Archive for the ‘Beer’Category

Steak and Guinness Pie a pub standard

Steak and Guinness pie on the table
Pretty much wherever you go in Northern Ireland, chances are good that the pub has steak and Guinness pie on the menu. In recent years, many places have taken to plopping a piece of separately cooked puff pastry on top of the beef stew. This version is deliciously retrograde. It uses a classic butter pastry crust. The dish is traditional but every cook adds a personal touch. This version is adapted from several sources. Don’t be surprised by the inclusion of sharp cheddar cheese. It makes a real difference in the flavor and the crust.

STEAK AND GUINNESS PIE


Steak and Guinness pie servedServes 4

Ingredients


For Stew

4 tablespoons butter, divided
large red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms
2 pounds chuck shoulder or round, cut in bite-sized pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
3 cups (1 1/2 cans) Guinness or other stout
1 teaspoon Gravymaster
6 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese, separated

For Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, diced
ice water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In Dutch oven or cast-iron chicken cooker, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic. Sauté until soft.

Add rest of butter, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Stirring frequently, cook over medium heat until mushrooms darken and mixture loses its moisture.

Season beef lightly with salt and pepper, then toss with flour. Add meat and rosemary to pan and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often to keep from sticking.

Add sufficient Guinness to submerge the beef and vegetables. Cover pan and place in oven for 2 1/2 hours. Check periodically and stir. If mixture is thin at end of cooking, reduce the liquid on stove top. Fold in half the cheese.

While stew is cooking, start making pastry since it needs to chill for a few hours. Place flour, baking powder, and salt into food processor. Pulse to blend. With motor running, add diced pieces of butter slowly. Process until mixture has the texture of coarse meal. Add ice water, a splash at a time, until a firm dough forms. Remove from food processor and wrap dough in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When stew is done, spoon into souffle dish that is 2 inches deep and 8-inches in diameter. (An 8×8 baking pan can be substituted.) Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to circle about 2 inches broader than circumference of cooking dish. Place dough over the stew and pinch the edges to seal. Make three wide slashes in top to vent. Paint the crust with egg yolk. Place dish on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is puffy and golden.

13

12 2016

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Oklahoma onion burger an institution

Interior of Tucker's Onion Burgers in Oklahoma City
During the Dust Bowl years that made many Okies into migrants (see John Steinbeck), Oklahoma grill cooks began serving onion burgers. El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City, claims to be the birthplace. According to legend, cook Ross Davis invented the onion burger at the Hamburger Inn on Rte. 66 in downtown El Reno. He piled half a shredded onion on top of a nickel meat patty and smashed them together with a spatula. Presto! The onions transformed the wafer-thin patty into a substantial meal. Three diners in El Reno—Sid’s Diner, Johnnies Grill, and Robert’s Grill—specialize in the dish. The town also holds a Burger Day Festival in May.

happy diner at Tucker's Onion Burger in Oklahoma City The dust storms are gone, but a taste for onion burgers remains. In fact, one of the hottest chains in Oklahoma City is Tucker’s Onion Burgers (tuckersonionburgers.com), with three outlets. Tucker’s brings diner food into the 21st century with its polished modern settings that evoke the mythical malt shop past of the “Happy Days” era. That’s a familiar meme—think of the Sonic or Johnny Rocket chains.

Tucker’s is big on corporate responsibility. The beef is “ethically produced by regional growers” and the potatoes are hand-cut every morning and fried in peanut oil. The company goes to great lengths to reduce water use and electricity and recycles everything. The best modern twist is that every order slip is a paper bag. When the order is ready, the cooks slip it into the bag to go. Although Tucker’s does offer a salad and a turkey burger, most customers choose between single or double burgers, with cheese or without. Drinks include homemade lemonade and canned local craft beer. The burgers are delicious enough to live up to the hype.

Thrill of the grill


Tucker Onion Burger in Oklahoma City In fact, they were so good that when we got home we decided to adapt the onion burger idea to the charcoal grill, since meat always tastes better with a little smoke. Smashing thin-cut raw onions into burger on a hot grate was a non-starter. So we tried something different. We sliced a Bermuda onion 1/8” thick with an adjustable chef’s mandoline. Then we sweated the sliced onion with a little bit of oil and salt in a cast iron skillet until the pieces were soft. We drained them on a paper towel. When the onions were cool, we folded them into 12 ounces of ground beef (85 percent lean) and made two patties.

