When I go to a meal at someone’s house, generally there’s something that I can do to help. (And if I’m not in or near the kitchen, it’s because I was told to get out.) (And even then I generally linger.)
At this delicious feast, however, there was a very specific moment when I realized that there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to improve the efficiency of the cooks, even if I tried. So instead, I kicked back, relaxed (it was held in my honor), tended a skillet here, poked a bird there, and learned a couple things…
… Like, did you know that that most meticulous and technical method of cooking, sous vide, had anything even remotely in common with smoke-cooking foods?
In fact, the proud owner of a shiny, new Weber 2820 Smokey Mountain Cooker/Smoker explained, between the evenly-regulated interior temperature, the bowl of water inside the smoker (which helps regulate the temperature) and the long cooking time, cooking with a smoker is sort of like a hotter-temperature sous vide. Sort of.
(This friend also has a certain tenacity for the highly-technical side of cooking, as opposed to the “throw a bunch of shit in a pot” approach: He’s the author of the occasional blog, Sous Vide or Not Sous Vide?, and carbonates his own water (above), among other beverages).
Which means the chickens — (2) 4-lb. chickens and (1) 7-lb. chicken — cooked away over coals and smoldering loose leaf tea from Chinatown for a good three-to-four hours (the big guy even longer), and still came out as moist as could be, with just the faintest smokey taste.*
Inside, hard-boiled eggs simmered in soy sauce, tea leaves and a concoction of spices for as long as the chickens cooked, sending one of the most delicious fragrances I’ve ever smelled in my life wafting through the apartment.
… Then the second cook arrived, and yelled at us for leaving the egg shells on that long. Apparently removing the shells earlier in the process (but after the eggs are boiled, of course), sort of speeds up the process, turning the cooked egg white a dark chocolate brown? True story.
Then I watched her chop the bok choy. Sure, I’ve cooked bok choy a bunch of times. But to separate the leaves from the cores, and the gorgeous, sconce-like symmetry inside the bok choy? I was a little bit in awe. No wonder designers of all sorts cite nature as their muse. You just can’t make this shit up.
The kale lesson was a little more practical: Just treat it like stauncher spinach. (I’ve cooked kale before but followed some ridiculous recipe that made it way too complicated.) All you really have to do really, I learned, is wash, chop and pan-cook, preferably with some sort of fatty protein like bacon or almonds to get in all the crevices. Like with spinach, be prepared for shrinkage.
This was the end result. Fluffy, white rice, with crispy-brown bits on the bottom (yum!), and tea leaf-smoked chicken, to start. Then stuff your bowl with bok choy, kale and topped with a tea egg … and eat.
*For a stronger smoked taste, read your smoker’s manual and opt for the suggested method of lighting, which is probably to use a chimney starter.