The time passes. In the sky … in the trees. Around our tables. And soon, it will be labor day — a reminder of what labor, what work, can do. A pause before returning to efforts and turning to fall.
Summer will be over. As Buffalo Tom said, “you’ve wasted every day.”
But you squander entire summers to have one afternoon of food with friends, in the best way. A dear friend asked me a few weeks ago about trying to win his family BBQ competition — or rock some bbq for his family, I can’t recall, because I am a bad friend — and wrote me. And George, I let you down. But there’s one more weekend before fall, George — one last chance to see friends and family. One last chance to drink a cold drink in the warm light of a lowering sun. And one last chance to enjoy the night and fire by the grill.
I would have told George this, and I still can: While I know very little, what I know I share. I would have told him that nothing you put on a chicken or piece of pork before cooking or on during the cooking will matter one tenth as much as what you put that chicken or pork in before cooking and on after the cooking is done. Brining, George. Sugar, salt and water. Some other aromatics. We’ll talk. You get jucier meat that cooks more thoroughly and more swiftly while still maintaining a rich, true flavor that’s best for indirect grilling. Something to do with ions. I don’t pretend to understand it. I just eat it. Here’s three examples.
1) Anise-Cinnamon Pork Chops (Simple)
Salt. Sugar. Water. Star Anise. Cinnamon Sticks. Two Evenly-Cut Pork Chops — same size, shape and weight.
Indirect-grilling Charcoal Grill.
In large measuring cup, mix water, sugar, salt. If it’s not part of the solution, it’s part of the precipitate. Don’t overdo it, but, at the same time, you almost can’t. Maybe, the first time, back it off a little. (A pro — in re: #3 — told me it should never be more than 5% of the water, each; see more later.) Add cinnamon sticks and star anise pods and put in Ziploc bag with scored porkchops. Refridgerate in bowl for up to 24 hours. Remove.
Discard cold brine safely in sink, discarding solids. Rinse pork chops; pat dry.
Grill less than one minute on direct-coal side of grill, cook on indirect side until good sense tells you, return opposite side to sear alternate side for one min; move to indirect side. You will taste a difference. You will feel it. Serve with sides — crisp and grilled vegetables.
2) Cherry-Ginger-Jalapeno Chicken (Spatchcocked and Breasts) (Moderate)
A friend brings you —
A Pound of Cherries. Inspired, you rinse, pit and divide them. You chop Two Jalapenos. Rings. Thin. Divided. As much Ginger as you think you might like. Divided.
Brine Chicken in Salt/Sugar, 1/2 Pound cherries, One Jalapeno, One part Ginger, Cold Water. (I cooked 1 whole chicken and … 4 breasts with this amount of brine, safely, in two large Ziploc bags. )
Refrigerate for 24 Hours. (Long-term planners can hypothetically leave the whole bird in fridge for 24 hours to dry skin, but, nonsense. You’re saucing this. It’s not a turkey.)
Grill spatchcocked chicken (keel bone removed, rendered flat) and breasts on indirect and direct heat, minimizing motion, with, often, lid closed.
Cook until done. Clear juices, firm white flesh to the bone … but it also won’t look desiccated or coarse. (I always say to guests that if they are, for one moment, dissatisfied with he doneness of their chicken, they should let me know so I can finish it with the residual grill heat.)
During above (perhaps while your charcoal chimney is starting), boil water, cherries, jalapenos, ginger on low heat, stirring often, until soft but still vital. Did I add sugar? I hope not. Run through a food mill — or food process very fine — and baste cooked pieces in warm sauce, replacing on grill briefly for final glaze. Section Spatchcocked chicken, serve alongside breasts. Side dishes are great.
3) The Chuleta Pork Tacos (from the tacqueria I would tell you about, Dr. Jones, if only you spoke Hovito …) (Hypothetical)
The cook told me — but would not tell me the quantities — of the brine are salt/sugar (No more than 5% of the weight or volume or, uh, as Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush said, “I was told there would be no math involved.”) plus cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger … and Orange, Lime and Lemon Zest.
That brine is then boiled, strained to discard the aromatics, cooled definitively below 40 degrees F … and then used to brine cuts of pork for 24 hours before grilling. Chops? Shoulder chops? I don’t know. I need to try a few things.
Grill Pork. Cool to warm. With large, deft, careful blade, chop pork fine.
Serve with Avocado Slice and Sea Salt on warm (but not in the dammed microwave) Corn Tortillas.
George, you wanna come over and try that in October?
Summer isn’t over, some lucky years, until we say it is.