Wed Oct 20, 2010
The changing leaves and cool, crisp air brings along with it one of my favorite times of the year to grill. The toasty grill makes the perfect companion to enjoy the outdoors right now, and the bounty of the fall harvest presents new grilling challenges that coaxes an excitement out of me akin to the first signs spring and the coming "grilling season." As a local CSA member, there's also a downside to this, which is variety. The vast array of summer crops have given way to a monotony of fall fruits and vegetables, and the weekly collection of 5lbs of apples is starting to feel more of a burden than a gift from the earth. So what to do with all this excess? Well, you know me, I grill it!
Seriously, I love apples, but having all apples all the time is starting to feel old. There's an obvious solution to our current predicament—apple pie. While I'll never tire of apple pie, I've also become quite aware that my steady diet of ribs and brisket have left more than a few pounds heavier than when I went into a summer, so a weekly apple pie is probably not the best answer. So what do I decide to do instead, stuff the apples with sausage!
I can't justify apple pies, but I'm quick to jump to sausage? Yeah, that's how my brain works. I figured if I use chicken sausage over pork, I might be making this more healthy, even though I'm very aware that any good sausage is going to contain upwards of 30% fat. Somehow I was able to push that little thought to the back of my mind and venture forth, making an appropriately fall flavored stuffing comprised of chicken sausage, onion, celery, and sage.
With the stuffing complete, I turned my attention to those pesky apples. Using a melon baller, I scooped out the cores plus some of a bunch of red delicious apples, creating a nice big cavity to replace nutritious fruit with tasty, tasty meat.
The stuffing was then given a little fall sweetness with pure maple syrup, then topped with a butter for some extra fat insurance to get moist, tender innards.
I enlisted a two-zone fire to cook these properly, with all of the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. The apples were then cooked over indirect heat, with a chunk of apple wood thrown in for extra flavor, until they were slightly soft, which took about 60 minutes.
At this point, I should have taken them off the grill, but we weren't quite ready to eat. Seeing as the grill was just warm and not hot, I let them stay there another 15 minutes or so, but in this time they went from retaining some crispness to being almost completely soft. While I probably would have preferred a semi-soft apple, these were delicious never-the-less.
The maple-coated sage sausage mixture went perfectly with the sweet apples, creating a meal that epitomized a lot of autumnal flavors at once, and served as a prime example why fall grilling is so great. These were born out of an abundance of the fall harvest and then cooked with a flavor combination that I probably would never crave during the warmer months, which is why the uniqueness of fall at the grill can be so thrilling.
Sausage-Stuffed ApplesAdapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen.
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
12 ounces of chicken sausage
4 fresh sage leaves, minced
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup
6 large apples
1 chunk of applewood or other light smoking wood
1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage and sage. Increase the heat to high, and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Cook until brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the stuffing to a strainer set over a bowl to drain off the excess fat, reserving the fat for basting. Let the stuffing cool to room temperature.
2. Using a melon baller, apple corer, or paring knife, remove the core from each apple creating a large cavity, being careful not to cut all of the way through the apple. Spoon the stuffing into the apples. Pour a little maple syrup over the stuffing. Top each apple with a small piece of the remaining butter. Brush the outside of the apples with the reserved fat.
3. Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. When the charcoal is fully lit and covered in gray ash, pour coals out and arrange them on one side of the charcoal grate, keeping the other side empty. Place the wood chunk on top of the charcoal, and when it's lit and starts smoking, place the apples over the cool side of the grill and cover. Grill the apples until soft, 40-60 minutes. Transfer the apples to a platter or plates and serve immediately.