And I aim to please. With gorgeous weather predicted for this Memorial Day weekend, I knew I’d have to break out the smoker, and what better way to kick off the summer than with a 7 1/2-pound pork butt?
Lured by the siren song of pork and the opportunity to get away from the noise of the city, my friend Mike and his girlfriend Tetyana came out to stay with us overnight.
Gil’s friend Faiz also stopped by with his wife Nathalie and their daughter Isis.
A successful barbecue depends as much on tasty sides as on the main course, so I woke up at an ungodly 5:30am Saturday to start cooking. The first order of business was to get the smoker going with coals and mesquite chunks. Maintaining a consistent temperature is going to take more practice, but I managed to get it to hover between 200 and 250 degrees for most of the time the meat was smoking.
Clockwise, from upper left: Near-constant charcoal negotiation, mesquite a-soakin’, The renowned Mr. Brown, and spot-on temperature control for at least a brief period.
I gave the pork a good rubdown with a blend of spices Friday afternoon, wrapped it up, and put it in the fridge to do its thing overnight. While the smoker was coming up to temperature the next morning, I took that hunka-hunka pork out of the fridge to relax the muscle fibers a bit before it started to cook. According to one of my books on the subject, meat proteins set at 120 degrees and can’t absorb any more smoke after that point, so the goal is to get the meat onto the smoker at a pretty cold temperature, but with relaxed muscle fibers.
While that was going, I set about making those sides — buttermilk potato salad, baked beans, and a delicious grilled veggie & orzo salad that might’ve been my favorite food of the weekend. I found the recipe on The Kitchen Sink and adapted it even further from Ina Garten’s original by throwing in about half a bunch of chopped asparagus, a hefty dose of red pepper flakes, and using goat milk feta.
Mike graciously volunteered to help with the pulling of the pork and engaged in a little quality control while he was at it.
Of course, a Memorial Day without ice cream would be like the Fourth of July without fireworks or a Jimmy Buffett concert without aging stoners, so I had to break out the ice cream maker. To keep it somewhat on the light side, a buttermilk-lemon base sounded like a good foil for a strawberry-rhubarb compote made with my first-ever bunch of rhubarb from the Union Square Greenmarket. After searching high and low for a recipe, I decided it was impossible to go wrong with one from Smitten Kitchen, as she knows her sweets. And it did not disappoint in the least.
After so much food (and wine, I’ll admit), we lay around like ticks for the rest of the evening, chatting and watching Kung Fu Hustle.
After breakfast the next day, we took Mike & Tetyana to Ringwood Manor to show them a little of the town and walk off a mere fraction of the calories we’d consumed in the previous 18 hours. Rufus enjoyed it, too.
And if you can believe it, I did still more grilling when we got home! I’d put chicken to marinate 2 days before and didn’t want it to turn to mush, so I cooked it with the intention of freezing most of it for a later dinner.
But I’d forgotten what happens when marinated chicken thighs hit the grill, and managed to flood our house with smoke — delicious-smelling smoke.
And now I’m ready to put away the grill for a few days and linger over leftovers. Hope you had a great weekend.
And now for the recipes…
Beautiful Butt Rub adapted from several sources
1/2 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
1/3 cup chili powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons dry mustard
3/4 tablespoon dry rubbed sage
1/4 tablespoon dry thyme
1 tablespoon cumin, ground
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Combine ingredients and blend well. Store in airtight container until ready to use — very good on pork shoulder.
Grilled Vegetable Orzo Salad adapted from Ina Garten via The Kitchen Sink
Zucchini, 1-inch diced
1 medium red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 medium yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 medium red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
1/2 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 pound orzo
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 whole scallions (white and green parts), trimmed and sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 pound good goat’s milk feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
Prepare the grill.
Toss zucchini, bell peppers, onion, asparagus and garlic with the olive oil, salt and peppers in a large bowl. Transfer to a grill basket. Grill for 15-20 minutes, until browned, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the grill basket into the pasta bowl.
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pine nuts, feta and basil. Check the seasonings and serve at room temperature.
Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream adapted from Freebie Recipes
2 whole vanilla bean pods
2 C. milk
1 C. egg yolks (you’ll need 1 dozen extra large eggs to yield this measurement)
13 oz. sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 C. buttermilk
zest of two lemons
lemon juice to taste (I used about a teaspoon)
Slit open the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Place about half the sugar in a double boiler; add the vanilla bean seeds and pods and milk.
In a bowl, combine the remaining sugar and egg yolks. Mix until smooth.
Over boiling water, bring the sugar, vanilla beans and milk to a high simmer, making sure all sugar is dissolved. When this mixture is very hot, add a little bit of it at a time to the yolk mixture, stirring quickly. (Add about half of the milk. This tempers the yolks so that they will not curdle when added back to milk mixture).
Now add all of the yolks to the milk over the double boiler, whisking quickly. Continue stirring constantly over the double boiler until it begins to thicken and coats a spoon like heavy cream. Remove from the double boiler.
Whisk in the cold buttermilk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Chill mixture in refrigerator until ready to freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes about a half gallon.