"Oh, come join us," coaxed my daughter. "They're doing a special Sunday barbecue menu at Duplex. Pork ribs, chicken and beef, coleslaw, baked beans and corn bread. Your kind of food."
A waft of the wonderful barbecue chicken I had when I was a little girl in camp floated through parched layers of memory. Ah, to rediscover that camp barbecued chicken again.
The campsite was up the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., at the foot of Mt. Beacon. Barbecued chicken cooked high above the campsite was traditionally the last meal of a two-week stay, and the one meal we looked forward to each year, probably because of the unstructured nature of the evening, a chance to dine under the stars and listen to ghost stories in the dark. A deliciously scary, exhilaratingly carefree night.
We'd scrape knees scampering up the steep, narrow road leading to a clearing where talented black camp chefs wielded their Southern culinary magic over the cooking fires. There has been no barbecued chicken since then that has satisfied my undying hunger for that smell and taste. I don't know what the chefs used to marinate the chicken. And I don't know what wood or fuel they used. The chicken had a distinctly woodsy, smoky taste that mingled divinely with the clean, medicinal smell of pine, oak and cedar in the air.
Search for the Chefs
Anyway, I'm still looking. I've attempted to search for the chefs who cooked meals at the University Settlement House camp in the '40s, with no success. Years later, I asked the settlement house director to see if recipes existed in their archives. No deal.
Anyway, here was Mark Carter, Duplex's chef (and owner), whose own culinary talents have been lauded throughout the brief years of the restaurant's existence, doing an irresistible barbecue meal on a Sunday, no less, when resistence is down, down, down after a week of pressing up, up, up. So I brought my imaginary bib and joined the small group of my daughter's friends for dinner.
Carter had been at his fires since 7 a.m. slow-cooking the long, graceful pork ribs, top sirloin and chicken. His barbecue smoker was a makeshift cinder block and wire mesh job of the type you'd normally expect to find in do-it-yourself publications that I never read. Ceramic tiles acting as a roof for the oven let the aromatic smoke waft skyward through the cracks between them.
Carter did an incredibly neat job of constructing his cinder block creation on the patio behind his restaurant. It matched the stark fence behind it, and all in all, appeared spanking clean and surprisingly industrial high-tech. But then, so is the restaurant spanking clean and high-tech. Homey and warm, too.
His cinder block smoke oven had two wire mesh shelves covered with groupings of chicken, top sirloin and pork ribs. He used hickory charcoal for cooking and hickory wood chunks for smoke. It took the ribs eight hours to cook to a succulent tenderness; the top sirloin 10 hours and the chicken almost three hours. Perfection.
"I can give you the marinade recipe, but it won't do any good," Carter said. The secret is the hours of slow smoking. "That's the secret," he said.
Well, the ribs, chicken and beef were superb. Superb. Better, almost, than any barbecued ribs, beef and chicken I'd tasted in a long time. Certainly since camp days.
So I went home and put on a barbecue menu like the one at Duplex.
Carter used his Russian grandmother's coleslaw made with mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, cabbage, onions, peppers and carrots. A bit vinegary, much like the creamy kind you find in New York.
Duplex's barbecue sauce (one for all three meats) was the classic American sweet-spicy type, found in the Midwest, with bourbon, cumin and a myriad of spices added. My daughter, who did most of the cooking that day at home, marinated our Chateaubriand in a highly peppered wine marinade, and I went to Koreatown and purchased ready-made bul gogi barbecue sauce to use for pork chops since no ribs were left at the market when we shopped that morning. Koreans use the sauce for kalbi (beef).
My daughter chose to marinate the chicken drumsticks in a Cajun-type marinade, which was spiked with chiles, cumin and coriander. Our menu also included a bean pot recipe that we have had in our files for years. It uses canned pork and beans doctored with bacon, molasses, brown sugar, chili sauce and ketchup. The Duplex bean pot was similar, using small white beans with tomato, molasses, mustard and beer and was very good.
Sweet Corn Bread