Archive for the ‘smoking’ Category

I’ve been experimenting with my coffee rub, one that combines coffee with cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, garlic and onion. I’ve tried it on various cuts of beef, on chicken, and pork…and it works well on everything!

 

A Berkshire pork belly, cured for several weeks, then rinsed.

 

I took some of the rub and cured a beautiful Berkshire pork belly with it, to make bacon. I simply scored the fat side of the belly, then massaged both sides of the belly with the rub, and placed it in a container in the fridge for several weeks. I flipped it over every few days to allow both sides of the belly to come in contact with the liquid that formed when the salt in the rub extracted moisture from the meat. After several weeks, I removed the belly from the container and rinsed it well with clean water, drying it with paper towels. I then re-rubbed the pork belly with more of the coffee rub and placed it in the smoker for 2 hours at 250 degrees, smoking it with hickory, my favorite wood for bacon.

 

The pork belly, re-rubbed and ready to smoke.

 

It just so happened that on the weekend I was smoking the belly, I decided to smoke a couple of racks of pork ribs for myself. These also came from a beautiful heritage Berkshire pig, and I coated them with the coffee rub, allowing them to rest in the fridge for 24 hours putting them in the smoker.

 

The Berkshire pork ribs, rubbed and ready to smoke. I cut the racks in half for easier handling.

 

Since the ribs and belly were in the smoker at the same time, the ribs first smoked at 250 degrees with hickory along with the bacon, for about 2 hours. Once I removed the bacon, I dropped the temperature of the smoker to 225, and smoked the ribs for 2 more hours. I then removed the ribs, sprinkled them with a little more coffee rub, and wrapped them in aluminum foil, before returning them to the smoker for another hour.

 

 

The ribs, and the bacon, were absolute perfection!

 

 

The ribs, smoked for several hours.

 

Re-sprinkling a little coffee rub on the ribs.

 

Wrapping the half-racks in foil. Some go back to the smoker, some head for the freezer to be enjoyed later.

 

Since I had 2 full racks of ribs, more than enough for several meals, I cut each rack in half before smoking for easier handling. Once I wrapped them in foil, I let a couple of them cool on the counter before placing them in a freezer bag and putting them in the freezer for future use. Already smoked and cured, all I’ll need to do is take a foil package out of the freezer, and place it in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours to warm the ribs up and make them fall-off-the-bone tender.

 

The ribs, after another hour in the foil.

 

Here’s my coffee rub recipe. Make a lot of it and use it on everything from burgers to whole chickens to pulled pork sandwiches.

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Rib perfection!

 

Well, it’s good to be back home after a nice getaway in St. Lucia. Please check out my previous blogs for my day-to-day adventures. I’ll have more to say in a future blog.

One of the first things I needed to do when I got home was to have a look at food items I needed to re-stock…and bacon was high on the list!

Fortunately, I started curing a beautiful slab of Berkshire pork belly a couple of weeks ago, and it was ready for the smoker today. With the doors open here at home, I can smell the hickory wood wafting through the yard. Hope I’m making the neighbors jealous!

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be making’ the bacon, I combine the above rub with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry rub

1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

What did a girl from Michigan, with family in the Upper Peninsula, have in common with a guy who grew up on Long Island in a mostly Jewish community? Well…smoked whitefish, for one thing!

Growing up in NY, I was introduced to smoked whitefish, herring, and lox at an amazing deli just down the road from my parents’ house. My wife’s family from the U.P., meanwhile, caught the whitefish, herring and salmon and smoked it themselves.

Now we share our mutual love of smoked fish at home in Rhode Island. My Yooper father-in-law showed me how to properly remove the meat cleanly from the smoked whitefish, and then, when he wasn’t looking, I took his recipe for smoked whitefish salad and I tweaked it.

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

 

1/2 whole smoked whitefish, meat removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)

 

Remove the meat from the smoked whitefish carefully, making sure all the small bones have been removed. Double-check to make sure you’ve done this really well. Place all the white fish meat in a bowl.

