With a schedule that includes working most weekends, chefs at popular restaurants have little time for tailgating—but when they can get out to the game, they are always the most popular guests at the party. Farouk Bazoune, executive chef at Strega Prime in Woburn, once brought a piping hot smoked cod chowder to Fox- boro on a bitterly cold winter day, and it turned into the most popular dish at the Patriots pre-game festivities.
“All of my friends were bringing something. I made corn dogs, and they were all right, but since it was a cold day, I decided to make chowder as well, as a project,” Bazoune recalls. That project resulted in three gallons of creamy pescetarian goodness—enough to share with many of the neighboring parties in the parking lot.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a hit, but everyone was psyched—all the people around us were lining up,” Bazoune says. It turned out so well that it is now featured on the menu at Strega Prime.
While chowder may not be your first thought when it comes to tailgating, home cooks have been stepping up their games for years, says Dave Gillis, owner of Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar in Ipswich.
“The whole food evolution is allowing people to get more creative, even with tailgating and backyard barbeques,” Gillis says. “It’s not just burgers and hot dogs on the grill.”
Creative doesn’t have to mean complicated, however. Gillis notes that especially on the North Shore, tossing any kind of seafood on the grill, from oysters to lobster, increases the wow factor without much extra work.
“We like to do oysters on the grill— it’s a nice upgrade,” Gillis says, adding that Salt now offers both grilled oysters and a grilled lobster tail on its menu. Even mussels can become tailgate fodder, he says. “Take mussels and herbs and some aromatics, wrap them in foil and let them cook right there on the grill,” he says. “With creativity, there are a lot of different options.” With any bivalve, just grill them until they open, or shuck oysters beforehand and give them five minutes on a hot grill. For lobsters, kill them first, then grill up to 10 minutes, turning to avoid scorching the shell. Serve with a side of grilled corn, topped with Mexican-style cheese and mayo, and a new-style classic is born.
Home cooks are also drawing inspira- tion from trendy ingredients on restau- rant menus, says Bill Fogarty, chef/owner of Scratch Kitchen in Salem. Pork belly is a fine example—Fogarty notes it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to prepare, versatile, and is a current darling of area chefs.
“Pork belly is just a few steps away from bacon, which everybody loves,” Fogarty says. “Do it right and it just melts in your mouth, with a nice porkiness to it.” It can be served up Mexican style in a taco, or seasoned Korean style or with European flavorings, braised in wine, he adds.
That’s not to discount the classic tailgating eats—Strega Prime’s Bazoune loves a good sandwich, and notes that traditional offerings can also be made more upscale. For example, a top cut of sirloin, carefully grilled and sliced, can become a luxurious sandwich with the right bread and toppings.
No matter what you spend on seafood and steak, food costs are likely to be lower than the prices inside the stadium, Fogarty points out—and the opportunity to relax before the game and bond with fellow fans is becoming a bigger and bigger part of sporting events. In fact, with such delectable comestibles, tailgating has actually become just as important as the game itself. A recent survey by grill manufacturer Weber showed that only 50 percent of respondents considered tickets to the game to be critical for a proper tailgating party.
One thing that is critical? Make sure whatever you plan can be eaten with your hands, Scratch’s Fogarty advises. In fact, just one hand is best, leaving the other hand free for your favorite beverage.
Commencing activities with friends from behind the grill, especially with a little advance planning, might just make you the most popular person at the party. “As long as you have the will to give it a shot, it can turn out a lot better than just that normal barbeque,” Gillis says. “Nobody is going to turn you away if you show up with a bag of oysters in one hand and a bag of corn in the other.”
Grilled Oysters with Mexican Street Corn
Courtesy of Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar, Ipswich
If you’re not an experienced oyster shucker, practice at home beforehand and be sure you have the proper tools. An oyster knife and oyster glove will keep hands safe and make shucking easier.
1 dozen oysters, scrubbed clean
1 lb. compound butter (recipe follows)
5 slices crispy prosciutto (recipe follows)
1/2 lb. Grana Padana, grated (Parmesan type cheese)
Shuck oysters, place on grill, top with a slice of compound butter, prosciutto, and some cheese. Grill until butter is bubbly. For compound butter: Soften 1 lb. butter to room temperature, add 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley, 3 tbsp. chopped garlic, juice of 1 lemon. Roll into a log using parchment paper, then refrigerate to set.
