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Maple Smoke
We are rich. I know this is true because an American told me so. He works in a well known restaurant in Washington DC and said that he could never afford to cook me the simple but intensely flavoured dish l ate recently at a friend’s home in the Laurentians.

It was a simple meal—potatoes, a salad, and steaks at their most primal. They had no sauce or special seasonings, not even salt and pepper; yet when the meat was brought to the table everyone oohed and ahhed. I had never had steaks served this way and now that I know the secret, I can never eat another without comparing it to these.

The secret was in the wood. The steaks were cooked in a fireplace over split maple logs. The wood had been stacked outdoors for a year or two. There was no charcoal, no briquettes. Instead of a bbq on the balcony, there was a large wrought iron rack set into the living room fireplace.

A few well placed logs burned under the rack. “This is the way I cook,” said our host, Ron Walker. He was in the kitchen cutting inch-thick fresh steaks from a roast.

After a half-hour, the logs settled. Ron brought out the steaks and seared them over very hot coals with flames still licking up from the wood. The steaks cooked quickly, seared on the outside, rare within. He brought them to the table. The scent of maple permeated the meat. The flavour was ambrosial.

Not long after, we were in Washington DC. A friend took us to the Capital Q—a successful BBQ spot. Every legislator from the western states had his or her signed picture on the wall. Even Ken Starr, who hails from Texas and presumably knows a few things about grilling, had compliments for the place.

The Capital Q is famous for its smoked beef brisket. The man behind the counter gave me a sample slice. It was tasty but not as good as Ron’s. ”We use oak,” he said serving some chopped beef sandwiches. “ The wood is cheap and local but it doesn’t give any special taste.” I enthused about the maple infused steaks we had enjoyed. The Q man licked his lips. He said “We add a little hickory for flavour.” I said offhandedly that some people I knew use apple wood too. The Q man frowned, “We couldn’t afford to cook the way you do.”

Ron Walker’s elemental approach to cooking also solved another mystery for me. I always wondered about the bible story of Cain and Abel. As you may remember, Cain’s oblation of charred vegetables was not accepted at the highest levels. Instead the discerning diety pointed to the meat that Cain’s brother was cooking. Now I understand, Abel was serving up maple seared steaks and the aroma wafted into heaven.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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