Articles in Meat
That Thanksgiving belongs to New England goes without saying. Although there had been feasts giving thanks for the bounty of the land in the Virginia colony, in Spanish Florida and in British Canada, the federal holiday of Thanksgiving declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 traces its lineage to the 1621 harvest celebration of Wampanoag Indians and English settlers in Plymouth, Mass.
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Edward Winslow, one of the governing leaders on the Mayflower, left an account of that thanksgiving feast that lasted three days with 90 Wampanoag and 53 settlers. The Wampanoag brought five deer for the feast. Although there is no surviving menu from this thanksgiving we know that most of the food was brought by the Wampanoag including various waterfowl, the deer, and corn.
It’s likely that the feast was held outdoors as there was no house large enough to hold all these people. Although migrating waterfowl and turkey were plentiful at this time of year, there’s no record that turkey was on the table. There probably were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was squash of some kind. One of the dishes they may have eaten was sobaheg, a Wampanoag stew of corn, roots, beans, squash and various meats, perhaps a precursor to succotash.
A New England Thanksgiving of today is somewhat codified, at least in folklore. One must have a perfectly cooked turkey, or at least an understanding of how to cook the turkey if you are a first-timer. Of course you need an excellent turkey gravy. Root vegetables are typical, as is succotash, boiled creamed onions, buttered squash, cider and cranberry juice to drink. You will have at least three pies because in colonial times hosts thought it appeared stingy to offer company fewer than three pies. Probably you would serve a pumpkin pie, a mincemeat pie and a Marlborough pie, which is a glorified apple pie.
Colonial evolution of a Native American tradition
Succotash became a traditional Thanksgiving dish thanks to the Old Colony Club, created in Plymouth, Mass., in 1769. The group favored this dish as part of their annual Forefather’s Day dinner, which was celebrated in early winter.
The original succotash is a descendant of a local Native American meal based on a corn soup made with beans, unripe corn, and various meats, especially bear or fish. Over time it has evolved into a kind of boiled dinner with corned beef, chicken, salt pork, white Cape Cod turnips, potato, hulled corn and boiled beans with some salt pork. Originally, the beans used were actually dried peas, but over time lima beans have become popular.
The word succotash derives from Narragansett, a branch of the Algonquin language, the word being msiquatash. Hominy are kernels of corn that have been treated in a special way, usually soaked in a caustic solution and then washed to remove the hulls. There are different kinds of hominy with different tastes.
½ cup dried split peas
2 cups whole grain hominy
1 Cornish game hen (about 1½ pounds), cut in half or 2 chicken thighs and leg
1 pound beef brisket in one piece
2 ounces salt pork in one piece
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 boiling potato (about ½ pound), such as Yukon gold, red or white potatoes, boiled and diced
1 small turnip, boiled and diced
1. Place the peas in a pot with cold water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 3 hours. Drain, and pass through a food mill or mash until it looks like mashed potatoes. Set aside until needed.
2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil and add the hominy. Cook until it is half cooked, about 3 hours. Drain and set aside, saving 2¼ cups of the liquid.
3. Place the game hen or chicken, beef, salt pork and hominy in a large flameproof casserole or Dutch oven and cover with the reserved broth and the water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to just below a boil and let simmer, uncovered, until very tender, about 4 hours, adding small amounts of water if it looks like it’s drying out. The water should never reach a boil, though.
4. Add the pea purée to the meats and stir so all the fat is absorbed. Add the potato and turnip, stir and cook until the potato is soft and the hominy fully cooked, about 1 hour. Serve hot. Do not boil at any time.
Note: A modern vegetable succotash can be made by combining 2 cups of reheated frozen lima beans, 2 cups of freshly cooked corn scraped from the cob, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a dash of paprika, freshly ground black pepper and ½ cup of cream in a saucepan. Cook until bubbling hot, about 5 minutes, and serve.
Top photo: Hominy is one of the ingredients in the original succotash recipe. Credit: Glane23 / Wikimedia Commons
The 2013 World Series features a matchup between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us expect to spend a bit of time in front of the TV. And we’ll need to eat.
There are three approaches to game-time TV food. The first is junk food like tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips or popcorn. The second is approximations of what you might eat at a ballpark, such as hot dogs. The third I propose here.
