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: Heart and Bones

As I made clear with the Hogs Head post, I am a big fan of challenging myself to cook foods I have never attempted to cook before. We spent the past two months living in our old Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain that has a wealth of grocery stores that carry meats and vegetables you don’t see in many other stores. After wandering the aisles one day earlier this summer, I decided to attempt a meal of ox heart and marrow bones. This post is about that process.

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do with the marrow bones. I’d seen an Iron Chef where they popped the marrow out of the bones and then pan fried them leaving soft pieces of marrow with a crispy outside. Sounded awful for me and delicious, a combination I have relied on over the years for excessive weight gain and torn inseams.

First step in the process was done two days before the meal. The bones were soaked briefly in warm water to loosen the marrow up from the inside.

The stoner working the register said, "let me guess, you have dogs." and then stood there in slackjawed terror as I explained my plans for the bones

This process took place while Kristi was sleeping. Probably for the best

After the bones soaked for 10 minutes or so the marrow had softened enough to pop them out of the bones.  I did this by pushing from one end with my thumb.

I've posted pictures of pigs heads and bug eating, but for some reason this picture seems like the most disgusting one on here. The term "red rocket" comes to mind

This wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be but I was able to successfully harvest the marrow from five of the six bones.  The marrow went into a bowl of heavily salted water and then into the fridge.

Bones were reserved for making stock. I know this doesn't look appetizing...

So I made cupcakes to offset it (actually because Kristi requested them for her birthday). Its her Grandmother's lemon icing recipe which surprisingly didn't call for any organs or bones

Back to the bones and marrow.  The idea is that the salt would pull some of the blood and liquid out of the marrow and make the pieces a little more dense.  I replaced the water with freshly salted water 6 times over the two days and the marrow looked noticeably different by the end.

Although the water looks gross, I was just happy that stuff was getting drawn out of the marrow

For the heart I decided to make a dish that would have similar flavors to a traditional osso bucco.  The first step was to use the leftover bones to make a stock that would be the base for the liquid that the heart meat would cook in.  I started by browning the bones in a pot for 30-40 minutes.

Just bones in a pot with olive oil, celery salt and black pepper

About halfway through the browning I rotated the bones and threw in a handful of onions and carrots.

Really enjoying the super zoom's contributions to this blog

Added 6-7 cups of water plus about 4 ounces of V-8, 4 ounces of red wine and brought it to a boil.

Always makes me happy when the color is right

Lowered the heat to a simmer and left it uncovered while I watched Shutter Island with Buschy.  Pretty dece, though I was a little Leo overloaded after seeing Inception the night before.   This is how it looked after three creepy, atmospheric, and well-cast hours:

Pulled the bones out and poured the rest through a strainer which yielded...

This. I skimmed some fat off once the liquid settled and stuck it in the fridge for use the following night.

With all the major prep work done I was ready to make an unseasonably heavy dinner. On an 85 degree night in a house with no AC.

First course was the pan fried marrow.  All it required was a pan of hot oil and a pile of flour mixed with black pepper.

I had been thinking about this dish for some time and was Christmas morning-level excited at this point. The soaked and dried marrow is on the left.

Into the fryer. Notice the metal backsplash that looks like an insane TGIFridays worker's lapel? That's Con and Trish's magnet collection. But I am a dork for having a blog. YeeeeeeOK guys!

Since marrow is so rich that its almost like the beef version of foie gras, it made sense to accompany it with lemon, parsley, and salt.

This was the piece I fried solo as a test batch. Since I hadn't taken a bite yet, its safe to say I was freaking out at this exact moment

It was definitely nerve wracking cooking each piece since the marrow melts if you cook it too long or it doesn’t get crispy if you cook it too little.

Like churros, but with marrow inside

Crispy outside, soft and buttery inside. I didn't get an in-focus shot because I was rushing so I could eat more

Conman's Lord of the Rings hobbit-style knuckles make their first appearance on the blog

Not sure I would do it again due to the effort required, but it was a pretty solid payoff.  Its tough to describe it, but despite the strong flavors of the parsley and lemon, the most powerful flavor was beef.  But very different than meat.  Rich and decadent.  Again, tough to describe.

I look like a hand model compared to Conor

Now, onto the main course: heart.

Pretty much how you expected it to look

The butcher did some light trimming, removing the gristle-heavy top and adding a few cuts so it could be laid out flat.

Also pretty expected, but I didn't let Buschy see this view so that he wouldn't rule out tasting it

Underneath a lot of membrane, external fat, and gristley areas (venticles is an awful term but that’s what they were), it’s just a giant muscle.  So I butchered the heart down to the best of my (subpar) abilities and then carved it into 1/8th inch thick slices.

When it's broken down, its not that different from raw sliced flank steak. Completely devoid of intramuscular fat, though

We ended up with about a pound and a half of beef from the two+ pound heart.  I used my mom’s veal marsala method for cooking these; lightly flour each slice, quickly sear in a pan with butter and olive oil, then create a sauce in the pan to finish the cooking in.

See, it's just beef

Once the beef was out, carrots, onions and garlic were thrown into the pan to cook for a bit.

The base of pretty much everything I cook

To start the osso bucco-style sauce, I stirred in most of a small can of tomato paste.

It doesn't matter what I ended up mixing in to this, you knew it was going to be edible at this point

At this point, things just started flying into the pot.  First it was the pot of stock I made the day before and a half bottle of red wine.  Once it bubbled, I added some uncooked portabellas, the seared heart meat, and seasoning.  The flour from the strips of meat helped thicken the sauce.

Again, it was over 80 degrees inside the house. This is stick to your ribs, snow day food. Not sure what I was thinking

As it simmered for ~30 minutes, we all seized the opportunity to dip some baguette in the sauce.  The familiar flavors went a long way towards making everyone comfortable with what they’d be eating.

Good god this was delicious. I just wish it was 50 degrees colder outside, not too much to ask I don't think

In the final fifteen minutes of cooking I added a final piece of bone marrow that I had reserved.

Almost forgot about this and would have been very bummed if I had

There was a noticeable difference in the richness of the sauce once the marrow was added

The heart and mushrooms were served over fresh cooked spinach.

Not the prettiest plate of food, but tasty

Some pieces of the meat were a little chewier than I had hoped, should have simmered it lower and slower.  But the flavor was solid, the meat definitely had more flavor than regular beef.

See, its just beef

And once we’d finished all the meat, there was still sauce to dip in.

I made Con and Trish save the leftover sauce in their freezer. I am a jerk.

I wouldn’t change anything about how I did the marrow, but I would have made some changes on the heart dish.  Less flour (to make the sauce thinner for simmering), more time for the meat to simmer, and serve it over something heartier than spinach like lightly mashed skin-on potatoes.  The flavor was right but it wasn’t everything I had hoped.

And that was wayyyyy too long a post.  Off to Italy for 10 nights, will have a cluster-eff of posts when I return hopefully.