Search This Blog

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Butternilk Fried Chicken

Decided it was a good time for fried chicken, and since the entire family was gathering, it was time to really do it up, using references from many old friends, who have been gracious enough to teach me bits and pieces of Southern Cooking. These were to be fried in cast iron, shallow fried. Day one was to get the chickens parted up, and get them soaking in a butttermilk brine.

Buttermilk Brine:
1 quart buttermilk
2 cups water
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup fine turbinado sugar

Bring all items except for buttermilk to 165°F, steep for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Filter the herb tea brine and combine with buttermilk. Chill until cold.

Add chicken to sealable container and soak for at least 12 hours. Turn a few tunes through the soak.

After 12 hours, the chicken should be drained and allowed to sit for 15 minutes. Assemble dredge.

Dredged in Flour

Flour Dredge:
(for 3 chickens)
2.5 cups AP flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, granulated garlic, granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon ground clove

Coat each piece of chicken and lay in single layer on racks. Allow coating to cure for 15 minutes. Repeat entire dredge process a second time and allow chicken to sit on rack.

Frying in the first stage

Heat two cast iron frying pans, one to 315°F and one to 375°F. Fry three to four pieces at a time, for 15-20 minutes in the lower heat, and 5 minutes in the higher heat. Monitor the heat, as adding the chicken will cause the heat to drop. The first cook is to assure the pieces are cooked, the second is to get great color and crunch. Store pieces in a 200°F preheated oven. I use a heavy steel oven pan, with a rack in the bottom, to allow drainage and maintain the crisp texture.

Ready for grabbing

The chicken ends up quite tender and juicy on the inside, and true to pan fried chicken, is just as good the served at room temperature as picnic chicken.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Easy Gumbo

2 cups each of celery, bell pepper (I used a mix of red and green) and onion (I used a mix of green onions and shallots this time)
1 cup of okra (you can use less, or more, I used what I had)
1/2 cup of oil (use a high smoke point oil, the reason to follow)
1/4 to 1/2 cup AP flour

Can be any meat you want, traditionally, chicken, sausage and seafood are used. In this case, I used a fresh Andouille, and some large shrimp.

Use a good stock, you want at least 4 cups, I used 6 cups of a very good stock. In this case, it was a bunch of stock from boiling down chicken backs.

1. Prepare all of the vegetables. This is pretty important, as the process goes really fast. I like to chop everything into a medium dice. I keep the ingredients separate, but, the vegetables (celery, onion, peppers) can all be together, it doesn't really matter. Place vegetables next to the stove. Keep Okra separate, as it does not go in with the other vegetables.

2. Make the roux, you want to use a large, heavy bottomed stock pot, place the oil and flour into the bottom and start stirring over medium high heat. You can do it over high heat, but, the process goes too fast. You are going to cook, stirring the entire time. The roux will go from a pale tan and seemingly slowly go to a brick red. Keep paying attention, as it will start to turn a dark brown. As it approaches the dark brown stage, you will notice a whisp of smoke. Add the vegetables.

3. Once you see the whisp, add the vegetables. Note, that the oil is very hot, and if you are senstivie to steam, you should wear gloves when adding the vegetables. This must be done at one time, everything. Fry the vegetables for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the stock, note that it is all still very hot, so gloves are still a good option. If you are in a hurry, you can cut the time down by boiling here, it is better to assemble the stock, simmer for 45 minutes and let rest for a few hours.

5. Meanwhile, prepare whatever meats you are going to use. Since I used a very highly seasoned fresh Andouille recipe, there was no need to add salt or spices. But, salt and black pepper should be used if you are using other fresh meats. In my case, I had steamed the sausages before hand, reserved the water and added the water and sausage to the stock. This seasoned it enough. I add the meats and okra and thensimmer the sausage and stock for 15 minutes, then added the shrimp for the last 5 minutes.

6. At this point, remove from heat, serve with a scoop of long grain rice (I like Tex-mati Rice) and some file powder, if you like.

1. I use either a high smoke point oil, or lard, or a mixture of the two. The heat level you will be taking the roux to, is so close to the flash or burn point of many common kitchen oils, if you use something like Canola oil, it will never get to the right color.

