- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The thing to remember about cooking on Labor Day is that you don’t want to work very hard. The idea is to enjoy a day free of heavy toil, to avoid adding tasks to the workload you are comfortable carrying.

That comfort level varies from cook to cook. Meals that some folks regard as requiring no effort are regarded by others as undertakings worthy of a lifetime-achievement award.

As for me, I go to the kettle grill on Labor Day. That is where I feel at ease. Hanging around the grill seems more like playing with fire than producing supper.

For the entree, I like to slowly cook a hunk of something, say a pork shoulder. This takes most of the day, although once the fire gets going, the cook doesn’t have to exert himself. All he has to do is sit by the cooker, beverage in hand, and make sure the wind is still gently blowing and the fire is still going. I spent a recent weekend doing just that.

Following the instructions in James Villas’ delightful new collection of stories and recipes, “Stalking the Green Fairy” (John Wiley & Sons), I cooked a hunk of hog and whipped up a barbecue sauce without breaking a sweat.

For dessert on Labor Day, I prefer items buried in ice cubes, a big watermelon or a container of homemade ice cream. I have never paid much attention to the “tweeners,” the foods that appear between the entree and dessert.

Usually, a garden salad or some potato salad would show up. However, this year, I plan to do something in the tweener line with green pepper and eggplant.

My garden has given me plenty of both. During the summer, I have picked a peck of peppers and several dozen eggplants.

I was flipping through cookbooks in search of recipes that call for either crop when I came across one that requires ample amounts of both.

You roast the peppers and eggplant, along with some whole onions and cloves of garlic. The theory is that you skin everything by shaking the roasted vegetables in a paper sack. The reality is that shaking seems to loosen the skins, but you have to use a knife to finish the job.

Then you cut up the skinned vegetables and top them with a sauce made from pureed roasted garlic and olive oil.

The recipe called for doing the cooking in an oven. But I plan to use my covered kettle grill. I’ve used it before to cook peppers, eggplant and onions.

I’ll roast the garlic on the grill as well, putting the cloves on a piece of aluminum foil to keep them from falling through the grates.

It is not necessarily easier to cook this dish on a barbecue grill than in the oven, but cooking it on the grill makes the experience feel like leisure, not labor. That’s what a holiday is all about.

Roasted vegetables

This recipe was adapted from “Some Like It Hot” by Robin Robertson (Plume).

1 pound bell peppers

1 pound eggplant

1 pound onions, in their skins

1 head garlic, in its skin

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt

Start charcoal fire and when coals are ashy, then put peppers, eggplant, onions and garlic on grill. (To prevent garlic from slipping through grate, put it on baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil.)

Cover grill and cook vegetables about 1 hour, rotating side facing fire. Remove from grill and place vegetables in large paper bag for about 10 minutes. Shake bag to remove charred outer skins. Use sharp knife to finish the job.

Remove the peppers. Cut off any remaining charred skin, then remove seeds and cut flesh into strips.

Remove skin of the eggplant and cut the flesh lengthwise into strips. Peel and chop onion.

Arrange the roasted vegetables in a serving dish. Separate the cooked garlic from the papery skins and place in a food processor. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil to make a paste, adding a pinch of salt. Drizzle the garlic puree on the vegetables, and serve with salt to taste. Makes 6 servings.

Carolina pork barbecue with spicy vinegar sauce

This recipe is from “Stalking the Green Fairy,” by James Villas (John Wiley & Sons).

PORK SHOULDER:

1 small bag hickory wood chips

1 10-pound bag charcoal briquettes

1 6- to 7-pound boneless pork shoulder (butt or picnic cut) securely tied with butcher’s string

SAUCE:

1 quart cider vinegar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

Coleslaw, optional

Buns, optional

Soak 6 handfuls of hickory chips in water for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better.

Open one bottom and one top vent on a kettle grill. Place a small drip pan in the bottom of the grill, stack briquettes evenly around the pan, and ignite. When coals are gray on one side (after about 30 minutes), turn and sprinkle 2 handfuls of soaked hickory chips evenly over the coals.

Place the shoulder, skin side down, in the center of the grill about 6 inches directly over the drip pan, then lower the lid and cook slowly for 2 hours.

Replenish the chips and briquettes as they burn, but never allow the coals to get too hot. Turn the pork, lower the lid and cook for 2 more hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining vinegar, Worcestershire, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper to taste and hot red pepper flakes in a large, nonreactive saucepan. Stir well, bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 2 hours.

Transfer pork to work surface, make deep gashes in the meat with a sharp knife, and baste liberally with the sauce.

Replace pork, skin side down, on the grill; replenish fire as needed; and cook for 2 more hours, basting with sauce from time to time.

After it has cooked for a total of about 6 hours, transfer pork to a chopping board and remove the string and most (but not all) of the crisp skin and fat.

Chop the meat with a cleaver or heavy chef’s knife. Add just enough sauce to moisten meat further; toss until well-blended.

Either serve the barbecue immediately with sauce on the side, or reheat in the top of a double boiler. Serve the barbecue plain or on buns topped with coleslaw, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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