Steven Raichlen always has books that look to be filled with great information and recipes, but as a Southerner, I have always been cynical. Raichlen’s books The Barbecue! Bible and BBQ USA are great, but How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques sets off Southerner alarm bells. Grillin’ ain’t barbecue, Son.
Still, when I had a chance to review a copy of Raichlen’s latest, Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries, An Electrifying Journey around the World’s Barbecue Trail, I jumped at the chance, especially since the idea of a look at barbecue around the world meshes nicely with our own forthcoming book on immigrants bringing food from the world to the South.
Delving into the book, I was quickly comforted by Raichlen’s approach to the term barbecue. He is fully aware of, and respectful of, the Southern definition of barbecue. He is also open to something greater. He says, “for practical purposes, this book embraces the ancient art of cooking with live fire, a specific cooking technique involving wood smoke, a series of iconic dishes, a meal prepared and eaten outdoors, and a communal food experience.”
A broad swath? Not particularly. Raichlen is writing about people coming together around a fire to make and share a meal. He’s writing about food community. A few pages further in, he’s writing about “Grilling with a Conscience.” Raichlen writes a brief but impassioned plea in support of local and sustainable food. Oh my, the boy’s a hippie! Of course I’m a hippie too, so this should be good.
The bulk of the included recipes are meat-based. That’s only fair, because the primal urge is to get that big raw hunk of meat and get it sizzling on the fire. And Raichlen delivers with dishes like bistecca alla fiorentina, an inches-thick porterhouse or T-bone grilled with just salt and pepper then cut off the bone and served at the table with only a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
That’s not to say that the entire book is all brute force cooking. There is also a lot of delicacy as seen in dishes like grilled salmon with shallot cream sauce. Nor do you need another book to round out your meal. Raichlen includes sections on starters, salads, grilled breads, vegetables, and, of course, desserts. All you need for your entire meal is a fired up grill.
Tantalizing though they are, the recipes aren’t my favorite part of Planet Barbecue!. I love the copious amounts of information that Raichlen presents, nothing too dense and all very interesting. To open the book, he looks at the history of barbecue in a mere 2,000 words. To close the book, he presents a “Nuts and Bolts of Live-fire Cooking” covering building a fire, grilling methods, and grill care.
My absolute favorite parts, though, are the bits in between, where Raichlen introduces the reader to people and places around the world. My particular favorite is the section on Colombia because our dear friend Karen (Sorta Sister Squirrel to long-time readers) is in Colombia now. Hopefully she is getting out and having lots of grilled dishes, especially the one Raichlen calls “the most singular dish in the repertory” chiguiro or capybara, essentially an 100-pound guinea pig. I would pay to see that.
Don’t worry. We decided to try a dish that doesn’t involve raiding the local zoo.
To cut the beef in the thin slices this recipe requires, try slicing the beef while it is at least half-frozen. If you have a meat slicer, you can slice the beef while it is fully frozen.
Raichlen intended for this to be served as a salad. To prepare his salad plate, separate a large head of Boston lettuce into individual leaves. Mound the lettuce on a serving plate with thinly sliced cucumber, thinly sliced chiles, mung bean sprouts, Thai basil, mint, and cilantro. To serve, spread a lettuce leaf, cover with vermicelli and the other vegetables and 1 to 2 slices of beef. Roll tightly and dip in the sauce.
If you don't have a grill pan, the beef is just as delicious stir-fried in a hot wok. If it's warm enough to grill outside, go for it.
You may have noticed that there is no lemongrass in our recipe. I've never been a fan, and we're getting into winter when fresh lemongrass is hard to find at best, so we substituted the lemon zest in its place. If you want to use lemongrass, thinly slice 4 stalks of fresh lemongrass for the marinade.
- 2 teaspoons garlic paste
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 large shallot, sliced thin
- 2 teaspoons ginger paste
- 2 small hot chiles, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 3 pounds beef (we used a round roast), sliced paper thin
- 16 ounces rice vermicelli
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 hot green chile, cut crosswise into as thin slices as possible
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped roasted salted peanuts
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
- Arrange the beef in a large non-reactive baking dish. Pour over the marinade, tossing to cover all of the meat.
- Let the meat marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
- Place the rice vermicelli in a large bowl and cover with hot water to 3 inches above the noodles. Allow the noodles to soak for 30 minutes.
- Drain the vermicelli and fluff with your fingers. Cover the noodles with a damp dish cloth or paper towel until ready to serve.
- Heat a large oiled grill pan over medium heat. (You do have a Lodge Cast Iron reversible griddle/grill pan, right?)
- Using tongs and working in batches, lay meat slices on the hot grill and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.
- Using a vegetable peeler, cut 4 paper-thin slices of carrot. Stack them a use a chef's knife to cut them lengthwise into hair thin slices. Place the carrots in a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of sugar. Allow the carrots to rest for 10 minutes.
- Stir the garlic and remaining sugar together in a non-reactive mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and fish sauce and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Stir in the carrot threads and 1/4 cup of water to mellow the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice or fish sauce if desired.
- Add the chile slices and peanuts immediately before serving.
- Mound 2 ounces of vermicelli in a wide shallow bowl. Top with 5 to 6 slices of cooked beef and drizzle over 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sauce.
Disclosure: This book was received as a free review copy.