Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Homemade Pastrami (Smoked Corned Beef)

So, you've been watching the Food Network channel again, and you're shaking your head at why, on God's earth, anyone would take the time to cut a whole-untrimmed brisket out of a cow, brine/cure it, de-salinate it, then spend 24 hours spicing and smoking it!?  I'll tell you why they do it... because it is FREAKING DELICIOUS and it is the best homemade pastrami you or your friends will ever eat!

You will need:
  • 1 whole, untrimmed, corned beef brisket
  • 1 Cup of Pastrami Rub
    • 1/4 cup of cracked black pepper
    • 1/4 cup of smoked paprika
    • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup of Chili Powder
  • 1 Smoker (with lots of wood (I used Mesquite))
All pastrami starts with corned beef.  Sadly, most stores only sell the corned beef "Flat" and not the whole brisket.  If that's all you can find, it will work but it won't be quite as juicy because you'll be missing most of the fat cap, and other marvelous parts of the whole brisket.  Google around and see if you can find one.  Don't buy anything with the word "cut" in the label.  For heaven's-sakes, you don't want one that's already sliced!  That's YOUR job!

I source my corned beef from Restaurant Depot.  You can see here, I found one that weighed a ridiculous 26lbs!  It was 27 inches long and just a "Brute!"  I joked with some "Big Green Egg" smoker users that it would not fit on a 24" XL egg.  They all got defensive and scolded me, "Oh yeah?  Well it would fit on mine, I know it would!"  Ok, if you can fit a 27" peg into a 24" hole, I'd love to see it.  Big Green Egg people are so crazy, but I digress...

Take your corned beef brisket out of its packaging and drain the ooze.  Slide it right into a bucket of cold water, and stash the buck into the fridge.  Why?  Salt!  Corned beef is brined/cured and loaded with salt.  When you put this thing onto the smoker, you'll be rendering fat and moisture out of it and thus, concentrating the salt.  Trust me, taking some of the salty brine back out of this beast before smoking is critical.  I soak it for an hour per pound which means, 26 hours for me!  Change the water out with fresh ice water every couple of hours because the salt that leaches out will end up in the water and you'll want to flush it way every now and then.

After the soaking, lay it out onto a stable work surface and notice that you won't seem to stop it from oozing water!  Yes, it's water-logged... just keep pressing and dabbing with paper towels until you get the water out.  You'll be left with a giant pink slab of corned, de-salinated brisket that looks very sad.  Do NOT stop at this point and think, "What have I done?  This can't possibly ever taste good, I mean, just LOOK at it!"  Settle down, it will be OK!

Mix up your rub and get to spreading it all over.  Press the rub as deep as you can into the cracks, crevasses, folds, etc.  Rub and press, press and rub, sip an adult beverage and remind yourself that very few people in the world are dedicated enough to take three days to cook a piece of meat!  Those people are NOT "Crazy," they are respected and revered as "Culinary Beasts!"

Now, wrap the entire thing in a cocoon of plastic wrap, and leave it out on the counter to rest it up to room temperature (at least 4 hours, no more than 12). If your brisket is as big as mine was, you may need a buddy to help you flip and turn it while you wrap it up tightly.  Wrap it tightly enough so that it doesn't leak or that the dogs won't sniff it out!

Ok, several hours later, the rub should have melted into the meat, and it should all be up to room temperature.  Get your smoker ready!  Remember, you're looking for a thin blue wisp of smoke out of the stack (Nearer of the two smokers in this picture), NOT a thick white billowy "Summon a new Pope" kind of smoke (Farther of the two)!

Pre-heat your smoker to 225 degrees and when you have good smoke, a good bed of coals, and the temperature is right, lay the beast onto the bed of your cooking chamber.

Here comes the hard part... Keep in cooking/smoking at 225 for an hour per pound.  For me, that was 26 hours!  If everything comes together as it should, the internal temperature of the brisket should be touching 200 degrees at that time.

The brisket won't take any additional smoke after about 12 hours so if you want to wrap it in foil, and bring it into the house and into your oven at 225 for the other 12 hours, that works just fine!  Keep a temperature probe inserted and keep an eye on it.  It will "Stall" at 165 for awhile but just wait it out... Once it melts away the connective tissues, it will continue to rise!

When it hits 200, it will be done and it will need to "Rest" for 45 minutes or so.  Just take it out of the cooking chamber, cover it with foil and let it sit all by itself.  I know, I know, it looks like a giant black lump of coal... just wait!

After it's done resting, take a deep breath!  You've worked hard for this moment!  You've soaked, rubbed, rested, and smoked this damn thing for hours and hours!

Start slicing against the grain and behold, you'll have a dark red, fall-apart hunk of homemade pastrami!  Wow, is it ever good!  You've had a Reuben sandwich, right?  It's time to build Reuben's hot cousin; "Rachael!"  Get some think pumpernickel bread, smear on some dressing, a bit of kraut, and then heap on some pastrami while it's still hot... There's no better sandwich in the world!!

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Reverse Searing" - Cooking Steaks Backwards for More Flavor!

Traditionally, cooks prepare their steaks by searing them first over high heat, then baking them in an oven (or in a grill) to develop the inside of the steak to their desired doneness.  Some cooks are reversing this process and they're achieving magnificent results!  Cooking the steak very slowly to the desired doneness first, and THEN grilling a nice crust on it makes for a much larger section of "Medium-Rare" (or whatever you prefer) in the middle, and for a much nicer crust on the exterior, since the steak is already warm when it ultimately hits the fireHave a look at this Filet!  I mean... how "Yum" is this:

You will need:
  • 1 Thick Steak (2" or so should do it)
  • A Grill with direct and indirect surface cooking
  • Seasoning
I started with three beautiful Filet medallions.  I seasoned them on both sides and then I used some of those cool new food-grade silicon rubber-bands to snap some thick slices of bacon around them.  Aren't they cute?  Let these sit, unmolested, on the counter until they come up to room temperature.  While this is happening, it's a good time to pour yourself a nice beverage before going outside to build a fire in your grill.

In this picture, you can see my adult beverage as we patiently wait for the cooking chamber of my smoker to reach 275 degrees.  The fire is lit, the steel is heating up and we're well on our way to 275.  The idea here is to "bake" the steaks at a low temperature until they reach your desired doneness.  In my case, that means Medium Rare and 125 degrees. 

When your cooking chamber (Grill, Smoker, Oven, whatever) hits 275 degrees, lay in your steaks and jab a temperature probe into the center of one, so you'll know exactly when it hits your target temp.  This isn't very exciting.  I mean, you won't hear that satisfying "sizzle" when you lay the steaks on.  Also, it could take up to 45 minutes or an hour for the steaks to reach 125 on the inside.  Discuss time management philosophies with your beverage and wait it out.  Your patience will be rewarded!

Once your steaks hit their target temperature (125 for me), take them off the heat and let them rest (covered with foil) for about ten minutes.  Then, lay them over the hot fire!  Now they will sizzle!  Grill them over hot fire for at least a minute per side, but not for more than 90 seconds.  Disregard the salmon on the indirect side of the grill in this picture... I had a guest who preferred salmon to steak (go figure).

When the steaks come off after the sear, they should have a nice crust on them, and since they were already rested, they should be ready to slice and serve immediately.  Note the juice, the moisture, the perfect level of doneness, the crust... additionally, there was an infusion of a smokey flavor that you wouldn't ordinarily get with a traditional grilling method.

"Reverse Searing" may not be for everyone, but I encourage you to try it at least once.  Ribeye, Filet, and NY Strips are all excellent candidates for a reverse sear.  I know I enjoyed mine a LOT!