Back in the Saddle-Part 2
11/02/15 - 08:08 Filed in: Lessons Learned
This is the second part of a two part blog entry describing a recent cook which marked my return to grilling in a big way. I made a total of 5 items on my 3 Big Green Eggs. The items were baked, smoked and stir fried in a wok. This cook was unusual in that a side dish, GRILLED SUCCOTASH, was the main driving force behind the entire meal. These blog entries describe some of my planning and thought processes to help make a complex cook come together and be successful. People often tell me they like what I do but they couldn’t do it themselves. Multi-item cooks just require some advanced planning and some organization. PART 1 covered the pre-planning, including my decision to make the two baked items the night before. This part covers the main cook on Saturday, including a last second change I made which made a big difference in the outcome.
Recap: To help make this cook achievable by one person without having to start at 3:00AM on Saturday morning, I decided to make made the CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES and HAWAIIAN SWEET BUNS ahead of time on the Friday night before. This left me with SMOKED HAM, SMOKED SWEET POTATOES & GRILLED SUCCOTASH to make on Saturday. The GRILLED SUCCOTASH, which I tried at my dealer’s Customer Appreciation Days the week before, was the driving force behind this meal. This side dish was one of the best dishes of any kind I had ever tasted. I knew then that I had to make this dish for my next cook. It was a given. I had planned this whole cook around items that would compliment the side dish.
Saturday Morning - Pre-Planning: Making the baked goods the night before freed up some time. When I woke up Saturday morning I didn’t have to head right out to the Kitchen. The Eggs had bean cleaned and restocked with charcoal the night before, meaning I just had to go out and light them when I was ready to go. The free time gave me some time to ponder the last remaining problem I had not yet solved. The GRILLED SUCCOTASH was the centerpiece of this meal and I wanted it to be at it’s best when I served it. For this dish it meant I wanted to serve it hot off the wok. There were 2 problems with that: I needed to make sure the SMOKED SWEET POTATOES were done around that same time. I had a pretty good sense of the time the sweet potatoes usually take, It is usually around 2 hours, and there was possibility of holding them briefly in a 170 degree oven (77C). I could time everything loosely around the 2 hour time the potatoes took. The SMOKED HAM was said to take 90 minutes or so, there was a 15 minute rest and then you had to carve it. This added up to around the same time. Both items were sharing the same smoker, so any temperature variations would affect both dishes in the same way. So far so good, but there was one glaring problem: I can’t be two places at once. I couldn’t be out at the grill doing the succotash and inside slicing the ham. This was particularly true where the succotash was a stir fry and required hands on attention the entire time.
Now the 15 minute rest time would have been a great time to sneak in the 12 minute stir-fry. The only problem here is I would still have to carve the ham after that and plate it. Realistically this was a 10 to 15 minute process, so what do I do with the succotash for these 15 minutes? I could hold it in a 170 degree (77C) oven, but who knows what effect that would have on this dish? I could use my 3-well food warmer, but same question. To be quite honest I had done a lot of thinking during the past week, but didn’t actually solve the problem. I had plenty of things I knew wouldn’t work, but no definite answer. I knew the approximate scheduling of this meal. I would actually set the table first because time would be short once I lit the grills. The next step would be to light the Egg I was going to smoke with. It was going to be controlled by my CyberQ Wifi pit controller which would allow me to go collect my father and bring him back to my house. That was a 12 minute trip door-to-door, about 30 minutes total. The Egg should be at 250 (121 C) by the time I got back. I still would need to get my dad settled with a drink and get his movie started which probably would take 15 minutes. I would prep the sweet potatoes and get them on the smoker first. The next step would be to make the glaze and coat the ham and get it on the smoker. Once this was done, I would light the Egg I would be stir frying the succotash on. This would give me plenty of time to get it stabilized at 550 degrees (288C). The 2 hour cook time for the ham and sweet potatoes would allow me to do the rather lengthy prep for the summer succotash. I would be ready to make the succotash as the ham was finishing. You will note this is still vague, I didn’t have a solution to the problem of cooking the succotash at the very end.
