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Cooking So Easy, a Caveman Could Do It

Here’s something to think about: Grilling is not barbecuing but barbecuing can be a form of grilling. And secondly, anything can be cooked over a live fire.

Steven Raihlen states in his book, The Barbecue Bible, that half a million years ago the world witnessed a revolution: An ape-like creature destined to become man became the first animal to cook its dinner. He goes one step further to say that the first cooked foods may have actually been the result of lightning that struck a tree and started a forest fire. And that the resulting cooked carcasses of animals caught in the fire provided our ancestors their first taste of cooked meat.

Barbecuing and grilling both stem from the same primitive method of cooking over an open fire, but true barbecuing is different. When food is grilled, it’s usually done quickly over an open and sometimes hot fire, When it’s barbecued, it’s cooked slowly, sometimes over the course of an entire day, over a slow, smoldering, and often smoky fire. Long, slow cooking dissolves the connective tissues of tough meats. More often than not, barbecuing is done on a grill with a lid, creating a sort of oven.

Whole Jerked Chicken

Yield: 8 servings

4 green onions, sliced
7 jalapeño peppers, de-seeded
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 whole chickens (3-4 pounds each), split lengthwise

Combine the ingredients (except the chicken) in a food processor and purée until smooth. Place the chicken in a shallow pan and pour the seasoning over it. Refrigerate and marinate four to 24 hours.

Start a fire and wait for it to burn and mature, until only glowing embers remain. Push the coals to one side, and place the chicken towards the other, so it cooks with indirect heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken, turning it and feeding the fire as necessary. Use a thermometer making sure the cooking temperature does not fall below 250F; the internal temperature of the chicken should reach at least 160F.

Chicken legs with Jalapeño-Pineapple Barbecue Sauce

Yield: 8 chicken legs

8 chicken legs
3 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup wine vinegar
2 jalapeño peppers, de-seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Season the chicken with two teaspoons salt, and all of the pepper; refrigerate for an hour. For the sauce, combine the remaining teaspoon salt with the other 10 ingredients in a saucepot. Bring to a simmer and cook until it reduces to one cup (stir to avoid scorching). Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth. Cool completely.

Start a fire and wait for it to burn and mature, until only glowing embers remain. Divide the sauce into two bowls with separate brushes; one is to be used while the chicken is raw, the other after it’s cooked. Push the coals to one side, and place the chicken on the other, so it cooks with indirect heat. Using sauce from the “raw bowl,” brush the chicken, turn it, brush it, then turn it and brush it again. Do this a few more times over a half hour period, then switch to the other bowl of sauce and a new brush. Cover the grill and cook the chicken, turning it, brushing it with sauce, and feeding the fire as necessary. Use a thermometer to insure the cooking temperature does not fall below 250F degrees; the internal temperature of the chicken should reach at least 160 degrees.

Food historians claim two theories on the etymology of the word barbecue. One is that it comes from the French barbe-a-queue, referring to cooking “from whisker to tail.” The other is that it’s derived from the Spanish barbacoa, the name for a method of cooking they found indigenous Caribbeans using some five centuries ago. It’s easy to see how an American BBQ could be considered a “first cousin” to Jamaican “jerked” foods, and that it’s the forerunner to beef jerky. The culinary word jerky, in fact, is derived from the Spanish charquí, a type of dried meat.

The thing to be concerned about when grilling is not necessarily the food—that’s the outcome; it’s the fire, because without a good fire the food will suffer.

But a fire is a fire, right? Not always.

One of the most difficult things to contend with when cooking over charcoal is not the actual cooking but the waiting. By this I mean waiting for the fire to get to its optimal point. At least 30 minutes should be allowed for a fire to establish a thick bed of glowing embers. One of the quickest ways to ruin a grilled meal is to cook directly over a “young fire” with flames licking up and around the food. Most foods will burn and at the same time be undercooked in the center.

William Rubel states in his book, The Magic of Fire, that an ornamental fire is about flames, but a cooking fire is about heat. He goes on to say that managing a cooking fire means having the heat you require for a recipe in the form and intensity you require when you are ready to cook.

At any rate, the thing that gives true barbecued foods their distinctive flavor and texture is not just the seasoning but also slow roasting over indirect heat. This is stated more passionately by author and food columnist Jeffery Stiengarten in his introduction to Peace, Love and Barbecue, by Mike Mills: Barbecue is one of the few aliments that unaccountably do not trigger our bodies’ built-in satiation response; it is impossible to stop eating barbecue once you get started.

joe george

The Berry Thing

The strawberry season is launching now, and the luscious local berries soon will be available at farmers markets. Or, if you like, you can go and pick your own. There is no comparison in looks or taste to the “berries” sold in plastic containers in supermarkets. The bounty just gets better as summer rolls along—soon raspberries arrive, and then blueberries. The farmers markets will be booming with all sorts of selections, but I think the most fun is to go and pick blueberries at Childs Berry Farm (3172 Cooper Hill Road / in Humphrey, east of Ellicottville. It’s a long drive up and around a seemingly endless series of hills, culminating in a breathtakingly beautiful hilltop panorama that also happens to be loaded with 42 different types of blueberry bushes. Escorted by a family member to the picking area, it’s up to you to figure out what type berry you want. Sweet? Tart? Large? Small? Childs has them all, and you get to taste them and pick your favorites. The sun is warm, the view soothes, and blueberries are easy to pick. Get as many as you like, take them home for immediate use, or just pop them into the freezer for a burst of anti-oxidant goodness all year long. The Childs Web site explains in detail the unique characteristics of their soil as well as the integrated pest management tools they use to keep the berries almost pesticide-free. The pride of the Childs family in their careful land use, crop management and product gives the consumer a uniquely tasty and healthy berry. Oh, remember to bring containers to put your berries in!

patricia watson

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