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Friday, July 29, 2011

Brisket Experiment

Well, it had to happen, I decided to try injecting a brisket. And since I was going there, I went with a 15 pound choice grade packer brisket that was trimmed of most of the fat and injected with a test injection. Now, most folks will use a beef broth or commercial injection formula that either is designed to make a brisket taste more beefy (not sure why this is necessary) or to literally change the nature of the brisket. This second option I totally understand. If I was going to compete, I would use something like Butcher's Injection for it's proven flavor and texture improvements. But, I am going for an augmentation of flavor here, so I made my own.

In doing this, I was really trying to augment the savory profiles of the beef without really changing the flavor of the meat. I went with some proven elements for my taste palette. Onions, carrots, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, Bragg's Amino Acids and Red Boat fish sauce. I am hoping to get a blend of the aromatics and umami elements with the addition of some sodium as well.

Bob's Test Injection
1 small onion
4 small carrots
2 cloves garlic
3 shiitake mushrooms, dried
1/4 cup Bragg's Aminos
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Red Boat Fish Sauce
6 cups water

I brought the water to a boil, reduced to a simmer and added everything but 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. After 10 minutes and back to a simmer, I cut the heat and let it steep until cool. This was bottled and allowed to sit for 2 days. Upon opening, gave it the sniff and taste test. It smelled great, no fish smell, no funkiness, just a nice aromatic blend, I would liken to a vegetable version of demi-glace. It was a little intense and salty in terms of taste. But, no matter, I used two cups to inject the brisket until it started rejecting the liquid. Into the fridge for now. Upon removal from the fridge, there was a notable fish sauce aroma, that got stronger as the meat came to room temperature, not to worry, this always goes away over time.

Well, it took me an extra day to get the whole thing together and onto the kettle. I setup the kettle for a longer burn with a little adaptation to create sort of a heat sink under the brisket. Not sure how this setup will work, but, hey, let's mess with all the parameters at once. I did apply a dry rub to the meat, one portion an experimental rub called Cow Pow by the makers of Big Butz BBQ sauce, and the other a mix of leftovers from Simply Marvelous BBQ (their Cherry and Sweet and Spicy) mixed with some of my mother rub. Why would I do this, well, I needed to test the Cow Pow and did not have enough to do the whole brisket, but, it needed to be tested. The Simply Marvelous would have been fine alone, but, I wanted more heat from the Phu Quoc peppers that I am now using, so I added that to it.

I set up the kettle a little different to see what I could do with a few extra pieces to add some thermal mass and a little shielding of heat. he setup also allowed me to put a couple more pounds of charcoal to the overall load, meaning a few more hours of burn time. I believe I could get 6 to 8 hours with this rig.

Onto the kettle at 200F intially, and letting it run up to 300F over 4 hours, I will hold it there for a couple of hours more and let it then rest until ready to be sliced and tested. Now here is where things get even a little more odd, I had to shut down the cook about 4 hours in, to go take care of some family affairs, so the brisket was wrapped in foil and rested in a heated and then turned off oven.

Here it sat for three hours. Upon my return, it was returned to the now marginally running kettle for another 2-1/2 hours and then into the oven again to rest, as I had a dinner to attend to. I got home 4 hours later to a cold brisket. If you have ever had cold brisket, you know it can be hard and a little dry, this stuff rocked. It was tender, almost flaky with just a little pull and you could see it was still moist. 

