The Short, Happy Life of a Dark and Stormy Stout

We’re going to have a house full of people for Thanksgiving, and today it dawned on me that if I wanted to serve any homebrewed beer I had best be making it right quick. It needs to be drinkable in a couple weeks, so a low-alcohol stout would be an excellent choice!

Ten minutes later I was looking thru Vermont Homebrew’s recipe notebooks, and the Dark & Stormy Stout caught my eye. I had brewed that once a couple years ago when I first started homebrewing, but this time I’d be making it as an all-grain brew. Matt helped me out by doing the math and converted the 5.5 lb of malt extract the recipe called for to the 8 lb of malted barley grain I’d be using (thanks Matt!). It also took 24 oz of dark grains and some flaked barley to round out the recipe. I started heating water at 1:30 and now it’s 5:00 and I’ve got over six gallons of wort (sugary grain water) happily boiling away on the stove and filling the house with the wonderful smell of grains and hops.

By 6:30 that pre-beer should be cooled and in the fermenter, where it will sit for a few days while the little yeasties multiply and convert the sugar into alcohol. When it’s done fermenting it gets siphoned into another big bottle, leaving the yeast, grain and hops sediment behind, and it will develop (very briefly) for about a week before it gets bottled.

Homebrewing is a wonderfully magic process, and I really do enjoy this kind of alchemy.

Smoked Chicken Enchiladas

I’ve gone beyond smoked-food-for-its-own-sake and am now preping smoked food to use as ingredients in other dishes. This is partly because some family members are tired of smoked food (a daughter I won’t name can proudly enumerate everything I’ve made on the smoker since I got it), and partly just to do something different.

Yesterday I smoked a couple chickens and used one to make a huge batch of enchilada suizas (double the recipe below). “These are awesome!” said Kate.

Enchilada Suizas

1/2 chicken, or a whole chicken breast
1 small onion
1 TBL fresh cilantro (packed)
2 seven-ounce cans of tomatillos
1 large clove of garlic
some finely chopped hot pepper (to taste)
1 cup of chicken broth
12 corn tortillas
vegetable oil
8 oz jack cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the chicken by smoking OR boiling (please don’t do both!)
Smoker: Smoke for 4 hours at 225°, turning once after 2 hours
Stovetop: Boil for 45 minutes in a large saucepan, with a quartered onion, bay leaf, salt and 6 peppercorns

Let the chicken cool, while you make the salsa verde. Quarter the onion, and combine with cilantro, tomatillos, and garlic in a food processor. Pour into a sauce pan and add the broth, bring to a boil, then let sit for a bit.

Remove the skin and bones from the cooked chicken, then shred using two forks to pull apart the meat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: Be careful with the hot oil and the hot tortillas below!

Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Carefully place one of the tortillas in the hot oil for a couple seconds, then carefully turn over using tongs. Remove the tortilla from the oil using the tongs, letting the excess oil drip back into the skillet. Place the hot tortilla in a large pyrex casserole dish, then place a line of chicken across the center of it and roll it up. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas: soften it in the hot oil, fill it with chicken, then roll it and place it alongside the others.

Pour the tomatillo mixture over the tortillas, the sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Serves 3-4.

Pulled Pork

Jeezum, does pulled pork take a long time to cook! I put a 7 pound pork picnic in the smoker at 2 this afternoon, and it cooked until almost midnight. The smoker temperature varied wildly from the target temp of 250°, and got up to 350 for a while mainly because I was distracted by other things.

Still, it came out all moist and tender, pulled apart easily, and is delicious. After removing the bones and pulling the meat into bite-size chunks we’ve got 2-1/2 pounds of tasty pulled pork which we’ll be eating for the next few days. Yum!

Today's menu: smoked chicken. And wings.

Last night Kate and I picked up a roasting chicken and a bunch of wings (why are wings more expensive per pound than a whole chicken?). If I have time before I’ll try smoking some almonds as well.

Larry officially opened his new Bandit’s Wings restaurant yesterday (sorry, no link yet), and we’ve been getting wings there so often he probably thinks we’re stalking him. We’re officially hooked on the honey-garlic, and we keep going back for more. We’re hoping Larry can make it over for our smoked wings experiment tonite, because, well, he probably isn’t eating enough wings…

This morning I’m off with Calvin to pick up some more 2x4s for his treehouse. We’ll see how many we can fit in the Tracker.

**Update 4/20:** The wings and chicken came out great and despite my family’s protests of “we’re sick of smoked food” they ate it without further complaint. Larry never made it over, as Kate and I each thought the other was gonna call to invite him (turns out he had a family dinner that night anyway, but I still wish we’d invited him). Calvin and I brought over some of the smoked wings to his restaurant yesterday so he could try them.

