Being a professional chef, the question I’m most often asked is, “So, what’s your specialty?”
I always answer by telling people that it is way too difficult a question to ask. It’s akin to asking a music lover, “What’s your favorite song?” The possibilities are infinite. Most chefs I know can’t tell you what they made for specials in the past two months. We work and live in the moment. So much of what we are doing is cutting-edge flavors and techniques, produce at the peak of freshness, seasonal availability and fast-paced work environments. Life moves fast in the hectic pace of a food establishment. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, and forget about dishes you once often made.
But oddly enough, most chefs can recall with great detail the dishes and foods that made up their path to becoming professionals – usually family favorites that stay with you for a lifetime. I call them “Bites of Passage.” I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and for my money, nothing does the trick quite like food that makes a lasting impression on you.
May 29, 1985 – Memorial Day – I was introduced to the art of dry rubbed and smoked pork shoulder by my father. He had been tooling around with this recipe for a couple years at this point and had it down pat. The blue-grey smoke from oak wood, the undeniable smell of the rub, the black bark that holds together a hunk of porcine nirvana – I have never been the same since.
Every pulled-pork sandwich that followed that day gets compared to that one. I can’t have BBQ without thinking about my Dad. Even if I run across pedestrian pulled pork, I ponder what he would say –“needs more cayenne in the rub” or “used too much apple wood.” I think that’s what is so great about food nostalgia. For me, it’s all about the lasting memories that are made with food, family, and friends. Here are some recipes for a Memorial Day feast that hopefully can make some lasting impressions on your brood.
4 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 pork butt, 5 to 6 pounds
You can either start this recipe the night before for lunch if you have a cabinet smoker or a fuel feeder, or early in the a.m. for dinner. On a grill with a cover, build a small fire to one side, with hardwood charcoal for indirect cooking.
Mix dry ingredients together in bowl. Apply this rub to pork butt with your hands, covering meat entirely. When flames begin to die down, leaving flickering coals, place meat on grill on the side without fire. Do not let flames touch meat at any time. Cover grill, vent slightly and cook, checking fire every 30 minutes or so, and adding a bit more fuel as necessary, for about 8 to 10 hours (your patience will be rewarded) until meat is soft to the touch. Remove meat from grill with tongs, let rest 10 minutes and pull meat apart with tongs. Serve on cheap hamburger buns (important), drizzled with sauce and a little pillow of coleslaw.
Carolina BBQ Sauce
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup cider vinegar
½ tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ tablespoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Just mix it up and reserve. (I like to put mine in a little squirt bottle or salad dressing cruet.) Serve it with the following: coleslaw, grill-roasted corn brushed with maple syrup and watermelon dressed with lime zest and honey.