Saturday, September 28, 2019

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Tonga

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a year since I last undertook one of the challenges that is part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes.  That last challenge was to cook a main course from the country of Ghana.  The dish was Jollof Rice with Goat, one of two dishes that I have made with goat (the other was a Guyanese Goat Curry).  As I return to this challenge, I wanted to do something completely different, something completely new. 

As I perused my previous challenges, I noticed that I have not made a dish from any of the nations in what could be referred to as Polynesia, Melanesia or Micronesia.  These three names refer to the regions of islands in the Pacific Ocean.  Polynesia consists of a variety of islands, including the countries of Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.  Melanesia includes Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.  Micronesia includes the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. After giving it some thought, as well as a review of recipes, I decided that my next challenge would be to make a main dish from the Kingdom of Tonga.

As with most islands in the Pacific Ocean, Tonga had a rich history long before the arrival of the colonizing powers such as the Dutch, British, French or even the Americans. The earliest evidence of settlement among Tonga's 169 islands dates back to between 1,500 to 1,000 B.C.  This settlement is believed to have been part of the Lupita, who were the predecessors to the Polynesian peoples that eventually settled on the island.  That latter settlement was dated to around 888 B.C.  Tonga grew in power and influence, led by a line of succession of rulers known as the Tu'i Tonga.  The "Tu'i Tongan" empire reached its height in the 12th century, and began to decline thereafter.

Speeding up the history lesson, the Tongans eventually came into contact with Europeans, first Dutch explorers in 1616 and later the British, the Spanish and the Americans in 1840.  Fast forward a few hundred years and Tonga became a protected territory of the United Kingdom in 1900, which lasted until 1970. During this time period, as was true throughout its history, Tonga retained its sovereignty and was the only island nation to retain its monarchy. This independence sets Tonga apart from other Pacific nations.  


While I love to discuss history, the challenge is to cook a main course based upon the cuisine of a country.  The cuisine of Tonga, like any country, is defined by where it is located and what one could find there.  As a collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean, one would expect that seafood plays a key role in the cuisine.  To be sure, there are a wide range of seafood dishes, but, one dish that I kept coming across is 'Ota 'Ika, which I decided would be centerpiece of this challenge.

Put simply, 'Ota 'Ika is a Pacific Islander version of ceviche. It consists of fish marinated in citrus (usually lime juice) for a period of time, usually an hour or so.  What sets aside this dish from the Latin American versions of ceviche is that 'Ota 'Ika is served in coconut milk.  The sweetness of the milk balances the citrus of the lemon juice.

'Ota 'Ika is traditionally prepared in Tonga with the moki or blue cod, which is a species of trumpeter fish.  However, that particular species of trumpeter fish is found in the waters around Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Tonga.  In other words, it was not available where I live.  I tried to find alternatives, such as Trevally, but I still had the same problem.  Eventually, I decided to use a fish that is used for ceviche, such as snapper.

One last note, check to see if the fish is "cooked through."  If the pieces are still raw in the inside, let it rest in the citrus for longer, up to 24 hours.

Recipe from the Otango Daily Times
Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds of fresh fish (such as moki or blue cod)
Juice of 4 to 5 lemons
3-4 spring onions, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 bell peppers, sliced
1 2/3 cup of coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare the fish.  Wash the fish, cut into small bite-sized pieces and put into a bowl.  Squeeze the lemons and pour the juice over the fish.  Mix well, cover and place in the refrigerate to marinate for at least a half an hour to an hour or overnight.  

2. Prepare the vegetables.  Chop the spring onions and tomatoes.  Slice the peppers.  Peel the cucumber, slice in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon.  Cut the cucumber into bite sized pieces.  

3.  Finish the dish. Take the fish from the refrigerator, add the cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and spring onions.  Pour over the coconut cream over and mix well. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.  Serve chilled with taro, cassava and kumara.

*     *     *

It's been a long time since I did a ceviche.  The last time may have been when I did my challenge to prepare a main dish from Ecuador, which was Black Bass ceviche.  My effort to produce 'Ota 'Ika was not much of a success.  I followed the directions, but the fish was not "cooked" all the way through. It turns out my "small bite size pieces" were not small enough and/or it needed more time or citrus juice to complete the process.  While I am a big fan of sushi, I was not going to take a risk.   Not every dish can be a success, but I learned a lesson (which is just as important) ... make sure small bite sized pieces are indeed small, bit sized pieces.  

Until next time ... 


