Tue, 30 September 2008
As long as I can remember, I have always loved animal fat. Whether it's the perfect, silken round of beef fat in a rib eye steak, the crunchy, greasy cracklings on the back of a pork shoulder roast or the glistening molten fat coating a whole lamb on a spit, I can't get enough of it.
Every morning these days I make two pieces of toast and smear each of them with a big dollop of Oyama pork and duck rillettes, which must be about 60 percent fat. I never skim the fat from a roasting pan before I make gravy (What's the point of that?). I always cook and eat chicken with the skin on. And I must be the only guy on the planet that likes to make burgers from regular ground beef mixed with ground pork.
So imagine my surprise and delight last week when I met with my doctor to discuss the results of my latest physical. All indicators from the blood work were positive, including an extremely low bad cholesterol level and a high good cholesterol count.
I am a perfectly healthy 50 year old whose diet consists mainly of fatty meat. Woo hoo!
With this in mind, I was further delighted to see an interview on salon.com with Jennifer Mclagan, author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. Animal fat, it turns out, is good for us and has nothing to do with the health crisis facing North America these days. Thank you, Jennifer, for lifting the guilt that's been eating me for quite a few years. I can now tuck into that rib eye with impunity, and continue to ask my favorite question at the family dinner table whenever I see some fat that's been trimmed off a steak: "Are you going to finish that?"
Category:general -- posted at: 1:58pm PST
Wed, 17 September 2008
Saints be praised! The folks at Weber have finally decided to do a major overhaul of their Weber Bullet, which hasn't had a design change in many years. A comprehensive review on The Virtual Weber Bullet website reports that the new models are a backyard barbecuer's dream come true.
I'm particularly excited about the new, bigger 22-inch model, which features
• a built-in-thermometer (finally!)
• a two gallon water pan (it's about time!)
• a side door with an innovative bottom hinge that allows it to flip open (long overdue!)
• sturdier legs (right on!)
• a nifty extra handle on the lid (cool!)
• a heat shield at the bottom to protect your deck or lawn (great news!).
All that, and the sucker will fit three or even four pork butts or three full racks of pork ribs (lying down) on a single cooking grate.
Apparently they're coming out next month at selected dealers, with a full rollout expected before Christmas.
Don't tell my wife, but I gotta get me one!
Category:barbecue -- posted at: 3:13pm PST
Thu, 11 September 2008
A few years ago I launched Barbecue Academy. It's a day-long corporate teambuilding workshop that teaches participants about championship barbecue in a fun, relaxing atmosphere with plenty of room for socializing.
I think it's the only event of its kind in the world. There are lots of hands-on barbecue workshops for the public, and some of the big barbecue celebrities in the U.S. do corporate cooking demos and catered events. And there are even some corporate teambuilding workshops based on cooking contests. But, as far as I know, this is the only corporate workshop that creates a competitive environment for participants, who divide into teams, prep and cook real barbecued chicken and ribs, and vie for cheap plastic trophies just like the big boys.
I've done three of them so far, for energy companies in Calgary, with positive feedback.
Here's what some of the participants have said:
“You learn a little about smoking and barbecue, and a whole bunch about some folks that I don’t normally work with. We all had fun!”
“A great teambuilding event. The service was outstanding.”
“Lots of laughter, lots of concentration, great tastes, lots of enthusiasm from everyone.”
“An opportunity to mix in a creative environment.”
“It was a great day and I am full!”
“This was an exceptional workshop. It is filled with the science, the art and the lifestyle of barbecue. Ron is very knowledgeable and entertaining.”
“Ron’s team is terrific! Everyone is friendly, fun and extremely knowledgeable. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!”
“Fostered good camaraderie while incorporating some healthy competition. Highly recommended!”
Please forgive the promotional tone of this post. I'm doing this because I love putting on these workshops, and I want to do more. So far, I've done them only in Calgary, where I've found a great facility, but the concept is portable.
Here's a promo sheet: Download bbq_academy_promo.pdf
Pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested.
Category:barbecue -- posted at: 11:15am PST
Sun, 31 August 2008
Minty Potato Hobo Pack
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Why, oh why, do we ignore the glories of fresh mint in North American home cooking? It’s delicious, refreshing and its aroma is like nothing else. This dish is insanely simple to make, and the combination of mint and potatoes will wow your guests. Because this recipe calls for indirect heat, you can use the hot side of the grill to cook your steaks and grill your veggies.
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tsp | 10 mL dried mint leaves
1 large yellow onion
¼ lb | 125 g butter
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
1/2 cup | 120 mL tightly packed fresh mint leaves
½ a fresh lemon, the other half cut into wedges for garnish
Bring the butter to room temperature.
