Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Blame The Brisket

One of the things I promised myself when I started this little exercise is that I’d be honest.  Honest with myself, and therefore, by extension, honest with all y’all (there’s that N’Awlins past life thing again).  That I’d share not only the successes (of which I’d hoped there’d be many), but the failures (hopefully few and very far between) as well.  We all know, all of us that do this here cookin’ thang on a regular basis know that….well…sometimes the magic happens in the little (or big, or medium-size) kitchen and some days the magic takes a little break and leaves you in the lurch.

Big time.

This here be the outcome of one of those days.  Not that it was a total fail, the meal was edible (‘tho’ not as good as I’d hoped) and the brisket made wonderful leftovers that were more than edible, in fact, they were just groovy.  They made really great pulled BBQ beef sandwiches on soft potato buns and even better soft pulled beef tacos last night (reheated in a bit of Herdez “Salsa Ranchera”, my new favorite product).

But the day of, well.  It wasn’t a happy day in the little kitchen, and I blame the brisket.

‘Cuz, Lord knows, it certainly *wasn’t* me !

Oh, and in the interest of honesty....that be some crappy plating on that leader shot !  Unfortunately, its the only shot of the finished dish I got.

OK-true confessions are over, at least for a bit.

This is another recipe from the “Way Back Machine” (points to anyone who gets that arcane, 1960’s cartoon reference…).  This one, though, actually gets made on a regular basis.  I’d say at least once a year I get a jones for this brisket recipe, and dig through the piles to find the clipping.  It came from the “Los Angeles Times” about 5 or so years ago.  It takes some forethought (the meat has to sit with the rub overnight) but is dead-bang simple.  And usually, pretty reliably good.  Except for The Night The Wheels Fell Off And I Blame The Brisket.

Up front, let me go on record as saying I love, love, love the cheap cuts of meat.  Well, except they aren’t so cheap any more.  The brisket, flank steak, chuck, short ribs, pork shoulder, all them hard-working, tough chewy muscles.  I love what long, slow braising does to them.  No, they’re not suited for quick cooking usually (although flank steak and flanken-cut short ribs do just fine seared on a grill) and you won’t be eating them in the tropics in mid-Summer.  But in the cooler days….a braise is just what you need.  And want.

And nothing, nothing can compare to the flavor of a tough, chewy, fatty cut that’s cooked slow in something flavorful.  The collagen and the fat melt and get silky, and enhance the sauce with its richness.  The meat becomes more than itself, sort of an amped up version of whatever protein it was to start with.  Pork gets porkier.  Beef gets beefier.  Lamb gets, well, you get it.

Yeah, I like dark meat poultry over white meat as well.  I like my food to have flava, dude !

OOHHHHH-Kay.  Back to MY persona (not to mention generation).

Let’s make “Coffee’d Brisket” shall we?

I hear ya.  You’re saying well, heck, Roberta that recipe sounds like a disaster from the get go.  Coffee ?  With a brisket ??  What’s next….dogs sleeping with cats?

Calm down.  It’s actually a very good match.  The coffee taste (when you use a good brisket, again, I blame the brisket here) is quite subdued and mellow.  The brisket will give off enough beefy juicy goodness to cut the flavor quite a bit.  It’s a nice, dusky back taste to the meatiness of the brisket.

Here’s whatcha need to start:

That’s espresso powder (not instant), kosher salt, chipotle pepper powder (good stuff…get some) and sugar.  Doncha love my little cow sugar jar?  I do, I think it’s adorable.  Thanks Judi.

The day before you want to cook the brisket, take the meat out of the packaging and set it on a board.

See, you can tell already we’re gunna have problems.  And I sort of knew it when I got a good look at this piece of meat.  Of course it had been packaged in such a way that I couldn’t tell how fatty the piece of brisket was.  For this recipe, YOU WANT FATTY.  You want very fatty.  This one was definitely lacking in the fatty department.  Oh, it had a nice fat cap on the other side,

but little, if any interior marbling, and as you can see from the first shot, NO fat on the other side.  Not good.  Not good at all, Grasshopper.

But, since I’d bought it, and since it was about 12 bucks worth of meat, I knew I had to cook it.  So on we went.

Mix together some of the espresso-grind coffee, chipotle powder, sugar and salt into a dry rub.

Rub that thoroughly over all sides of the meat.  Cover it really, really well, and rub it in really, really well.

Put the meat on a plate (with a lip) or pan, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the ‘fridge overnight.

Next day, pull out some of these guys.

Carrots, onion, the espresso again, and beef stock (if you’re lucky enough to have some) or bouillon base if you’re lazy like me and don’t make your own stock….(I know, I know….I’m not worthy).

You also want some fresh thyme leaves, which didn’t make it to the class photo.  I guess they “ran out of time”……(I slay me).

Why, there they are now,

just in time !!!  (arf, arf, arf, I know….keep my day job).

Brew up some of that espresso in this little gem.

