If you said 'propane', I don't think we can be friends any more.

The other day, I was talking to a colleague about BBQ. Because it was either that, or talk more about cloud-based micro-services architectures for horizontal scaling… See? You fell asleep. And BBQ is awesome.

We got to the inevitable conversation about equipment. Because serious BBQ people have serious conversations about BBQ equipment. He’s a Big Green Egg person. Which I respect. When you walk into someone’s porch and you spot one of those Big Green Declarations of BBQ passion, you know you’re talking to someone who cares more for his meat than the average person.

But you have to be careful. Big Green Cultists can also be a little judgey about non-Big Green People. So when the question came, I was ready.

“Propane, or charcoal?”

“Oak.”

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When we bought the house, I had discovered this giant iron cauldron down near the pond. We had a couple of fires there (If I made it smokey enough, it didn’t so much discourage the Maine mosquitoes, as make it easier to track their flight paths as their sparrow-sized wings created disturbances in the smoke). But I pretty soon moved it up to the patio near the house.

I had been using a Weber for years that was just about ready to give up the ghost - as much as I love those simple kettle-shaped grills, they’re not made to last the ages (one of the advantages you get when you take out an extra mortgage on your house to spring for a Big Green Egg of Eternity). But the grill itself was good enough. And I was in the mood for a steak. And lobster.

Because: Maine

Because: Maine

When lobster drops to ~$4.99/lb - which happens up here at least once or twice most seasons - you have lobster with everything.

Hell, one year, lobster was $4 a pound. I was having a side of lobster with my spaghetti. I’d sprinkle that lobster on Cap’n Crunch at that price.

Anyway. Fire.

Sure, it takes a little more planning to light the fire, and warm up the pit, and build up a good set of embers. But there’s a reason that everything tastes better cooked over a camp fire. There’s some magic in the combination of smoke, heat, and char that creates a flavor combination that is down right mystical. Lobster tails taste sweeter. Steak tastes juicier. Corn or vegetables caramelize more perfectly.

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So yeah, my Big Green Friend, go ahead and use your charcoal.

That’s good enough for some people, I suppose.

But I’ll stick to oak. And maybe the occasional piece of apple or cherry wood when I’m feeling whimsy.



Goose neck sausage. Goal: complete.

Just before Christmas, my buddy who sourced our last goose sent me a note.

"Greg shot a pair of geese today. Much bigger than the last. Would you like one? This one has the head still!" 

It has the head still? Well, of COURSE I'm going to take it. 

Unlike the first one, I hung the goose from the rafters of the barn for 5 days. With game birds, the flavor can be a bit strong, and hanging them for a bit (3-7 days, per the experts) mellows the flavor. 

I took it down and brought it in the kitchen to pluck. I knew I'd have a bit of mess to clean up, but it was 20 degrees outside, and that was a bit too cold for me. Fortunately, the Boy had some friends over, and I ended up with a few helpers. 

This goose was really beautiful. I followed the same process as before - it was a bit quicker, and I was a bit more comfortable with the whole thing this time around. There's a point where the bird turns from "goose" to "meat" when you do this, and your brain switches into the same comfort level that you'd have in cleaning a turkey you brought home from the store. 

I was, however, especially careful with the real prize of this bird: the neck. 

Years ago, I had watched an episode of River Cottage, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dress out a goose and set the neck aside for a special treat. A stuffed goose neck sausage. 

I have since found several recipes for this, from River Cottage and Darina Allen. Variations on the theme and method, but they all start by peeling the fatty skin back off the neck, taking care to keep it intact as one long 'tube'.  

We've bought several geese from the butcher over the years (goose is always on the Christmas dinner menu), but none of them ever come whole, or with the neck. They're prettily dressed and wrapped, just like the Butterball turkey you pick up at your local grocery. So this was a real treat. 

The goose roasted gorgeously, shedding tons of crystal clear fat, and browning deliciously. It wasn't quite as pretty as a farm raised goose, but I have to say I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out. 

I turned my attention to the neck - I stuffed it with a pork sausage (ground fresh from our pigs), mixed with diced bacon (again: our pigs), sage, thyme, salt, white pepper and a little brandy. Little bits of goose trim - heart, liver, etc. - cooked and chopped are also acceptable. 

Tie the little end of the neck up with some kitchen twine, and I set it into some goose fat to crisp the skin a bit. 10 minutes or so on a side. Then put into the oven at 300F for 30 minutes. 