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Baseball games require a lot of TV time, so you’ll want a real meal at some point, and it should be a meal you can eat in front of the TV without much hassle. I like culturally appropriate foods, so I suggest Boston fans serve up some fish and chips and St. Louis fans serve up hot dogs. Beer and soda go without saying.
Fish and chips along with baked beans, fried clams and clam chowder are typical Boston foods, but fish and chips are perfect when you don’t want to look down at your plate during an exciting hit-and-run.
Hot dogs for St. Louis Cardinals fans
The hot dog is the perfect St. Louis food for baseball watching because you can bring it up to your mouth without taking your eyes off the called third strike. Furthermore, the invention of the hot dog, a frankfurter in a bun, is sometimes ascribed to the wife of a German named Antonine Feuchtwanger who sold hot dogs with buns on the streets of St. Louis in 1880 because his customers kept taking off the white gloves handed to them to prevent their hands from being burned while they ate. For our purposes, this story alone is good enough to declare the hot dog St. Louis food and an appropriate choice for watching the Cardinals in the World Series.
Another St. Louis food story relates the invention of peanut butter to the city in 1890, when an unknown St. Louis physician encouraged a food products company owner, George A. Bayle Jr., to process and package ground peanut paste as a nutritious protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn’t chew meat. No one knows where the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was invented, but that it existed around 1900 and it’s a good addition to the hot dog on the Cardinals’ menu.
The hot dog is easy enough, so here’s the recipe for fish and chips.
Fish and Chips
3 cups vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups beer (lager)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 egg whites, beaten to form peaks
8 cod fillets (about 2 pounds)
1. Preheat the oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
2. In a bowl, prepare the batter by stirring together the flour, beer, olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the egg whites.
3. Dip the fish fillets into the batter making sure both sides are coated. (You’ll have leftover batter). Using tongs carefully place 4 fillets in the hot oil making sure you do not crowd the skillet; cook in more batches if necessary. Cook, turning once with tongs, until golden brown on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes in all. Remove and keep warm in the oven. Repeat for the remaining fish fillets. Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce or malt vinegar.
4 russet potatoes (about 12 ounces each), peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths not more than ½-inch thick
2½ quarts peanut or canola oil for frying
Salt to taste
1. Dry the potatoes very well with a towel or multiple sheets of paper toweling. It is very important that the potatoes be dry.
2. Preheat the frying oil in a deep-fryer or large 12- to 14-inch skillet to 360 F. The oil should be at least 2 inches deep and no cooking should happen before that temperature is reached.
3. Cook the potatoes in five batches so they are never too crowded (otherwise the temperature of the oil will drop). Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Remove, drain and transfer to a paper-towel-lined platter. Repeat until all the potatoes are cooked. Let the potatoes cool completely, covered with paper towels. Do not salt. You can place them in the refrigerator for 8 hours if you’re not to be serving them until later in the day, but do bring them back to room temperature before proceeding.
4. Preheat the frying oil to 370 F.
5. Cook the fries in five batches again for exactly 4 minutes. Taste one fry and see whether you like it. If not, cook for another minute. As you remove the fries to drain on more paper towels, salt them immediately. Transfer the French fries to a platter and serve.
Top photos: Fish and chips. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Scrapple is one of those regional American favorites that remain a mystery to outsiders. You’ll find it in the mid-Atlantic states. Scrapple is a hog-parts mush formed into solid blocks, or logs, sliced, floured lightly and fried in fat. I first had it in Maryland in the early 1970s and have been wild about it since.
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One of the great regional foods of America, you’ll find it also in northern Virginia, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey. Scrapple is made from leftover parts of hog processing, including offal such as the head, heart, liver and other innards that are boiled, bones and all, for the extraction of any gelatin. The edible matter is separated from the inedible and the meat is mixed with cornmeal and made into a mush with seasonings such as sage, thyme, savory, black pepper and salt. It is then solidified and stored.
