Iron Chef: “No Animal Left Behind” (feat. Cabrito Sliders)

The goat head cheese was just a first course at the annual JP Super Bowl party.  The decision to make it, plus an overflowing freezer of random meats, led to our 2012 Super Bowl food theme: No Animal Left Behind.  Every couple/team of attendees was responsible for a different animal, and we had goat, pork, venison, chicken, and lamb covered (with a nod to cow in the form of baked brie).  And THAT theme was apparently the equivalent of putting out a “not welcome” mat for our vegetarian friends (sorry Taylor).

After missing too much of a few Super Bowls in a row due to cooking, my goal for this one was to cook and serve my dishes before the game.  The head cheese was ready to serve out of the fridge, but my other planned item required a little bit more prep: cabrito sliders.  For those who don’t spend their evenings groaning about how good the food looks on a few consecutive hours of food shows, cabrito is young goat meat.

Got this at the Fitler Square farmers market in Philly. I really miss the food in Philly, the farmers markets were about half as expensive as the Stillman farms circus that rolls through JP

There’s not a ton to do with ground goat, I’ve been trying to figure out a use for almost a year, but I’d heard that they make burgers with it in Texas, so that’s what I went with.  Due to the similarity to the flavor of lamb, I wanted to add some flavors that would cut the richness.

First thought was to pickle some onions, something I’d wanted to learn how to do for a while.  I got started a few hours before people arrived by throwing two sliced red onions into boiling water.

Not much of a blanching or par boiling guy, so this was a first for me. Boiled onions sound like something from a You Can't Do That On Television sketch about eating dinner at your grandparents. That reference makes no sense to anyone under 30 or anyone who grew up without cable

I blanched the onion for a minute, strained it, then put the slices back in the pot.  A cup of apple cider vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, and just enough water to cover went back onto high heat.

Already starting to have that bright color I associate with every awesome pickled red onion that I have used as a condiment

Once it started boiling, I timed off a minute and poured the whole pot into a large mason jar.

This part terrified me due to once watching Brother John pour hot coffee into a glass with an iced cube (because he missed out on the pitcher of iced coffee) and having the heavy glass he was using explode in his hand. He was fine (and quickly attempted the same thing with a plastic cup) but I wanted to avoid shards of glass and pickle stank all over my kitchen

Lid went on the jar and it headed into the fridge where I was instructed that the onions would crisp and brighten as they cooled.  Big surprise, a recipe was correct and not subject to the same wild variances as my guesswork.

As game time approached and I was within 20 minutes of cooking my sliders, I pulled and rinsed a couple handfuls of cilantro leaves and a handful of mint leaves.  Once finely chopped, they headed into a bowl with the ground goat meat, 8 cloves of roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

I know it looks like a ton of garlic, but roasted garlic is much more mild and blends in fully without running into a strong tasting chunk. Also, I knew the goat would be pretty strong and gamey

After a trademark Pete Ryan hands-on ground meat blending, including the requisite disgusted looks from party guests when they see me up to my wrists in their food, the slider meat was ready.

About how I wanted it to look. At this point I was surprised by how much fat had been ground into the meat since I expected something 93%+ lean, but I also knew that fat would probably be heavily lamb-y in flavor

After tasting a quick test batch and getting a sense for the size that would be perfect for two bites, I had an idea of the sauce that would match.  I wanted something with a Greek or Morrocan-type flavor that also replaced the need for cheese on a slider.

With that in mind I went with a non-fat Greek yogurt (since I am so health conscious) blended with paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon juice.

Unfortunately, the same spices are used in Old El Paso taco seasoning and always make me think of that flavor when I taste them individually or together. Also, Old El Paso taco seasoning is the bawmb

With my sauce and toppings made, it was time to throw a full round of sliders onto the griddle.  Since I was making them thin and small, the griddle was over high heat with the plan to only cook for a couple minutes on each side.

Size-wise my goal was for each to be about 1/16th of a pound. Annoys the crap out of me when I order sliders at a restaurant that are basically a half full-sized burger. Sliders should be two awesome bites and, like the rest of my thoughts on burgers, I will argue this passionately and support with violence where necessary

The other secret weapon I had in my kitchen waiting for these were the old standbys, Martin’s Potato (Dinner) Rolls.  They really never fail; everything you put in them looks and tastes twice as good.  Plus, they fit Pete’s two-bite doctrine.

