Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Cheesesteak (w/bone marrow “whiz”)

Early in my posting days, I undertook an ambitious attempt at pan cooked beef heart and crispy fried bone marrow.  The marrow came out great, the beef heart less so.  I think the heart’s subpar flavor and texture was due to my organ cooking inexperience, my lack of butchering skills (not that I am Sam from the Brady Bunch now), and generally that what I made was poorly thought out.  I cooked the heart for way too long, in a heavy sauce, and served it over watery greens instead of a starch of some sort.  In 90 degree weather.  Live and learn, but I definitely intended to take another crack at it somewhere down the road.

Three years later and I’m still working my way through the massive amount of organ meat stored in my chest freezer.  So, when faced with a little food boredom last week, I pulled a half beef heart out of the freezer to defrost.  It was the second half (I think) of the heart from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny and it had held up pretty well due to the vacuum sealed freezer bag.

Beef hearts are effing enormous. That's a 7" chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see was very intimidating

Beef hearts are effing enormous.  That’s a 7″ chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see is the most intimidating part of working with animal hearts.  In other news, I didn’t do too good in Biology and I’m pretty sure “crazy crap” is the closest I could come to a medical term to describe what you are seeing

That’s about two and a half pounds of muscle covered by a lot of silverskin and some hardened fat on the outside.  Plus the stuff on the inside that I can’t use my words on.  My plan was to trim off all of the external membrane/fat and any of the funky stuff in the internal chambers.  Once fully trimmed, I expected it to look like a normal (but extremely lean) chunk of meat that I would slice thin to make a cheesesteak from.

A 'lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming.  The piece on th right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slices were the start of the thin slicing

A ‘lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming which left me with what looked like a bloody Lego.  The piece on the right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slivers were the start of the thin slicing

Due to the density of the muscle, the meat was easy to slice thin using the same method as slicing gravlax; press the side of the knife against the meat and shave.  As I got toward the center, it became more difficult to keep the pieces thin so I switched to the other side and sliced until I got to the same point.  The center area I ended up cutting into thicker slabs for later use on the grill.  After slicing was complete, I had this.

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left.  Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend's garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as "Mommys" or "Daddys"

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings, and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left. Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend’s garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as “Mommys” or “Daddys”

With the meat sliced, I placed the thicker pieces in a marinade of miso and a few other ingredients to marinate for a day or so before grilling.  The thin slices went into a separate bag to rest and await cooking in the fridge.

In my opinion, a true Philly Cheesesteak can only use one cheese or cheese like product: Cheez Whiz.  It’s highly processed, probably doesn’t include any dairy, and keeps at room temperature in a jar for years, but good golly does it taste delicious.  The tangy flavor goes so well with fatty beef.  For the purposes of this meal, my ambitious plan for a homage to “whiz” was to use a piece of beef bone marrow instead of butter in a roux, then build a cheese sauce from there.  I got started by putting a piece of marrow in a 450F oven to roast and break down.

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Search marrow for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Look at the Heart and Bones post linked earlier for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save them in the freezer.  You know, for when you need marrow and stuff

While the marrow roasted, I pulled some cheese curds out of the fridge which would be the primary cheese-type ingredient in the cheese sauce.  The curds were maybe slightly past their prime, but given the mild and slightly tangy flavor of cheese curds I thought they would be perfect for my tribute to Cheez Whiz.

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed a solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren't made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed into a mashed together solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren’t made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often.  Also, it’s kind of amazing I’ve been doing this three years and this is my first loving homage to processed cheese, right?

I cut the cheese curds up into thin batons that looked similar to a grated bag of Kraft cheddar, then moved the now broken down roasted marrow to the stovetop.

All it takes to get to this point is a little pressure from the whisk.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the handle out of the 450F oven bare handed by accident

About halfway through roasting, you need to break up the marrow with a fork which lets any remaining fat render and the other pieces crisp a bit.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the pot handle bare handed out of the 450F oven and getting a nice sear on my palm

With the fat fully liquified, I started out the roux by whisking in a little over a tablespoon of flour and cooking it on the stovetop until it started to brown a bit.

The solid bits from the marrow were still relatively solid at this point but started to fall apart

I have no understanding of bone marrow as a cooking ingredient, I just know I like the flavor and it makes sauces better.  I thought it was all fat, but also have heard something (likely nonsense) about how it’s actually a degenerated protein and not as bad for you as fat.  I certainly am unqualified to explain what the crispy chunks are vs the rendered marrow fat

With the roux cooking, I pulled the thin sliced heart meat out of the refrigerator and drained the excess blood from the bag.  The meat headed to a pile of paper towels seasoned with salt and pepper to leach out a bit more of the bloody liquid and hopefully reduce the iron-y flavor of the heart.

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat, very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat. Very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying the cooked version of this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

While the heart meat drained, I began adding milk to the roux to form the based of the cheese sauce.  Once enough milk was added to thin the base to the consistency of gravy, I started to whisk in the cheese curds.

