Rub-a-dub-dub, dry spice is good sub for BBQ sauce

July 20, 1994|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

Everyone is familiar with the traditional barbecue coating of syrupy, red tomato sauce, but some of the best barbecue is accomplished with a good spicy rub.

What exactly is dry spice rub? Although the name implies that the rub is composed of only dry spices and herbs, the blend may contain fresh herbs and even fresh seasonings such as garlic, chives and scallions. This mixture is processed to a fine texture ,, and rubbed into the surface of the meat.

A good, dry spice rub combines with the natural juices of the poultry, fish or red meat to bring out their full, natural flavor. And, the spices help seal in moisture.

This style of rub has little if any fat, because it is just a blend of dry and fresh spices and herbs. You can have all the flavor with much lower fat in your favorite barbecue dish.

The usual recipe calls for a blend of dry spices and herbs, which is easily made by just sifting or mixing together. Adding fresh or dried leaves or herbs is great for the flavor and best incorporated by a spin around the food processor. Nutrients such as garlic should be finely minced and still processed by a few laps in the food processor to further mince and allow the flavors to exchange between the nutrients and the dry spices. Store spice blends in a clean, well-sealed jar in a cool, dry place or under refrigeration.

The best flavor comes from whole spices toasted, then freshly ground, before combining into your own secret formula. The next best trick is to purchase good, fresh ground spices, spread evenly on a cookie sheet and gently toast in a broiler for just a few seconds until the flavor and aroma are developed. Allow to cool, then combine to make your spice blend.

Sprinkle spice blend over poultry, fish or meat. Rub spices gently and evenly into surface. Marinate at least 30 minutes under refrigeration, uncovered, while the grill heats.

Adjust grill away from the heat. Place poultry, fish or meat on the grill as you normally would, paying particular attention to avoid flame-ups. Close cover on grill or place an oven-proof lid over the food to allow even heat penetration and speed cooking. Turn food over as the spices begin to brown. Cook until you reach desired degree of doneness without letting the spices burn. Let rest for a couple of minutes to allow the juices to settle before cutting.

The grilled foods are sublime with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and brilliant with a piquant salsa.

Spiced Chicken with Tomato & Cilantro Salsa

Serves 4

1 tablespoon ground coriander, toasted

1 tablespoon ground cumin, toasted

1 1/2 tablespoons paprika, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic

salt to taste

4 large, thick chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, trimmed of all fatty tissues, washed, patted dry

2 tablespoons boiling water

juice of 2 fresh limes, divided

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, optional

2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced

1 medium sweet onion, peeled, ends removed, diced

1/4 cup picked cilantro leaves

4 sprigs of cilantro or other green herb for garnish

Heat grill. In a food processor, combine coriander, cumin, 1 tablespoon of the paprika, black pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture is fine and homogenous.

Lay the chicken breasts in a flat dish or pan. Rub mixture over all surfaces. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to mix.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 tablespoon paprika with boiling water, mixing well to combine. Cover and about 5 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the lime juice and the olive oil, if desired.

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion and cilantro leaves. Add paprika mixture and stir to combine well. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate salsa.

Raise the grill to the highest setting. With paper towel dipped in olive oil, carefully brush grate to season. Place the chicken breasts on the grill, cooking until well-seared but not burnt, about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken and close the grill or cover with an oven-proof lid or pan. Cook until done, about 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle the remaining lime juice over.

Position the chicken breasts in the center of the serving plates. Spoon salsa over chicken. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro or green herb.

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