Saturday, July 31, 2010


So it's no secret that I love salt. And I have been blessed with friends who understand how much I love salt. Tonight, as I cooked supper, I realized I have 13 different kinds of salt--8 of them a gift from my dear friend Beth, who lives in a converted whorehouse in Deep Elem in Dallas, TX. And I haven't even called to thank her. For the salt, or for living in an apartment with such a colorful history. Anyway, yesterday, when I made chicken salad, I used the Thai Ginger salt, and it gave it a certain tang.
Tonight I'm cooking turnip greens, and I tossed in some Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt--although I'm not sure I shouldn't have used the Porcini Mushroom Salt. But maybe I can sprinkle some of that on the big, heirloom tomato I snagged at the Farmers Market this morning--and may I take this opportunity to rant about the "farmers" who are selling shit they clearly bought at some wholesale place?
But my guy's tomatoes were clearly his, warty and bumpy and imperfect,and he was as irritated as me at the fotched on produce. Anyway, if I salt the tomatoes now, they'll exude a nice juice that we can sop up, along with the pot liquor from the greens, with the little cornmeal pancakes I made. And I've got some shrimp ready to toss in a boil with some Zatarain's and WCN! favorite esoteric spice, allepo pepper.

Who cares if I bloat up like a beached whale? That's what I'm having for supper tonight.

Postscript: Oh, hell yes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipe: the Southern Orleans

The recipe for this cocktail came from a man named Charles Portera, but you'd better not call him that--he's The Diva, baby.  He tends bar at the Court of Two Sisters, right between Bourbon and Royal Street; we met him during an excellent Cocktail Tour, and went back to visit several times during our stay.  You'll definitely know when you've met The Diva; he's prone to exclamations like, "Woo, you see that waiter over there? Honey, if I wasn't married, I'd be all over him like gravy on rice."

This cocktail took the top prize at Tales of the Cocktail, the annual gathering of cocktail nerds in NOLA. (It's going on right now, in fact, and reading the blog posts from down there hurts me.) This feat is even more impressive when you consider that The Diva has never actually tasted the drink--in fact, he hasn't had a drink in fifteen years.

I'm not big on pre-made sour mix, so I replaced it with a mix of about 1/3 fresh lemon juice and 2/3 bar syrup (that is, equal parts sugar and water heated up until it dissolves).  Seemed about right.  Ordinarily you don't put fizzy ingredients in the cocktail shaker, but since the fizz isn't really a factor here, it works.

Southern Orleans

1 oz Southern Comfort
2/3 oz lemon sour mix
2/3 oz Champagne (The Diva specifies Korbel)
1/4 oz Grenadine
1 sugar cube
1 lime wheel

Place the sugar cube in a cocktail (martini) glass.  Put the SoCo, bubbly, and lemon sour mix in your shaker with clean ice, and shake.  (Remember: horizontal, over the shoulder, fifty hard shakes.)

Strain into the glass with the sugar cube.  Pour the grenadine straight down through the middle of the drink.  Do not stir.  Garnish with the lime wedge.  Raise to The Diva.

Recipe: Cajun Blackened Fish

Cajun Blackened Fish

2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 cups butter
4 (6 ounce) fillets salmon, red snapper, catfish, whatever

In a small bowl, mix together paprika, cayenne pepper, white pepper, black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, and oregano. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Dip fish into melted butter, and sprinkle each fillet generously with the seasoning mixture. Pour in 1 tablespoon of butter and add the fish fillets in the hot skillet. Cook until the coating on the underside of the fillet turns black, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the fish over. Pour another tablespoon of butter over the fish, and cook for 2 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Recipe: Best Ever Cheese Grits

They may not be exactly Gulf Coast but they are really good under some nice blackened fish.

