Light some coals, stir up some secret sauces and pull some corks. Add friends and stir.
August's history. You've been invited to (let's hope) more than your share of summertime kicks, including a few prime examples of why the Great Griller in the Sky invented the outdoor BBQ. Now it's your turn. Sure, you could just go snag some burgers and dogs, a few squirt bottles of ketchup and mustard, and a keg of brew. After all, isn't that S.O.P.? (Standard Operating Procedure) But what if, GASP, instead of that ubiquitous platter of cow disks, endless packs of tube steaks and that all-too-common keg o' beer, you want to expand your horizons with a more "gourmet" Q? Complemented with a pour of the tasty grape? What then?
The plan is a snap, actually. Random protein. Killer sauces. Assorted wines. Mix, match, keep track of what works (and what doesn't) if you want to. And the result is a blueprint for barbecuing that anyone can follow -- even if you don't know the difference between mesquite (see the Surreal Gourmet's "The Grill Drill" in this issue) or mosquitoes. (About the mosquitoes: burn citronella candles to keep 'em away.) Just follow these three simple rules for a guaranteed "Super Q."
Rule #1: KISS (Keep It Super Simple): dead-easy recipes for sauces and sides with two ingredients max.
Rule #2: Round up a dozen or so dedicated "researchers" and tell them to bring an "interesting" bottle of wine and a side dish or dessert (again, Rule #1: 2 ingredients max).
Rule #3: Enjoy your own party. Ask these dedicated researchers to participate in the preparation ritual.
Start with a no-brainer appetizer. Buy fresh veggies, wash 'em and lay out a quick spokes-on-a-wheel pattern on a big round platter. Try a rainbow of raw carrots, yellow and green zucchini sticks, tiny purple potatoes (steamed 20 minutes), and three colors of cherry tomatoes. Also, pick up some ready-to-serve snax from an Italian deli, like green and black olives, slice-it-yourself salami and marinated mushrooms. For crunch, offer three bowls of chips (plain potato, blue corn and mesquite BBQ).
The next idea here is to put together three two-ingredient dips in two minutes flat. (DO attempt this at home -- even if your usual M.O. is just to twist open a jar of that infamous salsa from New York City.)
Dip #1: One-Two Aioli -- chop two cloves of fresh garlic into a cup of store-bought mayo. (If you don't even want to deal with peeling garlic, just shake in some garlic powder or garlic salt instead.
Dip #2: One-Two Salsa -- mix equal parts salsa - (your call on brand and heat level) and regular or low-fat sour cream.
Dip #3: One-Two Guacamole -- blend one package of instant guacamole powder with one large avocado. (If you're not fixated on Rule 1, you can squeeze in a little lemon juice and a clove or two of garlic to tang it up.)
Since this is a "working" dinner, write numbers on the wine labels and give each wine its own page in a pad of paper. Then, when chowing down on the apps, get your guests to comment on the various wine and dip combos. It's the best and simplest way to keep a file of what works and what doesn't for future Super Qs.
Once everyone is thoroughly entrenched in the dips, it's time to start prep on the main event.
I recommend barbecuing a little bit of everything you can get your hands on. The best source is usually the local yuppie meat market. You can always score a cartful of day-old, half-price bargains, like fennel sausages, pork spareribs, boneless lamb steaks, mongo hunks of chateaubriand or flank steak, perhaps even some lamb kidneys for the curious. (Everything but your standard burgers n' dogs.)
The side dishes (that you asked your guests to bring) will probably be the standard items: baked potatoes stuffed with cheddar sauce from a jar; buttered white corn (grill or ovenroast in the husk for 10 to 15 minutes); crackers and after-dinner cheeses; packaged cookies and funky ice creams; jalapeno corn muffins (packaged mix plus canned peppers); and fruit. These will work fine.
Once you've corralled the vittles, you can concentrate on the secret barbecue sauces that will make you a legend in your own time (or at least in your own mind). Remember: two ingredients per. Stir 'em up beforehand, and if you don't like the all-purpose blends mentioned below, brainstorm your own.
Sauce #1: Equal parts smoky BBQ sauce and coffee concentrate.
Sauce #2: Two parts A1 steak sauce, one part dry red wine (try an Aussie shiraz).