Cheese Curds are at their most questionable at this point since they don't melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  So they took a little longer, but eventually I had this...

This is the point I heavily questioned my own need to use everything in the fridge since cheese curds don’t melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  I berated myself loudly as these took slightly longer to melt than I expected then calmed down when they melted.  Eventually I had this…

...Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not cheese whiz, but it's made out of marrow for cripes sake

…Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not Whiz, but it’s made out of bone marrow for cripes sake

With the sauce bubbling on the stove, I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium/high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter was melted and bubbling, I added the heart meat and half of a sliced white onion.

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

After a few minutes of browning, I gave my best attempt at the Philly tactic of using two metal spatulas to chop and tear the meat to shreds using the sides of the spatulas.  Mostly I just ended up making a lot of noise and sort of tearing a few pieces into slightly smaller pieces.

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat in the pan at the time too, but it was barely enough for one sandwich amazingly

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat at the time, but it was barely enough for one sandwich, amazingly

With the meat fully cooked, I piled it high in the closest thing I could find to the excellent crusty sub rolls from Sarcone’s or Amaroso’s that they use all over Philly.  It was not as close a match as I’d hoped and I knew it would be an exhausting sandwich to eat due to the chewiness of the bread.

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what makes them great

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what separates a great sandwich from the rest.  This was chewy and crispy but not soft

Once the sandwich was loaded up, I put a few large spoonfuls of the marrow whiz over the top of the meat making sure it had enough to soak into the bread.  Then squeezed it closed holding the meat in, cut in half, and did some more squeezing to make sure I could fit it into my mouth for a bite.

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

I ended up eating this whole thing and enjoying it, but you could definitely tell this wasn’t a traditional cheesesteak.  The meat was thin enough to easily bite through, though a little chewier than a normal cheesesteak.  Usually the meat is chewy, but in a cheap shaved meat way, whereas heart meat has a more rubbery consistency since the grain is so tight and there is no fat to break it up.  The flavor wasn’t too far off from normal steak though a little more iron-y, but the onions covered that up well.  The marrow cheese sauce had a ton of flavor and you could tell there was bone marrow in the mix.  Would have been better if I used cheddar and gruyere instead of curds I think, since it would have been sharper and complemented the marrow better.

All in all, a much more successful experiment and something I wouldn’t mind tinkering with again.  The grilled marinated pieces I cooked later in the week weren’t quite as enjoyable since they were just like metallic beef jerky due to dryness.  Here’s a picture for proof, no need to expound on it further, just didn’t want to ignore that this happened.

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope,  I got mineral jerky from this part

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope, I got mineral jerky from this.  Had to sneak it in here or it would have ended up in a Major Dag post

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Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Tongue Pizza

Due to the kindness of friends and strangers, and their love of giving me trash bags of offal, I have a lot of interesting meats in my freezer.  Tongue, from several different animals, is available in abundance in the freezer.  While I’ve found some good uses for lamb, pork, and goats tongues due to their small size and tender meat, I had yet to cook a beef tongue dish that I truly enjoyed.  I’ve stewed it (for too short) and grilled it, but I haven’t made a dish that had the tender texture that tongue is prized for.

I decided to change all of that a couple weekends ago and brought a tongue up from the freezer to thaw.  Not just any tongue either, this one was from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny, which I had in a vacuum-sealed freeze for about a year.  As I’ve referenced before, since this was a grass fed cow that was butchered in a non-commercial setting, the cuts were in a more, um, natural state.  As in I still needed to rinse some grass off the tongue once it had thawed.

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans.  That’s all I got here.  Oh, and the black part felt like the scratchy side of velcro

I followed the same standard process for preparing beef tongue with this one even though it was a little different than any you would find in a store.  The tongue went into a pot of boiling water for 90 minutes to loosen the hard outer skin from the meat so it could be easily peeled.  As usual, I boiled it for the recommended amount of time, briefly rinsed it in cold water, and cursed the stupid internet as I burned my fingers unsuccessfully peeling.  Then, eventually, easily peeled it once it got started (like a stubborn orange made of skin and shaped like a tongue).

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it's still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it’s still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

To expound on what made this tongue different while you are staring at that unappetizing photo, it’s because unlike a store-bought tongue, this one included the “stump”.  That area required some trimming of fat and unsightly pieces before boiling, but still has some decent meat so I left it intact.  If you’ve ever looked at the underside of your tongue in a mirror, I’m sure you can guess how questionable that stump looked when this all started.

Anyhoo, with the tongue ready for further cooking, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in Lil’ Blue over medium heat and started browning the outside of the tongue.

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have too much experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Once browned on all sides (including some awkward balancing on the back of the tongue), I removed it from the pot and reduced the heat on the burner.  While it cooled a bit, I chopped carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the food processor and dumped it directly into the pot to cook down for a few minutes.