For crispy prosciutto:
Bake at 450 degrees on a baking sheet until crispy, then chop finely.
For Mexican street corn: Husk corn and grill until starting to char, lather with street mayo and top with queso fresco (white Mexican cheese similar to a mild feta).
For street mayo:
Combine 1 c. mayonnaise, 1 tbsp. paprika, 1 tsp. dried ground guajillo pepper, 1 tbsp. salt, juice of 2 limes and 1 tbsp. of chopped garlic
Strega Fish Chowder
Courtesy of Strega Prime, Woburn (serves 6-8)
2 med. leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (2 1/2 to 3 c.)
1 c. onions, finely chopped
1 c. celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3c. clam juice
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. dry white wine
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb. smoked haddock
2 c. clams, freshly chopped
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black peppers, ground
1/4 c. parsley, fine chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
Heat oil and butter in the bottom of a large pot (8 qt.) on medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, garlic, and celery and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the white wine and keep cooking until it is reduced by half.
Add potatoes, clam juice, thyme, salt and pepper (the potatoes should be covered with the liquid). Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook until the broth thickens slightly and the potatoes are almost done, about 12 minutes.
Add chopped clams and cream to the pot and cook on low for about 8 minutes. Add the smoked haddock and keep cooking for another 2 minutes.
Set chowder aside for 1 hour, covered, to allow the flavors to marry. Serve hot and garnish with chopped parsley.
The Sinatra Grilled Sirloin Sandwich
Courtest of Strega Prime, Woburn (Serves 3)
3/4 lb. sirloin steak
1 loaf crusty bread, Italian or Ciabatta works best
9 slices Provolone cheese
1 red onion, thinly sliced
roasted red peppers (store-bought, or recipe below)
Season steak with salt and pepper and grill to your liking—chef recommends medium rare (350 degrees for about 6 minutes per side). Slice bread the long way. Layer on cheese slices then roasted red peppers. Slice steak thinly on the bias and layer on, then top with sliced onion. Note: This sandwich can be prepared the day before. Don’t add the peppers until right before serving to keep bread from getting soggy.
If you prefer to roast your own peppers, place an entire pepper on the grill, rotate on all sides for 3 min each side. Take off grill and let cool. Peel off all char marks. Clean off with water. Slice into thin strips.
Grilled Pork Belly Tacos
Courtesy of Scratch Kitchen, Salem (serves 6-8)
Plan to braise the belly a day in advance, so it can cool before slicing
3 1 1 lbs. skinless pork belly
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 lg. onion, thickly julienned
1 head garlic, smashed to loosen cloves
Few sprigs fresh thyme
6 pack of good lager (Scratch uses Narragansett)
6-8 tortillas (for serving)
Rub pork lightly with salt and pepper on all sides and refrigerate in a covered container overnight. Remove pork from container and pat dry. Preheat oven 275 degrees.
Heat pot large enough to hold pork and beer (you can cut belly in half if needed). Sear over high heat to get color on both sides, then remove from pan. Add onion, garlic, thyme, then put pork back in pan. Add beer halfway up belly (drink what’s left as belly cooks), cover with parchment paper and place in oven for 3 hours. When pork is cooked, let sit in pan until cool enough to handle. When cool, remove from pan and place in refrigerator to chill completely (a cold belly is easier to slice than a warm belly). When cold, slice in half perpendicular to the lay of the ribs, then cut each belly half in thick slices. For serving, prepare grill with a high-heat side and a low-heat side. Season belly portions with salt and pepper to taste, then sear on high heat. Brush with glaze (recipe below) and caramelize (be careful not to burn). Warm tortillas on low-heat side and place belly on tortilla. Top with coleslaw and chipotle mayo.
For belly glaze:
Combine 4 c. cider vinegar, 2 c. honey, 1 lime sliced, 1 tbsp. chili flakes, 1 cinnamon stick in a non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced by half. While still warm, put through a strainer and reserve.
