Sunday, August 24, 2008

Joining the Foodies

Hey, I've started writing about grilling for a D.C. area blog site, Check out my inaugural post on grilled Cornish hens and spicy corn salad at D.C. Foodies.

Gin vs. Vodka: The grudge match

I'm a gin guy.
It's flavorful. It's clean. Churchill liked it. It's a quality liquor.
My buddy Tim is a vodka guy (closet communist).
It's flavorless. It's boring. It's the liquor of choice for brutal Soviet dictators and the cast of "Sex and the City."
But who am I to criticize another man's liquor? When that "man" insists on ordering vodka martinis.
The martini is my drink. Ice cold with a lemon twist, it just doesn't get any better.
It does, however, get much worse when you insist on subing out the gin for vodka. That's effectively saying, "Hey, I hate flavor!"
So, after going around and around about the merits of the true martini verses the vodka martini, Tim and I agreed to hold a tasting. My favorite gin verses his favorite vodka. The goal being to convince each other of the virtues of our spirits.
Well, it worked.
I really am surprised. I've had my fair share of vodka and never really thought much of it. Tim's had gin. Good gin. Hendrick's gin. And yet, he's not thought much of it.
To change his mind, I brought a bottle of Plymouth gin. Distilled and bottled in the English port town the pilgrims launched from lo those many years ago. It's the best gin I've ever had.
Tim brought Tito's Handmade Vodka, produced in of all places Austin, Texas.
Yee haw.
He also offered up a bottle of Chopin Polish vodka. He should have gone solo with Tito.
To show off the qualities of the gin and vodka, we did a straight tasting and made a couple cocktails. Tim made a caipiroska. I made a martini and a gin and bitters.
I gotta admit, Tito makes a quality vodka. It's smooth and rich. I enjoyed it as much straight as I did in the caipiroska.
The Chopin tasted like alcohol.
In turn, Tim really digged the Plymouth gin (no surprise there).
The tasting availed him to the slightly sweet, herbal qualities that make gin such a pleasant spirit. The gin and bitters (made with Regan's Orange Bitters) was just a popular.
The martini, however, wasn't to his taste.

3 oz. of Plymouth gin
1 tsp. dry vermouth
lemon twist

Fill a shaker half full with ice and add the dry vermouth. Stir and vermouth to coat the ice cubes and strain the excess. Add the gin, stir and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Gin and bitters
3 oz. of Plymouth gin
4 shakes of bitters (preferably, Regan's Orange Bitters)

Add the bitters to the cocktail glass. Swirl the bitters to coat the sides of the glass and pour out the excess. Pour the gin and enjoy.

1 lime
1 tsp. sugar

Wash the lime and cut it into quarters. Muddle the sugar and limes in the glass. Add ice and vodka, stir and serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exploring the wonderously versatile wok

My latest column in Wednesday's Times-News.

