BBQ Styles – A Primer

Food anthropologists (yes, that is a thing) say there are certain foods where people tend to be very territorial. The style one first tries of a certain dish soon becomes the only acceptable recipe. No food demonstrates this more than barbecue. Once one learns to move beyond local prejudice, a new world of flavors emerges. To reach this heightened awareness one need only stop comparing the foreign recipe to the familiar. Only then can we learn to accept the beauty of that which is unfamiliar; it could be said that barbecue is a metaphor for culture.

Alabama plays host to three styles of BBQ. The style that most of us grew up with here along the Gulf Coast is actually an example of Kansas City barbecue – various smoked meats glazed with a tomato-based, sweet and smokey sauce. About 90% of the commercial barbecue sauces sold in grocers are variations of Kansas City sauce and it is because of this that KC style is the nation’s favorite. KC Masterpiece is the most popular sauce controlling more than half of the US market.

North Alabama is heavily influenced by the approach made famous in Memphis. This Memphis style is made up mainly of smoked pork butt or spare ribs and is distinguishable by the use of a dry rub (recipe below) rather than a wet sauce. At the same time there is a distinctive Memphis sauce that is less sweet and more acidic than KC style but is still tomato-based. The Memphis style sauce is very common at North Alabama BBQ joints like Tuscaloosa’s legendary Dreamland.

East Alabama border communities like Opelika, Auburn, and their Georgia neighbors enjoy a sauce that uses mustard as it’s base and a very specific cut of pork called a CT butt. The style is often called Smokey Pig because of the Columbus, GA shack that originated it. The mustard sauce (recipe below) most likely migrated from South Carolina and tends to be quite acidic and a touch on the spicy side. Moving from South to North Carolina the mustard disappears and the sauce is primarily vinegar and hot spices. In both Carolinas the primary meat is whole hog.

And Texas is a hole other matter. For these BBQ aficionados it is all about the smoke. The wood or combination of woods used in the smoking process is where the Texan expresses his individuality. Pork is rarely seen in the Lone Star State as Texans love their beef. The most popular cut in Texas is beef brisket because it captures the taste of smoke so well. Seldom will you ever find a bottle of sauce at an archetypal Texas smokehouse and those who dare bring their own should prepare for looks of disdain and the whispered murmurs of Yankee or city folk.

In the resorts of the Rocky Mountains classically trained chefs combine their refined European techniques with the wild flavors of the region. The result is a bold barbecue that uses grilled game like duck or venison and exotic sauces made with everything from raspberries to root beer. In Louisiana you might find a KC style sauce kicked-up with spices that add Cajun sizzle and in the Mississippi Delta they are fond of a sauce called Mississippi Blues that has blue berries as its main flavor ingredient.

Chicken seems to be universal in all regions of the country and can be augmented with a dry rub or any of the aforementioned wet sauces. Which brings us back to Alabama where we have a sauce formulated specifically for chicken. Alabama White BBQ Sauce hails from the northern half of the state and has been popularized at celebrated restaurants like Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur. This sauce is mayonnaise-based with acidity coming from apple cider vinegar and sweetness from brown sugar; black pepper adds a little nutty heat to the finish.

Mustard Barbecue Sauce
South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce can be traced to German settlers in the 18th century.
INGREDIENTS:
4 cups yellow mustard (two 20-ounce bottles of French’s mustard should do the trick)
8 ounces of beer (less for thicker sauce, more for thinner sauce)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
8 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
PREPARATION:
Heat all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat and mix well. Cook until sauce just begins to thicken. Serve cool or warm. The sauce will last in the refrigerator for a long time. Quantity: 6 cups.

Memphis Rub
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

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January 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Cooking the Unthinkable: Pigeon/Squab

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients.  Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

When you announce that you intend to eat a pigeon most people will get grossed out.  That’s because pigeon doesn’t sound very good, say “squab” instead.  That’s the culinary term for pigeon and it’s origins are in Scandinavia where it meant “loose, fat flesh.”  See?  Now it doesn’t sound so gross.

Squab is one of those items that has long been associated with haute cuisine.  In fact to pronounce the word correctly you have to tilt your head so that your nose is slightly elevated so as to appear  better than everyone else.  In other words channel your inner-Louis Winthorpe III.

The flavor is similar to duck probably because they are both dark meat with a fatty skin.  It is highly prized in French cuisine as well as several Asian styles.  Squab is so tender that its texture is often described as silky making it ideal for roasting as the heat dry heat can produce a crispy skin without leaving the meat tough.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the great chefs in the country.  He is the owner of 15 of the best restaurants in America including his flag ship Jean-Georges where you will find the following dish, Squab a L’Orange.


January 8, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Shirataki Noodles a Miracle Food?

In Asia they have long enjoyed a type of pasta made from the konjac root.  Big deal, right?  Pasta is pasta.  Not true of this particular pasta.  Shirataki or hiragana noodles have only 3 grams of carbohydrates but 1 gram of lean protein and just 20 calories in a 4 ounce serving.  Most Americans have heard of them thanks to Rocco DiSirito’s recent appearance on the Rachael Ray Show.