This is becoming my go to braising and sauce base.  You will be seeing a lot more of it if I ever post regularly again

This is becoming my go-to braising and sauce base.  I think mire poix plus garlic is called sofrito, but I need some sort of clever nickname for sofrito + pork product (a la the regionally famous “Mire Pete”).  Suggestions are welcome

Once some of the liquid had cooked out of the veggies, I stirred in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a little crushed red pepper, salt, and a handful of currants.  The currants were mostly to add some sweetness without using sugar and, as previously mentioned, Kristi bought a comedically large container of them a month ago.  Every day that passes with them in the cabinet stresses me out more.

After a little stirring, the tomato paste had well coated the other ingredients and I added a bottle of red wine to form the base for the braise.  While I waited for the liquid to reduce a bit, I preheated the oven to 300F and seized the opportunity for a little window-side photo shoot.

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, generally the only part of those movies I didn't laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself doing the same spoofs unintentionally by the window of my kitchen

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, which were really the only part of those movies I didn’t laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself spoofing that scene by the window of my kitchen with various odd foods

The browned tongue still looked a little funky, but smelled like roast beef with a little bacon aroma thrown in for good measure.  The tongue went back into the reduced braising liquid along with a few spoonfuls of liquid over the top.

I never even considered that this wouldn't fit but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

I never even considered that this wouldn’t fit into the Le Creuset, but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

The lid went back onto ‘Lil Blue and it headed into the oven for three hours of braising.  I’d like to say I paced the house the whole time, but I think we actually got outside and away from the kitchen so I wouldn’t obsess over it the whole time.

When we returned home, Kristi said something along the lines of, “I am disgusted by how good that smells since I know what it is”.  Which, I guess, is a good sign?  I thought yes, so I pulled the pot out of the oven to see what we had.

Pretty much what I expected, though I am always amazed by how much smaller meat is when it comes out of a braise

Pretty much what I expected, though braising makes food smaller which is not something I like to have happen.  Yet I continue to braise everything I have no other ideas for

The meat was extremely tender to the point that I was concerned it would fall apart when I removed it from the pot.  Which is what I was hoping for after my previous chewy experiences cooking tongue.

With plans to use everything in the pot, I removed the tongue carefully with a couple large spoons and transferred it to a separate dish.  Once the tongue and pot had cooled enough to touch, they both headed into the fridge to chill completely.  After a few hours, the tongue had firmed enough that it would be easy to slice without the meat falling apart, and the excess fat in the braising liquid had hardened for easy skimming.

Once skimmed, the liquid went back on the stove top to come back up to temperature.

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce.  All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce. All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

While the sauce simmered, I started the grill and began slicing the tongue into pieces that would work well as a pizza topping.  See, it wasn’t just a falsely titled post, it just took a while to get there!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

The part of the tongue between the stump and the end sliced in perfect sized rounds.

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the "stump" and the "tip", he responded "Awesome language!"

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the “stump” and the “tip”, he responded “Awesome language!”

The remainder of the tongue I sliced over the following few days for a couple tongue sandwiches which were friggin’ delicious.  Even on stupid, evil sandwich thins.

I pride myself on my kitchen items and our many fine glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned takeout thai food dish.  Kristi doesn't mind because all my offal goes in them

I pride myself on my kitchen gadgets and our many glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned plastic takeout Thai food dish.  Kristi doesn’t mind because all my offal goes in them

When cold and in between two slices of (stupid diet) bread, the braised tongue can be enjoyed in all of its glory.  It was a combination of the flavor of rich pot roast with the texture of firm liverwurst in a sandwich.  So tasty, but no one else will think that sounds delicious.  Except, maybe, this one person I know…

THAT'S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin like the greats and disgusting her mother in just a few speedy bites.  She wasn't sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

THAT’S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin’ like the greats and disgusting her mother at the same time.  She wasn’t sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

Janet had her fair share of slices over the following few days, but my favorite moment was when our friend’s son Griffin took a piece out of her hand while we were visiting in LBI for the 4th.  He ate it in two bites while his mother Liz turned away in horror trying to avoid vomiting while saying through muffling hands, “It’s fine, it’s fine, he can eat it if he wants to.”  I am a great houseguest!

With the grill up to 550F and all of the ingredients prepped, I stretched out half of a pizza dough and brushed it thoroughly with olive oil. Then straight onto the grill oiled side down.

I have discussed my love for grilled pizza previously, but that love hasn’t faded.  It is the only way to get crispy, bubbly, and chewy dough cooking at home due to how much heat comes off the grill.  Here it is after about a minute and a half.

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way in.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way back in to the house.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

The raw side gets another brush of olive oil then the whole thing gets flipped so the grilled side can be topped.