We ended up getting eight 2x4s in the Tracker. Had to take the convertible top off to do it, but with the warm weather we’ve been having that was not a hardship. In fact, the top has been off since then.

Smoked Everything

We’ve had the smoker a week now, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I scored some fallen apple tree branches this afternoon, a great addition to our little collection of smoke woods.

Today I smoked 9 pounds of ribs and 7 pounds of pork loin at the same time. This time I ran errands before starting the smoker, so I was able to keep the smoker running at 225° and both meats turned out great. The ribs were crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. The loin was most and tasty, and we now have enough smoked meat to feed a small army.

When the cooker finally cooled down I smoked 3 bricks of cheddar cheese, one for Barry, one for Tom, one for us. At first I had them in an aluminum foil pan which apparently diverted the smoke around the cheese and thus kept it from smoking (foiled by the, uh, foil). I took the cheese out of the pan and put it right on the grill, which seemed safe as the smoker had been running right at 80° and the grill was barely warm to the touch. Somehow in the next half hour the temp climbed up to 125° and when I took the cheese out it was in the process of melting into the grill.

Why did the smoker heat up again? Don’t know.

Is our smoke guys learning? Yes, but they still have a lot to learn…


We got a Weber smoker on Friday, and since then I’ve smoked: potatoes (my one failed experiment, didn’t get hot enuf to cook them), a chicken (delicious), twelve pounds of spare ribs (the large ones were juice and tasty, but the smaller ones cooked too long and were dry) and some cheese (wonderful, tho the smoker was a little too warm and they melted a bit).

The plan is to use it this summer to smoke more and grill less. It takes more time (hence more planning) to use the smoker, as it slow cooks over the course of hours rather than quick grilling at high temperatures. The taste is incredible, and it seems to be pretty forgiving while I’m learning. I seem to be making every mistake possible: letting the temperature get too low; cooking too long; using damp charcoal; visiting Tom and Pam across the street when I should be tending the fire; not latching the access door so that it falls off when I’m trying to keep the temperature low while I smoke cheese. Despite all that, the smoked food has been tasty and gotten rave reviews. Hopefully I’ll master it soon and have even greater success.

A great resource is the “Virtual Weber Bullet”:1 site, which offers advice and tips, recipes, recommendations for wood, and the inevitable hacks modifications.

Update 9pm: Tonight’s experiment: Smoked salmon, prepared with a dry rub made of brown sugar, garlic, and a variety of savory spices (including, uh, savory). I kept a better eye on the temperature this time, and kept it in the desired 225-250° range. Our salmon was a little thinner than what the recipe called for, so it was done 1/2 hour sooner than expected. It was moist and tasty, tho the rub made a bit sweet to my taste. Robin loved it (and said she’d be OK with eating that every day), Calvin went back for more, and even Kate (who doesn’t like salmon) liked it. Success!


All-Grain Homebrewing

I made my first batch of all-grain homebrew today, and it went surprisingly well. A stout, of course (it is mid-winter after all), and it was amazing to see 10+ pounds of dry grain turn into a dark, mouth-filling sweetness in the space of an afternoon. In a few weeks it will be ready to drink — I can’t wait.

All my experiments in homebrewing to date have used some grain (a couple pounds and lots of malt extract, a thick syrup that looks and tastes a lot like molasses. The malt extract is thinned with a lot of hot water to make a sweet liquid, and the yeast magically converts that malt sugar into alcohol. Using malt extract is a shortcut for the brewer, and means less work to make beer. The alternative is to extract the sugar from grains, and involves lots of crushed grain, big pots, and controlled temperatures, and adds a couple hours to the brewing time. But it’s so satisfying!

My buddy Tom came over and brewed a batch of Belgian while I brewed my Stout. It was fun to made two batches of beer at the same time, comparing and contrasting styles and methods. We now have two big jugs of dark, sweet, yeasty liquid that will soon turn ten gallons of fresh homebrewed beer. We had a good time, it was a great way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon in February here in Vermont…

Update Feb 20: Tom and Pam came over and we moved the beers into secondary. I drew off a half gallon of the stout to see how it was coming along, and I’m happy to say it’s great (even without carbonation)! Can’t wait for this one to get bottled…

Update Mar 12: We bottled a week ago, and Tom’s Belgian was nice and foamy after just a couple days. My stout, even a week later, has barely any fizz. Both beers taste great, and mixed together they make a wonderful black and tan.

Update Mar 20: The other day it dawned on me that the stout might not be carbonating because the 60° temperature in the brewery just might be too cold for the yeast to do its thing. I turned the heat up to the mid 60s, and the stout is now carbonating nicely. It’s amazing the difference a few degrees can make.