Turducken

My Big Green Egg has provided the motivation and opportunity to tackle some pretty big barbeque challenges.  Some of my favorites include pulled pork, brisket, and smoked salmon.  This holiday season, however, a new favorite rose to the top of the list.

Turducken.

Turducken was definitely a “bucket list” barbeque challenge.  My life as a Big Green Egger would feel incomplete if I never made a turducken.  I had so much fun learning about turducken, making the turducken, and then, of course, eating the turducken!

The turducken is the ultimate in barbecued poultry.  It’s a turkey stuffed with a chicken and a duck.  You can purchase an assembled turducken – especially if you live in Louisiana or other parts of the South – but in my mind the assembly is part of the experience.

That said, there are limits to what I can and will do.  The first step in building a turducken is to debone a whole chicken and a whole duck.  If you are truly ambitious you can do this yourself and can find instructions on how to do so on YouTube.  I chose to delegate this task to my butcher.  You will also need to remove all the bones from the turkey, except for the leg and wing bones.  I also had my butcher do this for me.

In addition to your deboned birds, you will need stuffing.  Mrs. Esquire put together the stuffing for me.  It was made from chicken sausage and various types of breads.  One tip I read online – make sure your stuffing is moist.  Dry stuffing will impede the transfer of heat between the birds.

Lastly, you’ll need a rub.  I used Emeril’s Essence.  Once you have your birds, stuffing and rub, you are ready to assemble.

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I have to pause here for a quick confession.  Despite the fact that I ordered my meat a month in advance, the butcher didn’t have a whole duck.  Frustrating!  So instead I used duck breasts.

The first step in assembly is to rub down the chicken and duck, and to put some rub on the inside of the turkey.  Next, you put a layer of stuffing in the turkey.  You can see that the skin on top of the turkey is intact.  I was considering cutting the turkey all the way open, but I’m glad I didn’t.  That skin was very helpful in keeping the bird together while I stuffed it.

I wanted my duck in the middle.  Since my bird is laying breast down, I put the duck in next.  After the duck is another layer of stuffing, then it’s time for the chicken.  Lastly, you should fill all the crevices with stuffing.

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Here’s the bird, fully stuffed.

The next step is to perform a little reconstructive surgery on the turducken.  Mrs. Esquire helped me with this step – she’s very handy with a sewing needle.  We used cotton string to sew the bird back up and truss the legs.

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Lastly, I mixed some Emeril’s Essence with margarine (we had kosher guests).  I rubbed the margarine between the skin and the breast, and also over the top of the bird.  I allowed the bird to come to room temperature prior to the cook, but also iced down the turkey breasts with bags of ice as it was sitting out.  I picked up this tip online – the hope is to keep the breasts a little cooler than the rest of the bird so they won’t cook too fast.

It was quite a bit of prep work, but I truly believe it was worth it.  Cooking a turducken is a little complicated, and it helped to know the many layers of my bird as I was monitoring the cooking process.

There’s a wide variety of turducken cooking times and temperatures floating around the internet.  I decided on 300 degrees, Big Green Egg set for indirect cooking, with a little cherry wood for smoke.  I was guessing I’d have a 5-7 hour cook.  A good drip pan is also essential.  I used a double-drip pan method (with one drip pan on to the grill and two more below the grill, on the plate setter) in hopes of getting some early drippings for gravy.

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It’s go time!

In preparation for this cook I bought myself a thermapen instant-read thermometer.  I now have quite the collection of thermometers.  Some serve different purposes and some I just don’t like.  The thermapen is a top of the line instant-read thermometer.  I wanted it for this cook because I needed to quickly check the temperature at various parts of the bird without leaving the lid open too long.

The thermapen worked great, but it told me that my bird was cooking much more quickly than I wanted!  The turkey breasts were climbing faster than the interior of the bird (as expected) and were inching close to 160 after three hours.  The interior still had a ways to go.

At this point I knew I would have to pull the bird at least two hours before we were ready to eat it.  I decided to use the old barbecue trick of putting it in a cooler, wrapped in foil and blankets, to rest.  Not ideal but I hoped it would work.  After about four hours, the interior was up over 150.  Counting on significant temperature rise during the two hours in the cooler, I pulled the bird at that point.

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Ready for the cooler!  (Oh, by the way, did I mention that I was doing this all in a massive rain storm?  Not ideal!)

When I opened the cooler two hours later, a huge gush of steam rushed out.  In retrospect, I should have pulled the bird from the cooler about 15-30 minutes before carving it.  I didn’t re-check the temperature (too busy!) but I’m sure the breasts were much warmer than I would have liked.

Carving a turucken is tons of fun.  Since there are hardly any bones, you can just go at it like a meatloaf.  When I sliced into my turducken, I was greeted with this beautiful sight.