New Direction: As I was driving over to pick up my dad I imagined how the various ways of holding the GRILLED SUCCOTASH would affect it. Out of the blue something occurred to me. Most big roasts come of the grill very hot, They are still hot after their rest. They cool off a bit while slicing, but once plated the temps drop off fast. Now here was my revelation: I suddenly thought how many times have I said at the table: “I can’t believe how fast this meat cooled off.” The answer is many, many times. So if the ham was going to cool off to slightly more than room temperature anyway, why was I trying to have it finish last? It would still be served at room temp even if it finished on time, 5 minutes early or 15 minutes early etc. So I would actually throw the ham on first, as soon as I returned home. I would get the sweet potatoes on after the ham. This way I would pull the ham when it had reached 120 F (49 C), rest it 15 minutes and carve it. I could then wrap it in foil and hold it in the oven at 170 (77C). I could pull the potatoes when they had reached 212 (100 C) and hold them if needed. Holding the potatoes for short periods seem to have zero affect on them. When I was done carving the ham, I would head out to the grill to do the stir fry for the GRILLED SUCCOTASH. This meant I could come in with the piping hot succotash and serve it straight out of the wok. This solved all of the problems with no negative impacts. Even better, it took away the some of the precision timing aspects of trying to get three things ready simultaneously.
Final Production: When I got home I pulled the ham out of the fridge and made and applied the glaze. I put a food probe in the ham and hooked it up to my Cyber-Q. I set it for 120 (49 C) degrees and began prepping the Sweet Potatoes. This was a quick and easy prep consisting of covering them with olive oil and seasoning them with Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. I was already beginning to relax a bit. Taking away the necessity to have the ham finish at a specific time took a lot of the precision timing out of the prep. When the ham was done, it was done. I would pull it off the Egg, rest it for 15 minutes and then carve up what I needed for this meal. The sweet potatoes would be done when they were done. If they finished early, I knew I could hold them for 30 minutes or more in the 170 degree oven with no penalty. When the ham was carved, I would hold it and head out to the grill to stir fry the GRILLED SUCCOTASH. Once the sweet potatoes were on the grill, I had 75 minutes or so to do the prep for the GRILLED SUCCOTASH. There was quite a bit of chopping and cutting. One of the bigger tasks was removing the kernels off 6 ears of corn. Just like any other stir fry, the goal here was to get everything to a uniform, relatively small size to aid in quick even cooking. About an hour before I was going to be ready to cook the GRILLED SUCCOTASH, I lit the third Egg to give it plenty of time to be stabilized at 450 F (232 C).
About every 30 minutes I rotated the ham to even out the cooking. I also checked on the progress of the smoked sweet potatoes. Those would get pulled when they had reached 212F (100C). They seemed to be progressing nicely and looked like they would finished around the time I would be putting on the succotash. Around the time I finished chopping the items for the GRILLED SUCCOTASH, the ham had reached 120 degrees (49 C) internal temperature and was ready to come off. The Egg I was going to stir fry the Succotash on, had stabilized at 450 degrees (232 C). This meant I would be good to go when I was ready to make the stir fry. I checked the temp of the Sweet Potatoes and they were at 197 degrees (92 C) so they still had some time to go before reaching the end temp of 212 degrees (100 C). The ham rested for 15 minutes, during which time I gathered and organized the ingredients for the succotash. I put them onto a tray to get ready to bring outside. I arranged the bowls and cups in the order I was using them to help keep things straight out t the grill. With stir fries you are often dealing with a lot of ingredients and a small amount of time. I sliced the ham up, or more accurately I sliced what I would need for this meal and kept the rest intact. The ham was wrapped in foil and I placed it in a 170 degree oven. It was time to head out to the grill.
