Red-hot grilling tips for the Fourth of July


July Fourth begs for a magnificent grill party. It's summer, it's a great celebration of the nation's birth and everyone is outdoors and in party mode. Why hold back on July Fourth? Why not grill everything? With a couple of days' planning, you can really do something amazingly and deliciously different.

Here are four great ideas for the barbecue. There's no reason why you can't do all of the these dishes, although it does require that planning. You will have to consider how many people you're cooking for, think about how large your grill is and make plans for placing all the dishes on the grill.

Getting organized for easy grilling

There's something else many people forget when they grill, but it makes everything easier. Remember to set up a little work station next to the grill to put foods that are cooking too fast, spatulas, mitts and your drink. Even a crummy card table will do. When building your grill fire, remember to pile up the coals to one side of the grill so you also have a “cool” side to move food that is either cooking too fast or is flaring up.

Getting spicy with 'angry chicken'

You may have heard of the pasta dish called penne all'arrabbiata, angry pasta, so-called because of the use of piquant chiles. This is chicken arrabbiata. It's “angry” because it is highly spiced with cayenne pepper.

This chicken gets grilled so if you use the breasts instead of the thighs it will cook quicker. You can leave the chicken skin on or remove it. Crispy skin is delicious, but trying to get the skin crispy on a grill is tricky because of flare-ups. You'll have to grill by means of indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side.

Finding the right fish for the grill

Many people shy away from grilling whole fish for a variety of reasons. One way to make grilling fish easier is to place a rectangular cast iron griddle over a portion of the grilling grate and cook the fish on top.

If you do that, the griddle must be on the grill for at least 45 minutes to get sufficiently hot before cooking. I suggest several fish below, but it all depends on what's locally available.

Parsley-stuffed grilled porgy and mackerel are two small-fish dishes ideal for a fast grill. You may not necessarily have these two fish available, so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.

I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of the porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel. Because 50 percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these, 4 pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet.

But you can use any fish: The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus). It has delicious soft flesh.

Complementing with the right grilled sides

I think it's always nice to have grilled vegetables with any grill party. Grilled red, green and yellow peppers make a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don't have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.

Chicken Arrabbiata

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (skinless, optional)

 

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire to one side of the grill or preheat one side of a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the onion, tomato paste, olive oil, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended.

3. Flatten the chicken thighs or breasts by pounding gently with the side of a heavy cleaver or a mallet between two sheets of wax paper. Coat the chicken with the tomato paste mixture.

4. Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, and cook until the chicken is dark and springy to the touch, turning once, about 20 to 24 minutes (less time for breasts). Baste with any remaining sauce and serve.

RECIPE: “Power” BBQ Brisket


For the full article, click here.

Day 1: Prep time 30 minutes. Resting time 4-12 hours.

Day 2: Prep time one hour. Cooking time approximately four hours. Resting time up to two hours.

INGREDIENTS

1. Brisket — packer’s cut with the fat cap on — at room temperature. Packer’s cut means you’re getting the whole thing with the point and flat. Get this from a butcher who will give it to you with the proper amount of fat on it.

2. Use enough of a rub to cover the brisket generously on all sides or to your taste. Use any spices you like or my recipe below.

3. Thirty-two ounces of beef broth or au jus from bouillon or concentrate — which means 32 ounces of boiling water in which you dissolve the bouillon or concentrate.

4. Injector.

5. Giant plastic brining bag (like the kind you would use for a turkey or to store sweaters).

6. Wood chips, dry. I suggest oak and a little bit of apple, but hickory and pecan are good, too.

7. Fat separator.

8. A blanket, preferably heavy like the kind movers use to wrap furniture. A couple of towels will also work.

9. Meat thermometer.

PREPARATION

(Steps 1-4 can and should be done a day before.)

1. Boil 32 ounces of water and put in the number of bouillon cubes or concentrate called for on the container.

2. Trim any excess fat from the brisket so that you’re left with about a one-quarter-inch fat cap on one side. If there is any silver skin and membrane, remove it. The butcher can do this for you.