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bluejacket's Mexican Radio

The lyrics go something like this, "I feel a hot wind on my shoulder / A touch of the world that is older / Turn the switch and check the number."  If you can imagine Stan Ridgeway singing those words, then you would have the opening to the 1982 hit, Mexican Radio by Wall of Vooodoo.  The song was inspired by the unregulated Mexican AM stations

Those lyrics went through my head when I first encountered the Mexican Radio beer brewed by Bluejacket Brewery in Washington, D.C. The Mexican Radio is a sweet stout, brewed with not only oats and milk sugar, but also ancho chile peppers, vanilla beans, cinnamon and cacao nibs. In other words, it is brewed in the style of a chile beer. In some respects this beer is a lot like the song, an offering inspired by a "style" of beers that is not very well regulated.

There is a Beer Certification Judge Program ("BCJP"), which has extensive notes about different styles of beer: what they should look like, what their aroma should smell like, what are the expected taste elements of the beer.  When it comes to a chile beer, the most the BCJP has to offer in terms of guidelines is "30A. Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer" or "SHV Beer."  This category does not provide much in the way of guidelines, leaving the style open for interpretation and experimentation.

I have reviewed quite a few chile beers in the past (because they are one of my favorite beer styles). These beers include 5 Rabbits' 5 Vultures, New Belgium's Cocoa Mole, Ska Brewing's Mole Stout, New Holland's El Mole Ocho, and both Stone Brewing's Crime and Punishment.  There are common threads in these beers.  First, the beer either is a variation of a pre-existing beer, that is, a beer already brewed but now with chiles added (like the Stone beers) or it is a new beer usually based on a preexisting style, such as a stout.  Second, the chile typically used in the beer is the ancho chile or chipotle chile, probably because of the heat and smoke characteristics of the peppers.  When it is a new beer, the brewing typically includes other spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, cacao, etc.

Bluejacket's Mexican Radio stands as one of the best, if not the best, chile beer that I have ever had.  I had it a couple times when I ate at The Arsenal in Washington, D.C. However, Bluejacket now has a tasting room adjacent to the restaurant and four packs of the beer are available for carry out. 

The Mexican Radio pours a pitch black, which one would expect with any stout.  However, unlike some stouts, the beer does not have a viscous appearance, having a medium body that is masked (perhaps Lucha Libre style) by a thin cinnamon-colored foam.  The aromatic elements suggest some of the ingredients other than the chiles, such as the vanilla and cinnamon.  The sweetness of the oats and milk sugar help to soften the aromas.  As one sips the beer, the ancho chiles make their presence known upfront, but the taste is rounded out by the cinnamon and the cacao nibs.  The vanilla and the milk sugars round out the flavor, providing a softness that blunts a little of the heat from the chiles.  Overall, the Mexican Radio presents perhaps the most balanced chile beer that I have ever had. 

With an ABV of 8%, the Mexican Radio is a very drinkable beer, that is best experienced while sitting and relaxing on one's deck. The beer has limited availability, either at the Arsenal restaurant or the adjoining taproom.  If I recall correctly, it sells for about $15.99 for a four pack.  Until next time ...


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 4, Free State Smoked Pork Shoulder

While every barbecue style is defined by a principal protein (beef in Texas, pork in North Carolina, etc.), that style is never limited to just that one protein. Pitmasters also work their magic on other proteins, adding their distinctive regional approaches to the resulting barbecue.

In this multi-part series, Project Maryland Barbecue, I have been exploring what would be true Maryland barbecue if the Free State had its own regional barbecue style. Part 1 generally focused on the elements of a regional barbecue, such as protein, rubs, sauce and wood.  Parts 2 and 3 turned to specific elements of what would be Maryland barbecue.  The discussion in Part 2 explained why, of all the proteins that could be smoked, the principal protein of Maryland barbecue would be chicken. With the protein in place, Part 3 turned to the sauce. Despite the range of sauces,  from white to red, from tomato to vinegar, the discussion in Part 3 explained why if Maryland barbecue had a signature sauce, it would be tomato based, but lighter and thinner than a Memphis based sauce or Kansas City sauce.

Part 4 takes us to the next logical extension of a BBQ style ... to other proteins.  There are a few options, such as beef, pork, lamb or mutton.  If there was to be a secondary protein for Maryland style barbecue, I think it would more likely than not be pork.  There are three reasons.

First, pork figures a little more prominently in Maryland agriculture than beef, lamb or mutton.  Maryland ranks 30th in the United States in terms of the number of hogs and pigs in the State, while it ranks 41st when it comes to the number of cattle in the state. By the numbers, there are over 7,000,000 hogs and pigs in the Free State, while there are only about 197,000 cattle in the state.  More pig farms than cattle ranches supports the conclusion that pork would feature more prominently than beef in a barbecue style. 

Second, the regional barbecues surrounding the state have pork as their primary protein.  The Carolinas are all about pork, whether it is whole hogs in eastern North Carolina or pulled pork in Western North Carolina and South Carolina.  In addition, ham features prominently in Virginia.  The prevalence of pork not just in the State of Maryland, but also nearby States, also supports the conclusion that pork would feature in any barbecue style in the Free State.

