Friday, October 12, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Ghana

Maya Angelou once said, "while the rest of the world has been improving technology, Ghana has been improving the quality of man's humanity to a man."  There perhaps is no better example of this saying than Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian born diplomat who served as United Nations Secretary-General from January 1997 through December 2006.  While his tenure was not without its criticism, there is no doubt that, overall, Secretary-General Annan's made a significant contribution to world peace, but that is a subject for a different blog.

My personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, takes me to the country where the former Secretary-General was born and raised.  My latest challenge is to prepare a main course from the Republic of Ghana.  This country has a long, documented history going back to at least to the fifth century B.C.  This history is one of organized states, such as the Ashanti, the Akwamu, the Bonoman, the Denkyira and the Maskessim. Those independent states were eclipsed by colonialist powers, namely the British Empire. While I am a big fan of history, this aspect of Ghana's past is not the subject at hand.

Rather, I want to focus on the history of Ghanaian cuisine, which seems to be a rather elusive subject.  There are a lot of websites that talk about Ghanaian foods, but very little about the history of those foods.  As much as I want to learn about fufu, bofrot and red red, I want to know how those dishes and others originated and evolved over time.  And, that has proven to be quite difficult.

After spending a lot of time looking for that elusive history, I have decided to make two dishes: Chichinga and Jollof Rice with Goat.  These dishes touch upon two aspects of Ghanaian cuisine: street food and staple foods. 


According to Lydia Polgreen, "few countries reward the sidewalk chowhound like Ghana.  The good street food is where then Ghanaians converge, such as bus stations, markets, interchanges, and construction sites. Vendors are present, selling a wide range of foods, including kebabs, such as Chichinga (or kyinkyinga). These kebabs are small pieces of meat covered in peanut flour and spices, grilled with vegetables over charcoal.  Chef Zoe Adjonyoh calls it Ghana's answer to the shish kebab.

For this dish, I decided to use goat for the meat. Goat production provides a ready source of protein and their adaptability means that they can be raised in different climates. Given the number of government websites providing instructions on how one could raise their own goats, it would seem that goat production is encouraged.  I don't have to travel far to get goat, because I have a lot in my freezer at home.  So, with some vegetables that are vaguely reminiscent of the red, yellow and green of the Ghanaian flag, I made these tasty skewers.

Recipe adapted from The Guardian
Serves 4 -6

3-4 tablespoons of the suya spice mix (see recipe below)
3 tablespoons rapeseed or groundnut oil, plus extra for brushing
2 pounds of goat, cubed
2-3 bell peppers, cored, deseeded, cut into chunks
1 red onion, cut into quarters and separated
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Prepare the goat.  Mix the dry spice mix with the rapeseed oil in a bowl.  Add the goat to the bowl and massage the mixture thoroughly into the meat.  Thread the chunks of pepper, onion and beef onto skewers.  The longer the skewers can marinate, the better.  Lay the skewers in a dish, cover with plastic wrap and marinate for at least 1-2 hours, but preferably overnight.

2.  Prepare to cook the skewers.  Take the skewers out of the fridge and leave them to sit at room temperature for a few minutes while you prepare a charcoal or gas grill, brush the meat with ground nut oil, and season with the salt and pepper before adding to the grill.

3.  Cook the skewers.  Turn the grills after 3-4 minutes on each side depending on the size of the goat pieces.  Remove from heat and let rest for 2-3 minutes.  Serve immediately.


Suya refers to the style of cooking, but it is a spice mix that incorporates chiles, peanuts and a range of spices.  It is what makes chichinga.

This was the first time I used roasted, ground peanuts for a spice mix.  The thing to keep in mind is that the peanuts still have some oil in them, which results in clumping.  That just requires a little more work to smooth out the spice mix before applying it to the goat.  

Recipe from The Guardian

Ingredients (for the suya spice mix):
1/2 cup of peanuts, ground and roasted
2 teaspoons ground hot or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Mix all of the ingredients for the spice mix together in a bowl.  Transfer to an airtight container in a cool, dark place.  Store for up to one month.  If you've added fresh ingredients, store in the fridge and use within a week.


