Saturday, May 29, 2010

Southwestern pulled brisket sandwiches with Mesa Grill potato salad

This post combines both of my rather modest goals for the summer: cooking new things in my slow cooker (new to me, anyway) and using the produce from the Buying Club in summery ways.

My previous summers in Miami I pretty much ignored the climate and made whatever looked interesting, but I guess I'm just in a different mood this year. Running the oven in a 90 degree kitchen just doesn't sound appealing. So I'm keeping an eye out for dishes both served cold and requiring less cooking. Certainly I'll be making exceptions, but I do want to shift the majority in that direction.

I found both of these recipes on the Food Network's website. The Mesa Grill recipe is Bobby Flay's obviously. The brisket is from a 2004 episode of a show called Making It Easy that I don't think I've ever encountered. I'm no expert in either slow cooker cooking or Southwestern cuisine so I didn't make any significant changes in either recipe. I hope you don't mind a bit of cutting and pasting from the original sources as they both had quite a few ingredients and I don't see any particular reason to rewrite a scrupulously followed recipe.

Pulled brisket ingredients:
3 pounds beef brisket
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
2 whole canned chipotle chiles en adobo
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons molasses
Soft sandwich buns
Pickled jalapeños [sweet pickles are just as good. The results aren't really all that Southwestern]

1. Season the beef generously with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat just until beginning to smoke. Add the meat and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker; leave the skillet on the heat.

2. Add garlic, onion, chili powder, coriander, and cumin to drippings in the skillet and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add vinegar and boil until it's almost gone, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in water and pour the mixture over the brisket. Crush the tomatoes through your fingers into the slow cooker; add the tomato juices, chipotles, bay leaves, and molasses. Cover the cooker, set it on LOW, and cook the brisket until it pulls apart easily with a fork, about 8 hours.

3. [The original recipe calls for just pulling the meat apart in the cooker and serving, but I wanted a thicker sauce which requires a few more steps.] Remove meat and bay leaves from the slow cooker. Turn off the slow cooker or remove the cooking vessel from the heater or pour out the sauce into a large bowl. Discard the bay leaves and let the brisket and sauce cool a bit.

4. When it's cool enough to handle, pour the sauce into a food processor or blender and blend smooth. Return to slow cooker if it has a High setting that's pretty high or pour into a pot on the stovetop. [I tried the former first but switched to the latter.] Cook the sauce down until it's thick enough to splatter when it bubbles.

5. Meanwhile, pull the brisket apart with forks and/or tongs. When the sauce is to your ideal thickness, mix it with the meat.

Serve on buns or in tortillas with the pickled jalapeños on top. Over egg noodles or rice wouldn't be bad either.

Ingredients for Mesa Grill potato salad:
[I halved these amounts. If I had known how poorly potato salad freezes, I would have quartered them. Instead, I've been eating potato salad way too many meals in a row. It's good but I've got my limits.]
1 1/2 cups prepared mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chipotle pepper puree [or one chipotle en adobo chopped fine]
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 new potatoes, about 3 to 4 pounds

1. Heat a large pot of water. Cut potatoes into large, similarly-sized pieces. When water comes to a boil, add potatoes and a generous amount of salt. Lower heat to medium-low. Simmer until potatoes are tender. Remove to cutting board, let cool until you can handle them and slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. Combine all the ingredients, except the potatoes, in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Mix in potatoes. Check seasoning and serve warm.

I cooked the sauce down more after this first sandwich but this picture isn't too far off from the final version. The sauce tasted a bit muddy at first, but the flavors clarified after a night in the refrigerator with more of the spices unique character coming through instead of just a general heat. The small amount of vinegar in the sauce isn't enough to balance on its own; the pickles (of whatever sort) are important to cut through the rich meaty flavors. And I'm pleased that there is some meaty flavor left in the meat. Often it's all leached out after 8-9 hours of cooking.

As for the potato salad, I can't recall ever having better. Just the lack of chunks of raw celery is a huge plus. Beyond that, large tender slices of potato are an improvement over chunks. There's a freshness from the scallion and cilantro that balances against the creaminess, slight tartness and gentle heat. Nicely complex and a lovely pairing with the the brisket. The only possible issue is that the sauce to potato ratio is pretty high so it might be better to put the potatoes in a large bowl and add the sauce to taste.

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