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Say hello to bourbon (plus some maple syrup) for this killer barbecue

This April 7, 2014, photo shows maple bourbon barbecue grilled shrimp with couscous in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This April 7, 2014, photo shows maple bourbon barbecue grilled shrimp with couscous in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Simply put, bourbon belongs in barbecue sauce.

Bourbon, by definition (at least in the U.S.), is distilled from a grain mixture that must be at least 51 percent corn. And corn is naturally sweet. So of course bourbon makes a wonderful base for a sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce.

It lends deep richness and combines wonderfully with so many of the sweet and bold flavors we associate with a great barbecue sauce.

So that was my inspiration for this recipe – to create an amazing bourbon-based barbecue sauce. But as I researched recipes, I was disappointed to find that so few bourbon barbecue sauces play up the bourbon.

Most add just ¼ cup, or perhaps ½ cup at most. I wanted more bourbon flavor, so I went with 1 cup.

For sweetness, I used equal parts maple syrup and brown sugar, both of which have the same rich caramel notes for which bourbon is known. Add some soy sauce for saltiness, some cider vinegar for acid and a bit of Frank’s Red Hot sauce for bite, and we’re off to a great sauce.

This sauce would be delicious on any grilled meat, particularly chicken or ribs. But I decided to slather it on shrimp.

The briny notes of the shrimp just bring out the delicious sweetness of the sauce.

MAPLE-BOURBON BARBECUE GRILLED SHRIMP WITH COUSCOUS

2½ cups water

Kosher salt

12 ounces Israeli (large pearl) couscous

1 medium English cucumber, diced

½ small red onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 pounds extra-jumbo raw shrimp, peeled

½ cup maple-bourbon barbecue sauce (see recipe below)

4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

In a medium saucepan over medium- high, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous and 1 teaspoon of salt, stir, then cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the couscous is plumped and tender and all of the water is absorbed. When the couscous is done, transfer to a medium bowl. Set in the refrigerator to cool for about 15 minutes.

Once the couscous has cooled, add the cucumber, onion, garlic and cilantro. Toss well, then drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice. Toss, season with salt, if needed, then divide between 6 serving plates.

Coat the grill grates with oil or cooking spray, then heat the grill to medium-high.

Thread the shrimp onto bamboo skewers, about 6 to 7 shrimp per skewer. Use a pastry brush to lightly baste the shrimp with half of the barbecue sauce. Grill the shrimp for 3 minutes per side, or until just pink and firm. Set skewers of shrimp over each serving of couscous. Sprinkle each serving with feta cheese.

MAPLE-BOURBON BARBECUE SAUCE

6-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup bourbon

½ cup cider vinegar

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup maple syrup

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot sauce

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon mustard powder

In a medium saucepan over medium- high, whisk together all ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to just maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until thickened and reduced by about half, about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 weeks.

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