For the main course, I made Jollof Rice with Goat Meat.  There is some debate about whether this dish is truly Ghanian, as Nigeria lays claim to the dish, as do several other African countries.  Nevertheless,  for my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge, I am making Ghana's version of the dish.  The base of Jollof rice is, besides the rice, the use of tomatoes, tomato paste, scotch bonnet peppers, salt, spices and vegetable oil.  The tomatoes and the paste give the dish its signature red hues, while the scotch bonnet peppers provide the spicy kick.  The remaining spices round out the flavor of the dish.

This challenge produced not just a main course.  Eating one dish of Jollof Rice with Goat Meat felt like eating an entire meal.  That makes sense, since the word Jollof comes from the Wolof people.  The word means "one pot," a common term that we today associate with one-pot meals.  

Recipe from Biscuits and Ladles

Ingredients (for the marinade):
1/2 pound bone-in goat meat
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1 scotch bonnet
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 onion
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Salt, as required
Hot water

Ingredients (for the Jollof):
1 large onion
1 tablespoon turkey berries (optional)
1 scotch bonnet pepper
3 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups of long or medium grain rice
Stock from cooking of goat meat
Salt, as required
1 teaspoon shrimp substitute for shrimp stock or chicken stock cube
Water, as required
Salt, as required

1. Prepare the goat meat.  Wash and clean the goat meat and put in a sauce pan.  Blend the garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet, green bell pepper, onion, anise and cumin seeds together.  Pour over goat meat.  Add salt and curry powder and cook under high heat.  Add hot water as and when necessary to tenderize the meat.  Meanwhile, blend the onions, scotch bonnet and turkey berries (if you are using them) together and set aside.

2.  Brown the goat.  Pour oil in a heavy bottom saucepan with a tight lid and place on medium heat.  When hot, add the meat to fry, reserving the stock for later.  Remove the meat from the sauce pan and set aside.  Add additional oil if there is not enough oil in the saucepan.

3.  Continue making the stew.  Add tomato paste or puree and stir fry for about 2 minutes.  Add the blended onions, scotch bonnet and turkey berries.  Add chopped tomatoes and stir.  Add nutmeg and cover the lid.  Simmer on high heat for about 5 minutes until cooked through and not tasting raw.

4.  Prepare the rice.   Rinse the rice until the water is clear.  Add the rice to the stew, reserved goat meat stock from the cooked meat, ground shrimp or chicken stock, taste for salt and just enough water as needed.  Cover tightly and bring to a boil.  Once it starts boiling, remove lid, use a thin wooden ladle or a long for to stir from the bottom to top.

5.  Continue to cook the dish.  Cover tightly and let simmer on low heat for 10-12 minutes.  after the time has elapsed, remove lid, stir again  Stir in fried goat meat at this point.  Cover tightly and let simmer for 10 more minutes until it is well cooked.  Serve alone or with fried ripe plantains and coleslaw as desired.

*          *          *

In the end, this challenge was my second attempt at cooking goat (technically my second and third attempt, but who is counting anyways).  Both the Chichinga and the Jollof Rice were very good.  The only issue that I had was that goat in both of the dishes was not tender enough (especially in the Jollof Rice dish).  I will need to work on my goat cooking techniques.  Until next time...


Monday, October 8, 2018

Coconut Delight

"Nicaraguan rum barrels." Those three words caught my eye.  I follow the general rule of not buying beer or wine based on the label.  But, the label had those three words: "Nicaraguan rum barrels."  Those words were intriguing to me.  After all, I don't drink Flor de Cana (Nicaraguan rum).  

Those three words also include a "story," or at least a tale told by the brewers:

Like all great legends, the facts are in dispute.  Coconut Delight is named for one of the most notorious and important pirate ships in history.  Batchelors Delight. Captained by the infamous buccaneers Davis, Wafer and Kingson, who won the ship in a card game. After years of pirating in the Caribbean, the trio were set on retiring in Virginia.  They were arrested near Hampton Roads and spent nearly 3 years in prison.  They were able to negotiate their freedom by gicing up a large portion of their booty, which King William used for the "charitable purpose" of founding the College of William and Mary.

