There is a glaring disparity between the typical celebratory rituals honoring one’s parents. On Mother’s Day, the gifts we give are generally aimed at relaxation or pampering for mom, such as spa treatments or beautiful flower arrangements. We take mom out to brunch to give her a break from cooking and cleaning up the dishes. But on Father’s Day, which is coming up this Sunday, we put dear old dad straight to work. The annual occasion may as well be Black Friday for the stores that sell power tools and bbq equipment, two of the most popular categories of items we give dad to “honor” him. And, in the days when families still had landline telephones*, Father’s Day marked the highest day of every year for collect calls.
*For anyone born after 1990: our phones used to have long, twisty cords and they were plugged into the wall, so you could only use them at home. They were used exclusively for speaking to someone else, who also had to be home, or else it would just ring and ring. It’s true—this old-timey relic didn’t even offer games or weather apps or texting or anything cool. I know, crazy, right?! It was brutal. You had to memorize the phone number for the house you were calling, and you put your finger into the number holes and turned the dial to make a call. It took forever. And it cost extra to call your dad if he lived far away, but you could ask the operator (a phone assistant—kind of like Siri, but a real person) to make it a “collect” call, and that meant dad got the bill for it. That part was kind of cool.
That’s still kind of how Father’s Day works—you sit back and relax, while dad builds stuff and mows the lawn and slaves away at the grill to make dinner. To be fair, however, I have never known any man, father or otherwise, who did not greatly enjoy these kinds of gifts, and time spent cooking animal meat over a fire, so it works out perfectly. Grilling is in their DNA, and most men I know are pretty darn good at it. My husband, Les, is no exception, as he proved again this past weekend, when he finished what I started with this mouthwatering skirt steak recipe. I made the marinade, and then, while I was busy inside making drinks and setting the table, Les worked his magic on the grill, delivering this fantastic skirt steak.
If you have never had skirt steak, first of all, you are missing out on what I believe is the very best cut for fajitas. It comes from the front-underside of the cow, a bit more forward than flank steak. There’s a lot to love about skirt steak; for one thing, it has generous marbling for exquisite flavor and texture. It is thin, so it grills up in a hurry (and you do want to cook it quickly). It takes a marinade really well, and that means you can send it off in whatever flavor direction strikes your fancy. For an Asian stir-fry meal, you might marinate it in a garlic and soy mixture. At our house, we tend to favor Mexican and Southwest flavors, and I’ll show you how we bathed our skirt steak in fresh lime juice, garlic, onions and a big, fat handful of fresh cilantro.
The skirt steak we used came from a local butcher, and I am turning to these farm-focused artisan purveyors more and more. I appreciate their sustainable practices, which are more respectful to the animals’ natural grazing habits, and the flavor of pasture-raised beef is exceptional. It must have been my lucky day, because this skirt steak was also dry-aged, an air-curing process that intensifies the beefy flavor. You can read more about the difference here, if you’d like.
Most of my instruction is centered on the making of the marinade. I keep asking Les to take pictures of what he does on the grill, but he keeps forgetting, which may be his subconscious way of saying, “this is my job, just let me do it.” So, if you have questions about that part, call a dad.
1 1/2 pounds beef skirt steak
1/2 medium onion, rough chopped
1 medium jalapeno, seeds removed and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
Fat handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all (be sure to wash it)
Zest and juice of 1 lime
A few shakes of ground cumin
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
About 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
For ease of grilling (and, later, slicing), I recommend cutting the skirt steak into manageable pieces, about 6 inches long. Arrange the pieces of steak in a large, glass baking dish. Generously sprinkle the meat with kosher salt on all sides.
Combine the onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and spices in a food processor. Pulse a few times to rough chop everything, then scrape down the sides and turn the processor on to run continuously. Slowly drizzle the oil into the processor as it runs, and continue until the mixture is uniform and somewhat thick.
Pour the marinade evenly over the steak, turning each piece to ensure equal coverage. Cover the baking dish and refrigerate at least 2 hours, up to 6 hours* (no longer, or the acid will begin to break down the meat fibers).