From frying and steaming to boiling, the versatile wok can do it all

Drew Long

A few months ago, a reader e-mailed me and asked if I planned to write a column on wok cooking.
The thought had crossed my mind. I like woks and my wife is fascinated by them. The iconic Asian cooking tool is as simple as it is versatile.
When most of us think about the wok, we think about stir-frying. However, the wok can do much more than that. Think boiling, poaching, steaming, deep-frying and smoking.
Six cooking techniques with one pan. Now that's versatility.
So with Michael Phelps and the U.S. Olympic team amassing medals in Beijing, I figured now is the perfect time to break out my wok.
The big drawback to wok cooking is our stoves are not set up for it. Our flat stove tops don't heat woks all that well. Asian restaurants use wok stoves, which have wok-shaped holes in the stove tops that snugly fit the pan's conical shape and heat more of its surface area. Home cooks in Asia who don't have a wok stove use a wok ring that fits over electric and gas burners to accommodate the pan.
In her excellent book on wok cooking, "The Breath of a Wok,'' author Grace Young offers a few tips on cooking with a wok on a typical American stove. When stir-frying, Young advises cooking with high heat -- an unusual and unsettling method for American cooks -- and preparing the meat and vegetable separately.
Beginning with the meat, make sure not to crowd the wok. Doing so, Young warns, will drop the temperature of the wok and prevent searing. Also, don't cook more than 12 ounces of meat at a time.
With vegetables, Young limits portions to 4 cups at a time.
The idea behind stir-frying in a wok is speed. Meat and vegetables are cut into small portions so they cook fast over a very high heat.
Because everything is quick, you have to be ready to cook. That means the vegetables are cut up, the seasoning is on the counter and preferably portioned out, the meat has been prepped and you have dishes waiting to receive the food as soon as it's done -- all this before you begin heating the wok.
As I said, woks aren't limited to stir-frying. When I mentioned to my friend Xiaoyi (sh-OW-yee) that I was writing a column on wok cooking, she told me about saltwater chicken, a steamed dish her mom taught her.
Steaming, as it turns out, is as common in Chinese cooking as frying. Xiaoyi, who grew up in Shanghai before moving with her family to Boston, said cooking oil was expensive, so home cooks often steamed their meals. Although cooking oil is no longer a luxury, steaming remains a staple in her family's home.
The technique is quite a bit different than stir-frying, but just as efficient. When steaming, the meat and vegetables are cooked in a bowl set inside a covered wok. Saltwater chicken, one of many Chinese recipes that utilize steaming, is a one-pot dish that can be done in 45 minutes.
Admittedly, when Xiaoyi told me about the recipe, I was worried that at best it would be wet and bland. At worst, it would be undercooked.
Luckily I was bright enough to trust Xiaoyi.
The chicken comes out perfectly moist and subtly flavored by the salt, ginger and scallions. It's a delicate dish that proves limited means don't limit culinary ingenuity.
Behind my kitchen cabinet doors is a battery of frying pans, stock pots, sauce pots, grill pans, roasting pans and one wok -- which can do the work of all of them.

Xiaoyi's Saltwater Chicken

4 pieces of chicken (2 legs, 2 thighs)
6 scallions, diced
1 piece of ginger (at least 2 inches long), julienned (cut into match sticks)
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon rice wine (dry sherry and sake can be used as substitutes)

The day before, dice the scallions, peel and julienne the ginger, and season the chicken with the salt. Combine the chicken, scallions and ginger in a Zip-lock bag and put in the refrigerator to marinate over night.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you begin cooking so it can lose some of its chill. Place the steaming rack in the wok and fill the bottom with water, but not enough to touch the rack. Place the chicken and half the scallions and ginger into a bowl and place on the steaming rack.

Cover the wok with a lid (I used aluminum foil) and turn the stove on high. When the water is boiling, reduce to simmer and cook for 45 minutes. To make sure the chicken is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer (180 degrees F.) or pierce the meat and see if the juices run clear. If they do, the chicken is ready.

Remove the chicken from the wok, discard the skin and strip the meat off the bone. Serve the chicken, scallions and ginger over rice, ladling on top some of the rich juice that collected in the bowl the chicken cooked in.
Makes 2 servings.

Jean Yueh's Shanghai-Style Shrimp

(Source: From Grace Young's "The Breath of a Wok'')
1 pound large shrimp
3½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices ginger
2 scallions cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon dry sherry
3 tablespoons sugar or to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional)

Using kitchen shears, cut through the shrimp shells two-thirds of the length down the back of the shrimp. Remove the legs and devein the shrimp, leaving the shells and tails on. Rinse the unpeeled shrimp, drain and set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and vinegar.

Heat a 14-inch, flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the ginger and scallions, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until aromatic.
Add the shrimp and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the sherry and stir-fry a few seconds. Swirl in the soy sauce mixture and sprinkle in the sugar. Stir-fry the shrimp 1 to 2 minutes or until the sauce is distributed and the shrimp are just cooked. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the sesame oil, if desired. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings as part of a multicourse meal.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the lamb

