My New Life with Texas BBQ (or:) Why My Pants Are A Little Tighter Now

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My new city is filled to the brim with food and (luckily) almost all I’ve had so far is crazy good. Most of it rides the perfect, delicate line that traverses the worlds of creativity and tradition. And fried stuff. Lots of fried stuff.

Such as fried deviled eggs.

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 Or, fried rocky mountain oysters. (AKA calf fries). (If you don’t know what those are, look it up. And I’ll let you know ahead of time, they’re actually super delicious and surprisingly very common here.)IMG_1491

One of the many other glorious Austin foods that mixes traditions to create its own tradition: the breakfast taco:

IMG_1579Although every taco shanty has it’s own twist on the ubiquitous breakfast taco, the standard base is what you’d expect – a traditional Mexican tortilla filled with traditional American breakfast items: eggs, cheese, potatoes. Sometimes bacon, chorizo – or my favorite, last night’s left over brisket chopped into taco sized bits. Sometimes even sausage. You’re free to hold the potatoes, hold the meat, hold the cheese or add a few extra toppings. Anything you desire, just don’t hold the chiles – lest you be shunned from Texas forever. IMG_1580

Now for the big one: Central Texas Barbeque.

Article after article, book after book, guide after guide have all been written about Texas BBQ. And for a good reason – it’s awesome and there’s a lot of it. Plenty of instructions and guidelines to BBQ etiquette abound and I have tried to follow them, but it seems that just as everyone has their own idea of how to smoke the best brisket, so do they have their own ideas of how to eat it.

Some places go by hard and stringent Texas tradition of no sauce, not even hot sauce. No forks. No plates. (ok, maybe a little hot sauce….just a little.)IMG_1720IMG_1569Kreuz Market has been around since 1900, so their sign says. It’s a brother-sister turned in-law rivalry with Smitty’s Market just down the street. One does the long cooked, low and slow brisket and the other does the quick (still 6-8 hours) higher heat. The ultimate in BBQ debate.

No matter the preference for smoking length, the smokers are beautiful, with brick walls and doors covered in a century of black smoke.IMG_1721Other places, such as Blacks, are just as old, just as family owned, and a little more lenient on the rules: sauce OK served on the side at the table, a few more options for your meat-and-three style plate.

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A few standards always prevail, though: pickles and onions on the side, potato salad, cole slaw, and sliced bread. IMG_1608

And, eating with your hands.IMG_1546

In the end, the only proper etiquette you really need is to enjoy it!

You can follow Kitchen Eclectic and my journey through the world of Texas food on instagram: @kitcheneclectic

*Visit the historic Blacks BBQ, Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. Go as early as possible to get the best cuts, and to give yourself time to digest before the next plate of meat.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

dry ingredients

I used to hate chicken, but not too long ago I realized the true beauty of perfectly roasted, moist dark meat with an oven crisped skin. I think I got used to going out and having dry, dull, under seasoned, boneless, skinless chicken breast. I know there are reasons for eating white meat – and congrats to all of those out there who put up with it for the sake of health. But I can’t do it. It’s sooooo boring! So, I go for the dark meat only –  always bone-in, skin-on thighs. The best part of the bird.

I also love hearty, chunky, herbacious comdiments for any meat – chimichurri, gremolata, variations of persillade – so on and so forth. Lucky for this recipe, chicken just happens to lend itself very well to all of these.

It’s important to note that when added before cooking, the flavor of your condiment will mellow out pretty significantly in the cooking process. In this particular recipe, that’s exactly what you want.

