Raichlen will share some of these secrets of his “live fire” cooking Monday, when he is in San Antonio for KLRN’s Chef Series.
Looking through the new “Planet Barbecue” (Workman Publishing, $22.95) is delicious enough that it will inspire the backyard cook to head for the grill. As with all of Raichlen’s books on this subject there are recipes, of course, but so much more. Information is packaged in a logical, readable style, with clear instruction that has made Raichlen the country’s No. 1 teacher of the art.
The front of the book offers a timeline, beginning from the days of Homo erectus, or “upright man” in Africa 1.9 million years ago.
“This manlike, if not fully human, ancestor of modern man invented barbecue.” he writes. (This bit of information might be fun to impart to your own backyard fellow as he fumes over his fire.)
How did this man-animal figure out to use fire to cook? We have no historical record, but Raichlen poses that it probably was opportunistic. Think about this manimal returning to a burned out forest and finding a whole roasted auroch (an ancestral steer) or a hippidion (early horse) cooked to a turn. The real turning point, writes Raichlen, came about 1.8 million years ago when this same ancestral cousin to man began eating fire-cooked meat regularly.
Fire offered any number of social consequences.
“Fire meant protection against predators. Fire meant leaving the safety of sleeping in trees for encampments based on the ground. Fire meant the shared communal activities of cooking, eating, sitting and sleeping around a fire,” he writes. Fire also meant a division of labor, first between man and woman, then between hunters and gatherers, and eventually “between people who tended the home fires (literally and figuratively) and people who did their work in the world at large.”
Bringing the information up to current times, the author includes a section “Grilling with a Conscience: A Word About Ingredients and Shopping.” (Buy free range, support your farmers markets, buy fair trade, etc.)
Another page is devoted to “The Perfect Burger” with 20 tips. My favorite tip: “Make a slight depression in the center of each patty. Burgers shrink more at the edges than at the center, so the indentation will give you a patty of a more even thickness when the meat is cooked.” The best combination of beef cuts for burgers, he says, is brisket with chuck, in a ration of 45 to 55 percent. Fat content should be 22 percent fat. You can cut your fat content elsewhere, he suggests.
The book travels the globe for tasty recipes, and is presented in the logical progression of a meal, from starters through dessert. If Serbian Bacon-Grilled Prunes doesn’t grab you, the recipe for Smoked Ice Cream at the end certainly should. Salads, vegetables and breads have their turn as well.
Sauces are paired with the appropriate grilled dishes, such as the Creamy Asian Peanut Sauce with the Chicken Satés from Malaysia. Sides are included, such as the Icicle Radish Salad that accompanies the German preparation, Onion-Stuffed, Spit-Roasted Pork Shoulder. This article also shows in clear photos how to prepare the pork shoulder for the rotisserie.
He presents the familiar-to-San Antonio recipe of Peruvian Beef Kebabs (Anticuchos), calling for beef rib-eye or sirloin, but also suggesting the traditional meat used in this dish, beef heart. The use of beef heart, he suggests might have originated with African slaves, brought to Peru to work the mines and plantations. They were likely to have been served the organs and innards of the cow. The traditional meat in Peru, though, was llama.
This is a book that any barbecue author would long to write, and Raichlen does it in great style. it is also a book that any barbecue lover should read.