Sunday, June 30, 2013

Baltimore Chocolate BBQ: Good Uses for Bad Wine

On the eve of July, at the height of the summer, during these relatively early morning hours, I'm thinking a lot about planning. I'm coming up with a plan to keep all my chocolate bars in temper in my un-air-conditioned kitchen through the summer (I reckon Steve DeVries or Chloe Doutre-Roussel, in town for the Fancy Food Show, might have a solution). I have changes planned for this blog, which will be eight years old in November. I'm planning events for Slow Food NYC, the global grassroots organization's local chapter, of which I'm now proudly a board member. I signed up for the Creative Capital/Lower Manhattan Cultural Council course in financial and business planning for artists (applications accepted through July 2). I have my own lesson plans sketched out, for my online travel writing class (registration is open through July 1), for a pre-college program for outrageously motivated kids in the city, and for the new job at NYU at that I couldn't be more delighted about beginning in September.

Time may pass us by. We may hear the dinner gong of the first day of summer ring one day, only to turn around and see the sun setting on the summer solstice behind us. But I'm embracing the optimism that accompanies organization and planning ahead. For those of you who would like to join me, particularly by planning the menu for the 4th of July, I present you with a recipe for what one of its originators described as "an innovative use of chocolate zinfandel in a reduction barbecue sauce that a chef de cuisine of Bolton Street came up with--that’s some fancy-ass Baltimore shit."

I will, though, look back just long enough to provide the ever-lingering context to this story.

First, a while back: When I was in California this winter to work on my chocolate app project, I was waiting for a train one evening when I met two young guys who were on their way home from a ball game of some kind or other.  They seemed contented with life in the way that makes being the most interesting people in the world (they were not) unimportant, and they offered me a beer, flirted with me, talked about sports, and told me about their jobs. One of these guys was the marketing manager for a winery and a proponent of their "chocolate zinfandel." Google it and you'll find several versions of this concoction. I can't remember the name of the company this guy worked for, which is probably a good thing because I'd rather remember how sweet it was of him to drive out to the suburbs to leave an entire case of the stuff on my friend Barbara's doorstep rather than to pollute the image of this, um, blend, by mentioning it by name while also pointing out that we left every bottle unopened and decided that Barbara would hold onto the stock and give away the chocolate zin as an occasional gag gift.

Second, going back just several weeks ago to the epic Memorial Day barbecue of the above-invoked chef de cuisine of Bolton Street, Baltimore: I made the trip out to the home of The Wire specifically to partake in the annual gastronomic debauchery hosted by this man and his wife, and along the way I discovered the John Waters-ready Ma Petite Shoe footwear-and-chocolate boutique, which is the exclusive carrier of the quite marvelous sea-salt-caramel brownies made by the local blogger at Charm City Cook.) It would appear that someone had given our host a bottle of just such a chocolate zin, not as a gag but in earnest. A couple of days into the trimming, rubbing, and brining of meat acquired from the best butchers within a 50-mile radius and once belonging to pigs, antelope, kangaroos, and guinea fowl, it become clear that the chocolate zinfandel could redeem itself as ingredient in a distinctive, earthy, blended glaze for one or another gamey meat. Our unfailing host will not be named in the hopes that he will not be incriminated for this repurposing of the schlocky wine gift and that the giver will not recognize himself in these paragraphs and be saddened and offended. But our chef-de-cuisine's partner in grilling and recipe development, Jasmine of the Drunken Fig blog, has no such need to protect her identify and graciously replicated the glazed wild boar recipe for me and whichever readers would like to use it for their upcoming holiday plans.

Rack of Wild Boar with Chocolate Zinfandel Glaze

This dish was prepared over the course of four days by no less than three cooks. In addition to the bottle of Chocolate Zinfandel that went into the glaze, several bottles of wine went into those doing the cooking. This is all to say that the recipe may not be so exact. But it will be tasty.

1.     Procure a rack of wild boar. I recently interviewed the proprietor of a New Orleans restaurant who told me that a guy periodically shows up at their back door with a whole wild boar. But those of us who don’t own a hot new restaurant—heck, I don’t even own a back door—might be waiting a while. You could check with your local butcher, who may be able to special order it, or engage in a little e-commerce at D’Artagnan.

2.     Marinate it. Like most wild animals, boar is lean. Marinating the meat will help it to retain moisture while cooking. It’s also a chance to give it some extra flavor. Our boar spent the night alongside several racks of spare ribs in a cooler filled with cranberry juice, cider vinegar, plenty of salt, miscellaneous spices, and ice.

3.     Give it a rub. You can buy all kinds of pre-made rubs, but this is your chance to take those old spices cluttering your kitchen cabinets for a spin. Toast whole spices over medium-low heat in a cast iron skillet. We used cumin, fennel, coriander, black and green peppercorns, chipotles, and some mystery peppers that turned out to be quite spicy. Be sure to stir frequently to avoid burning. When the seeds are fragrant and starting to pop, take them off the heat and grind them with a mortar and pestle or in an electric coffee grinder. At this point, you can add whatever you want, but lots of salt and a little brown sugar are important. Other things we remember adding include paprika, kaffir lime leaves, and—to give it that Brooklyn comes to Baltimore touch—some finely ground Gorilla Coffee. Massage the rub into the meat and let it sit for at least a few hours and ideally overnight.

4.     Make the glaze. A while back, a Baltimore house guest had left a bottle of Chocolate Zinfandel that nobody seemed to be drinking. We poured this into a pot along with a few chiles from last year’s community garden harvest and brought it to a simmer over medium-low heat. We let this reduce down while we tended to other meat. At some point, we tasted it and determined that we should add some vinegar to balance out the sweetness. In went some sherry vinegar infused with African bird peppers. The goal here is a syrup-like consistency, which can take a while, but it doesn’t need much tending.

5.     Cook the meat. Given the leanness and surprisingly petite size of a rack of wild boar, the technique is somewhere between grilling and barbecuing. You’ll want to do this via indirect heat over charcoal with some nice fragrant wood, maintaining a medium temperature. It should cook for 45 minutes to an hour. If you want to get precise about things, you’re aiming for an internal temperature of about 145. We weren’t so precise.

6.     Let the meat rest for a bit, carve, drizzle with the glaze, and serve.


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