Sunday, August 28, 2016

How to make the best smoked pimento cheese in the world*

From start to finish, here's a look at Bryan Gooding's amazing smoked pimento cheese. Photos ©Bryan Gooding
* Or, at least in Oak Cliff, Texas

For a while, I've been trying to persuade good friend and fellow Posse member Bryan Gooding to write about some of his barbecue recipes.

But the reigning chicken king of Oak Cliff has been reluctant to share. He has guarded his secrets as closely as Kentucky Fried.

Maybe for good reason. Bryan has twice won the award for best chicken at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook-off, including last year. He also has won best sausage and, along with his wife, Martha, helped the BBQ Posse win two People's Choice awards. The seventh annual Blues, Bandits is scheduled for November in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood. It's always a fun time.

Since moving to the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year, however, Bryan has changed. Is he becoming less competitive in his advancing years? Has the mellow mood of the island life got him with all the tree felling and crab trapping?

Whatever the reason, Bryan has decided to reveal some of his secrets, in his own words and photos, starting with his great smoked pimento cheese:

Hatch Pimento Cheese (Apple Smoked)

This has always been a favorite to serve at the Blues, Bandits, BBQ Cook-off and has been a good give-away to the testing crowds.

Personalize the recipe through your choice of wood, flavor of cheese and the type of fresh pepper.

During hatch season I usually smoke a large bag of hot and mild hatch peppers. Anytime I smoke I usually throw in jalapenos while the pit is warming up.  Poblano peppers are also good to use and are a milder alternative.

Once smoked, seed and dice them. You can freeze any leftovers for use later. Also be careful not to overwhelm your cheese with too much smoke or use woods that can taste tarry (mesquite).

Once made, store your pimento cheese in the refrigerator and it can last about a week.  This recipe will produce about six cups of pimento cheese.

8 large hatch peppers diced (smoked and seeded)
2 lb. block gouda cheese (avail. Costco), cheddar or Monterrey Jack
3 - 4 oz jars sliced or diced pimento peppers, drained and chopped finely
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Set up smoker with a small chimney of charcoal  and, once lit, add the wood of your choice.

I have done this recipe with alder, pecan, oak, and apple. I consider these milder woods and therefore work well with cheese.

This is a chance to personalize your taste.  Keep fire low or starved back to produce lots of smoke but low heat. Ideally try to keep the heat under 175 degrees.

Cut the Gouda cheese into approximately one-inch strips to expose as much surface area of the cheese to the smoke. I wrap an aluminum tray in foil (the whole tray so the smoke doesn’t stain it!) and lay cheese out evenly.

Place in smoker as far from fire as possible and low in the cooking chamber.  I smoke until cheese begins to lose shape but not puddle. In these photos,  this took about 30 minutes at 175 degrees.

After cheese cools, shred by hand or food processor.

In a large mixing bowl combine cheese, diced peppers (pimento and your second pepper) with mayonnaise and cayenne pepper. Then chill.

Serve with tortilla chips or crackers. Can be served on a BBQ slider or alone as an everyday pimento cheese sandwich.

Bryan Gooding, aka the Chicken King of Oak Cliff. Photo © R.J. Hinkle

Saturday, August 27, 2016

In praise of the Cornell Recipe and Bob Baker, the Aaron Franklin of chicken

Cooking Cornell Recipe chicken at the Rochester Canoe Club in the early 1980s. Photo: Gary Jacobson
Within our great barbecue family, none of us stands alone. We're all influenced by someone or something else. Friends, relatives, pit masters, other cooks, experts, bloggers, books and all the joints we've ever visited, good and bad.

One of my main influences occurred almost 40 years ago when I first encountered the Cornell Recipe.

For fans of Texas barbecue who love dry rubs and post oak smoke, this may be a bit jarring. The Cornell Recipe is for a sauce -- a vinegar and oil marinade, if you prefer -- used on chicken.

The recipe is wonderful in its simplicity (see below). And it allows for some great barbecue theater.

On a long, cement-block pit, I've helped cook chicken for 100 guests, periodically splashing the sizzling quarters and halves into a pot of the sauce and then returning them to the grate. As the charcoal burned down, we lifted the heavy grates and kicked out a layer of blocks to get the chicken closer to the heat.

Labor intensive, yes. But lots of fun to cook…and to watch. It can be barbecue as performance art, even when you're using the Weber in your back yard.

Dr. Robert C. Baker
Photo: Cornell University
Dr. Robert C. Baker, a college professor, developed the sauce recipe while at Penn State after World War II. He took it with him to Cornell when he moved to the Ithaca, N.Y., school, and served it for decades at his Baker's Chicken Coop at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

I "discovered" the Cornell Recipe in the late 1970s while working in Rochester, N.Y., about 90 miles from Ithaca. Ever since, the sauce has been a barbecue mainstay for me. Even hard-core barbecue fans like it. Meathead Goldwyn praises the sauce on his Amazing Ribs Web site.

While the recipe alone would be enough to put Baker in my culinary pantheon, he created many other food innovations, including poultry hot dogs, turkey ham and chicken nuggets, long before McDonald's. The New York Times once called Baker "something of a chicken Edison."

To translate that into Texan, we might call Baker the Aaron Franklin of chicken.

There's even a humorous song about his exploits:

O, Nugget Man
O, Nugget Man
Headin’ on down to that old Promised Land
Happy the meals all have been since the day
That the Nugget Man came our way

Baker died in 2006 at age 84. Before his memorial service, they held a chicken barbecue in his honor at his church.

In our great barbecue family, that rates among the highest forms of tribute.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce Recipe
From the Cornell Web site:

(enough for 10 halves)
1 cup cooking oil
1 pint cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 egg

Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again. Add other ingredients and stir. The recipe can be varied to suit individual tastes.

Note:  I use kosher salt.