Best Ever Cheese Grits

1 cup coarsely ground grits
2 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine grits, milk and cream. Over medium heat, bring grits to a slow boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently until grits are creamy, 10-15 minutes. Whisk in cheese, salt and pepper

Recipe: NOLA Style BBQ Shrimp

When we decided on a Tribute to the Gulf Coast as a theme for July’s show, I had no idea what to make. I’ve been to the Gulf coast of Florida many times, but that’s not really an area renowned for its culinary tradition (although smoked mullet and hearts of palm, which are illegal to harvest now—the hearts of palm, not the mullet—might be considered a regional dish). We were thinking New Orleans, Cajun and Creole and all the good things that come from that region. However, I’ve never been to New Orleans. My closest authentic experience with Gulf Coast cuisine was about 25 years ago, when I accompanied my then-boyfriend to Alabama to visit his mother. We’d stop at a stand on the road and buy big bags of freshly caught and boiled crawdads and sit on her balcony, plucking out the plump tail meat and sucking the heads and washing it all down with lots of cold beer. Our fingers would sting for hours afterwards from the spices. It was a rather magical trip for me and I’ve never forgotten how good those crawdads tasted…

But back to Whitesburg, Kentucky, and WCN!, our radio show. Although I haven’t been to New Orleans, I’ve eaten plenty of good Cajun foods. So I started flipping through cookbooks and googling recipes. The Gulf Coast has been hit hard—we all know that. The fishing and shrimping industries will have a hard time recovering from the BP disaster. But even before a drop of oil leaked into the Gulf, the shrimp industry was under attack from another sector—farmed shrimp, mostly from Thailand and other parts of Asia. These are the shrimp you’re probably eating when you hit the local Applebee’s, and these are the shrimp you’re probably buying at Food City. They’re cheap—really cheap, comparatively speaking. And that’s the problem. Gulf Coast shrimpers can’t compete. So I was determined to use Gulf Coast shrimp in my recipe. The only problem was that I didn’t have any. But my good friend Neil Woods, a pilot who flies out of Hazard, came to my rescue with a pound of shrimp he’d been given in May for filling up his plane with gas in a little Louisiana airport.

I drove up on top of an old strip job to the Wendell Ford Airport and picked up my shrimp. These were big beauties, with the peels and heads still on. I wanted to make something to honor that shrimp, something to highlight it. And I wondered, as I looked for just the right dish, about the shrimper who caught it in May—is he still in business? Or did the oil spill finish him off? Would we be eating the last vestiges of somebody’s livelihood, somebody’s culture? I decided to make New Orleans Style Barbequed Shrimp, which is somewhat of a misnomer, because the shrimp never sees a grill. I looked at a bunch of recipes, and then sort of winged it. In fact, I’d never made this dish before the show, which was probably a gamble, but it worked. It was so very good, and so very easy, that I’ll put this dish in regular rotation on my dinner table. Here’s my attempt at recounting the recipe…

NOLA Style BBQ Shrimp

1 pound of shrimp, preferably Gulf Coast, preferably head-on, unpeeled
4-5 stalks celery
1 large green pepper
1 onion
7-8 cloves of garlic
1 stick of butter (we don’t have to tell you to use real butter, right? You know that, right?)
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, enough to yield a couple of tablespoons, once it’s chopped
A handful of fresh parsley, maybe a half-cup chopped
1 beer
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A few sprinklings of your favorite Cajun spice blend—I like Zatarain’s.
Juice of about half a lemon
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Start by chopping your holy trinity—the celery, green pepper, and onion—and the garlic. How finely you chop it is up to you—how fine do you want it when you eat it? I go for a medium fine chop. Sauté this mix in about half of the butter until it’s just starting to brown a bit. Melt the rest of the butter over the vegetables and season the whole thing with your Cajun spice blend—start with a tablespoon and taste it. Add more if you need it. Trust your tongue. Add salt if you need it (my Cajun blend is salty enough without more salt) and cayenne pepper to taste. Pour most of a beer (I used about ¾ of a Stella Artois and drank the rest—experiment with other beers, but I don’t think this is the place for a dark beer. Maybe a blonde beer. But maybe I’m wrong—try it) and the lemon juice over this mixture and stir well. Place the unpeeled shrimp in a glass baking dish and pour the vegetable/beer mix over it. Put the whole thing in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake it until the shrimp is just pink—maybe 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your shrimp. Do NOT overcook the shrimp! Check it after 5 minutes and keep checking.

