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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 08/02/2011

Smoke Signals: Book-learnin’ time


Fuel Up: Three new cookbooks to fire up your imagination on the grill. (Jim Shahin for The Washington Post)
School’s not quite in session — unless you’re a student of barbecue. For you, summertime is learnin’ time.

If you want to broaden your barbecue knowledge, check out one of these Smoke Signals-recommended books from the 2011 crop.

Fire It Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything,” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle Books; 2011). With extensive cooking charts, detailed illustrations and a recipe that tells you to bust out a hair dryer (or leaf blower) to scatter the ash before placing the tuna directly onto the fire, this is a book that’s both comprehensive and serious. And, yes, it lives up to its title: Everything is indeed grilled, from goat and gator to bok choy and Belgian endive — and lots of new takes on more common stuff. Lemon-Espresso Spatchcocked Chicken, anyone?

The book is basically the veteran cookbook authors’ sequel to the 2007 best-seller, “Mastering the Grill.” Like the earlier one, this cookbook is written in an easy-to-understand, straightforward way. Whether preserving lemons for lamb kabobs or boning a duck breast for a roulade stuffed with Italian sausage and walnuts, the recipes are clearly worded and smartly presented, often accompanied by a well-designed sidebar for easy instruction.

I wish that the photos had captions and that there was more in the introduction about the idea behind the book. But those are quibbles. If you want to grill everything, and grill everything with flair, “Fire It Up” is a go-to book.

Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,” by Hank Shaw (Rodale; 2011). The nettles risotto is not grilled or smoked. In other words, this is not a barbecue book. But its joyful primitivism suggests itself to barbecuers.

A few recipes use the grill, such as Sicilian Grilled Fish with Oregano Oil. Generally, though, this is a niche book about the joys of trapping and killing your own food.

“What is it you will see, out there in the wild world?” asks Shaw, a food writer, blogger and former restaurant cook. Answering his own question, he waxes poetic about a person becoming more attuned to his world, “like a fawn taking its first steps.”

There is a churchy quality to the book, what with its determinedly Spartan design and its utilitarian black-and-white photos. Moreover, the recipes get a little arcane. Swedish Moose Meatballs? (Fortunately in Scandinavia, the author informs us, the meatballs are sometimes made with reindeer. So, that’s good.)

But amid all the liquid-nitrogen ice cream and mushroom foam out there, it’s good to be reminded that food is not concocted out of thin air, and that much of what’s on our plate has a real, tactile connection to nature.

The Japanese Grill: From Classic Yakitori to Steak, Seafood, and Vegetables,” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press; 2011). Start with the binchotan, artisanal charcoal made from Japanese oak in a week-long, kiln-drying method handed down through generations.

Ideally, that is the charcoal you’d use to grill the Bronzini Himono (a whole sea bass brined, then partly dried in the sun) and Bone-In Ribeye with Wasabi Sour Cream. A bit intimidating? Lump or even regular briquettes will do just fine.

This book is less about smoke than about fire. Because the recipes utilize high, direct heat and, often, two-zone fires, the book is a terrific primer on managing flames.

Using lemon, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger to flavor foods is a nice departure from the usual slather of ketchup-based sauces. Vegetables make a cameo appearance, but mainly this is a book about grilling meat and fish. The gorgeously marbled slab of wagyu on page 102 is triple-X food porn for carnivores.

Ingredients such as karashi mustard, shichimi togarashi spice mix and the large, sawtoothed form of mint called shiso won’t be readily found in most American pantries. But they are available in ethnic markets and high-end stores and, if you can’t find them, substitutions are suggested.

The photo of the authors on the back flap, beaming huge smiles, arms around each other, seems to say it all: Don’t be intimidated by trying something different. Have fun instead!

Send tips, ideas, and opinions to Smoke Signals at jimshahin@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @jimshahin .

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 08/02/2011

Categories:  Books, Smoke Signals | Tags:  Jim Shahin

 
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