Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Humorous And Witty Title (for an overdue conclusion of a Corned Beef blog entry)

Set to the tune of:  The Zutons' "Pressure Point"

Alrighty roo (or roux if you prefer), this one is gonna be a little different and I'll tell you why.   Right now you should have your brisket brining or dry rubbed and you should be waiting patiently for your corning guide and humble narrator to give you further instruction.  I went with the dry rub (including the TCM).  Now I want to give you the next steps (i.e. the fun part: cooking) but since my brisket won't be ready for a couple of days, I'll have no pictures.  Hopefully I can describe it all well enough and I'll post the pics afterwards. That's ok, isn't it?


The first thing you're going to want to do is give your meat a little rinse.  Then wash off your brisket.  All you're looking for is to get the big particles off of it.  We're gonna be braising this guy, so were gonna need a single pot that can hold the meat.  If you cut it into two pieces for the curing process, that's ok, just make sure your pot can hold both pieces simultaneously.  Actually, a word on your cooking vessel.  It should be sturdy, big enough to accommodate your meat, but not overly large....this will cut down on the liquid needed to braise.  It should be oven safe and have a nicely fitting lid.  Now since we're braising in Guinness and not wine, you can even go with a cast iron pot (if we were using wine, the acidity would impart a metallic taste).  

Now lemme ask ya: Don't you hate it when someone makes corned beef and all of the veggies and cabbage and stuff are mushy as hell? too.  And we're going to avoid it, dammit!  We're going to do it by cooking our flavoring ingredients first, straining all that shit out, and then adding the veggies we're actually going to eat and cooking them till they're perfect (perfection being in the eye of the beholder of course). It's gonna cost you a little more in veggie expense, but it'll be worth it.  Carrots, celery, and onions are typically things most folks have at all times anyway.  If not...they're cheap and easy to put into just about anything.  So....ready?  Here we go!

Yer gonna need:
Your rinsed brisket, patted dry
Pepper to taste
3 Tbl Vegetable Oil
3-4 Carrots, coarsely chopped
5-6 Celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 Medium Onions, coarsely chopped
2 Heads of Garlic, halved
2 Tbl Thyme, dried
2 Tbl Oregano, dried
1 Tbl Chicken Base
1 Tbl Beef Base
A six pack of Guinness 

That's pretty much the basics.  What's great about the braising process and this recipe in particular is that there's a lot of room for substitutions and alternate flavors.  Want Rosemary?  Put in some Rosemary.  Want some Turnips, Parsnips or Rutabagas?  You got it.  Some other options: Mushrooms, some more of the pickling spice, bay leaves.....the list goes on and on.  And remember, we're straining out this first round, so you don't need to worry about cutting too finely, or having stems or all that jazz in there.  It's all coming out.  

1. Heat your stockpot, dutch oven or whatever you're using over a medium flame.  Season your beef with the pepper (you shouldn't have to add more salt as it's been sitting in a salt solution for several days).  Add the oil and heat until it sorta shimmers a little.  Then carefully add the meat and brown on all sides.  If it smokes or spatters excessively, lower your heat.  By the end, you should have some little browned bits (called fond in cooking circles).  That's a good thing.  Add your vegetables and garlic and let it sautee for just a little bit to soften and maybe take a little color.  If it's too dry, add a little more oil.  

2.  Deglaze the pot with one of the Guinness.  Guinnesses?  I don't know....just use one bottle.  Stir the pot, scraping up on the fond to dislodge it from the bottom.  Add your herbs, your chicken and beef bases to dissolve and incorporate.  Then add your beef back into the pot, using the aromatics as a sort of base.  Add the rest of the Guinness so that it half-way covers the meat.  If there's some leftover, good work!  Drink it and say the famous Gaelic phrase:  "That Braised In Captivity guy is a freakin genius!" Yeah...look it up.  If there ISN'T any left over, I'm sorry....although I am still a genius.  If there isn't enough AND you don't have your meat covered to the appropriate off with water and use a smaller pot next time (still a genius).  Now bump your heat up to high and get this potion up to a nice simmer.  You don't want to go full boil as it'll cause the meat to toughen up.  Once it starts to simmer, you can either leave it on the stove to do it's thing (which makes checking on it, and adjusting easier) or you can put it into a 350 degree oven (this clears range space and ensures that gentle heat is what's cooking your beef).  Either method will work.  