The onion made the burger a little “loose,” so we cooked them well on one side before flipping. A slice of cheese melted on top for the last 30 seconds helped to hold the burgers together to lift them onto buns. On balance, the onion was more distributed through the meat, and therefore a little more subtle than in a traditional onion burger. Those Dustbowl Okie grill guys were clearly onto something.

15

09 2016

Pioneering pairings of food and beer

cover of Food & Beer Chef Daniel Burns is on a mission to bring beer pairing into the fine dining conversation. Burns runs the kitchen of the Michelin-starred Luksus (www.luksusnyc.com). It shares a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the bar Tørst (Danish for “toast”) operated by Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. (Jarnit-Bjergsø is also the brewer at cult favorite Evil Twin Brewing.)

Between them, they have put craft beer on a par with wine for fine dining. And they have collaborated on a fascinating new book called simply Food & Beer. Part manifesto, part cookbook, part a dialogue on gastronomic philosophy, it’s a perfect addition to the bookshelf of anyone who cares about the cutting edge in contemporary restaurant cuisine.

As part of the book’s launch, Burns did a star turn at Harvest restaurant (harvestcambridge.com) in Cambridge, where he and Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett adapted some of the recipes from Food & Beer to pair with craft beers. All the drinks were served in wine glasses. This kept the individual portions fairly small, while giving each beer more head room to express the complexity of aromas.

Burns believes that beer can be more flexible than wine for food pairings. “Wine is a pure expression of terroir,” he explains. “Beer is not. You can take ingredients from all over the world and add any flavors you want. So as a chef, beer gives me a vast spectrum of flavors to choose from when I’m pairing beer with food.”

The meal Burns and Kinnett served at Harvest was a demonstration. A couple of dishes also hint at how to go about the beer-pairing process at home (beyond serving Bud with chili).
.

Licorice gravlax and a blonde


licorice cured trout for beer dinner Gravlax is a style of curing raw fish or meat using salt and sugar. To demonstrate how a panoply of flavors can be enhanced with a beer, Burns and Kinnett served a plate of licorice-cured trout with pickled beet topped by dandelion greens.

Burns was René Redzepi’s sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen, and the experience shaped his palate to favor Nordic tastes. It doesn’t get much more Nordic than gravlax, beet root, and licorice. Yet the cure was light enough that the dish turned out to be surprisingly subtle. The trout was cured with sea salt, Demerara sugar (a coarse, raw sugar), and licorice powder. Slightly bitter dandelion greens and toasted rye crumbs provided crunchy contrast to the soft trout and beet. The beer pairing was Blackberry Farm Abbey Blonde, a light ale made with a Pilsner malt. The beer has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor profile and a rounded mouth feel. One sip brought out the Demerara sugar in the trout cure and the earthy toast of the rye crumbs for a completely altered taste experience.

When Burns is choosing a beer to pair with a dish, he explains, he looks for the secondary flavors of the food. “I might put four or five flavors together on a plate,” he explained. “I want the beer to highlight maybe the third or even fourth flavor.”

Sea bass with an IPA


sea bass with beer dinner Burns prepared a small portion of sea bass with a few pieces of grilled salsify and two purées on the plate—one of fennel, the other of the minty Asian vegetable shiso. The fish and the salsify (which tastes like mild artichoke heart) were both mild. Their flavors were almost secondary to the intensity of the two purées. But it was the beer pairing that accomplished that gastronomic bait and switch.

Burns and the Harvest team picked Evil Twin Citra Sunshine Slacker for the pairing. It’s a beer we’d usually serve with bar snacks instead of real food. It’s an acquired taste, we think, because the Citra hop is so astringent. Drinking it is a little like biting into a grapefruit. But with this dish, the low-alcohol IPA expresses its secondary herbal notes nicely. It assumes a lemon-y quality that provided some punch to the anise of the fennel and the grassy-minty quality of the shiso. Call it the battle of botanicals, but it works.

With a new craft brewery opening up a few blocks from our house next month, we think we’ll get our growlers filled and see what summer bounty might benefit from being served with a little malt and hops. It’s kind of like deciding the wine to drink before picking the menu.