Pirates, rum, beer. That is quite the story for what turns out to be quite the beer.  At this point, I should say that, as much as the "Nicaraguan rum barrels" intrigued me, the notion of a coconut quadrupel ale gave me some pause.  I am not a big fan of any beer that is brewed with coconut.  While I like the flavor of coconut, I have a hard time finding a beer that works with the ingredient. 

Enter Lickinghole Creek.  This is a farm brewery that produces hops, barley and beer on 290 acres in Goochland, Virginia.  The beer is begins with well water that is drawn from the property and purified on site.  And, then there is the coconut.  So, let's get to the beer. 

The Coconut Delight pours pitch black, which is a hue that one expects from an Imperial Stout, not a Belgian-style quadrupel.  Likewise, there is a cream foam that, with the pitch black color of the beer is something that is more akin to a Harviestoun Old Dubh.  

Moving to the aroma, there are strong elements of coconut, wrapped with candy sugar.  One reviewer described it as a "Mound's bar."  I can see that description, which carries through to some extent in the taste of the beer.  The flavor is very coconut forward, with some boozy liquor in the background.  There is some indications of that rum in the background, but it has a difficult time breaking through the strong coconut flavor in the beer.  That rum becomes more present as the beer warms over time. 

This beer changed my opinion about the use of coconut in beer.  The Coconut Delight is a very good beer, even if it seems to stray a little from what one would expect from a quadrupel beer.  For $12.39, this beer is definitely worth the price and if I ever find it again on a shelf, I will definitely buy it again. 


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken

I needed a jerk chicken recipe. I planned on making some jerk chicken as a main savory dish for the birthday party of one of my closest friends. To be sure, I have made jerk chicken in the past. Those recipes can be found on this blog: once as my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge for the country of Jamaica and a second time for a Savage Bolek's Barbecue.  Both jerk chicken recipes were very good. However, I wanted a new and different recipe for Jamaican Jerk chicken.  A recipe that is unique.  Something that would make the chicken worthy of birthday party for my friend.  

As usual, I scoured the Internet for recipes. As with practically everything on the Internet, there is no shortage of jerk chicken recipes. I needed to focus my search.  My first step is to look for authentic recipes.  That whittled down the number, but I was still unsatisfied with the recipes.  I needed to go a step further. I began doing different types of searches.  This led me to a recipe that immediately caught my attention: Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken. I am a huge fan of reggae generally, and of Bob Marley and the Wailers in particular. The thought that I could make a jerk recipe that comes from the Marley family was an opportunity that I could not pass up.  I got the ingredients that I needed, a whole of chicken parts (breasts and thighs) and I prepped the marinade.  After ensuring the chicken was covered with the marinade, I placed the chicken in the fridge to rest overnight.  I did the same. 

The next day, as the chicken was still marinating the fridge, I got to thinking. Was this really Bob Marley's recipe?  Could this even be a recipe from the Marley family?  I returned to the Internet to explore the recipe's provenance a little further. The first clue that I fund was not too promising.  While I got the recipe from the Food Network, I did not look at the time to see where the recipe came from. Whens I returned to to the recipe, I saw that the recipe was from a segment that aired on episode of Emeril Live. The second clue was somewhat ambiguous. The recipe was provided courtesy of Bob Marley ... a Tribute to Freedom. I had no idea what or who that was.  However, I soon discovered the answer. Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom is, Bob Marley ... a restaurant at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. 

Image from the New Yorker
At this point, I was very suspicious as to whether this recipe was truly a recipe of Bob Marley or even the Marley family. (I should note that, during my research, I learned that Ziggy Marley has published a cookbook, which has a jerk chicken recipe.) Nevertheless, I continued my search, trying to find any link between a Universal Studios restaurant and the Marley family. I had hoped that there was some connection between the restaurant and the Bob Marley Foundation, which could somehow provide some insight into the origin of the recipe. My search did not produce any information that would have led me to believe that this particular recipe was truly one from the Marley family. Moreover, there were significant differences between this recipe and Ziggy Marley's recipe (such as the latter using garlic but not using soy sauce) that leave me with some doubts. 