Serve this with lots of crusty bread to soak up the sauce—and of course, lots of cold beer. Note that my ratio of vegetables to shrimp is considerably higher than most recipes for this dish you’ll find online or in cookbooks. That’s because I like the vegetables, a lot, and if I’m cooking it, I’m making it the way I like it. And don’t be intimidated by the unpeeled, head-on shrimp. The peels and heads add an amazing amount of flavor to the finished dish. A meal like this is meant to be eaten slowly, around a table with good friends and cold beer, as much with your fingers as with any utensil. Pause to peel the shrimp slowly and to wonder about the shrimper who caught it. Stop to give thanks for somebody who’ll work so hard for so little that you might have that delectable little shellfish on your plate. Suck on the head when you’re done—as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best part of this dish. Experience the myriad layers of flavor and the brininess of the ocean. And say a little prayer for the shrimpers of the Gulf Coast—they’ll need It.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

The dish I made on the show is Cajun, or brown, jambalaya, as opposed to red Creole jambalaya.  It gets its color and a lot of flavor from deeply browning the proteins and onions and deglazing the pans with bits of water, so you really don't want to skimp on those steps.

You also really have to use homemade stock for this.

I'll try to post this exactly as I did it on the show, since it came out really damn good.

Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
Inspired by Donald Link's Real Cajun

5 chicken leg quarters
2 pounds andouille or other Cajun-style sausage (mine were Louisiana Hot Links from Whole Foods), 1/2" slice
3 large Vidalia onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups rice
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (can't say how much)

The night before, thoroughly dry chicken leg quarters and dust generously with Tony's.  Roast in the oven for an hour or so until they're good and done. (Don't worry about overcooking it. This is dark meat.) Let these cool and shred the meat from the bones; also chop the skin into small pieces.

In a non-nonstick skillet over medium heat, add half of the sausage.  Pour off most of the fat as it renders out.  Brown the sausage thoroughly, and when brown bits form in the pan deglaze it with a little bit of water.  Pour the water into the plate that will eventually hold the sausage.  Remove the sausage to the plate, deglaze one more time, and repeat with the other pound of sausage.

Meanwhile, heat up some peanut oil in a large Dutch oven (cast iron, ideally) over medium-high heat and add the onions.  Cook, stirring, for 45 minutes or so.  Deglaze the pan via the same process as above, but just stir the brown liquid into the onions.

Add the peppers and celery and saute for about five minutes.  Add garlic and saute for about one more minute.  Add the sausage (and brown juice), the chicken, and the stock.  Season generously with Tony's.  Bring to a boil.

Add rice, give it a stir, and let it boil uncovered for a few minutes.  Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stopping to "turn" the jambalaya periodically--fold the jambalaya up from the bottom gently.  (You don't want to break up the rice.)  Turn off the heat and let it sit covered for another ten minutes or so.

Serve with Tabasco, crusty bread, and lots of cold beer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Recipe: Really Good Hotdog Chili

the story behind Tricia's really good hotdog chili

I didn't eat hotdogs or sausage for years because of an unfortunate brains and eggs experience when I was about 7. But a little place in Asheville called Sunny Point Cafe made me reconsider. My friend ordered sausage with her breakfast and once I found out it was made in house, I just had to try it. It was delicious and made me wonder if it wasn't about time to reconsider my stand against most pork products, excpet bacon. I've always loved bacon. So I tried regular ole grocery store sausage. No where close to as good as Sunny Point's but I liked it so I decided to try hotdogs, Kosher all beef hotdogs. Pretty tasty but I then I remembered CHILI! and went on quest to make the world's greatest hotdog chili. Experimented a little and I think this is it.

