My co-workers-turned-good-friends from Brookdale are food lovers. Not just in the eating sense but with cooking, exploring, and trying new things. For the five years I’ve worked there, we have always talked about having a cookout. It was one of those really good ideas which just never came to fruition because of everyone’s schedules. However, with the death of our beloved Anthony Bourdain in June, it became imperative that we needed to do this get-together once and for all. It was my friend Heidi who came up with the idea of dedicating the meet-up to Bourdain and who ended up sending out the invites and organizing this along with her boyfriend Brad. Just last week it finally happened, hosted at her mother Kathy’s house in Red Bank.
While this was essentially a pot-luck, Heidi did most of the work. After I mixed the group up some Caipirinhas, the Brazilian cachaca-based cocktail which was one of Bourdain’s favorites, we dug into some beef tongue tacos. Heidi had started the tongue the day before, cooking it for more than eight hours. It was then pulled apart and cooked on the stove-top again the day of the event. She then grilled some corn tortillas directly on the flame and served the tongue with homemade salsa verde, raw onions, cilantro, lime wedges, and an optional hot sauce. The tacos were delicious. The tongue had been prepared in such a way that it was fall-apart tender, with a robust beef flavor. It did not resemble tongue by sight or feel. I think anyone would have eaten this.
Next up was my contribution of “Not Your Grandma’s Liver and Onions”. I cooked this in a spin on the way my chef friend Walter does it. I fried up some bacon ends in a smoking-hot skillet. When the bacon was cooked, I removed the pieces and fried the onion in the grease. I let the onions cook down until they were nearly caramelized. I then removed them and added a tiny block of Heidi and Brad’s home-rendered suet to add just a little more grease. The liver had been sitting in flour seasoned with salt, loads of black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. I chose to not do the milk-soak. Once the pan was ready with the suet, I fried the liver to Walter’s specifications of two minutes on each side. The pan was so hot that the liver cooked perfectly and became crispy. When that was done, I removed the liver, de-glazed the pan with Spanish brandy, and added the bacon and onions back in to cook a few more minutes. The liver was sliced and presented atop the bed of this succulent mixture. It was pretty damn good if I do say so myself, and went really well on some bread.
Our friend Matt who works on a sheep farm brought a leg of lamb which was cooked in balsamic vinegar, garlic, and rosemary. We gave it some additional heat on the grill and it was tender and bursting with flavor. It could be described as a “Religious Experience”. He had also brought a homemade chick pea-black bean dip that was great with tortilla chips or even spread on a tongue taco.
For the hell of it, Brad seasoned the remaining liver I brought and threw it on the grill. We had wanted to experiment. The result was interesting. The texture was tender and almost creamy, but that liver flavor was extremely potent. Stuffed, we took a break. I had an early morning the next day, so I headed out before the remaining two dishes of marrow bones and beef heart were cooked. However, I saw the pictures and they looked delicious. The marrow was served with a parsley salad using Bourdain’s own recipe. Before we left, Heidi had us all sign the first page of her Bourdain book The Nasty Bits as a guest book.
It is hard to top such a night among friends. We promised to not wait until another celebrity chef dies to bring us together. We are all hoping this will be a regular occurrence. Throughout the evening, there was lots of laughter, plenty of discussion of Bourdain and certain episodes of his shows, and lots and lots of eating and drinking. The best part was that there was no actual “sit-down” moment. We stood around picking at this and that, flocking to either the kitchen or grill as dishes were finished one at a time. We think Anthony would have appreciated the array of foods we had on this evening. As ardent fans of his, heartbroken at his death, we felt the best way to honor him was with food.
Thank you for the memories. This one’s for you.