Grill over high heat for a short period of time until meat is seared (you can cut into a piece to check its done-ness to your liking), and immediately wrap it up in a double layer of foil. Rest the wrapped meat on the cutting board for about 5 minutes before slicing—against the grain, always. For skirt steak, this means making your cuts along the longer side of the meat, another reason it is helpful to cut the skirts into pieces.
We enjoyed our cilantro-marinated skirt steak with grilled peppers and onions, on handmade flour tortillas (I used this recipe) with sour cream and Les’s incredible smoky guacamole.
My husband, Les, has stepped up into the role of “kitchen boss” as I convalesce after slicing my finger. He is especially good on the grill, and sharing one of our fabulous recent meals. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
There are few things I like better than cooking and, of course, eating, a perfectly seared steak. Medium rare.
Strangely, loving steak didn’t come easily for me. My mom, forced to stretch a budget in our lower middle class household, didn’t get the best cuts. I remember endlessly chewing and chewing and chewing, dawdling through meals while eventually my two older sisters and parents drifted away into the “den” (which in actuality was a hallway) to watch TV. I would wait until I knew they were occupied and sneak over to drop my gray meat and leftover canned vegetables into the trash. Then immediately volunteer to take the trash out to the incinerator chute down the hallway of our apartment building in Queens, N.Y.
Eventually, two things changed.
First, I hit puberty and suddenly couldn’t get enough of steak. Second, about this same time, I recall my father started to speak out for getting his steak more rare. In particular, my mom started to buy London broil, a lovely cut of meat, which she cooked on the electric broiler, a rare, new “toy” in our household, slathering on some Open Pit barbecue sauce during the process. Best of all, my mom learned to take the meat off the broiler, cut medium rare slices for my father and me (by then my two sisters were both out of the house; the oldest married and the other in college) and then put the meat back on the grill to get it more done for herself.
I’ve never stopped loving a good cut of steak. As a young adult, I became adept at grilling, and London broil was always my favorite, even over a good New York strip. Until a couple of years ago, that is. Terrie and I were in Whole Foods one day and there was no London broil. The butcher suggested we try a tri-tip. “A what?” I recall saying. He pointed to a triangular-shaped piece of meat about 2 inches thick, which except for its shape looked similar to a London broil. The tri-tip comes from the point end of a sirloin, while London broil typically comes from the top or bottom round of the cow. The tri-tip is thus a better cut of meat, more marbled and flavorful.
Terrie suggested using her coffee spice rub, which is interesting because coffee is one of three things I can’t abide (the others being goat cheese and malted milk). But as part of a spice rub, I honestly don’t taste the “coffee” part, and it makes a terrific flavor profile for cooking steaks of any sort. It has become our favorite preparation for tri-tip, and Terrie’s recipe for the rub is included below.
I can’t tell you how easily and perfectly this meat sears. Not only is it delicious fresh off the grill, but the leftovers slice beautifully thin for sandwiches. Tri-tip, provolone, onion and lettuce on one of Terrie’s sourdough breads for lunch? Yes, please, as my better half likes to say.
Brush or spray olive oil onto the surface of the tri-tip steak, and rub a generous amount (about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat) all over it.
Let the dry rub sit for a few hours in the fridge, taking the meat out about an hour before grilling time.
Put the gas grill on high (550 to 600° F) and sear the meat on each side for 45 seconds to a minute depending on the thickness, before turning down the temp to about 350° F.
Cook the tri-tip about 7 to 10 minutes on each side, using either a meat thermometer to hit 140° F internally for medium rare, or simply using your eye if you care to slice into it while it’s on the grill.
Reminder: the meat will continue to cook after being removed from the grill, so err on the “rare” side regardless of how you like your meat, as the idea is to let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
Slice tri-tip thinly, against the grain of the meat, taking note that the direction changes slightly about halfway into it.
