Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Appreciation of Saint Patrick

I adore this time of year; the clock springs forward, croci pop the earth's crust, and supermarkets compete for the lowest price on corned beef. If this is really the end of days, and beef is going to become a rare commodity, rather than migrate to the vegan option, I am going out with a smear of fat on the lip, and an extra pound on the hip. 

This behavior of mine concedes that we are locked into a pattern of self destruction.  As The Donald and his ilk fire up their private jets, single handedly offsetting whatever strides I, and thousands of others might make to conserve, it finally comes down to; I am not going to sacrifice mine so that that prick can fly off to Palm Beach without a care for the world. 

I am not content with the traditional New England boiled dinner. For me the prospect of $1.69 a pound point cut corned beef is an opportunity to reach for the divine. There is probably a shrine somewhere high in the Balkans; "Patrick passed here, on his way to Ireland from his Greek retreat". On that journey he must have experienced the bliss of the truly magnificent contribution that is attributed to Romanians, the pastrami. Clearly he lost the recipe on route.

I have discovered it, and the process of rolling my own. A pastrami is a corned (cured) beef, that is, boiled, subjected to the seasoning of a particular spice rub, smoked, steamed when re-heating, sliced thick, and piled on slabs of twice baked rye bread. It is literally to die.

A word on smoking. There is no way to convert that proud outdoor grill of yours to a smoker. Despite hundreds of instructions from so-called experts, it doesn't work. Smoking requires a low, slow, moist heat. You can build intricate smokers. For my money, you can't beat the simplicity of a Brinkmann Smoker

It comes in pieces. The base holds a good pile of brickets, started in a charcoal chimney. You add to the fire a handful of oak, apple, or wood of choice, sticks that have been soaked in water. You then place the body of the smoker on the base and place inside the water pan, filled with water. Place the first rack just above the water on the clips that will receive it. Place the meat, I get three roasts on a rack, around staying close to the edges for maximum "bark" crusty bits. Then the next rack, the rest of the beef, then put the cover on and leave alone for an hour. At that point you want to throw on some more brickets and sticks, (through the door on the side) and turn the beef around to maximize contact with the smoke. Two hours will do it. 

Now back to the basics. When shopping for corned beef you are going to have several choices. There is pink, treated with nitrites in the cure, grey untreated, and because of the fact that less is more, it costs three times what pink corned beef sells for. Then you will have a choice of flat cut, or point cut. Flat cuts are leaner and cost twice what point cuts cost. I choose point cuts BECAUSE they are fatter and can stand up to the long slow process of cooking and moistening the final product. At this time of year you are going to find stacks of 
roasts in the meat case. They are not all the same. I might examine ten before I pick the one I want. I am looking for a pointed cut with a streak of fat appearing to split the roast in two. It does. If I am going to the effort to make pastrami, I make a batch that fits the smoker. Seven roasts, about twenty pounds works for me. 

I begin by getting out the lobster pot, you can do this in stages or go in tandem with a pal, and before I slow simmer the corned beef, I score them with slashes about an  inch apart, 1/8 in deep, across the fat, the entire length of the roast. It keeps them from tightening into weird shapes. I simmer them for 2 hours (they don't need seasoning). Remove from the pot and let them cool. 

Now create a rub of 1/4 cup K salt, 1/4 cup paprika, 3 tbl crushed coriander seed, 3 tbl brown sugar, 3 tbl black pepper, 2 tbl crushed mustard seed, a scattering of crushed red pepper flakes, and either flaked garlic, or powder, or crushed cloves, say 8 cloves or 3 tbls of ersatz. Buzz in a blender or processor. Rub the cool roasts all over and let sit while you prepare the smoker. 

When the smoking is complete the shrinkage will reveal the horizontal cut, there will be a streak of fat you will follow.  You are going to make, a flat roast, and a pointy one off the top. The flat roast is ready to carve. Critical is to see the grain, it is obvious, and cut across it. This is your sandwich pastrami. 

The top cut can be chilled and used for hash the next day. When you slice the pointy cut you are going to see the chunks of fat that can easily be trimmed off and then the lean can be chopped for your hash: Home fries with lots of onion, mixed in equal proportions to the pastrami, pressed in a pan, heated, topped with a poached egg. I am now poaching eggs in my nuker. I 3/4 fill a custard cup with water, crack an egg in the water, top the cup with plastic wrap, prick hole in the top, nuke for 1 minute 5 seconds at max. Remove egg with slotted spoon. Perfect. 

I have read of yet new attempts to get rich providing meals ready to eat to civilians. The arguments goes that despite numerous hours clocked watching food channels, and morbid obsession with food, the modern has neither the time or interest to cook. So obviously the above takes time. But really, most of the time is spent waiting, and occasionally watching. During which time you can be doing all kinds of things like reading, or talking face to face with the people you are going to share this with. Or making cole slaw or apple brown betty for dessert. My triple bottom line is that for me and mine, cooking and eating is The pastime, the preferred activity and I want to hear what others run against it. "Oh, I am so busy at work, I haven't the time." Or, "When I get home I am too exhausted to contemplate cooking." That's what weekends are for. And the above beats anything you can buy eating out.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy your posts, Will, and thanks for the music in my Dropbox. I watched a 30 minute documentary on the making of "Get Up!" last week on T.V. It's a great CD, many thanks!!! Always loved Charlie Musselwhite (saw him at Jazz Fest) but Ben Harper can knock out a tune or two as well. Keep 'em comin'! Hope to see y'all back in the "Big Sleazy" sometime.