3. Inject about half the liquid from Step 1 into the bottom of the brisket — the side with the fat cap is the top — making sure you’ve covered the entire area. The fat cap, in addition to serving as a source of moisture, also provides a barrier to moisture escaping.

4. Put the brisket into the brining bag. Pour the rest of the liquid into the bag and seal it, making sure you’ve gotten out as much air as possible. Let it rest in the refrigerator for anywhere from four to 12 hours.

5. When you’re ready to cook, get your smoker to 325 degrees with the cover on. Once you’re there, put in the wood chips. If your smoker doesn’t go to 325, get it as high as it will go and adjust the cooking time. For example, if your smoker only goes to 275 degrees, add 30 minutes or so. (See separate instructions below for wood chips or if you don’t have a chamber for the wood.)

6. Take the brisket out of the bag and put it on a rack sitting on top of a cooking tray. I use a large cooling rack. Allow any excess liquid to drain into the tray. Don’t pat the brisket dry. You need the moisture for the rub to stick.

7. Put on as much rub as you like, but cover the brisket on all sides.

8. When your smoker is at 325 and after you’ve put in the wood chips, put the brisket on the grill fat cap down, put the cover back on the cooker and let it cook for about 2 1/2 hours, assuming it’s at least a 15-pounder.

9. At the end of this time, take the brisket off and put it in a pan. Cover it with foil. Put the pan back on the grill for 1 1/2 hours or until the point reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees. Optional: Since the actual smoking of the brisket has ended, you can move the pan into an oven.

(I’m assuming that you know what the point and the flat of the brisket are. If you don’t, please ask your butcher because it’s easier to show than to describe it.)

10. Once you’ve done all this, take the brisket out of the smoker and out of the pan, but leave the foil on top. Put it on a large piece of foil and wrap it up. Then wrap it in one of those blankets that moving companies use to wrap your dresser and let it rest for a couple of hours.

11. Take the drippings in the pan and pour them into a fat separator. Pour off the fat. Save the rest.

12. After a couple of hours, take out the brisket, slice it against the grain and brush each slice with a little of the drippings.
BBQ RUB AB

4 tbs. dark brown sugar

4 tbs. chili powder

4 tbs. paprika

4 tbs. salt

2 tbs. garlic powder

2 tbs. onion powder

2 tbs. black pepper

2 tbs. cayenne

4 tsps. dry mustard

4 tsps. ground cumin

Put everything in a bowl and mix well. Alternatively, put everything in a plastic bag and shake well to mix. Apply as much or as little as you like to the meat. Put the rest in the freezer.
WOOD CHIPS

Wood chips are what you burn to create the smoke that flavors the meat. There are two schools of thought about how to prepare the chips. One says soak them in water for a half hour before you put them on the heat. This will produce a “heavy” smoke.

I do not soak the chips. I believe it is easier to control the amount of smoke that is getting into the meat if the smoke is somewhat lighter. So, take a handful of chips and put them into the chamber of your smoker.

If you don’t have a chamber for the chips, and depending on what cooker you’re using, do one of the following:

If you’re using a grill like a Weber kettle, put a handful of chips right on the coals before you put the meat on the grill. Let the chips start to produce smoke before you put the meat on. Make sure of your temperature.

If you’re using a gas grill, it should have a smoker box, but if it doesn’t, make a small pouch out of aluminum foil and put the chips in the pouch. Put the pouch on one side of the grill, directly on the flame. Put the brisket on the other side of the grill and make sure the burners are off on the side where the brisket is. This is indirect heat.

‘Power’ Brisket: Adding Barbecue Flavor for Pesach


For the recipe, click here.

My friend called from New York the other day. He wanted to get my recipe for smoked barbecue brisket so that he could make it for Passover.

“I’m really tired of bad brisket,” he said wearily.

I think he really meant dry brisket. Face it, brisket is among the toughest cuts of beef, but one that, if properly prepared, pays off mightily.