15

07 2016

Montserrat celebrates St. Patrick with Caribbean verve

St. Patrick's Day on Montserrat
I never found anyone serving green beer during the St. Patrick’s Day Festival on the island of Montserrat. But local ginger beer, I quickly discovered, is a perfectly good substitute. One of 14 United Kingdom Overseas Territories, Montserrat is the only island nation (besides the Emerald Isle) where St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. And I have to say that Caribbean style adds real flair to the celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

St, Patrick's Day on Montserrat The 5,000 or so Montserratians who inhabit this island in the British West Indies take their Irish roots seriously. Just ask any of the Allens, Sweeneys, Buntins, Farrells, O’Garrs and O’Briens who trace their roots back to the 17th century Irish indentured servants who made a new life here after putting in time on other, less welcoming, islands. Over the generations, they married descendants of the slaves brought to Montserrat to work on the sugar plantations, and created a vibrant Afro-Irish population that definitely knows how to have a good time.

The island’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which also marks an unsuccessful slave revolt in 1768, actually lasts a full week. By March 16, everybody is dressed in green and ready to stay up until the wee hours of the morning cheering for their favorites in a competition among artists who perform the island’s signature soca—a musical genre that combines elements of calypso, cadence, funk, and swirling East Indian percussive repetitions.

To get revelers off to a good start on March 17, vendors begin serving a traditional Caribbean breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Heritage Village in Salem, the epicenter of the day’s activities. The hearty meal includes saltfish (salt cod), lots of greens, breadfruit, and several local specialties. “Bakes” are dumpling-like pieces of fried dough, while the more unusual “dukna” is a mixture of sweet potato, coconut, ginger, and other spices wrapped in leaves of the elephant ear plant and boiled. My favorite was the crisp and light pumpkin fritter. Since a similar hard-rinded pumpkin is native where where I live in greater Boston, it’s a perfect dish for New England, where many Montserratians resettled after the 1995-2000 eruptions of the island’s volcano.

PUMPKIN FRITTERS

St. Patrick's Day breakfast on Montserrat

Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 thick slices of pumpkin, peeled
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups lard (coconut oil may be substituted)
sugar mixed with cinnamon
limes

Directions

Mix flour and baking powder with a sieve or whisk.

Grate the raw pumpkin into a large bowl. Stir in egg, milk, and nutmeg. Add flour mixture a little at a time until the batter is thick. (Depending on the moisture content of the pumpkin, not all the flour may be needed.)

In a deep pan, melt the lard and heat until a few drops of water flicked into the fat immediately sizzle and evaporate. Add batter a tablespoon at a time and deep-fry until golden. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Squeeze lime juice over fritters as desired.

Bread Box: From white bread to wheat beer

taproom at West Sixth Brewing in Lexington Nothing says more about Lexington, Kentucky as a locus of good ideas, good food, and good drink than the Bread Box. The 90,000-square-foot building at the corner of West Sixth and Main streets spent about a century turning out classic American white bread before ending its active baking life as the Rainbo Bread Factory in 1995.

There’s nothing white bread about it now. A group of friends bought the building in 2011 to create West Sixth Brewing (501 West Sixth St., 859-951-6006, www.westsixth.com) with some of the space and to develop the rest of it for some nifty businesses to make life better in Lexington. Those of most interest on the food scene are the aquaponics demonstration project called FoodChain (foodchainlex.org) and the farm-to-table seafood restaurant called Smithtown Seafood (smithtownseafood.com). More on both of them in later posts.

Ben Self of West Sixth Brewing in Lexington KY Lexington native and Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad Ben Self (at left) was a co-founder of Blue State Digital, the digital consulting company often credited with delivering the youth vote for presidential candidate Barack Obama, but these days he’s busier with malts and barrels than with bits and bytes. Lexington already had a great bourbon culture. Self and his partners set out to build a great local beer culture with West Sixth Brewing at the center. It’s the only brewery we know with its own running club (every Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m., with a free pretzel afterward at the taproom) and free yoga class (every Wednesday at 6 p.m.), as well as a summertime Monday night cycling club.

