. It helps to bring all of the flavors together.

Steak Fajitas
1/4 cup oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup Mezcal (I keep a bottle of the cheap stuff with the worm in it right at the front of the liquor cabinet just to make our guests worry about my tastes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 1/2 pound sirloin steak

3 bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 yellow onion, sliced into rings

Put the salt and garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the oil, lime juice, Mezcal, soy sauce, and remaining spices and give them a whirl to combine. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the marinade for the finishing sauce. Put the steak in a large zip-top bag and cover with half of the marinade. Squeezed the air out of the bag, seal it, and toss it in the fridge to marinate.

Put the peppers and onion in another large zip-top bag and cover with the remaining marinade. Squeezed the air out of the bag, seal it, and toss it in the fridge next to the steak. Let everything marinate for about 2 hours.

Remove the steak from the marinade and pat dry. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add a couple swirls of oil oil and heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Put the steak in the pan and sear one side for 4 minutes. Flip and sear the other side for another 4 minutes. You want a nice char on the outside but the meat should still be pretty rare.

Remove the steak to a cutting board and let it rest while you cook the veggies.

Reduce the heat the medium and add the peppers, onion, and their remaining marinade to the pan. Cook until they start to soften (about 10 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat.

Slice the steak against the grain into thin strips.

Add the steak the the veggies and return to the stove. Cook until the meat done to your liking (I went another 5 minutes for medium rare).

Nibble Me This Fajita Finishing Sauce
2-3 Tbsp NMT Steak Fajita Marinade
1/2 cup sour cream

Mix the marinade into the sour cream. Serve fajitas on warm corn tortillas with a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of the finishing sauce.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
Excellent recipe! The marinade added some great spice to the dish and the finishing sauce did a nice job pulling everything together. My only issue is that I didn’t get the pan quite hot enough and didn’t get as nice of a sear on the meat and veggies. This is a dish that’s decidedly better on the grill.

Maybe if I won that Craycort Cast Iron Grate that Chris is giving away, or got one from Santa (hint, hint), I’d be willing to risk freezing my tukus off to make these on the Big Green Egg ;).

Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again. If you are looking for some gifts for your favorite grillmeister, here are some tools, sauces, and books that I “discovered” this past year that have really helped me out in both the kitchen and on the grill:

Silicone Prep Bowls – very useful when it comes to measuring and having all of your ingredients ready. They’re flexible, so you can just squeeze them to get sticky ingredients like honey out neatly and they easily clean up in the dishwasher.

Insulated Food Gloves – these are great for handling hot food without getting burned. I use them when pulling pork or carving up a turkey.

Flat Bamboo Skewers – I discovered these this year. They work so much better than round skewers. Threading food into them is a breeze and and they flip a lot easier without the food rolling.

Lightning Nuggets Firestarters – since we got our new deck I’m leery of flying sparks. I just have to touch one of these with the MAPP torch and in 20 minutes the Big Green Egg is roaring.

Egg Rite Egg Timer – no guesswork, just boiled eggs exactly like you like them no matter now hot the burner, what size the pan, or how many eggs are in it.

Pickapeppa Sauce – Jamaican ketchup, a spicy/sweet/savory blend that’s somewhere between jerk seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Wonderful on chicken wings or thighs.

Pasta de Aji Amarillo/Hot Yellow Pepper Paste – this South American pepper brings a mild, fruity flavor to the table. It’s essential for the highly addictive Crema de Ají.

Tiger Sauce – a wonderful sweet and spicy hot sauce that I love on shrimp and salmon.

BBQ 25 – Adam Perry Lang’s simple and straight forward guide to putting more flavor into your grilling. This book has dramatically changed my cooking style.

Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste, and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking – I’m hoping Santa is listening and I find this other Lang book in my stocking this year.

Happy Holidays and Happy Grilling to all!

Turkey Pozole

I think this hearty Mexican stew is one of the best ways to use up leftover turkey. We’ve had a nasty cold streak here, and this dish packs enough heat and spice to warm you right up.

8 quarts cold water
1 turkey carcass
1 (20-ounce) can hominy (Juanita’s if you can get it)
1 (4-ounce) can green chilies
1-2  jalapenos, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon medium chili powder
1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried cilantro

Put the carcass in a large stock pot and cover with water. I use a pasta strainer insert to make removing the meat easier. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 2 to 4 hours.

Remove the insert and set the the meat aside to cool. Bring the stock up to a low boil and add the hominy, onions, garlic, chilies, and spices. Reduce heat and let simmer to reduce a bit while you take the turkey carcass apart. Roughly chop the meat and add to the stew. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour to blend the flavors.

Serve with corn chips, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkling of cojita cheese.

Zac Brown Chili

My name is Dave, and I’m a Parrothead. Whew, glad I got that off my chest.

I am a huge fan of Jimmy Buffet and often wish for little more than to be able to sail off to some salty piece of land. Sigh…

I have damn near every song Jimmy has ever recorded, so I was intrigued when Jimmy performed with the Zac Brown Band and said that when it came time to “pass the Tiki torch” he was going to pass it off to Zac.

That’s one hell of a recommendation, but I took one listen to Zac’s The Foundation and it was all over. I now have both it and You Get What You Give in permanent rotation on my CD player. He’s not Jimmy, and that’s a good thing, but they both share a love for great lyrics, general irreverence, and that wonderful country/reggae/Caribbean sound.

Now I hear that Zac has a cookbook called Southern Ground coming out and I just had to give his chili recipe a try. This is my version:

1 lb. beef-tenderloin tips, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork or chorizo
1 medium white onion, diced
1 tablespoon masa flour or cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 (14.5-ounce) can beef stock
2 (14.5-ounce) cans chicken stock
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (4-ounce) can mild diced green chilies
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, chopped fine
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons medium chili powder

Brown all the meat and the onion in a large dutch oven or other grill-safe pan. Drain if needed. Add the masa, garlic, stock, sauce, chilies, cumin,  jalapeño, pepper, and chili powder.

Simmer for an hour, then add:

1 (10-ounce) can Rotel Tomato & Green Chilies
4 tablespoons medium chili powder
2 tablespoons Ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, drained

Simmer for 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings, and serve with a sharp grated cheddar cheese and a dollop of crema.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Excellent chili! Much beefier and less tomato-based than my usual recipes. The deep, rich, and well-rounded heat didn’t overtake the dish. I’m not sure what adding the seasoning in 2 waves buys this recipe, but I’m not one to argue chili with a southerner.

“But you only get once chance at life to leave your mark upon it
And when a pony he comes riding by you better set your sweet ass on it”

Let it Go, Zac Brown Band