Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taste the Fire

Bourbon and brown sugar marinated pork, that's cooked with a dry rub of spices before being glazed in a rich, smoky tomato-based sauce full of molasses, bourbon and Dijon.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

Did you know that where there's smoke there's flavor?  Deep, rich flavor?

Whether from a wood fire or a charred wood barrel, people long ago discovered that fire was a whole lot more than just heat and light.

And although, originally it might've been used to keep away the four-legged animals, it also drew the two-legged ones ever closer, attracted to its warmth and its rich, smoky smell.  It was probably an accident the first time a piece of meat fell into the fire and took on a smoky flavor, but obviously, it was an accident that was worth repeating.

And repeating, and repeating till they got it right – and what came out was barbecue. 

It may be many things to many people - in the Carolinas of the southern U.S. it means slow cooked pork, while in Texas, barbecue is all about beef.  And although you can barbecue without rubs or without sauces, you just can't have it without the flavor of smoke.

And it was this smoky flavor and the ability to preserve foods longer that attracted 16th century Spanish explorers in the Caribbean to the Taino Indians’ “barbacoa.”  An elevated wooden rack on which they slowly cooked at low temperatures fish, lizards and other game, the Spanish called it “barbecue” and brought the word to Europe, where it first appeared in print in Spain in 1526.

But it doesn't end here, this story of smoke, for our barbecue today is an even bigger amalgam.  For while the 16th century Spanish brought prolific pigs to the New World and native Indians taught the Spanish how to slowly smoke the plentiful pork, it was African slaves that created the sauces and their basting – and it all came together as barbecue.

However, our smoky theme has one last chapter remaining, and it's all about bourbon – a drink of slowly aged smoke.

One of the most popular type of whiskeys (with whiskey being a distilled beer that’s usually aged in oak), you’ll find that bourbon is always a whiskey, but that whiskeys are not always bourbon.

Named for Bourbon County, Kentucky, where today, 95% of the world's bourbon is made, distilling was brought to the area by the Scots-Irish in the late 18th century, who flocked to the area to settle and farm.  And the spirit they created using locally grown corn and aging it in barrels of American white oak, came to be known as Old Bourbon whiskey, named after the region from which it came.

With "Old Bourbon" stenciled on the barrels to indicate their Kentucky port of origin, the name stuck and in time, bourbon became the name for any corn-based whiskey.

And because corn is a sweet grain, the more corn used in the blend, the sweeter the whiskey, and that's why bourbon has acquired the nickname, "whiskey’s sweet spot."

But with all this sweetness, comes needed tempering, and that's where the richness of smoke comes in.  For by law "Straight Bourbon Whiskey" needs to be aged in new, charred white oak barrels.  And with the barrels left to age for years in airy hilltop rackhouses, the barrels expand and contract, allowing the bourbon to seep in and the wood’s flavors to seep out.

Heavily charred and toasty, the barrel’s caramelized sugars, over time, give the bourbon a rich, amber color while they transfer their sweet and smoky flavors to the whiskey as it ages.

So, there you have it, bourbon and barbecue, our twice smoked taste of autumn. It's a double hit of smoky fire that’s ready for delivery and it's all wrapped up in my Bourbon Barbecued Pork Chops.


Serves 4

½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

4 pork loin chops (½-inch thick, boneless)

1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper (fresh cracked)

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

¼ cup ketchup
4 teaspoons molasses
2 tablespoon Maker's Mark Bourbon
1 tablespoon onion (minced)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon liquid smoke

Whisk together the ¼ cup bourbon, kosher salt and 2 teaspoons brown sugar, then add to a resealable bag.  Add the pork chops, seal the bag, then move to coat with mixture before refrigerating for at 2 – 3 hours.

Combine the next five ingredients in one bowl, then transfer 2 teaspoons of mixture to a second bowl.

In an additional bowl, combine the sauce ingredients, then add the 2 teaspoons of spice mixture to the sauce and set aside.

Once the chops have marinated, remove from bag and discard marinade.  Pat the chops dry with paper towels, then use the larger portion of spice mix to coat the pork.

Heat the oil in a large skillet placed over medium high heat.
Once oil is hot (surface ripples), cook chops for about 3 – 4  minutes, then flip and cook for other 3 – 4 minutes. 

Reduce heat to medium low, brush chop tops with a small amount of sauce and flip over.
Cook for one minute and apply small amount of sauce to unsauced side, then flip again.
Continue cooking until chops’ internal temperature reaches 145° F.
Transfer to plate and let rest.

Add the remaining sauce to the hot skillet and cook 1-2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits.  Divide sauce evenly among the finished chops and serve immediately.

And now, here's a peek at the wine pairing that’s coming up next –

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