Thursday, September 18, 2014

Grilled Texas Sushi; "Oscar Roll!"

Ok, I'm not going to lie, this is a big recipe!  When I first described the concept to my buddy Jarrod a month or two ago, he asked, "Aren't you flying a bit too close to the sun, Icarus?"  He knows how to challenge me...  Anyway, I had this idea that sushi didn't have to be all about fish and rice.  What if you flattened out a Filet and stuffed it with lump crab meat or shrimp, some asparagus, seasoned it, then rolled it up, wrapped it in bacon, grilled it lightly, then smoked it over indirect heat and ultimately buried it in Hollandaise sauce and garnished it with crispy bacon bits and diced jalapeno? 

I tried it today... There are MORE of these in my future, I will tell you.  Probably tomorrow....  Please read through this entire article before you venture into your kitchen.  You'll need to set your brain to thinking about it.

You will need:

  • 1 small Filet Mignon (4 or 6 oz is best, thin cut)
  • 4oz (small handful) of fresh (not pre-cooked) shrimp or lump crab meat
  • 2 slices of THIN bacon with a lot of fat on it
  • Seasoning:
    • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
    • 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
    • 1 Tbsp high quality chili powder
    • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
    • 1/2 Tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 large batch of Hollandaise sauce
  • 2 or 3 fresh sprigs of asparagus

First, go outside and run about 5 miles because that's how much energy you'll have to burn to safely consume one of these beauties!  Personally, I opted for a cup of coffee rather than the run. Personal preference....  This recipe makes one roll, because it was an experiment for me.  I came up with this one completely from scratch  and I wanted to make sure it worked, to see how much time it took, etc, before I started making them a dozen at a time.  You'll have some ingredients left over, like the seasoning and the rest of your Hollandaise.  Sorry.... Adjust accordingly.

When you're back from your run (or your coffee break), whip up a batch of Hollandaise.  This is a standard recipe that is easily googled (bow your head and say a quick "Thanks" to the French or this).  Pour the whole batch into a pre-heated food or drinking Thermos and set it aside.  Hollandaise is a pain in the ass (leave it to the French...), it pouts and separates and sticks and settles and has to be constantly whisked and kept at a consistent temperature.  This is fine if you have a sou-chef to handle it for you, or you could just pour it into a Thermos where it will keep for hours.  Trust me, you'll have better things to do than to time your Hollandaise perfectly to the meat coming off the grill...

Now, go outside and build a fire in your grill/smoker.  You'll want a nice white hot bed of coals to work with.  Once your fire is going, come inside and pound your meat!!  It's all very exciting.  Start with your standard, garden variety petite filet and cover it, top and bottom, with a large piece of plastic-wrap.  Then, using the smooth side of your meat mallet, gently but firmly pound the meat from the outside edges in, until it's as thin as you can get it, without splitting it apart. 
Be patient.  Do NOT just pound the crap out of it or it will tear and split!  Notice the before and after pictures here.  Next, you'll want to rotate the steak to your best advantage for stuffing.  In this case, look at the picture on the left and notice that I have a nice long "edge" on the side by the Sharpie.  That's the edge I'll pack my shrimp into for rolling.  Speaking of shrimp....

Clean, peel, and bring a small handful of shrimp up to room temperature.  This is important because you're only going to cook it for one minute!  If they're super cold, they'll just bring down the temperature of the water and not get any cooking time in.  Drop them into boiling water and cook them for 60 seconds, no more, no less.  They won't be completely cooked, but they'll have a good head start.  Then, take them out of the boil and shock them in an ice bath of super cold water to stop the cooking process.  Let them swim and chill out for another minute.

Now, chop them coarsely as shown.  If you're using lump crab meat, you won't have any chopping to do... I like them coarsely chopped and they sure roll better this way, so take the time to do it.

My buddy Karl gave this Ulu curved knife from Alaska... it chops like hell and is an awesome knife to have in the arsenal.  I haven't cut myself with it yet, either!

Time to roll!  Place your shrimp on the side you chose to start rolling from, and add your springs of asparagus on top.  Put all of your spices together into a shaker and mix them up thoroughly.  Season the shrimp and the steak at this point, giving the whole thing a good shake.  Keep the rest of your seasoning for the 5 or 6 of these rolls that you'll be cooking for your friends later...  Now, roll it up tightly, taking care to tuck in the sides as you're rolling.

