Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
fig. a: smoke gets in my lens
Ever since May, when we finally made the switch back to charcoal grilling after years of working a gas bbq, I've been like a kid with a new toy. The toy in question, is just a classic 18.5" Weber One-Touch, but the charm has yet to wear off, and with Michelle working crazy hours, I've had a whole lot of time to carry out a lot of experiments in lump-coal burning, slow & low barbecuing.
I pity the birds that happened to build their nest just a few feet above our barbecue spot. They got seriously smoked out--over and over and over again. (At least, the smoke in question was fragrant applewood, hickory, and mesquite.) I kinda pity our neighbors, too. They weren't getting blasted with smoke the way those birds were, but the sweet, sweet smell of all that applewood-, hickory-, and mesquite-smoked meat must have been torture.
How much grilling are we talking about? Jerk pork, jerk chicken, jerk shrimp. Pulled pork, ribs, and smoked chicken. Steaks and kebabs of all sorts. Salmon steaks and halibut fillets. Fennel, eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
One of the best of our recent grillfests was a night where we made a Cowboy Rib Eye recipe by Dallas chef Stephan Pyles that we'd found in Saveur (it wasn't difficult, the recipe was featured prominently on the front cover).
We followed Saveur's recipe closely, although we replaced the ground chipotle with ground Oaxacan (smoked) pasilla chile (because that's what we had on-hand), we started the entire process just a few hours before we started grilling instead of a day earlier, and we made it for two instead of four. We didn't change anything about Pyles' accompanying onion rings, though. We figured there was no sense with frying up half an onion's worth of onion rings, and that if there were any leftovers, we could refry them the next day.
fig. b: in the raw
Texas-Style Steak with Spicy Onion Rings
1/8 cup plus 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
3/4 tbsp ground guajillo chile
3/4 tbsp ground pasilla chile
3/4 tbsp ground chipotle (or smoked pasilla chile)
3/4 tbsp sugar
2 x 16-oz bone-in rib-eye steaks
Canola oil, for frying
1 small yellow onion, cut crosswise
into 1/8"-thick rings
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/8 cup of the paprika, 1 tbsp of the salt, the guajillo, pasilla, and chipotle chiles, and the sugar. Put steaks on a parchment-lined baking sheet; rub with the chile mixture. Refrigerate steaks for several hours or overnight.
Make the onion rings: Pour oil into a 4-qt. saucepan to a depth of 2"; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Meanwhile, put the onions and milk into a bowl; let them soak for 20 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining paprika and salt, flour, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and pepper. Working in batches, remove the onions from the milk, shake off the excess, and toss them in seasoned flour. Fry the onions until crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels; season with salt. Set aside and try not to devour them before the steaks are done.
Build a medium-hot fire with mesquite charcoal or lump charcoal + pre-soaked (minimum 1/2 hour) mesquite chips. Grill steaks, turning once, until medium rare, about 12 minutes. Serve with the onion rings.
Serves two hungry souls.
This makes an utterly stupendous steak, and the mesquite really brings out all its Tex-Mex/cowboy qualities. The onion rings are outstanding too. As much as I love a great beer-battered onion ring, these were way simpler and spicier, and just as satisfying.
Now, never wanting to waste a good charcoal fire, I had the idea the bright idea of cooking a rack of ribs while the steak was chilling in the fridge. We made an old standby of a recipe, but this was the very first time we'd cooked them on the grill from start to finish. It was also the first time we'd cooked them over mesquite. What took us so long? Who knows? These new, improved ribs were thoroughly mind-blowing. We had them as our "appetizer." Absurd, I know. We made a bunch of vegetables in addition to the onion rings, but, sadly, they've since disappeared into a smoky haze.
One last thing: the Texas-Style Steak rub makes for a great Texas-Style Barbecued Chicken rub too (as I found out about a week later).
"Texas-Style" Barbecued Chicken
1 whole chicken
Texas-style steak rub
2-4 garlic cloves
crushed red chile flakes
Rinse and pat dry a whole chicken. Add a bit of olive oil, rub it all over with that chile-based rub, add a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves to the cavity, and let it sit, covered, in your refrigerator for at least a couple of hours and preferably an entire day or overnight. Take your bird out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Meanwhile, start your fire, setting your barbecue up for some indirect cooking (coals and/or mesquite wood to one side, water-filled drip pan to the other, vent overtop the drip pan). You want a medium fire for your chicken. You can also make your mop now, mixing equal parts warm beer and cider vinegar, and adding salt and crushed red chile peppers to taste. When the coals are ready, place the chicken (breast-side up) on the grill over the drip pan, and close the lid, keeping the barbecue fully vented. Smoke the chicken for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, without ever moving the bird if at all possible, just adding some coals/wood from time to time to keep the fire at a relatively consistent temperature. Resist the temptation to check the fire for the first hour. After an hour, check your fire every 30 minutes, taking the opportunity to mop the bird each time. The bird is done when a knife poked into a thigh produces juices that run clear. If you want to be more accurate, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. But be patient--a medium-small chicken will take a good 2 1/2 hours. It's worth it, though. The first time you make it, you might have your doubts (in spite of your mopping, the skin will look leathery and dry), but this makes for one fantastically flavorful fowl (juicy too!), and any leftovers can be transformed into a chicken salad that is simply heavenly.
Note: again, I highly recommend the use of mesquite for this dish. Its mineral smoke marries particularly well with this rub.
Okay, people--get your grill on.