Archive for the ‘salt’ Category

I know many people like to dry the herbs they grow in their garden. It’s easy enough to do: you snip ’em, wash ’em, and then dry ’em, usually in a food dehydrator or on a sheet pan placed in a low-heat oven.

I prefer to freeze my herbs. Every year, I grow a wide variety: several types of basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, lavender, and massive quantities of sage. I snip the herbs, wash them and dry them in a salad spinner, and then place them in plastic freezer bags, squeezing all the air out before sealing. I place all those smaller bags in one larger bag, for extra protection. I like the color and flavor of the herbs better this way. I learned this method years ago, in my younger days, when preserving the potency of particular herbs was essential. (That’s all I’ll say about that!)

Freshly washed and dried sage.

 

The reason I grow a lot of sage is because I usually make a very large quantity of my famous stuffies (the New England stuffed clam) in the wintertime and the recipe calls for several cups of fresh sage…really expensive if you decide to buy it at the supermarket in the dead of winter. (You can find the stuffies recipe here: https://livethelive.com/2017/12/06/stuffies-a-new-england-classic-2/)

I snip the sage leaves, and before washing, I pre-measure them, usually a cup or two at a time, packing them somewhat tightly in a glass measuring cup. Once I have my measurement, I wash them, dry them in the salad spinner, and place them in plastic bags, marking the quantity on the bag. Then, when my stuffies recipe calls for 4 cups of sage, I simply grab the amount of bags I need and I’m ready to go.

Pre-measured sage, ready to go in the freezer.

 

But even though I do all this, I’ve still got a herb overload in my garden, and it seems like such a waste to let them simply turn into compost. Recently, I read an article in Christopher Kimball’s “Milk Street Magazine,” featuring New Orleans chef Alon Shaya. When he faces massive herb leftovers, he takes all of them–and here’s the key–it doesn’t matter what herbs they are–and tosses them in a food processor with an equal amount of kosher salt. A few seconds of processing, and he’s got a fantastic herb salt that he then uses in all kinds of dishes. (To keep the herb salt fresh, it’s a good idea to put it in a tightly sealed container in the freezer.)

My mix of garden herbs. Really: you can mix and match anything.

 

I thought that was a brilliant way to use up the leftover herbs I had in my garden, so I gave it a try: a tightly packed cup’s worth of fresh herbs, plus a cup of Kosher salt in the processor.

The beautiful color of herbed salt.

 

I went one step further. If having herbed salt is a great idea, then having herbed butter at the ready has to be even better! I simply took a stick of unsalted butter out of the fridge and let it soften. (Use unsalted butter or the result will be way too salty.) I added one teaspoon of the herbed salt to the butter and mixed it in well. Then I placed the butter on a sheet of wax paper, and rolled it into a small log, twisting the ends of the paper to seal it, placing it in a plastic bag and into the freezer.

Herb butter.

 

Now, when I want to amp-up the flavor of a freshly grilled steak or piece of fish (or a plate of freshly cooked  boiled or baked potatoes,) I just take the log of herbed butter out of the freezer, slice a piece off, and let it melt over the top, placing the log back for future use.

 

Nothing says summer here in New England like a lobster roll. But I don’t go to a clam shack to get one. The prices are ridiculous, the meat can be overcooked, and they often add ingredients I don’t want.

I start with fresh lobster. I get it from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI. Gary’s brother runs the Sakonnet Lobster Company on Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, RI. It’s just steps away from Saule, our rental property. (Check it out at http://www.sauleri.com)

 

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

 

Once you’ve bought your live lobster, the next step is to cook it right. Some people steam and some people boil. I’ve always been a boiler myself. I fill a large pot half way-to-2/3’s with water and add sea salt. I bring it to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And then I do the math…

I boil my lobsters for 10 minutes per pound, for the first pound. Then I add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. For example, a 2 pound lobster should boil for 13 minutes and a 1 1/2 pound lobster should boil for 11 1/2 minutes. These times are for hard shell lobsters, if cooking new shell (soft shell lobsters) reduce the boiling time by three minutes.

 

Lobster catch LTL

 

A larger lobster is not always better. My uncle used to buy the largest lobster he could find, and it was impressive when he placed at the center of the dinner table. But the meat was like rubber. And personally, I felt bad for the old lobster that made it that far in life. His last days should’ve be in the ocean, not on a plate.

My maximum lobster size is 2 lbs. At that weight, you have the perfect ratio of meat-to-shell…with lots of delicious meat that is still sweet and tender. It’s perfect.

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Cleaning lobster legs is easy: simply remove all the legs from the body and place them flat on a cutting board. Grab a rolling-pin, and one at a time, roll the pin over the lobster legs, starting at the claw end and working your way up. Like a tube of toothpaste, the meat will squeeze right out of the leg!