It’s often described as Pennsylvania Dutch, but this is a misnomer. In fact, the expression is incorrect as the Dutch never settled in Pennsylvania but rather in New York. It began as a misunderstanding of the original German settlers who were the Pennsylvania Deutsch (Pennsylvania Germans). The earliest record of German settlement in Pennsylvania is in 1683 when a group of Quakers and Mennonites from the Rhineland founded the hamlet of Germantown.
These were mostly poor farmers seeking refuge from the Thirty Years’ War in America and afforded passage as indentured servants for the most part.
Their hardscrabble lives in 17th-century Pennsylvania meant everything had to be used including the scraps of the pig slaughter, probably giving scrapple its name.
Scrapple is related to its German precursor, panhas, a kind of pudding-wurst, but probably got its English name, scrapple, in the mid-19th century from the word scraps. It’s usually dredged in flour so it will hold together when frying and develop a crispy brown crust. Scrapple is fried in butter or pork lard and eaten for breakfast with eggs. All kinds of things can accompany it, such as applesauce, grape jelly, ketchup, horseradish or mustard. Scrapple is hard to find outside of the mid-Atlantic, but both the Rapa Scrapple company and Habbersett scrapple company provide store locators, and it can be bought on Amazon too, although in amounts that might last you years.
¼ cup unsalted butter or pork lard
½ pound scrapple, cut into slices about ½-inch thick
All-purpose flour for dredging
1. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
2. Dredge the scrapple slices in flour, tapping off any excess.
3. Lay the scrapple in the skillet and cook, turning once, until both sides are crispy brown in about 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Top photo: Scrapple and an egg. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Here’s a fusion dish that combines Kashmiri and Chinese influences. It’s not a new one — it appears in a 14th-century collection of recipes and medical advice that was compiled for Kublai Khan’s grandson.
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The Mongols ruled a large territory with many peoples in it, which gave them a taste for foreign cuisines. When they roamed on the steppes, they’d had an excessively boring cuisine, which was basically nothing but boiled meat and dairy products.
This recipe is found in the book “Yinshan Chengyao,” which was written for one of the Kublai Khan’s grandsons and translated in 2000 by Paul Buell and Eugene Anderson. One of their problems was that the Chinese writing system doesn’t have a good way of spelling sounds and it has to “spell” foreign words using Chinese characters that sound kind of the same. Buell and Anderson interpreted the name of this dish as Bal-po soup, Bal-po being a name for Nepal and Kashmir. As they point out, the recipe is more like Kashmiri food.
So what we have here is something like Middle Eastern food that’s taken a turn toward India and then China. It’s lamb and chickpeas in a broth flavored with saffron, turmeric and cardamom, served with rice pilaf. The recipe specifies fragrant, non-glutinous rice, which sounds like basmati. More exactly, it says to serve the soup on top of the rice, apparently jambalaya style. But the soup also includes Chinese daikon radish, giving the effect of radish-y potatoes.
Just a touch of guesswork
The recipe doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know. It gives a measurement for saffron that works out to one-one-hundredth of an ounce (try measuring that in your kitchen) but no measurement for the meat. So there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and I’ve chosen to modify the recipe slightly on top of that. It calls for asafetida, which to me just tastes like stale garlic. If you want that flavor, use asafetida or garlic powder to taste. I prefer fresh garlic.
And it says to cook chickpeas along with the meat, but chickpeas may need to cook for two and a half hours or more. If you want to cook the chickpeas with the meat, add a half-cup raw chickpeas and increase the water by two cups, and check the water level regularly. In any case you should end up with two to two and a half cups broth.
And then you can get a whiff of the short-lived fusion cuisine of the glittering Mongol court seven centuries ago.
Bal-po Soup (Mongolian Lamb Jambalaya, if you prefer)
For the soup:
1½ pounds boneless lamb
2½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
4 to 5 cardamom pods, crushed
1 daikon radish, about 1 pound
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon saffron
½ teaspoon turmeric
Vinegar to taste
For the rice:
1⅓ cups basmati rice
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Cilantro for garnish
For the soup:
1. Cut the lamb into chunks roughly 1 inch square and an inch or less thick. Put in a saucepan with the water, bring to the boil and remove the scum that rises. Add the salt and cardamom and cook until the meat is very tender, about 1 hour.
2. Remove the meat and set aside. Peel the daikon and cut into coin shapes about ¼-inch thick. Cook in the broth until translucent, 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside with the meat and keep the meat and daikon warm.
