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With football season in full swing, elevate your tailgate

Allison Steele
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Just because you’re hanging out in a parking lot doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy professional-caliber food while you’re waiting for the game to start. A few of Philly’s chefs recently offered their ideas.

At Suraya, Fishtown’s Lebanese restaurant, chef/owner Nick Kennedy cooks every day over an open bed of coals that could be replicated in a small grill outside the Linc. For a do-it-yourself version of his kafta kebabs, he suggested mixing ground beef with parsley, cumin and other spices that give it a warm, savory flavor. He recommended forming the kebabs the night before. It helps the meat set better, he said, plus it takes most of the work out of game day.

“Don’t overcomplicate it,” he said. “Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it.”

He accompanied the skewers with onions, tomatoes and spicy long hot peppers, throwing the onions in their skins right on the coals for eight to 10 minutes until they’re charred black on the outside. Give them another few minutes to rest, then peel off the black layer, and they’re sweet and juicy inside.

Placed close to the fire, the peppers should get a good char after only about four minutes. Kennedy slices the tomatoes in half, adds a sprinkling of salt, and cooks them face-down for four to six minutes, as close to the flame as possible. “You want to get them really charred and hot, so they explode with juices when you eat it,” he said.

The meat cooks in just a few minutes, he said, depending on the size of the skewer, and is ready after a couple more minutes of resting.

Kennedy suggested finishing it all with a little olive oil and sea salt, drizzling it with the runoff juices from the vegetables, and serving it with hummus and pita. Vegetarians can leave out the meat and put the veggies together for a sandwich.

Jim Burke, the chef at Yards Brewing Co., said the brewery’s popular Philly-style wings can be easily adapted for game day.

The wings are tossed in a buffalo sauce made with garlic, vinegar, jalapenos and long hots that give it a pale green color as well as a tangy, spicy flavor.

“We basically just asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it more Philly?’” Burke said. “Anywhere we could, we wanted to add local traditions.”

Experienced grillmasters might consider cooking the wings entirely over a charcoal grill, starting them on the cooler side of the grill and gradually moving them toward the hottest area. But for a simpler approach, the wings can be prebaked at home in the oven, then finished on the grill for game day. Cook until the skin crisps up and the meat inside is juicy.

Once done, they are tossed with salt and the green sauce, just enough to coat them lightly. The heat in the sauce can be offset by some cool blue cheese dipping sauce.

Sushi chef Jesse Ito of Queen Village’s Royal Sushi & Izakaya recently added a special to his nightly offerings that he said is approachable enough for a tailgater in search of something new. Beef negimaki, or beef and scallion rolls, can be prepared the night before by pounding thin sirloin or another type of steak, slicing it, rolling it up around crunchy scallions and mushrooms, then spearing it on skewers for cooking.

“Anyone can make a hibachi out of a grill,” he said. “And if you can cook a steak, you can cook this.”

Sliced into bite-size rolls, the result is a salty, addictive snack. The vegetables give it crunch, and Ito recommends a drizzling of chicken tare, a Japanese dipping sauce, for a touch of sweetness.

At DiNic’s in Reading Terminal Market, there’s more than just the famous roast pork sandwich on the menu. But it can be a challenge to get people to try other things, said owner Joe Nicolosi. The pulled pork is best for a tailgating party, he said, because like the best tailgating food, it can be prepped ahead of time, then finished in a slow cooker that lets the flavors deepen for hours.

To get it ready for the slow cooker, he suggested seasoning a boneless pork butt with salt and pepper and stuffing herbs such as rosemary, fennel and garlic into the crevices. He recommended cooking the meat in a 450-degree oven for half an hour — or searing it — then caramelizing onions with fresh garlic and setting it all aside until it’s time to leave. It all goes into the slow cooker with water and perhaps a cup of wine.

When it’s done, Nicolosi advised serving it on a roll from Sarcone’s, layering salty provolone cheese on the bottom so it melts and laying long hots on top — red ones, sweeter than the green. He likes to pour some of the cooking juices on top for extra flavor; chefs with immersion blenders might find the sauce’s thickness improves from some blending as a last step, he said.

“The pork basically needs to be falling apart, no resistance at all when you touch it with a fork,” he said. “You can’t really overcook it — it just gets more tender.”

Philly Wings

Note: Serves 4.

2 pounds small to medium chicken wings

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup canola oil

Toss wings with salt (if multiplying recipe, use about 1 tablespoon per pound). Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove wings from fridge and pat dry.

Put them in a pan large enough for them to fit comfortably in one layer, add barely enough canola oil to coat the wings, and put them in the oven.

Cook for approximately 20 minutes, until they are fully cooked but only lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

Once they have cooled to room temperature, reserve any liquid in the pan to add to the hot sauce later.

Gently pat wings dry before wrapping them tightly to transport in a cooler.

At the game, remove wings from cooler to get them to room temperature. Coat the wings in a very small amount of canola oil and place them on the grill.

Turn the wings often and monitor heat so they brown evenly and deeply on all sides. They must cook long enough for the skin to crisp completely.

Transfer wings to a bowl, season to taste with salt, and add enough of the warm hot sauce (see recipe) to completely coat the wings. Serve immediately.

— Jim Burke of Yards Brewing Co.

Long Hot Buffalo Sauce

Note: Makes about 1/4 cup.

