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.

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….

 

 

 

 

 

Rib Fest, Nebraska

I am a California girl, born and raised. I know it in my heart, and I feel it even more when I travel. So far in these 26 years on Earth, I’ve gone from growing up in a southern California beach city, where the coldest is 60 and the hottest is 80 – to San Francisco, where the coldest is most definitely lower, but the high is certainly no more than 80. These people around here complain, and they bitch, and they moan – and I’m included in this, don’t get me wrong. I get tired of not being able to wear shorts in the summer, I get tired of my bathing suit gathering dust and lord I get tired of these ghost white gams sticking out from my torso. But, in the end, I would rather bundle up in July for Mark Twain’s coldest winter than question whether or not I should jump in front of a bus because I can’t find air conditioning in the 108 degree, 95% humidity of a true mid-western summer.

Where’s this weather rant coming from? Well, ’bout a month ago, the other half and I embarked on a lovely journey to his old home of Lincoln, Nebraska. Growing up as an only child, my food memories were so different …. it wasn’t a big event for dinner. Though we ALWAYS sat down together for breakfast and dinner, we didn’t have a big dining table, no one had to spend hours to prepare enough for 15 people, and you didn’t have to announce to everyone hours ahead of time what time we were eating so that everyone can be there; you didn’t have to find enough chairs, you didn’t have to cram in, and you didn’t have to make sure you have a little of everything to please everyone, even the kids. All said and done, though, (I don’t know HOW his mother does it, honestly) it is so fun to sit down with a bunch of people, chat, pass food around the table and take a few minutes out of a day to enjoy each others company. This is, after all, what I love food for. It will always bring people together.

Eating at the dining table wasn’t all we did, though.

We also indulged ourselves in the local night life at Brother’s Lounge in Omaha:

Checked out the nicely air conditioned, extremely empty and most perfectly divey Lynx Lounge:

Took in a cold one on a riverboat in Council Bluffs, Iowa:

(safety first!)

Joined in a 2-way petting zoo (you pet the animals and they pet you back):

Visited a natural history museum who says there were sharks that looked like this:

(I don’t believe it)

And last, but not least – the whole reason for this post – we waited all day and night til the temperature dropped below 90 and hit RIBFEST!

There were 6 world-renowned, award winning rib masters and we got to try four. Even though 2 were closed, I don’t feel like we missed out on much. They were all banging, though some were drier than others, some sauces sweeter than others, and suprisingly – none were very spicy, even those claiming to be “scorching hot”.

The first on the tasting menu was Texas Rib Rangers

They had 3 BBQ sauces, ranging from mild to blazing hot – but like I said before, even the ones that claimed to be the hottest of the hot still didn’t meet any of our blaze quotas.

The sauce was good, don’t get me wrong. Look at that glaze: The meat was definitely tender, juicy but not fatty and totally not overcooked (ugh, the worst thing you can do to ribs).

The next taste test was Porky and Beans, defending champs and everyone’s least favorite.

Of course, they too made big promises of hot BBQ sauce.

I’d only give one X to that triple-X sauce. And the original was way too sweet. The meat wasn’t as good as the others, either. A little dry, a little chewy.

You can tell by the greyness, rather than pinky like Rib Rangers’ were.

Next up: The international contestant, Aussom Aussie.

Personally, I’m totally into the laser-show neon lights they have going on. Also, I don’t know if y’all (that’s a little southern slang to go with the ribs, just for you) know this, but Australia is becoming an amazing foodie mecca. They have a really impressive slow food movement in Sydney, and some really amazing farms all over. I used to just think “Fosters” when I heard “Australia”, but no longer, my friends. They’re doin’ it right these days. Just check out their ribs:



I’ll admit, they weren’t the best of what we tasted, but they were in a close second for some of us. Not as drenched in sauce as most ribs are (and, honestly, should be) I worried they’d be dry – but nope. Job well done, Aussies.

Then came Johnson’s. Also good, but second to last in all opinions. (Last, sadly enough, being the defending champ and winners Porky n’ Beans.)


I’m making myself hungry…

A little bit of dry-looking greyness on the meat, like Porky N Beans, but somehow still so tender and juicy. Tasty sauce, but still not spicy! At least they didn’t make any false promises, though.

All in all, nevermind which was good, great or fantastic, I got to spend three lovely – albeit sweaty – hours eating ribs and drinkin’ a couple beers.

Nothin’ better.

BBQ Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy

I’ve been trying to expand these recipes to more “full meal appropriate” entries rather than small pieces of how to look fancy. In doing so, I’ve come back to my old homesteading ways. The ways of the farms in far away lands, the ways of the jam-making in Lower Haight,the ways of spending 8 hour chunks of time in the kitchen making everything from mustard and crackers to ice cream flavored with home grown fruit. Oh, those days…where have you gone? To where has all that youthful enthusiasm and energy fled? Perhaps to late nights of word scramble and Mah Jong? Perhaps to the new visual enjoyment of This American Life? (Thanks a lot, Ira Glass…) Wherever it went to, it’s on its way back for a (hopefully extended) visit, so lets go home.

