1999. 550 pages, 500 + recipes.
-Japanese Grilled Eggplants with "Barbecue" Miso Sauce
-Arugula-Stuffed Mushroom Caps
-Grilled Zucchini Salad
The Barbecue! Bible could not have been written by anyone with less than a cast iron stomach. Steve Raichlen proved to be gastro-intestinally - and gastronomically - qualified to carry out his mission: "to travel the world's barbecue trail...and learn how pit masters and grill jockeys solve that age-old problem: how ot cook food over live fire without burning it." He sampled lamb chops from "stall # 26" in an open air market in Morocco; he dined on grilled snails at a mountain top restaurant in South West France; he downed spinach-cheese kebabs on the India-Pakistan border; he sampled sates cooked by street vendors in Indonesia. His trip took 3 years, spanned 25 countries. He lived to tell the tale and adapt the recipes in this 550-page tome. I think it's safe to say that none of current proliferation of barbecue books is quite as comprehensive as Raichlen's. Actually, you could enjoy The Barbecue! Bible without getting anywhere near your Weber grill, it provides some pretty good armchair traveling. The book is sprinkled with colorful anecdotes from Raichlen's travels as well as enough barbecue facts to give you plenty of fodder for chit-chat next time you're at a barbecue and the conversation lags. (Did you know that the Weber grill company was in the buoy-making business until 1951 when an inventive employee jerry-rigged a better barbecue out of a big bowl-shaped buoy part? Thus was born what is now the best-selling grill in the world.)
I'm embarrassed to admit that I had long been living out a sexual stereotype in the realm of barbecuing. I have felt about barbecuing the same as I feel about changing the oil in my car: these are jobs for guys. I figured The Barbecue! Bible was a good opportunity for me to conquer my own resistance to learning to grill.
Okay, first step in the learning process is to obtain the necessary equipment, right? I went to my stash of earthquake supplies (I live in the heart of earthquake country) and unearthed a cheap-o barbecue I had bought and never used. I picked out two of Raichlen's recipes to try: the Brazilian Swordfish with Coconut Milk and the Japanese Grilled Eggplants with Miso Sauce. I had the too-be-grilled items ready to go. Now all I had to do was take the barbecue out of the box and put it together. (Do you see where this is heading?) Half an hour later I was seething with frustration, still clutching the inscrutable instructions in my hand and surrounded by "easy to assemble" parts. I thought, to hell with this barbecuing business, and stomped into the house with the ingredients and used the broiler. Both dishes were delicious. (One problem I had with the fish recipe and, later, a chicken recipe: both involved marinades, but Raichlen doesn't say whether to serve the dishes with the marinades or to discard the marinades before serving.) I was ready to give up on barbecuing when broiling seemed to do a perfectly good job.
But I knew I'd have to barbecue at least once if I was going to review this book. So I borrowed my parents' trusty little Weber charcoal grill. Then, in the manner of the seasoned procrastinator I am, I waited until the day before I had to write this review, to actually do anything with it. I decided I would make a five-dish, all-barbecue meal. (Talk about time-efficient recipe testing!) I would begin with the Goat Cheese Grilled in Grape Leaves and the Arugula Stuffed Mushroom Caps and follow with the Grilled Zucchini Salad. (The book offers many intriguing meatless grilled dishes as well as non- grilled "on the side" salads, grains, and "thirst quenchers".) The main course would be the Iranian Saffron Chicken, and we'd finish with Grilled Sugar-Dipped Pineapple for dessert. My dinner guests were Nikki and her daughter Tessa, two good friends who I felt free to fail in front of.
As I was going over the recipes just before my guests arrived, I realized I was headed for trouble. How was I going juggle the timing and the vicissitudes of heat from the charcoals so that I wouldn't end up with, say, zucchini in flames, goat cheese dripping onto the coals, burned-on-the-outside/raw-on-the-inside chicken, and pineapple that tasted of chicken fat? Once again the broiler came to my rescue. I broiled the zucchini while getting the coals ready for the chicken. Raichlen's basic directions for barbecuing, getting the fire started and treatment of the coals, are fine. Still, as a nervous novice, I craved more hand-holding. What I really wanted was idiot-proof, overly thorough, step-by-step directions, each and every step illustrated by a large instructive illustration, sort of like those big what-to-do-with-a-choking-victim posters displayed in restaurants.
Luckily, Nikki is a fairly confident barbecuer and kept an eye on the grilling chicken while I frantically searched the house for the jar of grape leaves which I had bought for the sole purpose of making the grilled cheese in grape leaves. I enlisted my daughter and Tessa's help in the hunt. Still, the illusive grape leaves did not reveal themselves. So I ended putting the goat cheese in a little aluminum loaf pan and sat it on the grill next to the chicken. Between the futile grape-leaves hunt and the chicken monitoring, I had forgotten all about cooking the stuffed mushroom caps. After a quick re-read of the recipe I realized that I wouldn't be able to fit the caps on the grill nor was I capable of getting the heating strategy and timing right to co-ordinate with the cooking needs of the mushroom caps and chicken simultaneously. So into the broiler went the mushroom caps. Once the chicken was off the grill, I put on the pineapple slices, figuring I better put them on before the fire cooled off much more.
By the time dinner was served, we were greasy-fingered, smoke-reeking, and chicken-fat splattered, and hungry enough to eat barbecued shoes. Nonetheless, a mood of giddy triumph pervaded the dining room along with a char-broiled haze which had followed us into the house. The Zucchini Salad was delicious. The goat cheese would have been better if I had found the grape leaves. (We ended up putting the melted cheese on baguette slices.) The mushroom caps were very good; they probably would have been even better if they had made it to the barbecue. The chicken, though absolutely blackened, was a wonderful, juicy, smoke-infused dream. The effects of the yogurt/saffron/onion marinade were very subtle. (I guess I should have let it marinate for 24 hours as the recipe directed; I only marinated it for three.) And finally, the pineapple dessert was a revelation. Grilling had transformed the pineapple into a rich, slightly decadent version of its bright and sprightly uncooked self. You could hardly taste the chicken fat at all.
P.S. As of this writing the jar of grape leaves remains at large.