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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pig Candy BLT

It comes to the end of the season that I can get reliable, organic, field grown tomatoes from local sources, and I wanted to send out the last of the decent tomatoes with a fitting meal. That would be the ultimate use of a good tomato, the BLT. But, wanted to dress up the sandwich a little, so I bought some bacon and made Pig Candy.

For those not familiar with Pig Candy, it is simply bacon that is coated with spices and sugar, sometimes some chopped nuts, and then smoked or roasted until the sugar caramelizes and the bacon crisps up. I used an uncured bacon product (less sodium), thin cut and figured three slices would do for each sandwich. I wiped a little maple syrup onto the bacon, then a light coating of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, chile de arbol powder and a little brown sugar. I prefer a more savory and less sugared version of Pig Candy than most folks, I really want the bacon to shine with the sugar just behind it.
Green Leaf Lettuce, Pig Candy, Tomatoes

This was piled onto a couple or warmed slices of Rudi's Soft White, which is not really soft, or really white either, as they are an organic bakery that uses whole grain normally. I just could not bring myself to buy the Wonder Bread.A swipe of two of mayonnaise on the bread and assembly, simple as making a sandwich.

The Sandwich

I am gonna miss fresh tomatoes that do not have a skin like vinyl and a core made of balsa wood. Winter is the time for canned tomatoes anyways. I would like to say I only ate one, that would be lying. The Pig Candy provided the textural and fatty character of bacon, along with a nice sweetness and spice that added to the sandwich nicely. I won't do this often, but, it was a nice upgrade.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ribs and Brisket

A Tale of Two Cooks...

I was tasked with cooking two briskets, one for eating, one for leftovers. Seemed simple enough, yet, when I checked out, a cryo of spare ribs had jumped onto my cart. No matter, I would have a 26" Weber kettle and a Medium Big Green Egg to cook on, I could handle this.

Cook 1: St. Louis-style Spare Ribs
1. Clean and trim ribs, wash thoroughly, scrape meat and dry.

2. Rub was my one of a kind, Leftover Blended Rub, where in Simply Marvelous Cherry and Simply Marvelous Spicy Apple rubs end up blended with the remnants of my Brisket Rub, no proportions are available.

3. Run is applied to each rack, then the racks are stacked and wrapped in plastic wrap, wrap tightly and let sit at room temperature for two hours. The ribs must be wrapped and must be let to sit for at least two hours, and not more than three hours.

4. Fire cooker (Wicked Good and apple wood) and get set to around 285F, apply a second coat of same rub to ribs and place on cooker as soon as it is stable. Allow to cook for at least 3 hours, then test for bend. They won't be really ready, but, close, you are looking for the point where they bend about 45 degrees when held on one end. Then move on to step 5.

5. Apply Pig Honey, in this case, I used version 4+, this is squirted from a soda bottle with a couple of holes punched in the cap. You don't want to use a spray bottle, it needs to soak the meat.

Pig Honey Version 4:
3 cups water
handful of trimmings from previous brisket and butt cooks (needs to be smoked barky parts)
1/4 cup Red Boat Fish Sauce (Worcestershire sauce or Coconut Aminoes work too)
1/2 cup Agave syrup
1 tablespoon rub
1 teaspoon hot sauce

Simmer everything until color is that of a dark broth. Taste should be complex sweet, finishing clean.

Apply the Pig Honey three times during the last 45 minutes of cooking, soaking the meat each time, with the last application no more than 5 minutes before pulling. No foiling or paper.

6. Remove from heat when racks bend 90 degrees, or twisting of bone is acceptable. Place in an oven pan and cover with foil for 10 minutes or so. The ribs should slice easily at this point, with a durable sweet/spicy flavor at first bite.

Just before pulling from cooker
This cook ran at around 300F, and about 4 hours. I do not monitor cook temperature once I put the meat on. I listen for the meat sizzling on the drip pan, as long as I hear sizzling, I make no adjustments. Once it hits the 285F, I don't make any more adjustments, but, when I finished, I wanted to move some more meat onto the BGE and I found it was right at 300F.

The Brisket:
1. The brisket was washed, scraped and dried, and moved to a dry service tub.
2. The brisket received a simple version of my Mother Rub. This rub is focused on providing a complementary seasoning to the meat.

Brisket Mother Rub:
3 parts Redmond Real Kosher Salt
2 part fresh ground black pepper, medium grain
1 part ground chile powder (not chile powder from store, this is just Chile de Arbol powder)
1/4 part lime powder
1/4 part fine Turbinado sugar

3. Apply rub generously to brisket, let sit while cooker is started and brought to temperature, around 30 minutes to an hour.

4. Put meat on pit, fat cap and point towards heat source. In this case, it was a kettle, so the points faced the offset fire, the cap was down. I let the meat run.

5. The kettle was kept at a minimum of 280F and a maximum of 325F, I didn't fuss too much, kept an eye on the Maverick, since I have not cooked on this kettle before. Fired with Wicked Good lump, Natural briquettes and apple.

6. At three hours, opened the cooker, looked for color, it seemed okay, so I wrapped them in butcher paper, two layers, and splashed a little jus that I had made onto the paper before wrapping up. Back into cooker. Here is where things went oddly.

7. At five hours into the cook, I expected it all to be done, not even close. I picked up the first brisket and could tell by feel it was still in the stall. Same case for second brisket. At seven hours into the cook, I could tell the points were done, but, the flats were not. I separated the flats, put them on the BGE at 300F, took the points in and let them rest in a 175F oven. The smaller flat got done after another hour, the larger flat took another 2 hours. Fortunately, the smaller flat and point were done for dinner.

