Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mexican themed Easter Dinner by a bunch of Polaks

My wife, Morgan, and I are both part Polish; she's fifty percent and I'm something like a quarter. Many of both of our family traditions are based, at least in part, on our Polish heritage. But we're also adventurous, so when Morgan's sister suggest we do a Mexican themed Easter Dinner, I said 'barbacoa, baby, barbacoa!'

Mise en place, everything looks better in it's place
I have no formal training in the kitchen, but I've loved cooking since I was a kid. I was making grilled cheese and ramen noodles by the time I was 8 or 9 and have been tossing stuff in pots and pans ever since. I love to try new things in the kitchen, so in spite of never making barbacoa before, I knew I could pull it off.

I'm not the best at following a recipe, I'm more of a concept guy. On Good Friday I read several different recipes about how to make barbacoa. Saturday morning while we were eating crepes at the West Side Market, I thought about what I read and whatever I remembered got added into my plan.

The beef, before and after the dry rub
So, here goes my barbacoa recipe...
5.5 lbs of Beef Chuck Roast
1 bunch of Cilantro
1 cup of lemon juice
1 can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1/2 cup Mexican Oregano
1/4 cup Freshly Toasted and Ground Cumin
1 tbsp of New Mexico Chile Powder
1/2 - 1 quart of beef stock
Honestly, the only measurements I'm positive on are the bunch of cilantro, the can of chipotles and the chuck roast. Sorry, but I just don't measure, it's too much effort for too little return. That said, I always, always, always toast and grind whole spices if at all possible.

The cilantro, chipotle peppers and lime juice go for a spin
This is so easy with cumin. Toss in a small pan, apply heat and when you smell cumin in the air, take it off the heat, let it cool a bit and grind. Five minutes will seriously turn the amplifiers up to eleven. I do regret using pre-packaged new mexico chile powder; next time I will make my own.

I intentionally kept the spiciness to a minimum, as several of the Easter Dinner guests don't do the hot stuff very well. If I had made this for just the two of us, I would have doubled or even tripled the new mexico chile powder and added in some fresh chopped jalapeƱos.

The finished marinade and the dry rubbed beef
I got the beef from our friends at Lance's Beef. They always take really good care of us; they setup us up with two nice cuts of chuck roast, each about an inch and a half thick with a bit of marbling and nice fat layer on the outside. Like Alton says, get to know your butcher. If you don't have one, get one.
"So talk to your butcher. If you don't have a butcher, well find one. Soon."
- Alton Brown, Good Eats "Celebrity Roast", Season 5, Episode 4
For you Clevelanders, the West Side Market is honestly a national treasure. We save so much money getting our meats and poultry there and I'm not ever going to talk about the quality and flavor difference. Skip the Eagle. Sorry Lisa and Ed.

The wet stuff goes on the dry stuff, marinating the beef
I broke the beef down into several smaller pieces, following the muscle lines as natural cut points, so they'd be easier to marinate. Then I tossed the hunks in the oregano, cumin and chile mixture as a dry rub. I took the cilantro, lime juice and chipotles with adobo for a spin in the blender and then poured the wet marinate on top. The beef enjoyed some nice marination time in the refrigerator, about 14 hours.

I only just realized that I never added any salt, which is odd because we season everything. Having tasted the finished product, I don't feel like it needed any, so I guess it worked out.

Going dutch, the beef midway through cooking
Easter morning I get the dutch over rocket hot and tossed the beef in, marinade and all, to get a little sear on before I added about half a quart of beef stock. I wasn't measuring volume, I was just making sure the beef was covered. Once it started to boil, it when into a preheated 350° oven.

After an hour I back it down to 250°. I checked it every hour to make sure it wasn't getting dry, but I never had to add any liquid. After 3 hours the beef was tender and easy to pull apart with tongs. By 4 hours a gentle squeeze was enough to make it fall apart.

The final product with Chipotle Tabasco sauce, salsa and cheese
The final product? Well, I think it needed some spice, but a healthy dose of Chipotle Tabasco sauce fixed that. Beyond that, I'm quite happy with the results. I'm already planning a barbecued beef adaptation with homemade barbecue sauce in place of the wet stuff and smoked paprika, brown sugar and garlic in place of the oregano and new mexico chile powder.

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