I got to meet Mike Leach once and he was every bit in person what he projects, or is generally inferred to be projecting, as his public persona.
He was in Birmingham scant ten years ago for SEC Media Days. I can’t remember if he was attached to CBS or Sirius at the time. Maybe he was promoting his book. No matter what his provenance, our paths crossed in a forgettable chain restaurant bar at a spot that has since been at least two other forgettable chain restaurants a few miles from the Wynfrey Hotel’s conference center.
I had heard that a handful of assistant coaches might be meeting there after the last Q&A was done and my brother in-law and I already had plans to meet for a beer so we figured we might as well head a few miles out of our way and see what kind of beer is most popular among TE coaches and graduate assistants. It turned out my info was bad.
The only identifiable coach we could see was Leach. The rest of the crowd was made up of sports writers, many of whom we recognized, and the Finebaum caller Legend. Legend has a retinue.
There was a darkened stage and some stripped down display tables at one end of the room giving the impression that there had been a presentation that we must have missed, possibly part of the Swing Your Sword book tour. The writers, caller, coach, and caller’s posse were mingling about and after checking to make sure that the bar wasn’t closed off and made private we figured “What the hell?” and went in.
Legend hugged me. Spencer Hall was affable as can be and Clay Travis was extraordinarily nice. If memory serves, and it was ten years ago so it may not, Travis was the one who introduced us to Leach.
We exchanged “Pleased to meet you.”s and such and then my brother in-law asked him why he risked leaving the law to pursue coaching. Leech looked pensive and then motioned us to a table. I engaged in the absurdity played out nightly around the world where a non-millionaire meets a millionaire and then offers to pay for the rich man’s beer (He drinks Coors Light - at least he did then - if you are curious) and then the three of us had a seat.
I think we witnessed the power of a Division 1 coaching mind focused on explaining why. It could have been about a passing route or the right way to peel a banana. He broke down his reasons for and against, offered what he perceived to be the risks and the rewards of his decision and laid out the hardships - cramped apartments and making around $3,000 a year as a high school assistant - that came with leaping into a career in coaching. We spoke for twenty to thirty minutes. I still can’t believe how generous he was with his time.
It’s hard to square the nice guy with whom we shared a few beers with the tyrant accused of mistreating players at Texas Tech. For the record I’m not convinced that his supposed transgressions in Lubbock took place as described by those accusing. The chief among them said in court that he thought that Leech’s supposed punishment was funny. He also irked Craig James which commends him to me. I may be biased.
This is the long way of saying that I really like Mike Leach and wish him well in the SEC in a way that doesn’t mess with our plans and provides 11 am kickoff losses to all those around us. This just isn’t his year. We should throttle him.
On to the meat of things. I have a rare recipe tie in to the team we face this Saturday. I know there are those that want a food to opponent relationship every week. I could probably pull that off each year against Arkansas, but there are only so many ways to cook an alligator, bulldogs look like they’d be chewy, and even if it were readily available we’d all be tired of tiger meat by the end of the first season.
We are facing the air raid so I made wings. Get it?
Tea Smoked Wings
- chicken wings
- black tea
- orange zest
- star anise
- soy sauce
- five spice powder
- grated ginger
- red pepper flakes
This is a by-the-seat-of-your-pants recipe so I didn’t put strict measurements down. I’m going to estimate how much I used to make 12 wings and let you adjust from there.
I did this on a makeshift indoor smoker. I know many of you have outdoor smokers but sometimes it rains and an indoor one is pretty easy to rig up. All you need is a pot that ideally has a top, a grill that fits inside that pot, a way to elevate the grill four or five inches from the bottom of that pot, and some tin foil.
I’m assuming you have a stock pot of some sort. If it doesn’t have a top that’s okay. You can make a coned top with tin foil. The bottom grill insert from a Weber or competitor is available at most hardware stores. It’s tempting to rummage through your kitchen in search of something to hold the grill up but don’t bother. Go outside and find three similar sized rocks, wrap them in tin foil, and place them in the bottom of the pan so they form a tripod with the grill.
You’ll also need to make a tin foil tray with raised edges to put your smoke source in. Fail to do this and the de-phlogistonated detritus of that smoke source will fuse itself permanently to the bottom of your pan. I made my pouch two-ply.
My slow cooker has a metal insert meant for searing meats on the stove-top with an elevated grill that fits right in, so I used that rather than a stock pan with a rock tripod. The rock thing is cooler, though.
Start by making the foil pouch. Get a few tea bags (I used 5 or 6) and empty their contents into it. Add a small handful of star anise and a few strips of orange zest. The type of tea is up to you. A lot of recipes call for jasmine or other herbal teas but I prefer the flavor of traditional English style black teas.
Put the pouch in the pan and cover with the grill.
Salt the wings liberally.
Set the wings on the grill and cover.
Turn the heat up to medium high and wait for the pan to fill with smoke - about 5 minutes.
Once the pan is smoke filled set a timer and continue to cook at medium high for 10 minutes, turn off heat and allow to continue absorbing the smoke (do not remove the top) for another 20 minutes.
If, after you’ve turned off the heat, you see wisps of smoke escape from under the top dampen a cloth towel, roll it up, and use it to seal the smoke in. Don’t do this if the heat is still on. The fire department comes.
While the meat is luxuriating in smoke, add roughly a cup of soy to a mixing bowl along with about ½ tsp. each of red pepper flakes and powdered five spice. To that I added ¼ tsp. or so of ground ginger. I just squeezed honey in there straight from the bottle and whisked.
Have you ever tried to measure honey? Sure you can get 1 tbsp. of honey into a tablespoon, but how are you going to get it into the recipe. Some drips slowly out, most sticks determinedly to the spoon, and small droplets go who knows where as you try to shake as much of the stuff into the bowl as you can. From the squeeze bottle it’s mess free. I used about 2 tbsps., tasted, and then added a bit more until it was as sweet as I wanted.
Once the wings have been in the smoke off heat for 20 minutes take the wings out of the smoker, toss lightly in the soy-honey glaze and lay on a broiler pan. Put them under the broiler for 5 minutes, check to see if they are crisp enough and if not put back in and check intermittently.
I was worried that the soy-honey might overwhelm the tea smoked flavor so I did a few without the glaze just to see. I clearly tasted tea both ways.
I hope you like ‘em. I also hope Mike Leach enjoys his future in the SEC, though never so much as to beat us. In case Coach Leach numbers among our readers, as is likely, I want to caution him not to let LSU fans get to him with their “You only won because they didn’t call holding!” mantra. They say that after every loss, even if that loss is in gymnastics.
Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.