After about five minutes, the sliders were ready for construction.

They look just like little Jimmy Dean sausage patties. Mmmm, Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeah, the 2012 diet hasn't gone so well, thanks for inquiring

Each slider got a small dollop of the yogurt sauce and a couple slices of the crunchy pickled red onions.

Yes, we went from 8 in the last one to 7 in this shot. Different batches. My blog readers are such jerks with their nitpicking of details. Not really, actually. I'm not even sure anyone is reading this thing aside from the boner pill and Russian free music site bots that fill up the comments spam folder

Close ’em up and serve.

Back to 8, but a totally unnecessary shot. I wanted to show a picture between the 1st and 2nd bite but the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot (legal name now) refused to focus on the slider due to its fascination with my cracked mid-winter knuckles

The burgers were pretty dece in my opinion.  The meat was a good mix of crisp and tender with the roasted garlic and herbs adding a lot of flavor.  The sweet acidic crunch of the onion was exactly what I wanted; the flavor of dill pickles and raw onions in one flavorful compact package.  I over-spiced the yogurt sauce and although it gave the cheese-like flavor I wanted, it made the slider “have a lot going on” as Trisha said.  That Trisha shout-out is intended as a mea culpa for not telling her she was eating goat brains and eyes in the head cheese.

Now for the rest of the Iron Chef entries.

The app(s):

Nate and Emyo's Buffalo Chicken Dip. I love this stuff; sharp cheesy/buffalo-y chicken mess scooped up with tortilla chips. Falls under the category of "once a year" foods for me only because I am unable to contain myself and ate approximately half the tray

Not pictured: Chet’s venison sausage from his family’s game ranch outside of Austin, TX.  I am positive I took a picture of these but I think I.A.P.n.S. has now added randomly deleting photos from the memory card to it’s repetoire.  Delicious and spicy, I was psyched that there were leftovers that I could use in a pasta dish later in the week.

The entrees:

Con's Moroccan lamb meatball dish, served with warm pita for scooping and eating. Really good, and the spices he used reminded me of every bite of food that I loved in Morocco. The texture of the meatballs was the best; not dense but held together great

The Booshzels Pulled Pork sliders. Buschy was nervous I'd be mad at him for making competing sliders. In reality I was mad at him for showing that pulled pork is so easy to make that even he can make a delicious batch of it. You know, with his unrefined palate and all


Chrissy's bacon and French toast cupcakes. The real dish that blew everyone else's out of the water. Salty bacon on top of a maple cream cheese frosting and French toast flavored cupcake. Delicious meat dessert!

Not pictured: Julie’s vegetarian chocolate chip oatmeal cookies which gave anyone experiencing the meat sweats a break in cookie form.

Gonna give the 1st place ribbon to Chrissy for the creativity with everyone else tied for second since everyone was a winner in this competition.  Overall, a solid theme for a party, would love to give it a shot again with a larger group and more animals.  Always could handle a few more animals, we didn’t even cover beef, rabbit, turkey/duck/other fowl, or any fish or shellfish.

A few options for next week.  We’re down in Naples right now where we discovered a solid butcher shop with lot’s of interesting cuts.  Nothing beats surf and turf where the “turf” is lamb kidneys and alligator.

Pete’s Recipes: Pulled Chicken

As any reader of this blog can tell, I use a lot of guessing when cooking and tend to make it up as I go along.  Along those lines, I don’t have that many recipes that I use consistently but there are a few.  In the interest of mixing up the content of the blog, and with Super Bowl parties coming up, here’s an easy recipe for pulled chicken.  I think its delicious and it tends to be a decent crowd pleaser.

Total prep time is around 15 minutes, cooking time is three+ hours (though you’re only actively cooking for 20 minutes of those three hours).

Here’s what you’ll need:
6 pounds of boneless chicken breasts and thighs
16 oz. apple juice
2 oz. apple cider vinegar
12 oz. beer
32 oz. chicken broth
6 oz. V-8 (optional)

Dry rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry ground mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon black pepper

That dry rub is a take on a Food Network recipe I have been using on my pulled pork for a couple years now.  I’ve experimented with adding cumin, onion powder, and chili powder at different times but the rub noted above is the best variation, I think.  First step is to combine the dry rub ingredients in a bowl and make sure they are well mixed.