Third, a review of the menus from BBQ joints in the State of Maryland features a lot of pulled pork. This factor is a little less reliable than the first or second reasons because BBQ joints often try to feature a range of barbecue, including beef, sausage, and other offerings.  However, when one drills down to what the joint is known for or what it promotes, it is more often than not pork, and, more often than not pulled pork.

So, if there was a Maryland Barbecue Style, and, if there was a secondary protein in that style, it would be pork.  And, more specifically, it would be pulled pork.

With that in mind, I decided to smoke a pork shoulder.  When it comes to pork shoulders, one of the keys is the rub.  After doing some research, I decided to use a rub created by a native son to the State of Maryland ... Steven Raichlen.  I utilized his basic rub, which happens to be my go to rub for barbecue for both pork and chicken. The rub has the perfect balance of paprika, garlic, onion and salt, with the added flavor of celery seeds.  The one thing that this rub lacks, at least in my humble opinion, is a little heat.  If you are a chilehead like myself, then adding a couple of tablespoons of cayenne pepper could provide the requisite heat.

So, in the end, if there was a Maryland Style of barbecue, pork could also figure into that style, with a pulled pork that could be served with the Maryland style sauce.  Stay tuned for the next segment in Project Maryland BBQ, because, who knows where it may lead!

Pork Recipe adapted from and inspired by Steven Raichlen
Rub recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible
Serves many

1 Boston Butt Pork Shoulder (6 to 8 pounds)
Chunks of apple wood

Ingredients (for the rub):
1 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup sweet paprika
1/2 to 1 cup coarsely ground or cracked black peppercorns
3 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
3 tablespoons granulated onion powder
1 tablespoon celery seed

1.  Marinate the pork butt. Combine all of the ingredients for the rub. Season the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub, massaging the rub into the meat.

2.  Prepare the smoker or the grill.   Set up the smoker or grill for indirect grilling and get a fire going.  Preheat the smoker or the grill to about 250 degrees.

3.  Smoke the pork butt.  Place the pork but, fat side up in the middle of the grate over a drip pan.  Toss a handful of soaked wood chips (soaked for about an hour) on the charcoals.  Cover and smoke the shoulder until it is the color of mahogany, about 7 to 9 hours.  The internal temperature should be about 195 degrees.  This will require the addition of fresh charcoal every so often,  After about 4 hours of smoking, check the fire and the shoulder.  At this point, it may be appropriate to wrap the shoulder in aluminum foil for the rest of the smoke.

4.  Finish the smoke.  Once the pork shoulder reaches the requisite temperature, remove the shoulder from the smoker and let it rest for about 15 to 30 minutes.  Pull the pork and serve immediately.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Wild Boar Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Last Mother's Day, the Savage Boleks took a little road trip to Virginia wine country. Our prior forays into this country focused mostly on central Virginia, around Charlottesville, as well as the edges of the Blue Ridge mountains. The destination this time around was a little further north, to the northern Virginia region, around Leesburg. 

Our first stop on our road trip was Stone Tower Winery in Loudoun County, Virginia.  The winery itself is perched atop Hogsback Mountain, consisting of 50 acres of vines.  The vines feature the traditional French varietals (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, etc.).  Those grapes are cultivated and ultimately used for the namesake wines.

The winemakers also produce a second line of wines known as Wild Boar Cellars.  They source the grapes used to make these wines from outside of the property.  The grapes are brought to Stone Tower and the wines are produced at the estate.   This second line of wines provides the winemakers to explore and experiment with different varietals or the same varietals that they grow, but just from a different terroir.  

While we sampled quite a few wines, my beautiful Angel and I ultimately bought a bottle of the Wild Boar Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.

This Cabernet Sauvignon pours the deep, garnet red or burgundy red one would expect from the varietal.  The wine does not drink like a Cabernet Sauvignon from, say, California or Washington State.  The aromatic elements of the wine feature the traditional scents of dark berries, but they are not as strong as a Cabernet from, for example, Paso Robles.  Likewise, the taste elements feature those berries, with a slight hint of pepper, but it is more mellow than what would be a typical Cabernet Sauvignon in my humble opinion.  There is a nice hint of the oak in the wine, which helps to round it out. 

Even though they are made with the same grape, Cabernet Sauvignon wines can vary in significantly in terms of aroma and taste.  Perhaps I have gotten too use to bolder wines, because the Wild Boar surprised me a little.  Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise and I would definitely pick up another bottle.  However, one has to go to the vineyard to purchase it.  That means a return trip for the Savage Boleks.  Until next time ...


Sunday, September 1, 2019

D.C. Pulled Pork with D.C. Mambo BBQ Sauce

When it comes to food, sauces often become symbols of cities or even entire regions.  Think of Alabama White Sauce, the thin white velvety sauce that slowly drips off of a whole smoked chicken.  There is the East Carolina Vinegar Sauce, a somewhat transparent sauce that slightly glazes the pulled or chopped pork but makes its presence known with a stiff kick from the vinegar and peppers.  And there is the Kansas City Barbecue Sauce, with its thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce that and the list can go on.

