Monday, August 27, 2018

Bacon Industry

It seems only natural that a brewer would make a smoked beer for a barbecue contest.  That is what Neshaminy Creek  Brewing Company (NCBC) did for its Croydon is Burning: Barbecue Battle.  The battle took place back on April 15, 2018; and, no, I was not there.  But, from what I have read, local barbecue joints competed in a contest that required, among other things, that the pitmasters use one of two NCBC beers: the Croydon is Burning, which is a Bamberg-style Rauchbier, or, the Bacon Industry, which falls in the "other smoked beer" category. 

While I was not at the barbecue battle, I did have the chance to try the Bacon Industry during a recent visit to Philadelphia.  The Bacon Industry is brewed in the Helles style, using German beechwood smoked malt, American cherrywood malt and 100 pounds of cured, smoked bacon.  That makes the Bacon Industry my kind of beer.  So, I had two of them during lunch. 

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a beer that falls within the "other smoked beer" category should have a "pleasant balance" between the smoked character and the basic beer style.  Given the brewers at NCBC brewed the Bacon Industry in the style of a Helles (or Maibock beer), then we should look to what that beer style entails.  Typically, a Helles beer pours a deep amber to a light color, with malt-forward aromas (featuring little to no hop elements), and a strong, but clean malt flavor.    

With that background, the Bacon Industry does a very good job reaching the "pleasant balance" that one would strive between the smoked character and the Helles style.  The use of the beechwood smoked malt and the bacon allow for light smoked aromas and flavors to greet the nose and tongue of the drinker. At first, the smoked elements are the beechwood and cherrywood, which find their way into the aroma of the beer. I did not get as much of a sense of the bacon in the aroma, but it does find its way into the beer. (100 pounds of cured, smoked bacon should at least find its way into the flavor of the beer.) That bacon flavor is nestled among the malt elements of the beer, such as some light toast and bread flavors.  

The balance between the smoke and the malt in this smoked Helles beer is near perfect.  The Bacon Industry provides an interesting, albeit different, approach to a smoked beer.  Most smoked beers that I have tried in the past, like the Ola Dubh or the Sunturnbrew, achieve the smoked character solely through the use of malts.  The Bacon Industry sets itself apart with the use of 100 pounds of cured, smoked bacon. Given how much I liked this beer, I will keep my eye open for other bacon beers.  In the meantime, if you find yourself in Philadelphia or nearby NCBC, you should stop and see if this beer is available.  And, if you can, pair it with barbecue, as the brewers initially intended.  Until next time ...


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Smoked Beef Ribs

One of my objectives during this smoking season is to try smoking new proteins.  There is a wide range of proteins that could qualify for a first time smoke.  However, there is one that I have wanted to smoke for a long time ... beef ribs.  I've watched barbecue shows, like Project Smoke and Barbecue Pitmasters and have watched others work with these ribs.  There is something about the large bone and the hunk of meat at the end that just appeals to a carnivore like me. 

But, as I mentioned at the outset, this is a protein that I have never cooked before.  I needed to learn a little about beef ribs before I undertook this cook.  The first thing I learned is that a cow has 13 ribs on each side. The first five ribs are the chuck cut.  This happens to be the most common rib cut in grocery stores.   I can attest to this fact because, after going through the beef section of a couple nearby grocery stores, nearly all of the ribs were chuck ribs.  There were also plate short ribs, but there seemed to be less meat on those ribs than the chuck ribs.  So, I decided to buy a couple packages of chuck ribs and get home to work my smoke project. 

There was one wrinkle.  The chuck ribs came cut into individual ribs, as opposed to a slab or plate of ribs.  This complicated the smoke for me because I am not used to smoking individual pieces like these ribs.  To date, I have smoked pork shoulders, brisket, whole chickens, etc.  Large pieces of meat where by I can calculate the cooking times by the pound.  While I have been wanting to smoke chicken thighs in the muffin tins (as I noted, I have watched quite a few barbecue shows), I have not done that yet.  I searched far and wide for recipes that could address the issues that I saw with cooking individual portions, but I found none that directly answered my questions.  Nevertheless, I took a couple of the better recipes and decided to work on my own. 

