Weird Crap I Cook: Scrapple

Hang on to your office chairs (or couches) folks, this one is going to be a doozy.  A little Wikipedia research, lots of pictures, subpar detail, and little understanding of what people who aren’t me consider amusing.

Scrapple is a common breakfast item at the deli case and diners in most of the NJ-Pennsylvania area, but that doesn’t mean it’s common to eat it.  The name is effing horrible.

“Well, it’s got a lot of stuff most human beings wouldn’t consume unless a weapon was pointed at them, so let’s give it an appetizing name like they did with ‘sausage’. I’ve got it…” – Awful Pennsylvania Dutch marketing exec

Pop Ryan introduced this breakfast meat to me and I love it dearly to this day.  Its got the best parts of crispy fried polenta and breakfast sausage.  So, basically, it’s the perfect food.

In addition to my love of the flavor and texture, scrapple fits in with my overall dislike of wasting food and my love of using everything.  It’s a food item born out of the need to make use of all parts of the pig and ended up successfully turning some harsh tasting parts into something tasty.

I hadn’t given a ton of thought to making it myself until recently, mainly because the packaged stuff is so delicious and they carry it at my JP grocery store.  But when regular blog contributor David from Snow Farm offered me some offal from his naturally raised pork, I knew I would have to give it a shot.

I felt bad supplementing the small farm raised pork parts with factory farmed neck bones, but I needed some meat and bones for texture and flavor.  Oh and they are $1.50 a pound

That’s one pig heart, a couple pounds of pork liver, and pound and a half of neck bones.  Neck bones are funky looking but they’ve got a lot of meat on them.  Plus, when you compare their appearance to the other ingredients they probably feel like the prom queen.

The idea is that everything goes into a pot, boils for while, then is ground up and combined with cornmeal and the cooking liquid to make a mush.  Mush is poured into loaf pans, sets, then you slice it and fry it.  Again, sounds completely up my alley.  Amazing that I am nearing my 100th post and I’ve never done this before.

I’ve covered hearts and neckbones on this blog previously, but lets take another look at that sliced pig liver.

Used the good camera, left the flash on at first.  I always think the flash makes food look worse but definitely think that is accurate when it comes to offal.  Yowzers

The thing I was most surprised by with the liver was how non-offensive it smelled.  I’ve cooked some grocery store offal and without fail it always smells like the inside of an animal.  This smelled like cold roast beef when I opened the package, truly surprising.  Glad I held out for the good stuff before attempting this one.

I sliced the heart and liver into cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper, and threw everything into a stock pot along with the neck bones.

The sounds as this stuff went into the pot could have been used for the Rocky training scene in the meat locker.  Lotsa meat on meat crime going on in here

My instinct was to cover this with water and boil it, but I realized that it might be tough to get the liquid vs. cornmeal proportions right without measuring.  You know, since I had no concept of what consistency hot liver mush should be before it’s cooled.  So, I went against my strong moral fiber and referenced a few recipes before deciding on 12 cups of water over the meat.

I brought the whole pot to a simmer on the stovetop, skimmed off some junk and left it to cook for a few hours.

The color changed quick.  This is around the point in time when the smell in our condo shifted from “normal” to “grandparent who is way too into cooking offal at home” territory.  Kristi was out for 3 hours of hair done doing but Janet woke up from a nap due to the stench

After three hours of fluctuating between a simmer and a boil with the lid partially on, the meat started separating from the neck bones and everything looked pretty well done.  The stock pot was dumped into a strainer inside a bowl to make sure I didn’t lose any of the cooking liquid.

This was a good step for me.  Usually I would burn my hands and dump half the meat and broth down the drain by accident.  This time around I acted super mature and used a giant bowl and a colander from Ikea.  Didn’t lose nothin!

The cooking liquid was reserved in the original stockpot and the questionable, unattractive, super-sketchy-looking gray organ meat went into a large bowl for sorting.

This picture could have been added to 5 or 6 different posts with the stuff I’ve cooked.  Boiled meat looks foul all the time, which is how I defend my appearance in hot tubs.  Wokka wokka,  here all week folks!

Sorting was slightly trickier than expected.  As it turns out, boiled liver is very firm and resembles pork neck bones.  You must be dying to cook it yourself at home.  Anyway, the visual similarities meant that I had to pick through and attempt to break every piece of liver/bone to figure out whether it should be kept or thrown away.  Didn’t take too long, but got some good finger burns.

Once everything was sorted into “meat” and “trash”, I piled it all into the tray on the grinding attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.

I got some closeups, but let’s stick with this view, shall we?  In other news, anyone got any suggestions on what to do with cool growler bottles?  We got a few of them and they just kinda hang out and freeload

The grinder attachment is incredibly simple once you get the hang of not overloading it by pushing too much stuff in at one time.  I had it setup with the fine grinder attachment since I wanted the heart/liver/meat to not stand out in the final products; just have one consistency throughout.  Which made for a relatively unattractive ground product.

Alright, I’ll bite: it looks like a toddler stuffed their poop through that Play-Doh press thingy I was obsessed with when I was a kid.  That probably sounds more appetizing than what is in the actual picture to some people

While I dealt with the trials and tribulations of meat grinding (read: meat grinder jams caused by impatient forcing into the grinder from an ADD 32 year old), the cooking liquid heated on the stove top.  Once I had the full pile of meaty Play-Doh noodles, I got setup for combining everything into an offal porridge that magically turns to scrapple as it cools.

That’s not our bar silly, just the usual lineup of cooking wines and olive oil in the background.  Quit focusing your attention on things that aren’t the organ meat slurry in progress

We started with three quarts of liquid and most of the boiling was at least partially lid-on so not much liquid cooked off.  That got paired with 4 cups of corn meal, a couple tablespoons of sea salt, a couple tablespoons of black pepper, and a mix of onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, and nutmeg.  The dry ingredients get stirred into the reserved cooking liquid in small waves, then the heart/liver/meat mixture is added at the end.  Got it?

In order to avoid huge clumps of corn meal, I used a whisk early on.

I caused some boulder-sized balls of corn meal before I went after the pile of mush with the whisk. Worked far better than the times I’ve effed up gravy

Once the mixture reached about the thickness shown, I switched from the whisk to a large spoon since it was similar to stirring cement at this point.  Had to be stirred constantly, especially as the additional corn meal and meat went in, but also to keep it from burning during the 30 minutes everything cooked together.

“Whoa, you gonna eat all that hog organ mush? I got a spoon and some tupperware, just let me know!” – Nobody I have met.  Y’all know anybody?

Once thirty minutes had elapsed, and I was counting minutes like an 4th grader in Sunday School, I had a burning forearm and a lot of organ stank in my clothes.  I also had a completed batch of scrapple ready to be poured into molds to set.

Thankfully, Kristi returned from her self imposed exile (it was a hair appointment, cry me a friggin river) to take some action shots.