Idn’t dat cute?  I just love that little pot.  Just enough for an espresso for one.  I feel so classy when I use it.  So…European.  But I digress.

While the espresso is brewing, chop up some onions, half moons are fine, and some carrots.

No picture of the carrot action, because I was dealing with this…

“Helllllllllooooooooooo” nice Mazziedog !  We heard veggies being chopped?  Got any for us?  We’re *everso* hungry.  We can’t even hardly remember the last time we ate….And by the way, have we ever told you you're the VERY, VERY BESTEST Mazziedog ever????”

Yeah, they got some carrots….vultures.  Cute vultures, but vultures nonetheless.

Spread the onions and carrots (note, they’re not too finely sliced, remember they’re gonna braise for a while, and you want them to have some body at the end) over the bottom of a roasting pan.

That’s the thyme leaves sprinkled over the top.  Note also that the roasting pan is a stunt double.  You’ll see why in a bit.

By the way, the oven’s been pre-heating to 350° while all this is going on.

Now that the espresso’s brewed, mix it together with the beef stock/broth/bouillon.  Hold that aside for a moment.

Take the meat out of the ‘fridge.  See how much juice has come out overnight with what’s essentially a dry brine?

And that meat looks pretty gnarly doesn’t it.  Not to worry (well, not if you have a good brisket, which this one wasn’t necessarily, and so I hold it responsible).

Discard the juice and rinse the meat off under running water.  Sprinkle with pepper on both sides, and lay on top of the veggies.

The meat looks more “normal” now, doesn’t it?  And……..taaahhhhhh DAHHHHHH !  There’s the real roasting pan.

Um…so, you see, I really, really wanted to use that nice, shiny, stainless All-Clad roaster because, well, it’s nice, shiny and All-Clad.  Its a nice piece of cookware, and it makes me happy to use it.  But, um, well, the recipe says to use a pan that’s “just large enough to hold the meat”.  And my sexy, shiny All-Clad didn’t quite fit that bill.  *SNIFFFFF*.   So I dumped out the veg into a smaller, not-so-sexy Pyrex pan, and carried on.  But at least the All-Clad got it’s picture up on the interwebs !

Pour the stock/espresso mixture around the meat.  Seal the pan with a piece of foil (or lid if that’s what you’re workin’ with), I gots foil,

and stick into the oven for about 3&1/2 to 4 hours.  You want meltingly tender meat.

And……..this ain’t quite it.  Usually, I’d have about half a sauce boat’s worth of jus from this prep.  You can see…..no so much on the jus front this time around.

Again.  All together now, and in unison….”I Blame The Brisket”.  Just not fatty enough to give up all that lovely juice and collagen-rich beefiness.  IF you had a properly fatty brisket, you’d  put the meat on a platter, then pull the veg with a slotted spoon and put them on the same platter.  Tent that, and then pour the pan juices into a fat separator.  Let it settle a bit, then pour off the good stuff and discard the fat.

Sadly, for me….I had some lovely steamed Yukon gold potatoes that night that were lookin’ for some beefy essence to flavor them on up.  And these veggies were really almost inedible, because the coffee flavor, and the salt, had apparently concentrated in them.  Again, not enough liquids I’m sure.  If I were to do this again with such a relatively lean brisket, I’d use more broth and brewed espresso for sure.  This recipe really, really needs the jus.

Oh, and that fat cap….just take a broad spatula, and slide it between the fat and the meat, and you can peel it right off.

But, please, for me, get a fattier brisket than this one was.  You won’t regret it.  And give this recipe a try.  You won’t regret that either.

Coffee’d Brisket
From the “Los Angeles Times”, date unknown
Serves 8-10

1/4C top-quality coffee beans, ground for espresso
3 tblsp. kosher salt
2 tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. chipotle flakes, or 1/2 tsp. chipotle pepper powder or 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes
1 beef brisket, about 5 pounds
2 large onions, thickly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise into 3-by-1/2-inch strips
1 tblsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2C beef stock
1&1/2C strong brewed espresso
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

The night before you want to cook the brisket, combine the ground coffee, salt, sugar and chili powder/flakes in a bowl.  Spread over both sides of the brisket, place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 350°.

Spread the onions, carrots and thyme into a roasting pan just large enough to hold the meat.  Rinse the coating off the brisket and sprinkle with pepper over all sides.  Lay the brisket, fattier side up, on the vegetables.  Pour the stock and the brewed espresso around the meat.  Cover tightly with a lid, or with foil, at bake for 3&1/2 to 4 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove the meat from the juices and place on a rimmed platter.  Scoop out the veggies with a slotted spoon, and arrange around the meat.  Tent with foil to keep warm.  Pour the warm pan juices into a gravy separator.To serve.  Slice the meat across the grain into very thin slices.  Spoon some of the veggies alongside.  Season the defatted pan juice to taste with additional pepper (you probably won’t need salt), and serve on the side.

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