Well boys and girls, we are in the throes of one of the hottest summers I can remember and it seems it isn’t letting up. Across the state, including Mobile, more than a couple of record highs were recorded in May and you, the live-free-or-die outdoor chef, refuse to back down. You’ll stare this heat in the face and raise the pot by firing up that charcoal, gas grill or smoker, adding more notches to the already maxed-out thermometer. We will do almost anything to prove we are tougher than we are.
Let’s hope you have a couple of squirrel-cage fans, several blocks of ice and a garden hose nearby because you will certainly need them. In the spirit of Independence Day you’re going to barbecue the red, white and blue into every empty belly of every guest at your freedom soirée while singing along to your specially made playlist full of John Cougar Mellencamp anthems, John Phillips Sousa instrumentals and one Lee Greenwood song. A little extra heat isn’t going to stomp out that patriotic flame burning inside you.
Somewhere between “Pink Houses” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A,” you’re going to need to take a break to rehydrate. You may love your country, but these American beers are awfully hoppy these days. Be sure to get some water or Gatorade in you, which, as you know, also comes in red, white and blue. But now for the sauces.
Red barbecue sauce is as American as the stripes on the flag. Every section of the nation has its version of tomato-based barbecue sauce. We have so many readily available in our supermarkets and specialty shops that you could take a tour of the country on red sauce alone. This sauce handles the lion’s share of my grilling and works with chicken, pork or brisket.
I don’t mean to straddle a fence here, but in our climate I believe the better barbecue has to have some sweet and some heat. The balance for me is the further sweet you get, the more heat you’ll need. No matter what, you must have Worcestershire sauce. It’s almost as important as the tomatoes.
½ stick butter
1 small white onion, minced
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups ketchup (just grab a cheap brand)
½ cup white vinegar
½ to ¾ cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 turns of a pepper mill
2-4 dashes of hot sauce, depending on the heat you seek
In a skillet, start by melting the butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until you can see through them. Add brown sugar and ketchup, and stir for about a minute. Add rest of ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and let it rest. This goes on anything mopped on in the last few minutes of grilling.
In any city in northern Alabama it’s pretty easy to get your hands on white barbecue sauce. Mobile is no exception. A lot of our local restaurants do this sauce justice, a fitting tribute to what many credit Big Bob Gibson with creating nearly a century ago in his iconic restaurant in Decatur, Alabama. Here’s a workable version.
1 cup Duke’s, Hellman’s or Blue Plate mayonnaise
Juice of a lemon
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Creole mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well. Refrigerate up to 3-5 days. Usually painted or drizzled on after the fact, some people add a light orating at the end of cooking. Great with chicken.
And the Blue
There aren’t that many naturally occurring blue foods in this world. You’ll find blue potatoes and carrots every now and again, but this column is about sauces. Our favorite blue food is the blueberry, and it makes one dandy of a sauce.
In May I wrote a piece about the two bushes in my yard. My crop is all gone, save a few in the freezer, but you may still find fresh ones here and there. It’s a global market these days. When making a sauce, though, if you have to use frozen berries from the middle cooler of the grocery, it won’t be the worst thing in the world. You’re going to be cooking this down a bit.
I find this sauce a great flavor and stain for medallions of pork tenderloin, but the best use is on a thick bone-in pork chop. Brush it on when the other white meat turns white. Serve a little on the side.
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup diced red onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup Grand Marnier
¾ cup blueberry sparkling water (lemon if unavailable)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt to taste
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, soften onions in olive oil. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the balsamic vinegar, blueberries and sugar, cooking until the blueberries begin to pop. With a potato masher (or fork), mash the blueberries
Add the Grand Marnier and cook for 1 minute. Add blueberry sparkling water and bring to a boil. Throw in the thyme and taste for salt. Reduce heat to simmer.
At this point we can either strain this as a sauce to be brushed on the meat or keep it chunky and spoon it over the meat at the end. A third option is to use an immersion blender. The fact that I love America means I also love power tools, so immersion blender it is. This way you’ll have a sauce thin enough to brush on the meat while it’s cooking and thick enough to top it off after you plate it or use it as a dipping sauce.