1/4 cup very finely ground dark roast coffee* (see notes)
1/4 cup ancho chile powder*
2 Tbsp. Spanish sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cayenne* (adjust to taste)
Use a burr coffee grinder on the finest setting to produce the best ground coffee for this recipe. Alternatively, use purchased espresso powder or a good quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand.
Ancho chile is a smoked, dried poblano chile. It has less heat than chipotle, and is more “fruity” in flavor. Seek out ancho chile powder in a specialty store or online, or substitute a lesser amount of ground chipotle. I don’t recommend substituting a purchased, generically labeled “chili powder,” as these products usually also contain a lot of salt and other spices.
Cayenne packs a fair amount of heat, so adjust the amount to your match your tolerance. If you really like it hot, substitute ground chiles de arbol.
Place mustard and coriander seeds in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground, but not quite powdery. Combine with all other rub ingredients and keep in a sealed jar for up to six months.
Use about 1 Tbsp. per pound of meat as a grilling rub.
Today is March 9, and we need to talk about St. Patrick’s Day. Why the urgency, you may ask, with eight days to go? In our home, the food preparation for this fun holiday has already begun, in that we have started the brining process for our annual home-cured corned beef. Several years ago, I swore off meats processed with unnecessary nitrate and nitrite chemicals, and though it’s easy enough today to find commercially prepared “uncured” versions of corned beef in supermarkets such as Whole Foods, I get a kick out of doing it myself. This year, my husband, Les, and I purchased two large grass-fed briskets for this purpose. One will be a traditional corned beef preparation, and the other will travel an extra mile to become pastrami. The brining step takes anywhere from seven to 10 days, so we started ahead accordingly.
If this sounds exciting to you, then hightail it to the market today or tomorrow to procure the necessary supplies, and you’ll find directions for brining at the end of this post. Otherwise, sit back and relax for a brief “did you know” lesson on some of the dishes we think of this time of year, and a sneak peek at what I’ll be preparing in the week ahead. For many Irish-Americans, this mid-March holiday is usually a time for lively street parades (especially in Boston and New York), the wearing of the green (lest ye be pinched), toasting to good health with a pint (green or otherwise), and feasting on corned beef and cabbage, colcannon, bangers and mash, or Irish soda bread. But how authentic are these “St. Patrick’s Day” foods, really?
I’ve done some research this week, and honestly, it’s hit-or-miss. But in searching out stock photos from the internet, I’m drooling a bit, just thinking about these delectable foods!
Corned beef is associated with Ireland, but it originated in the U.S., where Irish immigrants found beef to be plentiful and more affordable than in their native land. Traditional Irish cuisine leans more heavily on proteins that are native to the land, including lamb and fish.
Colcannon, a mixture of cabbage and mashed potatoes, is an authentically Irish food, but is traditionally made around Halloween, not St. Patrick’s Day. Playful (or superstitious) cooks might still hide coins or lucky charms (not the cereal!) inside, giving dinner guests a chance at good fortune, though it sounds more like a good shot at a trip to the ER, or perhaps a ruse to convince children to finish their vegetables.
Bangers and mash is a rustic dish of sausage (usually pork or lamb) on top of mashed potatoes with onion gravy. This dish is definitely original to Ireland, as well as other parts of the U.K., and it earned its nickname because of the sound the moisture-heavy sausages made when they “popped” during cooking. I love bangers and mash with Guinness-based gravy, and the immature side of me just thinks it’s fun to say “bangers and mash.”
Finally, soda bread, long considered to be an original Irish food, technically isn’t. Culinary historians credit Native Americans as the first to use soda ash as a leavening agent in bread, but Irish immigrants to the new country quickly recognized the technique as a means to enjoy bread during yeast shortages. When baking soda became available in the U.K., the Irish adopted the chemical leavening trick to make breads from the stuff they had on hand—soft, low-protein wheat flour and sour or cultured milk.
I love food history, and even though some of these foods are questionable in their authenticity to St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be making (and sharing with you) some version of all of them between now and next week.