 

Lobster roll LTL

 

Now for the important stuff. What goes in a lobster roll, and more importantly, what doesn’t… I have very strong opinions in this matter.

First, there should NEVER be anything green in a lobster roll! No celery, no pickle, and it certainly shouldn’t be sitting on a lettuce leaf!

No paprika or Old Bay seasoning. A pinch of celery salt? Sure. Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s. White pepper, not black, and just a touch. Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel. And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it a lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

As for the roll, I prefer those long Martin’s potato rolls: soft and squishy straight out of the bag or for extra decadence: lightly grilled with a little melted butter brushed on.

 

Not a very complex idea. I just put the stuff that’s usually on the outside, on the inside of my burgers. Why? Why not?

If I’m making bacon cheeseburgers to bring to a barbecue, even if it’s on my back deck, instead of bringing a package of bacon and a package of cheese and a stack of burgers, I’ve got all the ingredients conveniently in the patties. And as the burgers cook, the fat from the bacon and the gooey cheese melt and combine with the burger meat to make a really tasty and moist burger.

I make 2 lbs. of burgers at a time, using grass-fed beef.

image

2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and crumbled
garlic salt
avocado oil or pork fat

 

In a bowl, combine the beef, the cheese and the bacon, mixing well so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Form the beef into 1/4 lb. patties. Refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook to firm them up.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add a drop of oil or pork fat. Place the burgers in the hot skillet to sear and sprinkle with the garlic salt. When browned, flip the burgers and place the skillet in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking.

image

 

Despite that corned beef is not an authentic Irish dish, it seems that everyone thinks they should eat it on St. Patrick’s Day. The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but added cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! (If you’re dying to have it on St Patty’s Day anyway, just buy yourself a supermarket slab this time, then make your own when the craving hits again.) Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time…and you get a better final product.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

It’s all about the salt.

I fell in love with Fleur de Sel, the rare hand-raked salt, years ago. I’ve got high blood pressure, and unfortunately, I need to limit my intake of salt. So my discovery of “finishing salts” allowed me to cook completely without salt until the very end, where I can then sprinkle just a few crystals of this moist, hand-harvested miracle on my plate, enjoying every tiny burst of salty ocean flavor without a lot of guilt.

Inspired by an episode of “No Reservations” where Anthony Bourdain journeyed to Brittany, my wife and I dreamed of traveling to what is arguably the epicenter of Fleur de Sel production, the small town of Guerande, France. Located on the Atlantic coast in the Pays de La Loire region just south of Brittany, it’s about a 5-hour drive from Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris.

A salt flat in Guerande

 

Some of the articles we read about the medieval town of Guerande said it was too touristy, but we found that it had a lot of charm: the perfect combination of old and new, with many interesting shops and eateries inside its ancient walls. Built in the 15th century and fortified in the 19th century, the surrounding wall around Guerande is one of the best preserved in all of France.

The salt marshes outside the city walls have been around a long time…the last of them built around 1800. Salt production here declined soon after, because salt was available more cheaply from salt mines. But you gotta love foodies…the influence of chefs and food lovers around the world have brought back the demand for this very special product. Salt workers now harvest about 15,000 tons of cooking salt a year, and about 300 tons of the very precious Fleur de Sel.

 

Worth its weight in gold!

 

The process is simple: the ocean tides bring the salt water in and channel it into shallow pools where the water then evaporates, leaving behind the beautiful sea salt Guerande is known for. When just a few inches of water remain, a salty crystalized film floats on the surface of the water. This is very gently hand-raked and produces the much sought after Fleur de Sel. Traditionally only women were allowed to rake this salt because it was believed they had a gentler touch.

Driving through the salt field was a wonderful experience. The roads are narrow, and wind almost endlessly through these flat marshes where salt workers spend their days raking, gathering and then bagging their precious harvest. You can stop anywhere along the way to buy your salt directly from these salt workers, which we did. It was easy to get carried away…we brought home over 20 lbs. of salt! Of course, we shared it with friends.

 

Harvesting and selling salt in Guerande is a family affair.

 

One taste of Fleur de Sel, letting it gently melt on your tongue, and you’ll know what the big fuss is all about.

Our Fleur de Sel journey did not end in Guerande, however. After a couple of nights in that region, we headed south to the island of Ile de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle, France. Connected by a 3km bridge, Ile de Re is a beautiful world unto itself, with an intricate network of bicycle paths that allow you to travel safely from one end of this flat island to the other, enjoying beautiful views as you ride through vineyards, salt marshes, beaches and small port towns.

As in Guerande, not only can you sample the local salt, but also the abundant supply of incredibly fresh seafood, especially their famous oysters. The salt flats seem somewhat newer in Ile de Re, but still very much a large part of the local economy. The salt itself differs in only the most subtle of ways from its Guerande counterpart and I would find it difficult to say which I liked better.