Oh. One more thing. Do yourself a favor and use good all beef hotdogs. It's also really good on burgers. OK. So that was two things. On to the recipe.

Really Good Hotdog Chili

4 lbs. 80/20 ground beef
1/3 medium onion, chopped as small as humanly possible
2 - 15 oz cans tomato sauce + ½ can water
2 cups ketchup
1 Tbs. mustard
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 dashes hot sauce
1 tsp. sugar

In a large pot, cook ground beef and onion over medium heat. Drain off grease. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low until thickened, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes until thick.

Can be frozen for several weeks

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How to pick a food stand

I've been blessed with many obscure talents in this life.  I like to think this is the universe's way of making up for my total lack of athletic ability.

One of those talents, and probably the one that comes in the handiest during music festival season, is my uncanny ability to face the usual dizzying selection of food carts available at such events and pick the best of the lot.  I hadn't ever thought about it until last weekend at the Forecastle Festival, when it struck me that not everyone shares this knack.

Eager to drop the knowledge, I started brainstorming about what makes a great food stand and came up with some decent guidelines.  I can think of exceptions to each of these rules, but as Robert Fulghum said, the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

Good food stands have hand-written menus. If there's one rule that towers above all others, this might be it. Printed, painted, or carved-in-stone menus may look more professional, but professional isn't necessarily a virtue in the world of street food. If part of the menu is pre-printed but there are hand-written additions, that's usually a pretty good sign. But a full-on whiteboard (or, better yet, chalkboard) is the best sign of all.

The best food stands are often from local restaurants. When a local joint sets up a cart at an event, they're not really doing it to make money--they're advertising.  The guy who sets up at a dozen festivals every summer could give two shits if you like his food or not, but the folks from the local restaurant have the chance to gain (or lose) year-round customers.  I specify "local" restaurants because you occasionally see stands from the big chains, and you should steer clear at all costs--they're just bad versions of food that was mediocre at best to start with.

Ethnic foods are often best, as long as the stand features a single ethnicity. I've never had a burger at a street fair that turned my crank, but I've had samosas and tacos that were transcendent. Let's face it, America--the rest of the world has more interesting street food than we do. What you want to avoid are the mega-stands that sell gyros, pad thai, shrimp creole, fajitas, and fried catfish, because somehow all of those things will taste exactly the same.

People standing around waiting after they've ordered is good. It doesn't necessarily mean that people consider the food worth waiting for; they probably didn't realize they'd have to wait.  But it means you're getting food that hasn't been sitting back there all day.

Charity/local organization booths are a gamble. They can be a good value, since they often get their ingredients donated.  But at the same time they start with the sort of ingredients that get donated, and they usually don't have people with the expertise to make those lousy ingredients into culinary gold. If I'm going with middling fare like a burger or a hot dog, I'll always go with a booth supporting a charity over one that doesn't (assuming the charity is worthy, and not, like, Pedophiles for Drunk Driving).

If you want pizza, and there's pizza, get pizza. There are times (and particular levels of drunkenness) at which the body just calls out for pizza, and if you find yourself at such a point and there's a pizza stand, give in.  It might not be the best pizza ever, but it's what you want, and a mediocre version of what you want beats a great version of something you don't.  This is especially true of pizza because, as Woody said, it's like sex--when it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad it's still pretty good.

Wraps suck. This is universally true, not just in the realm of the food cart--anything described as a wrap, or really anything wrapped in a flour tortilla that isn't described as a burrito, will suck ass. You might think you've had a wrap in the past that was great, but some people think they've been abducted and probed by aliens, too.