Combine all the other ingredients with the fish, mixing thoroughly using a fork. Serve with crackers, or my favorite: a toasted everything bagel from New York!
image
Here’s a shot of the real deal straight out of the smoker, at a fish store in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on the way to the in-laws’ house in the Upper Peninsula. Man, that was some good eatin’!
image

St. Patty’s Day is this Sunday, so supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

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 adding 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 really delicious slab of beef.

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 meat 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 then 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.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Sometimes the best ideas come from out of nowhere.

I had 5 lbs. of beautiful St. Louis-style heritage Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta) pork ribs thawing in the fridge, and I knew I wanted to create a new sauce or glaze with them, but I was feeling less than inspired. Our food-loving friends, Don and Johanna, showed up at our door with a gift they bought in Maine, at a shop called LeRoux Kitchen. It was a bottle of maple balsamic vinegar. It smelled wonderful…and tasted even better! I knew I had what I was looking for.

I used a smoker to make these ribs, but if you don’t have one (or just don’t want to bother with one), the ribs are just as awesome when baked in the oven.

 

By the way, if Don (a talented local artist: http://www.doncadoret.net) and Johanna (a talented teacher) aren’t your friends, you can easily make your own maple balsamic vinegar by combining a 1/2 cup of balsamic (not the super-expensive kind, but the $9-a-bottle kind) with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Add more or less maple to taste.

 

Yup…my smoker…she’s been used a few times!

 

I use an electric digital smoker made by Masterbuilt. I like the fact that I can set the temperature and time, and not have to constantly watch it. It has a side chute where I can add smoking chips when I want, and the results are consistent. I suppose some grilling fanatics might say I’m cheating, but a digital smoker allows me to live a life, hang out with my family, do some yard work. I don’t have time to babysit.

I chose to smoke my ribs for about 4 hours in the smoker, lightly seasoning them first with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, adding hickory chips to the smoker only once to give them a “light smoke.”

Although I always use a water bath in my smoker, the ribs still come out visibly dry, so I like to brush them with a glaze, wrap them in foil and finish the cooking process in the oven. The glaze flavors the meat and also adds a little steam that tenderizes it.

 

Brushing with glaze, then wrapping in foil.

 

 

5 lbs. pork ribs (I get St. Louis-style Berkshire pork)
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 cup water
1/2 cup maple balsamic vinegar (OR 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon maple syrup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I like Franks’ Red Hot)

 

Prepare the ribs by removing the inedible skin on the back of the rack. The easiest way to do this is to cut a little “tab” of skin, then pull it with your fingers. Holding the skin with a dry paper towel will help your grip. I cut the racks in half to fit my smoker.

Season the ribs lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on both sides and place them into a 225-degree smoker (or oven, if you don’t have a smoker) for 3 hours, smoking lightly with hickory wood. (Skip the hickory if you’re using the oven.)

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water, maple balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper sauce. Stir well, and let it come to a boil. Let it reduce by half, leaving it still watery. Set it aside.

After 3 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker (or oven), placing them on a sheet of aluminum foil. (I use Reynold’s Non-Stick Foil, since the glaze will be sticky.) Brush both sides of the ribs with half of the glaze, and place the ribs meat-side-up on the foil before sealing the it around the ribs. Place the aluminum foil packets on a baking sheet, then into a pre-heated 250-degree oven.

 

 

Remove the ribs from the oven after 1 hour. Open the foil packets so that the ribs are now exposed. Brush the top of the ribs one more time, then put the foil back over the top and cook for 1 hour more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Most everything’s better when you do it yourself, and smoked whitefish salad is no exception. Sure, I can get whitefish salad at my favorite deli when I go home to New York, and it’s pretty good. But they treat the whitefish like they do tuna: they mash the fish to the point where you can’t recognize what you’re eating. And then they add a ton of mayonnaise as filler.

fish1

On a recent visit home, I bought a nice whole smoked whitefish from my favorite supermarket on steroids: Fairway (one of my stops in New York for fish, meat, coffee, and cheese.) I took extra care to really go through all the meat a couple of times to make sure there weren’t any sharp bones left in it. And I left the whitefish meat in small pieces, much like I would with crab meat.

fish2

Interestingly, I didn’t learn how to make whitefish salad from my Jewish New York neighbors. I learned it from my father-in-law in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where smoked whitefish is a favorite treat, caught right in the waters of the Great Lakes.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Buying whitefish at one of many smoke shacks at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

1 whole 1-lb. smoked whitefish meat, carefully de-boned
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 teaspoons finely minced onion
pinch black pepper
tiny pinch sea salt

Real fish has real bones, so make sure you go through the meat a couple of times. Place the meat in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, but gently to keep the meat from breaking apart.