Barely a Gremolata

  • 1/2 bunch parsley (preferably flat leaf)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 3-4 medium sized garlic cloves
  • 3.5 Tablespoons capers
  • 1.5 Tablespoons chopped green olives, or prepared tapenade
  • 2 anchovy fillet, very small dice
  • 1 teaspoon chili flake
  • pinch of dried thyme (app. tiny palmful)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • splash of white wine
  • dried oregano, reserved
  • extra pinch dried red chili flakes, reserved
  • salt and pepper

Pulse all the items, except olive oil, reserved oregano, chili and the salt and pepper together in a food processor. Once all the ingredients have been coarsely chopped and fairly well mixed, (about 5 pulses) slowly add extra virgin olive oil and continue pulsing to blend. The consistency should be fairly coarse and oily, similar to a chimichurri or Italian salsa verde. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Next, pack a ceramic or glass baking dish with a well buttered bottom tightly with 4 skin-on chicken thighs and 3-4 quartered red potatoes. Be sure to very lightly salt and pepper both sides of the chicken, salt and pepper the potatoes. Lightly sprinkle everything with the reserved pinch of dried oregano and chili flakes. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Next, pour the contents of the food processor over the top of the chicken and potatoes, distributing evenly and making sure it covers everything. Let marinate for up to 2 hours.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Once marinated, add 5 or so small pats of room temperature butter directly on top of the potatoes and chicken, cover baking dish with tin foil and slide into a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

Check every 10 minutes or so and, using a baster or large spoon, redistribute the melted butter and juices that will accumulate on the bottom of the dish. After 20-25 minutes, remove the foil and replace the uncovered dish in the oven to start browning the skin.

Check their doneness with a meat thermometer, or just cut a small slit into one thigh to check. If using a thermometer, it should be around 165. The higher the temp, the dryer the meat will be.

While you’re waiting for your chicken to cook, make a quick salad that will compliment the flavors of the chicken.

Super Simple Dressing

  • Fresh lemon juice (use the lemons you just zested)
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grain brown mustard
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Use an basic ratio of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part mustard, 1/2 part lemon juice, adjusting to taste. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste and whisk if mixing in a bowl or shake furiously if mixing in a jar or bottle (my preference).

(Note: If you’re not doing it already, save your small jars from jam and whatnot or your small glass bottles with a top from products like Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream. They make fantastic dressing bottles to mix and store. Also, places like Big Lots and 99cent stores are great. I got a package of picnic ketchup and mustard bottles for $1 and I use them all the time for homemade condiments of all kinds.)

Toss together a mix of torn lettuces, any mixed salad greens you have around. Thinly slice some carrots and radishes. Toss together with the greens and have ready to dress when chicken is done.

Plate the juicy chicken with the potatoes and a side salad and enjoy!

(oh, ps: Use any leftovers for a fantastic chicken sandwich! Mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, some greens and left over salad veggies for a crunch. Pull the chicken and skin right off the bone and mix it all up together. Serve between 2 slices of buttered, mayo-ed toasted bread and left over potatoes on the side.)

Tacos, Tacos, TACOS! (and how to make tortillas)

Well, another Mexican vacation is behind me and another reassurance that my heart and soul belong south of the border is under my belt.

Until this trip, all of my adult time in Mexico had been spent Guadalajara and south – I’ve experienced Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacan, Morelos, Oaxaca, Chiapas. As a child, I grew up in southern California though, so I saw Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada. I don’t remember too much of it, except for a few very specific memories: the best beans I’ve ever had (still to this day), half-way finished cinder block housing (I assume taken over for hotels, resorts and timeshares at this point), and even then knowing that there was something special about that place….

 A few years beyond a 12 year old now, southern Mexico has been “real Mexico” to me – whatever that means. You hear it everywhere, but something about it seems true. Many parts of Baja cater to the American tourist; most everyone speaks English and don’t have the slightest expectation of you even giving Spanish a try, it’s easier to find a restaurant dedicated to fried chicken than to tacos, and most things are charged in US Dollars. That being said – Baja Sur is still wonderful. Cabo San Lucas I could take or leave, but the surrounding area on the coast and inland is filled with exactly what the bumper stickers say: “No Dias Malas” (no bad days) – bare, sandy feet all day, distractions from driving because you see a whale off the coast, a general relaxed attitude of “whatever, it’s fine” and once you make your way along the highway out of the tourist towns – all the tacos you and me are looking for.

What do you want? Extremely fresh shrimp tacos with pico de gallo?

