The Time is Now 3: Cabbage

 
fig. a:  before

fig. a:  before

Once again, the concept here is pretty simple.

Find yourself the freshest, tastiest locally grown cabbages you can find (preferably organic, please), and throw them on the grill.  That's right:  take your cabbages and grill them.

fig. b:  after

fig. b:  after

The first time we had our minds blown by such a dish was in Charleston, SC, in late 2013.  We'd driven down to Charleston for Christmas on a whim.  And, oh, what a whim it was!  We had an absolutely phenomenal time, and the food we ate was completely off the charts, but there's no question that the meal of the trip (and our Meal of the Year) was the feast we had at McCrady's.

We had a number of phenomenal dishes that night, including Calico scallops with roasted butternut squash, chervil, and green peanuts; pan-fried trout with Meyer lemon and thyme; and a  fall greens salad with charred pecans, country ham, apples and turnips.  But in many ways, the most memorable dish, and the one that proved to be the most inspirational dish of the night, was a smoky grilled cabbage dish that made up just one-third of a medley of brassicas that came with the trout.  That smoky grilled cabbage dish is usually the first dish we mention when we describe our experience of McCrady’s; it’s also the only dish that we had that night that we’ve tried to replicate repeatedly in the years since our trip to Charleston.

Unfortunately, I don’t have McCrady’s original recipe.  But I can tell you that it was grilled outside the restaurant on one of a battery of barbecues and hibachis the McCrady’s crew had set up around the premises.  Like so many other top chefs, Executive Chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne* had become obsessed with cooking over wood fires, but the historic landmark status of McCrady’s Unity Alley location kept them from outfitting the restaurant with an indoor wood-fired grill (apparently, they're in the process of moving locations, so we'll see if that's changed when they start up again).  They’d made up for it by taking full advantage of the restaurant’s surroundings, as well as its roof (!).  Anyway, the dish in question was a relatively simple preparation, but that was the first time we’d ever tasted grilled cabbage, and the experience was a revelation.  This cabbage was unusually sweet and wonderfully smoky, and it had absolutely perfect mouthfeel:  tender and supple, with just the perfect amount of crunch still present.

The next time our waiter dropped by our table and inquired as to how our meal was progressing, we told him that everything was going swimmingly, but that the grilled cabbage dish had been the standout, and we were going to have to insist upon seconds.  He gave a nervous laugh, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right…  You guys!”  But we weren’t kidding, and when he took a closer look at our dead earnest expressions, he hustled back to the kitchen with our request.  The kitchen was thrilled, of course.  That grilled cabbage dish was exactly the kind of backroom experiment that kitchen staff get super excited about, but that the general public typically doesn’t even notice.  When they heard that their homely little cabbage dish had some serious fans out on the floor, they sent us back a heaping portion—which we promptly devoured, once again.

A few months later, when the snows and the ice had subsided in Montreal and grilling season had started up again, grilled cabbage was a top priority for me.  I had a good sense of how the team at McCrady’s had made their version, but when I came across a recipe for roasted cabbage in the book Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables by Laura B. Russell, I recognized it as one that could be easily adapted to similar effect.  So that’s exactly what I did.  The recipe that resulted has been my go-to grilled cabbage recipe ever since.  It’s a dish that never fails to receive raves from our dinner guests.  People respond to it pretty much the same way Michelle and I did that fateful December in Charleston.

If the cabbage is just right and I’m feeling suitably ambitious, I’ll cut the cabbage in wedges, leaving part of the stem attached, and keep the wedges intact as I grill them—grilling just the top and bottom of each wedge if the cabbage is particularly young and tender, and all four sides, if the cabbage needs a bit more time over the fire.  If the cabbage doesn’t feel like keeping its wedge form and it would rather just let itself go and spread its leaves all over the grill, I just go with it, turning the mass of leaves carefully with my tongs to try to avoid losing any of them into the coals below.  There are times when I prefer the look of a perfectly intact grilled cabbage wedge on a platter or on an individual plate, but I like the taste of the warm cabbage salad version just as much.

