Smoking, Simplified

If late 90's TV sitcoms (Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond) have taught me anything, it's that most men/fathers are essentially cavemen.  I wouldn't generally agree with that assessment of myself, with the notable exception of my burning desire to cook meat over fire.

Although I've been using a propane (and very occasionally a charcoal) grill since I was in my early teens, it's only in the last year or so that I've developed a fascination with American Barbecue. 

The romantic vision I have in my head involves long, possibly overnight, cooks of full briskets, pork butts and ribs, using an offset stick burner.  This would mean constantly monitoring temperatures, adding wood, controlling the fire, etc. etc.  As much fun as I think this would be (and I do plan on moving in this direction at some point), with two kids 6 and under, I know that it's a very unrealistic view of how to make it work. 

The compromise I arrived at was a pellet grill.  Pellet grills have been growing in popularity and the simplicity of it is what really sold me.  Essentially, they work electrically to create a consistent environment with temperature and smoke using pure hardwood pellets.  It gives me a chance to focus on building flavours that I like and getting rough guidelines for time and temperature, without dominating my time managing the fire.

I went with a slightly larger model than I probably needed and picked it up on the Saturday before Canada Day with 20+ people booked for a BBQ the following day.  For my first run through I decided to smoke a pork shoulder and a couple of boneless turkey breasts.  I knew that if I ran into issues with my cook I'd be able to take steps to salvage them no matter how the smoker performed. 

I needn't have worried.  The pellet grill worked like a charm, and with just a simple rub (salt and pepper only for the turkey, a few more spices for the pork butt), smoke and time, we easily fed 20 guests without having to neglect them to prepare the meal.  Two days later, I smoked a couple of tri tips low and slow (225 F for approx. 2 hours), rested them for 30 minutes, and finished them off on a hot propane barbecue, in what amounted to essentially a reverse sear.  It was a delicious dinner for six that required almost no effort on my part.  At this point in my caveman existence, that's about all I can ask for. 

Lamb Biryani

Biryani is a festive dish that is aromatic and flavourful, and a very popular to serve to large groups of people. This particular recipe feeds 8-10 people, but you can easily scale up if the party gets bigger! This is a great way of feeding a lot of people with a small amount of meat, as the rice really absorbs the flavour of the meat and becomes one with everything. This satisfying dish can be made with beef stew, chicken thighs, or even goat shoulder.

Serves 8 – 10

Ingredients

1 onion, sliced
3 tbsp clarified butter (see note)

2.5 lbs lamb shoulder, bone in, cut into 1" cubes
5 garlic cloves, pureed with microplane
2 tbsp ginger pureed with microplane
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp chili flakes/powder
1 tbsp chopped green chilies (jalapeno works fine)
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 cups yogurt
2 limes juiced

3 black cardamom
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 piece cinnamon sticks
6 cloves

1/2 cup clarified butter 

1 tsp saffron
1 cup hot milk

2 cups basmati, soaked in plenty of warm water

*Clarified butter, or ghee as it is known throughout India and surrounding countries, can either be purchased as is, or easily made at home. To make clarified butter, slowly melt a pound of butter in a small pot over a medium heat. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface, and after about 30 minutes you should be left with the clear butterfat without the milk solids. It keeps in the fridge for six months.

Method:

1. In a large sauté pan over a medium heat, cook the onions in 3 tbsp of clarified butter until slightly brown and translucent.

2. Place the lamb meat into a large bowl. Add the pureed garlic, ginger, salt, chili flakes, fresh green chillies, mint, cilantro, yogurt, lime juice, and fried onions. Stir well.

3. In a large pan on a medium heat, toast the cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves until fragrant. Cool, then wrap and tie the spices in a cheesecloth or a large tea infuser ball.  Add the spice pack to the lamb mixture, cover, and leave on the counter to marinate for one hour. Alternately, you can mix the spices into the lamb mixture loose, I just prefer being able to remove them before serving.

3. Soak the rice in 6 cups of cold water while the lamb marinates.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5. Melt 1/2 cup of clarified butter in a large pot over a medium heat, then add the lamb mixture. Bring it to a simmer, and cook for thirty minutes or until the lamb is tender. Meanwhile bring a pot with 2-3 quarts of water to a boil. Add one tbsp of salt. Strain the rice and add to the boiling water, and cook for five minutes before straining.

6. Heat the milk in a small pot, then add the saffron. Allow to infuse for at least five minutes.

7. When the lamb is tender, pour the mixture into casserole.  Spread the half-cooked rice evenly over the meat, then drizzle the saffron milk over everything. Cover with a tight lid or tin foil, then bake in the hot oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

8. Serve immediately, perhaps with naan bread and a yogurt-cucumber salad.