 

Ile de Re is long and flat, so many of the salt pools are larger than those in Guerande.

 

It may seem a bit silly to travel all this way for something is simple as salt. But it’s a journey I’m very happy I made…and will gladly make again.

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

pickles

 

 

6 fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
handful of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again, trying not to crush or squeeze the cucumbers.

Roll the plastic bag tightly, squeezing the air out of the bag, then zip it and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

I love salmon in all forms but cooked. To me, cooking changes the true flavor of this fantastic fish, so I enjoy it raw (as in sashimi), smoked, and cured.

The best smoked salmon uses the gentle process of cold smoking. It’s something that the average homeowner can’t really do successfully, so I simply buy cold-smoked salmon when I crave it. I’ve made hot-smoked salmon at home with some success, but the fish is so delicate, you really have to keep an eye on it. It takes no time for a juicy, perfectly smoked piece of salmon to turn into a dry, overcooked hockey puck.

Curing, which is how you get Gravlax, is really quite simple. You just need to have enough patience to wait a few days before you can eat it.

There are many gravlax recipes out there.  Some use peppercorns, fennel, caraway, even Aquavit in the curing process.  My opinion is: if you’ve got a beautiful piece of fish, why mask the flavor of it? I go with the simplest recipe possible, featuring just 3 ingredients that cure the salmon: salt, sugar and fresh dill,  and I lean toward the salty versus sweet side.

The first step, of course, is to get the right piece of salmon. What you want is that beautiful, vibrant, almost-orange wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon that costs more than you thought you were going to spend. Wild-caught means the salmon has eaten the foods it loves, a balanced diet consisting of bugs, fish, shrimp, and small invertebrates. A natural diet gives the meat of the fish that beautiful color and incredible flavor. What the salmon eats is very important because you are eating the salmon. Wild-caught salmon is high in Omega-3’s…the good fats.

A beautiful piece of wild-caught salmon laying on a bed of the cure.

 

I avoid Atlantic salmon at all costs. Unfortunately, most restaurants on the east coast serve Atlantic salmon because it’s less expensive. There’s a reason for that. Atlantic salmon is farmed in the USA, Canada and Europe, which means the fish are kept in crowded underwater pens and are fed food pellets that contain a number of nutrients and additives. Often, farmed fish are treated to prevent sea lice, and are given antibiotics to prevent diseases caused by their tight living quarters. When you buy Atlantic salmon in the fish store, you can spot it a mile away, because it’s pale with a tinge of gray, and its flavor is bland and lifeless. Farmed salmon is much lower in Omega-3’s.

If it doesn’t say wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon, it isn’t! Previously frozen vs. fresh fish matters less than where it came from and how it was raised.

2 lbs. wild-caught salmon, skin on, pin bones removed
2/3 cup (100g) Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
1/3 cup (80g) sugar (I use natural beet sugar)
1 large bunch fresh dill, washed

 

If your fish monger hasn’t removed the pin bones from your salmon filet, you’ll need to get a pair of long-nose pliers and remove them. It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave them in there, but you really don’t want to be spitting bones out later.

The reason I mention that I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same. Morton Kosher salt, for example, is much heavier by volume, so it weighs more even though you’re using the same cup measurement. In the case of Diamond Crystal, 2/3 cup weighs 100g. Same rules apply to the sugar.  This is really important point to keep in mind when you’re curing anything, fish or meat.

Get a non-reactive tray long enough to hold the salmon filet. I prefer glass.

Mix the salt and the sugar together, and sprinkle half of it evenly on the bottom of the glass tray. Lay the piece of salmon down on the cure, skin side down, and cover the top of the salmon with the rest of the cure evenly.

Lay the sprigs of dill on top of the cure, covering the entire piece of fish.

Cover everything with several layers of plastic wrap, pushing it down and tucking it into the corners for a tight fit.

Find a flat board or something similar (I used a clear plastic tray) and lay it on top of the plastic wrap.

Add heavy weights on top to press down evenly on all surfaces. I used cans of tomatoes.

Side view.

Place the tray in the fridge for 48-72 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the plastic wrap and, tilting the tray, baste the dill-covered salmon with the brine juices that have formed. Put clean plastic wrap on top, add the weights, and put it all back in the fridge for another 24 hours. Repeat that process at the 48-hour mark, if needed.

 

You’ll know the fish is fully cured when the thickest part of the filet is firm to the touch.

Unwrap the salmon, discarding the salt and sugar brine and the dill. Rinse the filet under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

I don’t like a ton of chopped dill imbedded into my gravlax as some do, but if you do, simply chop a bunch of dill, spread it out onto a board, and press the salmon into it flesh-side down.

