Thursday, September 27, 2012

JMueller BBQ in Austin

Side of the Truck
This past weekend I flew from Boston to Austin to hang out with some college buddies before my impending nuptials (tomorrow!). One of my goals for the weekend was to hit up some Texas BBQ, preferably without having to find out how to get 8 people to Lockhart. Rudimentary research quickly showed that there are two high end BBQ options within Austin city limits: Franklin BBQ and JMueller BBQ. While John Mueller has been at it longer as a third generation barbecue man, he closed up shop in 2006 and sold his pit to Aaron Franklin. Franklin has since risen to prominence as the media darling of the most beloved BBQ joint in Austin... but getting brisket there comes at a cost. Not exactly a monetary one (though it's not like the food is free) but instead as some serious time investment... like two hours plus in line. On the weekend in particular you need to be in line well before the restaurant even opens if you are expecting to get food.

Seeing all the accolades for Franklin pile up with lines down the street must have spurred Mueller into action, since he reopened his own venture in October 2011. When it first opened, JMueller was a nice and quick alternative to Franklin's... similar quality but with a fraction of the line length. Unfortunately, as you can see on Yelp, this has changed (not the quality - the line)... probably due to Anthony Bourdain.

Line for JMueller

Speaking of a line... we arrived directly from the airport (no time to check in!) on Friday at about 11:15 AM and said line was already all the way out of the lot. Mueller handed everybody a Lone Star and we settled in to wait. The pros suggest bringing along additional beer to sip while you work your way towards the front, but I was trying to pace myself at this early stage of the weekend and was content to just chat with my friends. I noticed that the line barely ever seemed to change length... always to the edge of the lot. The only time it dwindled was at about 1:30 when they cut it off since they were going to run out of food (a daily occurrence - they serve until they run out).

JMueller Offerings
We were quite lucky that they had not crossed any items off the menu by the time we made it to the front of the line. There were only three of us... so we could not (sanely) sample everything... but we ordered brisket (1 lb), beef short ribs (1.5 lb), pork ribs (0.5 lb), and beef sausage (1 lb). We did not waste any stomach capacity with sides. Note that the one and a half pounds of short ribs resulted from the fact that each rib is about half a pound... but while the short ribs were second only to the brisket in my mind (Bourdain says they are king), I'd say that's a fair bit more beef rib then three people really needed. If I were to go again I'd probably skip the beef sausage and pork ribs, which were both very good but not nearly as transcendent as either the brisket or short ribs... and give the pork shoulder a shot.

Brisket and Pork Ribs

I'm no BBQ expert by any measure (I live in New England after all)... and we couldn't visit Franklin for comparison (it was closed for the weekend)... but I thought that was some damn fine BBQ and certainly worth standing in line for. I would definitely do it again, and I recommend it to any tourists looking for culinary adventure.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Duck Confit @ JAM Bistro

Duck Confit Tacos
Getting married in about a week, so things are starting to get too hectic for very much cooking or posting... though there are a few posts in the hopper that I've got to bang out and I'm hoping to document some real live Texas BBQ during this weekend's trip to Austin with my college buddies... but I thought I'd put up this photo from lunch at JAM Bistro during our vacation in Rehoboth. Pretty simple dish... basically just duck confit, some lettuce, queso fresco, and house pickles (including some jalapenos)... but really a dynamite flavor combination. I suppose it's hard to go wrong with duck confit. You could easily throw these together yourself with store bought duck confit or homemade... and if you don't have fun pickles, you could instead top with a nice fresh tomatillo salsa.

EDIT: For some reason this didn't post when it was supposed to... oh well, I'll fire up the time machine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Glazed Pork Spare Ribs with Shichimi Togarashi

Glazed Pork Spare Ribs with Shichimi Togarashi
After spaghetti with dried chile and garlic last week, we have another Bon Appétit recipe (here) all up in this blog. I always find it odd that I'll go months without making anything out of the food magazines I subscribe to and then... just when I start wondering why I'm paying for them... I'll go on a tear like this and be all "Bon Appétit has so many great recipes!" Seems verrrry suspicious, but I suppose it is unlikely their editorial offices have developed mind reading technology.