West Sixth has been growing quickly. In 2014, the brewery produced 11,000 barrels and is on track to make about 17,000 in 2015. Using 15-barrel and 30-barrel fermenters, the company makes four year-round beers and several seasonal ones as well. The beers are barrel aged in a variety of former wine and whiskey barrels. The flagship brew, as with many craft breweries, is an IPA—distinctly bitter but with citrus and piney notes and a 7% ABV kick. The other West Sixth brews tend to go a little easier on the alcohol—most at 5.5% ABV—but offer a nice range of flavors from the easy-drinking amber to the caramel notes of the nut brown to the wonderfully refreshing shandy-like flavor of the lemongrass American wheat beer (think Corona with lemon and a more pronounced malt). The Pay-It-Forward porter is a hefty brew (7% ABV) with strong chocolate notes delivered by the organic cocoas nibs inside the aging barrel.

You can take a seat in the taproom to sample the range of beers for a relative pittance. A flight of the “Flagship Five” in 4 oz. glasses is only $8, and there are always some unusual beers from other breweries available as well. (A pick-your-own flight also costs $8 but includes just four glasses.) Adventurous beer drinkers should plan on visiting on Wednesday nights, when West Sixth taps a different experimental beer each week.

cans of Lemonsgrass American Wheat from West Sixth Brewing If you’re looking for beer to take home, West Sixth puts its beer in cans with a special recyclable plastic holder for six-packs. Self explains that cans are better than bottles for beer because they don’t let in light or air. They’re also better for the environment, since 60 percent of aluminum gets recycled versus only 20 percent of glass. Besides, Self says, cans are better at the pool, the golf course, and anywhere outdoors where broken glass would be a hazard. The six-packs sell for $9.95, of which 50 cents goes back to a nonprofit in the Lexington community.

26

08 2015

Exploring KY cooking with top Lex chef Phil Dunn

Phil Dunn offers min Hot Brown in cooking class When England’s horse-loving Queen Elizabeth first visited Lexington, her personal chef was Phil Dunn. We don’t know what dishes he served to the Queen, but we do know that Dunn favors gourmet meals and enjoys exploring international flavors. He’s particularly fond of making European pastries—and anything with pasta.

A gorgeous display kitchen at Architectural Kitchens & Baths (345 Lafayette Ave., www.akandb.com) is the perfect setting for Dunn’s popular half-day cooking classes. We attended a recent session and learned that Dunn is equally comfortable with down-home Kentucky cooking. He makes familiar dishes his own through refined technique and a penchant for turning larger plates into finger food—perfect for parties in this most social of cities.

Dunn makes a spicy version of Kentucky Beer Cheese (a cracker spread) that has a thick, rich texture. “You must use flat beer,” he told us. “It’s too fluffy if you use carbonated beer.” He also cautions against over-pulsing in the food processer. “It should be a little chunky.”

He also showed us how to make mini versions of Kentucky’s iconic Hot Brown open-face sandwich by layering Mornay sauce, slices of turkey, bacon, and tomato on slices of baguette. That’s Phil above handing one over to a hungry onlooker.

But we were most taken with his bite-size Bourbon Cakes, a clever use of Kentucky’s signature spirit to round out a meal. He soon had us dipping one-inch squares of firm vanilla cake into a warm bourbon mixture and then rolling them in ground vanilla wafers and chopped walnuts. It took a couple of tries to get the rhythm of wet hand for the bourbon and dry hand for the crumbs, but we were soon on a roll. The little bites are addictive, but if you have any left over, Dunn claims that they will keep for three to four months in the freezer. For information about classes, send an email to phildunn1948@gmail.com.

KENTUCKY BEER CHEESE

Phil Dunn makes Kentucky Beer Cheese
1 cup beer
1 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Pour beer into a mixing bowl and whisk until it loses its carbonation. Place in food processor, add remaining ingredients, and process until well-mixed but still slightly chunky. Adjust seasoning to taste and refrigerate before serving.

PHIL DUNN’S BOURBON CAKES


Makes 200 squares bourbon cakes by Phil Dunn

For the cake
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
8 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine butter and sugar in mixer and blend well. Add egg yolks and blend well. Sift dry ingredients together and add mixture alternately with milk and vanilla extract. Beat until batter is very smooth. It will be thick. Spray a half sheet pan (18×13 inches) with cooking oil and spread batter evenly with a metal spatula.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes until cake is golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into one-inch squares.

