May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
Has it been done before? Then Joe Carroll isn't interested.
The chef behind two meat-forward restaurants in Brooklyn, newfangled steakhouse St. Anselm and barbecue-focused Fette Sau, is far more excited about spinning a thousand-year-old Roman steak recipe into one with a British bent and attempting BLTs over smoldering charcoal than replicating a recipe.
"It's hard to explain, but I like to take something that's a proven success and figure out how it can do something different than what it already does," Carroll says, rock star aviators perched on his nose and elbows bent over an outdoor picnic table. "And I always have fun trying out different ways to achieve a recipe that normally wouldn't be on the grill on the grill."
Grilled clams and Joe Carroll in the backyard garden at Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn
So today we're camped out at the the vine-covered backyard shared by Carroll's St. Anselm and Spuyten Duyvil, his craft beer bar, throwing those medieval steaks, littleneck clams, spindly Chinese long beans and even a Nutella-stuffed grilled cheese on the grates and seeing what happens.
Our experimental grill out comes from Carroll's cookbook, Feeding the Fire: Recipes and Strategies for Better Barbecue and Grilling ($30), released yesterday. It's the former music industry exec-turned-restaurateur's tribute to smoke, meat and good times.
Carroll's gateway into building his mini Brooklyn empire was through beer (i.e., opening Spuyten Duyvil in 2003), and this book chronicles that journey in a sense by gathering all his obsessions in one book—his constant researching and tinkering with unsung barbecue traditions (ever heard of Santa Maria-style tri-tip?); craft beer and wine pairings; and, of course, the magic of the grill.
"I love the grill's effect on food—how it transforms food by live fire that's hard to duplicate with other types of cooking," Carroll waxes. "Plus, it's such a communal thing. It always happens outdoors in really nice weather and with your family and friends."
However, the great American pastime of outdoor meat fests weren't necessarily a Carroll family tradition ("My parents probably didn't know what the hell barbecue was until I got into it."). Rather he grew up spending a good chunk of his Sundays inside, where he had to sit through marathon meals of pasta, gravied-up meats and olive oil-spritzed fruits laboriously (and lovingly) prepared by his Italian grandparents. They did pass on one family trait though.
"My grandparents loved to burn stuff on purpose," Carroll remembers. "They loved the char, the carbonized flavor it would give to vegetables and meats."
And so does Carroll. Back in the backyard, he lets the Roman-inspired, stout-marinated rump steak (see the recipe) take on a dark crust around the succulent meat. He keeps the Chinese long beans (see the recipe) on the grates until they're curled and a bit blackened. The clams also go on the grill, boiled in their own juices and later slathered with garlicky butter (see the recipe)—a thrilling discovery Carroll and high school buds discovered out of equal parts laziness and adventure.
And although there are no desserts in the book, Carroll shares a special one from St. Anselm (see the recipe): a Nutella and young stracchino grilled cheese. He says, "It's a messy, sloppy thing, but it's awesome."
Only one thing isn't grilled, and that's Dante's potato salad (see the recipe), named after Carroll's grandfather. Sprinkled with olive oil, raw onions and whole-grain mustard, it's always been a peculiar but addicting side, both of which we can attest.
"It was really tasty but not like any kind of potato salad you know," Carroll muses. "It wasn't American potato salad; it wasn't German potato salad. It was just my grandfather's thing."
The apple doesn't fall far. And we're all the happier and fuller for it.
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