Mains

Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa

 

Watching Christina Martinez making barbacoa in her South Philly Barbacoa restaurant (Chef’s Table, Se 5 Eps 1, Netflix) was, for me, the next best thing to being back in Mexico where food celebrates the very heart and soul of the country and its people.

Barbacoa originates from the central plains east of Mexico City where traditionally a lamb or a goat is slowly steamed in a deep pit lined with rocks preheated by a wood fire. The meat is marinated and wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves and steamed underground overnight. Cooking a barbacoa in Mexico is all about having a special meal for large family gatherings on weekends and for special holidays and fiestas.

Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa

A deeply flavored succulent Barbacoa is built around using a variety of locally grown sun dried chiles, traditional herbs and spices, and a seasoned cook’s attention to the nuances of slow cookery and taste. Most Ingredients can be found in Mexican shops and markets, in some super markets, or online. Once you have your sourcing resolved, you will find yourself making barbacoa on a regular basis. This is the kind of authentic Mexican food everyone loves to eat!

That said, home cooks can replicate a traditional barbacoa with a few adaptations in their own kitchen oven. No pit required.

I would suggest using beef or pork in lieu of lamb or goat unless you and your friends and family are seasoned regional Mexican food enthusiasts. Goat in particular is definitely an acquired taste and best cooked outside.

Making a barbacoa requires both time and effort, but you will will be abundantly rewarded with a truly authentic taste of Mexico. If time is a real issue you may want to speed up the cooking time using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Another tip, barbacoa freezes beautifully so you may want to double or triple the recipe and have barbacoa nearly ready on demand.

Beef Barbacoa   serves 6

Meat:

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo beef brisket or chuck roast (or pork shoulder) cut into 3 equal size pieces, trimming off excess fat and skin

Marinade:

  • juice of 1 orange 
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • ¼ cup cider or white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the meat. Stir the marinade and add the meat, pressing the meat firmly down into the marinade to cover.

Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Adobo Sauce:

  • 8 dried New Mexico Red or Mexican Guajillo chiles
  • 3 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 dried smoked chipotle chiles
  • 4 large garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled
  • 1 small onion, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste

Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot place some of the dried chiles in the skillet without crowding. Using a spatula, press the chiles against the bottom of the skillet and toast them for 30 to 45 seconds. Turn the chiles and repeat, remove them, and set aside. This dry toasting intensifies the flavor of the chiles.

When the dry toasted chiles are cool enough to handle remove the stems, slit them open lengthwise, remove all the seeds and discard. Then tear the chiles into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then set aside to cool. Drain the chiles, discard the cooking water, and set the chiles aside.

Using a blender, add the prepared softened dried chiles, sauteed onions, cumin, marjoram, black pepper, clove, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt. Blend all the ingredients together, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as needed, adding water as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. This may take several minutes.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and, using a silicon spatula, press the pureed sauce through the strainer until all the liquid has been extracted. Be sure to scrape off the residual sauce on the underside of the mesh strainer into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.

Transfer the adobo sauce to a container, cover, and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 275 F/  135 C

For roasting/steaming:

  • 1 small onion, peeled, quartered and separated
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tomato blanched, skin removed and quartered, core removed
  • 2 jalapeno or fresh red chiles, quartered and seeds removed

Select a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan. Place a shallow rack in the bottom of the pan of choice.

Remove the meat from the marinade and place it on the rack in the pan and add the marinade. Add  just enough water to the pan to raise the level of liquid in the pan to about half way up the side of the meat.

Distribute the onions over the meat and tuck in garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper, and top with tomatoes and jalapeno slices.

Cover the pan with a lid or tightly secured foil and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 4 hours. Then check to see if there is  sufficient liquid in the pan. If not replenish as needed. Repeat this every 2 hour until the beef is very tender and easily separated with a fork. Total cooking time will be between 7 and 9 hours. The longer the cooking time the more tender and flavorful the meat!

