Its hard to believe, but spring is just a tad less than a month away. It saddens me, because in the spring I put my gumbo pot away, it heralds the end of the season when big, hearty soups and stews simmer away in the kitchen, and I leave the pilot lights on my six-burner stove on, with a cast iron pot on each, and it keeps the kitchen snug and warm. In the next week or so I’ll light the fire in the dinning room fireplace for the last time, and the idea of turnip greens and cornbread won’t seem so appealing.
You don’t have to look at the calendar to know spring is approaching. The robins came through my neighborhood a few days ago, heading north for the summer, plants are starting to sprout, my camellias are blooming, and the big box stores are putting out bedding plants (and hoping for a freeze so we will have to buy them again!).
On the up side, it’s almost time to get the grill out, and nothing beats a burger cooked on a grill, especially if you use the right charcoal. Chef Alex Perry, of Vestige in Ocean Springs, recently turned me on to Jealous Devil charcoal, it burns twice as hot and three times as long as traditional charcoal and is easy to light. It isn’t cheap, but just like in everything else, if you want the good stuff, you have got to pay for it.
Speaking of burgers, the difference in the quality of beef runs from pretty dismal to amazing. Select, choice and prime are the USDA’s grades in beef (for some reason they do not grade pork). Sometimes you will find a beef labeled with another descriptive, like premium, but is not a grade at all and is actually meaningless. To complicate things, there are other gradings to consider for specific types of beef. Japanese wagyu beef is graded from A5 (the best), to C1, the lowest. Black Angus really doesn’t mean anything at all, other than a black cow, unless it is labeled Certified Black Angus.
Please remember that fat equals flavor, so if you buy beef that has a low-fat content, look for dry and uninteresting meat. Why do you think wagyu is so good? Look at the fat content, a 4 oz portion (yes, it is tiny) of wagyu has in excess of 20 grams of fat.
A good way of improving your burger is to mix in ground pork. A 50/50 mix is good, but just make sure to season it aggressively. Rouses sells a house brand of Creole seasoning which I am fond of, add to that fresh ground black pepper and you will be good to go. Don’t make your patties too thin, and use a good quality charcoal, like the one mentioned above.
If you are not in the mood for a burger, here is a novel idea. I love the Vietnamese combination of julienned carrot and daikon pickles. Recently I made beef tacos and topped them with these crunch, delicious pickles and absolutely loved it. They are not that hard to make, but some of the local Vietnamese grocery stores carry the pickles prepared.
Get that grill out and clean it up, its almost that time again!