30 June 2008

Dinner Club: Summer grilling

For all the years we've been in our dinner club, we haven't hosted an evening in the summer. Our friends drive down in the dark winter months and we eat rich, red wine foods. With grilling season here, I was excited to plan a summer menu. Back in Buffalo, everyone grills with charcoal, not briquettes. Lump hardwood charcoal. When we first moved here it was hard to find, but now it's sold at Whole Foods and Menard's (our regional equivalent of Home Depot.) A 20 pound bag costs around $5.00 and it's the only thing to use for grilling. It burns hot and clean and its smoke is smoky - not chemical-laden and filled with fillers.

We started the evening with a light asparagus soup, no cream, just lemon to brighten it up. I grew up eating German potato salad and while we usually push for something new at these get togethers, I guessed that our friends may not have eaten as much as me. But, as a concession to trying something new and not using the recipe in our family cookbook, I found a very similar recipe from a 1957 Gourmet. Perfect, I thought - too old to have been fancified. I marinated a 6 pound pork roast for a day and a half with a lot of lime and a garlic/salt & pepper rub, along with a lot of fresh cilantro. The accompanying chutney/salsa was made with roasted red pepper, red onion, six stalks of rhubarb, diced into half inch pieces, and a grilled pineapple, also cut into bite-sized chunks.

I got the Weber grill quite hot, and cleared the charcoal from the middle; I put a drip pan at the bottom to keep the roast away from direct heat as much as to catch drippings. I put the roast on, closed the lid, and drank a beer. After about thirty minutes I turned it over and kept the lid off for a few minutes so the coals could heat up a bit more. Pork scares most people. They want to cook it until it's dead. Recommended cooking temperatures vary a lot. I cooked the roast until the internal temperature was 150 °F; I let it sit for ten or fifteen minutes, and afterward realized I should have removed it from the grill when it hit 145°F; the temperature continued to rise as it rested. Still, the meat was juicy, with just a touch of pink still in it.

I also roasted vegetables on my little Smokey Joe. I parboiled beans and radishes, and drizzled everything with olive oil, salt and pepper. A few diced zucchinis were added, and I grilled them in a basket while the roast finished.

The two wines I served with the pork were a Rosenblum 2004 Roussanne (Fess Parker Vineyard, Santa Barbara) and a Domaine LeFage, which uses Grenache Blanc as the primary grape, from the Cotes du Roussillon. Roussanne, a white Rhone varietal, fascinates me. If a peach was a citrus fruit, and you candied it, that's how I'd start a Roussanne. Then, I'd blindfold someone who's never left North America and put them on a plane to Bangkok. When the door of the plane opened in SE Asia, and they were smacked with a maelstrom of fragrances and smells, none of which were individually known or identifiable, but certainly agreeable, I'd capture that hot smell of the night and put it in the bottle, too. Roussanne also has a structure that lends itself to contemplation. When I drink a Roussanne, or a wine that's got a hefty percentage of Roussanne in it, the earthy minerality seems to push into the floral notes with heat and intensity. I find that Roussanne needs to be served warmer than most other whites. As it warms up a bit, all the floral qualities are expressed. Too cold, and it shuts down, again making it perfect for a summer evening when you're sitting around and the air temperature warms up your wine.

The char on the pork and the lime in the marinade were a worthy complement to the wine. I like the bone-in roast because the meat has more complexity. Unfortunately, a lot of pork is pretty one dimensional and bland. But a roast has the fat and the bone to improve both the texture and taste, and this one paired well with the wine.

A light blueberry tart with an almond crust finished the meal, and that's how we spent Saturday evening.

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