The recipe calls for St. Louis style pork ribs... which are spareribs with the tips cut off so you end up with ribs of (relatively) uniform length with no awkward cartilaginous areas at the end. The confusion I had is that I thought "St. Louis style pork ribs" and "pork spare ribs" were the same thing... that's what happens when you don't grow up in a barbecue area... so when I saw that the recipe called for 2 racks that totaled 4 pounds I was stumped (since one rack of spare ribs weighs about 4 pounds by itself). I later learned that butchering them down to St. Louis style by cutting off the ends accounts for the difference. You end up wasting (or finding some other use for I guess) some tasty meat at those ends, but I guess it makes them easier to eat.

So what did I do? Well I was just feeding myself, and since I didn't know about the trimming, two full racks of spare ribs was just way too much. Thus I just cut a 4lb rack of spare ribs in half so I had something to stack to make the little rib rack pocket described in the recipe. Worked fine for me... probably enough to feed two people, or in my case produced enough meaty ribs to gnaw on for a few days.

Out of the oven

I cooked the ribs in the oven on Sunday, but then put the rendered liquid and ribs in the fridge to finish a few days later. This way I was able to make the glaze and brown the ribs under the broiler in like 10-15 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner.

Anyway... I liked it. Thought it was pretty easy and tasty, and I liked that you can do it in stages. Star of the show? The shichimi togarashi, which I've had sprinkled over ramen at our local ramen stall, but never had as a part of my spice rack. Has a nice kick with some citrus notes... like it a lot. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Crabbing on the Choptank

Steamed Crabs 2

My father grew up in Sherwood Forest (no really!), up the Severn river from Annapolis and the US Naval Academy, and, until I was in middle school, had a small sail boat he would take us out on for the weekend (it was small but you could sleep in the bow). In those days we would take handful of raw chicken parts, tie them to string, and then catch crabs (Chesapeake blue crabs) off the side of the boat. You would go from line to line and check to see if you could feel one nibbling, and if so, very slowly pull the line up towards the surface so you could net the crab. That method is called crabbing with a handline, and you can do that in Maryland without a license as long as you don't catch any more than 2 dozen crabs in a day.

Laying Out The Trotline

Nowadays my pops has a house on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay (on the Choptank river) and has a boat with a recreational crabbing license which allows him to set out a trotline. A trotline is just a long line with bait (chicken necks typically) tied onto it every couple of feet. It is anchored at both ends, lays on the bottom of the river, and has floats that mark each end. He has two spools, each 500' long, that he links together. These get fed out over the y shaped piece of pipe that you can see in the picture above. There is, of course, a lot of art as to when and where to place the line... whether or not the tide is coming in and all sorts of stuff I don't really understand. In our particular case it was a windy and gray day, so my dad chose a more sheltered area with fewer crabs but where the wind wouldn't be a huge hassle.

Starting Down the Trotline

Once the line is all laid out you take the boat back up to the start of the line (giving the crabs some time to find the bait) and feed it over another set of pipe that will bring the line up towards the surface as we drive the boat down its length. As long as you go slowly enough the crabs will be so intent on their chicken dinner that they won't sense that they are moving towards the surface.

Anna Crabbing

Now, the guy driving the boat can also net the crabs (my dad did this on the first pass and it looked pretty hard), but it's a lot easier to have somebody else to it. The officially recommended way to hold the net is not how Anna has it above... you want your right hand at the top and the pole in front of your body... but for whatever reason it seems the natural instinct is the opposite. As the line is brought up to the surface you keep your eye out for crabs clinging to the bait and net any you see with a side to side action (as opposed to up and down) and dump them into a bushel basket. It's pretty fun actually... though I suppose less so for the crabs.


At the end of the line you head back up to the beginning so you can start again, but on the way you need to check to see which ones you netted were keepers. So you grab them with tongs (not hands! those claws hurt) and compare them to the above handy dandy crab measuring calipers... the notch higher up is 5" for early in the season and the one at the bottom is 5 and 1/4" for latter. If they are too small you throw them back and if they are keepers they go into a second bushel basket. In addition, recreational crabbers like us can only take males, so all females get thrown back. How can you tell? It's as easy as distinguishing the Capitol from the Washington Monument.

Why They Are Called Blue Crabs

The guy above appears to have lost a fight and one of his claws with it. Crabs are pretty ornery... as you might have heard. You can see why they are called blue crabs though... the amount of green in the shell varies a lot it seems, but they always have a lot of blue in their limbs.