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I've failed a few times, but it's almost always edible

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I’ve lost a few times, but it’s almost always edible and more often than not delicious

The crispy side was spread with the braising liquid, the tongue rounds, and a couple handfuls of parmesan and shredded mozzarella.  Then a couple dollops of additional sauce for good measure and back onto the grill with the boring pesto, tomato and cheese pizza Kristi made me make as well.

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be trapping enough heat to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be spent trapping enough heat inside the grill to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

After another few minutes on the grill with the lid closed, I burned my hands the usual extensive amount transferring the pizza back to a cookie sheet to bring inside.  A quick foto of the brief resting period so the cheese wouldn’t all slide off when I cut it.

That's right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing without acknowledging to this point in the blog.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

That’s right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing this blog that I haven;t acknowledged yet.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

As usual with the half dough pizzas, each was cut into eight, 5-6 bite rectangles.  The point of cutting to that size is so I don’t know how much I’ve eaten and no one else can really tell whether I am eating a lot either.  Strategy!

Luckily the beef tongue was tender and easy to cut unlike pepperoni, prosciutto and other toppings I have struggled to slice through previously.

Had to have a slice of the stupid Kristi pizza too, you know, to get my greens

Had to have a piece of the stupid Kristi pizza too.  You know, to get my greens

The pizza was very tasty.  Because the sauce was a reduced and concentrated blend of sofrito, red wine, tomato paste, and juice/fat from the beef, it had a ton of flavor.  It was very rich and pretty delicious.  The only mistake was the extra dollops of sauce since a little bit went a long way and I wanted it to compliment the tongue instead of challenge it.  As it was with the extra sauce, the flavor of the tongue was overpowered a little bit, but overall it still tasted how I hoped: pot roast pizza.  Next time around I would likely use slightly less sauce, use some shaved gruyere as the cheese, and integrate some caramelized onions.  Only reason I passed on the onions this time around is because they play a prominent role in my braised short rib pizza which would have been nearly identical to this.

Once again, I promise to right this ship.  For serious this time.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Mixed Grill

I need to come up with a good name for mixed grill that sounds cool.  Bollito Misto would be a cool thing to call it but that’s a mixed boil, and all the other foreign terms for mixed meat grill-fests refer to a specific collection of meats.  Please provide suggestions for what I should call future events where I fish interesting stuff out of my chest freezer to grill up. 

Anyhoo, Lamb, smelts, and cow parts were on the menu for Saturday and good golly was it rewarding.  Let’s check out the vacuum sealed lineup.

iPhone camera + dish towel + assorted offal in plastic makes for a much more ominous shot than a joyous evening of grilling calls for

That’s a half kidney, half beef tongue, a lamb tongue, two lamb hearts, and a hanger steak.  The steak was from Uncle Billy’s cow, the half kidney was leftover from a previous experiment with steak and kidney pie, and the tongues and hearts were from Snow Farm.

David from Snow Farm has become the equivalent of an email pen pal, but one that occasionally asks me what “parts” I’m looking for when he is butchering some of his naturally raised lamb, pork, beef, and goat.

The hanger steak came over in the creepy cooler I picked up on Kristi’s grandmother’s porch and the tongues and hearts are from the bag David left for me in a driveway in Lexington, MA.  I was extremely excited to cook both of them.

The item I was less excited about was discovered in my freezer a few weeks ago.  In a good life lesson to search your friend’s pockets before they enter your apartment, a 1.5 pound bag of smelts was hidden between Janet’s waffles and some frozen corn.  In general I like smelts, which are basically a large sardine that is usually fried and eaten whole (with the guts and head removed).  The frozen version kind of scared me, and the fish stank they leaked into my fridge when they defrosted didn’t help my fear.

While the smelts finished defrosting, I started initial prep on the meat.  First up was the hanger steak.

Funky looking stuff when it isn’t trimmed.  I was positive this was some sort of neck or cheek meat when I pulled it out of the cooler originally just because it looked so bizarre

Apparently hanger steak (called that because it hangs from the diaphragm) comes from the same general area of the cow as the skirt and flank steaks.  Like those other cuts, it needs be marinated, cooked medium rare and sliced thinish since it can be pretty chewy, but first there was a whole lot of crap to cut away.

Big bowl of fat and connective tissue trimmed off the hanger, leaving me with…

…this.  Pretty decent looking steak with a little bonus piece that was loosely connected.  Nothing makes me happier than cheap (or free) cuts of beef that actually taste good

With the steak trimmed, it headed into a marinade of Worcestershire, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.  Random collection of ingredients but I also knew it couldn’t go wrong.

While all that was happening, the tongues were in a pot of salted boiling water for about an hour to get them ready for peeling.

Every time I cook tongue I like to think that it will look far more edible once it’s peeled.  Nope, still looks like a tongue.  Considering that is half a beef tongue and a full lamb tongue, it’s a good reminder of how friggin’ big a cow is compared to a lamb

Peeling tongues is always difficult to get started then easy going once you have a piece to get ahold of.  Not my favorite activity.