In any case, if you’ve grilled a cabbage, now is the time to try it.  The cabbages are at their very best these days, and there’s still plenty of time left in our grilling season.  Avoid frisée cabbages like the Savoy cabbage when making this.  Opt instead for a good-old fashioned green cabbage, preferably a local organic one, or, even better, one of those beautiful conical cabbages that are becoming more common these days (again, preferably a local and organic one)..

Without any further ado…

Grilled Cabbage

1 green cabbage, cut into 8 wedges

vegetable oil

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

Light your grill, using all-natural charcoal or charcoal briquets.

When you cut your cabbage into wedges, try to keep some of the stem attached so that the wedges remain intact when you grill them.  

Drizzle the wedges with vegetable oil and place them on a baking sheet or in a platter until your fire is ready.

When your fire is medium-hot, go ahead and start grilling, making sure to blacken each wedge gently on at least the top and bottom, and possibly on all four sides.

Remove the wedges from the grill and let them cool slightly.

Prepare your dressing.  Whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, making sure to season to taste.

Pour the dressing over the grilled cabbage wedges, or grilled cabbage leaves, and toss them gently for even distribution.

Serve immediately.

[based very closely on a recipe for roasted cabbage** that appeared in Laura B. Russell's Brassicas:  Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables (Ten Speed Press, 2014)]

Not only is this dish unbelievably delicious, but it's versatile.  We've served this dish as part of all kinds of different menus.  Just this summer we served it with as an accompaniment to an Italian antipasti spread to great effect, but it was particularly great with grilled pork skewers and fennel-and-chile-rubbed grilled chicken.

I've said everything I have to say about this recipe.  The time is now.  Start grilling!

aj

* Langhorne is now the chef and owner of The Dabney in Washington, D.C.

**  If grilling isn't your bag, and you'd prefer to roast your cabbage, by all means, be my guest.  As noted above, Russell's original recipe is for roasted cabbage.  Place your cabbage wedges on a baking sheet, and after drizzling a little vegetable oil on them, slide them into a 425º F oven.  Total cooking time will be a little longer with this version (30-45 minutes), making sure to flip your wedges once midway through.

 

Out of the Archives 3: Don't Let It Slip You By, pt. 2

Summer, that is.

Here's another classic from the archives--August 8, 2012, to be exact--which is perfect for August 2015, with its plentiful sweet corn and its great variety of hot & sweet peppers.  In this case, Padrón peppers were one of the stars.

Without any further ado...

fig. a:  lake girl 1

fig. a:  lake girl 1

If you have the means to get out of town:  get thee to a lake.  If you can spend a night or two there, all the better.  Just make sure to bring plenty of food and drink.  And lots of reading material.

fig. b:  lake girl 2

fig. b:  lake girl 2

fig. c:  lake girl 3

fig. c:  lake girl 3

Keep the wine flowing.

fig. d:  rosé 1

fig. d:  rosé 1

fig. e:  rosé 2

fig. e:  rosé 2

Eat with regularity. 

In both cases, focus on quality over quantity, although the idea is to celebrate summer, so there's no point in being stingy.

As much as possible, keep things simple.  You'll find that the dishes that are the most elemental will also often be the most memorable ones.

It doesn't get any more elemental than Padrón peppers, which have been a sensation from Spain to California for years, and which are finally making their presence known in Quebec, thanks in no small measure to the Birri Brothers at Jean-Talon market.

fig. f:  Padróns!

fig. f:  Padróns!

Pan-fried Padróns 

Padrón peppers
bacon fat or olive oil
kosher salt
limes


Heat the bacon fat or olive oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large pan or skillet.  When the fat begins to smoke, add as many peppers as will fit comfortably.  Sear them until they are just nicely charred.  Toss liberally with kosher salt.  Place on a serving platter and add a squeeze of lime juice.  Serve immediately.  Devour while hot.   