2. A variation on the roux, I learned from a Louisiana cook, that what she does, is fry up some very spicy fried chicken, I mean, the flour was red with Cayenne. She then used the resulting red oil, a mixture of peanut oil and chicken fat. I didn't do that this time. It makes for a very spicy Gumbo.

3. The ratios are really one of preference, I use a little less flour than oil, as it seems to get the color I want and has less of a risk of burning. The okra ratio is the trick, too much okra and it can get slimy. But, that is a preference issue. 1 cup was perhaps a little too much for the amount of stock I had, but, I had to buy the okra frozen, thus, I had one cup. And I only had the stock on hand. I will add more stock today, as it was just a little too thick last night.

4. The roux has to be dark brown, that is where the color and flavor of the dish comes from. I added nothing in terms of color than the roux. Done properly, it has a deep complex flavor or toast, nuts, caramel that complements the dish. Literally, a few seconds too long and you are looking at black roux, that taste bitter.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Baby Backs, or why did I thaw these when I wanted Gumbo

I really wanted to eat Gumbo this weekend, but, for some reason, a few days ago, I removed these baby back ribs from the freezer. They needed to be eaten. So, no Gumbo, we go with smoked ribs. Might was well do something good here.

The ribs were rubbed with a layer of salt and pepper and then a layer of salt-free rub, basically, granulated garlic, granulated onion, brown sugar, and smoked Spanish paprika. These were wrapped and let sit for 2 hours, meanwhile, I fired up the UDS, with some pecan and all of the charcoal I could scrounge up, I need to buy more charcoal apparently.
Rubbed and Ready

Sweaty meat

The meat went on to the cooker and ran at 225°F initially, and slowly rising to 250°F over two hours. I then sprayed the ribs with what I am calling Peach Pig Honey, which is a variation of my normal Pig Honey, in that I added a can of peach juice, and 2 tablespoons each of molasses and corn syrup (real corn syrup, not flavored of modified). Then I dusted with The Rub Company Barbeque rub. I would normally powder this, but, thought I could just use it straight from the bottle.
Peach Pig Honey and Rub Co.

In any event, things were back to cooking, and four hours later, we ended up with cooked baby backs, with a nice bark, and good bend, well, too good bend. I apparently lost track of testing. None the less, dinner was rested and looked great.
Fresh off the UDS


Then it was time to eat. Standing in the kitchen. Who needs a plate?
Done and done!

Honestly, not my best effort. The surface texture was a little harder than I prefer and the meat was a little overcooked, the thinner parts were too dry, the fatter parts were fine. These we more like loin back than baby backs (although they were baby backs by definition). I needed to go hotter, and I think these would have been fine. And they were a little salty for me, that will need to be adjusted in this method.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

High heat Spareribs

Pretty straightforward post here, I wanted to throw together a sparerib cook with the conditions, beyond my control, that I had to get them cooked Tuesday night for serving on Wednesday morning. No all night cooking, no getting up at 3:00 a.m. It was to be hot and fast, no nonsense cooking, but, it had to be at least decent.

Cooker of choice: The NorCal Brethren UDS
Fuel: Royal Oak lump charcoal
Wood: Pecan and Apple chunks
Temperature: 300°F

The meat was two racks of spareribs that I got from my local carneceria, decided to give this place a try, as I figured it would not be worse than Safeway, and might well be better. And because I ended up having to sit around at the courthouse for jury duty, I was not able to hit my usual restaurant supply place. This was some great pork, quality was excellent, and at around $3 a pound, priced like spareribs and not pork loin.

Trimmed and Ready

Gave them what I know as a modified St. Louis cut, I have heard this called a Kansas City cut rib as well. Essentially, the flap of meat and membrane under the bones are removed, the tips are cleaned up, the surface fat is removed and if there is any chest bone, it is removed.

Chest Bones, never on Cryo-vac ribs

The rub was a Maple and Pepper rub, which was applied in two layers, one was a medium layer, as seen in the photos below, the second was a dusting, more on that later.