The taste was right there. The CowPow rub was a great spicy complement to the beef, a true brisket rub. Here are the sliced pics, I wish you could smell and taste this brisket. The injection really upped the meaty profile without adding a lot of salt or strange meat texture, a perfect balance.
Sorry about the pics, this was shot at midnight, after a few cocktails and a full tasting menu with pairings, so there may be some focus issues. For those not familiar with BBQ, that may look burned, but, that bark is a lot of flavor.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Four Ingredient Challenge

It's that time of the month again, The Four Ingredient Challenge, wherein, I cook a meal using ingredients that I would never use together to make a meal. This month the ingredients are:

Hot Dogs (which I am interpreting as wieners)
Baked Beans
Dill Pickles

Now, I could go the hot dog with dill pickles route, some beans on the side and a blueberry smoothie, but, where is the fun in that? I do these cooks to see how I can fit a square peg into a round hole of culinary excess. I have a long history of this, as a child, I was given a toy where you test your child's innate intelligence by seeing if they can put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. Really? So intellect is doing what is obvious and simple? Nay! I say gimme a bigger hammer Mom!

So, what to do? Have a beer! A honey pale ale, which actually was for dinner. Anyway, well, I went with a classic, beans and franks, with a few twists. And for the sides, cornbread and mustard. For these challenges, I really try to come up with a complete plate that works at all levels. For the hot dogs, I went with my childhood favorite of Saag's frankfurters, growing up, we would get these at their butcher shop in Oakland, it was across the street from the Oakland Flower Market. They are still excellent sausages.

As you see my set up above, I smoked them on a rack over the bean pan with an apple wood fire for 1/2 hour. Then into the bean pot. These were finished cover on after 1-1/2 hours at 300F. The beans were a small can of Bush's Vegetarian Beans and a can of Navy Beans to cut the sweetness and excess sauce. I also added 1 tablespoon of grainy mustard, 1 tablespoon of my basic BBQ rub, 1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce, 1/4 cup bourbon ketchup and 1/2 cup of honey pale ale.

The cornbread ended up being Honey Pale Ale Blueberry Cornbread, which was primarily Jiffy Cornbread mix with the milk reduced 1/2 and ale added. I also added 1/2 cup of dried blueberries and some chopped canned green peppers. I like the Hatch brand as they have a little heat.

I like to make cornbread in a cast iron pan, whether over the fire or in the oven. I preheat the pan and fat to make sure the thermal mass if already hot, it makes a nice crust as well. This actually works great for many quick breads and cobbler like breads as well. A little bacon grease would have been perfect for this, but, I used the far more convenient butter. Of course, my cast iron is very well seasoned and release is not an issue.
Hmmm, something looks like it is missing. Oh, finally, dill pickles, what to do with those, well, mustard is really good with beans, with frankfurters and with cornbread, so, dill goes with mustard and this is all I decided to do. Chopped up some dill pickle, add 1/2 teaspoon of dill liquid to 1 tablespoon of prepared rough grind mustard and mix it all up. The spicy and sour profile really cuts through the sweet and fatty components of this meal perfectly. The mustard sauce may have been even better on the beans than it was with the frankfurters.

This is really a meal that worked great. Not all of these Four Ingredient Challenges have worked perfectly, but, it is easy to see why this kind of meal has become a standard of the American table. I highly encourage you to take a look at all of the other participants in this little challenge, their links are below. There is a wild cross section of interesting minds at work.

Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.

Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ Entry Here
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…

Chris Grove of Nibble Me This - Entry Here
Nibble Me This is Chris Grove’s blog about his misadventures in live fire cooking. ”I have no culinary training….I’m just entertaining myself with fire and food”.

Hanneke Eerden of The Dutchess CooksEntry Here
The Dutchess Cooks was started in 2010. After years of cooking, grilling, baking and reading other people’s blogs, I thought “why not start my own blog??” And I did, in 2010, but already after a short period of time, a blog wasn’t enough, and I started my own website. It’s not my goal to publish or come up with fancy and difficult recipes: just good and delicious food with an international twist! Straight from my plate to yours!

Marc Van Der Wouw of Grill Adventures - Entry Here
Grilladventures by broadcastmarc is started on march of 2010.I started the BBQ thing when I was 30,before that we eat a lot outside.have fun,but when the kids came in our life We start serious cooking.Most of it is realy healthy I think;-)The grill has a special place in my heart,We love to do things outside..Everything I make is an adventure,and sometimes we use the books.We try to grill as much as we can year round.