Not a Good Sign for the Crabs

Back at shore after a successful couple of hours (though not especially so... we only caught about a dozen, whereas my dad says on a good day he could come back with a full bushel in that time) we prepped them to cook. Couldn't be simpler... put them in a steamer basket and dump a bunch of Old Bay and salt on them... then steam them over a mixture of water and vinegar.

Additional photos of the excursion can be seen on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili Revisited

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili

While I posted about this recipe a few years ago... just a couple of weeks after we purchased our pressure cooker... I'm going to post about it again as a kind of pressure cooker retrospective. At the time of that first post I was both confused and excited by our new kitchen gadget, but in reality not a whole lot has changed since my original assessment. I'm not really sure whether I should be pleased that my instincts were good, or disturbed that I'm not evolving as much as I did when this blog first started. Probably a little of both. Still, I think a couple of years of owning a pressure cooker has added a little perspective.

What I love both about this recipe (and pressure cooking in general) is the ability to decide to make a stew on a whim for lunch or dinner that day. This past weekend I woke up on Saturday with a freezer empty of easy options and no leftovers to munch on. With Anna out of town, this was the perfect opportunity to cook up some big meaty stew "project" to feed myself through mid week... and I sat down with my cookbooks, cooking magazines, and the internet to write up a grocery list to do just that... but then it occurred to me that while sitting around watching the O's (Whoohoo!) during a four hour braise would be an enjoyable afternoon, I'd still need to grab a sandwich from somewhere for lunch. Enter the pressure cooker and this exceptionally simple recipe from Alton Brown.


All you need is three pounds of stew meat, a jar of salsa, tortilla chips, chipotles en adobo, chile powder, cumin... and a bottle of beer. Not too hard to come by. Now, I tend not to be all that interested in short cuts for convenience that come at the expense of flavor development, but the speed here mainly comes from the pressure cooker, and I doubt you'd find too many people who'd argue against this being a fully flavored chili. I suppose instead of jarred salsa you could take it to another level by being creative... and, indeed, I plan to do something like this with tomatillos for a Chile Verde variation... but I think it's pretty great as is, especially if you have a favorite brand of salsa whose flavor profile you enjoy. That latter point is pretty important, as with so few other ingredients that salsa is going to play a key role in the final flavor of the chili.


The only step here that takes any time at all is browning the stew meat in multiple batches... after that it's the 5-10 minutes it takes to get up to pressure and then about 25 minutes of cooking. Note: several pressure cooking authorities (like Lorna Sass) say to never use "quick pressure release" when cooking meat as that quick pressure drop allegedly squeezes the moisture out of the meat leaving it dry and tough. Not sure if that it true or not, but instead of Alton's instructions I cooked at high pressure for 18 minutes (instead of 25) and then let it release pressure naturally... which takes maybe another 10 minutes... and it the meat was perfectly tender and not at all dry.

So in the end I still got myself a full flavored stew with tons of leftovers but was able to get it on the table in less than an hour. Pretty cool. I'll never consider a pressure cooker an "essential" kitchen device, but it's pretty damn handy to have. For the most part I use the pressure cooker for non-blog worthy things, like beans or mashed potatoes... and I should probably be using it to make stock... but it's also great to know that if I am in the mood for a braise I can just stop at the store on the way home on a weeknight and not end up eating at midnight.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Spaghetti with Garlic and Dried Chile

Spaghetti with Garlic and Dried Chile

This recipe is a take on your classic garlic and oil pasta (aglio et olio) and can be found in this month's Bon Appétit (the recipe is from Luce in Portland). It's a bit more refined than the latter as you infuse the oil with garlic and chile flavor, but discard everything but the seeds for the final dish. If you're like me and have a bag of chile de árbol sitting in your dried pepper stash (what, everybody doesn't have a dried pepper stash!?) then you probably have all you need to make this dish sitting in your pantry. Given how easy it is to pull together I'd advise knowing how to make at least once version of this dish... in fact, the classic red pepper flake version linked above was one of the few things I knew how to cook before I took cooking seriously.

As for this particular rendition, I liked the dish, but found it to be a little on the subtle side. If/when I make it again I'd increase the amount of garlic and peppers involved. Note that the seeds really are a key component of the flavor... they're not especially spicy but they impart a nice toasty flavor.

Vegetarian and can obviously be made vegan by not finishing with parmesan.