Archive for the ‘barbecue’Category

Traditional Norteño barbacoa at Casa Hernán

JohnnyGrill
As we suggested in the La Gloria post that started this San Antonio series back in June, chef Johnny Hernandez has been helping San Antonio reclaim the Mexican side of its culinary heritage. Easy-going venues like La Gloria and The Frutería focus on the simplest of Mexican food — street food, really — but at his special events venue Casa Hernán, Johnny gets into some of the more complex traditions.

Brunch at  Casa Hernán

Brunch at Casa Hernán

Hernandez does a grand Sunday brunch about once a month at Casa Hernán, sometimes featuring barbacoa in the South Texas/northern Mexican tradition. In some parts of interior Mexico, cooks will roast an entire animal in a pit, usually a lamb. In northern Mexico, barbacoa usually signifies a pit-roasted cow’s head (and nothing more). Hernandez had an outdoor kitchen built to order in his back yard. Not only does the tiled work area include a large grill with the machinery for splaying lambs and kids over the heat, it also includes round holes into which Hernandez can use a chain and pulley system to lower chain baskets into the coals of an underground fire pit. The holes are sized to accommodate baskets large enough to contain an entire cow’s head.

CasaHernancowhead To prepare the head for cooking, Hernandez sets it on banana leaves, seasons it liberally with salt, pepper, epazote, onion, thyme, oregano, and avocado leaves, then wraps the whole concoction in the banana leaves. He then lowers it in a chain-link basket into the fire. It takes about 12 hours to cook a cow’s head before he hoists it up with a chain and pulley and pulls the meat off the bones. Now that’s barbacoa!

The beef cheeks provide the juiciest, tastiest meat and form the centerpiece of the brunch buffet, displayed next to the cooked head. For the rest of the brunch, Hernandez will likely grill a few entire lambs, cook up huge piles of sausages directly over hardwood coals, and make a big selection of vegetable dishes and (of course) fresh tortillas. Dessert always depends on the fresh fruit of the season.

Given the necessary gear to make this dish correctly, it’s one we won’t be trying at home.

18

08 2014

San Antonio’s Cured is good for whatever ails you

Cured building
Long known as the cradle of Tex-Mex cuisine, San Antonio has definitely upped its game in the last few years. Until recently, a smattering of upscale, fine-dining restaurants like John Besh’s Lüke on the Riverwalk and a plethora of steak houses formed the city’s gastronomic constellation. That’s changing quickly and a lot of action is taking place in the suddenly trendy Pearl District. San Antonio’s spring-fed eponymous river made it an important beer-brewing town in the 19th century. The predecessor to Pearl Brewing opened in 1883, and the factory didn’t close until 2001. The subsequent redevelopment of the 22-acre former Pearl complex is still underway, but it’s already ground zero for serious foodies. Not only does the complex contain the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America, it has several terrific restaurants. Steve McHugh’s superb gastropub Cured (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 101, 210-314-3929, www.curedatpearl.com) joined the neighborhood at the end of 2013.

Cured chef owner Steve McHughMcHugh came to San Antonio from John Besh’s flagship New Orleans restaurant August to open the old-fashioned German-style brasserie Lüke. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in January 2010, he fought back. Once his doctor pronounced him in remission, he fulfilled his dream of opening his own restaurant. Since his specialty is charcuterie — he buys whole hogs and cures the parts in a glass-walled meat locker prominently featured in the dining room — he named his restaurant “Cured,” a name with dual meanings. In addition to making his own hams and sausages, he crafts a whole range of charcuterie. A dollar from each charcuterie plate goes to a different charity each quarter.

Cured charcuterieThe food is terrific, and the lively ambience is infectious. The dishes are simple — a gumbo using his own smoked pork and andouille sausage, for example, or seared redfish with asparagus, citrus, and shrimp — yet they’re always thoughtful combinations of flavors.

The Cured Burger is the talk of San Antonio and would make a big hit at any July 4 cookout. Here’s a slightly simplified version of the recipe.

