Monday, September 1, 2014

Texas Cherry Sour, Kansas City Belgian Quad and Farmhouse Ale Alabama White: An Ode to Barbecue Sauce

Back in the early 2000s I was a young (ish) chef touring with Hell's Kitchen, a catering company that cooked for bands and musical acts on their road tours.  It was a rowdy time defined by extreme hours, crazy cooking conditions - and even crazier musicians - great music and a general sense of wildness.  What can I say … it was rock and roll!  Tours typically involved coast-to-coast travel which meant I had the unique opportunity to see and experience most of the USA by tour bus.  In 2005 I was out with the heavy metal band Slipknot who had a show booked in Kansas City.  We had already been through much of the South including Oklahoma and Texas where I'd become pretty much obsessed with barbecue so anticipating the famous sweet and tangy slow smoked meats of Kansas City had me pretty excited.

Some of the more seasoned roadies had raved about Arthur Bryant's so at precisely 10am that's where I found myself (*note: generally the thought of barbecue as breakfast isn't so appealing but when you're cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for a bunch of musicians with erratic eating schedules, you eat when you can).   How can I describe Arthur Bryant's?  Brick facade, a rusty awning and signage that looks original.  It is a humble establishment with a simple, no nonsense ordering counter, artificial lighting and well worn formica tables.   It has the assured attitude I have since witnessed in many of the other great barbecue joints … we don't have to be pretty because our meat is AMAZING!  This is true and frankly I find something comforting about a restaurant who has eschewed aesthetics in favor of the devotion to making great food.

I ordered the largest portion of burt ends they offered and sat for over an hour, leisurely enjoying the perfect bark (the char) and the thick, sweet molasses, tomato-y sauce they are so famous for.  It was a meal to remember and an experience all carnivores should have at least once in their lifetimes.  To this day, I count that sauce as some of the best I've ever had.

Inspired by my touring days and meals like the one I had at Arthur Bryant's, I've experimented and developed a great many of my own barbecue sauces over the years.   From this experimentation I've learned two important lessons:

1.  A good barbecue sauce must dually stand on its own AND accentuate but not overpower the meat.                
2.  A good barbecue sauce should be constructed with the same care and thought any fine sauce would be.  It is not just mixing condiments and spices together.  It is considering the ingredients on their own and combining them in a way that builds flavor layers and nuances.

Alabama White Sauce, for example, is usually a simple mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, horseradish and seasoning.  It's good but what happens when we make our own, fresh mayonnaise and add Szechwan Peppercorns and Off Color's Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale?  Well, it's even better.  Fresh mayonnaise is a bit laborious but when hand whipped with farm fresh eggs (seriously, farm fresh - their yolks are far superior), it creates a lusciousness that you just won't find in the store bought variety.  The Apex Predator is a nice, light Belgian Farmhouse ale with floral notes that are accentuated by the horseradish and Szchewan Pepercorns.  Additionally, because this beer doesn't have a lot of residual sugar, it has a great crisp, dry quality that lightens the fattiness of the mayonnaise but still allows the vinegar to shine.  This sauce is pretty universal in that the creaminess works well with leaner meats like chicken or pork chops but the lightness and tang from the beer and vinegar also allow it to pair nicely with fattier meats like brisket.  

A Texas Style sauce is tangy, spicy, tomato based and especially good with the Oak and Hickory smoked meats that are signature to the barbecue of that region.   I like to use the drippings from a newly smoked brisket or render out the fat of good quality bacon and whisk it in.  It adds smokiness to the sauce and helps to draw out the smoke in the meat.  For the beer component, I used Russian River's Supplication Sour, a tart ale that has cherries and is aged in Pinot Noir barrels.  To draw out the tannins from the Pinot Noir, half the apple cider vinegar is replaced with balsamic.  The sourness of the beer does for this sauce what vinegar in traditional Texan sauce does (i.e. adds tang) so the amount of vinegar overall is decreased in this recipe.  The sourness also acts as a platform from which to spring the chili flavor off of, making the spices in this sauce especially robust.  The cherries from the beer are elevated by the fresh cherries that are cooked down in the simmering process, adding even more depth and fruit notes.  This sauce is hearty and layered with unapologetic, confident flavors and one of my particular favorites!

Kansas City Style sauce is similar to Texas sauce but typically thicker, sweeter, often molasses based and lacking as much bite, tang and spiciness.   Rather than using molasses, I rehydrated the fruit in a deep, malt forward beer.  I had been saving a special bottle of Préaris Quadrupel, brought home from my trip to Belgium, which was absolutely incredible!  If you can't procure one yourself, try Sierra Nevada's Ovila Quad or Ommegang's Three Philosophers.  The depth of flavor created by the concentrated residual sugars and the very roasty malts in the Quad mirror the depth of flavors in the sugar of the dried fruits.  The cinnamon and cloves also highlight the spicy yeast esters in the beer and add layers to  compliment the sugars of the dried fruits.

Some beer enthusiasts might wince at the use of such fine beer in these recipes but I would present the tired and true argument that one ought never cook with anything one would not drink.  After all, a sauce is only as good as the ingredients it contains.  Another way to consider it is, after spending hours laboring over a smoker, basting, turning and tending the meats, why wouldn't you want the best  sauce possible?


Farmhouse Ale Alabama White Sauce

1 Farm Fresh Egg Yolk
1/2 tsp. Mustard Powder
1/4 tsp. Sugar
2 tsp. Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp. Sherry Vinegar
1 C. Vegetable Oil
3 Tbsp. Malt Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Horseradish (prepared)
3 Tbsp. Off Color Apex Predator (or another Saison)
1 1/2  tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorn

To make the mayonnaise, whisk the egg yolk, 1/2 tsp. salt,  mustard powder, and sugar in a bowl until well incorporated.  In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice and sherry vinegar.  Add half of the sherry vinegar mixture to the egg yolk and whisk.  Slowly drip the oil into the egg mixture while continuing to whisk quickly.  Once more than half of your oil is incorporated add the other half or the vinegar mixture.  Finish adding the oil until all is emulsified.  Let sit for twenty minutes.  In a large bowl mix all ingredients together well.  Refrigerate between uses.

Texas Cherry Sour BBQ Sauce

2 C. Ketchup
1/2 C. Cider Vinegar
1/2 C. Balsamic Vinegar
1/3 C. Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbsp. Mustard
2 C. Russian River Supplication
1/2 C. Sweet Cherries (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/4 C. Chili Powder
2 Tbsp. Smoked Paprika
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1/3 C. Smokey Bacon Fat or Smoked Brisket Drippings
1 C. Water

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan and simmer 30 minutes.  Stir often to avoid the bottom burning or sticking.  Puree in a blender or with immersion blender.  Refrigerate between uses.

Kansas City Quad BBQ Sauce

2 C. Ketchup
1 C. Préaris Quadrupel
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire
3 Tbsp. Cider Vinegar
2 oz. Dried Punes
3 oz. Dried Raisins
1 Tbsp. Soy
2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp. Turbinado Sugar
1 tsp. Cayenne
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Clove

Place dried fruit in a medium sized bowl and cover with beer.   Let sit and rehydrate for 30 minutes.  Put the rehydrated fruit, beer and all other ingredients in a medium size sauce pan and simmer for 30 minutes.  Puree in a blender or with immersion blender.  Refrigerate between uses.

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