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. 

Pleasantly funky

The sour corn turned out beautiful. 

I actually kept forgetting about the crock sitting in the corner of the pantry for a week or so. It sat quietly fermenting in brine under a cheesecloth coverThe instructions on "when it's done" includes something along the lines of "it should take about two weeks, depending on the temperature, humidity, or your corn. Check and see if you need more time." 

So I'm just going to say I checked, and it needed more time. 

When I went to lift the cover, there was a thick film of fungus sitting on it. I was supposed to be skimming off the film every day or two, and I forgot that too. Underneath the raft of mold was an inch or so of faintly foggy brine, and then the corn, which was held down by a plate with a heavy rock. 

I skimmed off that moldy raft rather easily and scooped up a spoonful of the corn. It smelled salty-sweet-earthy. The book describes the right flavor as something approaching taste like the last pickle from the bottom of the barrel, yet sweeter with the natural flavor of corn, with an overtone of "pleasant funk". 

That's a perfect description. This stuff is gold. 

Stored in a glass jar in the fridge, the corn will last weeks or even months in the refrigerator. It can be eaten as a cold relish on the side, or even better, the author recommends heating up a cast iron skillet scorching hot and frying it up a bit in butter or bacon grease. To be fair, I'd probably eat roadkill or a pair of slightly off socks if it was cooked up in enough bacon grease. But if you get too close to my little treasure trove of sour corn, I'll probably stab you with my fork.

Make your own. You won't regret it.