Friday, January 22, 2010

Corned beef on a stick...

Corned beef has to be one of my favorite foods. I love it with cabbage and potatoes or on a reuben or just all by it's salty, fatty delicious self. I’m not talking about the sliced crap you get at the local supper market, it’s the slow braised hunks of cured meat, right out of the pot, falling apart hot tender corned beef. I started searching to find the best brine so I could cure my own cuts of beef at home. This would give me full control over the type of meat used, allowing me to trim as desired. I have several brine recipes that I’ve been tweaking to get the flavors I like. During my last corned beef project I stumbled upon something different, yet amazing.

While waiting my turn at Giunta's Prime Shop in the Reading Terminal Market, I was watching fresh cut racks of beef ribs being placed in the display window. I started thinking of the ways I would love to grill or smoke them then it hit me... corned beef ribs. When it was my turn to order, instead of my normal $50 packer brisket, I bought 4 racks of fresh beef ribs - saving about $26. I already had my brine done so I couldn't wait to get them going.

Here is the brine I used on the ribs:

2 cups turbinado sugar
2 1/2 cups sea salt
12 juniper berries
12 whole cloves
12 black pepper corns
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
1 Cinnamon stick
1 piece mace crushed
1 TBS red pepper flakes
1 dried cayenne pepper crushed seeds and all
4 1/2 quarts water

Bring every thing to a boil then reduce temp and simmer for 20 minutes - let cool and strain into brining container. I do not use saltpeter or any other curing agents in my brine so this whole process must be done under proper refrigerated condititons. Also the final product will not have that pink color people may be accustomed to seeing in corned beef but it does not lack any of the flavor.

A good rule to follow when brining is 5 days per 1 inch thickness of meat. I cut the racks of ribs into 4 and 5 rib sections. There was a lot of fat on the ribs that a normal person may trim off before brining. With me the fat stays on, I happen to like how the fat really absorbs the flavor of the brine - personal choice. I left them brine for 8 days before taking them out and rinsing them off.

I cooked the ribs the same way that I like to do the corned beef brisket, in a pot with just enough water to cover meat, some black pepper corns, red pepper flakes for some more heat, and about 4 crushed garlic cloves. Bring this to a boil then reduce and simmer for 3 hrs.

I finished the ribs by sprinkling on some of my BBQ brisket pepper rub and hit them under the broiler for a minute or 2 to firm them up. The meat just came right off the bone, it was juicy and had that intense corned beef flavor that I love. The addition of the cayenne pepper gave it a nice spice and heat. It was great to be able to pick it up using the exposed bone as a handle. I paired it with my homemade colcannon (mashed potatoes, cabbage and green onion). They definitely met my expectation and satisfied my caveman-like carnivore cravings.

Next batch of ribs I brine are going to be finished on the smoker, cooked low and slow with some hickory and cherry wood... Pastrami on a Stick?!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Black Bean Tacu Tacu

I recently attended a 5 course dinner and beer tasting at Chifa hosted by Flying Fish brewing Co. Chifa is a Peruvian – Cantonese fusion restaurant in Philadelphia owned by chef Jose Garces of recent Iron Chef fame. Though the portions were a bit small, the flavors were outstanding. One of the courses was smoked tuna with a very intriguing side of black bean tacu tacu, a crispy, spicy black pancake that reminded me of blood sausage or a sort of scrapple. After a bit of research I had to try this dish at home...

Tacu tacu is an Afro-Peruvian dish consisting of beans and rice mixed together then fried to make tortillas or small pancakes that are wrapped around fried plantains, fried beef or fried eggs. This dish is thought to have been created by Black Africans who were brought to Peru by the Spanish to work as slaves on coastal plantations. The recipe has many variations but is still a staple in the Peruvian diet.

Here's the recipe I came up with to try at home:

4 cups Goya black beans
2 cups cooked white rice
2 medium onions fine chopped
5 garlic cloves fine chopped
Goya Salsa Picante hot sauce
2 tsp cumin
cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper

I started by sauteing the onions and garlic in olive oil until tender and translucent. I also added the cumin, pinch of cayenne, a few nice splashes of hot sauce and salt and pepper to mixture.

While that was cooling, I rinsed the canned black beans mashed them with the back of a fork. The cooked rice, onion mixture and mashed bean all get mixed together with some more hot sauce to get this...

I wanted to be able to slice thin pieces to fry so I decided to mold the mixture in a terrine and chill it in the freezer until it could be sliced more easily. This process worked out perfectly.

Traditionally the the tacu tacu is fried in lard or bacon fat. I did not have any so I chose to use canola oil which worked really well, but I'm sure the lard would have produce a crispier finish.

I paired it with a couple of fried eggs and it was delicious, the only thing missing was some
plantains or fried steak. I have to admit that my version was not the magic plated at Chifa, but I do look forward to experimenting with the different variations to this recipe.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Smoker of choice

What do ya cook on? One of the questions you hear a lot when people talk about BBQ. I believe you can make great BBQ on any cooker, homemade or custom built. I don’t care if you paid $20,000.00 or $20.00; if you can control a few main components of the cooking process you can have great success. I’ve tasted great BBQ cooked on a converted trash can. Consistent temps of 220 – 275 deg. F, nice clean burn of the smoke wood can produce good BBQ.

The first smoker I used to cook BBQ on was a small, cheap, Brinkman purchased at Walmart for $25. It had zero temp control but I still accidentally cooked some good tasting BBQ, even finished in the top 5 at a local rib cook-off. When I decided to enter some competitions on the KCBS circuit, an equipment upgrade was needed. For the 2006 season I purchased a couple of Weber Smokey Mountains (WSM) and eventually 2 large Big Green Eggs. This line up of cookers won us a Reserve Grand at the NJ State BBQ Championship in 2007, with 1st place ribs smoked on the WSM (still my favorite when it comes to smoking ribs). The hassle and inconvenience of transporting all the cooking hardware to and from competitions had me looking for new smoker options.

After a lot of consideration I found myself drawn to the off-set smokers, or stick burners as they are called. I am lucky enough to have a BBQ pit manufacturer close to home, Meadow Creek BBQ. I took a drive out to their store on a cold day , winter 2008, and bought a used TS 120 reverse smoker. It was the smallest of their tow behind smokers and perfect for what I was looking for! The craftsmanship and functionality was everything I had in mind.

I've used my smoker for two full competition seasons and still love this cooker. I recently had Melvin at Meadow Creek BBQ mount a small roaster (PR36) to the front of the smoker to add some more cooking options. The 2010 BBQ season is not coming fast enough!