Back to the smelts.  With people arriving and plans of serving them tiny fishies as an app, I gave the smelts a good rinse under running water before dredging in lemon juice and shaking them in a bag full of bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

This was one of those times when I realized I was about to make bout 20 times more of a particular food than there were parties interested in consuming said food

Despite the conniption brought on by my OCD when pan frying, it was the only way to do the smelts right so they headed into a large pan with a layer of shimmering olive oil.  A few minutes on each side in the hot oil and you had a crispy crunchy whole fish body to chew on.

I usually make my own dipping sauces but that jar of Cain’s Tartar Sauce had been around too long and I was pessimistic that these little fishies deserved the homemade sauce treatment.  I whisked in some lemon juice to lessen the blow to their ego

The smelts were pretty dece, far better than I would have expected when I first smelled them.  You have to like the crunch of eating the whole fish body, bones and all, and the flavor that comes from doing so.  It’s a pretty flavorful experience, though I will always prefer the heads-on version I got in Sovicille Italy.

Back to the meats.  After a couple hours in the fridge soaking in a salt/sugar brine, the lamb hearts and kidney came out of the fridge looking like something from the storage room at the Mütter Museum.

Pretty much the stuff on the shelves of the dead end basement I run into in nightmares.  Or, to those I invite over, an exciting meal for pleasant guests!

I’ve shown beef kidneys on here before, so no need to show that again pre-trimming, but lamb hearts are pretty cool looking.

Funny looking things, much less intimidating than the gigantic beef hearts I’ve messed around with previously

I cut the hearts into thirds and the kidney into cubes before putting them onto double skewers, yakitori-style.  Since I had a decent experience with grilled kidneys in Morocco when they were coated with Moroccan seasonings, I went with a similar treatment.  The lamb and kidneys both got a coating of paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and garlic powder plus a good drizzle of olive oil.

Forgot to soak these skewers in advance, which means I am still batting a perfect 1.000 at forgetting to soak skewers before I use them.  I think I secretly enjoy the experience of burning my fingers attempting to remove lit skewers from the grill by hand

I sliced the tongues as well and gave them the same yakitori skewer treatment.  Avoided the heavy seasoning this time and went with just salt pepper and olive oil.

At some point I am going to cook a beef tongue perfectly, but it is more likely to be coincidence than actual skill.  Much like anything I make that tastes good

With the grill well heated and enveloping our guests with smoke, it was time to get the mixed grill grillin’.

Grilling meat makes me happy

After a few minutes on each side for the lamb and tongues skewers, a little longer for the kidneys and a little longer than that for the steak, everything was ready to come off the grill.

I sliced the hearts and tongues while the steak rested.

Was surprised that I actually cooked the hearts to a correct medium rare.  I can’t consistently hit the right temperature on hot dogs, let alone random offal from animals I don’t cook regularly

Still nice and juicy, but in general tongue isn’t a fantastic grilling meat.  Type that up and email it from your Gmail to your Hotmail so it will be saved forever and not disappear when fads like “Google” go away

Kidneys. Slowly learning, these just aren’t my thing

This had to go back on the grill, totally erasing the faux confident move from me where I pressed a fork on the steak an said, “oh yeah, that’s done”.  I just make stuff up

With the meats all ready to go, I’ll throw a brief shoutout to our two vegetarian dishes that were a nice change of pace from the massive amounts of meat.

Kale salad courtesy of Kristi. I have been eating the living sh*t out of this salad for a few weeks now since we got the recipe from my cousin Chris.  I wanted to add 3-5 more curses to that last sentence to make it clear how strongly I feel about that kale salad

Soba noodle salad from vegetarian Taylor.  At this point I have no idea why she tolerates me, I think it’s to hang with Kristi and Janet

With everything laid out and ready to grub, we dove in until fully stuffed.  Here’s a new approach to the recap

  • The lamb’s tongue was rich and awesome, like a nice fried piece of fatty lamb.  Need to order more of these from Snow Farm.
  • The beef tongue had a nice pot roast flavor but was a little chewy due to the thickness I sliced.  I will figure out how to cook this stuff at some point.
  • The kidneys were very strong.  Like throw the rest out after we each had a bite strong.  They had been in the freezer for awhile and were from a factory farmed cow so the odds were against me from the start, plus I didn’t soak them nearly long enough and should have added a milk soak cycle as well.
  • The lamb hearts were really awesome and I will need to order more of them as well.  The meat was lean, tasted like great lamb with no off flavors, and very tender.  Probably always will be best on the grill but I’d imagine they’d go great with a little feta and a lemony arugala salad next time.
  • The hanger steak was also very good and had great beef flavor, need to find a butcher that sells it instead of keeping it for themselves.
  • I’ve made my feelings known on the kale salad (happy to share the recipe), but the Soba one was equally delicious.  The mango and cilantro were a great combo and the chewy tofu worked great as a meat substitute in a salad like this.