Take 6 feet | 2 M of wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold it in half. Place the foil on a counter and coat it with about ¼ of the butter, leaving about a 4 inch | 10 cm margin all the way around the rectangle.
Peel the onion and slice it into 1/4-inch rounds, split the rounds into rings and spread the rings to cover the buttered area of the foil. Cut the potatoes into ½ inch slices, leaving the skins on, and layer them on top of the onions, sprinkling a little dried mint and salt on each layer. Top the potatoes with a few dabs of the butter, reserving half of it for finishing the dish.
Gather up the foil around the edges and close up the hobo pack, making it into a loaf-like cylinder. Make sure you have a tight seal all the way around.
Prepare your grill for medium-high indirect heat. Place the hobo pack on the grill (away from direct heat), and cook for 15 – 20 minutes. At this point you can take the hobo pack off the grill and it will retain its heat for at least half an hour if you have other things to prepare.
When you’re ready to serve, finely chop the mint leaves and set them aside. Put the hobo pack on a serving platter and carefully open it, taking care not to burn yourself from the escaping steam. Sprinkle half of the chopped mint leaves over the potatoes, add the rest of the butter in daubs and gently toss the mint, onions and potatoes together. Sprinkle some salt and the rest of the mint leaves over the potatoes, drizzle with a little olive oil and squeeze the lemon over everything. Serve immediately garnished with lemon wedges.
Category:grilling -- posted at: 2:57pm PST
Wed, 27 August 2008
Tomorrow I'm on Vancouver's Bill Good Show talking about burgers and taking listener calls. Here's one of my favorite burger recipes from Barbecue Secrets, along with a few suggestions for unusual burger toppings.
Classic Dadburger Deluxe
Makes 12 to 16 patties, depending on how big you like them
This recipe will feed a crowd, or four teenagers. You can easily halve this recipe. If your kids are like mine and don’t like bits of onion and garlic in their burgers, substitute 1 tsp/5 mL each of granulated onion and granulated garlic for the fresh variety.
For the burger mix:
6 lb | 2.7 kg medium ground beef
(or half-and-half ground beef and ground pork)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 head roasted garlic, cloves squeezed out and mashed with a fork
1 Tbsp | 15 mL toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp | 25 mL dark soy sauce or
Worcestershire sauce or a combination
1/2 tsp | 2 mL freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp | 1 mL cayenne
(or more, if you like more heat)
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup | 125 mL cold water
To finish the burgers:
12 to 16 cheese slices (optional)
12 to 16 hamburger buns
Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Mix the burger ingredients together with your hands in a large nonreactive bowl. Wet your hands in cold water before you form the mixture into chunks the size of tennis balls. Flatten them into patties, placing them on the cookie sheet. Each patty will be about 1/2 lb. | 250 g before cooking. Place them in the freezer for an hour to firm them up.
Preheat your grill for medium direct heat. Grill the burgers for 6 minutes per side, or until they are springy to the touch, glazing them on both sides with barbecue sauce. Top each patty with a slice of cheese for the last couple of minutes of cooking. Serve the burgers on buns with your favorite condiments.
A Library of Burger Toppings
We’re all so used to iceberg lettuce, ketchup, mayo, ballpark mustard, green relish, and sliced onion and tomato on our burgers that we hardly notice them any more. Try these unusual burger toppings for a change and experiment with your own combinations.
thinly sliced button mushrooms sautéed with a smashed garlic clove in butter and olive oil
crunchy–style peanut butter, bacon, raw onion, and lettuce
an egg fried in butter, over easy, with a leaf of lettuce and a slather of mayo
avocado slices, bacon, and salsa
caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, and goat cheese
tomato slices, thinly sliced red onion, and fresh arugula
black olive paste and slices of hard-boiled egg
brie or Gorgonzola cheese
Category:grilling -- posted at: 2:10pm PST
Tue, 19 August 2008
Grilled Stuffed Pork Loin Chops
I always say I like to keep it simple but sometimes a little fussing goes a long way in making a grilled meal special. I created this recipe using pork chops, but you could easily substitute a bone-in rib steak or veal chop. I love the strong Italian flavours of this dish. Serve it as a secondo after a little bowl of Fettuccini Alfredo or Linguine with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce and finish the meal with a tossed green salad.
