Cookbook Watch: "Charred & Scruffed"
Every year about this time, the barbecue books start to stack up on my desk. You can always count on about a half-dozen new ones and they all say pretty much the same thing. Not Adam Perry Lang's "Charred & Scruffed." This is a whole new way of looking at grilling and I can't wait to cook from it.
Lang is a good cook and has worked at some notable spots -- Le Cirque, Daniel and Guy Savoy. That may not sound like the background of a grill guy, but he's also won first place at the American Royal in Kansas City. His fine-dining training has taught him to think analytically about cooking, while his barbecue days provide lots of real-world, wood-smoke experience.
The book is full of innovative techniques. Some of them may be somewhat familiar, such as what he calls "hot potato" cooking (frequently turning meat).
Others are completely new to me. The "scruffed" part of the title refers to his preference for rough handling during cooking that results in little tears that provide more surface area and catch flavor.
Lang also likes what he calls "clinching," which involves cooking meat directly on top of live coals -- he says this closes the gap between meat and coal, reducing flare-ups that are the source of acrid flavors. He also talks a lot about tempering meat so the temperature rises slowly and the gradual buildup of flavors through repeated basting. These sound like great ideas.
But I can already tell the book is going to take some, well, "interpreting." Sometimes his instructions are confusing. His take on basting is interesting, but I'll be darned if I can tell from the recipes how you're supposed to baste something after flipping rather than before in order to preserve the crust (wouldn't the crust be on the side you were basting in that case?).
And it's unfortunate that the editor didn't insist on a few more details: The recipe for "Man Steak" sounds terrific, but we only get the vaguest of clues what cut this might actually be or how we could ask for it provided we could find a butcher to cut it. Along the same lines, the amazing-sounding "Rib Roast Done Like a Steak" could have used some more precise description of how the meat should be prepared beforehand. There is a series of photos, but no captions to explain what is going on.
Still, there's so much good food here and so much to think about, that these are more annoyances than real problems. I can't wait to start scruffing and clinching on my own.