Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

On Wednesday and Thursday past, I opened–6am–because Zach had a few well-deserved days off (though at 945 Thursday morning, as I returned to the kitchen from a meeting, he had come in to do his dry-goods order and got stuck in the middle of the breakfast line, plating pancakes and hash browns in his flip-flops to dig out the new breakfast cooks).  My prep list on Thursday started out:

smoke andouille

smoke eggplant

smoke shortribs

smoke pork ribs

All of which is small potatoes to a pit master with a smokehouse at his disposal, but what we have is a Horizon smoker with a 48-inch chamber, a 24-inch firebox, and a lot of non-smoking responsibilities in and out of the kitchen.  So this is about a full day of smoking, given that I had 12 eggplants, 30# of andouille, a case of pork ribs, and 40# of shortribs to smoke.

Napa Valley grapes owe their excellence in large part to the weather–hot hot days and cool nights.  When the grapes cool down, their acids develop, and in the afternoon, the heat ripens them, bringing forth the fructose.  Our day is hottest at 3-4pm, and in the mornings, it’s still cool and often overcast–perfect for cold-smoking, which is what the shortribs and eggplant required (plus a pan of ice because my fire was too big).  Smoke with no heat, smoke as seasoning.

When the day heated up and the shorties and berenjena were done (the shorties would be braised Friday morning), I built the fire up to a good bed of coals (we use Lazzari mesquite charcoal and wood chips) and got the temp in the smoking chamber up to about 180, the pork ribs went in for about 3 hours.  After rotating them several times, they then went into a 300-degree oven to finish.  Mmm!  Impossible not to pick at when they come out of the oven and that first wave of pork-smoke-steam permeates the kitchen.  You tend to see mirages of sweet tea, coleslaw, baked beans, and cornbread.  Or at least I do.

Meanwhile, a huge dose of charcoal went onto the coals to get the heat up to 200 degrees.  In went the big coils of andouille, and MAN did they smell good when I opened the smoker.  Fatty, spicy, porky, uh-huh.

We don’t smoke that much food during the winter, and to me it’s fascinating how not just ingredients, but techniques themselves, possess seasonality.  No one in my neighborhood grills in winter, and we sure don’t feature a lot of braised meats on our July menu.  Just another way of letting the ingredients speak for themselves.



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