Archive for December, 2011
The ethnic cookbooks I edit include lots of special holiday foods, the same ones people complain about year in and year out: stodgy green bean casserole, gluey stuffing, boring charoset and greasy latkes.
Hoppin’ John is the holiday tradition I could dispense with. Not the tradition, but the black-eyed peas. Their earthy flavor comes across as dirtlike to me. I’m Southern, though, so I feel bound to eat a few spoonfuls for good luck in the new year.
You could do worse than begin 2012 with beans. Since they’re cheap, you’ve started the year with a little extra money in your pocket. And they’re fat-free, low carb and high fiber, so you’re getting a jump on good habits for the year.
Rather than complain about black-eyed peas, I quit making Hoppin’ John and found a recipe with flavors that work together and complement the peas aggressive flavor. Coconut milk, chiles and green onions sort of cover the bean taste. A pinch of allspice helps, and if you really just want to obliterate all black-eyed-pea flavor, a final topping of some garlic sauteed in butter overpowers it.
Rice and Peas with Coconut Milk
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
5 to 6 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of allspice, optional
1 serrano chile, minced, optional
2 whole green onions, minced
2 springs fresh thyme or 11/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup brown rice
2 teaspoons salt
Bring to a boil the peas and water to cover by 2 inches. Boil 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand 1 hour. Drain the water and discard.
Add the coconut milk, pepper, allspice, serrano, green onions, thyme and rice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are tender. Add the salt. Makes 4 to 5 servings.
One last topping, optional
2 garlic cloves,minced
4 tablespoons butter
Saute the garlic in the butter over medium low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until tender. Pour over the black-eyed peas.
To use canned beans: Combine all of the ingredients except the beans and cook for 30 minutes. Add beans and cook for 15 minutes longer.
After getting the recipe right, finding the beef, threading lard strips through it for hours, and locating a suitable container for five pounds of meat and 1 gallon of brine, the Spiced Round of Nashville Yesteryear was ready for its bath.
The original 1880s recipe coated the beast with pepper and saltpeter, then dunked it in a pretty caustic solution (1 ounce of cure for 2 gallons of water) for three weeks, maybe four.
The New, Improved, Ultra Modern Reformulated Brine: no saltpeter, just pink curing salt, and just five days of curing! Five days in brine and the spiced round is cured and ready to cook. You could start now, or even a week from now, have enough time between now and Christmas to make one. Or even do it twice.
After the five day bath, I cut off the cheesecloth sleeve (available from Butcher’s Supply), then slipped the beef into another sleeve (dampen the cloth first) and tied it very tightly at the ends. The recipe calls for boiling 15 to 20 minute per pound for a total of 75 minutes for my 5-pound roast. I used a pressure cooker for 25 minutes instead–I’m an apostle of pressure cooking.
After cooking, the beef cools in the water. Then the meat gets a little fridge time until it’s cold.
The slicing is no time to slouch–it’s still top round, so it’s chewy. And now its loaded with spices, which are nicest in small doses, less nice in a big chewy mouthful. Thin slicing is pretty critical to enjoying Spiced Round, so get a cooperative store or a friend with a meat slicer to slice it very thin.
With a very sharp knife and a lot of patience, you could probably do it by hand, but really, slice it as thinly as you can.
I didn’t know what to expect from Spiced Round, and really liked it. It’s good rolled around a twig of cheese, or not rolled around cheese, or just eaten with your fingers, standing in the open refrigerator door. Spicy mustard brings out the best in it, to my taste, but maybe Durkee’s Sauce would be equally good. Next up for experimentation is a reuben made with it.
My Spiced Round had unspiced regions in the center where the spiced fat didn’t make it. If I make Spiced Round again, I’ll try to use a larding needle to thread lard strips all the way through the meat.
Traditional German-Nashvillian Spiced Round of Beef
The headnote in the Germantown Cookbook says this recipe for spiced round was made in the 1880s at the Christopher Power place on West Cedar Street.
1 gallon water
1/4 ounce pink curing salt
20 ounces salt
10 ounces sugar
1 pound slab bacon or salt meat
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 tablespoon pepper
5 pounds beef round, 3 to 4 inches thick
For the brine, combine the water, curing salt, salt and sugar in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring to help the salt and sugar dissolve. Let cool completely.
Cut any rind off the salt meat. Cut away any big areas of muscle. Cut the fat into slivers about 1/4-inch or less. Combine the cinnamon, allspice, cloves and pepper on a plate or waxed paper. Roll the fat slivers in the spice mixture.
With a sharpening steel, poke holes about 1/2 inch apart in the beef round. Poke, push or thread the fat strips into the meat.
Dampen a cheesecloth sleeve and slip the round into it. Tie it tightly to keep the fat slivers from working their way out. Pour the brine into a nonreactive container like a big (big!) glass or ceramic bowl. Top with a plate and weight it down with glass jars filled with water to hold the meat under the liquid. Refrigerate for five days.
Unwrap the meat, then rewrap it in a clean cheesecloth sleeve. Combine it with cold water to cover in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Let the meat cool in the water. Chill the meat in the refrigerator until thoroughly cold. Unwrap it and slice it very thin across the grain. Makes 5 pounds.
Other people helped to update a Spiced Round recipe for a smaller piece of beef and advise on painstakingly threading slivers of spiced fat into the beef.
To cure the beef, I had to go deep into the dark, scary parts of the basement. To dig out a family heirloom. That I hoped was still there. And not broken.
Seventeen years ago my grandmother upped sticks from her farm in remote Sumner County to move to Florida. She called months later and asked that I return to the farmhouse and retrieve two 5-gallon ceramic crocks from underneath the house. They belonged to her grandmother or great-grandmother and she didn’t want to lose them.
How often do you get possession of a great-great-great grandmother’s piece of kitchen gear? Into her crawl space I went and retrieved the crocks and brought them to my house. I moved them when we moved. When we rented out our house, I put the crocks way back into our crawl space. You know, in case our tenants had light fingers as regards century-old, outdated food prep items.
I can’t even describe how dirty the crock was. But an initial bath revealed that it wasn’t cracked, and the glaze inside was intact.
I scrubbed inside and out, then filled the crock with a 10 percent bleach solution. Three days later, it honestly looked, felt and smelled spotless and good as new.
That all turned out to be a red herring, because the beef and brine unexpectedly fit into that 2-gallon crock in the top photo, which I use for making kosher pickles. I have a lot of crocks for a person under the age of 75 and living in a major metropolitan area. If you need a crock, I’m your girl.
The meat is weighted down with a plate. Glass jars filled with water hold down the plate and keep the beef submerged. The whole thing goes into the refrigerator for just 5 or 6 days, by Peter Brown’s calculation.
Five days instead of three weeks of curing as the original recipe indicated. At least one part of the recipe was easy.