Avoid "bourbon chicken". It seems like a no-brainer. Bourbon chicken? How bad could that be? But ultimately it's like sleeping with the head cheerleader--it sounds great, and people will smile when you tell them about it, but the experience itself is pretty disappointing and you'll probably end up with some horrible disease. (Places that sell bourbon chicken always look sketchy to me. Sketchiness is not an absolute reason not to buy from a food stand, but sketchy + poultry = Danger, Will Robinson.)

In fact, just avoid chicken. Poultry represents, by far, the best chance for food poisoning in the questionably refrigerated world of street food, and there's almost certainly more interesting fare to be had.

Stay away from anything labeled as "Southern". Another rule that transcends the food cart world.  Real Southern food doesn't have to say so.

Finally, ask people! Fairs and festivals are made for mingling with other people, and there aren't any easier icebreakers than "Hey, that looks tasty! Where did you get it?" Scan the picnic tables and it usually won't be hard to spot the good stuff, then find out where it came from.

So what are your tips for finding a great food cart?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Party Foods, or Why It's Okay To Fail Miserably At A Recipe Attempt

First, full disclosure: The beautifully garnished platters of food you see here were not created by me. They were created by my friends Roger and Lisa, who handily won an appetizer challenge at a party I attended this weekend. There are no photos of my entry. Because if there was a dead last place, that's where my entry would have been. It was a failure of epic proportions.

Here's the background: Every year, on the fourth of July weekend, we attend a pig roast hosted by a large and rowdy Filipino family.I've been going to this party for almost 20 years. My husband first took me when we were just dating. I had such a good time, and loved this family so much, that I married him, just so I could get to them. So anyway, there's always lots of great food--excellent Filipino fare like pancit (something I haven't been brave enough to try to make), and this vegetable thing with bitter melon and some kind of leaves off these trees Uncle grows, and these amazing eggrolls, and sometimes grilled squid, and of course, The Pig.

I could write a whole treatise on The Pig, and all the ways I've seen it cooked, and how the younger men (the ones my age) have taken over the pig cooking from the Uncles, and how the kids (like my son) will be the ones doing it one of these days. I could go on for days about all the pig symbolizes, and how we name it each year (this year's pig, a petite little girl, was called Brittany. Cleo brined her and stuffed her with lemon grass and she was excellent, although the Uncles weren't happy with the toughness of the skin).

But this isn't about The Pig. This is about The Appetizers. So anyway, I get an email from Cleo, one of the Pinos who hosts the party, about three weeks ago. Cleo has decided to throw out an appetizer challenge. The participants will all be assigned an herb, and we're to create an amuse bouche using the herbs. We should have about 50 bites total, and we'll be judged on presentation, use of herb, and taste. About 10 of us signed on.

Now, to understand this challenge, you have to understand two things: in this group of family and friends, there are some amazing cooks, and we all love to talk smack. Cleo assigned our herbs. I got thyme, which pleased me since my thyme is doing so well this summer and since it's such a versatile herb. I knew I'd have to do something easy and quick that I could mostly make ahead, since I'd be arriving at the party sort of late. I settled on some sort of sorbet, and the smack-talking emails started flying.

I played around with my recipe. First I made a simple syrup--into about 2 cups of water, I put the zest of one lemon, about a quarter cup of sugar, and a big handful of thyme. I brought all that to a boil to dissolve the sugar and then let it steep for a while--until it was cool enough to strain. I poured the strained syrup into the little plastic cups that came with my son's snow-cone maker and froze it. Then I used said snow-cone maker to make a lemon-thyme granita, which I served in little scooped out strawberries to my sisters and friends as a practice run. It was good, but the granita melted too quickly and was a little...well, it needed something.

In my second attempt, I made a champagne sorbet with thyme (see recipe below). I meant to freeze it in my little ice cream maker, but it stopped working, so I put it in a shallow glass baking dish in the freezer and scraped it periodically with a fork. The texture wasn't as smooth as I wanted, but it tasted fabulous. I figured I had a winner--by the time the contest rolled around, everybody would have been drinking all day by the pool in the hot sun, and my sorbet would be sheer perfection. I imagined the praise, the adoration, the loving kisses of my peers. I packed my sorbet in ice, stuffed it in a cooler, and set off.

