Just as we say perhaps it's about time for publishers to put the idea of an annual summer onslaught of new BBQ books to rest, a grilling guidebook arrives at our doorstep that we actually want to add to our swelling collection of books on everything seared and smoked. Fire It Up by Andrews Schloss and David Joachim is hardly the first book to promise to take your grilling to the next level. But this one actually delivers.
That the book is organized by ingredients isn't particularly revolutionary. But here, you get more than just interesting grilled fruit ideas (grilled pear soup with porcini mushrooms and Gorgonzola, grilled watermelon “steaks” marinated in rum and lime juice with a pink peppercorn rub). The authors offer thoughtful tips on how to use ingredients. The idea being that, in theory, you can eventually step away from that grilled tilapia jalapeño poppers recipe and come up with your own versions.
Of course, that necessitates being an inspired enough home cook to actually design a recipe that pretty brilliantly cuts down on the whole jalapeño popper deep fried cheese overload (here, the peppers are stuffed with a mixture of chopped tilapia enriched with just a touch of cream cheese and Monterey Jack). The peppers are then wrapped with bacon and secured with a toothpick before grilling. Pretty clever.
As well the recipes should be. The authors are both pedigreed cookbook authors, with more than 45 books between them, several of them outdoor fire-focused. It seems they know that by now, we've pretty much seen every kind of BBQ book out there. We are hungry for a whole lot more than yet another recipe on how to build the perfect burger and sear a steak.
In the meat chapters here, you'll find recipes that range from Spanish-style spit-roasted kid with a sherry-orange mop sauce, pork tenderloin with candied clementines and rosemary, and grilled veal sweetbreads with grilled marrow on toast. If those sound a bit beyond your Monday night grilling accessibility (both in terms of ingredients and time), there are also speedy updates to that requisite steak, like cumin-crusted strip steak with sweet onion chutney, porterhouse rubbed with smoked salt and Szechuan pepper.
While the recipes are interesting enough to stand on their own (something we rarely say of grilling books), we also like the handy introduction to each chapter that takes an in-depth look at ingredients. Sure, you'll find the now-standard diagram detailing which part of the cow your sirloin is coming from, as well as definitions of beef grades and such. But you also get advice on how to buy certain animals that are often overlooked in more mainstream America (Or simply party conversation polite?) BBQ books. Suckling pig, for instance. The authors advise going to a good Italian or Hispanic butcher to find what will soon become “a whole roasted suckling pig glistening with fragrant glaze, belly bulging with cheesy grits, and a garland of rosemary branches crowning its placid, porcine visage.” Yeah, probably best to invite your vegan friends over another night.
The “Game Meat” chapter includes a handy grilling guide for meats one might not come across very often: Antelope chops, elk fillet steaks, and squirrel (yes, squirrel is here too). The “Fish” chapter goes beyond your average grilled salmon: Whole trout stuffed with pickled ginger and chives, “raw” charred tuna with green tea ponzu sauce, and grilled cod escabeche. Our one complaint: In a book this thorough, we wish there were more written about sustainable seafood, or even just a chart. Granted, there is a discussion of farm raised versus wild-caught seafood, but it often focuses on flavor. The sustainability issue is limited to a few sentence mention of certain species such as swordfish, or a note that “not all farmed shellfish gets an eco-friendly OK from seafood watch groups.”And so we recommend you consult your copy of Becky Selengut's Good Fish at the same time you fire up the grill. [On that note, Selengut will be at Santa Monica Seafood tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th, and at the Costa Mesa branch on Thursday, June 9th from 4 to 6 p.m. giving demos of a few recipes from her book.]
But we were talking about that grilled “whole wild squirrel.” In case you happen to catch one this week, Schloss and Joachim advise cooking it over indirect, medium low heat. Serve it with a side of grilled rosemary corn sticks (p. 383), maybe some Romanesco with caper mayo (p. 314) and grilled celery-apple-sour cherry slaw (p. 308), and you've got all the ingredients for a stellar summer BBQ conversation starter.