If there are any structural flaws to the standard backyard barbecue event (or as we do it in NYC, the standard rooftop barbecue event) it is that plates, forks and standing don’t go well together, especially if you are carrying a beer, or say, a Pimm’s cup, and let’s be honest–when am I not?
Sure, we’ve overcome this issue with various bunnage, from hotdogs to burgers and kielbasa, but outside the meat, veggie burger and salads-that-can-be-scooped departments, you’re still SOOL if you crave vegetables while standing.
Alex and I have been getting around it this summer with the not-exactly-revolutionary use of skewers, but this doesn’t mean they have to be boring. We’ve done kielbasa slices with peppers and onions, smothered in spicy mustard and mixed vegetables with my mom’s balsamic/soy/garlic marinade. Should the summer ingratiate itself to us for a little longer, I’ve been dreaming of a speared version of this salad, replete with cubed pork and mango, wound with mint and basil, rolled in that glorious sauce. Or paper-thin chicken cutlets woven back-and-forth through a kebob with a blanched scallion and a balsamic reduction. Off the heat entirely, I’ve been wanting to make watermelon, feta and mint skewers with lime juice, but hey, there is always next summer, right?
The advantages of the skewered approach are ten-fold: the smallest amount of food can make half a dozen skewers and the amount you would otherwise choose for a few people extends itself to one for everyone. As long as you take into consideration needly issues such as grouping foods that cook at the same speeds (pearl onions, sadly, take way long than all the vegetables I once skewered them with), you simply cannot go wrong with any variation you can dream of. [Well, except some pre-made ones we bought at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, urgently overpriced and under-flavored.]
Yesterday afternoon, we grilled skewers of chicken, Asian eggplant, zucchini and white peppers from the Greenmarket, sopped with hoisin barbecue sauce on my friend Jocelyn’s roof under the fourth day of some of the most gorgeous weather I’ve seen in longer than I can remember. This is summer’s equivalent of your hair finally looking awesome on the day you are finally scheduled to lop it off, I think. Or of learning to love your unemployed, idle time the day once you finally land a job. Either way, summer has picked a fine time to turn on the charm, being all sweet and coy as it walks out the door, confident that we’ll be waxing nostalgic about in two months, our memories of the hideous 99 degree ick long obliterated. Yeah summer, I’m onto your game. Hell, I invented that game and I won’t be fool…
Aw, shucks: Please don’t go!
Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine June, 2001
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (I used the hot stuff)
Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan and cook the garlic over moderately low heat until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sake, ketchup and rice vinegar and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, about three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Let cool and serve.
Do ahead: The hoisin barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for 2 days, frozen for a month.