As for that recipe, I decided to approach the cook using a Texas-style barbecue.  The phrase "Texas-style barbecue" is actually a generalization, because the State of Texas is so large that it has its own regional barbecue styles: East, Central, West and South.  Eastern and Southern Texas barbecue are defined by the use of sauces, a tomato based sauce in Eastern Texas BBQ and a thicker, molasses based sauce in Southern Texas BBQ.  I found few, if any, recipes that included a barbecue sauce of any kind.  Most of the recipes focused more on trying to bring out the taste of the beef, rather than potentially covering up that taste with a sauce.  This leaves either the Central or Western Texas style of barbecues.  Both styles eschew sauces or even complex rubs.  Instead, pitmasters use simple rubs consisting primarily of salt and ground black pepper, with a possible addition of only a couple of additional agreements, such as garlic powder or cayenne pepper.  One difference between the two styles is the type of wood used.  Central Texas BBQ uses pecan, oak or mesquite wood, while Western Texas BBQ uses primarily mesquite wood.

For this recipe, I decided to draw upon Western Texas BBQ.  I kept this very simple ... the rub consists of equal parts kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  That's it, nothing else (except for a little olive oil to keep that rub on the ribs).  I used mesquite for the smoke.  As for the spritz or mop, which all beef rib recipes require, I used beef broth.  (I also used a mop because I don't have a sprayer.) The simplistic approach to these ribs was perfect ... every bite had a great beefy taste with a slight kick from the roughly ground black peppercorns.  

For my first time, this smoke was a tremendous success.  Beef ribs may supplant pork shoulders for me.  Only time will tell if that happens ....

Recipe adapted from Hey Grill Hey
Serves several

3-4 pounds of beef chuck ribs
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
1 cup beef broth
4 chunks of mesquite wood

1.  Prepare the ribs.  The ribs will probably not need any trimming.  Rub the olive oil over the meat and cover with salt and black pepper.  Wrap the ribs with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

2.  Smoke the ribs.  Soak the mesquite wood in water for about 1 hour.  Prepare the fire and coals in the smoker until you have a temperature of around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oil the grate and place the ribs in the smoker.  After about two to three hours on the smoker, spritz or mop the ribs with the beef broth.  Continue to spritz or mop the ribs every forty-five minutes to one hour.

3.  Finish the cook.  Cook the beef ribs until you get an internal temperature of about 203 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the smoker and set side to rest for ten minutes.  Serve immediately.


Friday, August 17, 2018

The Sprecher Series, Part Four ... The Quadrupel

It is the last of the Sprecher Series. In the past, I have previously reviewed the other three beers in that series: the Enkel, the Dubbel and the Tripel. The final beer is the Quadrupel, which is the last in the line of the Belgian style of brewing.

As it turns out, the Belgian Quadrupel is probably my favorite style of beer.  I have also drank some mighty fine Quads in my time, such as the La Trappe Quadrupel.  In other words, the bar is very high.  And, after the somewhat disappointing experience with the Sprecher Tripel, I would not be completely honest if I did not say I was wary of this particular offering.  Nevertheless, I committed myself to trying and blogging about all four of the Sprecher Belgian beers, because I wanted to go through the exercise of thinking about and writing about each of the Belgian beer styles.  So, here it goes ....

The brewers describe the beer in the following words: a "massive mouthful of malt goodness balanced by warming alcohol with a whisper of bitterness and playful spice."  They add that there are "[p]redominant flavors" of "caramelized sugar, toffee, dried fruits (fig, cherry, raisin, plum), molasses, light spice (clove, pepper, nutmeg) and a slight hint of citrus."  That is a very tall order. 

It is also one that falls a slight bit short.  The Quadrupel pours a cola brown in color.  There are aromas of raisins and plums, which are also featured in the flavor of the beer.  The caramelized sugar also features prominently, hence the Belgian candy taste.  While there is a slight tartness to the beer, I do not think that falls in the category of either a "light spice" or "citrus."  Nevertheless, it is present against the booziness of the beer in the background. 