Good ole fashioned meatloaf is the best way to negate the anger that is flooding all us San Franciscans just as the cold fog is flooding our Indian Summer. Now is the time for hot, heavy food – chili, roasted chicken, meatloaf – and this is the best recipe with which to welcome it back. I do, very very sincerely, beg of you – pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase (on my knees) don’t use store bought barbeque sauce. Just don’t. I’m not going to lecture you on corn syrup, how it’s a disgrace to the intregity of food, how it’s bad for your body, agriculture, farmers or the economy of food. I won’t. I will just say that this barbeque sauce will taste better than any you can buy and you will feel so much better about your endeavors after a mere half hour (that’s not even a whole episode of This American Life).

Barbeque Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy MeatloafBBQ

For the BBQ Sauce

This recipe makes just about enough for the meatloaf, so depending on how much you might use in other items (perhaps a burger patty made from some left over ground beef?) you could want to double it. Another good use of this sauce is as a marinade for tofu.

      1c. canned tomatoes, or 2 heirloom tomatoes, smoked, and 1c. unseasoned tomato sauce*

 

      2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

      2/3c. red onion, finely chopped

 

      1/2 jalapeno, finely diced, with seeds

 

      2T brown sugar, or Mexican Piloncillo, grated

 

      1t tamarind paste**

 

      juice from 1/2 lemon

 

      1/8t curry powder

 

      1/8t smoked salt***

 

      1/4t cumin

 

      1/2t liquid smoke

 

      1/2t extra virgin olive oil

 

      1t cider vinegar

*This sauce is a great reason to shell out $40 and get a stove-top smoker from your local Sur la Table. Buuuut, if you don’t have the means to smoke the tomatoes yourself, I strongly recommend Muir Glen Organic’s Fire Roasted kind.

*If you can’t find tamarind paste (though its more widely available than you would think, just ask around – especially in the “ethnic foods” aisle, or at Asian and Mexican markets) it can be substituted with tamarind pods. Leave them whole and keep them in the sauce the entire time its cooking, then remove at the end.

***You can get smoked salt at some specialty stores (such as Rainbow Grocery here in San Francisco) or order it online. If you don’t use smoked salt, use regular sea salt and add 1/4t more liquid smoke.

1. Warm a medium sauce pan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and jalapeno in olive oil until just softened but not browned.
2. Add tomatoes, then slowly add sugar and tamarind paste, stirring and watching to make sure it all dissolves well.
3. Once the tamarind paste and sugar are dissolved, add everything else slowly and reduce to a simmer.
4. Simmer for half hour or until the taste is right for you.
5. Remove from heat, cool, and puree in food processor. Don’t worry when it still seems chunkier than the KC Masterpiece your un-culinarily inclined roommate fills the fridge with, that’s just because it has real tomatoes in it. You definitely want it that way.
6. Enjoy with the following:

For the Meatloaf

      1/2lb ground beef

 

      1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

 

      2T red onion, finely chopped

 

      1 1/2T BBQ Sauce + 1t

 

      2T bread crumbs

 

      1 egg

 

      2 strips quality bacon

 

      Good amount of sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350.
2. Put all ingredients (saving the extra teaspoon of BBq sauce) together in a bowl and mix well by hand.
3. Here’s the key to making it right:

        Coat a small loaf pan in butter and pack the uncooked meatloaf into it, smoothing out the flat side, then gently shake it out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once out, the loaf is now coated in the butter. Now, coat it in BBQ sauce and lay the bacon strips gently over it.

4. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, remove and rise oven temp to 450.
5. Once heated, replace meatloaf for 10 minutes to brown the outside.
6. Remove bacon strips and serve on the side.
7. Serve with:

And the Mushroom Gravy

      2C. mixed mushrooms, coarsely chopped

 

      1/4C. butter + 1t

 

      1/2 small white onion, finely chopped

 

      1C. heavy cream

 

      1/2C. stock (veggie, chicken or beef)

 

      1T flour

 

      1/2 small garlic clove, finely minced

 

      1/2T balsamic vinegar

 

      Salt and Pepper

1. In a medium sauce pan, saute mushrooms, onion and garlic in 1t butter until just a little softened
2. Add stock and cream
3. In small amounts, add flour, whisking the whole time to make sure it doesn’t clump up (I like to add the flour later for this, because I don’t want it to brown)
4. Continue whisking!!! and add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Continue whisking until it is nice and thick and delicious
6. Remove from direct heat, but keep stirring it up until you serve it – otherwise it will thicken into a lumpy mistake.

Now, put ’em all together with some mashed potatoes (you’re on your own, here) and serve it in this order: Mashed potatoes on the bottom, then the meatloaf, maybe a little extra BBQ sauce, then the gravy. MMMMMMmmmmmmm Mama.