Recipes for Big Things
November 20, 2016
I’m looking out the window, and this is what I see: an entirely white world. The power’s out all over Columbia County, but we’ve got a back up generator and a fire burning in the grate. The scent of the stock I’m making for Thanksgiving gravy fills the house, making everything seem cozy.
And I’m hungry.
Happily, we had some warning. I knew we’d want some red meat on this winter day, so I marinated skirt steak. Lunch is almost ready.
Shopping list: 1 pound skirt steak, 1 loaf bread.
Staples: salt, vegetable oil, condiments.
If you love steak sandwiches, you need to make friends with skirt steak. It’s a fantastically flavorful cut that doesn’t cost much. It does, however, demand a bit of coddling.
The skirt is a bundle of abdominal muscles that have worked very hard, lending them great flavor and a tendency to be tough. Long and thin (a friend calls it “steak by the yard”), skirt steak has many aliases. In Texas it’s called “beef for fajitas,” and in the Jewish restaurants of New York’s Lower East Side it goes by “Romanian tenderloin.” But in my house it’s sandwich steak because the skinny slices can stand up to salsa, chimichurri, pesto – or simply mustard and a bit of butter.
If you buy your meat from an artisanal butcher, ask for the “outside” skirt, which is fatter and juicier than the inside cut. (If you’re buying meat from industrially-raised animals this is a pointless exercise; the Japanese import 90% of American outside skirt steak.)
Rub the meat all over with salt – 3/4 of a teaspoon per pound of meat and let it sit in this dry brine for 4 or 5 hours before cooking. This will draw out the liquid and concentrate the flavor. Just before cooking blot the meat very well with paper towels to remove all the surface moisture, and brush it with a bit of vegetable oil. (I prefer a neutral oil like grapeseed, but it’s your call.)
Skirt steaks prefer high heat (cooked low and slow the meat turns chewy), so get a grill or grill pan very hot. The steak will cook quickly; two minutes a side should give you beautifully rare meat.
Rest the meat for ten minutes. Now comes the most important part: the slicing. If you cut with the grain each slice will be a single tough muscle. If you cut against the grain, into very thin slices, you’ll end up with tender meat. (This means that when you’re cutting you want the grain to run up and down in vertical stripes, not horizontal ones.)
Now cut a crusty roll in half, butter one side, spread mustard on the other, and heap it with thinly sliced steak. You can add any condiments you like, but this meat is so tasty it really deserves the spotlight to itself.
October 10, 2016
The Basic Chili Recipe
Shopping List: 1 pound ground bison, 1 large can chopped tomatoes, small can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, 1 bottle dark beer, 1 can black beans.
Staples: olive oil, 3 onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, chicken stock.
Optional: cream sherry, balsamic vinegar, 1 ounce chocolate, soy sauce, sour cream, grated cheddar.
Dice three medium onions and saute them in olive oil until they’re soft. Add 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, and let them soften too. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh oregano, some salt and pepper, a bit of cumin and two teaspoons of your homemade chili powder – more if you like really hot food.
Add a pound of ground bison, and cook, stirring, until it loses its redness. Puree 3 or 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (from a can) and stir that in along with a large can of tomatoes, chopped up, and another teaspoon of your chili powder. Add a cup of homemade chicken stock, and a cup of a robust dark beer and let it all simmer at a slow burble for a couple of hours.
Before serving stir in a cup or so of black beans. Now you get to play with the flavors. Is it hot enough? Do you want more chili powder? Sometimes I’ll melt an ounce or so of really good chocolate and stir that in to give it depth. Other times I’ll add a spoonful of fish sauce, or a splash of excellent balsamic vinegar. Sometimes soy sauce to spark it up, other times cream sherry to mellow it down. It all depends on my mood. The point is, when you’ve made your own chili powder, everything else is just window dressing.
Homemade Chili Powder
Shopping list: Dried Ancho, New Mexico and Habanero Chiles.
I like to use anchos for their winey richness, habaneros for their fruity heat and New Mexicos for their earthy sturdiness.
Wearing rubber or latex gloves to protect your hands, sponge off 2 Anchos, 3 New Mexico and 3 Habanero chiles (they’re almost always dusty). Cut them in half and remove the tips where the majority of seeds congregate. Discard the seeds.
Put the chiles into a heavy bottomed pan (I use cast iron), and toast them over medium high heat for about 4 minutes, turning from time to time with tongs, until they have darkened slightly. Allow them to cool and then grind the chiles to a powder in a spice grinder or coffee mill. Stir in a teaspoon of toasted and ground cumin.
You can serve this chili with cilantro, sour cream and grated cheddar. Or not. It’s that good.