The Belgian Quad was a good quadrupel.  Certainly a better example of a quadrupel than the tripel was as an example of a Belgian Tripel.  With this beer and review completed, it draws to an end my Sprecher Series.  But, it is no La Trappe.  If I ever make my way back out to Wisconsin, I may find another Belgian Quad to double check my impressions.  Until then, 


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Guyana

My next personal culinary challenge takes me to South America, but, for an experience unlike any of my prior challenges on the continent.  To date, my challenges have involved making a main course from Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. All of these challenges involved dishes that, for some reason, I associate with South America, whether it is the Ceviche de Corvina (Black Sea Bass Ceviche) from Ecuador, or the indigenous Guarani dish of So'o-Yosopy (Beef Soup) from Paraguay or, one of my all-time favorites, the Chivitos al Pan of Uruguay.  This challenge is different from my prior ones, because it involves preparing a main course from the country of Guyana.  And, Guyana is far different than most of South America, walking to its own ... calypso beat.

That different beat plays primarily because of history.  The present day Co-operative Republic of Guyana was previously known as British Guiana.  The years of colonization left its mark on the country and its people.  The largest segment of the Guyanese population are the Indo-Guyanese (also known as East Indians).  These individuals descend from the indentured servants brought by the British Empire from the Indian subcontinent to work the plantations of Guyana. The Indo-Guyanese make up forty-three percent (43%) of the population, which is substantially more than the next largest group, the Afro-Guyanese, who make up thirty percent (30%) of the population.  Like the Indo-Guyanese, the Afro-Guyanese trace their lineage to African slaves who were brought to the country.  Guyanese of mixed heritage are approximately sixteen (16%) of the population, while the natives (first nations) are slightly more than nine percent (9%) of the population .

The large segments of Indian and Africa descendants, as well as the history of Guyana as a colony of the British Empire, has had its effect on the cuisine of the country.  Guyanese curries are very popular, as are rotis, dal and rice.  These dishes and meals speak to the Indian influence on the cuisine (an influence that is similarly shared amongst former British colonies in the Caribbean). This influence served as the inspiration for my personal culinary challenge.  The main dish would be one that reflected the cuisine of a plurality of modern-day Guyanese.


The Indian influence means that the main course will be a curry.  However, it is not just any curry.  As it turns out, my beautiful Angel bought me nearly fifteen (15) pounds of goat meat.  As I perused goat recipes on the Internet, I found a few recipes for a goat curry from Guyana.  The recipes followed a similar path as curry recipes from India.  There were the spices -- toasted whole spices such as coriander, cloves, and black peppercorns -- that were ground together with turmeric.  The ground spices were then incorporated into a paste of onions and garlic, and then sauteed before the protein is added. The curry then cooks for a couple of hours, until that meat is fork tender and ready to be spooned into a bowl with rice.   While there are an abundance of curry dishes in Guyana, using the entire range of proteins, it was the goat curry recipes that both captured my attention and were the most useful.  After all, I had 15 pounds of goat meat.

The main course, Goat Curry, not only reflects the food of a significant portion of the Guyanese people, but also underscores some important notes about the role of agriculture in the Guyanese economy.  The agricultural sector accounts for 50% of the foreign exchange earnings and about 40% of the workforce.   While sugar represents the largest crop, rice accounts for 18% of the agricultural sector and livestock accounts for 16% of that sector, both of which are significant amounts. (All of these stats are courtesy of the South American Commission for the Fight against Foot and Mouth Disease.) With respect to the livestock, there are approximately 82,000 goats in Guyana. While 82,000 goats would place Guyana somewhere around the 126th country when it comes to goat production, those 82,000 goats, taken together, are significant to Guyana.

In the end, this is a dish that draws from various aspects of Guyana, its people and its economy.  It also reflects the common bonds that the Guyanese share with the Caribbean, especially the English-speaking islands, such as Trinidad and Tobago.  For these reasons, the challenge is to make a main course of Guyanese Goat Curry.

Recipe from The Nasty Bits
Serves 4-6

2 1/2 pounds goat meat for stewing
1 lemon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 onion 
A few cloves of garlic
A few tablespoons of oil

1. Prepare the goat meat.  Rinse the goat meat under cold running water and place in a pot or large bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, toss in the lemon rind and fill the vessel with water so that all of the goat meat is covered.  Let sit for 30 minutes.  