Spoon onto crackers and enjoy!

fish3

The Saturday before Labor Day is traditionally considered to be International Bacon Day. So that makes it today!

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the most amazing sandwiches on planet Earth.

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But I also make my own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that this is a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is it contains nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this.

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 oz. pink salt
optional ingredients: granulated garlic, granulated onion

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement.

Once you rub the pork belly with the basic dry cure, place it in a large Ziploc bag, squeeze the air out of it, and seal it tightly. If it’s too big for the bag, you can either cut the belly into two pieces, or wrap it tightly with several layers of plastic wrap. Place it in a container in the fridge for a couple of weeks, flipping it over every few days to let gravity do its work. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. (The container will capture any liquid that might seep out.)

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

Sometimes the best ideas come from out of nowhere.

I had 5 lbs. of beautiful St. Louis-style heritage Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta) pork ribs thawing in the fridge, and I knew I wanted to create a new sauce or glaze with them, but I was feeling less than inspired. Our food-loving friends, Don and Johanna, showed up at our door with a gift they bought in Maine, at a shop called LeRoux Kitchen. It was a bottle of maple balsamic vinegar. It smelled wonderful…and tasted even better! I knew I had what I was looking for.

 

By the way, if Don (a talented local artist: http://www.doncadoret.net) and Johanna (a talented teacher) aren’t your friends, you can easily make your own maple balsamic vinegar by combining a 1/2 cup of balsamic (not the super-expensive kind, but the $9-a-bottle kind) with 2 teaspoons of maple syrup. Add more or less maple to taste. (That’s what I’ll be doing when this bottle runs out!)

 

Yup…my smoker…she’s been used a few times!

 

I use an electric digital smoker made by Masterbuilt. I like the fact that I can set the temperature and time, and not have to constantly watch it. It has a side chute where I can add smoking chips when I want, and the results are consistent. I suppose some grilling fanatics might say I’m cheating, but a digital smoker allows me to live a life, hang out with my family, do some yard work. I don’t have time to babysit.

I chose to smoke my ribs for about 4 hours in the smoker, lightly seasoning them first with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, adding hickory chips to the smoker only once to give them a “light smoke.”

 

Brushing with glaze, then wrapping in foil.

 

Although I always use a water bath in my smoker, the ribs still come out visibly dry, so I like to brush them with a glaze, wrap them in foil and finish the cooking process in the oven. The glaze flavors the meat and also adds a little steam that tenderizes it.

5 lbs. pork ribs (I get St. Louis-style Berkshire pork)
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 cup water
1/2 cup maple balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I like Franks’ Red Hot)

 

Prepare the ribs by removing the inedible skin on the back of the rack. The easiest way to do this is to cut a little “tab” of skin, then pull it with your fingers. Holding the skin with a dry paper towel will help your grip. I cut the racks in half to fit my smoker.

Season the ribs lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on both sides and place them into a 240-degree smoker for 4 hours, smoking lightly with hickory wood.

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water, maple balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper sauce. Stir well, and let it come to a boil. Let it reduce by half, leaving it still watery. Set aside.

After 4 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker, placing them on a sheet of aluminum foil. (I use Reynold’s Non-Stick Foil, since the glaze will be sticky.) Brush both sides of the ribs with half of the glaze, and place the ribs meat-side-down on the foil before sealing the it around the ribs. Place the aluminum foil packets on a baking sheet, then into a pre-heated 250-degree oven.

While the ribs are cooking in the oven, turn the heat up on the remaining half of the balsamic glaze in the sauce pan and reduce it until it starts to thicken. Once you reach that stage, turn the heat off and set it aside.

 

Remove the ribs from the oven after 2 hours. Open the foil packets so that the ribs are now exposed. Brush the bottom of the ribs (which should be facing up), then flip the ribs over and brush the meaty side. The ribs should be falling off the bone at this point, which means they’re ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.