For the soaking liquid and coating
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cups bourbon (Dunn used Very Old Barton)
2 lb. confectioners sugar
12 oz. vanilla wafers, ground
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped

Combine melted butter with bourbon and confectioners sugar. Combine vanilla wafers with walnuts.

Dip cake squares in warm bourbon mixture. (Do not let it cool.) Quickly drain cake squares, then roll them in vanilla wafer-walnut mixture.

23

08 2015

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 Eat at the Airport: DFW

When we started this blog about two years ago, we never dreamed that we would be singing the praises of airport food. But that was before Pappasito’s Cantina became the only bright spot in a very trying day at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport.

We were en route from Boston to Albuquerque when our early morning connecting flight in Dallas was canceled without explanation. The next flight wasn’t until late in the day and we were resigned to a long, boring wait and generic fast food. We were debating the merits of pre-made sandwiches, bagels, yogurt smoothies, and McBurger when we stumbled on Pappasito’s in Terminal A. The long bar looked so inviting that we grabbed a couple of stools, perused the Tex-Mex menu and settled on tamales filled with chicken breast meat and topped with green chile. Bulging out of their corn husk wrappers, they were the real deal. The tamal was redolent of corn and lime, the chicken was intense, and the green chile was just the right balance of hot and sweet.

Even though we had ordered one of the more modest options on the menu, the servers kept the tortilla chips and spicy red salsa coming, along with refills on ice tea. (No free refills on the Dos Equis drafts, alas.) But a good meal in convivial surroundings certainly lifted our spirits.

It turns out that Pappasito’s is a popular local chain, first started in 1983, so we’d had a taste of border town cooking after all. And it made us think that there may be local foods with character lurking in other airports as well. We resolve to keep an eye out–and we will let you know when we find them.

01

11 2011

Three (delicious) flavors of ‘bistro’ in Montreal

Our latest book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal, is finally hitting the bookstores in the U.S. and Canada. The city has always been one of our favorite places for a quick getaway, a winter shopping spree, or a romantic weekend—in large part because the food is so good. We’ve enjoyed watching the Montreal dining scene evolve over the years, and many of our favorite places to eat are bistros—with or without the French ”t” at the end. They tend to be small, casual neighborhood places with hearty food and plentiful drink.

The old-fashioned French bistro persists in Montreal. La Gargote (351 place d’Youville, 514-844-1428, www.restaurantlagargote.com, Metro: Square Victoria) is one of our favorites in this style. The name is French slang for a diner, but this little mom-and-pop restaurant looks, feels, and tastes like a small-town bistro lifted straight from an early 1950s French film. More marvelously bourgeois is Le Paris (1812 rue Sainte-Catherine ouest; 514-937-4898, Metro: Guy-Concordia), which has been serving a homey boeuf bourgignon since it opened in 1956.

Montreal became obsessed with food before most cities in North America, and it has even evolved its own versions of bistro, including bistro-plus. Keeping the casual, almost ad hoc quality of a neighborhood bistro, a bistro-plus gives patrons a little something extra—an unexpected amuse-bouche, some mignardises with the bill, or a surprise shaving of truffles or dollop of foie gras. Le Grain de Sel (2375 rue Sainte-Catherine est, 514-522-5105, www.restolegraindesel.ca, Metro: Papineau) epitomizes the style. We have friends who come to this spot a few blocks outside the Village just for chef-owner Jean-François Bonin’s myriad twists on foie gras. We also love his wine list, where prices are reasonable because he opts for private importing.

Most au courant is the style we call bistro-grunge. Something of an answer to London’s gastropubs and Basque country’s pintxos bars, bistro-grunge places usually have heavily tattooed kitchen and wait staff (and customers). Here’s the kick—-for all the edgy posing, the food is as inventive, locavore and just plain delicious as at a bistro-plus. A bistro-grunge usually has a good beer list and nowhere near enough seats. A perfect example is Le Chien Fumant (4710 rue de Lanaudière, (514) 524-2444, lechienfumant.com, Metro: Laurier/Mont-Royal), or “the smoking dog.” There’s no dress code that says all male diners must wear three-day stubble, but it helps to blend in. From the chalkboard menu to the wide-open kitchen with all its attendant bustle, it’s the dining equivalent of free jazz—it’s hard to predict the next chord change, but you know it will be lively.

As we used to say in those elementary school oral book reports, if you want to know more, you have to read the book.

Tags:

25

07 2011