Some of those good ole fashioned fish tacos with salsa and crema?

Whatever taco you desire, it’s there, fresh and most delicious! Of course, ceviche is everywhere and it’s heavenly. Some places think it’s fancy for the gringos, and will charge you an arm and a leg – but just wait it out and you’ll find a great place like I did that will give you a ceviche tostada for 20 pesos (that’s less than $2USD).

And with more hot sauce than will fit in the frame of an instagram photo, to boot.

It’s magical.

In other taco news around the southern coast, there’s also machaca:

Machaca is a traditional regional dish of northern Mexico and Baja. I thought it was only beef – and I bet all of you did, too. But it’s not! In and around the coast of Baja Sur (both west and east sides) there is Machaca de Pescado (usually Tilapia) or even Machaca de Rey (yep – manta ray!). Machaca de Marlin is most common and sooo good. It’s Marlin that has been dried, pulled, and then rehydrated and really lightly smoked. Oh and those tacos are out of control.

 (I like a lot of toppings….) (The little red bits you see underneath there is the machaca.)

Of course, Baja is still Mexico, so don’t forget those non-seafood more traditional tacos.

Baja Sur’s favorite breakfast (and mine now, too) is birria tacos. These corn tortillas were dipped in the birria juice first, then grilled on a greasy, steaming, side of the road flat top. Great flavor, piled high with hot sauce at 10 in the morning on the way to the beach. Try to beat that. I bet you can’t.

Or, topped with cabbage, a mix of cilantro and onion and a spicy salsa verde. Don’t forget the jamaica juice!

Alas, sadly (and against my will), I eventually had to come home. Upon my return to the sun and sand deprived bay area, I still couldn’t get enough tacos and so decided to do a little taco party of my own. I’ve lived in or near latin neighborhoods for a long time, so I see the masa in markets all the time and have always wanted to make my own tortillas.

Luckily it’s also crab season here in San Francisco – so tortillas, fresh crab…. I think you know where this is going….

It’s easier than it seems, but making tacos does necessitate some attention to nuances.

Tortillas

For first (and I suspect – 2nd, 3rd and probably 6th, 7th and 8th) time tortilla makers, get the pre-made masa – that’s the masa pre-mixed with water and a bit of lime. Depending on where you go, sometimes lard. The lard does help to hold it together, but that’s more essential for tamales. For tortillas – just get the masa (usually in a plastic bag) who’s ingredients are: masa, water, lime. That’s it.

You must have a tortilla press, too. Some instructions I’ve read have said you can do it with a rolling pin – and more power to you if you wanna try – but unless you’re an old mexican grandma with 40 years of tortilla making experience, I wouldn’t do it. And even then, they don’t use rolling pins. It was hard enough to get it going with pre-made masa and a tortilla press.

With pre-mixed masa, a tortilla press and a nice, hot, lightly oiled skillet (preferably cast iron) you’re as set as you’re gonna be to make some great tortillas.

So get the rest of your basics together and get pressing:

  • If you don’t have a tortilla warmer, set your oven on the lowest temperature (usually 250) and you can keep them warm in there, or wrap them in a fairly thick kitchen towel.

 

  • Make sure you have a few pieces of wax paper (or plastic grocery bags will do) pre-cut to coat both sides of the tortilla press (absolutely essential!)


  • Start with a small ball of masa, about 3/4 the size of a ping pong ball, roll it between your palms like play-dough, stick it the middle of the tortilla press, and squish away. Open up the tortilla press and here’s your tortilla:

  •  After pressing the masa, get them in the hot skillet as soon as possible; keep them warm after grilled and they should be ready to go.

 

  • Re-heat in the skillet or oven when ready, if needed.

Tortilla hints:

*If it starts getting sticky and the tortillas start tearing after a while, try coating your hands in just a little bit of olive oil, or dusting them with coarse cornmeal before rolling them and before taking them off the tortilla press.

*Pressing the tortillas twice can help them from being doughy inside. It depends on the size of your tortillas and the wetness of your masa.