Shirataki noodles are mostly water and glucomannan (from the konjac root), a water-soluble dietary fiber.  Though they have little flavor of their own, they easily absorb the flavor of whatever they are served with.  Their are some varieties that include tofu, this slightly increases the protein.  More importantly it makes the texture more tender.  The tofu-less variety tends to have a rubbery texture that may seem odd to the Western palate.

Cheflebrity Ming Tsai, owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the host of American Public Television’s Simply Ming recently contributed a recipe using shirataki noodles to Men’s Health Magazine.  Here it is:

Soy Pork Shirataki Stir-Fry

Canola oil
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup naturally brewed soy sauce (sub in low-sodium soy, if you prefer)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 head bok choy, rinsed, spun dry, and cut into pieces
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-by-1-inch pieces
1 lb ground pork, browned
2 cups fettuccine-type shirataki noodles, packed, rinsed well (three times), and drained

How to make it:
1. Coat the bottom of a saucepan lightly with canola oil and place it on medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and let the mixture reduce by a third to a syrup consistency, 8 to 10 minutes. To check consistency, pour a line of syrup on a cool dish and hold it vertically. If the line holds with a few drips, it’s ready.

3. Use some oil to lightly coat the bottom of a large, hot wok over high heat. (If you don’t have a wok, you can use a skillet over high heat.) When the oil is shimmering, add the bok choy, scallion whites, and red bell peppers, and stir-fry until they’re slightly softened, about 1 minute. Add the pork, noodles, and garlic-ginger-soy syrup, and stir to coat the noodles with sauce. Check for flavor, and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve family-style on a platter, garnished with scallion greens. Serves 4

Per serving: 461 calories, 35 grams (g) protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 7 g fiber

The Men’s Health piece features more information and recipes for this amazing pasta.

January 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm 1 comment

Cooking the Unthinkable: Nutria

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients.  Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

The Nutria is, for lack of a more appropriate phrase, a giant rat.  Not as large as the “rodents of unusual size” found in the deadly Fire Swamp, but still quite large going 16 to 18 pounds.  They were originally imported to Louisiana for the fur trade but the result is an ecological disaster for the entire Gulf Coast.  The little beasties have multiplied, spreading to Texas, Mississippi and Alabama,

The problem in the Pelican State has gotten so bad that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is actually promoting it as a food source and have set up a web site complete with recipes.  The site also contains more on the history, biology and eco-impact of one of the worst examples of invasive species introduction.  Great job, mankind.

Presumably nutria are lower is calories, fat and cholesterol then any other protein.  The flavor has been compared to dark meat turkey.  So, if you’re feeling skippy want not pop a cap in giant rat?  To help here’s a recipe from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries web site:

Nutria Chili

Recipe by: Chef Enola Prudhomme

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds nutria ground meat
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup tomato paste
4 cups beef stock (or water)
1 can red kidney beans (opt.)

In a heavy 5-quart pot on high heat, add oil and heat until very hot. Add nutria meat, and cook and stir 10 minutes. Add salt, red pepper, chili powder, onion and both bell peppers. Cook and stir 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and 4 cups stock. Cook 30 minutes; reduce heat to medium. Add red kidney beans; cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot!

Invasive Species Introduction

January 8, 2010 at 7:37 am 1 comment

Corporations Caught Misrepresenting Caloric Information

An astonishing story published today by Associated Press revealing that several corporations have been misrepresenting the actual caloric content of their foods. Among the restaurants caught fudging are Ruby Tuesday and Wendy’s and several frozen food producers including Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers have been exposed as well.  This again raises concerns about the leadership at the USDA, to government agency charged with insuring that nutritional information is accurate.

From AP writers Michael Hill, Sue Manning, & Caryn Rousseau:

Dieters can’t believe everything they read: The food at many popular chain restaurants and in the freezer section of the supermarket may contain a lot more calories than advertised.

A study of 10 chain restaurants, including Wendy’s and Ruby Tuesday, found that the number of calories in 29 meals or other menu items was an average of 18 percent higher than listed.

And frozen supermarket meals from Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, Healthy Choice and South Beach Living had 8 percent more calories than the labels said, according to the study, published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Read MORE.

January 7, 2010 at 7:07 pm 2 comments

The $177,000 Tuna

Image From the New York Times

The New York Times (perhaps you’ve heard of it) is reporting that a single bluefin tuna recently fetched $177 Grand at a Japanese auction. That’s $345 for each of the giant tuna’s 513 pounds.

This isn’t the most expensive tuna to sell in Japan. In 2004 a 440 pound tuna went for a record $504.54 a pound, $220,000. Here’s the NYT story.

January 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Vilsack/USDA Fail Again With Questionable Beef Processing

Great article from the New York Times’ Michael Moss exposing more USDA incompetence, this time with regards to the unsafe beef served in school cafeterias and fast food chains (yeah, I know.  Who’da thunk it?).  Apparently Tom Vilsack and crew have been so happy with the quality of processed beef that haven’t bothered to check it for e coli or salmonella.  Fortunately, others have.  Read what the government has been feeding your children.

Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.

The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture endorsed the company’s ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli “to an undetectable level.” They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products.

With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella — the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers.

There’s more.  Click HERE to read it.

January 4, 2010 at 8:25 am

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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