Our corned beef is already underway, and if you’d like to play along at home, here’s how to begin. As I mentioned, I do not use the nitrate chemical known as “curing salt,” and it is not necessary for home-cured corned beef. The intended purpose of curing salt is to inhibit growth of bad bacteria while the meat is brining, but between modern refrigeration and the natural nitrites that occur in another ingredient I use, my brisket is well protected. One noticeable difference in nitrate- and nitrite-free corned beef is the color; mine will not have the rosy hue you see in commercially processed corned beef. The flavor, however, is exactly the same (or better).
You will need a container for brining the corned beef. It should be large enough to hold your brisket, plus about a gallon of liquid brine mixture. Choose a non-reactive, sealable vessel for this purpose—in other words, do not use a metal pot! A plastic container with a tight lid is fine, as is a food-grade plastic brining bag (plus a container large enough to hold it). Depending on your container, you may also need a non-reactive bowl or plate heavy enough to weigh down the brisket so that it is fully submerged at all times. For cooking the brined brisket, any slow cooker, roasting pan or Dutch oven will do, but you won’t need that until next week. You will also need enough space in your fridge for said container.
Prepare your brining liquid in advance, and allow time for it to cool completely before adding your brisket. I’ve seen some recipes that begin with cold water, and that may be OK, but the coarse salt and sugar will dissolve better and more quickly over heat, so I usually warm the liquid to incorporate those grainy ingredients, then cool it down (usually with ice cubes) before adding the rest. Do not pour warm brine onto the brisket—this would promote bacteria growth.
About a cup of kosher salt or coarse sea salt* (see notes)
About 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 packet or bottle of pickling spices*
12 oz. bottle Irish ale*
12 oz. bottle celery juice*
1/2 cup real fermented sauerkraut brine*
Kosher salt and coarse sea salt are about the same by volume and can be used interchangeably here. You can also use canning and pickling salt, or fine-textured sea salt, but because the crystals are much smaller, you should use slightly less (somewhere between 3/4 and 7/8 cup). Do not use table salt containing iodine.
Pickling spice is a blend of dry ingredients, usually including peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds, allspice berries, ginger, garlic, bay leaves and sometimes chile peppers. You could whip up your own blend if you so desired, but the simplest thing to do is purchase a jar of spices ready to go. McCormick makes a good one that you will find in the regular spice aisle of just about any supermarket. You will use the entire bottle, and you may as well pick up two of them so you’ll have extra spices later for cooking your corned beef.
The remaining ingredients are optional, but I’ll explain here why I use them. A few years ago, a guest at our big Super Bowl party had left behind a growler jug of a local IPA that was much more “hoppy” than beers we usually enjoy. Not wanting to waste it, I glugged about a pint of it into our corned beef brine, and it was fantastic. Every year since then, I’ve put a bottle of Irish ale into the recipe and it always turns out great with that little extra layer of flavor. I think a bottle of Guinness would be great, too.
Celery juice powder is a natural source of nitrites, one of the same chemical additives in commercially processed corned beef. I haven’t yet seen the powder available anywhere, but my supermarket carries celery juice in the same refrigerated section as kombucha and probiotic drinks. Check the ingredients of any celery juice product you choose. This one I use is only celery juice and a hint of lemon juice. I don’t want to know who is actually drinking this stuff, but I’m glad it’s available. 🙂
Real sauerkraut is a naturally fermented product, containing loads of healthy probiotics. Good bacteria threaten bad bacteria, so a few splashes of the brine from the natural sauerkraut is my extra security measure during the brining process. I would not recommend using the brine in canned sauerkraut, as it likely contains vinegar and who-knows-what else. But if your kraut came from the refrigerated case, and the ingredients listed on the package are only cabbage and salt, and it says “naturally fermented” or “live cultures” somewhere on the jar, you’re good to go. Hang onto the sauerkraut for all the yummy Reuben sandwiches you’ll make next week.