 But you can’t have just tacos without salsa, can you?

 Citrus Salsa

  • Oranges, peeled with no pith, seeded and diced (Cara Cara, Satsuma, Mandarin – the sweeter the better, and a mix is fun)
  • English cucumber finely diced (or, substitue regular, peeled)
  • 1 habanero pepper, seeded and very very finely minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and very very finely minced
  • zest of 1 lime
  • heavy handed sprinkle of coarse sea salt
  • (feel free to add a small splash of tequila right to the salsa, if you like – try it on a spon first to see….it’s quite tasty)

Start the party with the salsa served on a chip and a shot of tequila beside it! Then follow up as taco toppings.

 Another great taco topping, inspired by an almost ubiquitous spicy cream salsa Baja uses for many of its seafood tacos seen here:

Chipotle Cream Salsa

  • sour cream
  • a couple canned chipotles in adobo, seeded
  • half a lime
  • splash of olive oil
  • coarse sea salt, to taste

 

  1. combine in food processor
  2. glop lovingly on tacos

*you have to do this one a little to taste, because the chipotle can be very flavorful, but can also be craaazy hot, so it depends on your spice tolerance; it’s also essential that you seed the peppers out of the can. Adding more sour cream/crema will help to cool it if it’s too hot.

 

And, of course, enjoy! 

He Said/She Said: Black Cod Collar

It’s oily, it’s a little gritty-ish in places, it’s sometimes thick like halibut – and comes in these weird kind of chopped up bits, fins on…. just the collar of a fish, I suppose….

 

It’s also known as Butterfish (which is extremely appropriate, given its texture) or Sablefish, and the collar is exactly the part you think it is – along with the throat muscles.

It’s sorta funky looking at first, but once cooked, it’s a pretty attractive meal. Attractive looking, at least. I, for one, am not a fan. And I don’t say that a lot. Not unlike Andrew Zimmern, my personal hero (I know, I know – you Anthony Bourdain fans will harass me for a decade, but that’s the not point of this post) – I too, will eat pretty much anything; and very little of that “pretty much anything” will I say I genuinely dislike. Black cod collar has made it onto that very small list that so far only includes stinky tofu and burdock. And when I say “dislike”, I mean I can’t even swallow it. I’ll find the good in just about anything (though that doesn’t mean that I’m not picky…It’s complicated….).

I can see, however, where it has a big following – it’s distinct, for sure. The oiliness is rich, and with the skin, the texture can be wacky – with a crispiness, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess, and yet still the lightness of fish. *Apparently, though, this specific texture is from the extremely high omega3 content (3201mg per serving!) in the flesh, so high-5 to the black cod.

The taste, the texture is all a little confusing, to be honest. But it’s entirely possible that because I had never had it before, the way I cooked it just didn’t do it justice.

On the other hand, my other half loved it and won’t stop talking about it. He wants to have a dinner party and cook it again to get second opinions. I’m all for it, and I know you’ll all be on the edge of your seats for Black Cod Collar Pt. 2

So here it goes. Your first guide to black cod collar.

It will probably come with the fins on (see picture way at the top).

Use some kitchen shears to cut off the fins, like you see here.

Then, cut (with a knife, not scissors … duh) it into reasonably even pieces where you can. There will be real big pieces of some serious bones that you might not be able to cut through. Don’t worry to much about it. Just do the best you can. It’ll end up about like this:


(You can see that serious collar on the left right there, it’s almost like a meaty jaw bone or something.)

And check out these beefy parts:

Now that it’s all trimmed and cut up, get together a marinade and let it sit in there for a couple hours before grilling on high heat. A lot of recipes I’ve seen online suggest miso, teriyaki or similarly based marinades. I personally think these would be way too rich for this fish. I’ll give you the ingredients for the marinade I did, but without measurements because this is all about experimenting with it on your own. I would do a pretty vinegar-y and heavily spice based marinade to cut through the oiliness and serve it with a salad of a spicy green – arugula, mizuna etc.,  and after grilling the fish, cut it into smaller pieces to keep it real mild that way. It would be great as a small plate rather than a full sized entree.