You're looking for a nice tight roll, with sealed edges.  The most common mistake I will predict is "over-stuffing."  It's tempting, I know, but don't do it!  You want an even roll so that it all cooks evenly and the heat gets to everything inside at a consistent rate.  What now?  Well, wrap it in bacon, of course!!

Take your two thin pieces of bacon and stretch them out.  This is why you bought cheap, thin bacon!  The temptation is to always get thick bacon... don't get me wrong, I *LOVE* thick bacon, but when it comes to wrapping foods to render fat and keep them moist, you can't beat the stretchy, flexibility and "sticky" quality that thin bacon has.  I'd use caul-fat netting, but that's pretty hard to come by if you don't know a good butcher who loves you.  Wrap one piece around from left to right, spiraling as you go, then use the other piece to back from right to left.  Season it and use a couple of toothpicks to hold it together.

Head out to the fire!  You want to sear it first, over super high heat for about 60 seconds on each side.  I have a fire-grate in my firebox so this was easy for me.  If you're running a pellet grill, I'm not sure what to tell you.  If you're running a YODER pellet grill, it has a sear setting so you'll be good to go. Regardless, you'll need to find a "hot side" somewhere on your grill to crisp up the bacon and get the ball rolling.

Then, onto the smoker!  Place the roll in a smoker at 225 degrees and insert a reliable temperature probe so that the tip is right in the center.  Close your smoker and leave it in there at 225 for about thirty minutes or until the center hits 130 degrees. 

Now, take it off and cover it with foil to let it rest.  While it's resting, take your crispy bacon out of the fridge, heat it up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, and coarsely chop it into bacon bits.  You *DO* have bacon in your fridge, right?  Already cooked for such an occasion?  I certainly do... You can also take this opportunity to dice up a fresh Jalapeno chili.

Time to assemble the dish!  Place the roll in the middle of a plate.  Take the top off of your Thermos and pour on a generous helping of Hollandaise.  Let it cascade down the sides of your "Sushi" roll and onto the plate.  Now, pull the toothpicks and gently slice it open in the center with a serrated knife.  Open the roll so folks can witness what's going on inside.  Garnish the top with a hefty sprinkling of coarsely chopped bacon  bits and dice Jalapeno.  Come on, how good is this:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Grilling Steaks. Too Hard? Let's Make it Easy!

Grilling the perfect steak is deceptively difficult.  While every man on the earth will tell you that he has the instincts of the most culinary gifted Neanderthals passed down to him, I'd bet you a case of donuts and Bourbon that he's super nervous inside, when it's time for the meat to hit the fire.  Why?  The facts are:
  1. Steaks aren't cheap, and you want to maximize your investment
  2. Distractions (kids, dogs, other grilling duties, in-laws, beer) take your focus away from what needs to be done.
  3. There are a zillion variables to complicate this equation, like
    1. Thickness of the steak
    2. Temperature of the charcoal/wood
    3. Temperature of the grilling surface
    4. Temperature of the space above the grill
    5. Temperature outside
    6. Surface area of the grill

I'm here to make this super easy (you're welcome).  Men, you don't have to tell anyone that you read this, you can continue to grill steaks and take the credit, just wink at me when you see me at the airport... I'll know.  Ladies, you can use this knowledge to out-grill your man someday, but only if he really deserves it (or if you're tired of wasting good money on bad steak).

You will need:
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 Excellent Steaks, each at least 1 1/4" thick
  • A Grill (Fire)
  • A very accurate thermometer
Before we begin, I want to express that most "Grilled Steak" recipes are quite frustrating.  The exact same recipe can be followed by two different chefs, and one will have success while the other fails. Why?  The variables.  Every steak is different.  Every fire is even more different.  Grills are different, internal and external starting points are different, SO... grab a good instant-read thermometer and read this.  It will help!

I'm starting with a couple of Porterhouse steaks.  Note the smaller tenderloin (Filet) on one side of the bone, and the larger strip ("New York") sirloin on the other side.  I chose them because they're well-marbled.  "Well Marbled" doesn't mean there's a thick ribbon of fat running through the muscle, rather, it means the lean muscle is loaded with tiny white flecks of fat, throughout.  This marbling is the primary factor used by the U.S.D.A. to grade meat.  The grades are (from worst to best): Select, Choice, and Prime.  "Prime" beef is graded based on its high level of marbling.  More fat meats more flavor, more juice, and typically, more tenderness.  "Choice" means less, and "Select" (or "Cow") is the leanest. 