About the pink color:
I’ve tried a few other tricks to get the reddish color that is typical of commercially produced corned beef, but most did not work and others were only nominally effective. If you feel inclined, try adding about a cup of pure beet juice to the brine (more seems to affect the flavor), or try some beet powder if you can get your hands on it. But if you can overlook the idea of artificially enhanced color, I promise the flavor of home-cured corned beef is even tastier than the pink version you grew up with. It’s a good trade-off.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Heat about 3 quarts of filtered water to a near boil, then turn off the heat.
Add kosher salt and brown sugar. Stir until dissolved, then toss in a couple of cups of ice to cool it down.
When the brine is fully cooled, add the Irish ale, celery juice and sauerkraut brine.
Place your brisket into the non-reactive container. Sprinkle the pickling spice over the top of the meat. Carefully pour the cold brine over the meat.
Use a heavy, non-reactive plate or dish to hold the brisket under the brine liquid. You don’t want the top or any edges exposed to air while the curing takes place. I usually use a flat-bottomed Pyrex dish to press it down, and when I seal the container, it becomes sort of wedged to keep the brisket from floating to the surface.
Refrigerate on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator for at least 5 days for a smallish brisket, or up to 10 days if your brisket is on the larger side. Check on the brisket each day, and turn it so the brine and seasonings make their way into every fiber of the meat. Keep it submerged.
If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, you can do the brine step in a cooler. Be sure the container holding the brisket and liquid is fully sealed, and refresh the ice as needed to keep it cold for the duration of the brining process.
When brining is complete, rinse the brisket under cold running water for several minutes, then proceed with cooking as usual.
You have heard of the concept of a “bucket list,” tracking the experiences you want to have during your lifetime? Well, rather than making commitment to go skydiving or backpack through Europe (no thanks to either for me), I’ve narrowed down my bucket list to focus on foods. Cooking is a joyful adventure for me, but I am prone to become overwhelmed with too many new ideas in a way that, ironically, puts me in a cooking rut. What better way, I thought, to expand my culinary knowledge and have the satisfaction of accomplishment, than to put my wish list foods on a schedule? I wrote about this in October, when I finally tackled pierogi, the delicious potato and spinach-filled dumplings that were easier to make than I expected. Today, I’m making good on a promise from that post. I’ve moved barbacoa to the “done” column.
Despite having spent at least half of my growing-up years in southern Colorado, where I lived part-time with my mom, I had never heard of barbacoa until the Chipotle chain of restaurants popped up in my current city. Most of the “Mexican” food I knew was the standard Americanized fare, which is odd, given the demographics in Colorado. Who doesn’t love fajitas and burritos and such? But there are so many more interesting Mexican foods, and this is undeniably one of them. Barbacoa is beef, but it’s not the same as steak, as you might have in fajitas. It is rich and savory, tender and spicy, and super-versatile as a filling for a variety of casual dishes. And you know what I learned this week? It is ridiculously simple to make.
You need a good-size (preferably grass-fed) chuck roast, which is essentially the same thing you would use to make a pot roast. It’s full of marbling, which renders down into the most succulent texture in a slow cooker. Add a few spices or Mexican rub of some sort, onions and garlic, some hot peppers if you’d like, and just enough liquid with some smoky and acidic tones to tenderize and give balance to the meat. Put it in the slow cooker and wait for the magic.
For my husband, Les, and me, this mouthwatering magic could not come at a better time. The Super Bowl is just days away, and in a normal year, that would put our kitchen skills into preparation overdrive for the arrival of guests at our annual big game party. As strange as it was to have only the two of us at the table for Thanksgiving, it will be even weirder to not have a houseful for the Super Bowl. We are making the best of this pandemic reality the same way we did for Thanksgiving—by trying out a few new foods. Les will no doubt make his pimiento cheese and—spoiler alert—his amazing smoky guacamole. I may not be able to resist whipping up at least a half dozen deviled eggs and maybe a batch of hummus to snack on. But our main dish item for this year’s scaled-down celebration is this barbacoa. Delicious. Done.