2. Prepare the spices.  Place all of the spices except the ground turmeric into a heavy skillet.  Over medium heat, toast the spices, moving the seeds around so that the surface comes into contact evenly with the heat.  The spices will be done when the mustard seeds begin to pop and the cumin seeds are a shade darker, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Immediately remove the pan from the turmeric powder to the pan.  Stir around.  Place all of the spices into a spice grinder and process until finely ground. 

3.  Prepare the spice paste.  In a food processor or blender, puree the onions and garlic with just enough water to create a thick paste.  A few tablespoons of water should suffice.  Transfer the paste to a small bowl and add the toasted and ground spices.  Mix thoroughly to make a thick paste. 

4.  Cook the goat meat.  In a medium sized pot, add a few tablespoons of oil as well as the spice paste.  Toast the paste in the oil for 30 seconds to a minute, taking care not to burn the mixture.  Then add the goat meat and stir around, cooking the meat for a minute or so in the fragrant oil.

5.  Continue cooking the goat meat.  Add enough water to cover the meat.  Bring the water to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 1/2 or so hours, until the meat is tender.  Toward the end, de-fat the broth by skimming the surface with a broad spoon.  Alternatively, if you are making the recipe in advance, refrigerate the curry and allow the fat to solidify at the top.  Serve with plenty of rice to sop up the goat broth. 

*          *          *

This challenge represents my fifth challenge that involves a curry or similar dish (to date, I have made Bhutanese Pig Trotter Curry, Mauritian Duck Curry, Indian Rogan Josh, and Pakistani Karashi Gosht).  This may speak to the ubiquitous nature of curry dishes. It has also helped me to gain experience in making a type of dish that I really like.  (I eat a lot of curries, when I can.)  Overall, the Guyanese Goat Curry was very good, although the curry "sauce" was a little too thin for me.  Still, the flavors were there and the dish was a very good first effort at cooking with goat.  Given that I still have about twelve (12) pounds of goat to cook.  So, this won't be my last effort or, for that matter, my last personal challenge to cook a dish from a country using goat.  Until next time ...


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Coelacanth Grand Cru

I am truly fascinated by the coelacanth. With its long body, lobed (or limb-like) fins and scaly armored skin, the coelacanth (SEE-luh-canth) is thought to be a link between fish  and tetrapods (a four-footed animal).  But, it was also thought to have gone extinct sixty-six million years ago.  

That was until eighty (80) years ago, on December 23, 1938, when Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer found a coelacanth among the catch of a local fisherman, Captain Hendrick Goosen, who had been working the waters of southeastern Africa.  Courtenay-Latimer passed along information about the fish to an ichthyologist at Rhodes University.  The response was emphatic: "MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED."  Since that time, the coelacanth has been sighed around eastern South Africa, but also around the Comoros Islands and even several thousand miles away near the Indonesian islands. 

There is a coelacanth closer to home. Actually, it is Coelacanth Brewing Company in Norfolk, Virginia.  The brewery is a lot like the fish, it asserts its uniqueness.  The focus centers on "unique takes on classic styles."   One of those beers is the Grand Cru, which is a Belgian Sparkling Blond Ale that is aged in oak barrels for ten (10) months. 

The Grand Cru pours a pale yellowish, honey color, with a slightly hazy complexion.  Although it does not show in the pictures, a slight fizzy foam developed as the beer was poured into the glass.  That fizz is reminiscent of a sparkling wine, and, it recedes as quickly as the fizz of such a wine, leaving a thin wispy foam that graces the surface of the liquid.  

As the beer sits, gentle aromas of lemon, grass and flowers emerge from the surface of the beer.  The elements are subtle, leaving some questions as to what to expect with the first taste.  That first sip provided some elements that one would find with a brett beer.  There was a slight green apple taste that could be found with the more traditional taste elements of lemon and citrus.  I am not sure the brett character was intended by the brewers, but, even if it was not, the beer was still interesting and good.  