Once the meat is fully cooked set it aside covered until you are ready to serve.

Before serving you will want to remove the excess rendered fat gathered on top of the pan juices. Discard the fat or save for another purpose, like frying beans.

Before serving pull the beef apart using and reheat the reserved adobo sauce. The adobo should be the consistency of cream. If needed thin with pan juices. Spoon some adobo sauce over the pulled meat and serve the remaining adobo sauce in a bowl on the tables.

Serving:

  • corn and flour tortillas, warmed in a hot dry skillet (or comal, pictured) 
  • Salsa fresca  
  • salsa verde
  • quesso fresca or mild feta

Place the Barbacoa in the cooking pan on the  table along with corn and flour tortillas. Set out salsa and the quesso fresca for those who want to make barbacoa tacos.

 


Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs

Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs

 

Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….

These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.

Tamarind Pod

Tamarind Pod

Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind.  Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the  pods that include the seeds.  The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.

 

Tamarind Paste

Tamarind Paste

The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.

Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using  again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes. 

 

 

Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs    Serves 4 to 6

Ribs:

  • 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs

Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane  from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.

Seasoning rub:

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon back peppercorns 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds

Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.

Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.

Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
  • 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
  • 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
  • ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)

Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.

Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.

Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.

Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c

Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.

hai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs

Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs

Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.

After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.

Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.

Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.

Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.

Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.

Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.

Dipping sauce: 

  • 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.

Serving:

Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.

Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.

Borlotti Beans with Sausage

Borlotti Beans with Sausage

 

I just love beans, any which way, and I’m always trying out new variations just to keep the dialogue evolving. And, of course, it is fall and a perfect time for cooking beans for some hearty cool weather meals.

Borlotti beans may not be as popular as many other bean varieties, but why not try something new. Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, originate from Mesoamerica and first cultivated in Colombia. The Colombian caramauto beans eventually found their way to Italy where they are favored for their thicker skin, creamier texture, and nutty flavor when cooked. Fresh borlotti beans have a pale buff background color streaked with red. Dried borlotti beans vary in color and are popular in Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek, as well as Italian cooking.

Like all common dried beans, Borlotti beans are cooked in a seasoned broth until soft. A flavorful meat is often added to the beans to give them an enticing aroma as well as a tantalizing note to what would otherwise be a pot of rather bland earthy boiled legumes.

All common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) originate from the Americas and were brought from the new world to the old world by European explorers in the 1400’s. Like many other new world indigenous foods, beans were then traded eastward into Asia, and the rest is history.

For this recipe I have used a well seasoned local sausage, but an Italian, Portuguese, Mexican chorizo, or your favorite local well seasoned sausage will do nicely.

When fall rolls around there is nothing quite like a hearty piping hot bowl of well seasoned beans to satisfy the appetite.

 

Borlotti Beans with Sausage   serves 4

A cooks note: I like to make this recipe a day in advance which allows the flavors to develop and meld together.

  • 1 pound well spiced sausage, cut into 6 inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + additional for finishing
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly slice
  • 3 fresh jalapeno chilies seeded and diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 quart cooked borlotti beans For cooking beans (click here)  or 3  400 g canned Borlotti
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • a pinch of ground clove
  • 2 quarts stock or water as needed
  • 1 bunch collard greens, leaves only with center ribs removed and leaves chopped
  • sea salt to taste
  • ¾ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (optional)

 

Place a medium sized stock pot on the stove top over medium flame. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the sausage and deeply brown on all sides. Transfer the browned sausage to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions to the pot and saute, stirring continuously, until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute 1 minute. Then add the jalapenos and red peppers and saute, stirring continuously, until the peppers are wilted, about 4 minutes.

Clear a well in the center of the pot, add the tomato paste and press it against the bottom of the pot to caramelize it, about 2 minutes. Then stir in the beans and add the bay leaves, oregano, cumin seeds, and the clove and stir all the ingredients until well combined.