Jerry Russel of Cooking by the Seat of my Pants - Entry Here
Cooking by the seat of my Pants began life as a way to document our culinary misadventures. Since then it has become our way to encourage people to cook without boundaries or recipes. To just get in the kitchen and cook something from the heart.

Jason Adams of Jason's BBQ Adventures - Entry Here
Started Jason's BBQ Adventures in 2007 and originally fell in love with real BBQ the first time I tried to smoke a pork shoulder and soon after started smoking ribs, brisket and chicken. After a while I started to experiment with grilling and smoking just about anything and ultimately fell in love with the entire cooking process.

Wilfred Reinke of Oshawa Ogre's Views News & BBQ's - Entry Here
Wilfred is somewhat of a newcomer to the BBQ scene having only done standard grilling for most of his 50 years, He found and became passionate about Low & Slow about 2 years ago. and that passion also morphed into a second hobby which is writing. Oshawa Ogre's Views News & BBQ's has been a project that has taken on a life of it's own and blessed him with many many new friends in the BBQ community on Twitter, facebook and through the blog.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mmm, Honey Pale Ale

Tonight's quaff of choice...Home Brewed Honey Pale Ale
One of the things I learned about home brewing over the past few years, you gotta let some brews sit. This one is one of those, totally disjointed 3 months ago, delicious tonight.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spam Pineapple fried rice

I can't decide where to put this, so it will probably be a dual blog post. It is the ultimate fusion, and of course, it is inspired by that great melting pot of Hawaii. I first saw a version of this made by Chef Sam Choy and have adopted it for myself.

First there is the smoked Spam, the essential ingredient and cultural icon of Hawaii gets a BBQ spin with a hour and a half in the kettle, over apple wood and citrus wood charcoal, some briquettes thrown on for fun. I rubbed the Spam with a salt free Dizzy Dust rub, I mean, there is no need to add more salt to Spam. Here it is, and I might add, Spam looks more delicious smoked
This was allowed to rest overnight, let the smoke settle in while I ate other stuff. Note the bacon? Yes, applewood bacon. Next are the aromatics and spices, chopped onions, celery, lemon zest, Red Boat black pepper, garlic chives and some chile powder. 

 The onions and celery were sauteed in the wok until translucent. Then the meat, comprised of a little bit of smoked Spam and some crumbled bacon were added and heated through. The rice, a jasmine rice from Thailand was cooked then cooled on a bamboo mat, as drier cool rice makes for a better friend rice. I slightly undercooked the rice to get the right texture and to prevent it breaking down in the wok. The cooling on a bamboo mat or strainer allows for air circulation and prevents mushiness, this also works great for noodle to be fried.
The rice was tossed into the wok and tossed a few times to heat through. Then I added the spices (shown above) to season it all up. I then added a flavoring blend of 1 teaspoon each of Red Boat Fish Sauce, Liquid Amino Acids and Japanese Worcestershire sauce. Anyone who has followed my cooking knows it is all about layers of flavors and playing the idea for raw or crispy off of cooked and tender, so the final additions were some chopped kimchi and come fresh pineapple chunks. 
The whole mixture was tossed in the wok for a minute then loaded into a bowl, obviously there was far more than one serving. Some was tossed in a bowl and topped with a fried egg. 
Take a look at that egg and the mixture underneath. Yes, a fried egg, sunny side up, no I am not worried about getting food poisoning. Another beauty shot.
The egg I got from my sister's chickens, the rich yellow yolk and see how it stands up, you know that is a good egg. I like to add the egg to the top and then let the yolk flow down and flavor the rice. As a child, I hated raw yolk, but, now, I love the warmed yolk on hot rice, there is something about the richness of the yolk and how it sits on rice that is just perfect.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smoked Spam

Yes, I gave in to my most base urges and I smoked a Spam. It is now resting in my refrigerator. I have plans for it. Tomorrow. Tonight, it rests and the smoke infuses into the porky goodness that is Spam.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chicken Ka-Babs of an Asian Persuasion

Tonight was chicken night, it was also low carbohydrate night and it was Bob needs to eat more veggies night as well. My sister has been sending me photos of kabobs she has been cooking, so I decided to make them, cause they were in my head. Well, here goes.