Final Act: Before starting the stir fry, I checked on the potatoes again and found they had risen to 204 degrees (96 C), still shy of the 212 (100 C) I was shooting for. I would leave the potatoes on while I stir fried the succotash. I brought the wok out and placed it on the Egg with the Wok Spider on it. This Egg was still at 450 (232 C) and I preheated the wok with the lid down. In the minute or so it takes to preheat the wok, I ran in and grabbed the tray with all of the ingredients on it. I also grabbed my iPad which had the recipe displayed on it, for quick and easy reference out at the Egg. With the wok pre-heated, I opened the lid of the Egg to begin. To help keep the temps from rising with the lid remaining up, I closed the lower damper down to 50 percent of it’s previous setting. I flicked some water on the wok to test the temperature. The beads danced and evaporated away in a second or so, like they are supposed to if the wok is the right temperature. I began the stir fry and the diced bacon and salt pork hit the wok with a satisfying sizzle. This sizzle means you are at the right temperature for successful stir frying. You want this sizzle to last through the entire cook. This reminds me of another thing: if you have not done a stir fry before, this recipe is not the first stir fry you should attempt. You are dealing with a lower temperature by several hundred degrees than the normal stir fry I do on my Egg. This gives you a bit of a cushion in terms of the food burning, The big thing here is you are dealing with large amount of food to keep moving around for quite a decent amount of time. You need to have your technique with the wok chuan (spatula) down to insure even cooking. When the stir fry was done, I quickly brought the wok into the Kitchen and transferred the succotash to a serving dish. This keeps the food from continuing to (over) cook in the still hot wok. I ran out to the Egg cooking the sweet potatoes to grab them and bring them in to serve. I was going to use them at whatever temp they had reached. To my surprise and pleasure the sweet potatoes had reached my desired temperature of 212 degrees (100 C) and were ready to be brought in and plated.
End Results: This was a well balanced and excellent meal. The item I had based the meal around, the GRILLED SUCCOTASH, was excellent and even tastier than the version I had tried the previous week. That version was cooked by the author, Eric Mitchell himself. My version of the Succotash was hotter and spicier, which I’m sure was due to the presence of cayenne pepper. I am guessing the Eric Mitchell version went easy on the cayenne because he was cooking for a more general audience. This is certainly the safe call: you don’t want to scare off a potential customer for the Egg with a dish that is too spicy for the masses. Everyone loved the succotash. The SMOKED HAM had great flavor and was moist and tender. Holding it briefly in the oven seemed to have had no ill effects on it. The ham slices had the same degree of warmth they would have had if I had served them just after caving. The SMOKED SWEET POTATOES are always great and taste way, way better than oven baked sweet potatoes. The HAWAIIAN SWEET BUNS had held well overnight with a nice soft texture and everyone loved the subtle flavors. I will admit the subtle flavors were lost on me until the next day due to all of the smoke I had inhaled. The bottom line was that baking them ahead had no ill effects. When it came time for dessert everyone loved the CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES. They had lost nothing due to their overnight storage. How do I know this? I was forced in the interest of science to take some quality control samples the night before. The cookies were as good or better one day later.
Keys to a Multi-Item Cook: I have only had 3 Eggs for a year now and I am still relatively new at these multi-item, multi-egg cooks. My original plans was to end this blog entry with a brief list of items I have learned that have helped me get through these cooks in good shape. This short list quickly took on a life of it’s own and I decided to turn it into a tip entry (see link below) where it will probably have a longer shelf life than a blog entry.
RELATED LINKS: Here is a link to Part 1 of this Blog Entry and the related and newly added Tip entry. There are also links to the Photo Entries for the items I made for this cook.
BACK IN THE SADDLE - PART 1
MULTI - ITEM COOK TIPS
HAWAIIAN BUNS Photo Entry.
CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES Photo Entry.
SUMMER SUCCOTASH Photo Entry.
SMOKED HAM Photo Entry.
SMOKED SWEET POTATOES Photo Entry.
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