Maple and Black Pepper Rub:
5 parts maple sugar
3 parts medium grind black pepper
2 parts Kosher salt (I use Redmond RealSalt)
1 part smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 part each granulated garlic, and granulated onion
1/4 part Allspice

Made one and a half batches of this stuff, used one as it was, for layer one of the rub. This was sprinkled and patted onto the meat and left to melt for one hour (I use that time to get the cooker fired up).

Medium coating, could be more even I suppose

Or not, should be fine

Once things were ready in the cooker, the ribs went on, and were left to run, flat on the rack for 2 hours, then I put them over a pan, and onto a rack, with the fatter ends up, this encourages a little higher heat on the tip ends, which gets the cook more even. The second layer of rub, that was the half a recipe of the rub that I had made, which I ran through the mortar and pestle, to grind it into a powder. Fine powder. This was then used in conjunction with my Pig Honey spritz, first the Pig Honey was spritzed onto the meat, then a layer of the powdered rub was sprinkled over. This was done when I moved the meat to the rack. Another coating of the Pig Honey was applied about 15 minutes before I moved the whole thing into the oven.

Here they are on the rack

I ended up bringing the ribs in at this point, and putting them into the oven at 225°F for another hour. They actually were very close to being done, and I could have let them go in the UDS, but, I wanted to control the last two hours, and it was dark outside. I cheated. 225°F for one hour, then off for another 2 hours, while I was in bed reading. I foiled and tossed them into the refrigerator, wrapped in foil for reheating the next morning. Started at 3:30 p.m. was in bed by 11:00 p.m. Not too bad.

Tossed them, still wrapped for 40 minutes at 225°F this morning, then unwrapped for 20 minutes at 245°F unwrapped. Got this.

Looking good so far

From here, they were packaged up in a pan and taken to their final destination, waited for around 30 minutes for serving, still hot and looked like this.

Nice Texture

Nice bark too

All in all, a very successful cook, the ribs were moist and tender, not fall off the bone, but, just short of that. The overall flavor and texture were about as good as I would expect from myself. I would never turn in full spares for a competition, but, the flavor and texture of these ribs were good enough for just that.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tri-tip, more Tri-tip, Sausage, Short Ribs, Gluttony!

After a brief hiatus, during which my friends Rob and Michael, along with I, recovered from the last run of ridiculous dining, we decided it was time to start up with the next round. Farmer's markets and butcher counters were hit up, home made sausage was attempted, coffee was imbibed and the feast was organized. There would be sausage, tri-tip and short ribs as the main meats. Roasted baby squash and beets, tomato and burrata salad and some Drakonic stout from my local brewery to welcome in fall.

Step one was to prepare and smoke the short ribs, as these would take the longest to get right. I wanted to take these to fully done, previous attempts have been a little under done for my taste. I gave these a basic rub, and let sit while I lit the BGE up. Once the cooker was up to 300F, I put the meat on to the cooker and let them run for 3 hours.

Prime short ribs

Basic Rub (used on tri-tip and short ribs)
3 parts Kosher salt
3 parts medium grind black pepper
1/2 part Spanish paprika
1/4 part Cayenne
1/4 part fresh lemon zest
I mix the ingredients together by hand, kneaded the salt with the zest and other ingredients to infuse the citrus oils through the rub, and to bind the paprika and chile powder into clumps.

After three hours, I wrapped in foil as time was getting short and they needed a kick in the pants to get done. 30 minutes later, and another 10 over direct heat, I had this.

For the rest period

Step two was the home made sausage, detailed on this post. I decided to poach them in a court bouillon first, just to tighten up the skins and assure myself that things were cooked. Then, cooling, and into the smoke for an hour, which gave the sausages a nice smoke flavor. These would be grilled shortly before dinner.

One hank for dinner


And on to Step three, the tri-tips. We ended up buying something called a Black Jack tri-tip, which seemed intriguing, although we have passed on these many times before, we finally broke down and bought one of these. They are jet black and shiny, marinaded in some mixture that seems quite odd, so few black foods out there, and I hoped that this was not some horrible licorice experiment. There was also the Wagyu tri-tip that we have some to love. It is so incredibly tender and rich, this time, I hit it with the aforementioned basic rub, and onto the BGE running closer to 285F to 295F. These two tri-tips were to be cooked for an hour or so.