October 3, 2016
This is, essentially, a Belgian beef carbonnade, made with brisket instead of stewing meat. But the principle is the same: you’re braising beef in a slew of onions, using beer as the liquid. What makes this so satisfying is that you cook it ahead of time, cool it, refrigerate it overnight and then remove all the fat. What you end up with is very tender meat in a deeply aromatic sauce.
Begin with a 4-5 pound brisket, dry it well and shower it with salt and pepper. Slick a large pan with neutral oil, get it hot, and sear the meat on both sides. Remove it to platter.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Slice 4 to 6 onions (you cannot have too many) by cutting them in half lengthwise and then cutting them into long ribbons, and cook them in the fat remaining in the pan until they’ve become golden and extremely aromatic.
Put half of the onions into a large casserole with a cover, add the brisket and top with the remaining onions. Toss in a bay leaf, a bottle of beer, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil. Cover and put into the oven. (If you have a bouillon cube of some kind, you might want to throw that in as well.) Now relax for three and a half hours, enjoying the wonderful aroma that begins to creep into every corner of your house.
Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool completely. Then put into the refrigerator overnight (or up to a couple of days).
Remove all the congealed fat from the top of the pot.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Remove the brisket and slice it, against the grain. Put half of the onion sauce into an 8 by 13 inch pan (really, any flat pan will do), top with the sliced brisket and the remaining sauce, cover very well with foil and reheat in the oven for about an hour and a quarter.
Taste, season with salt, pepper and perhaps another splash of balsamic vinegar and serve to 8 to 10 very happy people.
August 8, 2016
We were a big group last night – 5 adults and 4 children – and I wracked my mind trying to come up with a recipe everyone would like.
Then I thought of the Venetian pork ribs I learned to make when I was shooting Adventures with Ruth. Because you have the butcher cut baby backs in half – lengthwise down the middle – they make wonderfully child-sized ribs. (You can do this with a cleaver, but it’s much easier to ask the butcher to run them through the saw.)
I worried that the children wouldn’t like the rosemary and garlic, or that the faint lingering flavor of wine would put them off – but they ate like wolves.
I doubled this recipe, using 3 large pans. Because I was cooking potatoes in the oven (this gratin – also a HUGE hit with the kids), I put one of the covered pans into the oven (at 325 degrees) just to see how they’d come out. Worked beautifully.
Ask your butcher to cut a couple of racks of spare ribs in half so that you have four racks measuring about 2 inches in width, or do it yourself with a cleaver. Then cut between each rib so you have a great many small, individual pieces.
Dry them as well as you can and sprinkle them all over with salt and pepper.
Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and saute the ribs over high heat until each one has become crisp, brown and fragrant. You don’t want to crowd the pan so you will probably need to do this in two or three batches. Add a lot of thinly sliced garlic (4 or 5 cloves), and a bit of chopped rosemary and worry it around until it becomes really fragrant. Put the ribs back in (a single layer is best, so you might need a couple of pans), add about a cup of white wine and a bit of water. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot tightly and simmer over low heat for an hour and a quarter, or until the pork is entirely tender.
Just before serving, remove the lid and if there’s still a lot of liquid reduce the sauce to a lovely shiny glaze.
Ingredients for Four
2 pounds baby back spare ribs, preferably from a humanely raised pig, cut into 2 inch lengths, and individual ribs.
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup water
June 19, 2016
This recipe, an interpretation of my favorite dish at Lupa, is from the winter section of My Kitchen Year, but it could not be more perfect for this season. Easy and spicy, it’s just the thing when you want crisply cooked chicken – but don’t feel like going to the trouble of firing up the grill. And on this sunny Father’s Day – well, it really fits the bill. I have yet to meet the man who doesn’t like it.
Shopping list: 1 chicken, quartered, 2 large jalapeno chiles, 2 serrano chiles, 2 lemons.
Staples: olive oil, paprika, salt, pepper.
Make chile oil by chopping the jalapeno and serrano chiles, and putting them in a small saucepan with ¾ cup of olive oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot paprika. Grind a fair amount of black pepper into the pot and steep over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Let it sit overnight (or all day). I prefer making my own, but if you’re in a hurry you can simply buy a bottle of chile oil.
Put a strainer over a large bowl and strain the chile oil. Slice a couple of lemons and add them to the bowl. Season with salt. Submerge a small, quartered chicken in the oil and let it sit for at least 4 hours (and up to a day).
Heat a cast iron skillet until it’s quite hot (about 5 minutes). Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Meanwhile remove the chicken from the chile oil and pat it dry. Sprinkle it with salt and shower it with freshly ground pepper; you need a lot. Slick the bottom of the pan with olive oil and put the chicken, skin side down, in the hot skillet. Cook until the skin is crisp and golden, which should take 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over so it’s skin-side up.
Put the skillet in a pre-heated 500 degree oven and roast about 20 minutes, or until a thermometer registers 170 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, grind more pepper over the chicken and allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.