The next step took me out into the snow for a bit. 

I cranked my smoker up to 275F, and put the neck sausage in for 45 minutes, with some peach wood. You can see that I didn't seal up the 'fat' end of the neck (where the neck joined the shoulders of the bird). But that's ok. I just took care to fold the loose flaps over the sausage. 

Oh this thing is beautiful. 

Every time I opened the door to check (I had to force myself not to check every 3 minutes), my nostrils were filled with the delicious smell of the meat and woodsmoke. I was practically dancing in anticipation. 

When I pulled it out of the smoker, I slipped it back into the fat and the oven to crisp a bit longer (maybe 10 minutes) while I carved the rest of the goose. (I've gotten pretty good at this by now, actually - taking out the whole breasts  before slicing, and taking out the thighs and other meat pretty neatly.). 

When I sliced the neck open, it looked like a perfect sausage.  The skin was nicely crisp, and the meat inside savory and a little fragrant with the smoke and herbs. 

I slices up the meat and sausage and we took the feast (along with creamed spinach and a sweet-potato & apple soufflé) over to my Bride's parents for dinner. The goose was a little tougher and I should have taken the time to make a gravy, but the meat was rich and flavorful, and the Boy went back for seconds and then thirds of the sausage. And then he asked if he could pack the res for his first lunch back at school tomorrow. 

I'm guessing he'll be the only kid there with goose neck sausage. 

It was a small goal, but totally worth holding out for. If you ever get the chance to order/make/try, believe me when I say: don't hesitate. It was delicious. 

Victuals & sour corn

It's not often that I find a cookbook that grabs my attention and makes me want to read it cover to cover, word for word.  Although, frankly, 'cookbook' is hardly the right word to describe Victuals, by Ronni Lundy which is probably why it's subtitled 'an Appalachian Journey... with Recipes.'  It's as much about the story of the food featured as it is the recipes, and it is masterfully and beautifully written. 

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, but like the author, my mom took me 'back home' to Blue Ridge, Georgia every chance we got. Weekends that were more than two days, or long, hot stretches in the summer that lingered to the soundtrack of grasshopper crescendos behind the cornfield. I knew exactly what the author was describing when she recalled sitting on the back porch with aunts and her grandmother, threading beans to hang and dry in long, lovely strings, and visiting the canning factory every summer to put up the harvest. Apples were destined for apple butter in the fall, and the aforementioned cornfield nestled at the foot of the hill was where my grandfather would head to hoe and weed when he came home from a shift at the copper mine just a few miles over the border in Tennessee. 

Some recipes I found in the book were new to me, and got me excited to try. Appalachia has a much richer and more multi-threaded history than most folks from outside the region suspect.  There's a strong streak of Scots-Irish tradition in the hearty staples, and adaptation of the native staples like corn in food and drink. But there's also a streak of German, Hungarian, African and several other waves or pockets of immigration that worked the mines, the fields or found the hills to be an otherwise likely place to settle in. 

So when I saw a recipe for 'sour corn' that was essentially an adaptation of traditional German sauerkraut which replaces cabbage with fermented corn, I had to try it. I love the tangy bite of sauerkraut, and we are just seeing the last fresh ears of corn for the season at the market. Perfect timing. 

I scalded 15 ears of corn in boiling water for 2 minutes and set them aside on the counter to let them cool a bit before cutting the kernels off the cob. (The chickens get a double treat this afternoon of both the husks and the leftover cobs, which they go wild for).

The corn goes into a 2 gallon ceramic crock (in fact the same one I've made sauerkraut in). I mixed 8 cups of water with just a hair more than a cup of kosher salt until the salt was completely dissolved, and poured it in over the corn. 

Slide a plate gently into the crock, and weight it down so that the corn stays submerged, and cover with cheesecloth. The crock is now resting in a cool, out of the way corner of the pantry for the next two weeks or so. 

When the corn is ready, I'll ladle it into mason jars, and make sure it stays covered with the brine. Properly canned (and I'll draw on my Bride's expertise to make sure I get it right), it'll last through the winter season. This will probably make enough for 6 or 7 pints.

The author recommends cooking up batches of sour corn with a little bacon grease and serving along side, well, anything. But she promises it's just as good fresh out of the crock. Which is good, because I'm not sure I'm going to be patient enough to let it get to the skillet.