At the local Farmers Market in mid-July we struck up a conversation with Jacinta Torres. We met the lovely Jacinta looking over mountains of cilantro. As the images above clearly show, the lady had spirit.
For us, the market is also about the people. You have nice exchanges. (Some not so nice, too.) And, you learn a lot.
There were two varieties of cilantro on the seller's table. There was the kind most people recognize, sold with the roots intact. Use the roots! The other type was very tall stemmed with wispy leaves; what gardeners call overgrown plants going on to form seeds, "bolted".
Jacinta recommended the overgrown type. Of course, the next thing that came up was what to do with it?
Sofrito in any Spanish related cuisine is a flavor base made with a mixture of aromatic vegetables. It adds depth and complexity to soups, stews, braises, rice, beans. It is common practice to make a big batch and freeze portions for use later on. Sofrito may be Latin in it origins, but it is quite versatile for a lot of dishes; in a sauce with pasta, for example.
Jacinta spoke of a mixture of pureed onions, garlic, and cilantro. Culantro? Yes, of course. She was impressed that us Gringos even knew about culantro. If you don't know from culantro, then here's a hint: Shado Beni. (Cooky Cat is not going to exhaust himself with lengthy lessons on what's what. Search it, silly.)
Mostly, a big issue for Jacinta was about not using things that add a lot of moisture; for example, green and red peppers and tomatoes. She was of Pueto Rican descent and evidently tomatoes don't go into sofritos on that island. She didn't like the green bells either, so maybe a little red pepper. But, searching around you will see the addition of green and red peppers, sweet cubanelle peppers, and aji dulce peppers by some cooks. There are probably as many variations for sofrito as there are cooks. So, suit yourself.
It started unwittingly enough. A discarded hand painted sign with a covered wagon on it from a Ford dealership in Detroit. Driving north of the city to my parent's country property and seeing a group of people cooking over an open flame in a large kettle of who knows what; but, I bet it was delicious.
Then, fantasizing about setting something up like that in the country: people sitting on logs enjoying an evening meal cooked over a wood fire, served on those spatterware metal plates. Roasted meats, spicy chile con carne. Fire baked corn bread. Good strong coffee. Maybe a berry buckle or cobbler russelled up in a Dutch oven over the coals.
The birth of "Dave's Chuckwagen". Alas, only a fantasy so far, anyway; not to be, yet. Believe me, I've worked as a line cook in a restaurant and that world is a calling. Everyone in my set seems to have had the fantasy. The reality, however, is another thing; it's a grind. You have to have it in your blood. And, from an early age. I like to cook, that's true. But I also like to take my time, and on my own terms. To please myself, certainly not to try to make a go of it by pleasing the palate du jeur.
OK, folks, it's finally here. How to set up a 22.5" Weber type kettle barbecue grill for smoking your ribs, your fowls. Your butt. Whatever.
The thing about slow hot smoked meats is the need to keep the temperature low but just high enough so the meat gets cooked to the proper done temperature. The low temperature ensures a slow cook so there's lots of time to develop a good smoke flavor deep into said meat.
This is for those who have a Weber type kettle and want to get down on some ribs or have a pulled pork fiesta now and then. There's no end of things you can spend your money on to get the smoked BarBQ trip accomplished. You could go out and get a device that pumps air into the system at a calibrated rate that is hooked up to a thermometer. That's tempting, but we don't cook this way often enough to justify the purchase. At least, that's what mama says. If you do invest in anything, upgrade to the 22.5 inch Weber hinged grill.
But this Cat likes to keep things casual anyway. So here we go.
The photo image should pretty much explain it. Just to set up a big pile of unlit charcoal pieces on one side of the kettle. Intersperse with hardwood for the smoke. Make a heat shield with heavy aluminum foil. (This is where the DIY types will want to be getting their sheet metal and the oxy-acetylene cutting torches out to fabricate a righteous version of a heat shield. Go nuts. Here it is in situ ...
Cooky Cat asiduously tests his recipes and suggestions. Here is the very same ribs done, after 4+ hours in the smoker:
If you're going the Cooky Cat route, now you set some (6 or so) lit coals on the top of the open patch of your charcoal pile along with a nice piece of hardwood. The lit coals will slowly ignite the next ones, and so on, for a slow, long burn. Place the grate on. Alright, its a little lop sided with that excess of fuel, but who's the wiser? Oh yes, be sure to have a drip pan with some water for moisture and to prevent scorching any drippings.
Now be sure that the air supply is damped. The lower vent set to 1/3 or so and the same for the top vent. The top vent is positioned opposite the smoke source. Get it? Less air = slower burn / lower temperature.
Now place your selected meat on the grill, close the lid and hang around to be sure that there is smoke happening.
Let it go for a half an hour or so. Take a peak to see how things are cooking. A quick peak! You don't want a snoot full of smoke in your face, and you don't want the temperature to drop while you videotape the wonderfulness. You do want to see the meat beginning to cook by now. If you put the meat in cold it will need some time to come to temperature. Better to let the meat rest on the kitchen counter covered for a few hours to knock out that cold before it goes on the grill.
Anyhow, check in every so often. Spritz every hour or more with water, or a mix of Cider Vinegar and a White Wine. A sweetish Sherry might be a good choice too. Our recent upgrade is an instant read thermometer. Here's a good one, at a good price: Lavatools Thermowand. This is not you mama's oven where you set it and forget it. You have to keep tabs on the progress. But, hey, that's the fun of slow smoking meats. Best with a group of friends, lots of beer, and maybe a cigar. But, good ones, please. Friends, beer, and cigar, that is.
Alright ladies, this is for you too, but it is kind of guy territory. So let your guy get his primal on. He'll be better for you later, if you catch my drift. NEWS FLASH ...
Just got wind of a proper contraption that is constructed to handle smoking in your Weber. Slow'n Sear. Besides being a Made in America product (as in, Made Right!) its design offers a large contained charcoal hopper and a proper water jacket, which acts as a heat shield and moisture source.
We're going to get the Slow'n Sear Plus which features a bottom grate for the charcoal and an extension lip for stability. The bottom grate is supposed to prevent lit coal chunks from falling down. We think it'll also be good for saving any unused coals for the next use. Slow'n Sear Plus is pictured below.