ALL THINGS CONSIDERED,
A MAN AND HIS GRILL NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE.
A LIFE WITH DUCK, SALMON, AND CHEESEY BEEF
Every five years or so things change in subtle ways where we wonder what happened and how come this or that no longer fits the scene described in magazines and talk shows. Food fads change faster now than ever before. I watched and worked through the dark hours of the culinary world when nouvelle and cuisine mincuer ravaged the landscape of the collective unconscious of chefdom and left the diner curious as to where the food went and why what remained was so high priced. That’s what prescribed fashion will do for you when there is no firm basis to hold the image for more than the flash of a celebrity chefs smile. The restaurant, as champion of taste, was almost run over by corporate downsizing as a result of the backlash to the way food was handled from the late 1980s until the last five years. In honor of the history of food we will celebrate around the grill with duck breast, salmon steak, and a tenderloin of beef.
We are in a boom time of dining now and it is the task of every cook, chef and home cook to test, taste and experiment wisely because if we are not careful then the closings, corporate takeovers and general rip off for the consumer will surely ensue. What to do? Be honest. That’s all it takes. Just be honest to your plate, to your customer, to your family and friends and the best of the new foods. Fashion and flash will rise to the top and we will again be on a culinary adventure as wonderful as the one set forth by California cuisine in 1980, and then again by Fusion in the late 1990s. That’s what fashion does for us in the culinary world, it takes us on an upward spiral of curiosity and conquest where the best of our challenges become new standards and the worst becomes a joke about ‘what were we thinking.’ Even the dishes that don’t work out so great can still be fun. Remember, live to eat, and do so with full heart. OK, so let’s go stand around the grill and think about foods that last and things that bind our world together.
The duck breast and salmon will both be marinated. The beef tenderloin will be rubbed with garlic and coarse sea salt and finished with melted Gorgonzola cheese. This is a low carbohydrate delight of a meal… almost. It is all only meat but we will have fruit juices in the marinades. The duck is a new recipe, the salmon is a new standard, and the beef is as old as country clubs and dirty martinis. If you do not drink don’t be afraid of the alcohol in these marinades. They are only marinades for the flavor, the alcohol cooks out on the grill and all you have then is the refined flavor of sour mash corn and aged grapes.
We are using the more familiar Pekin duck, which has a low fat content and is lighter colored meat than the huskier, fattier, and burgundy flavored Muscovy duck of fine restaurants. You can find whole ducks in the frozen section of all the grocery stores. Ask ahead about duck breasts to see if the grocer can get it in for you. If this is not possible then buy the whole duck, cut it in half and then in portions of breast, leg and thigh with the bone intact. Marinade the same as with boneless breasts. The cook time will be a little bit longer. The good thing about duck is that you can cook it to temperatures the same as with beef. Medium rare duck grilled this way is a very, very tasty treat.
If you are ever in the mood for some of the best Hong Kong style duck you can eat in Athens then contact Fooks Market on Baxter Street and ask when she is getting it in. Usually it is Thursdays and there are a lot of requests for this kind of Chinese Barbecue duck so get your order in early so that they can have it ready for you to pick up after work.
2, 8 ounce duck breasts, boneless
1 cup cranberry-raspberry juice
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup Chianti
1/3 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons allspice, ground
1 tablespoon ginger, ground
1 tablespoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, ground
Combine liquid ingredients and spices. Place duck breasts skin side down in glass dish. Pour marinade over the duck breasts, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 hours.
When this marinade first appeared twenty years ago it was considered radical. Funny how time changes things. The salmon really does have to be Pacific Ocean King, Coho, Sockeye, Silver Bright (chum), and Pink salmon. These fish are part of what made the West Coast possible and their value to nature is matched on a level with shrimp, sardines, krill and on up to the mighty mackerel family. Wild salmon is to be cooked to any desired temperature from rare to medium. If you should cook the fish over medium it will lose the moist texture and taste of the sea. Well-done salmon has that chalky and fishy texture that unpleasantly lingers around. Try not to go over medium with fresh salmon that is labeled sushi or sashimi grade. Most frozen wild salmon is immediately frozen when it is butchered so it is safe for rare and medium rare temperatures. Did you know that salmon in sushi restaurants is almost always from frozen stock? The freezing kills off a lot of bacteria and retains the moisture and fat necessary for the best tasting sushi. Unless you are right on the water or the fish is no more than two days old this is the best way to have it for sushi. I have eaten sushi salmon right out of the ocean and it tastes the way you would expect velvet to taste. The miracle of air transit, UPS and Federal Express really do make it possible for the home cook to get seafood of the same grade as restaurants.