My Hot Doug’s shirt = my fav thing.  Look, if I’ve learned anything in my life (relatively questionable “if”), it’s that when you go to a unique place with unique stuff you want to remember and they sell t-shirts that don’t have a large dragon logo, you buy one.  Not included, the horrible man-belly aiding the display surface of the shirt

The mixture went into more loaf pans than I had expected, but I was well stocked thanks to a grocery run by Kristi.  I sprayed the inside of each pan with some cooking spray, which would make it easier to remove the loaves once they set.  It also led to lots of awkward spooning and attempts to smooth the surface with more sticking to the spoon than staying in the pan.  The action shots of this process are probably not enthralling to the casual reader, and there are a ton of images in here already, so let’s skip to the end.

The little guys are about the size of a normal store-bought scrapple loaf.  The big guys are reserved for when my Pennsylvania Dutch relatives come to visit.  Oh, and those relatives are imaginary

After the loaves cooled to room temperature, I wrapped each with a layer of tin foil and sent them into the fridge overnight to set.  I was extremely excited, nervous, and hungry all at the same time, but the required wait until the following morning was relatively pleasant since I’d tasted it too much during the process.  Needed a little break from hot liver paste.

The next morning, I pulled my first loaf out of the fridge.

Looking good, scrapple.  Even the store bought version has an uneven top like this

The easiest part is removing it from the pan.  Just flip it over and tap the bottom a bit to get the loaf to release onto the cutting board.  It was pretty exciting to see it pop out in whole-loaf form, just because it looked like the “real thing”.

To fry it, I put a pan on the stovetop over medium/high heat since the pan has to be very hot to avoid scrapple sticking to it.  From there I cut some quarter inch slices off the loaf.

A little thicker than I generally cut, not sure why I made that call.  The best are the thin slices since they end up crispy like bacon and with a polenta consistency in the center.  Thin people don’t have conversations like this

Once the pan was good and hot, the slices went in after a quick spray of Pam.

This is and always will look like happiness to me.  NJ diners, Saturday mornings, and labor of love food projects.  Delicious crispy pork awesomeness

This scrapple lived up to it’s store bought namesake with the added benefit of knowing everything that went into it.  With any scrapple, the first flavor you get is black pepper, almost to a spicy level which is what you got from this one.  The pepper is complimented with a strong pork sausage flavor and some hints of liver along the way.  The best and most unique part, though, is the consistency.  The outside is potato chip crispy (if cooked right) and the inside has the softer consistency of polenta.  Great stuff, and makes use of everything on the hog, not just the pretty cuts.

The rest of the 7 loaves were vacuum sealed and went into the chest freezer for plenty of meals over the next year.  Definitely a meat that freezes well.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I ate too much.  Have a couple possible posts from the week though.

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Weird Crap I Cook: Pork Cheeks and Pancakes

This post will continue my long love affair with cheeks.  They look odd, come in unpredictable shapes and size, and I’ve only found one reliable location to buy them in the northeastern US: the Italian Market in Philly.  I’ve heard Savenor’s in Cambridge sells beef cheeks for $20 a pound and my other option is $100 for a 50 pound box in the warehouse district.  Neither of those works too well for me, so I will continue with an endless cycle of loading up occasionally, vacuum sealing and using the meat for a couple years.

Anyhoo, I’ve had these pork cheeks for awhile now and I’ve been looking for a good opportunity to use them.  With a reprise of the “Shhhh, Janet’s sleepin'” Oktoberfest party on tap this past weekend, I retrieved the cheeks from the chest freezer to thaw and started meal planning late last week.

On Saturday, I got going a few hours before folks came over by browning three sliced medium onions and some coarse chopped garlic in lard.

Went with lard because it was in the fridge and I was sick of having it in there.  An extremely common explanation on this blog.  Stop leaving me lard in my mailbox, everyone!

The goal was to give the onions a little color but not cook them fully since they would be braising in with the meat eventually.  While those cooked, I pulled the thawed 3lb package of pork cheeks out of the fridge.

Tim is incredibly wasteful with his food saver bag sizing which is completely contrary to his hippie “ohhh, I compost my coffee grounds and eggshells for my garden” persona.  In reality this thing was a football sized frozen brick when we packaged it and needed lots of room.  I hate when I bail him out

The cheeks were all given a good rinse, patted dry, and piled up on a plate for me to pick through and pretend I knew what I was doing when assessing them.

Cheeks are interesting, every piece looks and feels completely different, though I probably pretended I had opinions on each piece as I picked through them.  Grabbed your cheeks and moved your jaw around a bit yet?  I do that every time I see raw cheek meat

Unlike the beef cheeks from the Italian Market, these didn’t require an intense 30 minutes of finger endangering trimming.  Generally the meat looked pretty good, mostly trimmed of fat and with no extra silver skin or connective tissue hanging on.  The oddest thing was the broad range of size and shape for each piece of meat.

I end up having to scrub both cutting boards in the end but the pattern of stupidity just refuses to end.  Or I refuse to let it end.  Either way, you should fully expect to one day see a third cutting board on top which will go unaddressed for awhile before I start complaining about using three cutting boards instead of just two.  Basically, I foresee this blog capturing my slow decent into insanity

Quick aside: a lot of the bizarre shapes and sizes of the cheeks comes from where I usually get these.  I think the general process is that they butcher a bunch of the same type of animal and throw the cheeks in the same bucket before freezing them into a gigantic block.  My friendly butcher then slices the block while frozen so you end up with some full pieces and some halfies.  Now you know.

With the meat patted dry, the remainder of the ugly pieces trimmed off, and the onions browned, I moved on to seasoning the cheeks.  Nothing special here, just a good amount of light brown sugar, salt, and black pepper.

Got my ingredients in dat shot! Bonus items include half a brown banana for Janet (she eats equal parts expensive fruits and borderline trash), the video monitor (she was nappin’), and an extremely long receipt from Kristi’s pre-Sandy grocery run that we finished before Sandy hit

I seasoned both sides of the meat and in under a minute you could see the salt drawing out the moisture in the meat and the brown sugar trapping it.  With that process going, I removed the onions from the pot, flipped the cheeks and gave the meat another sprinkle of seasoning.

Nice to see that brown sugar melting in.  Also, helps clarify that there was a second plate of cheek meat, not just the cutting board pile.  I am extremely talented at thawing out the exact right amount of meat based on that meat being labeled properly

The cheeks went into the Big Yellow in two waves to brown on all sides and hopefully not build up too much burned sugar on the bottom of the pot.  Not browning the beef cheeks was the biggest mistake I made when cooking that meal and I have beat myself up for it at least once a week in the 22 months since then.  So, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

I failed at the “no burned sugar spot” attempt.  I have this issue every frigging time I brown stuff in Big Yellow but I’m too lazy to do it in a separate pan that would require separate washing and drying

After 5 or so minutes on each side the first batch came out and the next batch went in.  Eventually leaving me with a nice big pile of browned cheek meat.