Wagyu marbling-obvious

Oh, there were snacks too, some wild caught prawns, which we gave the Zatarain's boil treatment...

Snacks for the cook

Okay, back to the tri-tips, onto the BGE and cooking along...

You can see that black tri-tip

That is not a shadow or weird exposure, that is a jet black and shiny tri-tip. In any event, things got cooked, these were slow cooked at 300F, until 128F internal, then the BGE was setup for direct grilling, my fingers were burned a bit, all things went along fine here.

Pan O' Meat

Pan O' Meat again

You can see the texture of the meat here, with Wagyu, I have found that the lean parts barely hold together when the cooking is done. These were reverse seared, which I don't do very often, but, working with the cooker I have, and the expectations, reverse sear was the best option. I prefer a slow, direct fired, method of cooking for tri-tips, which gives me the best texture and appearance, but, that is a different story. The short ribs had rested for over an hour, these meats were given a 30 minutes rest as well.

Wagyu Tri-tip

Black Jack Tri-tip


Pork sausages

Even though the Wagyu tri-tip looks pretty lean, it is deceptive, that meat is so tender texture, almost melting on the tongue. Even the parts I cooked to medium (one member of our group does not eat rare meat) were tender to almost a falling apart level. The Black Jack had a great texture and a complex flavor, similar to Hoisin sauce, it is one of the very best marinaded tri-tips I have ever had. The short ribs were perfect, flat out, as good as that cut of meat can be. The sausage was also a winner, despite an almost too mild flavor, the smoke and texture held the day, they were even better with a little mustard. Overall, the meats were nailed. The salad and vegetables were incredible as well.

We won't mention the Radish Tsukemono.

Homemade Sausage, Attempt One

One of my favorite foods in sausage, in all of it's permutations. And over the years, I have always thought I was going to try making it. I even went so far as to start collecting equipment along the way, that would make the act of sausage making easier. And I have made my own bulk sausage many times, but, never the real deal, in a casing. An impulse purchase of some casing finally lead me to make the move.

I started with the aforementioned purchase of some dry cured hog casings, which would yield a nice medium sized dinner sausage. From there, I decided to go with a simple pork sausage recipe, why get fancy when everything else was going to be a learning experience. So, some pork shoulder (3 pounds), some pork belly (1.5 pounds) and some spices. The meat was nearly frozen and then cut into small cubes.

Very cold cubes of meat

Spice mix

2 tablespoons medium grind black pepper
3.5 tablespoons kosher salt
1.5 teaspoon fine sugar
1 teaspoon New Mexico chile powder
1/2 teaspoon each granulated garlic and onion

The spices were dissolved in 1/8 cup warm water and 1/8 cup bourbon and allowed to bloom for one hour. That was the amount of time it took for me to grind the meat and cool it again in the freezer. Here is the grind just before stuffing. Up to this point, this was pretty familiar, the process of making a mild bulk sausage. Normally, I would have gone with a lot more seasoning, but, since I was going into casings, I went light, just in case.

Bulk sausage

The casings were soaked in warm water, 4 rinses for an hour, that was done before I even started with the meat. Just made sense to get out in front of that process. The KitchenAid was setup for stuffing sausage casings. I have owned the stuffing horn tool for years, they are still brand new. In any event, off we went, stuffing meat into pig guts.

Not the prettiest thing

It turns out, getting the casing into place was the hardest part of the process, it just took more time and patience than I expected. I now see why some people pay extra for pre-stretched casings. In any event, stuffing went smoothly, if slowly and somewhat unevenly. Some quick smoothing and the whole thing looked like I had an idea of what I was doing.

Texture looks okay

The texture looked okay, but, next time, I am going to split the total amount of meat into smaller parts, and keep some in the freezer, to keep it colder. Once the force meat got at all warmer, it started to emulsify in an unsatisfactory manner. That was lesson one. Lesson two would be not to sweat the size, as long as you don't over stuff the casings, when you are linking, things even out nicely.