Another suggestion – if you do a heavily spiced (dry spices) marinade, it would help get a good crust on the skin and around the rest of the fish, too, which would help cut the fattiness and get a good texture contrast going.

Marinade Ingredients

  • Minced Torpedo (or red) Onion
  • Minced Garlic
  • Coriander
  • White Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Ground Ginger
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Habanero Hot Sauce

 

The thing that makes it so easy to experiment with is that it’s pretty inexpensive when you get it at the Korean/Japanese/Chinese grocery stores – and it’s seriously fresh as can be. If the store you’re shopping at has full black cod and a fish butcher (which, I sure hope it does, otherwise, you better start getting your fish somewhere else) you can ask them to butcher the collar and they will, no biggie.

The one thing I will strongly recommend, though, certainly is grilling it.

We grilled it on two levels of heat to test the flavor of each way, and you can see where it got crusty and crispy, and the other side (the lower heat) didn’t. (Big shock.)

Criiiiiiispy skin. High heat.

Not crispy. Low heat.

The crispy was better than the not crispy, but both were still “not for me” as they politely say. The dude loved both, but also preferred the crispy. But who wouldn’t? It’s like fishy fried chicken.

 

Give it a shot! It’s fun to experiment with food! And lemme know how it goes….

 

 

 

 

 

Baked Eggs in Meat Cups! (or, how to wow your brunch guests…)

 

I made these baked egg meat cups for breaky last weekend, and was telling a co-worker about them. She seemed to think it was some kind of super fancy ordeal, but it’s really not. Simple as can be – only a few steps and little clean up, great for serving a lot of people. While they’re baking in the oven (bout 10 minutes or so), throw together a quick salad with a nice tart vinaigrette and a few slices of lightly buttered sourdough toast to serve with the egg cups. With salad and toast, one egg cup is usually enough per person. They can be pretty rich.

Ingredients:

You’ll need a non-stick muffin tin for this.

For each individual cup, you’ll also need:

  • A few slices (about 3, depending on the size) of very thin sliced cured meat (proscuitto recommended)
  • One egg 
  • 2-3 white button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2T butter
  • One medium-thick round slice of tomato
  • 1T grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 oven, preheated to 400

How-to:

1. Line the muffin cups with proscuitto. You can substitute the proscuitto for very thinly sliced bacon, or other cured meats. Just make sure whatever you use is as thin as can be!

2. Sautee your already chopped mushrooms in a small dollop of butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, drop a slice of raw tomato into each cup, and top it with a few mushrooms.

3. Crack one egg carefully atop the mushroom-tomato cup, careful not to break the yolk and trying to keep it as close to the center as possible. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and a pinch of the parmesan cheese.

4. Bake in your preheated 400degree oven until the whites are juuuust set, the yolk still a tiny bit wobbly.  The yolk will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, until you cut it open and let all the heat out. So poke the yolk ever-so-gently (without piercing it) to find the perfect time for your desired consistency. If serving with toast and salad, I recommend it nice and runny! MMmmmm….

5. After you pull it from the oven, and once it sets for a minute in the meaty-muffin cups, it will be easy to slide out using a couple of wooden or large spoons (be gentle!). Top it with the remaining parmesan cheese and serve with a simple salad of greens and vinaigrette to cut the richness of the meat and cheese and egg and toast to sop up the yolk.

 And don’t neglect all the options! This is just a base for beauty of a breakfast canvas…

  • Replace the parmesan with goat cheese or cheddar cheese. Instead of on top, put the cheese right under the egg, on top of the mushroom and tomato. Top the egg only with salt and pepper.
  • Replace the parmesan with a slice of fresh mozzarella, and replace the mushroom with 2 leaves of fresh basil for a caprese-ish meaty egg cup. Layer in this order: meat cup, tomato slice, basil leaves, mozzarella slice, salt and pepper, egg, salt and pepper.
  • Try adding spinach to the layer of tomato and mushrooms.
And, as always…. enjoy!