Jul 292013

Reader question time!

“Do you have an opinion on grilled pizza? I want to try but I am not sure how the dough will cook and not burn. And also, I was looking at pizza stones.”

This is an excellent question. I’ve waxed poetic about stone-cooked wood-fired pizza in the past, so you would think that I’m going to come down firmly in that camp. You would, however, be wrong. In a nutshell, the average gas-grill-owning backyard cook is probably want to go with the grilled option. Really!

Here’s the deal: Unless you have a cooker that has a real indirect heat source – and by that I mean even and equal indirect heat in all areas, not just a gas grill with one side turned off and the food on the other – grilled pizza is going to give you better results than using a pizza stone. Bread likes even heat, period. And no matter how hard you try, an “indirect” cook on a gas grill always leaves you with uneven heat. Period.

Fortunately, grilled pizza – as long as you understand one rather important limitation – is actually easier than you think. The only caveat is that you can forget about thin crust. Just not going to happen. Otherwise this is as easy as, er, pie. If you want to give it a try, keep reading!

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May 082013

So yeah. While these pages are here to celebrate and promote the delectable art of cooking barbeque, I have (as mentioned in the past) nothing against grilling. Grilling is not barbeque, but grilling is good. Grilling makes sense for a lot of everyday meals. And grilling is the only way to make fajitas.

I’ve made a lot of fajitas, and I have always used flank steak. It’s the fajita standard. But my butcher recently suggested using flatiron steak instead, and it was a revelation. Flatiron has the same general texture and shape as flank steak, but has a much more desirable marbling of fat. That means you get bigger and deeper beef taste that you ever can with the overly-lean flank. If you haven’t tried working with flatiron steak, now is the time.

There are a couple of things you do need to know. One, not every butcher knows what they are doing here, so ask around. The standard cut of a flatiron has a nasty piece of fascia or sinew running through the entirety of the plate. If you are going to use flatiron for fajitas, your butcher needs to separate the two chunks of muscle and take that “shingle” out of the centre. You end up with two slightly-but-not-much-thinner cuts than the traditional single flank steak. Two, you must cut across the grain when you serve this, but if you have ever made fajitas before you know how this works so there’s no real surprise there.

If you love fajitas, you need to give this a try. Slices of this would also be spectacular in a thai-inspired steak salad, or tossed in a bowl of fresh noodles. In the standard butcher’s beef roster it is listed as cut #1114D, with the official name “Top Blade Steak”. Ask your butcher next time you are shopping for beef and see if you can get yourself into a couple of slabs of this. A standard cut of flatiron is just about 1 kilgram, so after it trimmed of the fascia and split into two it will easily feed four in a regular fajita tortialls-n-fixin’s setup.


Jun 132012

Let’s cut right to the chase: People are intimidated by brine. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Brining is simple, relatively foolproof if you remember one important rule, and makes a massive difference in the quality of your finished meat. So it’s time to cast aside the fear and uncertainty – brining is good, and it’s time you started doing it.

A few ground rules to start: One, brining is generally reserved for poultry and pork. Beef isn’t really going to benefit from this and it is going to be too rough on the texture of fish and seafood. Two, you should always brine your poultry or pork if your cooking method is dry. Three (and this is the super important rule you must remember), your brine needs to be ice cold before the meat is immersed. Cold brine is happy brine. And fourth (and finally), giant-sized Ziploc bags are your best friends.

With these basic thoughts firmly stuck in the back our our minds, let’s begin. The basic brine for both pork and poultry is dead simple. For every half chicken (or equivalent) or every two pork chops (or equivalent) you will need:

1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of brown sugar
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of kosher salt

That’s it. That is the whole shebang. I told you this was simple.

So – dissolve your sugar and your salt into the boiling water in a large bowl. You are going to have to stir this pretty well to get it to completely dissolve, becuase it is right on the edge of how much sugar and salt the water can actually take on. When it is completely dissolved, put the bowl of brine in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry, but see the note below for a caveat or two) and chill it completely.

Cold brine is happy brine.

Once the brine is nicely chilled, you can add your meat. Grab a Ziploc bag that is large enough to hold both your meat and all of the brine you made, carefully pour the brine into it, and then add the meat. Adding the meat last helps you avoid pouring disasters, trust me. Now pop it back into the fridge, with the following list of times in mind:

Chicken or any game hen – 1 hour
Pork chops or ribs – 2 hours
Pork loin – 4 hours
Pork shoulder – overnight
Turkey drums or breast – overnight
Full turkey – 24 hours

When your time is up remove the meat from the brine and pat it completely dry (inside and out!) before you start to season or cook it. For pork, be sure to let the meat rest at room temperature so it can warm up before you start to cook, but poultry can hit the roaster / grill / smoker / whatever right away.