Coiled up and ready

From here, the linking went fine, I decided to store them in the coldest part of the fridge for the rest of the day, somewhere, I read that this leads to a better overall flavor in the sausage. I think this was as good a result as I could have expected for a first try.

Final Product

The final product was a nice, mild, sausage, with great texture. Lesson three would be that I could have easily doubled everything but the salt in the seasoning mix and it would have been fine. The flavor was so mild, the sausage had great texture and was just a little too mild. It had a fine pork base note, but, nothing to brighten up the flavor. These were poached, then smoke and grilled.  Very much a success and great first step.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Brisket Cook, the Grand Experiment, Part One

So, it was a beautiful weekend, a long weekend, and it seemed like a perfect time to pull out the stops and try something that my friend Rob and I have been wanting to do for a while. Rob had already secured a Piedmontese Heritage brisket, and he was working on scoring a Snake River Farms American Wagyu brisket. Now, there are a couple of mouthfuls, we will look at those soon. All I needed to do, "you're only job", was to get a Choice Black Angus brisket.

The Three Briskets, before the fire

Using the impeccable skills of timing and planning that Rob and I have honed over years in business, we planned on cooking these, starting at 8:00am, running the cookers at 300F, grate temperature, and we expected to be eating at 6:00pm-ish. As soon as I arrived at 9:15am, we got the cookers fired and the meat prepared.

SRF Wagyu 

Trimmed SRF Wagyu

In terms of the Wagyu, this is a hybrid beef, a cross between original Wagyu cattle genetics bred to American Black Angus cattle. The meat is far more marbled, at the point of grading, than USDA Prime beef. In handling this meat, it was clearly softer than regular beef. The image above shows ho the meat starts to pull apart once the membrane is removed. One of the things we noticed, was the when we pushed out fingers into the meat, the indentation stayed, unlike normal beef, that has a notable resilience. The deckle, or point, portion of the packer was so marbled, it was far more than any other brisket I have seen.

Piedmontese Heritage 

Piedmontese Beef

Now, to the Piedmontese, this is a breed of cattle that is barely known in any circles. Originating in Italy, the Razza Bovina Piedmontese is a dual purpose cattle breed, that is most noted for a characteristic called "double-muscling". A genetic mutation that leads to excessively muscular cattle. As it happens, the beef ends up with lower fat levels, lower calories per gram and higher Omega-3 acids, it is a healthy beef. It is also alleged to be more tender. We shall see. One thing was for sure, while trimming, this beef 'jiggled' like gelatin. It was unbelievably soft, in BBQ circles, this was the ultimate floppy brisket. It appeared very lean, and a lot more pink than the other meats. Originally considered a dual purpose breed, this breed of cattle has become endangered, as it is so unknown.

Certified Choice Angus

The Angus packer

Finally, there was my brisket, the Choice Angus beef, which I got from my usual supplier for these types of cooks, this is what I consider my bargain beef, from a local restaurant supply shop, it is normally a very good brisket, I ended up with a 14 pound packer. In the realm of 'you get what you pay for', the Wagyu and Piedmontese briskets required very little trimming or cleaning, a little membrane and some fat. The 14 pound Angus ended up around 11 pounds by the time I got done trimming. Several large hunks of fat had to be removed. This still appeared to be a good packer for our purposes.

Three Brisket trimmed and ready for rub

In terms of the rub, the point of this exercise was to pull together three briskets and get a good feel for the taste of the meat. That doesn't mean that adding no spice makes any sense. I prepared what I consider to be a simple rub, consisting of equal parts of Kosher salt and medium grind black pepper. I used RealSalt Kosher salt, and a Kampot Black Pepper/Tellicherry Black Pepper combination, along with small amounts of granulated garlic, granulated onion, citrus peel and sugar. This was applied with a moderate coating to all of the surfaces of the briskets. I do this as the cookers are coming to heat, so the rub sits on the meat for about 15 to 20 minutes, which gives it some time to 'melt' onto the meat.