NOTE!  These grades are assigned at packing houses, where buyers (who are very skilled at this) set the mark for "Prime" etc, based on that day's selection.  Therefore, whatever is "Prime" today, might be "Choice" tomorrow, depending on the overall quality of the beef that comes in.  In other words, DON'T RELY ON THE GOVERNMENT STICKER TO TELL YOU HOW GOOD A STEAK IS!  Take a good look for yourself and pick a steak that has good color, is nice and "tight" (no obvious separation between muscle and fat), and is peppered with flecks of bright white fat!

On the day you want steak for dinner, take them out of the fridge and set them on a nice cutting board, around noon (yes, "noon").  Sprinkle both sides liberally with Kosher salt.  I like Kosher salt because the larger flecks give your fingers more control of how much you "dispense" over your steak.  Don't worry about fancy steak seasonings, rubs, or marinades, we're aiming at the amazing flavor and texture of the steak, not what's in a bottle! Also, don't worry too much about "over-salting."  It's a big steak, it can handle it!  Note how much I used in the picture.  That's perfect.  Don't forget to do both sides...

Now, leave the steak(s) on the board, and leave the board on the counter for 5 or 6 hours (YES, 5 or 6 hours!).  Any surface bacteria that might want to take hold of the steak will have the salt to contend with, so don't worry.  Also, the salt will melt down and the meat will take hold of it.  You want these steaks to be room temperature when they hit the grill, so trust me!  The muscle will darken slightly, this is just exactly what we want!  Some water will evaporate, too.  This is a good thing, it will help concentrate the texture and flavor of the steak.  So... salt it and leave it alone!

When it's time to grill, go ahead and build your fire.  Here's the trick, only build the fire on HALF of your grill.  If you're using propane, only light half of the burners.  Walk away and let your fire/coals/wood burn down to a nice hot bed of coals and let it heat up the grill.  We're going to put a nice sear on the surface of these steaks!  In this picture, you can see that my coals are almost ready, they're white with ash and a fire is rumbling around in the bottom.  The surface of the grill is around 575 or 600 degrees.  Time to get the meat!

Lay your steaks onto the hottest part of the grill and listen to them sizzle!  Close the lid and leave them over this super hot fire for 90 seconds.  Flip them over, and put them right back over the hot side for 2 minutes.  Why longer on that side?  Because the meat absorbed some of the heat from the first sear, so the surface is cooler.  90 seconds on side one, two minutes on side two.  If anyone tells you, "Dude, you're gonna burn them!" Just tell them that you'll be happy to eat theirs and hand them a bowl of cut tofu and broccoli.

When you've seared both sides, it's time to move them off of the hot side, and to take their temperature.  They are not done at this stage!  They sure are pretty though, aren't they?  The plan is to leave them on the "cooler" side of the grill (so they won't burn), with the lid closed, until they're done.  Take their temperature every two minutes! 

When are they done?  Well, let's talk about that...

If you were to look up ten different "Degree of Doneness" charts (go ahead, use your googler), you'll find that they wildly disagree on doneness levels and their temperatures.  I was raised in TX where "Rare" means it's still room temperature in the center. The truth is, your steaks were "safe" to eat as soon as you flipped them over to the cool side, but since most people like a "hot" (or certainly "warm") steak, you've still got some cooking to do.  135 is a safe temperature to shoot for.  Personally, I like them right at 125!  That's the "Rare side of Medium Rare."  To take all of the pink out, you'll need to take it all the way to about 155 or 160.  Caution, cooking a steak up to this temperature will render out all of the fat, dry it out, and reduce the juice to the point where the flavor is lost!  This is why people reach for Ketchup or Steak Sauce.  It is also why I don't have Ketchup or Steak Sauce available at my house!

Here, you can see that I pulled my steak at 125 degrees.  Then, I covered both of them with foil and let them rest for about 7 minutes.  The 7 minutes is just the right amount of time to announce to folks that it's time to get a plate and to put a hearty baked potato on it, with some butter, etc.  By the time they make it to your cutting board with a plate in their hand, 7 minutes will have gone by and you can serve them the best steak ever.

The picture below is of a 1 1/4" Porterhouse at 125 degrees.  It was seared for 90 seconds, then flipped and seared for 2 minutes.  It was moved off the direct heat and cooked over indirect heat for 6 additional minutes.  I enjoyed it immensely, with only a bit of cracked pepper for additional seasoning.  If you like yours a bit more "done," then simply cook it for 8 minutes over indirect heat and pull it at 135 degrees.