I found this beer at a beer store in Williamsburg, Virginia, where it sold for a little more than $9.00 per bottle.  Coelacanth does not brew this beer anymore, but, if it ever does again, I might make my way to Norfolk to try it on the tap.  Until next time ...


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with French Onion Au Jus

In all my years of cooking and eating beef, one of the cuts that I have rarely used is the whole beef tenderloin.  This cut is readily available, more often in warehouse stores and grocery stores.  It is the cut that, once properly butchered, produces the filet mignon.  In my humble opinion, the filet mignon is one of the most overrated cuts of beef.  As it turns out, I am not the only one who shares that opinion.  I almost never order it in restaurants and have never made it at home. 

Nevertheless, I have a personal goal of trying to cook all cuts of beef.  I wanted to go beyond the prime rib roast, strip steaks and sirloin steaks.  I have been looking for recipes that use other cuts of meat, such as the the beef flank and even the beef tenderloin.  A few weeks back, my beautiful Angel bought a whole tenderloin.  I now had my opportunity to cook with the meat.  I searched the Internet and came across a recipe for a roasted tenderloin with French Onion au Jus.  The combination of beef with an onion soup immediately appealed to me so I printed out the recipe and was ready to cook a delicious meal.  

However, I needed to learn a lot before I could do anything with the meat.  One cannot (or should not) throw a whole tenderloin in the oven and expect a good meal to come out of it.  The whole tenderloin needed to be butchered first.  The butchery required the breakdown of the tenderloin into its three principal parts: the psoas major, psoas minor and the iliacus.  The psoas major is the major muscle of the tenderloin, from which the filet mignon can be cut.  The psoas minor is also referred to as the "chain muscle."  It is a thin strip of beef that could be used in other recipes, such as a Philadelphia Cheesesteak or a stir fry.  The iliacus is known as the "wing" muscle. The actual process of butchering the tenderloin can be found at the 350 Degree Oven.  The website goes a little further than I needed to go, showing one how to cut filet mignon steaks.  That will be saved for another recipe.  

I needed to keep the psoas major and the iliacus whole in order to roast the beef.  The recipe calls for an interesting twist: putting the sliced onions at the bottom of the roasting pan and put the roast on top of the onions.  This is a great idea because not only does it allow the water in the onions to help prevent burning at the bottom of the pan, but it also allows the onions to be flavored with the juices of the roast.  I think I will be using that technique more often, and then use the onions in an au jus, or, as an alternative, to flavor a gravy or other sauce.    

One final note, any good French onion soup -- or, in this case, a French onion au jus -- requires a good wine.  My go-to wine in this context is usually a Cotes du Rhone, because, in my opinion, that wine is the most complementary one for an onion soup.  Truthfully, a wide range of red wines will work, as long as the wine is not too bold. 

Recipe Adapted from Half Baked Harvest
Serves many

Ingredients (for the tenderloin):
1 whole beef tenderloin, broken down into 
     Psoas major, psoas minor and iliacus
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves minced finely
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns

Ingredients (for the au jus):
4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 cup low sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 sprigs fresh thyme

1.  Prepare the tenderloin.  Break down the tenderloin into its three parts the psosas major (the large central muscle), the psoas minor (the chain) and the iliacus (the bulb of meat at the nose end).  Season the main muscle of the tenderloin, along with the iliacus with the salt and pepper (both black and pink peppercorns), as well as the garlic and fresh thyme  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. 

2.  Roast the tenderloin.   Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange the onions in a large oven safe skillet.  Place the beef over the onions.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the top of the beef.  Transfer to the oven and roast until the beef registers 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare, about 35 to 45 minutes, depending upon the size of the roast. Remove the beef from the skillet to a serving plate and cover with foil.  The meat should rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. 

3.  Prepare the onion au jus.   Meanwhile, set the skillet with the onion over medium heat.  Add 6 tablespoons of butter and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are deep golden in color and caramelized, about 5 or 10 minutes.  Add the wine, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce and thyme.   Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer.  Remove the thyme sprigs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4.  Plate the dish.  Slice the beef and serve with the French onion au jus on the side.