Jessie is such a good cook and skilled at so many dishes (Her turkey gumbo is my perennial favorite.), it is something of a slight to attribute to her such a simple preparation. But I can’t help asking her to make the bread this way every time we have dinner together. Each time, I am amazed all over again how good the bread tastes under her personal care. I think this illustrates the fact that food need not be complicated in order to be exquisite.
1/2 C Butter
2 Cloves Garlic
One must start with good quality, fresh bread. If you care enough to seek out a loaf so fresh that the crust is crispy and the inside is moist, then we are talking the same language. Le Panier used to make a miche that will remain my favorite even though the company and its products passed out of existence years ago. Grand Central’s Como comes the closest to that heavenly mixture of fluffy, spongy, chewy body with substantial weight that remains the gold standard in my mind’s eye. Their Rustic Baguette and Ciabatta are also nice. Marsee’s Ciabatta and Pugliese are my next most favorite, but these loaves are a little dryer and flatter.
Jessie slices the bread at a severe diagonal to its length. This will render ovals with acutely angled crust edges, 2cm thick. This maximizes the surface area upon which you are to spread the butter.
Fresh garlic is preferable to cured garlic for this preparation because it contains more fluid and will therefore release the most flavor over a short cooking time. My favorite is the rose garlic grown and sold uncured by Morning Star Farm. (Hey, what can I say, it’s my brother’s organic vegetable farm.)
Jessie peels and then minces the garlic as fine as is possible with a sharp knife. When I help her out, she always sends me back to dice the garlic a little finer.
I try to stick with organic butter because animal fats are the main vectors by which we consume toxins. I prefer to use salted butter rather than unsalted. Unfortunately, I have found no butter in America that is as tasteful as standard faire in France. Butter here doesn’t have much more character than cooking oil! Do not keep butter in the refrigerator. It is untenable to work with refrigerated butter. Butter will not begin to spoil for weeks at room temperature and when it does spoil, it just starts smelling and tasting more like cheese. I keep a half-cup cube on the counter at a time and never have a problem consuming it free of spoilage.
Jessie whips the minced garlic into the butter with a fork and then spreads a generous amount on each slice of bread. You want enough butter on the bread to prevent it from drying out on the grill. I notice that the butter knife tends to ride on the grains of garlic in the butter, thereby creating a layer of butter that is at least as thick as the largest grains of garlic. You want at least this much butter on the bread. You need not worry about spreading on too much butter, the excess will simply drip off the bread and burn on the grill.
I keep a gas grill out back and throw water-soaked vine maple rounds on the burner for smoke. I start up the grill and leave it on high for some minutes in order to get the wood smoking before I lay in the bread. Then I turn down the heat to somewhere between medium to medium-low and place the bread on the grate opposite the ignited burner. This way I get a smoky oven effect. I find that indirect flame is a lot more forgiving than direct flame. I can walk away from the bread and not worry about it scorching or drying out too much.
If you have the flame adjusted correctly, it should take 15-20 minutes to toast the bread. You should pull it from the flame when it just begins to brown around the edges. If you get everything right, the bread should be slightly crunchy on the outside and still moist on the inside; dripping with butter, fragrant with garlic.
Dig in while it is hot!