Sauce #3: Equal parts teriyaki sauce and crushed pineapple.
Sauce #4: One part Dijon-style mustard and two parts soy sauce.
The actual cooking should turn into a group tag-team match: whoever is closest jabs at the coals, flips the hunks-o'-flesh or brushes on whatever sauce seems right at the time. It will work, trust me.
When the meat starts coming off the barbecue, the real free-for-all starts. Wines, food, sides, apps... too much too soon. Of course, the fun is to mix and match and mix again to find what works and what doesn't. But, to minimize the "guess" work involved in matching the wines with the foods, here's a little help.
A bubbly will rule at the appetizer table, cutting through all the fat and salt. Try an Iron Horse Brut (or Brut Rose) or the inexpensive Spanish cava from Freixenet. A dry rose' wine will also do well with the apps, like the Chateau La Roque (I've seen it around for $5.00 a bottle!) and a Vincent Vin Gris from Saintsbury. Perfectly "psyche-deli-icious" with the deli 'shrooms and olives.
The best guacamole wine I've tasted is the roussanne (a white Rhone varietal) from Sobon Estate in Amador County. It's frisky but not too feisty. A Chateau Ste. Michelle johannisberg riesling seems to pair well with guac, too.
Pairing wines with veggies is probably the toughest. White, bubbly, even some of the lighter reds can work. My fave rave is purple potatoes (if you can't get 'em where you live, use walnut-sized reds, yellows or whites), double-dipped with guacamole and aioli, with a Rhone-style grenache-shiraz from Australia's Rosemount Estate. Killer.
In the "real" food category, heavy cabernets and big merlots are way too tannic for lighter foods, and are knocked totally out of whack by sweet/spicy sauces. A light pinot noir, on the other hand, won't stand up to the heavier meats and spicier sauces. White wines, no surprise, will lose big time with most of the sauces. That pretty much leaves zins, Italian types and Rhone clones. Just as you might expect, the fruitiest and least tannic wines will survive the best with the sauces: it doesn't matter what meat they're on. (A bonus here: these wines are easy-drinking and generally pretty cheap.) Some suggestions of wines are:
Foppiano "Grande Petite" sirah - The deep, cherry-chocolatey flavors will marry well with the A1/wine sauce, and the coffee/BBQ. (Try making another batch of the BBQ sauce using chocolate syrup instead of coffee. It's a "magical mystery match.")
The "berry-jammin'" Rosenblum zinfandel is a wine that can handle the teriyaki/pineapple mix, as can the zin from Llano Estacado in Texas. Fruity, tart and light, it'll "grab hold of the spareribs and shake 'em."
Hint: try the teriyaki/pineapple mix over chicken and serve an off-dry riesling. Yikes!
Overall, the wine that will probably do the best with the widest (and wildest) mix of meats and sauces is a fresh-tasting, medium-weight Rhone-style blend -- most anything that contains grenache. And the most wine-friendly sauce of the four will be the Dijon mustard/soy blend. It works best on the lamb and chateaubriand, with bigger wines like the lip-smacker Beringer zin, the rich, spicy Forest Glen California shiraz, or the Swanson Syrah. (FYI: shiraz and syrah are the same grape, but petite si(y)rah isn't).
Somehow you're gonna have to manage dessert. And, from experience, the notes will probably be pretty illegible by then, so you may want to abandon the "research" at this point.
The "two-ingredient" rule goes totally out the window. It's time for complex calories! My favorite: Ben and Jerry's Phish Food and Cherry Garcia with dried cranberries, chocolate-covered raisins, chopped shortbread cookies, toasted pecans and coffee-covered macadamias. To hit the jackpot with two very different California dessert wines, try the Essensia Orange Muscat from Quady and the zin Port from Benziger. Oh my!
So before summer's just a memory, go where the grills are. Light some coals, stir up some secret sauces and pull some corks. Add friends and stir. Simple recipe for a Super Q. Enjoy!
RECIPE FOR THE SUPER Q
Italian deli antipasto
One-Two Creamy Salsa
One-Two Coffee BBQ Sauce
One-Two A1 Wine Sauce
One-Two Pineapple Teriyaki Sauce
One-Two Soy-Dijon Sauce
Whatever your buds bring
Crackers and cheese