Picture from Discogs
And, then, I got to thinking again. Did it really matter if it was Bob Marley's own recipe. Perhaps I had the wrong focus in my research.  My thoughts turned to the intersection between Bob Marley and reggae, on the one hand, and Jamaican food (such as jerk chicken) on the other. Much like Americans blues music, there is a well developed line of reggae songs about cooking and food.  (That is one of the many reasons why I love both reggae and blues so much.) There is Sunday Dish by Early B and Roast Fish and Corn Bread by Lee Perry. Both of these songs are musical recipes, with the musicians working ingredients and cooking techniques into the lyrics. Someday I will have to try to recreate these dishes for my blog.  There are songs about ingredients, like Avocado by Jah9. (She really does love her avocados, by the way.) There are even songs like Eyes No See by General Trees, which delve into issues underlying food, such as being swindled by producers and stores who mislabel what they sell to their customers.

The strong connection between reggae music and cooking/food means that, if one spends enough time, he or she will inevitably find songs by reggae artists about that iconic Jamaican food: jerk chicken.  Not only songs, but an actual "anthem" for jerk chicken. Lion Pawm Twinnz recorded a catchy anthem for every jerk chicken vendor, Jerk Chicken and Sauce:

Every second, every minute, every hour of the day. Listening to the song makes me very hungry for jerk chicken. It also reminds of the need for the spicy sauce that is served jerk chicken. The recipe from Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom did not include a recipe for sauce. This omission was fine in this case because, as much as I love very spicy things, I would be cooking jerk chicken for a wide range of people who may not share my love of mouth-burning sensations. So, the sauce will have to wait for a future post.  

In the end, even if this recipe is not actually Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken recipe, it nevertheless accomplished what Bob Marley would have certainly wanted: it got someone to think.  While I may not have been thinking about the big issues, such as the wide disparity of income in Jamaica or the plight of the impoverished (which is what I do during my day job), the recipe got me to explore aspects of Jamaican culture and music that, heretofore, I had only thought about in a casual way.   

One final note: the recipe from Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom was for jerk chicken skewers.  I used it on grilled chicken pieces. So, the cooking instructions are different. I adapted the grilling instructions from my prior efforts at jerk chicken as well as some of those countless other recipes on the Internet.  As with the cooking of any meat, times can differ based of whether the cut is bone-in or boneless, how much you are grilling, whether you are using charcoal or gas, etc.  So, be vigilant and do not blindly follow the cooking times. (That is actually a good piece of advice for any recipe; as is the additional note to keep a meat thermometer handy.) 

Recipe adapted from Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom
available on Food Network
Serves several

1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground Jamaican pimento (allspice)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 hot pepper, finely ground (or 2 Scotch bonnet peppers)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
7 pounds of chicken (legs, thighs, breasts)

1. Prepare the marinade.  Mix together the onion, scallion, thyme, salt, sugar, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, hot pepper, black pepper, soy sauce, oil and vinegar. Add the chicken and make sure the marinade covers the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and preferably overnight.

2.  Prepare the chicken for grilling.  Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow the chicken to come to room temperature. Remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe away any excess marinade.

3. Grill the chicken. Heat a charcoal grill or gas grill to medium high heat. You should make sure that you have some areas where you can use direct heat and indirect heat Depending upon the pieces being grilled (breast or thigh/legs), you should grill for a total of 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The grilling process should be divided into quarters: grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes and then rotate the chicken by 90 degrees, cooking it for another 7 to 8 minutes. This will create grill marks on the chicken.  Flip the chicken and repeat the process again.  If it is appears that some pieces are cooking faster than others, move them to the side of the grill for indirect cooking.

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the chicken reaches 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the chicken from the grill and allow it to rest, covered in foil, for 5 to ten minutes. Serve immediately.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Grilled Huli Huli Chicken

In Hawaiian, "huli" means "turn."  And, as the story goes, cooks would place chicken between two screens with a handle.  They would then place the screens over charcoal to grill the chicken.  When one side of the chicken was done, workers around the cook would shout "huli" or "turn."  After two turns, you have "huli huli chicken."  Actually, I should probably say "huli" chicken, because the name "huli huli" was patented by Ernie Morgado. 

