Sunday, October 15, 2006

Crazy: Bourbon and Coke Marinade

It’s harder to spot insanity in public these days. The person talking to himself and gesturing at thin air may not actually be in mid hallucination but rather has on the other side one of those hideous phone buds protruding from his ear like a metallic tumor. Either way, he’s one to avoid.

A seemingly crazy idea, seasoning serious food with Coca Cola, has been around in Georgia for a long time. I’m not aware that cooking with Coke has ever really been in vogue, but rather it’s a sort of low-grade perennial. Coke of course was the mixer for rum in the old “Cuba Libre” until Cuba was no longer libre. And half-strength Coke was a Southern country remedy for vomiting and diarrhea for decades. But these potions, one for social lubrication and one for the reverse, aren’t what I mean. There are actually family recipes for pot roast simmered in Coke (along with the ubiquitous onion soup mix) and for Coke in cakes and barbecue sauce. Many of these, I’m confident, have graced Wednesday night church suppers. Though probably not the Cuba Libres.

Being a Georgian, at least by adoption, and living in Atlanta in the belly of the Coca Cola beast, I couldn’t resist trying this venerable extract in cooking. After all, Coke has spices (cinnamon, among others, seems to be in its fragrance), citrus, caramel color, sweetness, and mild acidity, all of which are certainly used in cooking. It also has caffeine from (or at least in memory of) the COLA nut that is part of the drink’s name. (The other original ingredient that influenced the name, cocaine (from COCA leaf), was removed in the 19th century before Coke emerged from being a dubious regional “tonic” into the universal drink that made Atlanta and many Atlantans rich and built a major university and school of theology.)

Below is my “contribution” to culinary Coke lore, enhanced by another Southern favorite, bourbon, plus some other things to create those “layers” of flavor that foodies rhapsodize over. This goes well, in my opinion at least, as a marinade for chicken for the grill or broiler, but also for pork tenderloin or ribs and for salmon. Let the meat or fish marinate for at least two hours, but preferably for eight or more before grilling or roasting. For barbecued spare ribs, before marinating simmer the ribs in lightly salted water until tender. Drain (save water for great soup stock), and then marinate the ribs for a number of hours before grilling.

Coca-Cola Bourbon Marinade Tim (enough for 2 pounds of meat or fish)

1/2 cup Coca Cola
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses or 2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne or a few squirts hot pepper sauce
1 small-medium clove garlic, minced or put through a press

Mix all ingredients well. Marinate pieces of chicken (leg or thigh are juicier), pork tenderloin, pre-boiled spare ribs, or salmon for at least two hours before grilling or roasting.

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