Lookin’ dece, pig cheeks.  Some pieces looked like tenderloin, some like cutlets, but all totally different.  I can’t wait for Con to visit his Grandma so I can get more.  Con, go visit your Grandma!

Due to the amount of burned sugar caked on the bottom, I scraped a bit off with a wooden spoon and threw it away before properly deglazing with a solid pour of dry sherry.  The remaining good bits were scraped off the bottom while the sherry cooked down and after a few minutes I added a carton of beef broth and a beer.  As usual, it was the worst beer in my fridge.

This Kentucky Bourbon Ale four pack probably cost between $10 and $15 at our local boutique beer shop and was brought over by a guest weeks ago.  I’m sure it is brewed with love, but it tasted like the Milwaukee’s Best and Southern Comfort boilermakers I chugged in college on more than one occasion.  Had a damp belch just thinking about that one

The sweet bourbon flavored beer seemed like a natural match for the braise and the flavors I’d added so far.  After waiting out the initial foam-up from pouring cold beer into the hot liquid, I added a couple bay leaves, a clove, and turned the heat to medium to let the liquid reduce for about fifteen minutes.

I’ve finally beaten my urge to always make too much braising liquid.  Next up, my urge to eat to the point of sweatyness.  We can beat this thing guys!

Once the liquid had reduced by about 1/3, I added the cheeks back into the dutch oven and positioned them so they were all mostly covered with the liquid.  Then added back in the onions and garlic, poorly attempting to distribute them evenly.

I’ve gotten better at not doubting myself at the last second right before I put a pot in the oven to braise.  Always leads to major mistakes.  Though I am 75% sure most of my friends come here to watch me fail

With everything back in the pot, the lid went on and Big Yellow headed into a 325F oven for two and a half hours.  During that time I hid remotes and iPhones from Janet, tried to distract myself on my computer while she repeatedly hit the caps lock, and fed her dinner while asking her, “you think Daddy is a good cook, right?”

Finally, as people were starting to show up and Janet headed to bed, Big Yellow came out of the oven.  As usual, I stuck my dumb face directly over the pot as I removed the lid and was blind for 30 seconds from the steam burn.  When my eyes could see again, they saw this.

Braising is the best, you knew this was going to be tender and excellent without even sampling it

The dutch oven was set to the side with the lid half open to let the meat rest for 30-45 minutes.  One thing I’ve learned about cheeks and short ribs is they are always better after a rest of some kind.  Even though this turned out very tasty (spoiler alert!!!), if I had to do it again I would have cooked it the day before and let it all rest together for 24 hours.

While that rested I pulled the lid off of the batch of slow cooked Momere Beans (she turns 100 this weekend!!!!  I mean, wowzers!) and let some of the liquid cook off.

Not sure why I didn’t mention these before but they are a required side dish at Oktoberfest.  Momere and Joycie might have given me a good head shaking had they tried these since my lack of par boiling definitely had them less mushy than the standard baked beans, but most people seem to enjoy that little extra firmness

The beans ended up needing a little more time, so while they finished cooking I boiled a bunch of skin-on red potatoes and let them cool once soft.  Mashed those together with a little milk, a couple big spoonfuls of dijon mustard, chopped green onion, an egg, and lots of salt and pepper.

Hate that I got the basics for this recipe from the Down Home with the Neelys.  Their banter is infuriating but they do cook some delicious grub.  I have no idea how Tim lives with himself regularly cooking from recipes

Once the potato mixture had rested for a bit, I formed it into patties, rolled them in some breadcrumbs and pan fried in a little olive oil.

I love potato pancakes and regularly utilize leftover mashed potatoes for them.  I’m not saying that they are good or edible normally, just that I like the idea of them and cook them regularly

When the pancakes went into the pan, I turned on the burner under the cheeks to warm them up a bit.  As each pancake came off, it got a cheek (or two of the smaller cheeks pieces) on top, along with a ladle of braising liquid/onions, and a big spoonful of Momere Beans.

It’s a good sign when the food is good enough to not make me pause and take a mid-eating picture, but always makes the post feel a little incomplete.  This is the last foto, imagine bites that mash everything on the plate together accompanied with lots of grunts and heavy breathing

The meat was tender and cut easily with a fork without being overly tender and mushy.  Cheek meat doesn’t taste much different from a flavorful piece of pork shoulder, but the grain of the meat is distinct and the meat is less fatty.  You could taste the sweetness from the onions, beer, and brown sugar in the liquid, but the best bites had the added sweetness of a forkload of beans.  The pancake was a nice contrast to the beans and pork with the crispy starch and mustard flavor coming through.  All in all, very solid plate of food and I was stunned that the Oktoberfest crew was able to continue eating sausages after finishing their plates since it was true stick-to-your-ribs food.  Solid overstuffed night of eating.

Off to Momere’s birthday party.  It’s gonna be like the rave at the end of Go I think.  Spoof’n, but pretty amazing that she is 100 and still lives alone in a house heated by a wood burning stove.  I think I am going to be especially blown away when I see the full group of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren at the party this weekend.

Good luck to everyone in the Northeast recovering from Sandy.  LBI as many of you have seen already got hit very hard, but we have hope for our little bayside house and will keep you posted on how it fared when I know more.

Weird Crap I Cook: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Really, really wanted to name this one “Pete’s Balls”.  That decision is not indicative of the maturity I approached the whole post with, but it was a dece start.

As many of you already know, “Rocky Mountain Oysters” is the deceptive nickname for bull or calf testicles.  Huevos, Criadillas, Bull Fries… doesn’t really matter what you call them, they are still cooked bull’s balls.  Now that we’ve made that clear I’ll give a photo of something else and a brief aside to give anyone not interested in seeing this whole thing go down a chance to leave.

One of these mason jars is from our wedding, no idea which one.  Eventually it will totally get lost in our huge collection of mason jars and end up being used to pickle pigeon eggs or some crap.  You had a good run, wedding mason jar

Big week for the Ryan’s, one I’ve been waiting for patiently for 4 years; Switchback is now available in bottles!  Kristi and I have both loved Switchback since we first tasted it and chose to serve it at our wedding in mason jars.  Up until this week, it was only available in kegs, but our long national (national for my universe) nightmare is over.  Congrats to Gretchen and the rest of the crew at Switchback, pencil me in for a 12 pack every time I visit VT.

Anyhoo, back to them sex organs.  I’ve wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters for a long time but I’ve honestly never come across them in all of my travels or market shopping.  Kinda gross that testicles were on my food bucket list, but I’ve never claimed to be normal.  In late August, while exiting the St. Anthony festival in Boston’s North End I ducked into a halal butcher shop and spotted my culinary holy grail.

Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.  It was much easier to assume I would order them one day than actually purchasing them and knowing A) I would have to eat them because I hate wasting food and B) I’d have to prepare them

Sunday is never a good day for produce buying, and generally the halal butcher shops by the Haymarket smell a little funky, which all added up to this package smelling a little ripe.  From my Philly Italian Market experience I knew that half the battle would be getting them out of the packaging and rinsed, so that’s what I did.