The barbecue brisket I usually make is one that cooks for more than 12 hours, usually 16. That’s the low-and-slow method. I know my buddy has neither the patience nor the experience to tackle this. So, I gave him a shortcut: The “power method.”

The power method is to raise the temperature from the traditional 220 F to 325 F (and no higher, please) during the entire cooking time. The brisket comes out tender and full of flavor. There is, however, one trade-off: little to no bark — the crunchy exterior on the meat.

The reason, as you’ll see when you study the recipe, is that for a good portion of the cooking time, you’re actually steaming the meat. Nothing inherently wrong with this, but that’s what is happening. (I have a method for getting bark on this recipe. You can e-mail me for it at barbqubano@gmail.com.)

The final product more closely resembles the traditional Passover brisket than it does, say, a brisket done for a party at my house. The value you add by smoking the meat for a couple of hours is a distinctive flavor that does not depend wholly on seasoning or marinating.

To be clear, while the cooking involves as little as four hours, the process can take up to six or seven. Still, it’s a lot less than the 12 to 16 hours you could spend and might not have on any given day.

The person who shared this with me is a barbecue champion, Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South in Georgia. Mixon basically makes a living competing across the country. He applies “power” to his championship brisket and ribs.

I give Mixon credit for everything here if it comes out right, and I take all the blame if it doesn’t, because I have adjusted his recipe to my taste and the notion that your smoker/cooker is not a professional version.

I’m going to give you the basics here and you can find the entire recipe online at jewishjournal.com.

First, buy a brisket of about 15 to 20 pounds. However, it can be any size and you can adjust accordingly. You’ll also need an injector, the kind that has the plunger.

Your heat source and cooker — grill or smoker — and the wood you use is completely up to you, but I encourage you not to use mesquite to smoke. I like a mix of oak and a little apple or just hickory.

I have used many different smokers, and they all work if they’re large enough. I would not recommend smoking the brisket on a wok, because the heat and smoke easily escape. A stove-top smoker can work well, but make sure it’s one with a dome lid. (I like the one from Nordicware that resembles a Weber kettle.) Beware, however, that smoking indoors can result in a lot of smoke — indoors.

No matter what cooker you select, you are going to use an indirect heat method. This means putting the meat in a place that is not directly over heat. Usually, this means the meat goes on one side of the grill, while on the other side is the fire.

If you have a gas grill, follow the instructions it has for using a smoker box and wood chips. If you like barbecue sauce, serve it on the side. I’m not big on it with brisket, but this recipe will produce enough jus to use as a dipping sauce.

You don’t have to be a barbecue master to make this work, but you do have to pay attention to each step and be careful with the temperature. The recipe is easier to execute if you do it over two days.

Day 1 will involve about a half hour of preparation injecting the brisket with a bouillon concoction, and then you put it in a giant brining bag and into the refrigerator for at least four hours. Day 2, you cook. Preparation time is about an hour, cooking is about four and the time to let the brisket rest is about two hours.

So, if you think you’re up to the challenge, click here for the recipe.  Let me know how it turns out.

Alejandro Benes is a barbecue aficionado and a partner in Southern California’s Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill restaurant group. Benes recently prepared his brisket for 80 of his “closest” friends at an East Coast party.

Boys to men


It was by far my hardest speaking gig ever.

Rabbi Stewart Vogel at Temple Aliyah invited me many months ago, to speak to the synagogue men’s group at 7 p.m. on June 12. Of course I said yes — it was one of those gracious invitations with so much advance notice that the day seemed as far off as Saturn and as wide open.

What we couldn’t have guessed was the Los Angeles Lakers would be playing Game 3 of the NBA Championship that night.

The rabbi hosted the event in his backyard. I walked through the gate at 7. The guys were eating barbeque, drinking beers and Cokes, watching a big-screen TV set up on the patio. Fifty pairs of eyes shifted to me like I was the mom, they were 10 and it was time to go to bed.