When I arrived at the party, I went to check on my rivals. While everybody else lounged by the pool, my main rivals, Roger, Gloria, and Lisa, were slaving away over their creations. Roger (rosemary) was doing something really fussy with vegetables and a paring knife. Gloria (cilantro) was chopping a mountain of vegetables. Lisa (dill) was fretting over a sauce that hadn't thickened properly. I talked some trash and went to prepare my strawberries poolside, slicing off the bottoms so they'd sit up pretty and scooping out the insides with a tiny melon baller. My four-year old daughter happily ate the parts I wasn't using, and I made smug comments about how party food should be simple and easily prepared, so the cook could enjoy the party.

When I saw Lisa arranging lobster shells and fresh flowers into an arch over the platter for her lobster bites in a champagne dill sauce, I started to feel like a girl who shows up at a black-tie event in cut-off jeans. But I put my strawberries on a chilled silver platter and scooped little bites of sorbet into each one. They looked pretty, but plain, and I began to regret my "no fussy garnish" rule. The contest was set to begin at 4, so I put my platter back in the freezer and waited. And waited. And waited. None of the other participants was ready except for Roger, the consummate professional. And one look at his platter, and I knew he'd won on the strength of his garnish alone. Roger and I began making noises about counting points off for lateness, and the other participants trickled in.

There was Michelle's lovely if uninspired crackers with tomatoes and chives. There was some chick I didn't know and her cherry tomatoes stuffed with horseradish cream cheese and parsley.

There was Gloria's seven-layer salad on a chip--but come on, Gloria, really--Mexican with cilantro? How trite.

Some guy had some really tasty spicy beef tips with basil.

David brought out a tray of raspberry lemonade with mint--delicious.

I knew I didn't have a prayer. But I made a little speech--first I asked Roger and Gloria and Lisa where they'd been all afternoon while the rest of us lounged by the pool. Then I talked about seasonally appropriate foods and simplicity and some other bullshit. Then I dramatically went to get my platter.

Which was full of pretty little strawberries, sitting in a puddle of slightly viscous, piss-colored liquid. My lovely sorbet had completely and utterly melted. I guess the freezer wasn't cold enough, or the door kept getting opened, or what, but my amuse bouche wasn't very amusing. I had to strike myself from the competition and eat some major crow.

But it didn't really matter. The other appetizers were all delicious, and Roger and Lisa tied for a win, and in the end, we were all well-fed. We scooped the icy cold strawberries into a bowl and poured the syrup over them and everybody ate them all up. That's the thing about cooking--sometimes, shit happens. So many people I know are afraid to try new recipes, or to cook for a crowd, or to throw parties. But it's just food--it's meant to be fun. And next time I make that champagne sorbet, I'll make sure it's frozen before I brag about it.

Champagne Sorbet

  • 1 bottle champagne--I used a cheap bottle of Asti Spumonti someone left at my house. Not my first choice to drink, but perfect for mimosas and sorbets.
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • handful of thyme (you could also use other herbs--I'm thinking lemon balm or basil or maybe rosemary would be good.)

Combine all ingredients except lemon juice and bring to a boil--you must boil the alcohol out of the champagne so it'll freeze. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat. Let the mixture steep for a while at room temperature, until it's cool. Stir in the lemon juice and eat the lemon zest--it's so yummy, sort of candied, and as the cook, you get to eat all of it without sharing. Or I guess you could save it and chop it and garnish the sorbet with it, if you're generous. But don't throw it out--it's really yummy. Strain the mixture to remove all the solids and chill it. Once it's cold, use an ice cream freezer to freeze it--or if you don't have one, pour it into a shallow glass pan and place it in the freezer. Use a fork to periodically scrape the mixture into slushiness. And that's it--serve little scoops of it in hollowed out strawberries, or just serve it in a bowl.