So, uh, you guys wanna talk about something else?  Goddamn those veins are awful

Since it was a Sunday night, I was stuffed on arancini, and generally exhausted, I decided to vacuum seal the bag and freeze them for use at a later date.

Phew that’s a little better.  Let’s just say that I didn’t feel the need to use the labeling area on the outside of the package; these would be pretty easy to recognize

And into the chest freezer they went for a couple months.  I was a little scared of them, due to the ripeness mentioned previously, but knew that my curiosity would get the best of me at some point.  That point was this week when Kristi headed to Vermont for a couple nights and I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with horrified looks from her during the prep process.

After thawing, I rinsed thoroughly, and moved to a plastic cutting board to peel them, a process I had done absolutely no research on..

This wasn’t the first one I peeled.  That one was the ugliest looking of the batch from the outside and I couldn’t bring myself to post it.  Restraint!  Restraint is a new thing on this blog

I had my knives good and sharp for this process since the first cut is surface level and basically opens the ball (god I wish I could come up with a better term).  Then you remove the contents from the outer layer.  The inside is a yellowish/tan color and in no way resembles the outside.

Back to that first one.  For once my fingers aren’t the most unattractive thing in a picture

I will call it like it is here: I exercised awful instincts and did a terrible job on the first peeling.  I treated it like deboning a chicken or something and made tons of tiny cuts to separate it from the skin.  Ended up losing a fair amount of (questionably) edible material and generally it looked like sh*t at the end.

Looks kinda like chicken but that ain’t chicken.  Really awful job by me on this one

After standing there for a few minutes confounded by how this could be so difficult, I eventually decided to give this another shot by essentially trying to turn the next ball inside out.  Welp, turns out it was as easy as that, no knife required after the first cut.

Like it’s peeking around a corner to say hi to you.  Oh heeeyyyyy there little teste.  I should just accept that I am not going to be able to make this adorable

And with that realization, I was able to get through the remaining three in just a few minutes.  After removing from the skin, I sliced each ball into four 1/2 inch rounds that looked extremely similar to sea scallops before placing them into an iced saltwater bath.

That water clouded up quick.  In general, with any kind of organ meat or offal, I like it when the pre-cooking bath gets a little cloudy or changes color because it means I won’t be ingesting whatever caused it to do so

I let those pieces soak for about an hour to draw out as much funkiness as possible.

My plan was to go traditional with the prep and use about half of the ball meat.  Good god that sounds awful.  The other half would be used another night and help fill my bare cupboards of reserve post cupboards.  So, I started heating a few inches of vegetable oil on the stove top in ‘Lil Blue and set up a breading station.

Again, the scallop analogy works very well here, or at least compared to all the other subpar analogies I make on this blog

The breading mixture was half flour/half corn meal, with lots of salt, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder mixed in for flavor.  The beef scallops (ooh, that works) went from the bath, to the egg mixture, then into the breading and onto the wax paper to wait for the oil to come up to heat.

I despise frying stuff due to the smell and general fear of getting burned.  Every door in the apartment was closed and the windows were all open to deal with the smell, but the fear of the hot oil was more difficult.  I ended up choosing to fry between 325 and 350 instead of the usual 375 for vegetable oil since I had no interest in the bubbling splatters.

I mean, still plenty terrifying.  That item in my left hand is a bacon screen which I used to further reduce the splatter risk along with oven mitts on both hands.  Not shown is my Kevlar suit and football helmet.  Hot oil gives me nightmares, yo

After 8-10 minutes in the oil, the “oysters” had taken on a nice golden brown color and you could tell the coating would have a good crunch.  I removed them from the oil one by one and transferred to a pile of paper towels to drain.

Breading and frying makes pretty much anything look completely innocuous.  I might try this with my face during Movember to compensate for my sure-to-be-awful mustache

I spent a few minutes staring at them, letting them cool and seriously contemplating whether I should make a sauce (a caper-y aioli sounded good).  Since the smell and look of the Rocky Mountain Oysters was pretty appealing, there wasn’t nearly as much anxious fear as I expected at that moment.  Eventually, I just put a couple drops of cholula on one of them and took a bite.

I love Chicken McNuggets, but it’s gotta say something negative about a food when it closely resembles a fried bull testicle

Gotta say, Rocky Mountain Oysters are pretty dece.  The flavor is waayyyy less fierce than you would expect, like a very mild fried chicken liver but with the occasional hint of kidney flavor that reminds you that you are eating offal.  The texture is also most similar to a soft chicken liver.  Not at all the unpleasant eating experience that the rotten gym-towel-bin aroma from the original packaging led me to expect.  I ended up eating most of these and then cooking the remaining ball meat (that has become no less awful) the following night, but that will be documented another time.  All in all, a good meal and very glad I finally got to cook and sample bull testicles.

Thanks to Brendan for the new, hopefully less offensive blog header.  That one is here to stay I think.  Got a solid idea for next week’s post, which I plan to get out before Friday for once.

Weird Crap I Cook: Roast Tuna Head

“So much head I woke up in Sleepy Hollow” – Kanye West

I hear ya Kanye, I hear ya.  Before listening to Dark Fantasy I legitimately had no idea that Kanye West was friends with recreational tuna fishermen, let along had any interest in cooking odd foods.  Shows what I know.  We have so much in common!

Much like Kanye, when I got home from last weekend’s trip to LBI I recognized I had lots of head in my freezer; two from yellowfin tuna plus a hogs head.  I knew I had to cook one of them, and quickly, to make room in the freezer for our upcoming fall beef CSA.  With football Sunday and an apartment full of guinea pigs, er, friends planning to come over, I figured it was time to cook some tuna head.

I ended up thawing the one from earlier in the summer that wasn’t fully cleaned or butchered prior to freezing.  Gotta say, what came out of the trash bags was relatively grim.

Like I said, grim.  This photo is after I cut away the stomach and intestines that had been frozen in with the head.  Don’t worry, I won’t be posting shots of the butchery.  I just wanted to be done with this one before I could stink up the kitchen so did no pausing for pictures in process.  Also, there was still a fish hook in the jaw which added to the horrifying motif

The good news was that there was a bonus strip of belly meat still attached to the head.  The bad news was everything else.  The tuna was freezer burned and generally smelled awful due to the contents of the stomach and intestines being wrapped up with the meat.

At times during the process I considered tossing the whole thing out but instead trimmed away most of the exposed meat and found that underneath was some nice looking pink tuna.  Less meat than if it had been fully cleaned before freezing, but still plenty left to use.  I bagged the collars and belly separate from the head and left them in the fridge overnight.

The next morning I put together a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, siracha, and brown sugar.

That giant jug of Kikkoman from Costco has been excellent for a summer full of marinades and sauces.  The full sodium aspect of it just means that I’ve been filling out my friendship anklets better lately

About half of the marinade went in with the collars and belly and the other half went into the trash bag that held the head.  After a couple hours in the marinade the head went into a Pyrex with some of the marinade poured over the top.