Ernie patented "huli huli" is a sauce based upon a family recipe. That recipe incorporates two major ingredients: ginger and soy sauce.  That's about all one knows about the original recipe, because Ernie never revealed it to anyone. Of course, I could buy a bottle of Ernie's patented Huli Huli Sauce, but that defeats the purpose of having cooking as a hobby.  It also runs counter to my endeavor to learn as much as I can about not just cooking generally, but about the specifics of cooking.  This includes learning about rubs, sauces and marinades used around the world.  

So, the $12.00 that I could have spent on two bottles of the iconic sauce would be spent on the ingredients for a recipe that I found on the Internet.  Any such recipe is at best an "approximation" of the original huli huli chicken recipe. This particular recipe is unique in its use of pineapple juice, which contains bromelain, an enzyme that acts as a natural meat tenderizer.  The bromelain is found only in fresh pineapple juice. The canning process removes the enzyme from the juice.  So, if possible, you should use fresh pineapples for the juice, because that will lead to the best results.  But, if you only have access to canned pineapple juice, that will work too.  The rest of the ingredients are things that you can probably find in your pantry, such as soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and chicken broth.  That makes this a relatively easy dish to prepare ahead of time and enjoy the next day during a busy workweek.

One other note about the recipe: the use of chicken thighs.  Although I can't say for sure, I would assume the original was done using whole chickens or half chickens.  One could also prepare this dish using chicken breasts; however, in my humble opinion, the chicken thigh works best for this recipe because it has a lot more flavor than the chicken breast.  If you are on a diet or looking to reduce calories, don't bother with this dish.  Embrace the chicken thighs because, on the grill, they are far better than chicken breasts.

In the end, this particular approximation produces a very delicious dish.  It does not look like the pictures from the recipe I used; however, that could be remedied by setting aside some of the marinade (before putting the chicken in it) for use to baste the chicken as it grills  Still, I ate the chicken, I began to wonder how amazing the original dish could be.  Perhaps I may buy those two bottles of Ernie's sauce for a comparison.  But, until that time, I will keep making this recipe. 

Recipe from the Recipe Critic
Serves 6-8

4 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup of unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Green onions, sliced for garnish

1.  Prepare the chicken.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, chicken broth, ginger, and garlic.  Reserve 1 cup of sauce for basting.  Add the chicken thighs and sauce to a Ziploc bag and marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  

2.  Grill the chicken.  Heat a grill over medium heat for 6-8 minutes on each side or until no longer pink.  Baste occasionally with reserved marinade during the last 5 minutes.   Garnish with green onions if desired. 


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Spiced Shrimp

Sometimes, simple is best. This can be especially true when one is talking about shrimp. The crustaceans cook so quickly and can be overcooked so quickly.  For this reason,  a simple boil in beer, water and some spices can produce a quick and tasty appetizer.

I learned this many years ago when I worked for a seafood restaurant. At that restaurant, there was always a pot on the stove with water, beer and the restaurant's version of Old Bay.  Drop a dozen shrimp in and in a couple of minutes (at most), you pulled them out and put them in a basket.  It was that simple. The hardest part was making sure that the pot was filled with the right mix of beer, water and spice for the whole night. A lot of shrimp would get that 2 minute bath every night, throughout the night.  Spiced shrimp -- or, as the restaurant would call them "barbecued shrimp" -- were very popular. (And, before anyone says anything, I know that authentic "barbecued shrimp" is not prepared in this fashion, it was just a thing for this particular restaurant. What did they know ... they were a crab house ....)

There are a couple of things about this recipe that you should keep in mind.  First, use a lager beer.  If I recall correctly, the restaurant used Yuengling for its spiced shrimp.  I don't like Yuengling.  Period.  The best beer in my humble opinion for this recipe is a pilsner. I love Pilsner Urquell, but other pilsners, like Victory's Prima Pils also work well. Second, you need a great spice mix. Old Bay works well. But, if you happen to be somewhere with a market that has good selection of shrimp, fish and crabs, you should see if they also have their own spice mix. Often times, it is Old Bay, but, every once in a while, you come across a small seafood market who actually makes their own spice mix, and it is very good. For this recipe, I found such a seafood market in the Outer Banks, who make their own spice mix.  Third, save some of the spice mix to sprinkle on at the end, like a garnish.

