Saturday, November 2, 2013

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Bookshelf: Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook

“Can I ask you,” the clerk pressed, “as one American to another, why on Earth would you buy a British barbecue book?” For the past thirty minutes, I’d been pulling down books from the shelves of the Notting Hill bookstore where she worked and had set aside the lurid orange/red cookbook from the local Pitt Cue Co. on my ‘maybe’ stack. “Why waste your money? I mean, how are the Brits going to do barbecue better than anything than we can get back home?”

She had a point. When one thinks of the great barbecue centers of the world, Kansas City comes to mind. Austin. Memphis. Charlotte. American places, all. Pitt Cue, on the other hand, is a thirty-seat joint smack dab in central London; seat of an erstwhile Empire, sure, but cultural backwoods when it comes to barbecue.

Yet here’s the thing; you can find some good ‘cue in the backwoods.

Pickled Hot Dogs
The authors of the book — restaurateurs Tom Adams, Jamie Berger, Simon Anderson and Richard Turner — capture the spirit of barbecue better than some places I’ve sampled it in California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and, yes, even places like Texas, Georgia, and Kentucky where they know good ‘cue. The reason the book interested me — and why I bought it a few days later at another store — is that they start with a strong framework and adapt it to local tastes and ingredients. These guys know full well that good barbecue involves smoke and long, low cooking.

Recipes include pulled pig’s head crubeens (normally made only pigs’ trotters and not smoked or nearly so spiced), Buffalo pigs’ tails with Stilton sauce, porger sausage (made with bacon, pork belly, dry-aged beef rib-eye, and pork shoulder), duck giblet sausages, mutton ribs, crumbed pigs’ cheeks, habanero pigs’ ears, mashed potatoes tricked out various ways (with whipped bone marrow, burnt ends, or lardo and rosemary), and plenty of pickles, slaws, and sides.

The recipes in the Pitt Cue Co. cookbook may not be what old-timers expect of smoked meats in the bastions of American barbecue, but many techniques and flavors will be familiar to Americans, even if the details are not quite what we’d expect. Avid eaters will find a lot to like — and you boozers will notice that the boys aren’t shy about lashing whiskey and other spirits around with someone approaching abandon. The drinks chapter alone is 37 pages. Recipes for ‘sweet stuff’ call for bourbon, Pimm’s No. 1 (used both in a sorbet and in a meringue-and-fruit Pimm’s Mess), and Grand Marnier. In a nod to the wine jellies once so popular in the UK — but sticking with the pig and whiskey themes — there’s an old-fashioned jelly, made old-fashioned not with wine but with the ingredients one would find in an Old Fashioned cocktail.

Fennel Cured Scratchings
The only caveat — and this is not a negative, just a bit of a heads up — is that the Pitt Cue Co. book, while drafted for home cooks, is very much a product of a kitchen geared for commercial cooking. Many recipes link to each other and rely on precursor sauces, condiments, or other preparations. What looks like a fairly straightforward recipe may, in fact, call for prunes soaked in whiskey for a month or brine from pomegranate pickles or for chicken, hot sauces, deviled pigs’ trotters, barbecue rubs and sauces, etc.. All it means is that you’ll want to read each recipe all the way through before starting it…but you do that anyway, right?

The next time you tackle a pork shoulder for sausage making, don't you dare toss out that skin. Use it in the sausage, drop chunks of it into baked beans, or season it and roll it into a tight cylinder, cook it, slice it, and deep-fry it for a quick bar snack or appetizer. From Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook, here’s crunchy, salted pork skin with the faint Italian-sausage nip of fennel. The only change I'd make it to include a bit of crushed red pepper (such as Aleppo) in the dry cure.
Fennel Cured Scratchings
250 g pork skin, from a whole skinned pork shoulder
15 g Dry Cure (see below)
Oil for deep-frying 
Sprinkle both sides of the skin with the dry cure, then roll up the skin into a sausage (like an Arctic roll) so that the fat side remains on the inside. Place the sausage on a long length of clingfilm and roll it up very tightly. Tie off each end so that the roll is watertight and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours. 
Bring a medium pan of water to a gentle simmer and add the roll of skin. Weight it down with a heatproof plate and simmer over a low heat for 1 hour, until the roll is squidgy and soft to touch. Remove from the pan and leave to cool, then refrigerate until you are ready to cook. 
Unwrap the skin from the clingfilm and slice the roll of skin into 5mm rings. Heat the oil to 180°C in a deep-fat fryer or large saucepan and fry the rings for 4-5 minutes, or until golden and crispy. The scratchings should not need seasoning.
For the dry rub, the authors suggest a 50:50 mix of Maldon sea salt and smoked Maldon sea salt. While we like using flaky Maldon salt, there’s no particular need to search out that and only that salt if it means paying exorbitant import prices. In the US, plain kosher salt is fine — and if you can get your hands on good smoked salt, do as they say and work it in as half the quantity. This version omits the 150 grams of brown/molasses sugar called for in their regular dry rub.
Pitt Cue Co. Dry Cure 
1 kilo/2.2 lbs salt
10g cracked black pepper
1 star anise, finely ground

10 g fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until they are thoroughly combined.
Tom Adams, Jamie Berger, Simon Anderson and Richard H. Turner (2013)
Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook
288 pages (hardback)
Mitchell Beazley
ISBN: 1845337565

Available from, Waterstones, or Books for Cooks.


Lucindaville said...

You had me at pickled hot dogs!

Matthew Rowley said...

I've had similar pickled hot dogs in Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana. You can be sure that there'll be a batch here in the next few weeks.