If it didn’t smell horrifying, this would be a decent animal head to hang on the wall.  Maybe with a tail on the other side of the wall and possibly a cracked pattern stenciled on the wall.  You know, to show what a wacky homeowner you are

When it comes to roast tuna head, there isn’t a ton of info to be found on the English language internets, so I was basing my approach on a Bizarre Foods episode and knowing that heat + head = edible.  I leaned a lot harder on the second point since there wasn’t any detail on how to cook the head in that episode, just a picture of it coming out of the oven.

With that said, the head went into a preheated 350F oven for about an hour before I checked on it.  It took an incredible amount of restraint not to say “the head headed into a preheated…” in the previous sentence.  I’m addicted to puns like some sort of non-life-destroying, mildly humorous version of crack.  Crack jokes!

After an hour, I didn’t expect it to look any different.  But, I was incorrect with that assumption.

All the skin and bone had this smelling pretty fishyfunky, which is why I had a sturdy chili cooking alongside it in ‘Lil Blue.  This made it extra confusing for every person that stepped into the kitchen and caught a whiff

Shortly after taking that picture, the head tipped over, I poured the rest of the marinade on, and it went back into the oven.

Poor ‘Lil Blue.  It must have been so scary being in that oven alone with the tuna head.  At this point I think her friends are talking to her at parties about how I’m no good for her

After another half hour the head looked fully cooked through so I removed it from the oven and let it cool down a bit for handling.

The head felt like a kettle cooked potato chip at this point; far more brittle than I thought it would be.  Generally this whole experience was pretty enlightening.  Really just for me though

After 30-40 minutes, I called Buschy in for this portion of the documentation since it would be impossible to do myself.  It was really odd to me how easily the head cracked apart, but it made it much easier to scavenge for meat inside the head.

Opened it like a book.  I learned this destructive technique from Janet who loves books but treats every one of them like it’s a perfectly cooked rack of ribs ready to be torn apart and eaten.  Or, like she is also a book but she is a fierce cannibal.  Lets go with the first analogy, far less clumsy and uncomfortable

No need to share a ton of fotos from the mining.  The cheeks of a tuna are relatively small but can be fished out from between the inner and outer head cartilage.  The bulk of the meat is between the top of the skull and the skin and came off in a giant pile.  Aside from pulling some bits of meat from around the eyes, that was pretty much the whole pile.

Those eyes have to have any regular blog reader a little concerned about what will be coming later in the blog

After picking out some small and large bones, discarding any pieces that got a little too charred in the base of the pan, and chopping the meat coarsely, I had a nice little pile to work with.

Ended up adding the grilled belly meat to this bowl as well.  With the relatively innocuous look of the meat I wish multiple guests hadn’t stumbled into the kitchen earlier in the day while the oven was open and mumbled “holy f*ck” before hustling out of the room

With the meat in the oven to keep warm, I grilled up the collars as an appetizer and an easy entry point into tuna head eating.  Or that’s how I pictured it.

Due to the amount of trimming and the fish being 1/3 smaller than the one we caught last weekend, these collars felt a little wimpy.  Didn’t help that we threw away all of our take out chopsticks recently so people had to use forks to pick at it

The reality was actually a little different since random bites were fishier than the rest and, because I had trimmed so much off, the best meat had to be mined for.  Everyone picked a bit and I added the remainder to the meat bowl.

Just realized I haven’t addressed my plan for the tuna head meat yet.  I guess I was hoping Blog Villain Matt wouldn’t still be reading.  I made tacos.  There, I said it.

Flour tortillas were the only normal part of these tacos though, the other toppings were cubed cucumber, chopped green onion, and a slaw made of green cabbage, homemade pickled carrots, and rice wine vinegar.

Forgot to take this picture before we all made our tocks.  I need to make something soon that Kristi isn’t terrified to hang out in the kitchen with.  The pictures on this blog have been an abomination lately

A good taco featured all of the ingredients plus the tuna topped with a thick sauce made from duck sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, siracha, ginger, and brown sugar.

I could have sipped that sauce in front of a fire and had a wonderful evening.  Also, I’ve come around on these fake paper plates Kristi got for when we host people, but I hate that I think friends are going to poison themselves when they microwave them

Gotta say, these tocks were pretty solid.

The tuna meat, since it was fully cooked through, was relatively firm but not nearly as fishy as I expected from the smell when disassembling the head.  The sauce added a nice strong flavor that didn’t overwhelm the fish but made up for the bland cucumber that added texture but not much else.  Lastly, the combo of the crunchy slaw and scallion gave a nice contrast to the head meat.  Lots of Asian flavors coming together and playing nice.  I will likely end up doing something similar with the other tuna head in the freezer.

I didn’t forget the eyes.

Lets talk about something else

I also didn’t eat them.  Next time, I promise. Let me do this on my own terms, k?

We might have our first guest blogger next week, which will be exciting and likely ego testing for me.  Hope you enjoy the new nauseating blog masthead that could be tweaked soon.

Weird Crap I Cook: Cow Udder

Yet another post that seems to be a purposeful assault on every loyal reader that enjoys my wacky attempts at new eggplant and bread recipes.  This one is about an item that I can only assume usually ends up in dog food.

This post is a few months in the making at this point.  I feel like I’ve been threatening to write about udder for some time but hadn’t finished everything required to create a (somewhat) well informed post.  So, now here we are, with a whole post about cooking something you can pretty much only obtain in the U.S. if you know someone slaughtering a cow.  However, it’s apparently a common item in a few South American countries at restaurants that grill all parts of the cow, which means I had to try it.

A little refresher on what came in Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny (working title):

Seeing this photo reminds me of how bummed out I was when I saw the fur and hair still attached to the outside of the udder.  Like that massive-sized chunk of almost pure fat wasn’t enough to make my knees buckle

This 15 pound chunk of udder was divided up into 4 portions and frozen separately so I could slowly make use of all of it.  Lucky me.

The first attempt was relatively straightforward and coincided with the cooking of the Ponce back in May.  It started with trimming the outside edges off of the block to get rid of the random ugly-looking bits I missed originally.

“Oh here, let me make this foul looking piece of sort-of food less gross by trimming off some gross stuff that people would have never noticed because they won’t eat it.” – Me, always

I was working a little haphazardly with the udder on this round since I was completely over-invested in the fate of the ponce.  Not sure it would have mattered, though, since there aren’t many resources on how to cook cow’s udder online and I was pretty much flying blind the whole time.  So, I simply sliced the udder into quarter inch thick slabs and soaked in salted water for a few hours.

Nobody should ever eat anything that looks like a deck of cards made out of fat.  But, if that’s the hand you draw, I guess you gotta go with it.  Puns!  They’ve worked previously!

While the ponce finished cooking in the oven, we fired up the grill to cook kielbasa so I seasoned the udder with salt and pepper and threw the slabs onto the grill.