Hint, wild salmon does not have dyes or injected hormones and antibiotics as do the farmed Atlantic variety. Also, wild Pacific salmon is a vital part of our oceans whereas Atlantic salmon farmed in the Pacific Ocean is a threat to our oceans. You will also notice an extreme taste difference between the wild and farmed species. Farmed is cheaper and more readily available, and that is the only advantage over wild salmon. Georgia used to have Atlantic salmon in our rivers but that is a story long ago before the Savannah River plant. Sometimes the plight of our oceans and rivers seems bleak, but with studied and optimistic approaches to preserving and renewing the life of our waters we can see a revitalization of our waters. After all, Australia recently declared the entire Great Barrier Reef as a preserve. This means that the living coral can be protected from commercial and recreational destruction. Also, the rivers of Northern California, Oregon, Washington Western Canada and Alaska are all being marked for greater protection from chemical plants and irrigation runoff, dams (from being overheated and the addition of water steps for the salmon to make it upstream), and with seeding inland areas of the rivers with salmon eggs so that they have a greater chance of filling our oceans and tables with this highly necessary part of our diet, the wild salmon. Wild salmon swim up waterfalls. What is great than that in the fish kingdom?WHERE TOSHOP? Earthfare, Publix, Kroger, and I have even seen whole sockeye salmon (frozen) at Wal-Mart. Ask your grocer when it is coming in, and if they can reserve the best for you. They will do what you want; all you have to do is ask.
2 pounds Pacific Ocean salmon
1/2 cup Kentucky Bourbon
1/3 cup Molasses, unsulphured black strap
1/3 cup Leas and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup corn oil
2 tablespoons Cracked black peppercorns
Combine the liquid ingredients and the pepper. Place the boned salmon into a glass dish. Pour the marinade over the fish, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours but not more than six hours.
If you want to add a more island and vacation style feel to your Pacific salmon then pierce it with rosemary stalks and grill on top of thin slices of pineapple. Even if you don’t want the pineapple part try out the rosemary.
It’s one of my favorite additions to grilled salmon.
BEEF THE AMERICAN PROTEIN KING
Next up in our protein feast is beef. Not chicken and not pork (they are for later summer grills), but beef, king of the West and the engine of our trail blazing manifest destiny. I use two kinds of beef, grass fed drug free and lean, which comes from various ranches in the US and Australia. The other is American grown Kobe. Kobe is the greatest of all possible beef and is raised in an environment of being corn fed, taken for short walks, no drugs or hormones, and is the richest beef you will ever eat. The Kobe that I buy is raised at a ranch by the name of Wagyu. There are other Kobe ranches in the US but this is my favorite. When buying beef, as with all foods read the labels and ask questions. Not all foods that are good for you are overly expensive, you just need to shop well and shop often for what you want. When the demand is there your grocer will meet that demand without overcharging you.
Meat thermometers are relatively inexpensive and readily available on the market. Buy one or two so that you always have it around. To set the thermometer to correct temperature insert it into a glass of ice with just enough water to cover the ice. The temperature will be 32 degrees.
Here is a temperature scale for red meat:
VERY RARE: 115, red cold with just a little brown on the edges
RARE: 116 to 120, cold red center, light gray edges
MEDIUM RARE: 121 to 13o, warm red center
MEDIUM: 131 to 145,warm, bright pink center
MEDIUM WELL: 146 to 155, pink hot center, mostly gray
WELL: 156 to 160, gray all the way throughout the meat
MEAT AND THE MARINADE
4 six ounce beef tenderloin filets
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground garlic
3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
(Melt the cheese on steaks during the last three minutes of cooking)
Mix the salt, pepper and garlic with the oil. Rub the filets in the oil and let them set for thirty minutes. When it is time to grill make sure that there is still pepper and garlic on the steak.
ABOUT BLUE AND GREEN VEINED CHEESES
Cheese production is one of the more interesting conventions of the food trade that is prominent in our diet yet also little understood. There are three primary ways of ripening cheese. Keep in mind that the process of making cheese is like that of certain grains and grapes, in that cheese is made by a system of controlled and limited spoilage. The simplest way for me to present these ways of incorporating the penicillin are cheddar, blue and Brie. Blue and greened veined cheeses become what they are by the injection of penicillium roqueforti into the center of the cheese part way through the aging process. Cheddar and Swiss type cheeses are cured with a mold mixed in with the starter, and Brie style cheeses are cured with the bacteria from the outside of the formed cheese. So, blue from inside, regular throughout, and Brie from the outside for the bacteria in the curing process. If Brie has a slight ammonia scent that means that it is over-ripe and should not be purchased.