A Note About The Freezer: If you are in a hurry and need to chill your brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, be sure to cover it with a sheet of waxed paper so you dont get a tiny blizzard of crystals in your ice box.

And that is pretty much it. Roast or grill or smoke your brined and dried meat excatly as you would have before. Your actual cooking technique will not change, but your results definitely will. Once you get going with this you can start to add some flavour to the brine – orange zest, sage and cloves for roast turkey; juniper berries, garlic and rosemary for grilled pork; lemon zest, garlic and tarragon for roast chicken and other small fowl; garlic, crushed peppercorns, and ginger for grilled bird. Play with it, the possibilites are endless. Just remember: Add these things after the brine has cooled, otherwise you risk getting a nasty bitter note in your food.

And did I mention that cold brine is happy brine? Yes? Good.

Play with it. Experiment. Have fun. But most of all, do this. Every time.

Sep 272011

Having roasted or barbeque chicken in the fridge and ready to use for everything from paninis to pasta dishes to a quick quesadilla is a brilliant idea. It’s tasty, healthy, neutral enough that you can go in almost any direction, and versatile enough that you can come up with a whack of different fast and easy ways to eat it and never really get bored. Unfortunately, cooking the actual bird is intimidating for a lot of people – to the point where I have seen suggestions in everything from bad supermarket-checkout magazines (you know the kind, glossy women’s lifestyle mags with a “food” section aimed at idiots like this) to chef-hosted cooking shows that say you should forget about roasting your own chicken and just buy a pre-cooked bird at the deli or take-out section of the supermarket.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Buying and cooking your own bird is always going to be a superior choice. There is no need to be hesitant. Roasted or barbeque chicken – especially if you just want to put the meat away for future use and don’t care about niceties like stuffing or carving presentation – is actually close to foolproof. All you need to do is remember five simple steps:

  1. Spatchcock
  2. Brine
  3. Dry
  4. Rub
  5. Cook

Wait a minute. Um … spatchcock? What the hell is that?

That, my friend, is a time-honoured and (sadly) little-used way to cook a bird quickly and with almost any kind of heat source. And quickly is key – the faster you can cook a chicken, the moister and more flavourful the meat will be. Spatchcocking a bird is akin to butterflying, but instead of taking out both the spine and the sternum you just remove the spine. The sternum helps to protect the breast meat from drying out, giving you all sorts of options for the actual cook. No matter what kind of grill/oven/smoker/roaster you are packing, you are pretty much guaranteed to have a way to make this work.

Ready? Get yourself a really nice bird – forget the supermarket, get a fresh free-range hen from your farmer’s market – and let’s dig in.

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Jun 232011

I learned a valuable lesson this week: Never ever declare anything to be completely done. If you do, and then you post that into some semi-permanent form like, oh, a cooking blog, and then you have to change it or update it later … you look like a tool. So, yeah, gaze upon me in all my tool-ness as I completely contradict the finality of my “Best Burger Blend Period” and offer you up a superior variant. Burger 2.0. The evolution of a really great burger into a stupidly awesome burger. And the best grilled burger you will ever eat. Until, of course, I come up with the next one.

As before, you want to hike yourself off to your favourite butcher. And as before, you want to ask said butcher to grind you up some brisket and some boneless short ribs. But unlike before, you also want to get yourself some ground bacon. Double-smoked if you can get it. You want two parts ground brisket, two parts ground short ribs, and one part ground bacon. Be sure to let your meat guru know that this is for burgers so that he gives you the correct grind.

When you get home you can make patties from the blend as is, or you can add in some seasoned bread crumbs, it’s totally up to you. Normally I am loathe to use any filler or binder in a burger blend, but in this case it helps to soak up all that delicious bacon fat as it renders out and keep it in the patty instead of in the pit of your grill. If you feel empirical about the whole thing, make half one way and half the other and then decide which way you want to use going forward. It’s not like you aren’t going to enjoy eating the loser.

Remember: Butcher, two parts ground brisket, two parts ground short ribs, one part ground bacon. patties, grill, eat. The best freaking burger blend you will ever have.

For now.

May 312011

So I was thinking about a nice savoury zucchini appetizer, maybe a bruschetta, and after I got all excited about it I realized it was too hot to be doing anything but the absolute simplest version of anything. So instead of the whole cooking and chopping and macerating and so on and so forth that generally goes along with bruschetta, I pared it down to super-thin grilled strips of zucchini with romano and truffle oil on some toasted rounds of bread.