Everything looks better on a grill.  Cow udder looks like innocuous chicken breast

After a good ten minutes on each side, the udder came off and headed to a cutting board to be sliced up for the hungry masses (me).

Looked kinda like a chicken cutlet but smelled like the fat on the edge of grilled steak.  Even looking at it now it’s hard to believe that is a piece of cow udder.  Cow udder!

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it was still not quite what I expected.  First, it tasted like the fat on a good piece of grilled steak; definitely beef-like and fatty in flavor, but almost like I’d covered it with unsalted butter before cooking.  I had assumed the texture would be a melty, soft, fatty texture but I was pretty off-base on that one.  The outside was chewy, like severely overcooked calamari chewy, and borderline crunchy with a soft inside.  Not something you could eat a lot of, but kind of addictive due to the texture and flavor.  I ate more pieces than I should have.

With that experience fresh in my mind, I recognized I still had a lot of udder left in the freezer and wanted to try a new technique the second time around.  During our trip to Italy a couple years ago, I fell in love with the insanely unhealthy and delicious cured lardo at Giostra in Florence.  Usually made with pork fatback, I had never seen a beef equivalent; like a beef bressaola to pork’s prosciutto.  The internets had no info on a beef lardo equivalent or even how to cure beef fat, so of course I was intrigued.  It all started with a block of udder cut into two equal width halves.

This one looked a little different than the last block, possibly due to an extra post-thaw day in the fridge that was a bit of a questionable decision.  Like this whole effing blog entry wasn’t an incredibly questionable decision

With curing something this large, unlike the relatively simple duck prosciutto, there are more concerns about creepy bacteria and, particularly, botulism.  Pink salt, a nice term for salt mixed with sodium nitrite and a little nitrate, has to be used in order to ensure that the end product is safe to eat.  Nitrites/nitrates are pretty villainized but a reality of most charcuterie.  I mixed a cup of salt with a couple tablespoons of pink salt, garlic powder, dried thyme, dried sage, and lots of black pepper.

I let Janet consume reasonable amounts of dirt and grass (you really can’t help it) and don’t mind her crawling around in public places, but I was acting like an insane parent with how I handled the pink stuff.  That stuff is no good for babies, probably bad for adults too but at least we get to enjoy its delicious riches

I lined the bottom of a glass pyrex with the salt mixture, then placed the udder pieces into the dish and covered all sides completely with the salt making sure no parts of the meat were left exposed.

It was a snug fit but better than being in a much larger dish and needing more salt.  The coating also did a solid job of hiding the oddness underneath it.  Salt, is there anything you can’t do?

I wrapped the dish tightly in two or three layers of plastic wrap and then placed my special cooking brick (we found it in the garden and wrapped it in tin foil) on top of the udder.  The idea is that while it cures in the salt, the weight would press out excess bacteria-risky liquid.  The whole kit and kaboodle (how have I not used that expression here before) went into the fridge for 30ish days.

The fridge light makes this look both creepy and sh*tty-filter-that-everyone-uses-on-Instagram-y.  I would describe myself as generally irritated by Instagram.  I would also describe myself as generally irritated about everything

Over the next 30 days, I pulled the dish out every five days or so to flip the udder pieces, pack in the same salt mixture, re-cover, and weight.  Over time, the salt got progressively wetter and there was liquid collecting in the dish.  I wasn’t sticking to any specific timetable, I was winging this one and lardo usually comes out after seven days, but eventually I decided it was time to remove it from the salt.

That was some viscous liquid collecting around the sides, but it was nice to see that something had changed and looked different.  I was putting way too much effort into this thing to have no progress

Each piece was removed from the mud-like salt and given a quick rinse in water and then white wine.  The white wine was a bit odd in retrospect, but lardo and proscutto recipes call for a fortified wine rinse, and I didn’t care to figure out what “fortified wine” meant, so I broke out the ollllld Chuck Shaw.

You know we’ve switched to the good camera when the water looks like this.  We’ve also reached the portion of the program when Kristi agreed to participate.  Also, the dark spots are pieces of dried herb that stuck around throughout the process

Subpar action shots on this one.  Kristi and I aren’t on speaking terms because of this

With the bottom half of the wine fridge lined in light-blocking cardboard from the inside (as discussed in previous posts) I had a 54 degree location that was perfect for curing.  I poked a hole in each slab with a bamboo skewer, pressed a string through it, then tied it to the bottom side of one of the wine racks to hang.

Ended up having to redo this so that they were both on the same string and wouldn’t swing into each other.  In hindsight it was a pretty stupid concern, it’s not like the fridge was going to be in the hold of ship

And that was pretty much the last I saw of the udder for the next 60-ish days.  The rack slid back into the wine fridge and the udder cured in 54 degree temperatures in what I came to know as “the curing box”.  Kristi still calls it the wine fridge.

After a couple months of curing and some general food boredom post-St. Anthony’s feast in the north end of Boston, I pulled the udder out of the wine fridge.

A lot smaller than when I started.  Totally not something you can see from a scale-less photo

After a few minutes of staring, smelling, poking and general stalling, I finally started cutting off some slices from the block.

Just a big old block of cured beef fat.  The discovery of foods like this is rarely done by people of smaller dimensions than mine.  Let’s just say I don’t think this is the type of food Giada De Laurentiis is making at home.  Before looking her up just now I was unaware she spelled her last name with two “i”s and now I am pretty sure that’s not her real name.  Another thing I am generally annoyed by

The key with any lardo is to slice very, almost transparently, thin.  After tasting a tiny piece raw, I decided this was definitely the type of food that would taste better with some heat applied to it.  Toasting pieces of baguette and letting the lardo melt onto them seemed like the best course, but I didn’t have any good bread in the house so I fried up a batch like bacon.

Thought I had a good shot of the thin slices on the cutting board but apparently not.  Has the transition back and forth from the good camera to the iPhone been jarring?  I find it jarring

While the slices cooked the smell was somewhere between pan cooked steak and a natural tallow candle.  It definitely was a reminder that what I was about to eat ends up as something other than people food 99.9999% of the time in America.  Not that I think that’s wrong; udder isn’t exactly the next head cheese coming to the menus of trendy gastro-pubs nationwide.

It looked/smelled reasonably appetizing at this point.  Not sure you can go wrong frying something fatty and cured like you would bacon, seems to always work.  Again, not the type of conversation you’re going to hear around the starting line at a 10k

Cured cow udder isn’t for everyone, but it was actually kind of good.  The most shocking thing is how sweet the cured udder is.  Not like how I would describe shellfish as sweet, this was very sugar-like.  It legitimately tastes like bacon that has been baked with brown sugar on it, almost a candied flavor.  I racked my brain to try to remember if I had put sugar in the cure but realized the sweetness was coming from the udder.  Likely the last remnants of the milk which is gross or cool depending on how you look at it.