To serve, place the gravlax skin-side down on a board. With a long, sharp narrow-bladed knife, slice the fish against the grain, on the diagonal, into thin pieces. Serve with mustard-dill sauce, chopped onion, capers, hard-boiled egg, bread, whatever you like.

Refrigerate any remaining gravlax immediately, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks.

 

(My fresh dill bunch came with the roots intact, so I cut them off and placed them into the soil in my herb garden. New dill will sprout up quickly!)

 

 

 

 

 

Despite that corned beef is not an authentic Irish dish, it seems that everyone thinks they should eat it on St. Patrick’s Day. The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but added cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! Doing it yourself is not difficult, and you get a better quality product than that nasty slab from the supermarket that’s full of chemicals and preservatives.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

If I’m at a steakhouse and craving beef, I’ll usually order a cut like porterhouse or ribeye…great cuts of meat that require nothing more than a little salt and pepper, and a skillful grillmaster. The prep on that slab of meat before it even hits the grill has already been done: carving, dry-aging, trimming.

At home, we eat only humanely raised grass-fed beef. It’s expensive, so we buy the cuts that cost less, but require a bit of TLC before cooking. A cut like beef flap, which comes from the bottom sirloin butt (the back of the animal), looks similar to a skirt steak, a hanger steak, or a flank steak because of its thinness, but each comes from a different part of the animal.

Though the beef flap is somewhat thin, I will often slice it lengthwise into two thinner pieces, because the meat’s thickness often varies, which can give you uneven cooking. I like to cook it hot and fast on a hardwood fire grill, but still keep it medium-rare. If the weather is really unforgiving, searing the beef in a cast iron skillet and finishing it in the oven works well, too.

Marinades are the key to tenderizing and flavoring tougher or cheaper cuts of meat. What you put in your marinade really depends on what flavors you like.

The recipes below are for 3 to 5 lbs. of beef. I always make more, because leftover marinated grilled beef makes an awesome steak and egg breakfast!

A cold winter's night is no excuse not to grill!

A cold winter’s night is no excuse not to grill!

 

The instructions with all of these marinades is basically the same: combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Cut the beef flap (or whatever cut you’re using) to a manageable size so that it fits a gallon-sized Ziploc bag easily. (Smaller, thinner pieces will also absorb the marinade better.) Place the beef in the bag, and then pour the marinade into the bag. Squeeze the excess air out and seal the bag. Gently squish the bag around so that the marinade makes contact with all the meat. Place the bag in a bowl in the fridge overnight, squishing the bag every few hours to make sure the marinade penetrates the meat. The bowl will prevent any accidents from happening in your fridge in case the bag leaks. The next day, remove the bag from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before grilling the meat. Discard the leftover marinade.

ALZ MARINADE #355
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use La Choy gluten-free soy sauce)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Combine the ingredients. Marinate the meat. Grill.

 

Marinating beef flap.

Marinating beef flap.

 

On the North Fork of Long Island, in the middle of wine country, there’s a restaurant that’s been around for a long time: a sort of hole-in-the-wall place you might not think twice about visiting, unless you hear that they’ve got a special secret marinade for their beef. The place is called The Elbow Room (I think they’ve expanded to a second or third location by now), and though I wasn’t impressed by the quality of their beef, I was impressed with its flavor. Here, with the help of friends, is what we think comes as close to that marinade as we can get. Gravymaster is a product you can find in any supermarket, usually in the gravy section. This marinade also works well with beef tips or a London broil.

 

ingredients

1 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy gluten-free soy sauce)
1/4 cup Gravymaster (may not be gluten-free)
2 large Vidalia onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons celery seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the onions and garlic in a large food processor and purée. Add the remaining ingredients and run the processor until it’s smooth and sort of resembles root beer (below.)

marinade

 

Marinate the meat overnight. Grill. Awesome with beef sirloin tips (below.)

 

beef-tips

 

This incredibly simple marinade falls into the “Italian” category. You could almost use it as an Italian dressing on salads, but it works really well as a marinade for beef.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper

The balsamic vinegar I use is not the expensive aged stuff that costs a fortune. It’s the $9-a-bottle stuff you can find in any supermarket. Simply combine the ingredients. Marinate the meat. Grill.

 

 

 

 

 

This is what I’m serving my guests at Christmas dinner. It’s a rich and delicious surf-and-turf, using wild Texas boar and locally caught Rhode Island scallops, that beats steak and lobster hands-down! Wild boar isn’t an ingredient you can find everywhere, but pork belly is, and it works just fine.

 

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For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly (I used wild boar belly)
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

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For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top with a scallop or two. Drizzle glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or sea salt and serve immediately.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.