Cured burger
CURED BURGER

Three things make chef Steve McHugh’s burgers so delicious and juicy. The meat is part beef, part cured bacon. McHugh is liberal with his application of salt and pepper. And he tops the burgers with an amazing smoked onion jam before putting cheese on top to melt. When we’re in a hurry, we ask our butcher to grind the meat for us and we use the very good Roasted Garlic Onion Jam from Stonewall Kitchen.

Makes 6 burgers

For the Burgers
Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds top round, cut into large pieces
1/2 pound good quality bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Grind the top round and bacon alternately through a large die (3/8”) so that there is a good beef-to-bacon ratio. Switch to the smaller die (3/16”) on your grinder and regrind the meat to a smooth consistency. Divide the burgers into six patties. Season your burgers with salt and twice as much pepper than you think. Pepper is the key to a great burger. Grill to medium well-done.

For the Onion Jam
Ingredients
4 yellow onions, top and bottom removed, peels left on
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar

Directions
Using your smoker, hot smoke your onions for 4 hours until completely soft. Peel the onions and place into a food processor and blend with vinegar and water. Place them in a pot along with the sugar and cook for 2 hours until a jam-like consistency has been reached. Reserve for later.

Assembly
Top the burgers with a spoonful of the onion jam and top with your choice of cheese. While Cheese is melting, place the rolls on the griddle to brown. Assemble and destroy!

27

06 2014

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

grocery2 Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.

The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.

grocery1 The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.

grocery3 The last item is a latecomer, at least to legitimate grocery stores. At 100 proof, this colored corn likker has the requisite kick to be called moonshine — minus the chemicals to make you go blind.

What to eat at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Cindy Harris of Houston TXWhen it comes to the food vendors at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the food isn’t all crawfish, but to quote a good friend’s catch phrase, it’s all good. Well, most of it. I’d been given a big buildup from a couple of locals about Cajun pistols or pistolettes, which are buns stuffed with seafood and cheese and then deep-fried. As someone said, “they musta changed the recipe.”

Bon Creole Cindy Harris from Houston, Texas (above) opted for Giant Shrimp on a Stick from the same vendor selling Gator on a Stick (“tender and delicious”). In fairness, I tried the alligator on a stick and found it more tender than most alligator I’ve tried. And, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. It tastes like alligator.

Food on a stick always does well at outdoor gatherings where few people can get a place to sit. In addition to the shrimp and gator, one vendor had the venerable corn dog (hot dog on a stick dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried). More popular than all the meat on wooden sticks were the original meat on a stick: both frog’s legs (deep fried) and turkey legs (grilled over charcoal).

Boiled crawfish Having sampled many of the offerings, I will venture the opinion that the best tasting and probably healthiest options were some of the classics: crawfish etouffée on rice, jambalya, and seafood gumbo. (As the T-shirt says, “All creatures great and small taste better in gumbo.”) But this being the Crawfish Festival, my vote goes to the plates of boiled crawfish. (Watch for a future post on the technique for peeling boiled crawfish.)

What to eat at the airport in Little Rock

Whole Hog BBQ LIT Chain eateries (Starbucks, Burger King, Quiznos and the like) constitute the bulk of food choices at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, and Bill is probably out of luck if he’s searching for a vegan meal. But right next to Pizza Hut I discovered Whole Hog Cafe, the airport outlet of a small barbecue chain with two spots in Little Rock and one in Bentonville. Whole Hog has taken several awards in barbecue cook-offs and back when he still ate real food, Bill Clinton must have been a fan. Whole Hog claims that their serving utensils are in the presidential time capsule.

Whole Hog stall I decided on a pulled pork sandwich and the server advised me to have the meat topped with cole slaw. “That’s the way we serve it in the South,” she said. She also recommended that I douse the meat with the spicier version of the tomato-vinegar barbecue sauce. The sauce was a little too piquant for my taste, so I stuck with the milder, but still tangy version and passed the squeeze bottle to a local gentleman having a last taste of barbecue before taking off on a business trip. He allowed that the barbecue was pretty good, but that he prefers the mustard-based sauce at Sims, which opened in 1937 and now has three Little Rock locations. It’s his go-to place for ribs with sides of coleslaw and beans. For genuine barbecue, he said, ”the meat needs to be tender, the sauce needs to be tangy, and the joint needs to be off the beaten path.”