11/2 pounds long hot and jalapeno peppers, equal portions, with stems removed

2 tablespoons salt

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup white vinegar, plus more if needed for seasoning

2 tablespoons butter

Puree peppers in a blender with the salt and garlic, starting at the lowest setting and gradually increasing to the highest speed.

Add 1/4 cup of vinegar in small amounts to ensure the peppers are spinning freely.

If making ahead of time, cover and let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days (less time for warmer temperatures, more time for cooler) to ferment and develop a more complex flavor.

If serving immediately, transfer mixture to a pot and bring to a boil, then turn off heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

When wings are ready, warm sauce with about 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with wings.

— Jim Burke of Yards Brewing Co.

Dinic’s Slow-cooker Pulled Pork

Note: Makes about 20 sandwiches.

10-pound pork butt, with 1 raw pound yielding about two sandwiches

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 bulb fresh garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, for seasoning

Pinch red pepper, for seasoning

1 handful dry or fresh rosemary, for seasoning

Dry or fresh fennel, for seasoning

1 cup red wine

1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped

Rub outside of pork with salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper.

If using dry rosemary, rub on the outside of pork. If using fresh, stuff into the center, along with 3 to 5 cloves of finely chopped garlic. If using fennel powder, rub that on the outside. If using fennel seeds, place inside.

Heat oven to 425 degrees and brown pork in a pan in oven for 30 minutes.

Move the pan to the stove top, remove pork, and saute onions and remaining garlic in same pan until soft.

Transfer pork, onions and garlic to slow-cooker.

Add tomatoes, wine, 1 sprig of fresh rosemary if desired, and enough water to go halfway up the side of the meat.

Cook on low to medium setting until pork easily pulls apart with a fork. Internal temperature should be at least 200 degrees, and cooking should take 7 to 8 hours.

Serve on rolls with desired toppings.

— Joe Nicolosi of DiNic’s

Kafta Kebabs

Note: Makes four 4-ounce kebabs.

1 pound ground beef, preferably a blend of brisket and chuck

1/2 cup sweet onion, diced large

1 cup parsley, leaves and stems, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon dried mint

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, dry or freshly ground

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

Olive oil, for seasoning

Combine onion and parsley in a food processor and pulse until consistency is fine.

Place ground beef in a bowl and break apart.

Sprinkle all seasonings evenly over meat, including the onion and parsley mixture, and mix gently. Do not overmix.

Divide into four parts and form into cylinders on metal skewers.

Let sit in refrigerator for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

When ready to grill, lightly season with salt and place very close to hot coals, rotating frequently until seared on all sides.

When ready, the meat should be firm but still bouncy to the touch.

Remove from heat and finish with a drizzling of olive oil.

Serve with hummus and pita, and with charred onions, tomatoes and long hots, if desired.

— Nick Kennedy of Suraya

Chicken Tare

Note: Makes about 2 quarts.

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 quart sake

1 quart water

2 quarts soy sauce

0.4 quart brown sugar

1 whole chicken (about 2 pounds)

1 bunch scallions, chopped

1 head garlic, cut in half

1 cluster peeled ginger, sliced

1 onion, sliced

Put the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Give the chicken a good quick sear on all sides to brown the skin, then take the pan off the heat and put aside.

Pour the water, sake, soy sauce and brown sugar into a small stock pot. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the chicken to the stock pot and top off with all the vegetables. Make sure all the vegetables are immersed in the liquid.

Bring ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 hours. When reduced, strain sauce and let cool. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

— Jesse Ito of Royal Sushi & Izakaya

Beef Negimaki

Note: Makes 4 rolls (about 16 to 20 pieces)

4-5 large shiitake mushrooms

1 bunch scallions

1 pound New York strip or sirloin steak, about 1-inch thick


Chicken tare, for glazing

Toasted white sesame seeds

Clean and thinly slice the shiitake mushrooms. Set aside. Clean the scallions, cut off bulbs, and set aside.

Clean the fat and tendons from the steak. Cut thinly, about 1/8 of an inch thick or less, into slices that are about 1 by 3 inches.

Place plastic wrap over the slices and pound them with a meat tenderizer so they are as thin as possible. This should double the length and width. Remove plastic wrap.

Line four of the slices over waxed paper so you have created a small square of beef. They should slightly overlap. Make sure they are lined up with the edge of the paper. Put plastic wrap over them again and give them one more good pounding. The square should be about 6 by 6 inches. Remove the plastic wrap.

In the middle of the beef, line up shiitake mushroom slices and one whole scallion. You will have to cut the scallion to the size of the roll.

Once the ingredients are neatly lined inside, begin rolling from the edge of the waxed paper. Make sure the beef is tightly rolled so it does not fall apart on the grill. You can also leave them wrapped in the waxed paper and place them in an airtight container for easy transport. Repeat rolling process with the remaining beef until you have four rolls.

When ready to grill, lightly season each negimaki roll with salt and brush with the tare sauce, then place them on the grill. This will help prevent them from sticking.

Roll them around about every 2 minutes on the grill while constantly applying the tare sauce with a brush. Cook for 6 to 9 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is. If the meat keeps unraveling, use a toothpick to hold it together.

Once done, let rest for a couple of minutes, then slice each roll into 4-5 pieces and sprinkle with toasted white sesame seeds.

— Jesse Ito of Royal Sushi & Izakaya