Friday, June 17, 2011

T&x@$ Q - Beef? Really??


Yeah, really. Beef brisket barbecue.  Look at it.  You know it's wrong, but it's just unavoidable. At some point, if you steep yourself in woodsmoke and ash long enough, you're going to have to lay down your abundant pig and put some beef on the burner.

I must admit, I have often passed through Texas, but never stayed long enough to even call myself a visitor. I've spent more nights in Oklahoma - which is to say, two - than I have in Texas, which is sure to rile any Longhorn.  But, I have had 'q in Amarillo, which is bound to be as good a place as any, I suppose, if you're looking for some beef. (I've never spent the night, but I have eaten a few meals in Tejas; I've got my priorities on straight)

My approach to the brisket is pretty straightforward. Which is my excuse for not taking any pictures of it before it was virtually finished.  I started with three pounds from the flat cut, not the point, which has too much internal fat  - great for corning, not so much for smoking. Some of the fat cap was removed when I had it trimmed at the butcher, but a nice bit of fat cap keeps the whole thing moist, and adds a load of flavor, so you do NOT want to remove all of it.

My dry rub was super simple.  Salt, pepper, and chili powder, in roughly equal amounts, rubbed all over the hunk o' meat.  I've heard tell of Dalmation rub - naught but salt 'n pepper - and that sounds right to me, too.

After futzing with my smoker a bit (chunks or chips, chunks or chips??) I went with large hickory chunks, and got enough smoke going to smelt iron.  Hickory smoke was just pouring out of the grill, and the temperature got close to 275º (more like 260º, really). That seemed ideal.  I gave it three hours in the smoker, without touching a thing - added a bit of wood after 90 minutes, but that was it. I was looking to get the whole thing up to 160º internal temp, and the beef was there in three hours.

Then came the interesting part. Having smoked the beef to 160º, I resorted to "The Texas Crutch." The brisket is wrapped in tin foil, and some liquid - beer, apple juice, water (I used white wine, thereby assuring my eternal banishment form Texas I'm sure, but I'm not complaining) - is sealed in with the foil. Then, continue smoking for another hour or so.  At this point, you're not really smoking, since the smoke can't penetrate the foil, you're just slow cooking.  Keep it up until the meat hits 190º, checking on it after an hour.

Here is it is, right out of the "Crutch," a perfect 190º.

Here's why you want that fat cap. The fat has just absorbed all the goodness of the smoking and slow cooking, burnished the meat to a delectable finish

Now THAT looks pretty good. Most of that liquid is just the wine, and a bit of fat- the meat itself is still plenty juicy.

 Once you slice up the whole thing, you're left with some of the finest cooks' treats imaginable, the shredded leavings of the sliced brisket.  In New Orleans they make whole po' boys out of this "debris," compiled from several days worth of pot roasting. As Calvin Trillin said, the best food in the world is the Arthur Bryant burnt ends of cut brisket (this is about as close as I can get to that), and they used to give that away for FREE while customers waited to be seated

I don't know if it's the "best" food in the world.  But I have a feeling I will be smoking more brisket again.  And now I have one less reason to go to Texas. I can do beef right here in Carrboro (keep it down, or the Tar Heels may kick me out, too!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer of Smoke: The Pork Shank Redemption

It should be clear that the last thing the internet needs is another entry on pork barbecue.  Countless pixels have been expended debating the virtues of regional preferences (a perennial hazard here in North Carolina), demonstrating one's virtuosity with woodsmoke, or extolling the historical particulars of different meats and woods.  On top of that, I live within shouting distance of two of the very best sources of genuine Carolina 'Cue known to porkdom: The Pig run by a buddy, Sam Suchoff - and the venerable Allen & Son Barbecue which offers as good an Eastern Style (or a hybrid thereof; they smoke shoulders, rather that whole hogs, like they do way down East) as you can get anywhere.  I can't begin to improve on the quality they provide - and you can't either.  I don't think barbecue done in one's backyard can possibly match the quality control of pig cooked in the volume that even a small restaurant can achieve.

