Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Holy Smoke!

By Mick Vann

JUNE 28, 1999: 

The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Reichlen, Workman Publishing, $18.95 paper

Live fire cooking is the world's first cooking method; it's the easiest and most forgiving, and definitely the most popular way to cook throughout the world. Barbecuing is no slouch in the U.S. either. Eighty-four percent of Americans own grills, and last year they fired them up almost three billion times.

Steven Reichlen's newest cookbook, The Barbecue! Bible, is a godsend to the global griller. The book is devoted solely to the art and science of cooking over fire, and Reichlen is the first to compile such an extensive collection of worldwide recipes for preparing all things grilled and barbecued. It's such a masterwork that it was nominated for a James Beard Award and won a Julia Child Award.

Reichlen took three years to fastidiously research the topic, traveling over 150,000 miles to cover five continents and 25 countries in his quest to discover firsthand how grilling varies from country to country. But Reichlen is quick to point out that his quest was "a labor of love, not of lucre." He notes, "During three long years on the barbecue trail, there wasn't a single meal I didn't enjoy."

He opens the book with a definition of grilling: "a high heat cooking method done directly over live flames." Grilling usually involves smaller pieces of food, cooked for short periods of time. Contrast this with barbecuing, described as "a long, slow, indirect, low-heat method that uses smoldering logs or charcoal and wood chunks to smoke-cook the food." Barbecuing normally involves larger and tougher cuts of meats. Once barbecue is defined, Reichlen launches into a very complete guide to the gear of grilling: the fuels, the types of grills and pits from which to choose, and the accessories and accoutrements. Next follows a practicum on pyro-physics, covering things like construction of the perfect kinds of fires, the timing involved, and the Ten Commandments of Perfect Grilling. It's exactly the kind of basic information that both neophyte and "expert" grillers need.

The next chapter includes 20 recipes for global thirst quenchers, both leaded and unleaded, because, after all, how can one tend a blazing (or slow and subdued) fire without a refreshing beverage within hand's reach?

But the real meat of this tome lies in the chapters dealing with the different classifications of grilled goodies: appetizers, salads, breads, beef, hog, ground meat/burgers/sausages, birds, fish and shellfish, and yes, even veggies. Some 100 pages of condiments, salsas, and slaws, and sauces to mop or slop follow these chapters. And the book even includes a generous sprinkling of worldly dry rubs. It's topped off with a section on grilled desserts, by which time you're ready to bring the world of barbecue to your patio.

The Barbecue Bible by Steve Reichlen

Each recipe begins with extensive prefatory statements, loaded with historical and background information. They offer travelogue-style notes on the trips, restaurants, and casts of characters involved, usually followed by suggestions for serving, and substitutions and variations that apply. The recipes are well thought out and very easy to follow. They are accompanied by mini-sidebars on the country from which the recipe comes, the method used (direct or indirect), any advance preparation that can be done, and lists of any special equipment needed.

The Barbecue! Bible is also chock-full of larger sidebars, loaded with all manner of useful information, such as "How to Spatchcok a Chicken or Gamehen" (which involves partially deboning and butterflying) or "How to Grind Your Own Meats at Home," with the proper ratios of fat to meat. As a former chef of 25 years and a serious student of global cuisines, I could not think of a single bit of information not included.

For my test of the recipes, I chose a couple of Afghani dishes, mainly because I love what limited exposure I've had to Afghani cuisine and have been trying to locate an Afghani cookbook for the last two years. O Be Payaz (Onion Water Lamb Chops) were marinated in an intensely flavored mixture of puréed onion, saffron, turmeric, and chiles, creating an exotic and succulent explosion of taste. Afghan Grilled Quail involved a marinade of paprika, coriander, cayenne, curry, cumin, turmeric, and yogurt. It produced moist and highly flavored birds that spoke of the Khyber Pass. Take a bite, close your eyes, and you'd think you were in a Silk Road market in Kabul or Herat.