You can serve it with cocktail sauce, hot sauce or something else.  Or, you can do what I do and just eat them. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

2 pounds of fresh shrimp (21-26 count)
4 cups of lager beer
6 cups of water
Approximately 3/4 cup of Old Bay or similar spice mix

1.  Prepare the boiling liquid.  Combine the beer, water and spice mix in a pot, but reserve some spice mix and set aside.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

2.  Boil the shrimp.  Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp is opaque, about 2 minutes.

3. Finish the dish. Remove the shrimp from the boiling liquid and divide into servings.  Sprinkle some of the reserved spice mix over the shrimp.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 2, Old Line Barbecue Chicken

The first element of any regional barbecue style, in my humble opinion, is the protein. In the Carolinas, whether eastern, western or southern, it is pork. Whole hogs. In Texas, whether it is brisket or barbacoa, it is beef.  In between, either in Kansas City or Memphis, it may be beef or pork, depending upon the cut. (Go north to Kentucky, it is mutton.)  But, what would the protein be in Maryland, if Maryland had a regional style of barbecue?

The protein for barbecue is defined by what is around you.  If you are in the Carolinas, it is hogs, because there are a lot of pigs.  More than four million hogs are being raised in North Carolina alone.  There are more hogs currently in North Carolina than there are people in the entire countries of Bosnia & Herzegovina or Uruguay.  There are more than 12 million cattle cows (for beef) in Texas.  That means there are more cows in Texas than there are people within the borders of Belgium or Cuba.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there were only 46,000 cattle for beef production and 26,000 hogs for pork production in the State of Maryland. If there was a barbecue style in Maryland, it would most likely not involve either beef or pork. However, there are 306,700,000 chickens in the State of Maryland.  That's right, there are more chickens in the State of Maryland than there are people in the countries of Pakistan, Brazil or Indonesia.  For a point of reference, there are over 326,000,000 people in the United States.  There are almost as many chickens as there are people in this country. 

The location of large scale chicken farms in the State of Maryland.
So, if there is a such a thing as Maryland style barbecue, then the protein would be chicken.  A lot of chicken. And, if one were to drive through the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he or she would agree.  Drive the backroads of the DelMarVa (the region of Delaware, the eastern Shore of Maryland and the Virginian peninsula), and you will see -- and maybe even smell -- a lot of chicken houses.  Many of those chicken houses are owned and run by hardworking chicken farmers (and, just how those farmers are treated by big chicken companies will definitely be the subject of another post, because I have a lot to say on that subject.)  Many more are large scale chicken operations, either CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) or MAFOs (Maryland Animal Feeding Operations).  (Just what is a CAFO or a MAFO, as well as their impact on the environment, is also a subject for another day.)

Thus, the first element of a regional style of barbecue is in place.  Maryland style barbecue, if it exists or existed, should or would be centered around chicken. Just like Texas style barbecue focuses on beef and Carolina style barbecue focuses on pork.  That is not to say that there can't be beef and pork in Maryland barbecue (after all, there are those 46,000 cattle and 26,000 hogs in the Old Line State).  All it means that we need to nail down a recipe for smoked chicken that could serve as the foundation for Maryland barbecue.

It seems only natural that chicken should be the protein.  After all, there is the Delmarva Chicken, which is a tradition on the Eastern shore. Local groups and firehouses get together, marinate large amounts of chicken, grill that chicken and offer it to anyone willing to enjoy it.  The thing is that Delmarva Chicken is as much barbecue as pit beef is barbecue. The recipes for Delmarva Chicken involve grilling the bird or its constituent parts, as opposed to the low and slow smoking of the meat.

Nevertheless, the recipe for Delmarva Chicken can serve as the basis for Maryland barbecue. It starts with the rub.  Delmarva Chicken calls for a rub of poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder.  Rather than use poultry seasoning, I think that a good substitute could be Old Bay seasoning.  Old Bay is practically synonymous with Maryland because of its use with our beloved blue crabs.  What is little known (despite the advertising) is that Old Bay can be used in other recipes, including chicken.  With Old Bay, and the remainder of the ingredients, I have the basic rub for Maryland barbecue. 