Why bother writing about smoking pork, then?  For the sake of the shanks!  In recent years, a whole host of what were once thought of as the unmentionables of the animals have returned to vogue as the preferred cuts, especially among chefs in a restaurant setting.  Tails and snouts and bladders and ears and rendered/reduced hogs heads are all enjoying their renaissance.  And among the chefs I've worked with, pork shanks take an especial pride of place in their kitchens.  One local cook apparently stole the recipe for pork shanks from the restaurant he worked at, and set off a firestorm (mmm. . . firestorm) when it appeared on the menu of the establishment to which he moved.

Here's the deal.  A pork shank is the cut that comes from directly below the pig's shoulder, and above the pork hock (or foot). [Letter C on your handy pig diagram]. You can also get shanks from the rear leg (i.e., ham) and above the hock.  In effect, your forearm and your calves are shanks - or would be, if you were pig.

In my humble opinion, the shank is the best piece of meat you can eat, bar none.  It has the constantly worked muscle of the shoulder that does the heavy lifting, full of flavor when cooked right, combined with some of the tenderness of the smaller muscles that control the hoof (not super tender, like a loin, but somewhat different from shoulder, or ham).  Also, a lot of connective tissue to bind all of the muscles and toes together that make up the forelegs of the pigs.  This tissue isn't great eating in itself - but when you cook it right, it melts into the meat, and adds an incomparable velvety texture and glisten to the dish.  I've smoked these for barbecue purposes - but I think they're every bit as good (ok, twist my arm and I'll say even better) when they're braised.  Have you ever had osso buco? That's braised veal shanks.  And the only thing better than osso buco is osso buco made with pork shanks instead of veal shanks.  

If you have access to a pig farmer or pork vendor at your farmers market, check out shanks.  They'll probably be cheaper than almost any other cut of pig, and you'll be doing your farmer a favor buying a less-than popular item. You DON'T want to buy smoked pork hocks in your grocery store.  These have already been cold smoked and treated with who-knows-what else, and are meant to be boiled for seasoning broth - great for making gumbo, or a pot of collards, but you can't barbecue 'em. 


Here are two massive shanks from Cane Creek farm.  I've coated them in a dry rub of my own concoction.  Some paprika, some red pepper, some black pepper, some chile pepper, some salt, some sugar, some thyme (I think).  A bit of garlic or onion powder would be great, but I forgot 'em. Oh well.

48 hours in the fridge, and they're ready to smoke!  You've seen the rig under a few past entries (mackerel and tasso). This time I used hickory in largish chunks, rather than smallish chips.  It turned out to be a good way to keep a continuous even temperature for a longer period of time.  I could go almost two hours with one pie pan full of hickory.  

I let them go for about four and a half hours at 250º-265º.  And here's how they looked after that.

Nice and barky! Plenty of dark, black exterior - or bark.

Ready for chopping here . . .

once the  bones have been removed. (You'll have a very happy dog, to boot! Or the start of a fine stock)

Then get to hacking! Here I've used a cleaver to chop up a mess of pork- but this is less than half of the total amount of pork I smoked.  You can see both the bits of browned bark and the nice burgundy toned smoke-ring of meat all chopped throughout the mixture.  This is what makes the flavor of chopped pork more interesting than pulled pork - but the texture of pulled pork is certainly a culinary wonder.

This meat was smoked to an internal temp of 170º.  That's a little lower than the 190º you'd like to have for pulled pork, but it's just fine for EATING.

Here's how the meat looks in the vicinity of some sauces.  For the uninformed (or Tar Heels living under a rock), the two possible sauces - that's it! Only two!! - are Eastern style (as shown in the jar) and Western style (as shown in the bowl).  What's the difference? Eastern style sauce is essentially a highly seasoned vinegar.  Mine is a mixture of cider vinegar and sherry vinegar (so much for tradition) seasoned with some pickled pepper brine (essentially a hot vinegar) lots of black pepper, red pepper flakes, and some salt.  The Western style is (basically) ketchup thinned with the Eastern sauce.  You can see it's a touch thicker and redder.  Doesn't usually go with chopped 'cue, but in my house it goes just fine.