How long are you gonna cook it for?  If you said 'till it's done' you're absolutely right and you win nothing.  Except my admiration....which is similar to nothing.  Basically we're on a sliding scale here.  Right now were at Tough as Hell and at the end of the scale is Mushy as Fuck.  We don't want to be at either end, but rather in the middle where slicing, tender beef, and corned beef sandwiches lie.  So start with 2 hours.  Stick a fork in it.  You know how you like it.  If it's not there yet, keep going.  By the 6 hour mark, you just leaving pull apart tender and starting your journey towards watch it.  

Yer gonna need:
2 Heads Green Cabbage, cut to your liking
3-5 Medium-sized, waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold), cut to your liking
2 Carrots, cut to your liking
3-4 Celery Ribs, cut to your liking
1 Small Onion, cut to your liking

Again, there are some options here.  Some people like to add some caraway, mustard seed, mushrooms or what have you.  If you want it there, do it.  Just remember to add it to the pot in order of cooking times.  

1. Pull the meat out of the pot and allow to rest on a cutting board.  Cover with a layer of tin foil.  

 Strain your braising liquid through a fine mesh strainer.  REMEMBER: IT'S THE OPPOSITE OF PASTA!!  We're saving the LIQUID, discarding the solids.  So make sure you have a bowl or another pot to catch all that goodness (and it will be delicious at this point....and only gonna get better).  Give the original pot a rinse to get rid of any leaves or cooking scum.  Add the braising liquid back into the pot and turn up the heat to medium-high or high.  We're looking to reduce this a little.  If the amount and the flavor are already to your liking....skip it.  But if not, we want to get this down to a nice, flavorful broth.  Not too strong...not too salty...and in enough quantity to cover and cook all of our round 2 veggies.  Once you've got it where you want it, it's time for the veggies!

3. With the liquid still boiling, add your potatoes, cook until about half-way done.  Then add your carrots, celery, and onion.  This would also be the point at which you add any other herbs or flavorings.        Continue to cook until the mixture is back to a simmer or boil.  Then hit it with your cabbage.  Cook until the cabbage, veggies, and potatoes are to the doneness level you like.

4. While that's all going on, slice up your corned beef however you want.  Or pull it apart...whatever you've decided.  By the time you're done (or shortly after), your veggies should be nice and tender, but still toothsome.  Your potatoes should have a nice buttery texture.  Your cabbage should be soft but not stinking....and your broth should be like sex:  Hot and flavorful and tasting distinctly of fine booze.

Thats, it, gang!  You've got yourself a bangin' corned beef and now that you're done eating, time to put on some silly green glasses and head out to the bars to watch scantily-clad college girls throw up on their high heels while their dates get the car.

Till next time, brasiers!  Now where did I put that duck confit....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Like My Beef Like I Like My Women (full of Guinness and in my mouth)

Set to the tune of:  Flogging Molly's Salty Dog

Twenty bucks says you didn't know Corned Beef was invented by the Babylonians thousands of years before the birth of Christ in an attempt to ward off evil spirits from the rice crops.

That's because it isn't true.

But it IS horrible segue into what I really want to point out.  St. Patrick's Day is coming up and what would a St. Patrick's Day be without copious amounts of booze and meat?  The same could be said for Independence Day, Christmas, Presidents' Day, and Tuesday mornings.

A couple years ago I had the best corned beef and cabbage I'd ever had in my life.  Imagine my surprise when it was me who'd made it!  Let's take a look:

Most, if not all, corned beef starts as a simple, humble beef brisket.  It gets cured slightly (either by dry or wet means - we'll get into that a little later), braised in a liquid and sliced.

You could just use water.  But why add anything to your dish that isn't gonna bring any flavor?  No...for our purposes, we're gonna need better stuff.  Guinness spiked with a little beef and chicken stock should do the trick.

Basically we're talking aromatics, here.  Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, & bay leaves.  This is to flavor the braising liquid and thus the meat.  The stuff we're actually going to eat (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, and of course the ubiquitous cabbage) will come at the second stage of cooking.

The first step is to actually get the brisket.  A brisket is actually two muscle groups and as such has two different cuts.  The first is the 'point' cut and is big and thick, and layered with delicious fat...just like your humble narrator.  The second is the 'flat' cut and is thinner, leaner, and pretty damn good, too.  You can go two different ways with it.  You can cook one or the other....or you can do both simultaneously.  Your call.  Your butcher will be able to direct you further.  And don't be afraid to ask those nice fellas in the meat section of the supermarket to cut one for you...that's what they're there for.

Another option is get a commercially cured brisket (they come in either point, flat cuts, or both).  This is one of those (rare) times when a store-bought product is just as good as something you can make yourself (the other is ketchup).  They usually come with an array of spices and curing medium. Note, do NOT get the presliced, pre-cooked, or canned stuff.  All you want is just the pre-cured meat.  If you're interested in buying already 'corned' beef, just wait till the next Braised in Captivity installment.  If you want to cure it yourself, read on.