4 pork loin centre cut chops, bone in, at least 1 ½ inches|4 cm thick
For the stuffing:
4 large artichoke hearts in olive oil, coarsely chopped (the roasted kind are best if you can get them)
½ lb|250 g full-fat mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch|1 cm cubes
3 Tbsp|45 mL grated Parmesan cheese
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp|30 mL chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
½ cup|250 g black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 tsp|5 mL finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp|15 mL extra virgin olive oil
splash of balsamic reduction or regular balsamic vinegar
1 head roasted garlic
For the rub:
1 Tbsp|15 mL dried basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic reduction or balsamic vinegar
1 small bunch fresh basil, stems removed
Combine the artichokes, cheeses, bell pepper, parsley, olives, lemon zest, olive oil and balsamic in a mixing bowl. Squeeze out the roasted garlic into the mixture and stir it in.
Cut pockets in the pork chops with a sharp paring knife by making a thumb-sized cut in the side of the chops opposite the bone. With the knife touching the bone, expand the size of the pocket without increasing the size of the entry hole, making sure not to cut through to the outside of the chop. Divide the stuffing mixture into four equal portions and stuff it into the chops. If you’re worried the stuffing is going to come out, you can use a sharp toothpick to sort of sew the opening up.
Season the chops with sprinklings of salt, pepper, dried basil and a light dusting of cayenne. Drizzle a little olive oil just to make the chops shiny and set aside.
Prepare your grill for direct medium heat. Grill the chops for 6 to 8 minutes per side or until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the chop reaches 140˚F/60˚C. Remove from the grill and let rest, tented in foil, for five minutes.
While the chops are resting, gather the basil leaves into a tight ball and finely chop them into thin strips with a sharp knife. To serve, place the chops on plates, drizzle with a little oil and balsamic and garnish with a sprinkling of the shredded basil.
Category:grilling -- posted at: 9:00pm PST
Mon, 11 August 2008
I got a nice note today from Jürgen Keil, Planking Secrets fan from Germany. As you can see in the photos above, Jürgen has been planking up a storm.
His recent planking projects include one of my more challenging recipes, Real Barbecued Pork on a Plank, which turns pork hocks into Southern-style barbecue. He used a beechwood plank and it looks like it turned out pretty darned good -- good enough for a barbecue sandwich, German-style!
Below the pork hock shots he's got cedar-planked pork tenderloin, scallops and lamb. Yum!
You'll also notice a shot of Jürgen visiting an eel-smoking hut in Northern Germany called Aalkate. Man, them eels look like mighty good eatin'!
Thanks for sharing the photos, Jürgen, and happy cooking!
Category:Plank Cooking -- posted at: 4:03pm PST
Sat, 9 August 2008
Here's a series of recipes that consitute a superb Jamaican-style summer meal.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs
I had the pleasure of visiting the north coast of Jamaica in 2007 and got to taste some fantastic cooking in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, including the spicy, smoky jerk chicken that’s as close to the taste of the original barbacoa as you can get. Jerk Centres are everywhere, and each one has its own distinctive style. The common flavours are extreme chili heat and intense smoke – the heat derived from the infamously fiery habanero or scotch bonnet chili and the smoke coming from pimento wood, which has a sharp, mesquite-like aroma. The pimento tree berry is known outside of Jamaica as allspice, which is another of the key flavours of any jerk seasoning.
I’m using skinless chicken thighs here because the slow cooking technique tends to make chicken skin rubbery. If you leave the skin on, finish the dish by crisping the skin side of the chicken pieces over medium direct heat.
Note: The habaneros make this quite hot. If you want a milder jerk, substitute jalapenos or serranos. In any case, wear vinyl gloves when you’re handling them and watch not to get any in your eyes!
For the marinade:
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups green onion, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp|22.5 mL fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
1 or 2 habanero chilis, chopped
2 tsp|10 mL whole Jamaican allspice, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan and then finely ground (or pre-ground allspice if you don’t want to fuss)
1/2 tsp|2 mL ground cinnamon
1 tsp|5 mL freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp|5 mL freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp|10 mL sugar
1 tsp|5 mL kosher salt
3 Tbsp|45 mL neutral flavored cooking oil like canola or corn oil
2 Tbsp|30 mL cider vinegar
1 tsp|5 mL of browning (liquid caramel – if you don’t have any, use 1 Tbsp|15 mL dark soy sauce or liquid gravy seasoning like Kitchen Bouquet or Bovril
a splash of Appleton Estate dark rum
4 lb|1.8 kg skinless chicken thighs (or one chicken cut into parts)
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend thoroughly. Reserve about 1/3 of the mixture and set aside.