Get it? Strips? As in “stripper” as in the song “Patricia The Stripper”? That’s where I got the name, see? I really shouldn’t have to explain these things.

Anyway. It turned out to be about five thousand times better than I had ever hoped, so I’m passing it on to you. This works as a super simple appetizer for almost any occasion where you might have the grill up and running. The flavours are bright and summery and sweet and salty and it’s crunchy and warm and I bet you end up making it all summer long.

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May 262011

I wanted to call this post “Classic Steak House Grilling” or better yet “Vintage Steak House Grilling” but I went with the more pedestrian title in deference to the various search engines out there. I’m pretty sure that most people are going to be typing “how to grill perfect steaks” or “how do I grill perfect steaks” into the search box because they don’t realize that the old-school steakhouse method is the thing they really want to find.

And yes, this is definitely grilling. You can smoke a steak, you can roast a steak, but when you want to do it right a steak needs direct heat. Grillheads rejoice, this is one time when your way is the best way. Crack a beer and pat yourself on the back.

This method (or “The Method” if you want to be dramatic about it) was revealed to me when I was visiting the butcher one day. I got to talking to another customer who is was a line cook at one of the last 1970s-style steakhouses in my area. We talked about steaks and as the topic wandered from the best cuts to the best thickness he was nice enough to pass along the secrets of the Lost Art Of The Steakhouse Grill.

And now, like that old guy in the original Kung Fu series, I impart the sacred wisdom on to you. Keep reading, grasshopper.

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Mar 232011

Spring, sprung. And thankfully, the end of the youth-speak. About time.

In our previous two thrilling installments, we looked at a pair of single-use cookers – a large-capacity direct-heat charcoal grill and a “low and slow” pellet-feed smoker. Both do one job, and they do it very well. But for those of you who don’t have the patio space to keep two big ol’ barrel cookers on your backyard roster, today’s entry is a bona fide triple threat. It grills, it smokes, and it roasts. Hell, it even bakes, but that is four things and pretty much screws up my “triple threat” line so let’s just ignore that for now.

It’s the Big Green Egg and everything you have heard about these things from their legions of fans is absolutely true. These things rock.

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Mar 172011

Three days until spring. As the kids say, boo-yah!

And just to keep you all on your toes, I’m going to start the “Spring Countdown Triple-Header Equipment Review Fest” with something that has nothing at all to do with barbeque. Well, mostly, anyway – there is a barbeque option here, but It’s not what the suits would call the “core competency” of this unit. No, this old-school chunk of iron is all about the grill. Hot coals, direct heat, bring out the steaks and burgers, and don’t forget the beer.

It’s stripped down, low-tech, simple, inexpensive, and a little chunk of grillhead paradise. It’s the Char-Griller Super Pro, and it’s ideal if all you need is a big-ass grill that’s bulletproof, simple to use, and gives that real charcoal-grilled taste.

I know that a lot of grillheads out there have grown up with the dreaded gas grills. Natural gas, propane, doesn’t matter – there is a whole generation of burger and steak flippers who have spent their whole lives eating second-rate food. Grilling on gas just doesn’t cut it – you need the charcoal. And whether you are picking up your first ever grill or you just want to find out what you have been missing out on with your gas-burning stainless-steel suburban patio monster, the Super Pro is an ideal spring purchase.

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Mar 062011

UPDATE: This post is no longer valid, except in an archival kind of way. A curiousity, as it were. And it is still a viable alternative if you don’t/can’t/won’t eat pork. But if the added goodness of bacon is not a problem and you want the best burger blend to date, head on over to this post and get something even better. Okay? Okay.

In a previous episode, I recommended that you use ground chuck for your burgers. I did this because it was an easy way to make sure you get at least 20% fat in your burger blend – distressingly, most grocery store meat counter drones and even some actual butchers no longer know what you are talking about when you ask for “80 – 20” ground beef. Sad, but true.

That advice, however, is now complete passé. The absolute best blend for burgers, as confirmed by a rigorous series of wintertime experiments in my kitchen, is 50% ground boneless short ribs, and 50% ground brisket. And I make a point to say “boneless” for the short ribs because – despite the fact that it should be completely obvious that you want to take the bones out of the short ribs before you grind them – there are grillheads out there who have a hard time with common sense.

So. Get to the butcher, ask for a 50-50 blend of ground brisket and ground short ribs. The fat content is going to come in at a very respectable 20 – 25%, and the flavour profile is out of this world.

Trust me.