Friday, February 16, 2007

Grilled Tuna with Golden Beet Salad

While the food itself wasn't super fancy, we grilled up some fine looking rare tuna with a pretty simple marinade as an excuse to use some grains of paradise. The specs on the tuna itself are grains of paradise, a West African spice that is sometimes used as a substitute for black pepper. I think we found the difference to be subtle - but an excellent combination with a very basic lemon and olive oil marinade.

According to Wikipedia -- "Grains of paradise are commonly employed in the cooking styles of West Africa and North Africa, where they have been traditionally imported via caravan routes through the Sahara desert. Grains of paradise became a very fashionable substitute for black pepper in the 14th and 15th century Europe, especially in northern France, one of the most populous regions in Europe at the time. In the early modern period, the craze for the spice waned and it became more common as a flavorer for sausages and beer. Today it is largely unknown outside of West and North Africa except fas flavorers in some beers and gins.

In West African folk medicine, Grains of Paradise are valued for their warming and digestive properties. Grains of Paradise have been introduced to the Caribbean Islands, where they are used as medicine and for religious (voodoo) rites."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Beer-can chicken

I have been intrigued by the concept of beer can chicken for some time. I made the plunge and was shocked at how easy and tasty this was. Besides just looking really cool - how many meals can you think of where a beer can is inserted into the orifice of the main course? I'll stop here and answer that question - hopefully not many, but in this case - the technique is more than just for show. There are a number of chicken grilling issues solved by this method --
  • The beer steams the chicken from the inside while the skin is crisped nicely by the dry heat of the grill
  • The fat just runs off the bird - you chicken isn't swimming in a pool of fat during the cooking process
  • The thighs and legs get the cooking time they need, while the breasts get nice and tender without being overcooked
There are a number of variations on how to cook and flavor the bird. For my first pass, I used the instructions and basic rub from Steven Raichlen who popularized the technique - but you're only limited by your imagination and the immediate availability of ingredients. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a recipe for an Asian styled version posted here sometime in the near future.

# 1 large whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
# 3 tablespoons Basic Rub for Barbecue or your favorite dry barbecue rub
# 1 can (12 ounces) beer - I used a beer from a local brewery - Top of the Hill "Trophy Lager" since it is one of the best tasting canned beers around in my opinion.

1. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body cavities of the chicken. Remove the package of giblets, and set aside for another use. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water. then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the rub inside the body and neck cavities, then rub another 1 tablespoon all over the skin of the bird. If you wish, rub another 1/2 tablespoon of the mixture between the flesh and skin. Cover and refrigerate the chicken while you preheat the grill.

2. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan in the center. If using a charcoal grill, preheat it to medium. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to high; then lower the heat to medium.

3. Pop the tab on the beer can. Using a "church key"-style can opener , make 6 or 7 holes in the top of the can. Drink a few slugs of beer, leaving about 2/3 of the can full - then spoon the remaining dry rub into the beer. Holding the chicken upright, with the opening of the body cavity down, insert the beer can into the cavity.

4. When ready to cook, if using charcoal, toss half the wood chips on the coals. Oil grill grate. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan. Spread out the legs to form a sort of tripod, to support the bird.

5. Cover the grill and cook the chicken, until fall-off-the-bone tender - a 3- 4lb bird takes about 1hr and 15 minutes.

6. Using tongs, lift the bird to a cutting board or platter, holding a large metal spatula underneath the beer can for support. (Have the board or platter right next to the bird to make the move shorter. Be careful not to spill hot beer on yourself.) Let stand for 5 minutes before carving the meat off the upright carcass. (Toss the beer can out along with the carcass).

This is the recipe for the basic rub -
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1. Combine ingredients in a bowl, and whisk them all together to mix.
    2. Store in an airtight jar.

    Yield: 2 cups.

    All in all - this was one of the tastiest chickens I've eaten - and we eat a bunch of chicken. This one gets 5 big stars and will definitely be rolled out on a regular basis.

    Friday, February 09, 2007

    Lentils with Fennel and Sausage

    The star here is the lentil-vegetable saute. We ate it with sausages for a hearty omnivorous dinner, but it would also be delicious over brown rice for a vegetarian meal. The fresh fennel adds a subtle sweetness -- add a 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds to the sauteing vegetables if you want to increase the anise flavor. The recipe is slightly adapted from

    1 c French green dried lentils*
    4 1/2 c water
    1 fennel bulb, diced, with the fronds chopped
    3 1/2 T olive oil
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
    1/2 c broth
    3 T chopped Italian parsley
    1/2 t black pepper
    1 T red-wine vinegar
    1 T dijon mustard

    1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage links (I used turkey)

    Bring lentils, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender (~20 minutes).

    Saute onion, carrot, and fennel bulb in about 3 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat until tender.

    Drain the cooked lentils and stir into the vegetables (see, I told you to use a large pan!). Add broth and cook until heated through. Stir in parsley, vinegar, mustard, and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Meanwhile, prick sausages in a couple of places and cook until done -- I cooked them in a pan with a little red wine, but grilling would be good too. I served the lentils topped with sausage and sprinkled with remaining fennel fronds and a little romano cheese. A wonderful cold-weather dish.

    *French green lentils are smaller than regular brown ones; they hold their shape much better when cooked and have a slightly different (I'd even say "better") flavor. They are wonderful to use in a salad or any dish where you want discernible lentils, not lentil-y mush.