Ok, so you've gone to your supermarket or butcher and you've gotten either the point or the flat cut or both.   Now what?  Now you cure that sumbitch!

You have a couple options, here:  A wet or a dry cure.  Both are ridiculously easy and both require a few days (from 5-10 depending on your cut).  I'm gonna treat this like a choose your own adventure-type recipe, so:

(note:  This should be plenty for one cut or the other.  If you're doing both, you may need to adjust accordingly)

Yer gonna need:
1 Gallon/4 liters Water
2 Cups/450g Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup/100g Sugar
1oz/ 25g/ 5 tsp TCM*
3 Garlic Cloves, smashed
2 Tbl/ 20g Pickling Spice Mix**

5lb Beef Brisket

*Also known as pink salt, curing salt, insta-cure and under number of brand names. 
**A mixture of mustard seeds, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and some other spices. Readily available in most supermarkets.

1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably.  Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Then refrigerate the brine until it's completely chilled.

2. Place the brisket in the brine using a weight until it is completely submerged.  Refrigerate for 5 days. Note:  If your meat is able to fit in a sealable bag, this method is also acceptable.  But put it in another container, too, just in case it springs a leak.


Yer gonna need:
3 Garlic Cloves, minces or smashed into a paste
5 tsp TCM
1/2 to 1 Cup Kosher Salt (depending on the size of your meat)
2-3 Tbl Pickling Spice Mix

1. Pat Brisket dry.  Excluding the garlic, mix all the dry ingredients in a little bowl.  

2. Spear the meat about 30 times per side with meat fork or metal skewer (have as much fun as possible with this).  Then rub the garlic all over the surface of the meat.  Then rub the meat with the salt/spice mixture.  Place in a 2-gallon zipper-lock bag (try to squeeze out as much air as possible) and place in a container to catch any leaked juices.  Place a weight (a brick or some cans will do) on the bag and refrigerate for 5-7 days.  Don't be afraid to cut the meat down further if it won't fit into the bag as is.

The TCM in both procedures are there for one purpose:  To keep the meat pink.  If color isn't important to you, just replace it with salt.  The meat will taste the same, it just won't be that nice pink color.  Also, there are some studies that may suggest that nitrates and nitrites (of which TCM is one) which suggest that excessive consumption of cured meats (cured with TCM) may be damaging to ones health.  So don't be afraid to omit it....just realize that your meat will look fully cooked or 'gray' at the end of it all.  I'm going with the TCM-cured beef since I like the pink color and I have some TCM laying around from our bacon adventure

Ok, Braisers.  We'll meet back here in a few days for the actual cooking process.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Remember Kids, Try This at Home (or even better try this at Rome: a recipe)

I have a confession to make, dear Braisers.  I haven't been making desserts lately.  I don't know why....maybe it's my decision to be a little healthier that has steered my subconscious away from sugar (and towards duckfat, bacon, and cream soups), maybe there's some insecurity in the face of some of the wonderful desserts presented by my friends.....or maybe it's just that I have a penis.  Who can say?  But I recently had the opportunity, nay privilege of making one.  And not just any of those fancy ones with the foreign names.  Of course I'm referring to....Tiramisu. 

 Here's how it all went down. 

I don't know how many of you remember, but a little while ago, I wrote a little story.  It was about how, while traveling in Europe, my traveling companion and I, in a star-crossed attempt at walking to the Catacombs accidentally stumbled across a gorgeous and unique restaurant.  One of the oldest working restaurants in Rome, actually...Hostaria Antica Roma, and it's chef/server/owner/all around friendly guy, Paolo.  You can read all about it here, if you'd like.

In doing some of the research for the entry, I sought out their website and Facebook pages (the story took place many years ago, so I had to drain some of the scotch from the old memory bank).  When I was finished with the whole thing, I sent a copy to Paolo.  Thought he might get a kick out of it.  That was all...

...and then about a week or so later I got an Email.

It was Paolo.

He was giving me his Tiramisu recipe to use in the blog!

Fuck.  Yes.

