Fire And Smoke
By Catherine Coburn
Thursday, June 18, 1998
Noun, verb or adjective, "barbecue" is intrinsically American. It doesn''t matter whether you''re eating it, doing it or just got a hankering for your favorite style of chicken, beef, fish, or zucchini. It''s a curious anomaly that lures the male homo sapiens to the backyard altar of smoke and flame. Men become supplicants bearing exotic annointments for the choice cuts they rigorously guard with the zeal of predator and felled prey. Indoors, they''re the same guys who shrink away from the toaster.
Archetypal Americana, to be sure. But barbecue is also "a method of cooking so natural under primitive circumstances that it would practically invent itself everywhere," according to noted food historian Waverly Root, "especially in societies accustomed to living outdoors most of the time." Way easier to stick the carcass on a spit and hoist it over a flame than going to all the trouble of prepping a buffalo stomach in which to chuck everything after hewing it all into gobbets and smiting it to pieces. The word could''ve just as easily originated from the French barbe queue, "from whiskers to tail," as the Spanish barbacoa, roughly translating to "don''t forget to pick up the briquettes on your way home."
Whatever its origins, it''s a way to cook that can be as much fun to execute as to indulge. And most barbecue chefs-of-the-moment will agree that it''s a culinary coup greatly enhanced by the act of mopping, massaging, slathering or soaking the object of your delight in some savory embellishment, either dry or wet. One of my favorites involves copious quantities of tequila, along with enough lime juice, garlic and cilantro to give any penurious barnyard fowl a final baptism of celestial proportion, a recipe sometimes known as Chicken Margarita.
In their fifth year as Amarin Thai restaurant on Cannery Row, Chef Pan is celebrating by giving away T-shirts, as well as his recipe for beef, chicken or fish barbecue marinade that''s guaranteed to curl your toes in delight. (Here it is: 1/2 tsp. yellow curry powder, 2 tablespoons nam pla fish sauce, 1 tablespoon each sugar, cilantro and garlic both finely chopped, and a cup of coconut milk.) Use it as a marinade and baste with it over the coals. "This is real Thai," Pan guarantees. Take your shoes off to see if he''s kidding.
If you thought that what looks like a duck and quacks like a duck is always duck, you''ve yet to taste Cypress Grove Chef Kurt Steeber''s method for his barbecued bird, a dish which transcends previously recognized limitations on duck deliciousness. Take a generous tablespoon of dried lavender and a couple tablespoons each of dried sage, juniper berries, salt and black pepper and grind it all together in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Before you fire up the Weber, rub your lucky duck inside and out. Steeber recommends mesquite chips for a good, smoky flavor. And doubling up on your ducks, if you like your neighbors--the smoke signals you''ll be sending out can draw a crowd.
Rolling down Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey is like passing by a United Noshings of eating opportunities. You name it, we got it--Korean, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, et al. What''s next? Hawaiian, that''s what. Hula''s will be opening the first week of July, and it''s reported that the proprietors, the Delaney brothers, know how to huki lau. cw