For the chicken, I like using 2/3 breast meat, 1/3 thigh meat but it’s totally up to the cook.  I think thigh meat tastes a little funky in leftovers which is why I like using less of it.  Trim all excess fat off of each piece of chicken and place the meat in a bowl.  Add the dry rub and make sure it coats all of the meat.

The paprika makes this meal look 10-15% more appetizing

The prep part of the cooking can be done 24 hours in advance which is what I usually like to do.  The meat takes on the flavors of the rub a little better when I’ve done that.  However, if you didn’t plan ahead it can be done 5 minutes before cooking; 6 pounds fits nicely into a gallon freezer bag for storage if you do go the 24 hour route.

Once you’re ready to start cooking the chicken, preheat the oven to 300F and put a large heavy pot on the cooktop over medium/high heat.  I use my Le Creuset dutch oven which, coincidentally, makes every person between the ages of 10 and 40 giggle like they are ten years old when it is referred to by name.  Once the pot is heated up, add your chicken and brown it for 5-10 minutes.  You can use a little cooking spray or a tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of the pot to keep the chicken from sticking.

The smell from this is strong due to the spices in the rub. It woke people up from a New Years day nap when I cooked it most recently

While the chicken is browning, get the braising ingredients ready to go.  Here’s the lineup:

Those little cans of V-8 are great to keep around for cooking purposes

For the beer, I like to use any non-light beer that is in the fridge.  Or, in this case, the least desirable non-light beer in the fridge.  That Michelob Winter Bourbon Cask Ale was disgusting as a beverage.  Beer goes in first, cooks for a minute or so, then the 16 ounces of apple juice, 2 ounces of cider vinegar, 6 ounces of V-8, and the quart of chicken broth.  Heat the pot on the stovetop until it gets to a near boil.

The smell becomes less strong and quite nice at this point

Now place the lid on the pot and put it in the 300F degree oven for 3 hours.  I like to spend this time napping, stressing about whether the chicken will cook correctly and badgering friends into being on time for when it comes out of the oven.  After three hours, take the pot out of the oven and here is what you’ll have:

Best thing about Le Creusets is how easily all of the charred sugars on the sides cleans off in the sink

Transfer all of the chicken to a clean dish, preferably oven safe so you can keep it warm if not eating right away.  Although I am using tongs, a large slotted spoon is better since the chicken will be falling apart when you move it.

The chicken ends up very tender

Once all the chicken is transferred, use two forks to shred it.  If everything has gone right, this should be very easy and you can get through all six pounds in about five minutes leaving you with this:

Very similar looking to pulled pork. Flavor is close too

After the chicken is shredded I like to pour a couple ladles of the braising liquid over the top for flavor and moisture then cover with tin foil until its time to eat.

The liquid adds some of the sweetness from the apple juice to the finished product

For garnishes, its mostly up to the cook.  I like to serve with dill pickle slices and a red onion relish.  The red onion relish (which you can kind of see in the background above) is a chopped red onion caramelized for a bit before adding crushed red pepper, light brown sugar, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a little salt.  Turn the heat up after adding the spices and cook until the liquid has cooked off and it looks relish-like.  Whatever that means.

For the BBQ sauce, I let everyone put their own on their sandwich since everyone likes a different amount.  You really can’t go wrong with any of the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauces (Hickory Brown Sugar is my fave thing) but if you want to make something a little less traditional, here are my two go-tos:

Putting your sauce in mason jars makes you feel like a real chef. Then putting Classico tomato sauce lids on the jars makes you feel less-so

The one on the left is a Tim Ryan recommendation that has some Asian flavors due to the use of rice vinegar and soy sauce (which I recommend over the Worcestershire sauce option noted in the recipe).  Recipe can be found here.

The one on the right is a mustard-based sauce that is very strong and best when combined on a sandwich with a little honey BBQ sauce.  Combine the ingredients below and heat over low heat on a stove top for 10-15 minutes whisking occasionally.

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Final tip: always serve your pulled chicken on Martin’s Potato Rolls.  Everyone likes them and even if they don’t like the chicken or sauce they will enjoy the sandwich just because of the roll.  Good luck!