The  Aromatics:
1/4 cup each onion, celery and carrots, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
7 or so slices of ginger

Mash the aromatics lightly and set side.

1/4 cup Red Boat Fish Sauce
1/4 cup Braggs Amino Acid
1/8 cup water
4 little packs of Truvia
2 tablespoon coconut infused white balsamic vinegar (I got mine from Victorino Olive Oil in Livermore)

Blend all ingredients along with aromatics. This forms the marinade for the chicken. I added one skinless, boneless breast of chicken cut into chunks. This was covered and allowed to marinate for 6 hours. The salt in the fish sauce will be enough to add some moisture and pull the marinade into the chicken over this period of time.
Chicken added and ready for chilling.
Later that day, some veggies were prepared for the kabobs, I chose to go with onion, baby shittake mushrooms, red bell pepper and Thai sweet basil, which I put against the chicken to get one final layer of flavor added.
To the skewers, I choose to use two skewers to avoid twisting, I find the two skewers work well for keeping the meat in place and avoiding loss of meat on the grill. I made sure to layer things to create as much interplay of the flavors, making sure the basil was next to the chicken.
I did a little something different with the kettle tonight, since I was looking for a little heat, but, not wanting to mess with the kettle setup too much, I left the smoker baffle in place and loaded the entire side of the kettle with charcoal and got it going nice and hot. The effect was a more vertical fire that was throwing heat across the grate. I added the skewers so the heat ran across them, A few changes of position and they were done. I did try a baste, using more fish sauce, cider vinegar, coconut white balsamic vinegar and Truvia. I ended up with these.

The baste worked pretty well in giving the meat a shiny finish and added just one more layer of flavor and aroma to the final product. Here is a close-up for those who need a little more detail.
I only ate one and a half of these, not all three. It was a good dinner and although some Jasmine rice would have been nice, it certainly wasn't missed. Plus, I ate too much at lunch anyways.

Hawker Fare in Oakland

Went to a new restaurant in Oakland, Hawker Fare, which I had high hopes for. The experience proved two axioms, one is that who you dine with matters more than what you eat, the other is to be wary of the high expectations driven by anticipation. First, to my dining companions.

One of the perks of blogging and being connected (however vaguely) to the food business is that you get to meet other people that share your passion. Often, these are very interesting people that can make any dining experience more enjoyable. One of the folks I ate with today was my friend Rob, he of Red Boat slinging fame. The other was Mai Troung, whose blog Flavor Boulevard is a very passionate and intelligently written journal of her dining experience. If you have a taste for good food in general, and Asian food in specific, I recommend you click on the link. As for Mai and Rob, they made for excellent dining companions, I would gladly share a table with them in the diviest of dives.

Onto the food, from the time I saw the menu of this new place in downtown Oakland, my old work-hood, I wanted to eat there, I had visions of food that spoke of the street, that combination of flavors, individuality and independence that colors street food, at it's best, as singular, gritty, notably of the street. This was not to be. What I was thinking was BBQ sold off the side of a smoker, carnitas and giardinare tacos off the back of a pickup or odd pieces of chicken on rice with kitchen gravy, the kind of food I love. What I got was good food, food that if I worked anywhere in downtown, I would certainly walk over for.

Main had 24 hour Pork Belly, which looked very good. Reports were that it was good. It sure looks good.
All of the dishes came with a nice dipping sauce and interesting vegetable or herbs to accompany the meat. Rob had Lemongrass chicken which he also felt was good. It is very attractively plated.
And I ordered the Beef Short Rib, which was also quite tasty and had the added interest of a fried egg, an option that I will always take if offerend. The dish was very well flavored and certainly good.
It all ended with soft-serve ice cream, one a sundae and the other ice cream with a side shot of espresso. This is Strauss Creamery soft serve, there is clearly no lack of passion by the owner to present high quality food, in a nice setting with great flavors. This is something they do well, if you are looking for this, then this is a good place to go.

