The final three-day weekend of summer is upon me, and I will spend all three days grilling in honor of organized labor: the folks who brought us the weekend. I’m a big fan of weekends, so I want to do something impressive. I will smoke ribs on Monday, because it is traditional and delicious, but I also want to try something unusual. I’ve spent many of this summer’s weekends exploring the outer reaches of the grilling galaxy. It’s been a fun adventure grilling dishes that aren’t typically thought of as barbecue-friendly.
In my last post I mentioned two such adventures. The first was grilled pizza. I doubt most Americans cook pizza from scratch anymore. Rather, I suspect delivery is the most popular option followed by “take and bake.” If I’m right in my suspicions, grilling pizza must seem outrageous to the average American, but it’s really not all that challenging. If you can make pizza dough, you can grill pizza. Of course, if you have your pizza delivered, you probably don’t make a lot of dough from scratch. I use a bread machine, so I’m no dough-making snob. If you do manage to get your hands on some pizza dough, roll out a round – not too thick, not too thin – brush a little canola oil on both sides, and place it on the grill over direct heat for a couple minutes. Keep a close watch on it, so the bottom doesn’t get too charred. When it looks good, pull it off the fire, flip it over onto a sheet pan and add toppings. Then, return the pizza to the fire to cook the other side of the crust.
The toppings are entirely optional. I went with a simple marinara, pepperoni, sausage, onions, and Romano cheese, but I could have been more adventurous by grilling a bratwurst as a substitute for Italian sausage or using pulled pork and smoked cheese. That would have been epic. Despite keeping it simple, I did cook a pizza on live fire, and it was yummy. It’s not really better than more conventional pizza, but it is a good exercise in what you can do with an open flame.
I also grilled chile verde. Chile verde is a pork (or beef) stew made with green chiles and tomatillos. I was desperate to make it it after enjoying some for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, so I decided to see what the Internet had to say about cooking chile verde on the grill. The cooking process could only marginally be considered grilling. I started with a four-pound pork shoulder rubbed with a spicy mix of herbs and salt. I smoked it on the grill for just 30 minutes before putting it in a foil pan with the tomatillo-chile sauce. The troubling part is that I covered the pan with foil, sealing it tight, and returned it to the grill. Yes, I braised the pork in a hermetically-sealed container. The grill was simply a source of heat. I waited by the grill for two hours watching the pork’s internal temperature rise on my remote thermometer and fretting. It bothered me that the porcine protein contained within the aluminum sarcophagus didn’t get any more smoke or charring, just heat. I didn’t seem right. I was not taking full advantage of the miracle of fire.
When the temperate hit 200°, I removed the foil cocoon from the grill and shredded the pork. The pork and verde sauce simmered together for a few minutes on the stove as I added chopped cilantro and salt and pepper. The family gathered around the table and filled tortillas with rice and the chile verde. The food was magnificent. The brief bath of smoke was apparent in the deeply flavored stew. My craving for chile verde was satisfied, and I decided that this was a legitimate grilling expedition. While I took advantage of modern amenities such as aluminum and a remote meat thermometer, I did cook over a live fire, tending to the temperature and directness of the heat.
I love my relationship with the fire, working with it to produce a feast for my family. In this hyper-digital world, it’s about as close as I get to primal behavior – outside of a mosh pit, of course – and reminds me that preparing a meal is more than making a phone call to the pizza place. It’s work; a labor of love.
Happy Labor Day!
If you’re interested in a lesser known but remarkable (and tragic) story of the labor movement, check out this Wikipedia article about the 1913-1914 Colorado Coalfield War. My great grandpa was there.