And that’s all.  Off to Little Compton for the weekend, going to hit that fish shop I love and hopefully do some foraging.

Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Pastrami

Aside from my Best of Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog.  There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.  Pretty crazy right?  Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered.  Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops.  I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.

Anyhoo, instead of giving you a thousand words on Coppa Enoteca in Boston (hint: stuff tasted good and was cooked well), I decided to attempt making one of their salumi offerings at home.  For those outside Boston, Coppa does Italian dishes using all parts of animals from land and sea, particularly some of the more interesting and challenging cuts. Awful one sentence encapsulation, but I think it gives you the general idea.  Check out the menu at the link above if you want more details.

One of their salumi items is a medium rare ox heart that they slice thin and serve like prosciutto.  It was flavorful, tender, and had none of the bloody flavor I generally associate with heart.  I had to ask some nerdy questions (while Kristi tried to crawl under the bar to hide) and the manager walked me through the simple-sounding process; rub with pastrami spices, roast in a wood fired oven, chill, and slice thin.  With all the beef, lamb, and goat hearts in my freezer, I knew I would have to give this approach a shot.  Seven days, later this bad boy was sitting on my counter, courtesy of Wayfair.com.

Movies like Children of the Corn and The Wrestler give these things a bad rep.  In reality, it’s just a dangerously sharp spinning blade designed to quickly cut through meat that you hold in your hand while pressing the meat into the blade and moving your hand rapidly back and forth.  Janet will be operating it in no time!

Plan was to trim the heart, rub with pastrami spice, roast wrapped under low heat, rest, roast open under high heat, cool and slice.  The goal of the wrapped roasting was to get some additional flavor that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional oven vs. a wood fired one.

After a couple days of thawing, half of the heart from the Uncle Billy Offal Haul of 2012 was ready for prep.  Given how large the half heart was, I was pretty happy I had decided to cut it in half before freezing.

I heard they used to tape newspaper over the windows of Howard Stern’s studio to avoid upsetting other radio program hosts from what went on inside.  I am considering doing the same for one of our crisper drawers since Kristi doesn’t react well to the views of various offal thawing through the clear drawer-front

After removing from the package I gave a good rinse and patted dry before transferring to the cutting board.  Although the folks at Coppa said that they minimally trim the heart before cooking, I wanted to get rid of some of the funkier tendons and ventricles and make a few strategic cuts so it lays out flat.

Heart is one of those cuts that looks “offal” (wokka wokka) when raw, but is indistinguishable from flank steak or any other cut of beef that has minimal intramuscular fat when cooked properly.  You may not be, but I’m excited to see what I can do with the much smaller lamb and goat hearts from Snow Farm

After a few minutes of trimming out ventricles and some of the hardened pieces of exterior fat, I made two bigger cuts to allow the meat to roll out flat.

And now for the most overdone euphemism on this site that you knew was coming: looks just like regular beef, right?

For the rub, I referenced a few sites for pastrami rub recipes and the ratios of coriander to black pepper were relatively consistent so I went with the mix of other spices that sounded best.  Final combo was a couple tablespoons of both ground coriander and black pepper plus a tablespoon each of paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper.  Normally pastrami rub coats a salty brined corned beef, so for this prep I added a couple tablespoons of coarse kosher salt as well.

This was enough for two or three pieces of meat the size of the trimmed heart, so the rest is in a jar in our spice cabinet.  As an aside, I never understood why our parents had cabinets full of old glass jars from jams and sauces.  Now I’ve got a kid and find myself bringing salad dressing to work in rinsed baby food jars and putting pastrami rub in jelly jars.  Happens so quickly you don’t even notice it

The heart got a light coating of liquid smoke (not 100% on this ingredient in general yet) and then was packed completely in the rub so that no meat was exposed.  This is generally my approach when applying rub to a piece of meat, but I particularly overdid it this time since that’s what you expect with pastrami.

Whenever I attempt something new like this, there is always a point in the process when I either start getting nervous that it won’t be coming out well or know that I got something good on my hands.  This was the latter moment, mainly because of how completely innocuous it looked and also smelled decent

The heart was tightly wrapped in a few layers of aluminum foil and went into a 200F oven for an hour and a half.  The goal was to get the flavors from the rub into the meat and also set the coating in the process.  While it cooked, I accused Brother John of buying me a low quality power washer (I had it assembled wrong), did an awful job power washing my stairs, and generally ruined what would have been a beautiful day outside for my neighbors.

When the timer went off, I pulled the heart out of the oven and was amazed to see that it had shrunk by 1/4 to 1/3 during cooking.  I kept it wrapped since all of the juices were still held inside the foil and let it cool for a few hours on the counter before putting it in the fridge overnight.  The next day, I unwrapped the foil to check it out.

