In one of our old family albums, there is a faded black-and-white photo of my husband grilling in the dead of winter with snow a foot deep. He is dressed out as thick as an Eskimo, the grill shifted to the open porch where he could keep an eye on it and run into the house to catch a breath of warm air every so often.
He had no desire to stand out in January cold, building a fire, slowly grilling a beef roast with barbecue sauce on it. Yes, it could have been done in the oven, but what about the great smoke flavor? What about the challenge of keeping the temp just right? What about the macho thing? Ah, yes, that was back when he was young, easily influenced by his wife and willing to answer questions from the curious neighbors.
We still grill in winter, but it is our son who is master of the outdoor range now. With a grill and smoker, just about any meat or fish can be cooked. While I write this, the smoker is puffing away with a five-pound pork butt (mustard and dry rub applied) slowly coming to a temperature of 205 degrees F in a heat of 265 degrees F. Patience is essential; hours go by before it is time to let it cook over a pan of apple juice. After a ten-hour process, the meat is full of flavor and tender enough to shred at a touch of a fork. But it’s not done. Honey is smoothed over top and it rests for two hours. Only then is it shredded, sliced, and ready for the next day’s eating.
Last evening, a large trout was cooked over coals in the kettle grill. Cold evening air blew steady all around, but the foot or so in front of the grill was toasty warm. An inviting aroma filled our senses with butter, salt, pepper, and thoughts of the hot sauce of butter, shallots, green onions, garlic, and hot pepper flakes to be poured over the plated, crispy, brown beauty. Fish cooks quickly, so it wasn’t long before we sat down to eat.
Last week, the grill master produced a succulent, crisp-beyond-belief, spatchcocked chicken. In cooking history, spatchcock was a culled, immature, male chicken, but today it refers to a way of cooking a whole chicken quickly over high heat. It requires a very sharp pair of kitchen shears, and one cannot be squeamish when it comes to cutting through bones, gristle, and flesh in order to flatten the bird. The bird is butterflied. Cutting down both sides of the backbone and removing it completely will lend the bird space to spread out and flatten under the pressure of a heavy hand or iron skillet. The hardest part of it all is done. Apply a dry rub and put it on the hot grill. Cook till juices run clear and joints can be moved easily. Bring it in, tent with foil for ten minutes while putting the rest of dinner on, and dig in.
While we can be satisfied with the entrée off the grill and a salad, some may want to round out the meal with vegetables and fruits. Blueberry Salsa goes well with the chicken. Fried Bacon Cornbread is a good side for the crispy fish (no sauce) or pork.
• 1 large pink or red grapefruit (or substitute an orange)
• 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• 1 cup fresh blueberries
• 1/2 tablespoon finely minced jalapeno pepper
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped red or sweet onion
1. Section grapefruit or orange and dice the sections. Add the rest of ingredients and mix — more or less pepper or onion is up to you.
2. Chill until serving time. Serve with chips, crackers, or alongside meat or fish.
Fried Bacon Cornbread
• 1/2 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• Dash each of salt and sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/2 cup milk
• 3 slices crispy fried bacon, crumbled
• Leftover kernel corn, optional
• Vegetable oil or butter for frying
1. In mixing bowl, sift together flour and baking powder; stir it into the cornmeal.
2. Add salt, sugar and crumbled bacon. If using corn, add also.
3. Mix egg and milk together; add to dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Heat oil or butter in heavy, 10-inch, nonstick skillet or well-seasoned iron skillet. Drop batter by tablespoons into hot oil. Fry until brown, turn, cook until done.
5. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.