For me, as I said, if I still had my office in downtown Oakland, this place would make the rotation. But, as I said, to some degree, I had allowed my mind to gear up for something that I had no reason to expect, to that degree, this was a pleasant food experience with very interesting people filled with talk of food and cooks who are pushing the limits of what a restaurant can do, what I had hoped I had found here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Making a BBQ Sauce

I decided to have a pulled pork sandwich for dinner tonight. I cooked the pork butt yesterday, pulled it and gave it a little extra seasoning. But, what is really going to make the sandwich work is going to be the sauce. Now, I have a plethora of commercial sauces for testing and others that I have come to consider 'house' sauces, but, since I want this sandwich to be something special, I decided to make my own sauce. First up, I need ketchup that is low in sodium and without standard sugars common to commercial ketchup. I made this.
Ketchup Recipe
2 cups cider vinegar (in my case, organic Spectrum Cider Vinegar)
1 tablespoon oil (can be olive oil, I used canola oil)
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground Phu Quoc Black Pepper
8 whole cloves
2 small bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chile powder
1 teaspoon ground mace
2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chunked
1/2 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/8 cup Bragg's Amino Acids
1/8 cup Red Boat Fish Sauce
32 oz. can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
8 little packs of Truvia Sweetener ( I really need to find the spoonable stuff)

Bloom spices in oil over medium heat until aromatic, I add the powdered ingredients at the last moment. Then add the garlic and onions and sweat until translucent. Add vinegar and bring to simmer for 15 minutes. Once slightly reduced, remove bay leaves and cloves, then blend until desired texture is achieved. I like a little bit of texture left. Return to pot (unless you used a stick blender) and add fish sauce, Amino acids and San Marzano tomatoes. Cook over low for 10 minutes. Add Truvia to taste. Allow to cool.

Here is the sauce made, after the addition of 1/8 cup of Black Currant infused balsamic vinegar, 1 more packet of Truvia and 1/8 cup more cider vinegar and a teaspoon of Lucky Dog hot sauce. This remained uncooked.
The above ketchup recipe creates a spicy flavor with distinct tomato and savory flavors and a nice sweet heat on the finish. I really want a rich tomato flavor to ring through on the initial taste. This is not at all as thick, sweet or salty as commercial ketchup, it is more of a ketchup sauce. The additions for the BBQ sauce punches up a few of the flavors and adds a fruity character as well. Here is a close-up to show the thickness and texture of this sauce.
This sauce is closer to the pork sauces you see in the south, thin with a distinct tang and a little heat. It is a sauce designed for pork. And this was it's final destination.
 A pulled pork sandwich, soft white bread, sweet pulled pork, spicy red sauce and some cole slaw and green tomato relish to round it all out. This is what a nice pork cooks ends up being all about.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pulled Pork, oh the tradition

I made pulled pork today, not some fancy plated braised in stout pulled pork or raised by loving hands of Russian maidens and allowed to eat only Italian acorns pulled pork. Just plain old traditional pulled pork, from an unnamed pig, slow cooked over charcoal and wood. I chose to use a mix of "Cherry Rub" and "Sweet and Spicy Rub" made by Steph Franklin from Simply Marvelous BBQ, Steph is making some of the best rubs out there and it is my go to rub. I mixed these two half/half mostly because I wanted to rub heavily and I didn't order soon enough to have a full bottle of either.