Smelled just like pastrami, even Kristi thought so, though she conveyed that with the immediate clarification that she wouldn’t be trying it despite the pleasant smell.  Friggin’ jerk mother of my child and patient wife, I’ll show her

The slow roasting process baked in the flavor, but the time in the fridge truly set the rub even though it was still damp.  That being said, I was nervous the meat might have cooked more than I wanted it to and wondered if I might have been better off letting it sit in the rub overnight and skipping the initial low heat cooking.  While thinking about this and staring at the meat like a zombie for 10 minutes, the oven preheated to 450F.

Once the oven was up to temperature, the heart went onto a baking sheet to cook on the top rack for 20 minutes, which left me with this:

Nothing I wanted to do more than cut into this and see if it tasted as good as it looked/smelled, but knew I needed to let it cool to fridge temp to make slicing easier

The crust had hardened all around so it wouldn’t completely fall off during slicing.  But, sigh, I once again had to play the waiting game while the heart pastrami cooled in the fridge for 5-6 hours.

With the pastrami cooled, it went onto the deli slicer, which I was excited to use after a test run a few nights earlier with a cooked chicken breast.  The meat went onto the handy sliding shelf and the blade was adjusted to about as thin as I could make the meat without cutting inconsistently.

I was twitching and pacing the kitchen nervously wanting to make sure I chose the right direction to slice properly against the grain. Still don’t know if I did it correctly

I had a few test slices right away since I had been waiting about 36 hours at that point to taste what I was making.  The flavor was like a cross between roast beef and pastrami and had a solid spicy kick from all of the pepper.  The slices were tender and relatively moist for a pretty dry cut due to how thin they were.  After slicing around a third of the pastrami I finally had the technique down and was getting some consistently good thin slices

There is a guard so you don’t have to hold the meat on the slicer but it’s a little clumsy. So, you know, it makes sense for its clumsy user to operate it barehanded

Gotta stop using the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot camera since it’s consistently blurry when trying to capture motion, especially in low light and while the flash fixes that, it makes food look like plastic kids toys

Not sandwich sized or anything, but pretty diesel

With each pass of the slicer, I was hoping the meat would be a little pinker in color toward the center, but I never found it.  My original goal was to cook it to about medium but I missed the mark, confirming my fears about overcooking it.  However, because the initial cooking was over low heat, the juices were still locked in and the meat wasn’t too dry.  Best served with a little toast and mustard.

Not sure why I serve every headcheese and salumi I make like this, but it is generally a winning combination. It’s also what I have in the fridge

All-in-all, it came out pretty well and I have another half ox heart in the freezer to make a second attempt at some point in the near future.  Might need to get some more details on the roasting process at Coppa next time I visit, but I think a few small tweaks will improve an overall decent dish greatly.

And with that, the queue is empty, but I gots some ideas for this weekend.  Also, mildly uninneresting note, I wrote this whole thing while on a flight to Las Vegas for work.  Surprisingly efficient use of time.

Might be a rebranding of this page coming soon, getting a little sick of the DB angle.

Weird Crap I Cook: Tacos de buche

Over Columbus Day weekend we had a taco competition at our friend Buschy’s apartment in Boston.  Conor was planning to make his whitefish tacos with garlic and cilantro aioli and Buschy was planning his traditional, but delicious, turkey meat, black bean, and corn tacos.  With Hi Lo nearby, I decided to make beef tripe tacos since I had seen them on various travel/food shows and Conor had raved about them after his visit to Mexico last year.

Don’t you hate it when you plan to cook a cow stomach on Sunday and then you go for dim sum on Saturday… and eat cow stomach?!?! LOL!!!  No?  Oh.  Well, thats what happened and I felt like I should try something new on Sunday.  So, Sunday morning I walked over to Hi Lo and bought a pig stomach, various interesting canned items and a stack of corn tortillas.  The canned items included:

I love this stuff and had no idea it was available in a can

Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn and turns the corn black.  Some adventurous soul gave it a taste many years ago and realized it’s delicious potential.  It has a tough to describe taste, reminiscent of mushrooms but sweeter.  I am very likely to order any menu item that features huitlacoche, but I had a few concerns about what a canned version would taste like.  Back to the stomach…

The familiar yellow styrofoam strikes fear into the heart of Buschy every time I bring it into his kitchen

The stomach was basically a stack of rinsed pig stomachs compressed into a block and sliced into rectangles.  Once out of the package, I separated the pieces, rinsed them and started some water boiling.

Now thats looking like a stomach!

Once the water was boiling, the stomach pieces went in for about 10 minutes.  The main goal was to get any unnecessary nasty stuff to boil up to the top where it could be skimmed off.

That white foam was what I was trying to get out of there

Once the ten minutes were up, the lightly boiled pieces went into a bowl for scrubbing.

Yep, thats still stomach

White vinegar and salt were added to the bowl and I basically treated the stomach pieces like I was hand-washing laundry; each piece was scrubbed against another piece.  I did this for a bit, dumped the liquid, rinsed under water, then went through the scrubbing process with vinegar and salt again.

