Is there a food extant that does not taste wonderful smoked? For many of us, this is a rhetorical question. One thing that I have noticed over the years, though, is that many people who will intrepidly grille or barbecue almost any meat somehow feel that side dishes, veggies, etc., need to be cooked on the indoor oven/range. As much as it pains me to admit it, I used to be guilty of a similar crime against nature myself. For years, we had wrestled with the trade-off at holidays, etc., of roasting a turkey, duck or goose in the oven versus smoking it, the trade-off being sacrificing the gravy when smoking the bird, for that wonderful smoked taste, until the lights came on and I realized that by the simple technique of slipping a drip pan, such as a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, under the bird, in your smoker, we really could have the best of both worlds. Since having this relatively simple epiphany, I have gone on to create what is my very favorite gravy in the world, a caramelized onion smoked gravy. Simply caramelize some onions with a touch of balsamic vinegar, dried basil and thyme, and puree in your blender or food processor. While the blender is running, add the drippings in a slow stream until you have exactly the right consistency for your gravy. This is absolutely foolproof, produces a texture that is perfect every time, and has the added benefit that you will never need to add flour or any other thickening agent. Now, let’s see if we can take a small step towards adding to our smoked foods repertoire by introducing a few similarly simple concepts/guidelines.
Speaking of onions (how’s that for a smooth segue?), another favorite food to convert to the smoker is a smoked onion soup. Slice the onions as you would for traditional onion soup, place them in a pan or wrap them in a foil bundle, with a thin layer of Worcestershire sauce on the bottom, and smoke them on indirect heat for about two hours. Follow your favorite onion soup recipe from here on out. I have experimented with a wide variety of cheeses as topping for this, and found that the rich, nutty taste of either a Gruyere, or an Italian blend of romano, parmesan and provolone works best here. A nice variation on this theme is to top the soup with a generous handful of crushed/pureed pecans instead of the cheese.
Finally, on to one of my favorite smoked meals, the Mexican treat known as barbacoa. For this, I use a leg of lamb. I like to marinate the lamb in a spicy Mexican paste of dried chiles, oil, vinegar, achiote powder, garlic, cinnamon, oregano and cloves. I let the lamb marinate at least overnight, and the longer, the better. I not only rub the outside of the lamb, but I cut several thin slits in the lamb and work the paste into the slits. Injection also works well here. Set up your grille/smoker for indirect heat and preheat to medium-low, for me, about 225-250 degrees. On the rack underneath the leg of lamb, you will place a deep pot including a consommé composed of a good quality beef stock or brown stock, with vegetables placed evenly through the pot. Large chunks of corn on the cob, zucchini, onions and potatoes, along with sliced carrots, potato and tomato are wonderful here. If, like me, you like some heat to your food, chunks of jalapeno or poblano chile can also go in here. Smoke the barbacoa for about 3-4 hours, until the lamb is ready to fall off the bone, and serve. Some tortillas, warmed on your grille (of course), make a great accompaniment. Eat con mucho gusto.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Mezoff is a Louisville-based chef who owned the highly-regarded Tastes Restaurant, as well as Big Mama Mezoff’s Sauces. He is afflicted with “hickorophilia dementia,” an intense addiction to hickory smoke, a malady curable only by the consumption of healthy quantities of barbecued meat and veggies.