Obviously I was working with just the fat here, so there wasn’t a lot of texture aside from the crispiness, but it really tasted like beef-flavored crispy bacon fat.  I am actually looking forward to frying this up again and seeing what I could pair it with.  Will likely experiment with it some more in LBI this weekend.

I am just happy it was edible, I really thought I would be throwing it out after 90 days of (minimal) effort.  Hopefully I’ll do a post everyone can enjoy next week.

Weird Crap I Cook: Octopus 3-Ways

Aside from the usual end-of-summer struggles with posting, I haven’t had a whole lot going on the past few weeks.  Trip to Vermont, staph infection from a bug bite, lots of work, but not a lot of interesting cooking.  The vegetable CSA has certainly kept me on my toes trying to figure out a good pickling recipe and making variations of Conman’s mixed-vegetable smoky salsa, but none of that stuff makes a good blog post.

So, this past Sunday I had high hopes for inspiration and a drive to cook something interesting.  Instead we walked to Brookline to hit Michael’s Deli for the best Ruben in Boston.

I should have shown a picture of the awesome sammich, but the guy who made my sandwich was enamored with Janet and she was surprisingly happy hanging with him while we ordered.  I thought it was adorable.  Great place

On the walk home I made the call that it was time to cook the three pound whole octopus I’ve had in the freezer for a couple months.  After some quick research, it seemed relatively straightforward and would just require thawing it out for cooking.  So lets get going.

I know, I didn’t think it looked promising at first either, but I quickly recognized that it was whole, raw, and relatively free of any freezer burn

I was nervous about rapid thawing but some quick research clarified that frozen octopus should be soaked to defrost which was what I was planning to do anyway.  One more shot of this truly bizarre  seafood block that looked like it was frozen in the base of a five gallon bucket.

Like a wheelbarrow tire made out of seafood.  I wanted Kristi to eat this meal so I didn’t involve her and the good camera in the documentation.  Gave the iPhone another shot instead.  I’ll give it a B-

The frozen block started to loosen up and looked more like a oceangoing creature after an hour or so soaking in water.  Enough that I advised Kristi not to look in the sink for a little while.

Might have been a little overzealous saying this looked like an oceangoing creature.  It really looked like a grocery bag getting tossed around by the ocean, or the washing machine just after it fills.  Food!

I had a sense that this octopus was far larger than I expected but would also contract significantly once it was cooked.  As the thawing wrapped up, I put a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat.  With Kristi safely seated in the living room, I lifted the octopus out of the bowl by the head (mantle).  Well, wowzers.

This was surprisingly heavy.  I was leaning back so far and holding the phone away to fit the whole thing in a picture.  It was friggin’ huge

With the water boiling, I was ready to start cooking this thing.

Quick aside, the millions of internet experts on Octopus cooking were decidedly split on whether or not a cork was necessary in the boiling water to tenderize the octopus.  Some sort of enzyme in cork helps break down the meat, or something like that.  I was leaning towards including a cork until I realized we didn’t have any lying around and I was pretty sure that every bottle in the house was either screw cap or synthetic cork (cuz that’s how we roll).  And with that, my decision was made, no cork in this batch.

As instructed online, I dipped the octopus a couple times to tighten it up a bit and then fully submerged it in the boiling water.  Put some good slimy smudges on our stainless hood from not having enough clearance above the pot to lower this monster in cleanly.  Almost immediately it fully contracted and started looking more like food.  Or a prop from Aliens.

Understandable why a lot of people like baby octopus but would never consider cooking a whole large one.  This really does look like somethign from the back lot at Universal Studios

After putting the octopus in the pot I reduced the heat to a simmer, carefully placed a pair of tongs to keep it from floating out of the water, and left it to cook for an hour and a half.  At which point I cut the heat and let it cool to a handleable temperature in the water.

Again, really crazy stuff going on in this kitchen.  The liquid looked like a melted Crayola crayon or something.  The stuff that made it pink was actually some sort of solid, likely from the skin, suspended in the liquid.  Pretty odd

When I eventually (read, post cocktail hour at a local restaurant’s patio with friends) pulled the octopus out of the liquid, the skin was falling off and the meat was fork tender.

A bit of a blurry mess, but looks more like food I think.  Or looks more like food to me I think.  Something like that

The suction cups and skin were completely falling off and when I tasted them didn’t seem to have a lot of flavor or texture.  So I completely removed everything that was loose, cut each tentacle off near the base, and piled all of the meat up on a plate.

Really struggled to process what I was looking at at this point.  A big pile of worm-like white meat just doesn’t look right.  Next time around I would cook it in a way that allowed it to hold it’s signature skin and suction cups

Now for the three ways.  My plan was to make a relatively traditional coctel de pulpo, a simple grilled tentacle with olive oil and sea salt, and a pesto octopus bruschetta.  Wasn’t really creative at all, I’ve wanted to make the first two items for a while not and the last item is just due to how much pesto Kristi made last week.

I started with the coctel de pulpo since it needed the most time to rest together in the fridge.  I’ve had coctel de pulpo a couple times on previous travels and it’s really just an awse term for ceviche; tomatoes, lime, garlic, seafood, etc.  I liked the idea of this item because it didn’t call for any specific ingredients, just what sounds good and what’s in the fridge.

I sliced all of the octopus meat from the mantle, the ends of the arms, and the body in thin pieces.  Half of that meat joined diced onion, cubed cucumber, garlic, hot sauce, and lots of chopped cilantro in a glass bowl.

Lots of strong flavors to surround the mild tasting octopus, but it all works so well together.  Hasn’t been my strongest post from a captions perspective.  I’m a little out of rhythm, per usual, with the end of summer

I squeezed about a lime and a half over the ingredients and stirred in tomato juice until the texture looked about right.  Then a lot of pepper and a little sea salt.

Like a seafood gazpacho, one that will find nicks and cuts inside your mouth you never knew existed and burn the bejesus out of them

The pesto bruschetta was both a courtesy to Kristi, since I knew pesto + grilled bread would make even the oddest of ingredients edible for her, and a combination of ingredients that sounded dece to me.  I stirred a few spoonfuls of pesto with the remainder of the sliced octopus meat and a little lemon juice before putting it on the stove top over low heat.

Like plopping a can of hash into a pot and not breaking it up at all.  I did stir this eventually.  The iPhone shots are at their worst when there’s a lot of light.  I think I just need to start paying Kristi a photographers wage so she has to photograph the stuff she doesn’t want to see

With the coctel resting in the fridge and the bruschetta topping heated up, I headed out to the grill the octopus arms and some sliced ciabatta from When Pigs Fly bakery in JP.  That place is impossible to go into without buying something.

I take back my previous statement.  The iPhone is truly at its worst in low light.  Either you get a grainy, difficult to make out shot or a completely washed out image from the flash.  The way I remember it, it was barely dusk out and this picture makes it look like it was taken in the touch tunnel at the Liberty Science Center.  Suburban NJ spooves!!!