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The turducken was a huge hit.  Even though my temperature got a little higher than I wanted, and even though I had to pull the bird early, it still was moist enough.  I would have liked to try it after a more normal resting period.  The turkey was, predictably, drier than the other meats.  But when you swished the turducken all together on your plate it was pretty darn good.  I’ll definitely make turducken again!

As always, thanks for reading!

Stuffed Peppers

The internet is an amazing thing.

I know that’s not a ground breaking statement.  But do you ever step back and think about what life used to be like before the internet?

There are so many recipes online!  I have a few grilling cookbooks, which I really enjoy and which inspire me.  However, I often find myself riding BART home, thinking about how I can use the food I have on hand to create an interesting dish.  With my phone and ten minutes of downtime on the train I can put together an idea for dinner.  The recipes I find online aren’t always the fanciest, but they are good enough to get me started.

These stuffed peppers were a BART-phone-recipe special.  My CSA shipment included these beautiful sweet peppers.

Of course I always have ground beef on hand from the meat CSA.  I browned some beef with onion and a collection of seasonings.  Then I mixed in salsa, white rice, and soft cheese.  I stuffed the peppers then topped them with cheese.

I set the Big Green Egg for indirect grilling and threw on some mesquite chips for smoke.  I grilled them at about 350 for 25 minutes or so.  Since the meat and rice are already cooked, the goal of grilling is just to soften up the peppers and melt the cheese to a nice, golden brown.

This recipe wasn’t especially quick, with browning the meat, cooking the rice, stuffing the peppers, and then grilling them.  However, I was able to work it into a weeknight without too much stress.  They were really good, and a fun way to use both the meat and vegetable CSA!

Caveman Grilling

My mother-in-law bought me a great grilling cookbook for my birthday: Charred and Scruffed, by Adam Perry Lang.  The author has a unique take on grilling with lots of interesting ideas and techniques.  I’m not going to delve into deep detail on this blog when I use his recipes and techniques.  If you’re interested in learning more, buy his book!

When I first opened the book, I was immediately drawn to a technique he called “clinching.”  The author grills meat directly on the coals!  How barbaric!  How exciting!

I had to try this right away.  I used New York Strip steaks at the recipe’s suggestion.  I had two steaks to cook but I decided not to cook them both at the same time.  In case of utter failure, I didn’t want to go home hungry.

I was so excited about this process, Mrs. Esquire came out to watch.  Spectator grilling!  The first steak worked out great.  Mrs. Esquire then had the great idea to start filming the action.  I was reluctant at first, but the video ended up being pretty interesting.

Now bear in mind, I didn’t start this cook with the intention of putting out a video.  I would have done a little more explaining along the way if I’d been thinking about it.  I also would have spent a little more time in hair and makeup.  But I invite you into my backyard as I “clinch” my second New York Strip Steak.  Video Here.

Here’s a photo of the steak down in the coals.

This was really a fun technique.  The steaks tasted great, too!  Chef Lang is a little heavy on the salt for my palate, so I’ll adjust that going forward, but the steaks had a really nice charcoal flavor.  I can’t wait to play with more of his techniques!

Smoked Salmon

A couple of weekends ago I crossed a dish off my barbecue bucket list: smoked salmon.

I was first inspired to tackle smoked salmon on a trip to Seattle.  I made the best of a Monday morning deposition by flying up to Seattle Sunday morning and spending the day.  The salmon looked so beautiful laid out on the ice at the famous Pike Place Market.  I almost bought a whole fish then and there to be shipped down to San Francisco.  The only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger was a busy schedule that week, which prevented me from giving the salmon the attention it deserved.

Smoked salmon has been on my mind since that trip.  I finally got around to researching it this summer.  The first thing I learned was that I needed to find alder wood chips.  These are the key to a proper West Coast smoked salmon.  I found some on amazon.com and bought a couple of bags.  As an added bonus, I’ve found that the alder wood is absolutely delicious for vegetables and sweet corn.

The next thing I learned is that at least three different preparation styles may fairly be called “smoked salmon.”  For example, the kind of salmon you have for breakfast in Sweden could be called smoked salmon.  It’s usually referred to as gravalox.  This is essentially a salt-cured preparation style, and it could be cold smoked or not smoked at all.

Some people refer to salmon grilled slowly (i.e., under an hour) as “smoked salmon.”  To me, that’s just grilled salmon.  I’ve been there, done that.

Somewhere in the middle lies the smoked salmon I wanted.  I found many different recipes and techniques online, most from Alaskan fishermen.  I quickly discovered that smoking salmon is just as much about the brining process as the smoking process.  I settled on a dry brine preparation – mostly because I don’t have room in my refrigerator for a bucket of salt water.