I don't have Lisa's recipe, but if anybody wants it, I'm sure she'll share, as all generous and good-hearted cooks will. But here's my stab at Roger's:

Roger's Rosemary Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

So I know most of us can't create the precious little flowers from radishes and tomatoes and spring onions that made Roger's dish a winner, but really, the dish itself would have won on the basis of flavor alone. And it was so simple--it's barely a recipe.

  • Cut strips of bacon in half and cook them until they're just translucent but not yet crispy.
  • Sprinkle peeled, raw shrimp with finely chopped fresh rosemary.
  • Wrap shrimp in partially cooked bacon and secure with soaked wooden skewers. Roger did his on small ones for presentation, but you could do a bunch on one skewer and then slide them off to serve.
  • Sprinkle more chopped rosemary over skewered bacon wrapped shrimp and grill until just done. And that's it--delicious, even without the fancy garnish. Here's to you Roger!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Recipe: Red Corn Relish #1

Very few weekends go by in the summertime when I don't hit the farmer's market, and I can never resist a truck bed full of fresh sweet corn picked that morning.  As anyone nerdy enough to listen to our show knows, corn starts losing its mojo in a hurry; within 24 hours of picking it loses about 90% of its sugar content.  But they sell it by the dozen at the market, and there are only two of us, and as tempting as it sounds to rub all of it with some olive oil and dust it with salt and Official WCN! Favorite Obscure Product aleppo pepper and throw it on the grill, in reality we're left with a little more corn than we can eat.

Sure, we can freeze it, or even can it if I got off my ass and bought a pressure canner.  But I thought back to my first restaurant job, expediting at second-rate Lexington BBQ joint Red Hot and Blue, and to a side dish/condiment that made even their sorry-assed pulled pork taste good--corn relish.  (RH&B is no more; it never had a chance, sitting across from the holy BBQ temple that is Billy's.  But it left me with a decent recipe or two and a lifelong appreciation of the Stax record label.)

I couldn't find a corn relish recipe that blew my skirt up, so I decided to wing it, and if I do say so it came out pretty damn good.  Improv cooking at its finest--just take tasty things and use some basic technique to put them together with other tasty things.

The key ingredient here (aside from the corn) is smoked Spanish paprika, aka pimenton de la vera, which is like the paprika you get at the supermarket in the same way that a Red Bull is like a pipe of crack.  It went through a brief trendy period a year or two ago, so it's not hard to find in a decent upscale grocery like The Fresh Market; I ordered mine from The Spice House.  It comes in sweet and hot.

I'll be playing with this recipe as the summer goes on.  Particularly, future variations will include fresh peppers of some kind, likely banana.  But this would be a welcome topper for a grilled dog or a fine side for damn near anything you pull off the fire.  It's a little spicy, but that's what beer is for.  And I didn't even get around to making this the day I bought the corn--if you hit it in the sweet spot, I think it could be transcendent.

Red Corn Relish #1
Makes two quarts for canning plus about a cup for the fridge

10 ears corn (approximately 8 cups cut off)
3 cups cider vinegar
1 tbps kosher salt (heaping)
Black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp sweet Spanish smoked paprika (accept no substitutes)
16 Tien-Tsin chiles (also from The Spice House, or use any small hot dried chile, or a big squeeze of the official WCN! hot sauce, Sriacha)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 candy onions (or regular onions), diced
small handful flat-leaf parsley
5 small tomatoes, big dice

Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add the corn.  Boil for 5 minutes, let it cool, and cut it off the cobs.

Meanwhile put everything but the tomatoes and parsley in a big pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the corn and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and parsley and cook for 5 more minutes.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.

Per the usual canning methods (as described in the Ball book or whatever text you prefer), prepare two quart or four pint jars, fill with the relish, and process for 20 minutes.  The rest can go in the fridge, covered.

Please drop me a line if you use this recipe, and let me know if you changed anything and what you'd change next time.