 There were flat slices, point slices and what I consider to be burnt ends, which is to say the parts of the point that I carve off the ends, which I cut into chunks. Not one piece of meat was sauced. The chunks of burned edges were meltingly tender and required no sauce or additional cooking. The sliced flat was tender and had just enough moisture, truly some of the best flat I have had in a very long time. All of the slices were dipped into a jus I made while things were cooking.

Brisket Jus - Platy style:
4 cups water
2 cups chopped fat and meat from brisket trimmings
1 cup chopped cooked brisket trimmings from previous cook
2 tablespoons rub
1 teaspoon Agave syrup
Bring to simmer and hold until liquid takes on a dark brown color and fat render. Filter and reduce by 1/4. Use to dip meat after slicing.

Here is a close-up, hopefully the texture of the meat shows in this shot.

Sliced flat, point and burnt ends

You'll notice that there is no mention of internal temperatures throughout the brisket cook. I am not hiding anything, I did not check the internal temperature of the meat, and did not use any timing to determine completion of the cook. I relied upon the heat to get the meat done, opened at times when I felt is smelled right, or when I felt the meat should be close. To determine time to pull, I relied initially on feeling, squeezing the flat and point through the butcher paper, soft means ready to check with a probe. Hard means stall, sort of gives means I should pay attention in another 30 minutes.

Brisket Trimming

And now for an odd little food post, one I feel is quite overdue for this blog. How do I trim a brisket?

I think the idea of smoking a brisket is one of the more intimidating aspects of cooking in the smoke. While there are many cooks who think nothing of cooking a pork butt or some racks of ribs to be something of a natural and easy task, the brisket often stands apart was the intimidating cut of yore. Only brisket masters need apply blah, blah, blah...  As is often the case, the truth is, the same principles apply to either and any meat you are cooking.

Here then, is subject one, what is known as a packer brisket, fresh from the cryo-vac. This was an IBP brand, select grade, whole packer (with a poorly butchered point), original weight around 14.9 pounds.

Fat Cap Up, Untrimmed

Fat Cap Down, Untrimmed

Step one for me, with any cut of meat, is to thoroughly wash and scrape the meat. The idea is to wash the liquid that seeps from the meat while it in the plastic, also, scraping will remove any bone dust or chips. From here, I shake off any excess liquid, and using a clean dish towel, wipe  the meat dry. Meanwhile, I like to put a layer of two of butcher paper down, and get the knives ready.

I use three knives, a small caping knife, for detailed cuts, more than anything, this knife has become like an attachment to my hand, I can use this knife for all manner of cleaning cuts. The large Scimitar is a favorite for cutting and slicing large cuts of meat. I use it with a push cut, allowing the large up-swept blade to slice through the meat, think the bow of a ship, used in this manner, a Scimitar or Butcher's knife will effortlessly slice through the thickest meat. It is not a great pull-cut blade. The small stiff-blade boning knife is what I use to clean fat and membrane, I find this knife to be invaluable for preparing all types of meat for cooking. Onto the meat.

 I like briskets that bend, this one bends nicely. If you're thinking the meat is so long and flat, it has to, nope. This brisket had a flat that was almost 3 inches thick. The point was poorly sliced and almost 1/3 of it was missing. I check each packer in the store, looking for one that is flexible, even floppy. Even though these are Select grade, I know I can turn a brisket like this into good eating. I like to trim the underside first, no reason, just do it that way. I try to remove the membrane, any fat and the wedge of fat between the point and flat. Not everyone believe this is a good practice, but, I feel the wedge of fat makes for greasier meat, adds no additional food to eat and changes how the heat interacts with the meat where the point and flat meat.

Here, you can see the brisket, lean side trimmed, most of the surface fat has been trimmed, the wedge of fat removed, edges cleaned up. I stretched the brisket out a bit, to show the flat, on the left of the image, and the point, on the right of the image. One additional thing to note, I have shaped and trimmed the edges of the brisket to a thicker edge, most packers have very thin edges, these are hard to get cooked correctly and leave the edges dry. By blocking or rounding the flats edges, I get a better overall texture. Next!

Fat Cap, trimmed
The above image, which shows the poorly cut point in all of it's glory, also shows that the entire fat cap has been trimmed, down to no more than 1/4". I know it looks like it is down to membrane, but, once cooked, that will leave a thin cap of fat, just enough to moisten the bite. Now, I would note, that this brisket was intended for the table, so I did minimal trimming of lean, just removing the discolored meat. For a competition, I would trim the flat to a width of around 10" with the grain, to try and get the slices to fit into a 9" clam shell. Oh, and there was a second...

No fat cap shot, look at the marbling

Again, you can see the overall clean trim of the flat and just a little surface fat left on the point, which shows that there is still a fair amount of marbling, even in a select packer. As you can see, this packer had a very full point, which is something I consider to be a desirable trait in a brisket. Much of the flat on this packer was protected by that large point, it made positioning over the fire easier. I think the flat ends up more tender, and with more moisture as a result.

All of this trimming is really just to take a good piece of meat and make it easier to cook. Learning how to pick out a good packer, learning which kind of cut you want and how to prepare it are more important, but, preparing a brisket this way, leaves you with more edible meat, with a lot of surface and minimal surface fat.