Reichlen has created the definitive guide to grilling and barbecuing the foods of the world. It comes very highly recommended, and none of those 84% of Americans with grilling devices should be without it.


Cooking Class With Steven Reichlen, Central Market Cooking School
Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Steven Reichlen's cooking class at Central Market was much more than a shameless promotion of his new book, as these events sometimes are. It was nothing less than a culinary world tour, packed with information about cooking in general and grilling in particular. I use the word "grilling" because only three regions of the worldbarbecuein the classical sense -- the U.S., Mexico, and Jamaica/Guadeloupe -- while 95% of the world grills.

Reichlen grew up on TV dinners and horrible cooking -- quite a beginning for a food writer as talented as he is. As a student, on a whim he wrote a grant request to research medieval cooking in Europe. To his surprise, he was awarded an IBM / Watson Foundation Scholarship for a year. While in Paris, he took classes at the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools, and this background led to him to become a food writer for Boston Magazine and, subsequently, an author of 16 cookbooks. Reichlen also writes for the L.A. Times Syndicate, National Geographic Traveler, and Food and Wine. His books have won numerous Beard and Child awards, and he's a highly sought-after food lecturer, consultant, and barbecue judge for national competitions.

Our menu began with Caipirinha (a Brazilian daiquiri), which set the mood for the entertaining lecture and courses to follow. We went downstairs, to be adjacent to the grill, for a round of Catalan Grilled Tomato Bread: toasted and rubbed with garlic cloves, olive oil, and topped with fresh tomato. It was a great precursor to the Australian Honey Sesame Shrimp on the barbie. We went back upstairs for the remainder of the class, starting first with Grilled Gazpacho -- a smoky blended classic Spanish tomato, bell pepper, and cucumber soup. Reichlen demonstrated the method of preparing Matambre, the famous Uruguayan beef roll, stuffed with peppers, cheese, sausage, bacon, and herbs, and topped with Chimichurri Sauce. A West Indian Butternut Squash Gratin followed as the vegetable, and dessert was a Coconut/Coco Loco Brulee, flame kissed to caramelize the sugar topping.

The dishes were all extremely appetizing and satisfying, and the constant flow of vital information held my interest solidly between courses. It's a real pleasure to be exposed to such a captivating lecturer and author, and the Central Market Cooking School deserves praise for bringing Steven Reichlen to Austin. --M.V.


Steven Reichlen's Ten Commandments of Perfect Grilling

1. Be organized. Have everything ready before you start grilling.

2. Gauge your fuel. Start a fire that will last, and make sure you have plenty of propane to finish if cooking with gas.

3. Preheat the grill to the right temperature: 500ºF for direct, 350ºF for indirect.

4. Keep it clean. Clean the grate twice: once before cooking, once when you're through.

5. Keep it lubricated. Oil your grate before placing the food on top.

6. Turn, don't stab. Always use tongs or a spatula, never a fork.

7. Know when to baste. Oil & vinegar, citrus, and yogurt-based marinades and bastes can be applied throughout cooking, sugar-based only near the end of cooking.

8. Keep it covered. Larger cuts need covered, indirect cooking. Each time you lift the lid to check, you add five to 10 minutes to the cooking time.

9. Give it a rest. All meats need to rest at least five minutes after removal, to allow the juices to return to the surface for juicier meats.

10. Never desert your post: Grilling is easy, but demands constant attention, especially using the direct method.



Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A. by Jane and Michael Stern, Broadway Books, $15 soft

Cooler temperatures and the promise of an apartment on the ocean means I'm spending most of this summer in Maine, which made for a mighty long drive through 20 states. So what better excuse to eat my way across the U.S.A.?

Anyone who's done it knows that in multi-thousand mile drives, there really isn't a whole lot to do other than howl along to whatever classic rock song is on the radio and wonder when, where, and what the next meal is going to be.

