During these past few odd weeks in Boston I have passed the time making some very salty taste treats while experimenting with the miso paste from Super 88. I’ve also been casting lots of nervous glances at the corned beef brisket in my fridge that was rapidly approaching its expiration date. Figured I would cover two of the most notable salty meals from these ingredients in one post, kind of like my love letter to salt. It wouldn’t be the first one I’ve written to that foul temptress.
First up is a miso glazed pulled pork. I got the idea from a food truck that regularly parks near my office and the rave reviews from coworkers of their miso pork. That and I was addicted to the miso+meat combo after a couple successful rounds of chicken salad with homemade miso mayo. Mmmmmmmm, salt.
The ingredients for the glaze:
A spoonful of miso, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, a little soy sauce, and some maple syrup to caramelize the outside and give some contrasting sweetness. With a little whisking this ended up about the thickness of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. The goal was to lacquer it on early and often to get that borderline spoofy Marge Simpson’s ham-like glaze.
I preheated the oven to 250F and prepped the 5 lb Boston butt for cooking by applying a thick layer of glaze.
The pork went into the oven on a roasting rack with the plan to cook it for 6 hours or so, glazing every hour. I also flipped it a couple times during cooking to make sure that no sides were deprived of a thick coating of glaze.
The only problem was that I was feeling a little impatient and the pork got stuck at around 170F for what felt like an eternity, while the glaze was making the transitioned from caramelized to burnt. While pork is fully cooked at that temperature, the most tender and easiest to pull pork is usually in the range of 200F. So, I basically had a panic attack trying to figure out how to get the temperature up without the whole thing becoming burned to a crisp, leading me to pulling this out at 180F and giving up.
After letting the pork rest for a half hour, the temperature had climbed to 185F. I had quietly hoped it would magically climb 20 degrees while resting but it fell a little short. The shredding and pulling was a little bit tougher due to the lower internal temp and a bit of fat and connective tissue (that would have cooked off at 200F) needed to be cut out as I went. I still had a decent pile of meat with no other destination than a couple sandwiches and a week of “Pete’s meat bowl” lunches.
It smelled pretty solid and the samples I took along the way were awesome, but the problem with a pulled pork like this one is I had no idea what to serve it with. The flavor was definitely asian, but a terriyaki sauce or a BBQ/soy combo would completely overpower the meat. So, I went simple and just put a bunch of pieces in a bun with a piece of iceberg. After viewing the following photo, you will agree that this should henceforth be known as “McDonalds-style”.
The pork came out pretty tasty despite not being as tender as I had hoped it would be. I feel like I have made this mistake on multiple occasions and yet I will continue to think I can pull the pork before 200F just because I am horribly impatient and hungry. Anyhoo, although the exterior crust was a little salty, when mixed in with the rest of the meat it was pretty balanced and the glaze was relatively mild. The miso added a truffle-like umami flavor that matched well with the shoulder meat. It’s a couple weeks later and I still haven’t figured out what I would serve this on if I made it again, but the leader in the clubhouse is a flour tortilla with a vinegar slaw and a smear of duck sauce. So now you know.
On to the “perfect” reuben.
Corned beef and cabbage was a relatively common meal in the Ryan household growing up. We ate enough of it that I was obsessed with eating the white pieces of fat when I was young, and unlike my continued obsession with baking sheet crispies, I now recognize how disgusting that was. Moving on, we always had leftovers since Mommy Ryan would buy an extra large corned beef brisket with the intention of serving reubens the following day. Her reubens were pretty incredible, and made the reuben a top 3 sandwich for me. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve learned that 90% of reubens served in restaurants are crap due to presliced/precooked deli corned beef. It has to start with thick sliced tender corned beef brisket, no exceptions. So with Kristi gone for the weekend, that’s where I started.
The corned beef brisket loses about a third of its weight during the boiling process and takes about 3.5 hours to become fork tender. Because the slicer is at its best when the meat is cold and firm, I boiled the brisket on a Friday night with the intention of using it Saturday. After letting the meat cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes, I transferred it to the fridge to spend the night. The shot above is from the following morning.
In the universe of sandwiches, I think reubens are relatively unique in that every one uses the exact same combination of ingredients yet the taste and quality varies widely. I could order a turkey, cheddar, lettuce, and mayo on a sub (#2 on my sammiches list) at pretty much any deli in America and it would come out delicious almost every time. The same number of ingredients for a reuben ends up an abomination in the hands of most restaurants. It’s really not complicated to get right, but I’ll run through it for any aspiring delicatessens.
It all starts with rye bread (seedless for me):
The bottom slice of rye is given a good slathering of thousand island dressing and the top slice is spread with butter for griddling. I know it looks like a lot of butter, but that’s how Mommy Ryan taught me, so blame her.
Time to get the corned beef involved.
I sliced the brisket a little over 1/8th of an inch thick and that stack represents three thick slices of meat. I can’t state strongly enough that it is not worth it to make this sandwich if you plan to use sliced corned beef from the deli counter unless you are near an awesome Jewish delicatessen that makes their own meats. I never speak poorly of Boars Head, but I think the meat they use for their corned beef is a roast cut, not brisket, which ruins the texture and flavor. That’s right, you’re not even allowed to use Boars Head.
The order of the next couple ingredients is up to the maker, but I of course have a strong opinion. So bring on the sauerkraut!
I will not debate this point (nor does anyone else care enough to do so), but the cheese has to be melted over the sauerkraut to prevent the bread from becoming a soggy mess. The cheese has to serve as a barrier. DO NOT DEBATE THIS WITH ME!
Now a few slices of deli Swiss cheese to make that barrier.
With the Swiss cheese loaded, the buttered rye slice goes on top, butter side out.
Mommy Ryan always cooked these in a pan grilled cheese-style, and I have always had success doing the same. But, a few years ago I used our panini press with the flat griddle plates to make a reuben and realized how much better life could be. Perfectly even griddling and a little weight on the top half to keep the large pile of ingredients inside compacted. I’ve never looked back (though I also hadn’t made reubens between then and this most recent run).
The press was preheated and a little butter was melted on the bottom griddle since the bottom slice of bread was dry on the outside. Then I closed the press.
At a medium heat setting, it takes about 8-10 minutes to get the bread golden brown and crispy.
Remove from the press and eat. After pausing to take a picture by your window, ‘course.
No need to deconstruct the flavor of this reuben, just know it was the reuben of your dreams. Crispy bread and the sweet dressing/salty beef/tangy sauerkraut combo, all smothered in melted swiss cheese. Sigh. Airplane seatbelts are elastic these days, right?
And that’s it. Heading to DC and may fit in some food exploring this weekend.