The kind of food that we eat at home with our families is what Ad Hoc at Home is all about. The book is dedicated to comfort food from American family traditions and other cultures as well, and it serves as a reminder to sit down and enjoy time spent around the dinner table. That being said, the book is also about cooking with a certain level of precision and paying close attention to technique for the best possible results. This is a Thomas Keller book after all. His secret equation is great product plus great execution equals great cooking, and he provides the tips to achieve it. The recipes here are far simpler than what you’ll find in the French Laundry Cookbook, but there’s still a lot of care taken and some intentional fussiness here and there. I was immediately inspired to put together the kind of family meal that this book encourages. On page two, Keller describes a meal he prepared for his father which included barbecued chicken. Believe it or not, in the recipe it states, “try to find a sauce with some integrity, preferably from a small producer.” Yes, that was a suggestion to use a purchased barbecue sauce. I couldn’t do it. For a Thomas Keller meal, I had to make my own sauce. I’ll describe the side dishes, which were from the book, in another post, but what I’m showing today is the sauce I made for the grilled chicken. I had saved this recipe from the June 2009 issue of Living magazine. In that issue, there was a classic barbeque sauce recipe followed by three variations. I chose to use the smoky chile and coffee option. I hope Keller would approve.
To start, the classic sauce recipe was prepared which involved sauteing chopped onions and garlic. Salt, pepper, ancho chile powder, ground coriander, cumin, molasses, and brown sugar were added next. After that simmered for a bit, canned crushed tomatoes and cider vinegar were added, and that mixture was left to slowly simmer for about three hours. It’s a long simmer time, but it doesn’t require much attention other than an occasional stir. During the last half an hour, I placed chopped, seeded dried chiles in a bowl with hot espresso to rehydrate them. When the sauce was nicely thickened, half of it was pureed with the chiles and espresso. I left the other half as it was and placed it in the freezer. That way, I can try one of the other variations at a later date, and peach and bourbon, I’m looking at you. As Keller advised in the book, I bought a whole chicken and cut it into pieces and that seems to get easier every time I do it. The chicken was seasoned and left in the refrigerator for a few hours. Then, the legs and thighs were placed on the grill first followed by the breasts and wings a few minutes later. When all of the pieces were cooked through, the sauce was added and it cooked another couple of minutes.
We did a quick taste test of the classic sauce versus the smoky chile and coffee sauce. The classic was sweet and flavorful, and it was a perfectly good barbecue sauce. The smoky chile and coffee, however, had layers of earthy flavor that balanced the sweetness, and there was a little spicy heat for good measure. It was a thick, clinging kind of sauce which was great for chicken. The barbecued chicken and vegetable side dishes made up the kind of meal that makes you slow down for a bit. We enjoyed some simple but memorable food, and we’ll be doing more of that as I continue to use the book.