Here's the full monty-cue.  Chopped barbecue, two kinds of sauce, cole slaw (vinegary, not mayonnaisy!!) and some hush puppies.  I make a very good hush puppy- light and crispy not especially hearty and crunchy as you tend to find around here.  Mine is a hush puppy more typically served with seafood-  it's kind of puffy, and cooks in a minute. Great.

One of the really cool things about barbecue is that you can fight like Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians about the unimpeachable merits of your hometown style - and still be perfectly happy to eat the other guy's 'cue. Hell, I even love Texas brisket made with -  - shudder - - beef brisket.  And I'll try to make that next.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer of Smoke: Spanish Mackerel (plus...)

No, it's not the same as charcuterie, but hot smoking is a good way to use up similar cuts of meat - and vegetables, and especially fish - that might also be used in that method.  And I've rigged up this super cheap, simple smoking method (previously described in my tasso entry), so I thought I'd make use of it even more this Summer. Indeed, I made some baby back ribs last week (Niman Ranchers, rubbed with a mix of paprika, chile powder, cumin, allspice, garlic powder, and who knows what else) that were as good as any I've had - and I've eaten a LOT of ribs - which inspired the idea of working my way through various cuts. Hence, my "Summer of Smoke."

As many of you saw in my fish sausage entry (and by many, I mean more than one) I've made some fantastic smoked Spanish mackerel, and we got another pound (or so) of mackerel in this week's share from the Core Sound Seafood. 

So I thought I'd show you how I smoke it.

First, the fish needs to be brined. The brine I made had mustard seeds, brown sugar, salt, and this excellent Spanish pimenton- a sweet paprika.  You take your spices, add them to boiling water until the salt and sugar dissolve, then cool the whole mixture down to room temperature.  

Then you put the fish into the brine to soak it in for as little as a few hours, as long as a few days. Here, I've put the brine and mackerel in a ziploc bag, and set the bag in a bowl to keep the fridge free of spills.

The next day, I take the fish out of the brine, and I set it over a rack, like this,
to dry out.  This helps the fish develop what's called a pellicle, the iridescent, golden-hued, sheen that is actually a tacky, protective skin that keeps fats from coming to the surface of the fish.  The fats are highly perishable, so the pellicle aids preservation. 

Just to refresh your memory, heres the smoking rig - a crappy old Weber kettle, retrofitted with an electric hot plate.

Put a pie pan full of wood chips - these are apple wood - on the hot plate, and crank it up to high.

 Here's the fish, along with some drumsticks that I had started about an hour prior to the mackerel.

Here's how the drumsticks turned out.  Unfortunately, they look fantastic, but they could  have used another half hour in the smoker to cook through. No matter, I finished them in a hot oven, just to cook them through, and they tasted smoky and juicy. Hacked 'em up, and ate them as tacos.

As the mackerel finished smoking, I threw on some potatoes to smoke- they'll be good in a salad with the fish and some onions and a creamy dressing.

And here's the finished product. A nice sheen, fully cooked through, and smoky as a chimney sweep. They smoked for about two hours at 230º.  

I still need to figure out how often to refill the pie plate with wood chips, and whether large wood chunks can work as well as chips.  The secret I think is to check on the wood every hour or so, replenish fairly frequently (every hour should do it), and to be prepared to let it go longer than you think it needs to.  At least two hours per pound of meat, I'd say, and more if the meat has substantial bone in it (the two racks of ribs took three hours last week, I think).  When you think it's done, check on it again in half an hour.  Low cooking, under 250º, won't dry out the meat, but even a well smoked dish can be less than completely cooked - and you don't want that.

Ok, next week, I think I'll give brisket a try.  Or perhaps a pork shoulder. Or possibly I'll grind up some pork and make what they call hot links in Chicago. Anybody got any preferences??