The recipe of Delmarva Chicken also includes the use of oil and vinegar.  These liquid ingredients could work well with barbecue chicken and provide a distinctive character. Most recipes for Delmarva Chicken, such as this one, call for the chicken to be placed into a bowl, with the rub ingredients added, followed by oil and cider vinegar. Those instructions baffle me a little bit, to be honest, but, if they are rearranged, then they could provide a basis for preparing the chicken.  Place the chicken in a large bowl, whisk the cider vinegar with the oil to create an emulsion, pour that emulsion so that it covers the chicken, both on the skin and underneath, and then spread the rub over the chicken both on the skin and underneath.  The emulsion will help the rub stick to the chicken and, if you get it underneath the skin, it will also flavor the meat.

While the Delmarva Chicken provides the basis for the preparation for the Maryland barbecue chicken recipe, I have to say it ends there.  If you look at Delmarva Chicken recipes, there are no mops (after all, it is grilled chicken).  The recipes call for a "sauce," but, in my humble opinion, the sauce is somewhat questionable in the context of barbecue.  Many recipes describe a sauce that consists of 1 part oil and one part salad dressing or mayonnaise. Salad dressing is out of the equation.  That leaves mayonnaise.  However, a mayonnaise-based sauce for chicken that is clearly and indisputably identified with Alabama barbecue (see Big Bob Gibson's Chicken with White Sauce).  This project focuses on defining Maryland barbecue. Thus, Delmarva Chicken can take us far towards Maryland barbecue chicken, but, just not across the finish line.

In any event, the sauce for Maryland barbecue is a subject of its own, and, it will have its own post in this project.   Until then. the basic recipe for Maryland-style barbecue chicken, which I have dubbed "Old Line Barbecue Chicken" ...

Recipe adapted from Lang BBQ Smokers
Serves 4-6

1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
1 1/2 ups of apple cider vinegar
1 cup of olive oil
2-3 teaspoons of Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons sea salt (or kosher salt)
3 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1  1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
Chunks of hickory, pecan or apple wood
     (I used apple wood)

1.  Prepare the chicken.  Place the spatchcocked chicken int a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, combine the spices (Old Bay, salt, pepper, and garlic powder) and mix well.  In a medium bowl, add the vinegar and then whisk in the oil.  Once the oil and vinegar have been whisked into an emulsion, pour some of the mixture over the chicken, rubbing it into the skin and beneath the skin on the meat.  After the entire chicken is covered with the oil/vinegar mixture, move the chicken to a cutting board.  Apply the rub to all sides of the chicken, both on the skin and under the skin on the meat.  

2.  Prepare the smoker.  Start a chimney and, when ready, place the coals in the smoker.  The desired temperature is 275 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  

3.  Smoke the chicken.  Place the chicken on the smoker.  Add the wood chunks to create the smoke.  Smoke the chicken until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove the chicken from the smoker and cover with foil.  Let rest for 10 minutes until the temperature comes up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Carve the chicken into pieces - sliced breast meat, thigh, legs and wings for service. 


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 1: The Beginning

Barbecue is regional, albeit the names are more local.  There is Eastern Carolina barbecue, with smoked whole hogs served with a piquant vinegar sauce (perhaps my favorite).  There is also Western Carolina barbecue, which is still pork based, but there is an added tomato tang to the sauce.  Then, there is Southern Carolina barbecue, which goes its own way with a mustard based sauce.  Travel west, and one finds Kentucky barbecue, Memphis barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, Texas barbecue and, even further west, Santa Maria barbecue.  Add to all of these the international styles of barbecue, brought to the United States by immigrants who brought their culinary traditions with them (think, barbacoa, for example).  