All of those sauces are traditionally used in barbecue, to provide additional levels of flavor to the smoked meat.  I have spent a lot of time reading and learning about barbecue sauces and, during this effort, I discovered that Washington, D.C. has its own iconic sauce.

It is the Mambo Sauce.  And, it has quite the history ...

That history begins in Indianola, Mississippi.  Argia B. Collins Sr. was born there but emigrated north as part of the post World War II migration in the United States.  Collins made his way to Chicago, where he opened a barbecue joint, Argia B's BBQ, on the south side at Forestville and 47th Street.  At that BBQ joint, Collins created what he called "Mumbo Sauce," a mild barbecue sauce.  He drenched everything he sold -- hot links, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried fish -- in his Mumbo Sauce.  Eventually, Argia B. Collins Sr. trademarked his sauce in 1957 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Collins' sauce, as well his food, became very popular, with Argia opening a total of ten store fronts.  Other restaurants on the south side of Chicago, especially those serving barbecue and fried chicken began making a mild sauce similar to Mumbo Sauce.

There is a separate claim to Mumbo Sauce, which was made by Charlene Archie. She claims that the sauce originated in Washington, D.C. with a restaurant called Wings N Things, which was located at the intersection of 7th Street, NW and Florida Avenue, NW, near Howard University.  Wings N Things operated from 1962 to 1978. While the restaurant eventually closed, the sauce lived on.  Soon it found its way to menus throughout the District.  One could find Mumbo Sauce being used by Chinese and Korean restaurants, as well as served with fried chicken. 

Eventually, D.C.'s Mumbo Sauce would be bottled and sold in stores by Capital City Mumbo Sauce; and, that is when the story takes a turn.  Argia B's BBQ learned about the D.C. version of Mumbo Sauce and then sued Capital City in court.  The principal allegation was that the use of the term "Mumbo Sauce" violated the trademark obtained by Argia B. Collins, Sr.   Capital City fought back and the case was ultimately decided in 2013, when a court ruled in favor of Argia B's BBQ.  As a result, at least in D.C., Mumbo Sauce became Mambo Sauce. 

Mambo Sauce combines the taste elements of sweet and sour, spice and salt; and, it does so in a very balanced way. How that balance is achieved has been the subject of much debate.  As one writer observed, "get five people into the room and you'll get six recipes for mambo sauce."  Nevertheless, there are some commonalities among the various recipes.  The sweetness comes from ketchup (or tomato paste).  The sour or tartness comes from vinegar.  The salt comes from soy sauce.  The spice comes from hot sauce.   With this in mind, I turned to my cooking.

The recipe that I used contains these four ingredients (tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce), as well as a couple of other ingredients that find their way onto most mambo sauce recipes. While I could have incorporated the sauce into a range of dishes that I make (as I have made Chinese and Korean dishes), I decided to use it in the traditional way ... with barbecue. I smoked a Boston butt and mixed in the sauce after pulling the pork.  While I am a big fan of spicier sauces, I have to say that I was truly impressed with how a very basic and mild sauce can still shine and be the star of the dish.   

Rub recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible
Sauce recipe from American Food Roots
Serves many

Ingredients (for the pork):
1 Boston Butt pork shoulder
Chunks of apple wood

Ingredients (for the rub):
1 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup sweet paprika
1/2 to 1 cup coarsely ground or cracked black peppercorns
3 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
3 tablespoons granulated onion powder
1 tablespoon celery seed

Ingredients (for the BBQ Sauce):
1/2 cup of tomato paste or ketchup
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup of pineapple juice
1 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1.5 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce

1.  Marinate the pork butt. Combine all of the ingredients for the rub. Season the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub, massaging the rub into the meat.

2.  Prepare the smoker or the grill.   Set up the smoker or grill for indirect grilling and get a fire going.  Preheat the smoker or the grill to about 250 degrees.

3.  Smoke the pork butt.  Place the pork but, fat side up in the middle of the grate over a drip pan.  Toss a handful of soaked wood chips (soaked for about an hour) on the charcoals.  Cover and smoke the shoulder until it is the color of mahogany, about 7 to 9 hours.  The internal temperature should be about 195 degrees.  This will require the addition of fresh charcoal every so often,

4.  Make the Mambo Sauce.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for the sauce.  Simmer, but do not boil, for about 20 minutes to marry the flavors and thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust to your preferences.

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the pork butt reaches the temperature goal, pull the pork out  and let it rest for about 15 minutes.  Pull the pork and then mix in some of the Mambo sauce.  Serve immediately with a side of Mambo sauce.