For chipotle mayo
In bowl or food processor, blend 1 can chipotle in adobe sauce, 2 c. prepared mayo (Scratch prefers Hellman’s) and 1 lime, zested and juiced. Add 1 tbsp. of chipotle to processor and blend (more if you like it spicy).
DON’T FORGET THE SIDES
Milk&Honey Green Grocer’s roasted cauliflower and Shubie’s Cracklebread pizza
Not up for cooking, or need to supplement your spread? Can’t go wrong with these spots:
This Marblehead mecca of all things delicious offers a fantastic array of tasty treats. Try their crispy lemon chicken tenders—the thin strips, marinated for 24 hours before breading and frying, are delicious at room temperature with house-made lemon mayo dipping sauce. Or the Crackle- bread pizza, brushed with tomato oil then garnished with mozzarella and an ever-changing array of toppings. Serve with a side of their very popular pasta and peas with Parmesan and fresh basil.
16 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead, 781–631-0149, shubies.com
Milk & Honey Green Grocer
All meats are roasted in house for this provisioner’s delectable sandwiches. Welcome fall with a sandwich of roasted pork loin topped with apple and onion compote, or try the turkey with arugula, bacon, and cheddar. Sides like curried lentil salad or roasted cauliflower round out a high-end feast.
32 Church St., Salem, 978-744-6639, milkandhoneysalem.com
Karl’s Sausage Kitchen and European Market
Be the envy of the parking lot with a gourmet cold cut platter from this artisanal center for all things stuffed and smoked. Start with an array of house-made bolognas, like one flavored with red pepper and Gouda or one made with bacon and horseradish. Consider adding bierwurst, a large garlicky fully cooked German sausage, or maybe some alpine-style dried beef or liverwurst, also made in-house. Liverwurst might not be appetizing, but one taste and you’ll be hooked.
One Bourbon St., Peabody, 978-854-6650, karlssausage.com
Savour Wine and Cheese
Knowledgeable staffers guide shoppers through a case full of more than 50 cheeses from small producers around the world to find the perfect dairy delights. Consider the Abbaye de Belloc, a dense slightly sweet cheese made by Benedictine Monks in France, or the Midnight Moon Goat Gouda, nutty with a slightly grainy texture. Round out the cheese board with a selection of pa?te?s, olives, crackers, and of course, bread. For truly luxe presentation, bor- row a slate cheese board and ask them to label the offerings with chalk.
76 Prospect St., Gloucester, 978-282-1455, savourwineandcheese.com
Consider pairing your tailgate picnic with a small-batch artisan brew!
Riverwalk Brewing Company
Only a handful of stores carry this small batch brewer’s tasty beers, so your best bet may be stopping by the brewery and picking up a growler (or two). Gnomad, a Belgian-style American Farmhouse Ale, is a standout, with deep grass and pepper notes balanced with bright citrus and a champagne sparkle. Try it with Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar’s grilled oysters for a refreshing match with the bivalve’s briny richness.
3 Graf Rd., Newburyport, 978-499- 2337, riverwalkbrewing.com
Cape Ann Brewing Company
This multiple award-winner (which has garnered BONS Best Brewery for two years running) is in the process of shifting its production to tailgate-friendly cans. Pumpkin Stout, brewed with real pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, incorporates all the flavors and scents of autumn in a dark tasty brew that would pair perfectly with Strega Prime’s Sinatra Grilled Sir- loin Sandwich. Looking for a lighter beverage? The Fisherman’s Brew is a perpetual favorite, packed with toasty malt goodness.
11 Rogers St., Gloucester, 978-282-7399, capeannbrewing.com
Notch Brewing Company
An innovator in the now-trendy session beer craze, all of Notch’s brews are under five percent alcohol, meaning you can drink more than one without losing your head. Try Notch’s late-summer seasonal beer, the Mule Corn Lager, with Scratch Kitchen’s Pork Belly Tacos. A rich, flavorful version of an American lager, it’s brewed with Massachusetts heritage variety corn, giving it a subtle sweetness. Hopheads will enjoy the Left of the Dial IPA, with a bitter- ness that will cut through the richness of the pork belly.