I started on a Wednesday night.  First, I bought about eight pounds of farm raised salmon.  This was one full fillet and half of a second fillet.  Readers in San Francisco may shudder at the thought of buying farm raised fish.  However, this was a conscious decision on my part.  Wild caught salmon is quite lean, which makes it wonderful for grilling.  Farm raised salmon, on the other hand, has the fat necessary for the meat to stand up to a long smoking process.

Next I mixed a very simple dry brine of 1/4 cup salt and 3/4 cups brown sugar.  I spread the rub all over the flesh side of the fish and arranged them in my tray to be covered and put into the refrigerator.

Next comes the waiting – the hardest part!  By morning, the dry brine had mixed with the fish’s natural juices to create an oozy, liquid-y brine.  I flipped and rotated the fish every 12 hours for 48 hours total, until Friday night.  That night I drained the liquid from the pan and laid the fish out skin side down.  I then let them dry for another 12 hours in the refrigerator.

I was actually a little bit worried at this point.  I expected the fish to be tackier.  Some of the methods called for the fish to be rinsed after drying in the refrigerator.  Others did not.  Since my fish didn’t seem overly brined, I decided to only rinse one of the pieces.

Saturday morning I was up nice and early to prepare the Big Green Egg for smoking.  I tossed a healthy dose of alder chips on the fire.  As you can see below, I used my raised grill to fit all the fish on the BGE.

Remember how I rinsed one of the cuts?  Well, I stupidly put the rinsed piece on the bottom, meaning that it received the juicy drips from the top two pieces.  It ended up being the best piece of them all!  But not because I rinsed it; on the contrary, it was really good because it drowned in the sugary brine and fat throughout the whole smoking process.  While I didn’t really get to taste a rinsed preparation, I’ve decided that I won’t rinse in the future.

My goal was to smoke the salmon for  6 to 9 hours at about 195 degrees.  Now it is really difficult (for me at least) to keep the BGE going under 200 degrees.  I used my Auber Instruments Pit Controller and still had a few problems.  After all was said and done I smoked the salmon on the BGE for about 9 hours, most of the time at 190-195 degrees.

Here’s the final product.

OMG.  I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t write with terms like OMG, but that is really the best way I can describe this salmon.  Mrs. Esquire and I sampled it after it had cooled for a half hour.  It was smoky, slightly sugary, slightly salty, very moist, and very delicious.  The juices literally pooled in the skin as we nibbled chunk after chunk.  We cooled the remaining pieces to serve to our dinner guests.

High marks all around for this smoked salmon.  Mrs. Esquire couldn’t stop eating it.  Any barbecue recipe that has her fighting me off for leftovers is definitely a keeper in our household.  We have a bunch of salmon in the freezer right now.

(A helpful tip for freezing leftovers from some Alaskan fisherman: put the meat in a freezer bag.  Fill a sink with water.  Lower the bag into the water until it is almost submerged.  This will force the air out.  It worked great!)

I’m so glad I never let go of my dream to smoke salmon.  My first time certainly won’t be my last!  As always, thanks for reading!

Rosemary Pork Skewers

The other day I was looking for fresh ideas to use some of the ground pork and beef I get every month in my meat CSA.  I came across an interesting recipe.  I have to confess: I made this dish a few weeks back and I can’t track down the recipe online.  So I can’t give you the recipe and I can’t give credit where credit is due.  (I know, I shouldn’t quit my day job to start writing about food professionally).  All I can give you are some pictures and a basic idea of what I did.

First I mixed some ground pork with some rosemary, an egg, some bread crumbs, and I’m sure some other seasonings.  I then formed them on rosemary sprigs which I’d stripped halfway.

I quartered some red onions skewered those with bamboo, and threw them on the grill with a couple of peppers.

A note about the peppers.  I used to cut bell peppers into one inch squares and grill them on a skewer.  I liked the crispiness and the char.  I was always skeptical of roasting bell peppers whole and then skinning them.  It seemed like you’d lose the grill flavor.  Well, after seeing this preparation method a few different places I decided to give it a try.  Of course, I should know better than to doubt those who have been doing this much longer than I have!  I’ve been converted.

More about finishing the peppers later.  First, I had to put the pork on the grill.

I figured the rosemary would burn, but I also figured that would simply add aroma to the cook.  If I were concerned about presentation I could re-skewer the pork at the end.

I grilled the skewers basically the same way you would a hamburger, flipping intermittently and pulling them after about 8-10 minutes.  You can see that some of the rosemary skewers survived better than others.  I also prepared a greek yogurt and olive oil dressing for the pork (sorry, no recipe for you!).