The color of the water was both encouraging and disgusting

Gave the pieces a final rinse under tap water and then cut the stomach into smaller squares.  The smaller pieces would be easier to tenderize during the next round of boiling that would last multiple hours.

Starting to look a little closer to food

On the stove, I brought a mixture of water, chicken stock, tomato paste, onion, garlic, and a few bay leaves to a boil and added the stomach pieces.

The combination smelled really good. Thank god, since over the course of the day the whole apartment began to smell like it

At this point the lid went on, I knocked the heat down to low, and left it to cook for five anxious hours.  Luckily, I had NFL football and Conor’s delicious halibut tacos to help pass the time.  Here’s how it looked when the lid finally came off and it was time to drain off the cooking liquid:

This actually looked great to me, kind of like canned franks and beans. Which apparently looks great to me

I took a piece out and gave it a try.  The stomach had become very tender and taken on some of the flavors from the cooking liquid.  It had a light but distinct pork flavor, almost like a very overcooked pork chop.  It was definitely ready for final prep so I drained the cooking liquid.

This pig stomach was looking ready to get into this pig's stomach. Too easy

This is where we come to a bit of a crossroads in the cooking process and, unfortunately, I once again ended up regretting the path I chose.  Originally, my plan was to brown the stomach in a pan with garlic and onions then add some worcestershire sauce and taco seasoning to finish it.  However, I ended up overthinking it by not wanting to use taco seasoning and instead keep it a little more authentic.  Enter a can of chipotle peppers that I roughly chopped and added to the onions and garlic I had simmering in the pan.

Other terrible decisions I've made in the kitchen: cutting an onion while holding it in the palm of my hand, reaching into a toaster oven with both hands to get something that fell in the back, and using my fist to force more stuffing into a turkey until it shot out the other side

I made the following mistakes when adding the peppers: 1) I should have rinsed the smokey sauce off of them, 2) I should have checked to make sure they were seeded, and 3) I should have tasted them to see how spicy they were.  I did none of these things, but only discovered the error of my ways after it was too late and the stomach had been mixed in.

It looked promising, but you could tell by the smell that it was spicy. Like really spicy

After tasting a spoonful and urgently drinking an entire beer to eliminate the inferno in my mouth, I went into crisis mode.  I did the only two things I could think of to calm down the spicyness; add a chopped bell pepper and half a beer to thin out the sauce a bit.

Went with a Pacifico. I was grasping at straws at this point

Not sure either would be considered a real way to fix the situation and neither helped much.  The final product looked like this:

At this point many of the critics in the apartment loosened their anti-stomach stance and stated their intention to try some. They were humoring me

I grabbed a freshly heated corn torilla and tried a stomach taco with just lime and cilantro and… it was actually pretty good.

I have yet to find a taco that isn't made better by cilantro and lime

The spiciness could definitely sneak up on you, and if you bit into a chipotle pepper seed you were in for some pain, but that first taco was nowhere near as spicy as the initial spoonful I had.  So I had a second, but this time I utilized the extensive toppings bar we had put together:

Bottom right are Con's roasted jalapeno salsa and vegetable salsa. Huitlacoche is at the top next to Annie's guac, and Conor's garlic and cilantro aioli is in the back row on the right

The second was the same as the first, but with a spoonful of the aioli as well.

Annnnnd I'm hungry again... from looking at pig stomach that gave me spiciness indigestion. What is wrong with me?

The meat had a chewy texture but it basically fell apart after a bite or two.  The flavor was a smoky pork and chili mixture with the freshness of the cilantro, lime and garlic making a great combination.  I ended up having a third taco that was identical to this one, but not before I tried the huitlacoche with a turkey taco.

I guess I have a thing for completely black foods that barely show up in pictures

The huitlacoche had some of the flavors I was looking for but you could tell it was from a can and was missing the stronger flavors of what you’d find in a restaurant.  I probably wouldn’t buy it again.

As far as the rest of the attendees at football Sunday, there were mixed opinions on the stomach.

That is a clearly uncomfortable smile

Annie’s sister Erin (just behind Conor) ate a taco, didn’t remark once about the spice and claimed to enjoy it.  Conor on the other hand was seen sprinting into the kitchen with tears streaming down his face and came out with a pint of milk.  To his credit, he ended up trying it a second time and eventually added smaller amounts to other tacos he made.  Buschy tried a bite, chewed with his eyes closed and then said it was “good” and didn’t eat anymore.  Pretty standard.  Oh and “tacos de buche” means pig stomach tacos in case you haven’t figured that out yet.

And that was it.  Once again, I attempt to make something challenging and end up wanting to take another crack at it sometime in the future.  We’ll see, its not tops on my list of redos at the moment.

Next week, a completely new life experience for me that led to a delicious meal.