3. Degrease the broth and return to the saucepan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add to the broth along with the pepper, saffron and turmeric. Simmer while making the rice.
4. Add vinegar to taste.
For the rice:
1. Rinse the rice repeatedly in cold water until the water runs clear. Bring 1⅓ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, add the salt and the rice reduce the heat to low, cover and cook 14 minutes.
2. Remove the lid, fluff the rice into a mound with a fork and poke 2-3 holes to the bottom of the rice with the fork handle. Cover the pan with 2 layers of paper towel and the lid, raise the heat to medium-low and cook 7 minutes longer.
1. Remove the lid and paper towels and scoop the rice into 4 large soup bowls. Distribute the broth and chickpeas among the bowls. Arrange the meat and daikon slices around the rice and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.
Top photo: Mongolian lamb bal-po soup. Credit: Charles Perry
With the outdoor barbecue mothballed for the season, cooks might think the joy of food caramelized by intense heat has to wait until summer. But maybe not. A chance discovery in a Korean restaurant supply store led to my discovering the pleasures of a cast-iron griddle that comes with a heat-resistant wooden platter that allows sizzling dishes to be carried directly to the table.
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In Latin restaurants, the pleasures of fajitas are well-known. Vegetables, usually onions and bell peppers, join meats, poultry and seafood on a cast-iron griddle to char and caramelize fats with as much sweetness as if they were prepared on the open flame of an outdoor barbecue. Asian chefs also place cast-iron griddles on heat-proof wooden platters so that diners can enjoy the aromas and excitement of vegetables and proteins charring right before their eyes.
The key to using a cast-iron griddle is being prepared. Like wok cooking, all the ingredients must be prepped before cooking begins. And once the ingredients are on the griddle, no distractions are allowed. To prevent burning, the vegetables and proteins must be turned constantly. A set of long-handled tongs is essential, as is a good exhaust fan over the stove to clear away any smoke.
All ingredients should be cut into bite-sized pieces, the better to cook quickly and also the better to create the greatest surface area for caramelization.
Griddles come in oval and rectangular shapes. Sizes vary from 8 to 14 inches. The recipe assumes a griddle at least 11 inches in length. A smaller size would require that the sautéeing take place using batches rather than all the ingredients at once.
Before using, the griddle needs to be tempered. Wash it thoroughly with soapy water and rinse with clean water. Place on a high flame (gas or electric) until all moisture has dried. When it is cool to the touch, place a small amount of oil on a paper towel and wipe it across the surface.
Before you store your griddle, cover it in plastic.
Before using it again, clean the griddle in case any rust has collected on the cooking surface. Place it on the burner on the highest possible heat. Do not apply oil.
Ingredients for griddle dishes should be tossed in oil and seasoned in a bowl before they’re placed on the hot griddle.
Cast-iron Griddle Sauté
2 pounds deboned chicken thigh or breast meat, skin removed, washed and pat dried. Alternately, use 2 pounds shelled, deveined shrimp, washed and pat dried; 2 pounds octopus tentacles, washed and finely sliced; 2 pounds filet mignon, washed and pat dried; 2 cups firm tofu, or 2 pounds skinned, deboned duck meat
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
½-inch ginger knob, washed, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
⅛ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 large yellow onion, peeled, stem and top removed, washed, sliced thin, longitudinally
1. Except for the shrimp, cut the chicken (or other protein choice) into bite-sized pieces, approximately ½-inch square.
2. Place chicken into a bowl, toss with ⅔ tablespoon olive oil, the garlic clove, parsley, ginger (optional) and season with sea salt, pepper and cayenne (optional). Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, toss the sliced onion with the remaining oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.
4. Using tongs, place the onions on the hot griddle. The onion will sizzle and smoke, which is why you want the exhaust fan on high otherwise your cooking will rouse your smoke alarms. Keep turning the onions until they turn light brown. The caramelization has started.
5. Add the seasoned chicken or alternative. Toss well with tongs, combining the protein with the onions. Stir and toss until all pieces are cooked evenly and acquire a light brown patina.
