Howard Hanna, chef and owner of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, honors Kansas City’s culinary heritage
As most professional chefs in Kansas City will attest, it is hard to cook in this city without somehow rubbing up against barbecue. On the one hand, it can feel like a burden to have to prove to the rest of the country that we have anything else going on here, but on the other hand a lot of us have a life-long love for barbecue and the traditions and culture that surround it. One thing is certain though, barbecue is a huge part of our culinary identity, and I for one am happy to embrace it!
While barbecue is definitely a year-round pursuit, it seems especially appropriate during the fall. After the brutal heat we’ve had this summer, I look forward to smoking and grilling outside this month. There is something primal about cooking meat over fire, and after long hours of working in a restaurant kitchen it is deeply satisfying to go outside and cook something simple and delicious.
When I fire up the grill or the smoker, I try to capitalize it and use several techniques.This fall I’m branching out from more traditional barbecuing and thinking of fresh takes on smoking and grilling that will make cooking outside fun.
One technique that adds a lot of flavor to meat without actually cooking it is cold smoking. To set up for this, I build a fire in the firebox of my smoker and let it burn down to a bed of coals, and then add wood chunks that have been soaked in water for an hour or so. The wet wood doesn’t ignite;
it just smolders and produces a lot of smoke. I put a tray of ice in the bottom of my smoker and then a whole rack of pork above it. This way, a lot of smoke wafts over the pork but it never gets hot. After a couple of hours the pork is still raw, but has soaked up a ton of smoky flavor. At this point I can cut the rack of pork into single or double chops that I’ll cook later on the grill.
Then I’ll take the tray of ice out of the smoker and add some fresh wood to the fire. The temperature starts to rise, and we can use the smoker for another technique, hot smoking. I’ll lay several whole eggs on the grate, close the lid and let them cook in the hot, smoky environment. I turn them after five minutes or so and then check one for doneness after another five minutes. The shells may be dirty looking, but the inside is the consistency of a hard-boiled egg, and they’ve picked up a nice bit of smokiness. I’ll shell them and chop them up for a smoked egg and olive salad that’s great in a sand- wich, as an hors d’oeuvres or a side.
The next move takes advantage of our nice bed of coals. I’ll roast vegetables right in the ashes. I bury locally grown eggplants and some sweet onions right in the coals. The skins get totally charred and coated with ash, but the interiors cook and pick up a wonderfully intense, roasted flavor. When the vegetables are cooked, I dig them out and let them cool down enough to be handled. I’ll pull off the charred skins and mash them into a delicious roasted eggplant dip.
The last technique needed for this meal is the most familiar—grilling. I move the fire up to the grill and get it nice and hot. I’ll brush the pork chops with vegetable oil, hit them with some salt and pepper and place them on the grill. It’s great served with grilled bread because it’s simple and satisfying and picks up a great char flavor in just a minute or two. For the bread I’ll cut thick slices of ciabatta, oil them up and mark them on the grill. While it’s still warm, I’ll rub it with a cut garlic clove so it gets the aroma without the pungency of biting directly into the garlic.
For Kansas Citians, barbecue is our heritage. Perhaps the quintessential flavor of our city is smoke. This fall I hope to smell a lot of it around town as we get out and enjoy all different styles of grilling and smoking.
His love of food and cooking has taken Howard Hanna, chef and owner of The Hotel Rieger Grill & Exchange, from his hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, to Manhattan, the famous island in New York, and back to Kansas City. As a high school student he worked in local Manhattan restaurants, but it was with the opening of Coco Bolos in Manhattan that he discovered that cooking was his passion. After attend- ing the Culinary Institute of America in New York and graduating first in his class, Hanna interned at the iconic New York restaurant Union Square Café. To study food and wine in depth, he toured some of the world’s finest wine regions and worked as a stagiaire at wineries and restaurants throughout France. Upon arriving in Kansas City in 2003, Hanna was employed at several of the city’s best-loved restaurants, including 40 Sardines and Room 39, before he became the executive chef at the River Club, establishing its premier place in the pantheon of private dining clubs. With the the Rieger, Hanna has achieved his dream of open- ing his own restaurant.
Place the pork rack in a container slightly larger than the rack. Combine the water and all remaining ingredients in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt, then cool completely. Pour over the pork and refrigerate for eight hours or overnight. Remove pork from brine, dry thoroughly, and cold smoke the whole rack for two hours. Cut between each bone and through the loin to break the rack down into eight single bone chops. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and grill the chops on a hot grill until nicely seared on both sides and cooked through (about four minutes per side). Serves 8
Smoked Egg and Olive Salad
8 large eggs
3/4 cup pitted Gaeta olives (Kalamata or Niçoise would be good substitutes)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne
Salt to taste
Hot smoke the eggs in their shells until cooked through (about ten minutes in medium to high heat). Allow to cool to room temperature, then peel them. Chop eggs into a medium/small dice. Chop olives a little smaller than the eggs and place both in a mixing bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill and serve cold with grilled bread. Serves 8
Charred Eggplant Dip
1 large eggplant
3 small sweet onions
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste
Roast the eggplant and onions directly in the coals until completely charred on the out- side and soft and giving inside. Cool down to room temperature, then peel and brush off all the burned skin. Put pulpy insides into the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin and salt, and puree until almost smooth. Add lemon juice, turn the processor back on and while it’s running drizzle in the olive oil until it is fully incorporated. Adjust seasoning and serve. Serves 8