There's a layer of fat between the meat and the bone.
After an hour on the grill, that layer of fat becomes soft and succulent, keeping the meat on the lamb rib incredibly moist. When your teeth bite into the rib, separating meat from bone, your mouth is the first to discover the delicious fatty secret. You pause -- briefly -- to figure out this unctuous find. You stare at it hungrily and it winks back.
Oh my God, those were good ribs.
It's rare that I have one of those surprise moments with food. Sure, I've had great meals in great restaurants and at friends' homes. But this wasn't a matter of manipulation. This wasn't a great recipe (though the marinade I put on the ribs was pretty good), it was completely natural.
That layer of fat is between the meat and bone of every rack of lamb ribs that ever was and will ever be.
So why was this the first time I've had lamb ribs? Before I bought them on sale a while back, I didn't know there was any such thing as lamb ribs. I figured I'd get a bit of meat off them, but little else. But what the hell, they were on sale.
On Saturday, the missus and I threw a little welcome home party for a friend and I decided to chuck the ribs on the grill with a butterflied lamb leg.
It was a good party.
For the lamb leg, I used a South African recipe from Steven Raichlen's opus, The Barbecue! Bible. (If you own a grill, you should own this book. I own a few grilling and barbecuing cookbooks. I use Raichlen's all the time.)
For the ribs -- oh, those ribs -- I did a slight variation on the traditional rosemary and garlic recipe by adding crushed red pepper flakes to the marinade.
Judging by the sounds coming from around the table, both dishes turned out well, but the lamb ribs were a fantastic surprise.
To be sure, the pig remains the undisputed king of animals when it comes to most quality cuts from a single animal. But after Saturday's rib revelation, the lamb is making a mighty strong push for the title.

Lamb ribs

2 racks of lamb ribs
1 tbs. garlic powder (or 4 garlic cloves, minced)
1 tbs. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbs. rosemary
3 tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Capetown Lamb
(From Steven Raichlen's The Barbecue! Bible)

For the lamb
1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 to 8 lbs), trimmed of papery skin
6 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers
6 thin slices fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers

For the glaze
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tbs. hot Chinese-style mustard or 1 tbs. dry mustard
3 tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 tbs. vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. minced fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lamb ribs:

The night before cover the ribs with olive oil and add the seasoning, making sure to rub it into the meat. The next day, pull the ribs out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you're ready to grill.

Put the ribs on the grill directly over the heat, meat side down. Cook for 8 minutes, watching for flare ups. Turn the ribs over and cook for another 8 minutes. Move to a cooler side of the grill and cook for another 30 minutes.

Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before eating. I served the ribs with tzatziki sauce for dipping, but it wasn't really necessary.

Capetown Lamb:

Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make slits about an inch deep all over the surface of the lamb, spacing them about an inch apart. Insert a sliver each of garlic and ginger into each slit. Place the lamb in a non-reactive roasting pan and set aside while you prepare the glaze.

Combine the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar, both the mustards, lemon juice, oil, garlic and ginger in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Let cool to room temperature. Pour half the cooled glaze over the lamb in the roasting pan, brushing to coat on all sides. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 3 to 8 hours (the longer the better).
Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a large drip pan in the center and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, place the lamb on the hot grate over the drip pan and brush with more glaze. Cover the grill and cook the lamb until done to taste, 2 to 2-1/2 hours; an instant-read meat thermometer inserted n the thickest part of the leg (but not touching the bone) will register 160°F for medium. Brush the leg with glaze two or three times during cooking. If using a charcoal grill, add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side every hour.

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and brush one last time with glaze, then let stand for 10 minutes before carving. While the lamb stands, heat any remaining glaze to serve as a sauce with the lamb.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rantings and Ravings

First, the ranting.

Last week, the gift shop at the distillery George Washington built at Mt. Vernon started selling whisky.
At last, a bit of Americana I can get behind.
I read about the plan to begin producing whisky for retail sale a while back in the Washington Post when the Mt. Vernon folks decided to reconstruct the old cherry chopper's grist mill and distillery. I assumed (only made an ass out of me this time!) that because they had a working distillery on their hands, they'd make some of the historical hooch available to the rest rest of us. Since Washington didn’t age his whisky (few did at the time), I was looking forward to a few slugs of presidential moonshine.
White lightning or not, I was eager and interested. So when the mini bottles finally …
Wait, mini bottles?!
Ugh. So when the mini bottles filled with a blend of commercial whiskies went on …
Commercial whiskies? Isn’t there a working distillery on site? It's brand new, right?!!
God damn it! Only the government could screw up whisky.
So instead of producing small batch, unaged whisky on site, those willing to pay $25 for a mini bottle, shot glass and a blue box (wee!) can get a taste of a blended whisky they can buy at any liquor store or lounge.
Awesome. I think I'll pass.

Now the raving.