Rabbi Vogel leaped up and flicked the TV off. He introduced me, and the guys were more than welcoming. I decided to speak about the election. I figured what could possibly compete in excitement with the Lakers vs. Celtics? Obama vs. McCain. By the end, we got into it pretty good. Phil Jackson had his strategy; I had mine.

What I decided not to tell the men’s group was my dark, dirty little secret: I couldn’t care less about the game.

Yep: Lakers, shmaykers. Pro sports bore me.

How’s that for coming out of the closet? I would rather watch a rerun of the “Mad Men” episode when Peggy finds out she’s pregnant than the last pass in the closest Super Bowl ever.

I love tennis, but as many men have reminded me over the years, that doesn’t count. In tennis, nobody checks anybody, no one loses his teeth and girls can beat you.

In general, I’m just not supermacho. And I’ve been wondering lately if that accounts for my deep involvement in Jewish life.

It turns out, see, that I am endangered: I am a non-Orthodox Jewish man engaged in Jewish life.

According to a new Brandeis University study, men are becoming less and less active in every aspect of Jewish life, from the home to the synagogue to communal organizations.

“American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue at almost every age,” begins the report, titled, “Matrilineal Ascent, Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life.”

Anecdotally, we all know boys and men in Jewish schools, camps, shuls and organizations. But the study, headed by Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer, used hundreds of interviews Fishman conducted for the American Jewish Committee and for two of her previous books, as well as data from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study. What they found is that non-Orthodox Judaism has undergone a long process of feminization.

As Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist seminaries turn out more female rabbis and cantors, fewer boys than girls join non-Orthodox youth groups, attend religious schools or summer camps, and fewer men serve on synagogue or federation committees.

“Over the ages, men felt very involved in Judaism,” Fishman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It was their responsibility. This is gone today, except in the Orthodox world. We need to look at how we are raising our Jewish sons.”

Fishman believes the “Boy Crisis” is serious because as Jewish boys and men turn off to Judaism, they tend to marry non-Jewish spouses, and their children are less likely to be raised Jewish.

That women have entered Jewish life en masse is not just good, it’s great. But one theory is that in breaking down the gender barriers of Orthodoxy, the liberal movements have neglected something men need: Time with men.

Outside the liberal Jewish movements, Jewish men have the minyan, where 10 can gather for a shot of prayer and a glass of schnapps. “For all except the old and the rigid, the minyan is gone — an opportunity lost,” Rabbi Steven Leder wrote several years ago in — natch — Playboy. “But in the process men lost the opportunity to create something they need and have always lacked, times and places to talk and to be with each other.”

The advent of men’s groups is a direct response to this phenomenon. Leder pioneered one at Wilshire Boulevard Temple almost a decade ago; I’ve spoken to groups from Encino to Palos Verdes. They don’t just talk politics and watch (yawn) ball games; they also bring in relationship experts, talk over feelings, fatherhood — the big stuff. The idea, as Leder wrote, is “to create something the minyan could have provided if men were better at talking to each other.”

I like the men’s group concept, but I’m not certain it alone will reverse the trend. I have a different theory for the Boy Crisis: The problem isn’t that Jewish life treats men like women, it’s that it treats them like children.

At 13, we’re told we are men. From then on, as boys really do grow into men in the secular world, they get treated more and more like children in synagogue. Rabbis guide them through the service; they’re told the rules and expected to go along, and every life cycle from marriage to their kids’ bar or bat mitzvah is as deep a transaction as an allowance.

I once asked a world-famous doctor why he walked away from Judaism. “Because I couldn’t stand being infantilized,” he said. “I was 40; I was at the top of my field, and they talked to me like I’m an idiot.”

The weakness of Orthodoxy is that it doesn’t (yet) fully include women. Its strength is it pushes men to step up to the plate and become active in meaningful, mature ways in their spiritual life: not just as members of a minyan but as teachers of their own children, as Torah readers, as prayer leaders, as the Jewish leader in their own home.

That’s a long-term strategy for male Jewish involvement.

Though beers and barbeque aren’t a bad start.