CATFISH, RIBS AND A SMOKING GRILL
Ever think about how funny it feels to crank up the grill when the temperature of the sun is the same as the thermostat? To stand by the grill is a position of honor, and yet it can be the sweatiest place in the land. But that’s the way it is when the werewolf days (formerly dog days) come rolling in on hot rocks and humid soil. We just burn, take note though that we do not burn pork or beef ribs, catfish and Nathan’s Franks. For all the right reasons we love living in the heart of the South. Keeping cool after a full day of imitating race horses and farm mules is not easy.
The grill calls like a beloved, you want to sit in front of the AC vents, the grill just sits and waits, a still life with wonder, a callous pioneer of ceramic and steel. So we answer the siren of the back yard and promise all a smoke blessed dinner of Georgia and North Carolina, two of my three favorite states, the other being Northern California, a state into itself. Menu is: pork ribs and catfish, figs and peaches, tomatoes and Vidalia onions, jalapeno and poblano peppers.
If you do not have catfish from your family fisherman you can find Vietnamese swai or basa and Southern farmed catfish in the grocery stores now. Swai and basa are farmed Asian river catfish. Swai has been served by many restaurants of questionable nature as grouper for grouper sandwiches or as steamed grouper. When you see a value meal or low priced grouper sandwich the bet is on that it is not grouper and is in fact swai. Grouper is not inexpensive anymore and has not been for a few years.
This deceit of breed is a favorite find for investigative reports on TV and in food journals. Kind of like restaurants that sell farmed perch (tilapia) from China instead of Central American or Texas farmed. The difference is significant. Perch/tilapia is a delicious fish. Izumi dai tilapia raised in near cesspool conditions with questionable feed just does not taste very good. Not all tilapia is alike and not all catfish is alike. Buyer be aware of what you are doing. Tilapia is a herbivore so it is not fatty and really does have a slight green vegetable flavor, as with catfish a buttermilk marinade will smooth out the flavors. Both are sustainable and that is ALWAYS a good thing. Seafood Choices Alliance lists American farmed catfish as a best choice and swai as a good alternative.
Our other star of the sunset grill are country pork ribs. The big rich meaty and fatty jewels of the rib family. Ribs love a marinade and a hot smoke even more. We will be using coconut and tamarind juices in our marinade for the ribs. Stop it, don’t even complain that you can’t find these ingredients. They are right there in Fooks, Asian grocery, any Super Mercado or in the Latin/Asian section of most grocery stores.
You can make your own coconut milk with shredded coconut and water. That is how canned coconut milk is made, from by pressing and squeezing the water and coconut together through a cheese cloth. Tamarind water and paste is made by running warm water over tamarind and separating the seed from the flesh. Throw away the seed and mix the tamarind and water together into a paste. It is that easy. It is also easy to buy a can of coconut milk and a can of tamarind juice. Worcestershire sauce is made with tamarind. So it is not unfamiliar to you, just by name, by name and a few spices. In Thai grocery stores you will see tamarind labeled as candy. It is used for making soft drinks, candy, British condiments, sauces and marinades. The flavor is in the neighborhood of lemons and limes. Young coconut juice and tamarind juice are healthy and refreshing as a summer drink should be.
MASTER GUIDE FOR ALL GRILL/SMOKING OR KETTLE GRILLING:
Prepare your grill with 10 to 12 pieces chunk hickory and apple, or pecan and cherry wood and charcoal chunks. You will also need two cups of fruit wood chips soaked over night in water and then loosely wrapped in aluminum foil. Cook the charcoals to gray. Place the aluminum foil wrapped chips on top of the coals. Grill screen 12 to 18 inches from heat source. When the wood chips start to smoke then begin grilling.
Be careful not to let the pork burn so regulate how much air enters the base of the grill to a minimum, and frequently turn the meat. Total grill time is about an hour for fast and 8 hours for slow smoke. During the last five minutes of grilling brush the marinade on the meat. I have smoked ribs and briskets for up to 12 hours. Pork ham took 20 hours for my best friends’ wedding and it was the best I ever cooked. Avoid the little no match charcoal briquettes, use real wood charcoal and wood. The best smoke flavor comes from the best ingredients. Treated coals will ruin a ceramic smoker like Big Green Egg, Komodo and Primo.
The smoke matters so choose wood to compliment what you are cooking.
PORK RIBS, PEACHES, FIGS AND POBLANO PEPPERS
Recipes are for 4 people . Cut the rib meat in three slices keeping it on the bone. This allows smoke and marinade for short cook time and flavor. Grill temperature will be 250 degrees. Cook ribs to 165 degree internal temperature.
5 pounds pork short ribs/country ribs
2 ounces corn oil
6 ounces soy sauce
6 ounces tamarind juice
6 ounces young coconut juice
4 ounces apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 ounces ginger, sliced long ways
1 onion, chopped
4 ounces honey
2 ounces maple syrup
Combine, add ribs and marinade overnight in sealed plastic container.
Reserve one cup marinade for the sauce. Mix the reserved with 5 ounces ketchup. Heat 20 minutes medium low heat and brush on ribs during last 15 minutes smoking.
4 peaches, cut in half and remove the stone
12 figs, whole (pig with fig!)
1 poblano pepper cut in 8 squares
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, cut in four pieces
Remove pork from marinade and grill for 30 minutes per side turning them four times. Keep the lid closed on the smoker grill between turns.
Grill onion and peppers for 20 minutes, grill fruits for ten minutes.
Serve with favorite slaw, grilled corn on the cob and grilled potatoes.
BUTTERMILK CATFISH, JALAPENO AND TOMATOES
The buttermilk marinade removes the pond flavor and fills it with the medium fatty and smooth taste we look for in fresh water fish. Catfish loves to be fried but properly treated it is a great grill fish as well.
24 ounces catfish (or swai), cut into 8 small steaks
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
Combine and marinade 4 hours to overnight (12 hours). Remove and shake off the marinade. Discard marinade. Set catfish on paper towels. Sprinkle again with Bay Seafood seasoning.
Grill temperature to 400 degrees. Grill 5 minutes per side turning four times.
Serve with onion hush puppies, tartar sauce, sliced tomatoes and jalapenos.
Thanks, keep cool and truly love the ones you’re with.
Everywhere around wild fruits
are racing with tomatoes
to see who ripens first,
leaves reach star-ward,
roots dig further and further
and we watch:
the water and light
are just enough
just enough for the perfect
black Cherokee tomato,
just enough for long beans
and roses, Anaheim peppers,
basil, rosemary, garlic,
you name it,
Just enough for you and I
to bet on which will ripen first,
which green tomato is fried
and which lives another day.
This is the life, summer love
and patient love swinging
on the porch together at dusk.