Promptly add enough stock or water to cover the contents with an inch to spare and stir well. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile cut the browned sausage into ½ inch rounds and set aside.

Add the chopped collard greens, the sausage, and additional stock or water if needed. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Taste and add salt to your liking as well as the paprika if using and stir to combine.

At this point the beans and sausage are ready to serve. That said, as mentioned, you may want to transfer the beans to several containers and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to reserve stock for reheating.

Serving:

slowly reheat the beans and sausage and simmer for several minutes, adding some stock or water if needed. Be sure the beans and sausage are piping hot just before serving.

Ladle the beans, sausage, and broth into individual shallow bowls, stirring in a drizzle of olive oil into each just before serving.

Serve with crusty warmed bread or focaccia.

Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables on Naan with Coriander Chutney

Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetable son Naan with Coriander Chutney

 

“Sheet-pan” meals seem to be trending on the internet the last few weeks and for good reason. This is a sensible and easy way to turn out hearty nutritious midweek meals without spending a lot time or fuss. I’ve been doing this for years. Basically you toss a bunch of vegetables into a sheet or roasting pan, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to roast them for the better part of an hour. Voila! You have a splendid meal to put on the table as well as enough makings for a couple of reincarnations as well.

This time around I’ve used late summer vegetables, with a nod towards some Indian seasonings, which are roasted and served atop garlic naan bread which I buy from a favorite local Indian restaurant. The next day I tossed the vegetables with pasta, and on the following day a hearty vegetable soup using homemade stock.

The possibilities are endless here with the added benefits of vegetable based meals that are both healthy and robust enough to even satisfy  reluctant carnivores.

Sheet-Pan Roasted vegetables

Sheet-Pan Roasted vegetables

 

Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables with Garlic Naan and Coriander Chutney

  • 6 garlic naan or other flat bread of choice
  • 4 medium size gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 12 oz baby carrots, trimmed
  • 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 4 bell peppers of various colors, seeded and sliced into thin strips
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 6 oz small shiitake mushrooms, halved
  • 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sliced fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground ¼
  • teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt + to taste

 

Place the cut potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and parboil for about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Place the carrots and cauliflower in a steamer basket placed over simmering water and steam about 5 minutes. Set the basket of vegetables aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c rack set mid-level in the oven

Set a large skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat until the oil is nearly smoking.

Add the onions and saute about 4 minutes until wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until the peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the sage, marjoram, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Then transfer the contents of the skillet into a sheet-pan or roasting pan along with the reserved potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and the cherry tomatoes.

Add the remaining olive oil and toss all the ingredients until well combined. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning the vegetables over in the pan at 15 minute intervals.

While the vegetables are roasting you can make the Coriander chutney.

Coriander chutney is a standard condiment served in most Indian restaurants. The title Chutney may be a bit misleading as this chutney is more of a sauce rather than a mango or lime chutney you may be more familiar with. The coriander chutney adds a fresh aromatic and spicy note when splashed over the roasted vegetables.

Coriander chutney

Coriander chutney

Coriander chutney     makes nearly a cup

  • 1 ¼ cups fresh coriander leaves
  • 2 two inch fresh green chilies, flame roasted, skin removed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoon freshly grated young ginger root
  • ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, finely ground
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon neutral tasting vegetable oil

 

Place the coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger, cumin, and lime juice in a blender jar or mini food processor. Pulse until the coriander is pulverized, scraping down the sides of the blender or processor frequently.

Then add the water, sea salt and sugar and blend for several minutes, again scraping down the sides of the blender or processor as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream.

Transfer the chutney to a jar with lid and refrigerate until needed.

Serving:    The roasted vegetables are a perfect starter for a meal, as pictured.

Warm the garlic naan, or flat bread of choice, and generously mound the warm roasted vegetable on top. Spoon the Coriander chutney over the vegetables and serve.

The roasted vegetables can also be served as a side with a main course, or even better, as a main course with a side of couscous, rice, Bulgar, or quinoa.

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