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Duke's Food Obsession

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The surprise seasoning for strawberries? Try pepper. Really The surprise seasoning for strawberries? Try pepper. Really

Spicing up your favorites

Growing up on the Texas Gulf coast, summer meant blazing, humid, asphalt-shimmering heat. But, like everywhere, it also meant great foods exclusive to the season. Foods that might be available other parts of the year, kind of like our insipid tomatoes and rock-hard watery avocadoes that we can buy as the snow flies.

We would drive down to Galveston, hop the ferry to Bolivar Penisnsula, tie some chicken necks to a string and catch mean, but tasty blue crabs.  Since this was long before anything with an “SPF,” the girls would rub themselves in baby oil, and maybe a bit of iodine. Texas summers alos meant lots of peaches and peach ice creams, or mangoes fresh from Mexico.  And, like any fruits or vegetables that come into season, we ate our fill—so much so that by the time the season came to an end, we’d rather eat anything but that particular fruit. But this also led to creative ways to serve that fruit. So, I thought I would jot down a few creative ways to deal with some of summer’s bounty, once the tried and true preparations get a bit boring:

• Many of you I hope, put salt on your watermelon. But, how about black pepper on strawberries? No joke. It’s delicious. Also, balsamic vinegar. Just toss the berries with some balsamic, a bit of sugar, and freshly ground black pepper. Let them sit for a bit and serve with creme fraiche or cream.

• Speaking of watermelons, aside from the salt, or pouring Everclear into holes in the fruit to give it a bit more, oh, punch, try putting watermelon in a salad.  A nice vinaigrette, the fruit, some red onions and goat cheese make a terrific summer salad.  

• Okay, maybe you’ve had that. Then how about trying watermelon with pork belly? The Fatty Crab in New York makes a great, Asian-inspired version with the watermelon and its rind, seared crispy pork belly, chiles, and asian spices. Yum.  Just google it for the recipe.

• Enough about the melon. Corn. Our corn man comes later in the summer, so if you get some corn that is not the sweetest, simply add honey to your cooking water. Bored with just butter and salt? Well, either boil or grill the ears, spread them with mayo, and roll them in cotija cheese or feta.

Let’s move on. To meat. I know, I know. It’s not seasonal save for spring lamb, baby goats, etc. But since many of you will be grilling this summer, here are a few thoughts. (I am reticent about saying tips as this implies that I know something.)

• Burgers. I have written about this before, but make sure your meat is 80-20 meat to fat for a juicer burger. Also, do like Judy Rodgers of Suni Café in San Francisco, and salt your meat the day before. Just add 1 tsp. Kosher salt per pound of meat and mix it in, let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, and cook as normal.

• Chicken. First, brine the bird. You can find a brine recipe online or even at my very own site: www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com/brine-recipe. Then, for the very best chicken you have ever had, rotisserie it over charcoal. This has been without a doubt, one of the best investments I have made. Weber makes a rotisserie attachment for their charcoal grills. They are a bit pricey—$129 I think—but well worth it. You simply fill a large chimney with charcoal, and spread it around the grill when it is done, leaving a circle where the bird will turn. Put the bird on, cook for 1 hour covered and presto: crisp skin, juicy meat. And, since whole chickens are always cheaper than cut up, a great, cost-effective meal

• Steaks. Salt and pepper only, please. Great steaks are really really hard to find. Even store-bought premium steaks can be boring. And expensive. So? So try one of these two lesser cuts: the flat iron, cut from the chuck, is nevertheless very tender and flavorful. Also, much harder to find, but worth a call to your butcher is the hanging tender. This cut, so called because it “hangs” near the diaphragm when the steer is butchered, requires some trimming, but is very flavorful and quite tender. It is, my personal favorite on the animal—great for carne asada, and the cut commonly used in the classic bistro fare, steak frites.

There you go, a bit of a summer sampler. Now go forth and cook.

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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