Beyond Burgers

It’s May, which means Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner. Many of us will be firing up the grill and hosting the season’s first barbecue. Whether you’re the adventurous type or prefer simple comfort foods, dare to think beyond the typical fare of burgers and hot dogs and treat your guests to sandwiches that provide a taste of the world.

Think Mexico, France, Jamaica and China when you’re planning your next party. Fish, chicken, beef and pork provide the makings for interesting sandwiches with international flavor. You can also  include healthy elements such as fresh veggies and whole grain breads. And, the good news is that a lot of the prep work can be done beforehand, allowing you to enjoy your guests and not be slaving away in the kitchen or manning the grill.

If you’re looking for a beverage that can be enjoyed by all at your party, why not have fun pairing that summertime favorite, iced tea, with your menu. Using the same simple reasoning as would be employed with wine pairings, I selected Turkey Hill beverages whose flavors would complement the theme of each sandwich or ingredients that were used in the preparation of them.

Mexico: Baja-Style Monkfish Sandwich

Mexico: Baja-Style Monkfish Sandwich

Mexico: Baja-Style Monkfish Sandwich

On a recent trip to Southern California, I had the pleasure of eating one of the best fish sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. It came from a little Mexican eatery that specializes in simple, Baja-style fare. The sandwich was a smoked marlin torta, and it blew me away!  Although the meaning of the word torta can vary dramatically, in this case it translates as a Mexican sandwich that’s served on a flat, round sandwich roll and typically consists of some sort of protein, vegetables, avocado and a little heat.

Since fresh marlin isn’t readily available, I chose to use monkfish. This highly underappreciated fish delivers a sweet taste, due in part to the crustaceans they eat all day, which helps to explain why it’s often called “poor man’s lobster.” Another plus: monkfish is juicy and firm, which means it will not fall apart on the grill.  The texture is one that really gives you something to bite into, whereas so many other varieties of fish would simply disappear under the weight of a roll or creaminess of avocados. One thing to remember is the key to tender monkfish is proper cleaning: It’s critical that the “silverskin” be removed, or you’ll end up with something that resembles shoe leather.
Drizzle the fish with olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs; grill it and serve on a crusty roll with avocado, creamy dressed cabbage, tomato, onion and jalapeño, and I think you’ll agree it’s like eating the very best fish taco’s older brother. An ice-cold Modelo Especial would be perfect alongside this torta.

Iced tea flavor: Lemons and limes are always a welcome pairing for fish. Lemonade Tea is a perfect choice and especially complements the avocado.

Jamaica: Jerked Chicken Sandwich

Jamaica: Jerked  Chicken Sandwich

Jamaica: Jerked
Chicken Sandwich

One of my favorite party dishes to prepare outdoors is Jamaican jerk.  Whether it’s chicken or pork, this flavorful yet fiery way of cooking is a favorite of many heat seekers! Jerk not only refers to the flavorful allspice meets scotch bonnet and onion wet rub (or paste) that adds the kick-in-the-pants flavor that this food is known for, but it’s also the way in which the marinated/grilled meat is cooked.
Authentic jerked foods are slowly smoke-roasted over smoldering, still somewhat green Jamaican pimento-wood fires.  The wood itself imparts a sweet smoke flavor and although some charred, crispy bits are a must, the green wood keeps the fire from getting too hot, while adding this amazing aroma that could rival many of the best stateside BBQ joints. While pimento wood can be difficult to come by, you can come close by using soaked apple, pecan or even cherry wood.

To make this sandwich, chicken thighs are jerked and piled onto a roll with sautéed peppers, onions, jalapeños and tomatoes, along with grilled pineapple for a little sweet to balance the heat. Creamy scotch bonnet mayo pushes it back towards the spicy side of things. Pair it with Red Stripe beer.

Punch flavor: Sweet, red, fruit punch fits the theme and comes to the rescue when you’re eating fiery foods. Plus, the grilled pineapple seals the deal.

China: Chinese BBQ Pork Bun Sliders

China: Chinese BBQ  Pork Bun Sliders

China: Chinese BBQ
Pork Bun Sliders

Also known as Cha Siu Bao, the popularity of this bread-cloaked meal is spreading like wildfire. Although this traditional Cantonese dim-sum offering may be different in Chinatown – where the meat would be chopped more and tucked into a delicate, milk-dough, steam-bread dumpling of sorts – this take on the oyster and hoisin sauce-glazed pork (in this case loin vs. a more traditional pork belly or shoulder) is sliced and served simply on slider-sized Kaiser rolls with a quick pickle of cucumber, scallions, chile and mint.  That’s it.  There’s nothing else on the roll, and nothing more is needed. Make a ton: I guarantee they will go fast! It wouldn’t hurt to have a bucket of Tsing Tao lagers around for these either.

Time saver: You can rub the meat overnight, grill and glaze it before your guests arrive, and then just slice and assemble your sliders when you are ready.

Iced tea flavor: Green tea is associated with Asia; therefore, I thought it only fitting to pair it with the Chinese-style Pork Bun sliders.

France: Red Wine Braised Short Rib Sliders

France: Red Wine Braised  Short  Rib Slider

France: Red Wine Braised
Short Rib Slider

Even though this humble cut of beef has been elevated to high cuisine in recent years, it remains fairly inexpensive. When the ribs are marinated with a little red wine, seared and then slowly braised, they can be as tender as any other cut of meat that you put them up against. In addition to the short ribs, the ingredients include a sautéed blend of exotic mushrooms (including Hen of the Woods and Royal Trumpets), a few slices of melted Swiss and provolone cheeses, Frisée lettuce and garlic aioli. Stack the ingredients between slices of rustic French bread and you have one heck of a meal in your hands. This is a very wine-friendly sandwich to boot.
Time saver: They’re perfect for parties since they can be successfully braised in advance and held warm until assembling.

Iced tea flavor: Since orange adds a burst of freshness to deeply flavored meats (orange peel is often included in red wine marinades for braised beef), Turkey Hill’s Orange Tea was an obvious choice.

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