The octopus and bread both had a bit of olive oil on them and I waited until the grill was very hot to throw them on.  My goal was to get a blackened char on the octopus and a nice toast on the bread, but the bread was far more cooperative than the octopus.  For some reason instead of a char or even some solid grill marks, the outside just got a little crispy.  Not what I was hoping for but, oh well.

Once off the grill, I drizzled some good olive oil and a couple twist of pink sea salt over the arms.  Yeeeaaahhh, getting fancy with my ingredients on y’all!  I got those seas salts all the way in Brookline!  At the Trader Joes!  For $1.99!

A char would have gone a long way towards making these look more appetizing.  I’m guessing that next time I’ll cut the tentacles off before boiling and cook them on the grill only which will likely get the char I’m looking for since they will be skin-on

With everything fully cooked, I plated it all together.  The coctel got some blue corn tortilla chips as a garnish/edible spoon, and the pesto octopus was piled high on the toasted bread.

Was pretty happy with how this came out looks-wise.  The grilled tentacles were really the crappiest looking item on the plate.  White food just looks gross, even worse when it is completely unidentifiable to an impartial observer

I thought this was a very solid meal and Kristi seemed to enjoy it as well.  The octopus arms had an interesting texture, tough and crispy on the outside but tender inside with the nice mild shellfish-like flavor that octopus has.  The fruity olive oil and salt obviously complimented it well.  The bruschetta was delicious, rich, easy-entry food.  The octopus added that same shellfishy flavor and a nice tender texture and we had no problem eating our way through that entire pile of bread and pesto mixture.

The coctel de pulpo was my favorite part.  I loved the spicy/citrusy kick from it and how light and refreshing it was after the other far more rich parts of the dish.  Like a palate cleanser.  With tortilla chips.  Kristi wasn’t as into that part since it was her first taste of ceviche, but she agreed that the burn from the spicy citrus had an almost addictive quality.

That’s it, summer is almost over and football cooking season is starting.  Get excited.

Weird Crap I Cook: Coffee Crusted Steak Tips

A couple years ago I got to experience an awesome dinner of beef cooked in chocolate and white wine vinegar at my god parents house.  During the dinner, I got to yapping with their son-in-law Matt who is the co-owner of Black River Roasters, a high quality organic coffee company that gets its name from a river near the town I grew up in.  Matt talks as passionately about coffee as I talk about food, and I feel as strongly about coffee as he feels about food.  We went together like peas and carrots.

Anyhoo, Matt checks in on the blog regularly and I enjoy a cup of Black River Roasters coffee any chance I get.  With a bag of beans in the fridge, seemed like high time these worlds collided.

Clever bag color, no idea what could have possibly inspired that choice

When trying to figure out a good use for coffee in food, I remembered seeing coffee crusted steaks on a couple menus over the past few years.  Apparently the coffee doesn’t add too much flavor, mainly just gives a little crunch and a touch of bitterness.  Works for me, so let’s breakout the $10 coffee grinder that is infuriatingly small and completely unworthy of the quality of beans we put in it.

Grinds enough for only four cups of coffee at a time and smells like an electric train that is about to start a house fire???  Please, tell me more.  A retracting power cord!?!?  SOLD!!!

With the (poorly) ground coffee beans, I planned to make two preparations of steak tips; a marinade and a dry rub.  The marinade was made of 2 tablespoons of coffee, a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 4-5 ounces of white wine, chopped garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, salt, and onion powder.  I also added a good splash of white wine vinegar at the end for a little bite.  The rub was just coffee, salt and black pepper since I wanted to keep one simple to ensure I could taste the coffee flavor clearly.

Sorry to ruin the suspense, but you can probably see that I used too much salt in the rub.  Thank god I love salty beef.  Some day I hope this blog has enough fans that someone compiles every quote that could be clearly linked to obesity, my guess is that one was #129

For the beef, there was no doubt what I was going with; good old trusted sirloin flap meat, or steak tips if you are a New Englander.  The meat is cheap ($6 a pound!), well marbled, and comes from the sirloin so it tastes like beef should.

I love the experience of slowly making my way through a single well seasoned 20-ounce piece of dry aged ribeye for $54, but steak tips are my top choice at home and nearly as enjoyable

As usual with tips I cut each sirloin flap into cubes that will be about 3-4 bites once cooked.  A little over half were thoroughly coated with the rub.

Looked exactly like a pepper crust, and I despise pepper crusts on steak, tuna, pretty much anything really.  However, I thought this looked kind of good for no explainable reason

And the rest of the tips went into the marinade for about an hour.  Didn’t want to risk doing it any longer.

Wish I added brown sugar to this but I was nervous at the time that the combined sweetness of the white wine and sugar would be too much.  I wear glasses or contacts every day and yet I have 20/20 vision when looking back in time.  Took me awhile to identify the yellowish bits but I think it’s garlic and crushed red pepper

With the food all prepped, I fired up the grill and let it get well in to the 600 degree range before throwing the tips onto the grate.  After around five minutes with the lid down, the tips had enough of a char to flip.

Janet has been doing some awesome stuff lately and all, but the milestones achieved by this grill in its first two months of life have really blown Janet’s early accomplishments out of the water

The grilling process would have been the first time I could tell that the crust on the steak was coffee and not pepper.  The smell of coffee was clearly present as these cooked.  Also, I started to get very worried that I had made the marinade too spicy since the smell of the cayenne pepper cooking on the grill made me sneeze and cough every time I opened the grill hood.  Never a good sign.

Rub on the left, marinated version on the right.  Grills look so much cooler in a nice quality photograph

The tips came off the grill and I started to sample a few pieces.  First reaction was how well the crust worked on the dry rub version, but the second reaction was that I put waaaayyy too much salt in the rub.  On the flip side, I was psyched that the marinated version wasn’t chokingly spicy.

I can’t imagine living in a climate where there are no real changes in weather/temperature from season to season, mainly because I wouldn’t have an excuse to eat massive amounts of red meat for three months straight by shrugging and saying “it’s the summer”

The marinated tips picked up the most flavor from the Worcestershire and cumin but you could definitely taste a little bit of coffee in there as well.  The combination reminded me of a molé sauce with the heavily spiced flavors and the bitter contrast, but not quite as strong or overpowering as a molé. I would definitely add brown sugar, less Worcestershire, and a little more white wine vinegar next time.

The dry rubbed tips were very salty.  Like, borderline complete bust salty.  However, we figured out that if they were eaten with a bite of the other tips or the yellow squash they were completely fine.  The crust was almost identical to a black pepper crust but without the punch in the face of black pepper flavor that overwhelms the meat.  The coffee also had a noticeable bitter flavor that was matched by the slight spiciness form the black pepper. The most important thing was that the meat flavor wasn’t lost in the rub, it was just nicely complimented by it.

For the next three days these tips made for a perfect lunchtime salad topping since the saltiness was fine when tossed with lettuce and vegetables.  Watch out for coffee grinds in the teeth if you try this at home, though.

Been planning a mixed meat grill fest for some time, hopefully it shows up next week.