Afternoons spent on the deck tending to the grill and imbuing meats and veggies with exuberant levels of char is one of the glories of summer. And scarfing down an array of fare with that smokey oomph is as voraciously welcomed as any first-of-the-season tomato or peach. Unfortunately for my smoke loving palate, my apartment is a bit--shall we say--deckless at the moment. And as a result, I find myself sans grill.
But I've never let a minor detail (like not having a grill for a grill out) get in the way of my culinary yens. So the other day, I set about trying to recreate all of the umami-laden joy of a grilled feast in my tiny apartment kitchen. Without burning it down or setting off the smoke detectors.
Tools of the trade:
Char is actually fairly easy. Char without creating a roomful of smoke? Less so. A grill pan is perfect, but what you put in there and how you use it are key here. Veggies smoke far less than meats, and finishing the cooking by moving it to the oven instead of smoking away on the stovetop is key. As far as actual smoky flavor goes, the simple solution is a smoked ingredient (like paprika here), but I want SMOKE. So I went out and got a PolyScience Smoking Gun which gives you actual wood smoke in controlled doses that you can use in a closed environment.
For me, nothing screams cookout like ribs. Pork ribs. I adapted a recipe from Keith Schroeder's James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Cooking Light Mad Delicious. Using his Peanut and Peppercorn Pork Back Ribs as a starting point, I substituted a slab of St. Louis-Style pork ribs and increased the cook time to 2 and a half hours. I also omitted the peanuts, substituted a tablespoon of ground coffee for extra bitter flavor, and finished them with a squeeze of a fresh orange and some smoked(!) paprika. Finishing them under the broiler gives them those nice charred edges.
And of course there's got to be some nod to BBQ. For this, I used a recipe that had caught my eye recently: Marc Vetri's BBQ Carrots with Homemade Ranch. I got my grill pan screaming hot on my stovetop, put the carrots on it (cut-side down) and threw them in the oven at 350°. This was for a couple of reasons: 1) vegetables give off a far less couch-penetrating smoke than meat when you grill them and 2) by throwing them in the oven, the smoke kind of disappears (or seems to). Anyway, it's a great way to get nice grill marks. I used Dreamland BBQ sauce (my favorite store-bought sauce from the grand dame of Central Alabama BBQ spots. Lately, it gets poo-pooed by the same types of folks who also would poopoo the idea of going to a Stones concert because they are past their prime or some other nonsense. Like the Stones, it may not be what it used to be, but it still can rock) and made my own white BBQ sauce--it's an Alabama thang--instead of ranch.
So as for actual smoke, the PolyScience Smoking Gun produces the real deal through a long rubber tube that you can pretty much direct where you want. It achieves better results with liquids (soups, dressings, sauces, etc.), so here I funneled it straight into the blender as I made aioli for a potato salad. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes with the lid on depending on how smoky you want it, and just substitute it for the mayo in your favorite potato salad recipe.