Padrón peppers generally aren't hot, they're pretty mild, but they do have some heat to them, and occasionally you might encounter one that might make your lips tingle.  Maybe even one that makes you sweat.   We call this game Spanish Roulette.  

Serve as a side or as a snack.

Bring a charcoal barbecue, too, if you can.  There's nothing more elemental than fuel (wood, all-natural charcoal, all-natural briquets) and fire.  And if you can find choice oysters in sufficient quantities before you head out to the country, you're really in luck.

fig. g:  grilled oysters + rosé

fig. g:  grilled oysters + rosé

Grilled Oysters 

fresh choice oysters
parsley
chives
garlic chives
scallions
hickory-smoked bacon
sharp cheddar cheese 

Shuck the oysters, severing the muscle and making sure to spill as little liquor as possible.   

Fry up the bacon until crisp.  Keep about one rounded tablespoon full of the bacon fat in your skillet, pouring the rest in a jar for a later use.  Mince the fried bacon into bits.  [3 strips of bacon made enough bits for 36 oysters.] 

Chop the scallions and the herbs and sauté them in the bacon fat until wilted.  Toss with the bacon bits. [4 scallions, 1/3 bunch of parsley, 1/2 bunch of chives and garlic chives made plenty enough for 36 oysters.] 

Spoon a little of the herb mixture into each oyster. 

Top with grated cheddar cheese. 

Grill over a hot charcoal fire until the cheese has melted. 

Serve immediately.  Savour.


I usually make my Mexican-style corn pretty tricked out:  lime mayonnaise with premium chili powder (freshly toasted and ground); fresh cheese; aged cheese; cilantro; and grated radishes.  But even this stripped-down version is sensational if you start with great corn and you grill your cobs just so.

fig. h:  grilled corn

fig. h:  grilled corn

Grilled Corn 

fresh sweet corn, preferably Grade A Quebec or Vermont
mayonnaise
limes
Tabasco sauce
salt 

Shuck the corn completely.   

Mix your lime mayonnaise.  Add enough lime juice to make it just a bit looser than a regular mayonnaise.  Add salt and Tabasco sauce to taste. 

Place the corn cobs directly over a medium-hot charcoal fire.  No need to keep the husk on.  No need to soak the corn in anything.  No need to brush it with any substances.  Being careful not to scorch your corn, roast the cobs over the fire.  Rotate them from time to time.  Don't worry about cooking them completely evenly.  It's okay if some portions are slightly more charred than others.  This will only add to the taste sensation. 

When the cobs have been cooked on all sides, remove from the grill and slather with the lime mayonnaise.   

Allow to cool for about a minute, then serve while still hot. 

Repeat as needed.

[If you don't believe this method works, check out this video.  I used to fuss around with my corn cobs before I grilled them, and they often turned out great, but Mark "The Minimalist" Bittman made a convert out of me.]

As Michelle put things recently, "18 wines, 4 people, 2 days, 1 lake = perfect weekend." 

80 Padrón peppers, 36 oysters, 20 eggs, 18 ears of corn, 2 briskets, 2 racks of ribs, and 1 pound of bacon didn't hurt either.

With this much fun built into your weekend, you won't even care if there's a little rain.

fig. i:  summer rain

fig. i:  summer rain

Go swimming anyway.*  You might stay in long enough to see a truly celestial display of light.

We did.

aj

* As long as there's no threat of a lightning strike, of course.

Out of the Archives 1: Keep It Simple (June 2008)

Editor's note:  Thus begins a new series called Out of the Archives.  The idea is to regularly dig deep into our vaults, sift through over 10 years' worth of "...an endless banquet" posts (!), and dust off some old favourites.  

Without any further ado, here's a post that first appeared on Sunday, June 15, 2008, and is perfect for the summertime grilling season.