Put the chicken in a lasagna pan or large baking dish and pour one cup|250 mL of the marinade over the chicken. Move the chicken pieces around so they are covered completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 or 4 hours or overnight, turning once or twice to make sure the pieces stay coated evenly.
Prepare your smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 200–220˚F/95–100˚C. Just before you’re ready to put the chicken on, toss one chunk of mesquite (or pimento wood if you can get it) on the coals. Place the chicken pieces on the cooking grate and smoke for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, basting regularly with the remaining marinade, until the temperature at the thickest part of the biggest piece reads 160˚F|71˚C. (At this point, if you’re using chicken with skin on, you can crisp it up on a medium grill.) Remove from the cooker and let rest, lightly tented in foil, for five minutes. Serve with Coconut Beans and Rice and Jamaican Cole Slaw (see recipes below).
Alternative grilling method: If you want to cook the chicken on a gas or charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect low-medium heat (about 250˚F|120˚C) and cook as above, using mesquite as a flavoring agent if you like. At the end of the cooking time, raise the temperature of the grill to medium and crisp up the chicken pieces for a few minutes over direct heat.
Jamaican-style Dry Jerk Seasoning
Classic jerk is made with a wet marinade and takes time to prep and more time to marinate your meat. This rub gives chicken, pork or snapper – or whatever else you’re grilling – a classic Jamaican flavor without any fuss.
2 Tbsp|30 mL granulated onion
2 Tbsp|30 mL dried onion flakes (get flakes that aren’t too big)
1 Tbsp|15 mL ground dried thyme
1 Tbsp|15 mL kosher salt
2 tsp|10 mL ground allspice
1/2 tsp|5 mL freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp|5 mL ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp|15 mL sugar
2 tsp|10 mL freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp|10 mL cayenne or chipotle powder
1 1/2 Tbsp|22.5 mL dried chives
Note: Double or quadruple this recipe so you have some on hand. It’s super easy to make a great jerk marinade simply by whizzing 1/2 cup|125 mL of this rub in a food processor with a splash of cooking oil, a chopped habanero, a chopped onion and some chopped scallions.
Jamaican Cole Slaw
This recipe, adapted slightly from the excellent Jerk From Jamaica cookbook by Helen Willinsky (I’ve added raisins), is a superb side. If you want to serve it with something other than jerk, substitute your favorite rub for the Dry Jerk Seasoning.
4 cups|1 L shredded purple cabbage
3/4 cup|185 mL grated carrots
1/4 lb|125 g golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachios almonds or anything else you like)
1/2 cup|125 mL mayonnaise
1 Tbsp|15 mL cider vinegar
1 Tbsp|15 mL Jamaican-Style Dry Jerk Seasoning
Combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss. Cover and chill for at least an hour and toss again just before serving.
Jamaican Rice and Beans
In Jamaica this dish is a staple. Jamaicans call it rice and peas, but it often features red kidney beans so I’ve renamed it to avoid confusion. The creamy, sweet richness of the coconut milk helps make this dish a perfect complement to jerk chicken or any spicy grilled meat.
2 14-oz/398-mL cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz/398-mL can coconut milk
2 thick slices double-smoked bacon, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 habanero chile (whole – do not chop)
2 cups|500 mL long grain white rice
2 cups boiling water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a frying pan, sauté the chopped bacon until it’s starting to brown but is not yet crispy. Drain off the excess fat and set the bacon aside.
In a large saucepan combine the beans, coconut milk, bacon, green onion, thyme and the habanero. Cook over medium-high heat just until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the hot water and stir in the rice. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to low and cook without disturbing for about 25 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff before serving and don’t forget to remove the habanero so it doesn’t surprise anyone!
Category:barbecue -- posted at: 8:31pm PST
Thu, 7 August 2008
This blog/podcast was practically inactive for over a year, and yet since I posted a new podcast yesterday over 150 people [EDIT: nearly 500 as of August 19th!] have downloaded it. I want to thank everyone out there for your patience. Thanks for sticking with me! I'll try to keep posting here fairly often and maybe I'll even put together a podcast or two in the coming months!
One other thing. Is anyone other than McCharles following this blog? Take a few seconds and post a comment if you're reading this!
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:58pm PST
Wed, 6 August 2008
I recently had the pleasure of being part of a barbecue panel on Terry David Mulligan's new radio show, The Tasting Room, along with my fellow barbecue competitors Adam Protter (www.bigsmoke.ca) and Justin Kyllo (www.smokeandbones.ca). I've turned our segment into an episode of the Barbecue Secrets podcast.
Direct download: July_26_Ronnies_Guest_Appearance_on_The_Tasting_Room.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:35pm PST