I am a big fan of barbecue, but I don't live in the Carolinas.  I don't call Memphis, Kansas City or any part of Texas my home.  I live in the Mid-Atlantic, the State of Maryland to be exact.  These questions got me to thinking about barbecue in the State where I live.  To be sure, there are a lot of good barbecue joints across Maryland, and, I have eaten at quite a few of them.  Those restaurants feature barbecue that draws its inspiration from those major regions ... Eastern Carolina vinegar-based pork; pork ribs with the tangy, spicy Kansas City barbecue sauce; and central Texas style brisket.  

If one were to look past the barbecue joints and ask what is true Maryland barbecue, the first answer might be Baltimore Pit Beef with Tiger Sauce.  But, as much as I love pit beef, it does not fit the definition of barbecue, that is, the low, slow cooking of proteins over wood smoke.  Pit beef is more about grilling, using a higher heat to generate a crust on the beef, which is thinly sliced, piled onto a bun and dressed with the sauce.  Others may say Delmarva chicken (which someday will be a post of its own), but that is really just grilled chicken dressed with a sauce that is one part oil and one part salad dressing or mayonnaise.  To be sure, one could have smoked chicken with a mayonnaise sauce; after all, Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama perfected it. (You can check out my effort to make the recipe here.)  However, there is little doubt that Delmarva chicken is more about grilling than it is smoking.  

So what is Maryland barbecue?  Is there such a thing as Maryland barbecue?

There is no easy answer to these questions, because there is no accepted concept of a Maryland style of barbecue. That does not mean that it does not exist.  I will need to look around the Old Line State.  I need to go beyond the barbecue joints and focus upon the essence of barbecue: cooking protein over over wood smoke in a low and slow fashion. Even if there is no such thing as Maryland barbecue, I will take the initiative to create one.  Hence, the Chef Bolek's "Project Maryland BBQ" Series.  

A disclaimer ... this entire endeavor is for fun.  Over a series of posts, I will explore those fundamental elements of barbecue -- (1) protein; (2) rubs; (3) mops/sauces; and (4) wood/smoke -- and how they fit into a style of barbecue that could be called Maryland's own. I will also focus on other aspects of barbecue as they would relate to a style. Only time will tell whether or what will come of this endeavor.  Until then ...


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Glen Manor Cabernet Franc (2014)

Wines with a sense of place.  The particular place in question is located along the western flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At that spot, there are steep vineyards, where there is soil rich in variety but rocky. Amidst that rich and rocky soil, there are rows of vines, growing a range of varietals.  These grapes include the standard Rhone varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. They also include others such as Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng and Nebbiolo. The grapes that grow there find themselves in the wines of Glen Manor Vineyards. 

The vineyards were started in 1995 by Alpheus White and his three sons. The vines were planted on a farm that had been within the family for five generations and over 100 years.  The first vines were Sauvignon Blanc, which were planted in 1995. In the following years, the Whites planted additional grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

I visited the Glen Manor Vineyards tasting room with my beautiful Angel.  We sampled a variety of the wines, including the St. Ruth, Vin Rouge, Hodder Hill and Sauvignon Blanc. We also tasted the Cabernet Franc and we liked that wine so much that we bought a bottle of the 2014 vintage to have at a later date.  

The Cabernet pours a crimson red, with deep almost burgundy tones in the center that fades to a lighter shade of red around the edges of the glass. The aromatic elements include strawberries, with other red fruit like cherries and raspberries. There is a little graphite in the nose of the wine as well.  

As for the taste of this wine, the elements include those red berries, especially strawberries, providing a certain jammy character with each sip. Other fruits are also present in the taste, such as plums and blueberries. The taste also featured some of the earthiness that was in the aroma, along with a slight hint of pepper in the background.

Overall, this is a very good Cabernet Franc, and it provides a good contrast to other Cabernet Franc wines that I have. For example, this wine was much brighter and fruitier than the Cabernet Franc from Elk Run Vineyards, which is located in Maryland.  While I like both wines, I think that the Glen Manor Cabernet Franc is a wine that could pair with a wider range of food, especially chicken and pork dishes, whereas the Elk Run Vineyards wine would pair better with beef dishes. Such differences even though the grapes are grown and the wines are produced about eighty or so miles away from each other.  Maybe that explains the emphasis on "terroir."  Probably not, but, until next time ...

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