Here at Maple Hoo we’re not much for making a big deal of holidays. Even our Christmas celebration isn’t normally much more than putting out tons of handmade decorations and opening presents. I kind of have one level of cooking in me: everyday. I think I do a good job of making it so we eat well on a sort of “weeknight dinners” kind of way, but when it comes to the big feast days, it’s normally just more of the same from me. There’s only so much effort I’m willing to expend in the kitchen, and that’s a level of effort I’m willing to expend all the time. Our fancy meals are never really that fancy. And our holiday meals are never really that holiday-appropriate. So imagine my surprise when, as I went to assemble my weekly menu plans last Monday, my brain said, “Hey! 4th of July weekend is coming up! We’re gonna BARBECUE!!!”
So, in the wee hours of last Sunday night I flipped through Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s Smoke & Spice to find a holiday-worthy recipe before heading off to the grocery store after work on Monday. (This is why we don’t eat well on weekends. I do one grocery run a week, and normally I only have the energy on Sunday night or Monday afternoon to think of a handful of meals, and I figure, “Oh, I’ll come up with something on the weekend.” Of course, come Saturday, there’s nothing in the house to eat, so we just have frozen pizza. But I digress.) What I found was a “Sweet and Fruity Pork Tenderloin”. This sounded perfect:
“Sweet Sensation Rub”
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 tbsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Two 12- to 14-oz tenderloins
Now, the recipe also called for an optional mop that sounded really good (it was made with extra rub, chicken stock, cider vinegar, and honey), but I use an electric smoker, so mopping really isn’t that productive. I regretfully opted out, but once the meat was in the smoker, I was just as happy to be parked in front of the TV with my stitching rather than trotting out to be mopping away at it.
So, the deal is that you mix all the rub ingredients up on the night before you’re going to barbecue, and then massage the tenderloins with a thin layer of oil followed by a couple of tablespoons of the rub. Then wrap them up tightly and refrigerate overnight. (The rub smelled exquisite.)
Then the day of the barbecue, you fire up your smoker to 200-220 degrees (F). While that’s getting up to the right heat, let the tenderloins sit at room temperature, unwrapped, for about 30 minutes.
Before tossing them in the smoker, sear the tenderloins on all sides in a skillet over high heat. Then cook them in the smoker for 2 to 2 1/4 hours; they’re done when they register 160 degrees (F).
The recipe also calls, though, for a choice of two spicy-sweet barbecue sauces, that you baste the pork with 30 minutes before it’s done in the smoker, and which you then serve on the side with the meat. The one I picked was “Jalapeach Barbecue Sauce”, a delightfully Semi-Homemade-sounding sauce:
16-oz can peaches in heavy syrup, undrained
1/4 cup minced onion
3 tbsp minced pickled jalapenos
2 tsp pickling liquid from jar or can of pickled jalapenos
2 tbsp peach chutney, or mango in a pinch
2 tsp packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
You just mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and then let cook on low until the onions are tender and the sauce thickens, about 25-30 minutes. Serve it warm or chilled. It should be noted that I am highly suspicious of pickled jalapenos, so I used a fresh one, but I did use the pickling liquid from some pickled peperoncinis that I happened to have in the fridge. I also couldn’t find any peach chutney, so I went with mango. And I misread the recipe and put in two tablespoons of brown sugar (something I only noticed just now writing the recipe out). I also bought halved peaches in heavy syrup and chopped them pretty finely before mixing them into the sauce — I figured the peach halves probably weren’t going to be breaking down enough on their own to be sufficiently saucy.
You know what? I should make holiday barbecues more often. This pork? Was out of this world. It was, as promised, fruity and sweet, but marvelously, delicately smoky. The meat was tender and perfect, and the sauce was sticky and glaze-like, with the perfect balance of super-sweetness and a fun jalapeno kick. I loved this. I could eat it every single day. And what was especially nice about it was that my Bradley smoker makes it so you just plug the thing in, toss in the meat, and then go about your way. I know there are people who like messing with feeding fires and maintaining temperature and what-have-you, and having smoked things that way in my Webber, I can say with some confidence that, while I’m glad I’ve tried the analog smoking method, I’m happy to have a machine that does it all for me.
For sides, I decided to make corn muffins (just from the recipe on the back of the Quaker corn meal):
And the posole verde recipe from Rancho Gordo. I’d never eaten posole before, but when Pookie and I decided to buy a smorgasbord of beans from Rancho Gordo (ostensibly so we could taste the calypso beans we’d just planted in our garden), I saw this recipe on the site and decided to buy some posole just to try it. I don’t know what I was expecting it to be, but I know I wasn’t expecting it to be this:
The posole is just a dried corn, and as it rehydrated, I expected it to taste like the sweet corn we get here in Jersey. It was not like that at all. It was chewy and starchy, like a cross between corn flour and barley. It was delicious. I also was, stupidly, not really expecting this recipe to yield a soup. I guess I was thinking all that liquid was going to be absorbed like in a bean dish, so once everything came together, it was like, “Surprise! We’re having soup with dinner!” Of course, it was scrumptious. The roasted tomatillos make this magnificently tangy and tart, and there’s a sharp edge from the chiles, with a nice sweet base from the roasted onions. And then everything is brightened up with a hearty dose of cilantro. I used just about every bowl and utensil in my kitchen to make this, but it was really worth it — it seemed like something you’d get in a restaurant. If that restaurant served surprise soups.
So on a holiday we observed by sitting around stitching, drinking Rhode Island Reds, and watching MacGyver, I managed to plate a pretty fancy dinner for us: