UP IN SMOKE
A BARBECUE VALENTINE
When a young man arrived to meet Up in Smoke reader Kate Schindler for their first date, he brought her a copy of The Barbecue! Bible. Ms. Schindler, it seems, writes a food blog much appreciated by the soon-to-be-boyfriend (which he thought could use a bit more coverage on grilling). “We now grill together all the time,” reports Kate, “and we’ve been dating ever since!”
Well that’s one lucky guy who got it right. Not so for a friend’s husband, who haplessly gave her a household appliance for Valentine’s Day one year. And not a kitchen or barbecuing one, which she would have appreciated. No, said appliance was a Dirt Devil vacuum. The fact that it was fiery red wasn’t enough to keep him out of the dog house.
If you’re foolhardy enough to contemplate buying an appliance for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day (which is approaching faster than a freight train), we have one word for you: don’t.
Aside from that advice, we can’t help you much in the gift department (although a Best of Barbecue grilling accessory from www.grilling4all.com has been known to gladden a lot of hearts). What we can do is this: help you plan and pull off a seductive Valentine’s Day dinner featuring foods reputed to be natural aphrodisiacs—served hot off the grill, of course. (You’ll remember from your ancient Greek mythology that Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of Love.)
What better way to a woman’s or man’s heart than by sharing a meal the two of you grill together? Fire? Check. Togetherness? Check. Teamwork? Check. If you want a refresher on the seductive possibilities of such a dinner for two, rent the timeless film classic Tom Jones and watch the feast scene.
Take it from us: making a meal from scratch for your inamorata is a lot more intimate than making dinner reservations at a restaurant. And nothing says passion like firing up your grill.
We suggest starting with oysters—freshly shucked and grilled under an aromatic Catalan Romesco sauce. Oysters are rich in male libido-enhancing zinc, which may be why Cassanova downed them by dozens. And almonds—one of the key flavorings in the Romesco sauce—are loaded with vitamin E—a compound said to have stimulative properties for both sexes.
Follow the oysters with a simple salad of grilled avocado—halved, seeded, and flamed-seared just long enough to lay on grill marks. Fill the cavities with caviar, crab, or sliced hearts of palm. Drizzle with the best quality extra virgin olive oil (hopefully the only thing virginal that evening) and a vivifying squeeze of fresh lime or lemon. The ancient Aztecs called avocados ahuacuatl (“testicle tree”) in honor of their suggestive shape. As for the Spanish priests in the New World, they found the fruit so provocative, they forbade its consumption.
For a main course, we recommend a simple luxurious protein that can be direct-grilled without fuss. Lobster is a good choice, as is filet mignon. Better yet, combine the two in an amorous surf and turf.
For a side dish, consider speck- or prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. In 19th century France, bridegrooms were traditionally served three courses of this upright-growing vegetable at prenuptial dinners designed to, er, heighten wedding night pleasures. (Scientists have confirmed asparagus to be rich in folic acid—a compound that heightens the senses.)
For dessert, there’s only one choice: chocolate. Like José Andres’ Grilled Bread with Chocolate (see page 112 of Planet Barbecue), which can be made in minutes over the fire’s glowing embers. Chocolate releases dopamine, a chemical that works on the pleasure centers of the brain to stimulate attraction and euphoria.
Add candlelight and mood-enhancing music, and you’ll have the ingredients for a memorable evening. Who knows? Maybe she’ll even forgive that appliance and let you out of the doghouse early.
12 large oysters in the shell (see Note below)
2 tablespoons good-quality Spanish sherry
3/4 cup Romesco Sauce (see recipe below)
Scrub the oyster shells with a stiff brush to remove any grit. Discard any oysters that fail to close when tapped. Shuck the oysters and take care not to spill the oyster juices when you remove the top shell. Carefully arrange the oysters on a shellfish rack (see above) or in a baking pan.
Drizzle a little sherry over each oyster, then top with 1 tablespoon of Romesco Sauce.
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to cook, place the shellfish rack with the oysters on the grill grate (alternatively, balance the shells directly on the grill grate, taking care not to spill their contents). Grill until the sauce and oyster juices are bubbling and the oysters are cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve immediately.
Note: One reliable online source for pristine oysters is Farm-2-Market. Their experts suggest firm and fruity Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island for the above preparation.
Makes 1 to 1-1/2 cups
1/2 ancho or pasilla chile
2 cloves garlic, peeled and skewered on a toothpick
1/2 small onion, cut into 2 wedges through the stem and skewered on toothpicks
1/2 small red bell pepper
1 large or 2 medium fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons blanched whole almonds or slivers, toasted
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1 slice of country-style white bread
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grill grate.
Quickly grill the chile on both sides (10 to 20 seconds in all). Transfer it to a bowl of warm water and let soak for several minutes while you grill the rest of the vegetables. Arrange the garlic, onion, pepper, and tomato(es) on the grill grate and grill until the skin on the pepper is blackened and the other vegetables are nicely browned. This will take 3 to 6 minutes per side. As each is cooked, transfer to a platter and let cool. Remove and discard the toothpicks from the garlic and onion. Very lightly brush the bread on both sides with oil and grill until nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Break into small pieces.
Drain the chile pepper, reserving the liquid. Tear the chile into pieces and remove the stem and seeds. If any of the pepper or tomato skins are really charred, scrape off the burnt part with a paring knife. But a little black is good. Place the chile, onion, garlic, pepper, tomato, crumbled bread, and almonds in a food processor and puree to a smooth paste. Add the parsley, vinegar, remaining olive oil, and salt and black pepper. Process until smooth, adding enough of the reserved chile soaking liquid to make a pourable sauce. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or vinegar as necessary: the Romesco sauce should be highly seasoned.
Keep any excess sauce in the refrigerator, where it will keep for at least 3 days.
12 large asparagus spears
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 paper-thin slices of Italian speck or prosciutto, cut in half widthwise
With one hand, hold an asparagus spear at its base. Bend the stalk with your other hand: the asparagus will break where the woody part ends and the tender part begins. Discard the woody ends.
Lay the asparagus spears on a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap each asparagus stalk with a half slice of speck (the ham will adhere to itself).
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
When ready to cook, place the asparagus spears on the grill at right angles to the grill grate bars. Grill the asparagus, turning as needed with tongs, until it is tender-crisp and the speck just begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes in all. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every week. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!