I had the kettle set up for off-set heat, settled in at 275F and waiting for the pork. I had purchased a 3.5lb partial butt, since my usual folks that I dump my leftover sack-O-pork on are traveling. It was a mediocre piece of butchering, but, an excellent piece of pork. Here it is with the first coating of rub.
As you can see, the butt is a little loose, it was partially separated in the fat vein and at the bone, I had to practice a little butcher twine work to get it to a more or less uniform shape (depending on your feeling in uniform). In this next image, the pork has been tied and sat for 40 minutes with a fan running, this sets a skin (pellicle) to adhere the second coating of rub to. The combination of sugar, salt and the proteins drawn from the meat forming the pellicle allows for adhering the rub without using any other ingredients. Next image is with the second rub.
Basically, once this was done and the rub was set a little more, I placed the now well coated hunk of meat into the kettle at 275F for the next 6 hours, this created a very nice bark, a deep rich color and a very tender pork butt. Here is it just prior to resting.
I wrapped into the foil, then inside of a warmed towel to rest and continue to cook slowly and cruise down to pulling temperature. This process takes an hour, believe it or not, an hour is really minimal for this part of the cook. Then I pulled the meat into chunks for cooling and storing, as I intend to eat tomorrow.
Initial taste testing and snacking indicates that this is some terrific pulled pork, I actually added in some more of the original rub mix and will allow to cool. Tomorrow, I will reheat for sandwiches, I can't say how many at this point. Here is a close-up showing the texture, which I hope you can see, is not the least mushy.
A funny aside, I forgot that I had tied the butt, so when I went to pull it, the meat would not pull. My first thought was 'oh no, I pulled a rookie mistake! How could I do that?'. But, no, it was then I noticed the string, cut it and the whole thing came right apart. Whew!

I eat veggies, well, asparagus

I ate something other than meat, actually, dinner consisted completely of grilled asparagus. I found some very good looking asparagus with large diameter spears, which work best on a grill. I cleaned, trimmed, washed them, then coated with olive oil, kosher salt and Phu Quoc black and white pepper mix. Here is the raw stuff.
These were grilled direct over the hot coals of the kettle as the pork butt was cooking. They cooked up very nicely on the lower heat of the kettle that I normally use for smoking. Here is the end result.
I basically ate this plate for lunch, a little mayo was added for some of the asparagus. although it didn't really need it. I really like what the incredibly aromatic Phu Quoc black/white pepper mix does for grilled foods.

I am back! Chicken Beta testing

Thanks to Tom from Big Butz BBQ Sauce, I actually got back on the kettle today. Due to recent health issues, I haven't been cooking out there (the backyard, oh Lordy!). After hacking the kettle loose from what Spring hath wrought during my rehab, I got it fired up to cooking around 275F, this was mostly because I was going to cook a pork butt for tomorrow. Tom had sent me some BBQ rubs to test, they are in late beta testing and I think he has a winner.

I chose to go with chicken thighs, easy to cook, easy to eat. I skewered them, as I intended to cook them vertically in my kettle, which allows for some more effective rendering at lower heats. I rubbed with Tom's new rub, cleverly code named 'Chicken Dust' (they'll never guess what this is for Mooohaahaha) . Then into the kettle along with the pork butt (which had been in there for a few hours already.

The chicken pieces were half sauced and half dry, this was to get a taste for the rub alone and the rub with the sauce. I consider this very important, as the way the rub and the sauce work together is the real way that we taste sauced BBQ. I happen to prefer sauced chicken off the grill. The texture of the new rub was excellent, a medium grain, not a dust really, handled easily, coated and adhered well, evenly distributed when dusted a' la chef sprinkling.
The chicken cooked for 45 minutes until almost done, when I applied some Big Butz Hot-style BBQ Sauce to two of the thighs. 15 minutes later, it was removed. I allow chicken to rest for 15 minutes lightly tented. Here is what we end up with. First, chicken with no sauce and then chicken with sauce.

I hope Tom brings this rub to market, it has an exceptional flavor and has a good balance.  It also worked very well with the sauce, really complementing the overall flavor. Tom's stated goal was to get a rub that really says 'chicken' which I think he has gotten very close to hitting that nail squarely.