We are using Gorgonzola for the beef. Gorgonzola is a green veined cheese. It is softer than traditional blue cheese, and the way it crumbles is in larger chunks than blue or feta cheeses. There is salt in cheese so if your diet is strict about salt then limit your cheese intake. Cheddar cheese is salted from the beginning in the started curd. Swiss type cheeses are salted in brine for up to two weeks during the curing process. Feta style cheeses are heavily salted (pickled actually) so that the microbe growth is almost halted, hence the chalky and salty texture of dry feta. Parmesan is salted by rubbing it on the outside of the rind, and if it is overly salted and allowed to cure too long in the salt it will dry out. I have this problem of too dry Parmesan just a few times where I was unable to cut through a 30-pound block because it was simple too tight and dry as a result of inattention during the curing process. I tried to explain the problem to my purveyor and he had no idea what I was talking about. Again, it is good to be informed so that you what is wrong or right with your food and what to do depending on the condition of the product. The best Parmesan will be slightly salty and just moist enough to stick to your fingers when grated. That’s all the information today on cheeses.
The grill and the charcoal used. I mostly use hickory. Hickory is the standard for slow, smoky, full flavored grilling and bbq smoking. Mesquite is the most popular for fish and chicken because it cooks at a higher temperature and the smoke flavor is less defined than hickory. Fruit tree charcoals like apple and cherry are excellent for smoking and for water smoke grilled meats like poultry and game. I have used coconut charcoal for really fast high heat grilling, which is great for oily fish like wild salmon and mackerel varieties. Pecan is great mixed with hickory chips. If you are looking for mixing it up with grilling and smoking by raising the grill screen and closing the lid during cooking then use mixes of charcoal and wood chips. Soak the wood chips at least five hours or overnight for the smokiest and slowest heat.
Use hickory for this combination of meats. If you have a banana leaf, or need to buy one do so at Fooks Market or Wal-Mart (strangely enough!). Cactus leaves are available in just about all the markets. Why do I mention these leaves?
You can lay the banana leaf over the duck and salmon while they cook to hold the smoke in while keeping the meat moist. The cactus leaf is great for putting over the beef while it grills to add extra seasoning to the meat, and also to set the beef on after it has cooked to keep it from burning on the grill. Cactus leaf is tasty and there are no pins and needles in the ones in the grocery store sold for eating so don’t fret about that sticky problem. Banana leaves can be reused so don’t throw it away.
Remember that you have to keep each area of the grill clean and distinct from the other so that the meat flavors do not interfere with each other. Nothing worse than fishy tasting beef and that can be avoided by keeping the grill clean with a grill brush. The fastest to grill is the salmon so cook it last. Duck is the slowest at 20 minutes and one and half-inch to two inch thick meat is in between at about fifteen minutes.
You will need a pound of hickory charcoal, and a pound of hickory chips soaked in hot water. Oil the grill screen with corn oil by rubbing a corn oil soaked towel on the grill screen/rack. When the charcoal has turned gray add the water soaked chips. When the coals have started to turn color put the duck on the grill. After ten minutes turn on the duck, place the beef tenderloin filet on the grill and cook for five minutes, turn both meats. Add more hickory chips and then place the salmon on the grill. Cover with the banana leaf, or close the grill and let it all smoke for a few (three) minutes. Raise the cover and check to see that the heat is not too hot by holding your hand five inches over the grill screen. You should be able to hold it there for about thirty seconds, if longer then the coals are too cool, if shorter then they are too hot. All of the meats will have been turned 3 times for complete cooking. Remember to put the cheese on the beef for the last three minutes of cooking so that it melts into the meat. Check the meats with your thermometer so that the meat is cooked to your desired temperature.
If you want grilled vegetables with this meal think corn, peppers, onions, and squash. After it has all cooked divide the meats among the plates and dig in for a fun bbq in the backyard or on the deck. What’s more fashionable than being friends or family and just having a good time being together in the early evening?
GRILLING MY LIFE AWAY
Sometimes a warm summer night is all we need
To see how beloved this Southern life can be,
For me it’s how I cherish, how I care and prepare,
For others it’s just the way the day crawls by,
How we sit and chat and watch the flowers in the breeze,
And any way you slice it there’s no better way to live
Than passing the time on a sun porch in June,
It’s one of those things my Mother taught us all,
To love the life we live and to share this love with everyone.
And if you don’t believe, well, gather round the grill
And start talking about the world,
Pour a tall glass of sweet orange pekoe tea,
And tell me, can you feel the urge to tell history and myth?
Can you feel the desire to hold your loved one?
Can you tell her she is beautiful in the glow
Of a hickory smoke fire at sunset?