I HAD to make it!  There was just no way around it....people don't just give up their money-making recipes to some douchebag online everyday, do they?  No, really.  DO they??   Lemme tell ya gang, this is the real deal and it is bangin'  I'm just gonna give you the straight text from Paolo himself (any procedural notes I have will be made in red...and any dick or fart jokes I have will be in blue).  So without further ado:

Paolo's Tiramisu

Yer gonna need:
500g Mascarpone Cheese (approx 1 lb)
6 Pasteurized Eggs
2 Pkgs Savoiardi Lady Fingers
3 Tbl Sugar
8 Espresso-sized cups of coffe (approx 14 oz)
4 Tbl Powdered Unsweetened Cocoa

**Couple of notes on your ingredients before we get started:  There are a couple different kinds of lady fingers to choose from, they range from long slender LADY fingers, to thick, flabby, spongy PLUMMERS fingers.  Get as close to you can to the slender ones.  They'll look more like crisp cookies than spongecake.  Also, I took a look at there's about 20 different ingredients (mostly unpronounceable chemicals) in the spongy fingers compared to 5 (all of which easily recognizable) in the cookie fingers.

Also it may be interesting to note that this is absent of the brandy, rum, or coffee liqueur often found in Tiramisu recipes.**

Primary Steps:
1. Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  [This cannot be stressed enough.  Mascarpone is similar in texture to cream cheese and should be pretty soft before trying to incorporate anything into it.  Overnight is perfect (don't worry the packages are sealed, so it won't go bad or anything) but a minimum of a couple hours is required.  DO NOT SKIP THIS]

2. Make and pour espresso into a shallow, flat-bottomed container.    Add one Tsp cocoa and allow to cool to room temperature.  [At this point Paolo points out that if you've decided instead to use regular coffee; take it and put it into a cup.  Then drink it and make some real espresso, so don't skimp out.  ]

3. Separate Egg Yolks and Whites.

air incorporated into yolks

 1. In the first mixing bowl, beat yolks and sugar until cream and lightened in color.  Add Mascarpone & mix until blended.  
mascarpone added

mixture fully incorporated

2. In a second mixing bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy.  If you use pasteurized eggs, this may take a while.  [Boy he's not kidding.  Pasteurized eggs are eggs that have been heated to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time in order to kill any harmful bacteria inside.  Since we're using raw eggs and we're not gonna be cooking them, it's important to have them.  But if you trust your egg source and haven't had any problems or anything, go with regular.  The pasteurized egg typically behaves and tastes like a regular egg, but it DOES take a lot longer to whip.  I enlisted the aid of my trusty stand mixer.]  

2. Fold beaten egg whites into Mascarpone mixture.  Mix only enough to blend.  Over mixing will deflate the egg whites.

3. Quickly dip Savoiardi in the espresso bowl.  To get the right amount of espresso on the Savoiardi, lay the finger flat in the bottom of the container with the espresso sugar side UP.  Immediately pull it out.  Then place each finger in your serving dish sugar side DOWN.  The finger will quickly soak up the espresso, so if you soak the Savoiardi, you'll end up with a soggy mess instead of moist fingers. [heh....moist fingers].


1.  Build a layer of Savoiardi across the bottom of the pan.  If some of the Savoiardi do not look 'dark' from the espresso, spoon a few more drops of espresso to darken.  Any excess espresso in the bottom of the pan will be absorbed by the Savoiardi, but too much will turn the fingers into a soggy mess.  

2. Spoon a layer of the Mascarpone mixture across the layer of Savoiardi.  Use about 1/2 of the Mascarpone mix.  The layer should be about 1cm (3/8 in) thick.

3. Dip and lay another layer of Savoiardi on the Mascarpone layer as before, sugar side down.  Drip more espresso over the fingers if they're not dark enough.  

4. Spoon a second layer of Mascarpone/egg mixture across the second layer of Savoiardi.  Use the remaining Mascarpone mixture.  The layer should be about 1cm (3/8in) thick.  [I still had the materials; lady fingers, mixture, and espresso, as well as the headroom in the dish to do a third layer.  My dish was a 2qt, 8 1/2 x 10 or so.]

5. Sift cocoa on the final mascarpone layer.  Do this evenly by spooning the cocoa into a fine mesh sieve.  Hold the sieve over the Tiramisu and tap with your finger.  Cocoa should sprinkle down in an even layer.  Use this technique to cover the Tiramiso with a very thin layer of cocoa.  

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  The Tiramisu will taste quite good for several days if refrigerated.  [This might be true.  It hasn't lasted that long.]

So how does it taste?  Brilliant.  Make no mistake, though...this is not the Tiramisu you'll find at the Macaroni Grill or...(shudder)....Applebee's, with it's cloying sweetness and sterile coffee flavor.  This is a completely different animal: the coffee is forward and vibrant with it's many nuances coming through (which is why it's important not to skimp on the real espresso), and the texture luxurious without being heavy, moist without being soggy with just a hint of chocolate.  I didn't even miss the booze, though I'd be curious to see what it would be like with time.

Thanks, Paolo!  And thanks to you all for reading.  See ya next time.  I'm feeling like some corned beef....