Rubbed and ready

These were places onto the cookers, the Piedmontese, as it was smaller, went on to the large Big Green Egg, the Wagyu and Angus, closer in weight, went on to the 26" Weber kettle. The BGE was fired with Cowboy lump and apple wood, the kettle has a mixture of Cowboy lump, natural briquettes and apple wood. Both cookers were run at an average of 300°F. Barring the fact that I arrived nearly an hour late, and took far longer to prepare, as I was enjoying fussing with the fancy beef, this was the last point where we were even close to staying on the plan. Did I mention we started the morning with Bier de Chocolat slushies? Anyways...

Our host

Maple and Pepper rubbed fatty

Fatty Sandwich, with Arugula slaw and fried egg

Angus on the left, Wagyu on the right

No, I did not forget about the brisket, but, a man's got to eat breakfast. This was a few hours into the cook, no foil or paper, these were run straight through. briskets were flat down for most of the cook, I flipped after 6 hours, yes, 6 hours at 300°F, go figure.

Piedmontese and Burnt Ends

Well, a couple hours later, the Piedmontese was ready, as were some Burnt Ends. These were made form the Angus, which was nowhere near ready, but, I figured I would separate them point and do this. Rob and I had discussed burnt ends for a few days, I don't care for them, at least, compared to properly cooked and sliced point. Rob loves them, the compromise was the Angus was cubed and braised. It is worth noting, that along the way, some guests arrived, some bacon wrapped jalapenos and padron peppers were eaten, along with fried squash blossoms and loofah in tare.

These people did not smell of smoke

The Cookers

Okay, burnt ends do not suck..but, lookie...

The finished Piedmontese

Piedmontese Flat

Piedmontese Point

What you see there, is a moist and very tender flat, and a point that is perfect, absolutely perfect, rendered out, tender beyond belief. You could actually pick up those slices, but, once you placed it in your mouth, it melted. The flat was amazing, moist and just a little pull, so tender. But, the key thing, was this tasted so much better than any beef I have had in years. To this point, this was the best taste of beef I have had in a long time. In terms of what we had this night, this tasted the closest to the beef I grew up eating from my uncle in Idaho. What beef should taste like.

Wagyu Flat

Wagyu Point

The Wagyu, my photos don't do it justice, the flat was dripping with moisture, that shot is after wiping the board. It literally flooded the board with juice, to the point I thought I had pulled it too soon. But, the flat draped over the knife, it was supple, and just perfect to the tooth. As I was cutting, fingers from other people kept swiping the meat off the blade. The point, unbelievable texture and moisture. It was not as rendered as the Piedmontese, which would be true to the difference in fat and marbling, but, this was delicious fat, rendered almost to liquid, a perfect cut of meat. The difference in flavor was marked though, like other Wagyu I have had, the beef flavor is quite subdued, refined, it lacks the edge of blood and minerality of beef. This is not a flaw, so much as a difference in taste. If I was going to cook one brisket, to stake my reputation on, it would be a Wagyu brisket.

The Angus Flat

I'll some right out and say, that I was not happy with this Angus brisket. Almost from the point it hit the heat, it felt and looked wrong. It cooked painfully slow, refusing to color at all for 4 hours, despite a 300°F grate temperature. The flat that I pulled and ended up cooking at 400°F for the last 30 minutes never rendered. I had little hope for the flat. In truth, having gone on the cooker at 10:00a.m., this brisket was not pulled until 10:00p.m. But, when it finally came out of the stall, that stall, it sat at 165°F for 6 hours, it was actually pretty good. Even after eating the other two briskets, this flat was tender and juicy. It may be the worst cook I have had of a packer in 5 years, but, the end result was certainly good.

In terms of the take away, if I had it within my means, I would never cook another Choice Angus packer again. The Piedmontese had such a great flavor, something that was a throw back to when beef had a stronger flavor, with the blood and muscle still in beef. The Wagyu was subtle and transcendent in texture, the point was amazing, the flat was the most moist and tender flat I have ever had. I loved this cook, despite the blown schedule, good company, too much junmai daiginjo, and a lot of good eats.