In a move that was both flattering and a little insulting, my buddy Bill put together a tribute to my recipe blogs. Do enjoy the hamster boy’s handiwork. He makes a pretty mean sandwich.
Another blog that’s worth a look is the one from Cigar City Brewing. Never heard of it? That’s because the brewery doesn’t exist. Not yet, anyway.
The folks behind Cigar City (Wayne Wambles and Joey Redner) are building a brewery in Tampa (God bless them). Having grown up in Tampa, I can assure you there are very few local breweries. Sadly, the King of Beers reigns over my hometown.
As a result, there are only a hand full of local breweries and brewpubs in the area, so Cigar City will be a very welcome addition.
Cigar City's blog about the experience of building a brewery from the ground up and launching a product line is fantastic. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to start your own brewery (talking to myself here), then check out their blog.
It doesn't look easy (or cheap), but it sure as hell looks rewarding.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hot wings, baby!

It's the season of the pigskin and I'm jonesing for chicken.
Last night's Hall of Fame game between the Colts and the Redskins was little more than a scrimmage match, but it marked the beginning of the NFL season. Soon enough, I'll be screaming and swearing at the television as my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers tear my heart out once more.
For the moment though, the Bucs are undefeated and we have nothing but promise before us.
To mark the occasion, I did what I always do: I threw in the one DVD I own and relived the Bucs' 2002 championship season and the beating we laid down on the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Football calls for football food, and for this event, I chose hot wings.
Rather than frying the wings and tossing them in sauce (which is typical), I grilled them and basted them in the sauce. The beauty of cooking them this way is the wings pick up the flavor of the grill and the sauce adheres to the chicken. It's also easier to dip the chicken in blue cheese sauce when they're not dripping with wing sauce.
The Redskins won the meaningless game (the only kind of game I can support them winning) and we still have a month before the regular season begins.
But with a belly full of hot wings and dreams of another Bucs Super Bowl win, I'm about as happy as I'll be until January.

Grilled hot wings

25 chicken wings
1 bottle of hot sauce (I buy something cheap and relatively mild. Buy what you like)
3 tbs. honey
1/2 stick of butter (room temperature)
Rub or salt and pepper to taste

Blue cheese sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (recommended: Cabrales, St. Agur or Maytag)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

The day before you plan to grill the chicken wings, apply a rub. I use a variation of Steven Raichlen's rub. If you want to skip the rub, salt and pepper the wings to taste before you toss them on the grill.

For the blue cheese sauce, mix together all ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
If you're using a gas grill, pull the wings out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you get started. If you're using a charcoal grill, pull the chicken out when you light the charcoal.
In a sauce pot, add the whole bottle of hot sauce (I used a bottle of Frank's Red Hot and a little Texas Pete I had left over) and bring up to a boil. When the sauce is boiling, add the butter, honey and stir. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes and set aside.

When the grill is ready, add the chicken wings and cook with the lid on for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the skin facing the heat browns and begins to crisp. Flip the wings and grill for another 5 minutes with the lid closed.

Using a brush, apply the wing sauce and grill for 3 minutes. Flip, add the rest of the sauce and grill for 3 more minutes.

That's it. Pull 'em, dip 'em and eat 'em.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The reality of pricing

A while back, the missus and I were having lunch and watching a football game at the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church, Va.
As we suffered though the Bucs/Lions game, the bartender mentioned that she had a couple bottles of the brewery's special (i.e., high alcohol and expensive) beer, 120 Minute India pale ale. Curious, we ordered a bottle and split it.
The cost? $18.
Sure, that's a lot of money to pay for a 12 ounce beer, but I considered it a rare treat that surely was only available at Dogfish Head's pub and restaurant.
Then I found it a week later at a local liquor store for $8 a bottle.
What the hell?!!
That, I quickly realized, is the rub of restaurant pricing. Even when the bar/pub/brewpub is owned by the brewery, its products will always be cheaper at a store. Every beer and burger you buy in a restaurant has to pay for more than the product and its components. Restaurants and bars have to make a profit on their products in order to stay in business.
Nevertheless, there is something counter intuitive about this concept when the restaurant sells products its parent company produces. Regardless, the rules are the rules, and Dogfish Head has to mark up the cost of the beers it brews and sells in its restaurants.
So when I came across Dogfish Head's limited release Immort Ale during a recent visit to the alehouse, I passed and ordered another Alehouse 75 draft (a blend of the 60 Minute and 90 Minute). At $15 a bottle, I knew I could find the Immort Ale cheaper elsewhere.
Sure enough: I found a four-pack the other day for $15.