Singing is the easy part, and I have Jane and Michael Stern to thank for their guidance along the road. On a trip like this, one can easily fall back on fountain Cokes and salty snacks, but why settle for Fritos when you can have Frito Pie?

The trouble is, where do you get it? In your part of the country, you know where to go, but it's often hard to know what's worth your while on the road. Jane and Michael Stern, who eat professionally all the time, have made it their business to give the rest of us recommendations. In their classics RoadFood, Goodfood, and now, the glove-compartment sized Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A., they've sized up hundreds of America's culinary diamonds in the rough, where eaters can get a memorable portion of regional specialties and local color. Sidebars clue readers in to what types of foods to look for in what regions, with the restaurants -- most of which are somewhat inexpensive, many of which are glorious dives -- listed by state. Some restaurants get a paragraph, others warrant a page.

We decided to rely upon the book whenever it came in handy. Our first Stern recommendations were for New Orleans: Breakfast was a lazy affair, with chicory coffee and fluffy fried beignets at Cafe du Monde, lunch a pair of rich and drizzly muffalettas, stacked with provolone, salami, olive relish, and ham, ordered to go from Central Grocery. Actually, we would have stopped at these two favorites even without the Sterns' guidance, but the addresses, hours, and phone numbers they list are great helps in finding old favorites.

As soon as we were back on the road, we startedreading about places to stop in Mobile, Ala., just a few hours down the road. This in mind, we thought it smart to eat our sandwiches right away, so we'd have plenty of room.Before we hit Mobile, however, we detoured to a coastal route in Gulfport, Miss., where we spied a Krispy Kreme outlet we could't pass up. Unfortunately, when we pulled in, it was obvious that we were too full to try a donut. We couldn't conceive of splitting a donut, in the future, is how full we were.

We drove on, cowed, to Mobile.

The sidebars in the Sterns' latest guide offer tips about what to look for in certain areas, and Mobile is a great place to try a West-Indies salad -- picked-over Gulf-crab and sweet onion dressed with a little citrus. Roussos in Mobile gave us a delicious, if tiny and expensive, portion of this regional speciality, just as a snack, and we also ordered some fantastic oysters broiled with bacon, tomato sauce, and parmesan cheese. Broker, fuller, and now grumpy since we were clearly making very bad time on the road, we plowed through to Tallahassee for a terrible dinner at a counterfeit Cajun restaurant where all the food was straight from the freezer to the frydaddy -- not a Stern recommendation, by the way.

Driving out of Florida, we knew from the book to look for roadside stands with hot boiled (pronounced "bald") peanuts, a local favorite. The trick to boiled peanuts is that you're not allowed to think of them as nuts, you must think of them as beans. Wet, mushy, and not terribly clean is how I now think of them, but great for spitting out the car window. A part of the Florida road culture not to be missed, nonetheless.

We blew through to North Carolina for the next Stern meal, a pig pickin' dinner of pulled pork at Melton's Barbecue in Rocky Mount. Carolina barbecue differs wildly from Texas barbecue in that the sauces are thin, clear, and mostly vinegar; Melton's had a little sugar and ground chili in theirs. Crunchy slaw is a must, as is Brunswick Stew, a tomato, pork, and lima-bean concoction served on the side. Hush puppies are the perfect substitute for white bread. Melton's was a wild success, and we were glad to have driven 20 miles out of the way for the experience.

Connecticut used to be home territory to me, so stopping at Dr. Mike's in Bethel, Conn., for a gigantic hot fudge sundae with world-class homemade ice cream is all in a day's work, but it's worth noting that the Sterns give it the thumbs up, too.