Here are the peppers when I pulled them from the grill.

After allowing the peppers to cool, I skinned them, sliced them open, and scraped out the seeks and membranes.  Then I sliced them into short strips.

They were delicious!  So moist, yet with that smokey, roasted flavor.  I’m a big fan.  Together with the pork and greek yogurt, this made a nice little meal!  As always, thanks for reading!

Double Level Grilling

Just a quick post to share a photo.  The other day I tried some double level grilling in my Mexican redware.

Those are mushrooms and onions on the top (for hamburgers) and potatoes and onions on the bottom.  My raised grill has hinged sides, allowing me to flip up half of the grill to reach the food underneath.  When it was time to stir the veggies I shuffled the top deck, flipped up half the raised grill, stirred the potatoes, then shuffled the top deck to the other side and stirred the other batch of potatoes.  It was pretty slick.

One takeaway from this – I was surprised at how much the restricted air flow reduced my temperature.  I’ve loaded down the grill with pork butts and brisket without noticing a difference.  I guess the reduced airflow has a bigger effect at higher temperatures.  This makes sense.  I just have to crank it up when I do this in the future.

ABTs

I’d never heard of ABTs until I started reading barbecue blogs.  Soon it became apparent to me that this appetizer is a staple of the barbecue pastime.  How had I made it to the ripe old age of 33 without ever eating ABTs?  I guess I’ve been running with the wrong crowd.

What are ABTs, you ask?  Well, the full name is Atomic Buffalo Turds.  I’m not allowed to call them that, however.  Mrs. Esquire believes you shouldn’t serve your guests a “turd.”  She’s probably right about that.  Plus, we’re entering 18 years of “we don’t say that word in our house.”  We haven’t drafted the list of “bad words” yet, but using “turd” to refer to food probably won’t fly.

Mrs. Esquire and I went back and forth about what I should call my ABTs.  She said I should come up with a new name.  I disagreed.  You can’t serve a hamburger and call it a ground beef sandwich.  It’s hamburger, plain and simple.  When I serve ABTs, I don’t want to pretend like I invented the dish.  Or, worse yet, I don’t want to serve them to someone in the know and get called out on my fake name.  In the end, we settled on a compromise.  I can call them ABTs, but if anyone asks, I have to say they’re Atomic Buffalo Tidbits.  That’s good enough for me.

So you’re still probably wondering – what are these turd/tidbits?  The basic recipe is fairly simple: half a jalapeno, filled with cream cheese, sometimes topped with some sort of meat, and wrapped in bacon.  The traditional recipe calls for a Lil’ Smokie on top of the cream cheese.

I didn’t want to use Lit’l Smokies in my ABTs.  I’ll admit, Mrs. Esquire and I have become food snobs since we moved to San Francisco.  In my days growing up in Minnesota I ate many a hotdish, the central ingredient of which was usually Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Now, Mrs. Esquire and I have a philosophy: prepackaged food is not an ingredient.  I just couldn’t bring myself to put Lit’l Smokies on my ABTs.

I decided to buy a chorizo sausage instead of Lit’l Smokies .  I didn’t know exactly how I was going to use it.  I was thinking of cooking the chorizo and laying it in slices across the top of the jalapeno.  Then I figured I should see if others have used chorizo.  Sure enough, the often-inspiring Griffin’s Grub recently posted a recipe for ABTs with chorizo.  I followed his technique.

I split open the chorizo sausage, browned the meat, and mixed it in with some neufchatel cheese (you can use cream cheese if you want).

I sliced each jalapeno in two and scraped out the seeds and the membrane.  I then filled each one with the cheese-chorizo mixture.  I had a few extra crumbs of chorizo, which I placed on a top of a couple of peppers.

Lastly, I wrapped each jalapeno with some bacon.  I used between 1/3 and 2/3 of a slice of bacon on each, with 2/3 being too much, 1/3 being too little, and 1/2 being just about right.  I used pepper bacon from Whole Foods, which I think added a nice kick to the finished product.  I also dusted them with a barbecue rub.  I placed them on a 300 degree Big Green Egg, set for indirect cooking (plate setter legs up), with some hickory chips for smoke.

My company arrived while the ABTs were on the grill.  Consequently I didn’t watch the grill as closely as I should have.  My temperature ranged from 275 to 350.  I kept the ABTs on the BGE for about an hour.  There’s no real science to the cooking time or temperature.  I think they should be cooked low enough to impart some smoke and long enough for the bacon to crisp.  Here’s the final product.

I have to admit, they were way better than I thought they were going to be.  Three of us dusted off almost that entire plate.  These will definitely become part of the rotation!  If I do them for a bigger group I will probably use my raised grill rack so I can cook more.  As always, thanks for reading!