3-4 lb. beef chuck roast
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp. smoky pepper BBQ rub* (see notes)
2 Tbsp. oil (olive, canola or avocado are all good here)
1 medium onion
5 cloves garlic
1/2 fresh poblano pepper*
1/2 red jalapeno*
1 small can mild chopped green chiles
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. chipotle puree with adobo*
2 tsp. liquid smoke
Juice of 1 lime
About 1/2 cup water or beef broth
2 dried bay leaves
An ideal smoky BBQ rub for this dish would include some type of smoked pepper (ancho or chipotle, for example), some garlic, onion and herbs. The main thing I recommend when choosing a pre-made rub is to pay attention to the sodium content. Ingredients are listed in order of their ratio, so if salt is listed early, the blend has a lot of it. Les and I recently ordered some fantastic blends from a company called Flatiron Pepper Company. I respect the fact that they do not include salt in their blends—it means I have more control of the sodium that goes into my dishes, and I’m also not paying a premium for a cheap ingredient. If you want to make your own rub, you might try my “Fire & Brimstone” seasoning, which is detailed in this week’s post for Tex-Mex Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.
We enjoy spicy foods at our house, and I used a couple of fresh peppers that we already had on hand. Poblanos have some mild heat, but primarily a smoky flavor. Red jalapeno is hotter. Use what you’re comfortable with, or leave them out altogether in favor of an extra onion. This is what’s great about cooking at home—you get exactly what you like. 😊
For the chipotle puree, we dump a can of chipotles with adobo directly into the food processor. The result is a thick, smoky sauce that has heat but also some fruitiness and a big dose of smoke. It keeps well in the fridge for several weeks and is a good addition to any type of Mexican dish or chili.
As always, I’ll get you started with a visual walk-through of how I made it. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Cut the chuck roast into equal, baseball-sized chunks. Sprinkle them all over with kosher salt and black pepper (unless your spice blend already has both).
Combine the BBQ rub and oil in a large bowl. Toss the roast chunks in the oil until all sides are evenly covered. Cover the bowl and rest it at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour.
Chop up the onion, garlic and any fresh peppers you are using, and set them aside, along with the canned green chiles.
In a measuring cup, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk until blended.
Heat a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle a small amount of oil into the pot and add the roast chunks, a few at a time to avoid crowding the pan. Remember that a quick drop in temperature will prevent good searing. Turn the pieces over when the bottom is browned, and continue this until all sides are browned. Our slow cooker has a browning feature, so I was able to do this directly. A cast-iron skillet would be perfect for this, if your slow cooker has a ceramic crock. Transfer the meat chunks to the slow cooker when they are browned all over.
Scatter the onions, garlic, peppers and green chiles over the top of the meat.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the cooker. If you used a separate skillet for browning, you may first want to swirl some of the liquid into it to deglaze and gather up all the tasty browned bits, so that you don’t miss any of that fabulous flavor.
Tuck the bay leaves down into the liquid. Cover and cook on low setting for about 10 hours. We set this up at bedtime and woke up to the most amazing aromas.
When the meat is nice and tender, remove it with tongs to a cutting board or glass baking dish and shred it. We found that undisturbed overnight cooking left the submerged bottom of the meat chunks tender, but the exposed parts were still firm. We simply turned the meat over and gave it another hour or so. To shred the meat, use two forks to pull it apart in opposite directions.
Return the shredded meat to the flavorful liquid and keep it warm until ready to serve. If you plan to serve it later, refrigerate the meat and liquid together, and re-heat the amount for your recipe in a saucepan over low heat, or return it to the slow cooker if you plan to serve the whole amount.
Barbacoa is so good as a filling for street-style tacos, with fresh crunchy radishes and cilantro, plus a squeeze of lime. Or wrap it up in a larger flour tortilla with rice and peppers. Or serve it in a bowl with black beans, rice, lettuce, avocado and pico de gallo or salsa. If you’re like me, you probably won’t be able to resist having “just one more taste” straight from the slow cooker.