Without a guide, it's possible to end up eating a lot of bad food on the road. There's really no reason,X since the steel-stomached Sterns, as they point out in their introduction, eat at about 10 recommended places that don't pass muster for every one of the 500 they choose to include in their lineup. Looking at the Texas section (which includes Threadgill's, Kreuz Market, and Louis Mueller's), it's clear that no out-of-towner can know all of a region's best-kept secrets. But when the Sterns do give something their two thumbs up, it's usually worth a try. -- Meredith Phillips



Paul Heathcote's Rhubarb & Black Pudding by Matthew Fort, Fourth Estate Ltd., $40 hard

Paul Heathcote's Rhubarb and Black Pudding

English chef Paul Heathcote likes to portray himself as a "normal" guy. He's married, has a couple of kids, plays squash and cricket in his spare time, and got into cooking because he didn't like the food his father fixed when his mother abandoned the kitchen for her regular "girls' night out." What this modest picture fails to tell you is that the guy is one of England's leading culinary professionals -- one who has earned treasured Michelin stars for the creations he serves in his namesake restaurant lost in the Lancastrian countryside.

Neither Breast of Goosnargh Duckling with Fondant Potatoes and Mead-scented Sauce nor Pig's Trotter filled with Ham Hock and Sage with its Tartlet of Pea Purée and Shallot Sauce was a part of my dining experience when I lived in Lancaster. But then I never visited Heathcote's, where unglamourous, indigenous English ingredients like cabbage and pigs' cheeks are routinely elevated to gourmet standing. British food gets a bad rap most of the time, and quite frankly, I witnessed more people munching on the uninspired baked beans and toast than roasted partridge during my stay there. Admittedly though, I was a graduate student, and refined restaurant meals were the exception, not the rule. Had someone introduced me to Heathcote's food and explained that, much in the same spirit as our own Alice Waters, he champions native ingredients and elemental preparations updated by reasonable contemporary twists, I would no doubt have been a convert to the British -- or at least Lancastrian -- table. Now it's up to me to create the conversion experience at home here in Austin using Heathcote's cookbook, Paul Heathcote's Rhubarb & Black Pudding, by leading British food critic Matthew Fort.

I know, a cookbook on English cookery using traditional ingredients and techniques sounds stodgy, but Heathcote and Fort tempt you to the table with lusty, earthy recipes like Roast Saddle of Rabbit Filled with Herbs and Wild Mushrooms and a Warm Salad of Trout and Celeriac. Besides the recipes, the pages of Rhubarb & Black Pudding are filled with pretty photographs and the occasional poem. Each section (the book is divided into each of the four seasons) is broken up by short, colorful biographies on the local folk who supply Heathcote's Restaurant, and each chapter also features an essay or two that transports you to Heathcote's native Lancaster. There are tales of judging a cheese contest at a rural agricultural show, serving Christmas dinner, and scavenging mushrooms in a damp, dark forest.

As Heathcote puts it, "too many chefs want to cook what's in fashion, and every restaurant you go to has a similar kind of feel to it," so he turned to English cooking to be different. He knows (and author Fort states) that turning parsnips and boiled meats into something desirable isn't an easy thing to do. So the cookbook guides its users through the preparation process in an unusually detailed manner, steering clear of complicated culinary terminology in favor of straightforward instruction and friendly advice. In the recipe for Roasted Partridge, for example, you're told to "make sure the entire leg is flat on the bottom of the pan so that they cook more quickly and the breasts more slowly." This doesn't mean the recipes are simple -- in fact, they shouldn't be begun unless you've got considerable time on your hands -- but once you begin, things progress clearly.

For Americans, getting some of Heathcote's ingredients (Goosnargh duck, rabbit, eel) may pose a challenge, but many of the recipes present a new way to combine tired, old ingredients -- things you can hardly deem exotic. Rhubarb & Black Pudding inspires you to reduce cauliflower to cream and smooth it over roasted fish served alongside sage and onion mashers. It suggests you jazz up bread and butter pudding with a cinnamon-spiced compote of apricots, and serve cod in a red wine sauce infused with star anise, orange, thyme, and garlic. In short, this is a cookbook that will make fans of British cooking go the extra mile when it comes to creativity, and inspire the rest of us "doubting Thomases" to give the English kitchen a second chance. -- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry


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