'Cause I'm easy, yeah, I'm easy...--Keith Carradine, "I'm Easy," Nashville (1975), dir. Altman

I guess if you always have access to the best quality meat, well, then you can be as adventurous as you want with it. Kind of like cooking with wine--I'm sure everything tastes even better if you happen to be in a position to cook with high-quality wines, but most of us have had limited experience (if any) with doing so. As a result, when we, here at "...an endless banquet," get our hands on really good meat, our tendency is to, yes, keep it simple (just as when we get our hands on a really good bottle of wine our tendency is to, well, drink it--we're kind of old-fashioned like that). The point is, in both cases, we want to really taste the difference.

So when we were lucky enough to get a gorgeous pork rib roast that had been sourced, slaughtered, and dressed by a friend of ours (!),* we turned to our friends from London's River Café to give us a little guidance on pork and minimalism.

fig. a:  CA COOK BOO

fig. a:  CA COOK BOO

If you're not familiar with Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' River Cafe Cook Book Easy and Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Cafe, you love Italian and Italian-inspired cuisine, and you're a believer in keeping it simple, well, you really ought to be. As the titles suggest, most of their recipes require a minimum of ingredients, a minimum of time, or a minimum of effort, and some fall under all three categories. Some of our favorites contain literally three ingredients and take just minutes to prepare. Seriously. And don't let the vaguely glam cover of River Cafe Cook Book Easy throw you: the minimalism of the content is mirrored by the minimalism of the books' design. Virtually every photograph is taken from directly overhead, and many feature a stark white background. Seriously, minimally perfect.

fig. b:  yellow on black

fig. b:  yellow on black

The one we chose on this particular occasion requires two ingredients, just a few more if you make a salsa verde to go along with it (and we highly recommend that you do).

Pork chops with lemon

4 pork chops
1 lemon

Preheat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 400º F (200º C/Gas 6).

Season each chop generously with salt and pepper (okay, you need two more ingredients), put the chops in the pan and sear them on each side quickly, no more than 30 seconds per side. Take the pan off the heat.

Cut the lemon in half. Squeeze the lemon juice over the chops, and place the squeezed lemon halves in the pan along with chops. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Press the lemon halves on to the chops and baste with the juice. Roast for another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch.

note: if you don't have a cast-iron pan that's large enough to fit four chops, sear them in batches in a cast-iron pan, and then transfer them to a preheated oven tray and continue with the recipe above.

[recipe from River Cafe Cook Book Easy]

Now, the oven recipe works like a charm, but it being BBQ season, a few weeks ago we decided to adapt the above recipe for the grill.

We rubbed a little bit of olive oil into the chops before generously seasoning them. We took a small cast-iron pan, added a tablespoon of olive oil to it, and brought it out to the barbecue with us, and we cooked the lemon halves in the pan on the grill while we grilled the meat over a hot flame. Before flipping the chops we used tongs to pick up a lemon half and rub it all over the chops. Total cooking time was almost the same as above and we tried to flip the chops as little as possible. The lemons got nice and caramelized and we served them alongside the chops and drizzled a little of the delicious sauce they'd created overtop.

When we started our chops looked like this:

fig. c:  the raw...

fig. c:  the raw...

When we finished cooking them they looked like this:

fig. d:  ...and the cooked

fig. d:  ...and the cooked

And minutes later they'd been picked clean.

This recipe really doesn't need anything additional--the flavors are honest and clean and pretty much perfect as is. All you really need to finish the ensemble is a vegetable side, a salad, and a glass of wine. But, if you wanted to dress them up just a little, you can't go wrong with this salsa verde:

Salsa Verde

2 tbsp parsley leaves
1 tbsp mint leaves
1 tbsp basil leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp capers
3 anchovy filets (1 or 2 will do, if you're using salt-packed)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
black pepper to taste

Finely chop the herbs, put into a bowl and cover with olive oil. Chop the garlic with the capers and the anchovies. Add to the herbs and mix together. Stir in the mustard and vinegar, season with black pepper and add more olive oil to loosen the sauce.

Serve a spoonful over your chops. Also excellent with steaks--grilled or roasted.

[recipe from River Cafe Cook Book Easy]

aj

* Merci, Sam Pinard.