6. Using oven mitts, transfer the sizzling hot cast-iron griddle to the wooden platter and carry it to the table where everyone is waiting for the feast to begin.
7. Serve with pasta, rice or a steamed green like spinach, broccoli or asparagus.
Top photo: Cast-iron Korean griddles on their heat-proof wooden platters at Gio Restaurant Equipment in Los Angeles. Credit: David Latt
There’s something about an old way of doing things that is just right. My friend and Zester Daily contributor Martha Rose Shulman recently sent me a recipe for broiled porterhouse steak from a cookbook from which she learned to cook, Mildred O. Knopf’s “Cook, My Darling Daughter,” published in 1959.
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Knopf named the recipe “STEAK! STEAK! STEAK!” and instructed readers to:
“FIRST Buy a steak that is a steak. For instance, a 2-inch thick Porterhouse steak. Give up cigarettes for a week or give up your manicure or even your hairdo to save, if save you must, on that horrid thing called ‘a budget.’ ”
Knopf goes on to encourage the reader to seek out a good butcher and be picky about the quality of the steak. Look for a cut of meat with good marbling throughout, she wrote.
“And don’t dare make so much as a peep about the excess fat! The more, the more delicious the meat, that’s a firm guarantee. People who won’t pay for fat are paying for an inferior brand of beef. They simply don’t know (is it possible they don’t care?) that the flavor of the meat is hiding under those layers of snowy white waste,” she wrote.
Knopf goes on to argue that pinching pennies isn’t for steak lovers. Save up, if you have to, to buy a piece of steak that’s worth your money. “My plea is that you get a steak that is a steak,” she said.
I read Knopf’s recipe and I just had to have a porterhouse steak. I usually grill them rather than broil them, though. Get your steak that is a steak, then proceed.
One piece of advice: Given the expense of a top quality porterhouse steak, I do not recommend cooking it beyond medium-rare.
Grilled Porterhouse Steak
1 (3-pound) porterhouse steak (preferably USDA Prime), about 2 inches thick
Salt and freshly and coarsely crushed black pepper to taste
1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.
2. Sprinkle the steak with salt and pepper. Carefully lay the steak on the gas grill or about 5 inches from a very hot hardwood charcoal fire. Do not move or touch the steak for 10 minutes. Turn the steak using a grill spatula or tongs. Grill until one side has black grid marks, about another 10 minutes, and remove from the fire to a serving platter. Place some butter on the steak and spread it.
This amount of cooking time should produce a rare steak.
Serve the steak whole and slice off portions by cutting from the bone outward.
Top photo: A porterhouse steak on the grill. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
When brisket is served on a special occasion, it had better be special.
I’m not talking everyday barbecued brisket, but an entire brisket made as the centerpiece for a traditional Jewish New Year meal when a family is of Eastern European extraction and most likely entered America on the East Coast.
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A brisket of such proportions might show up at other celebrations, too. In the case of the best Jewish-styled brisket I’ve ever tasted (sorry, Mom), it turned up in Tulsa, Okla., in a rehearsal dinner buffet at the home of the bride’s parents, my cousins David and Michele Schwartz.
It’s a long story of how David Schwartz of New York City and the former Michele Steinberg of Pittsburgh got to Tulsa, where I experienced this magical meat. It was presented in a deep serving vessel swathed in a lush dark red sauce. The slices were easily retrieved by tongs. Getting at the sweet-sourish sauce was helpfully aided by a big spoon. The meat melted in my mouth.
This was kosher meat. The Schwartzes keep a kosher home. Michele’s father once owned a kosher slaughterhouse in Pittsburgh, so my cousin grew up familiar with meat cuts. Michele, 67, orders kosher beef, lamb, chicken and turkey from St. Louis.
Michele’s mother made whole briskets the same way Michele makes them to this day. This recipe is more than 80 years old.
Original Heinz from Pittsburgh
Suspend your impulses for purity. The main ingredient is also from Pittsburgh and one of the city’s most famous products — Heinz ketchup, begun in 1869. Before Heinz turned to making ketchup with high fructose corn syrup, the product used by Michele’s mother during the World War II years most likely resembled the recently introduced retro ketchup Heinz is now making with regular sugar, called Simply Heinz.
A typical entire brisket can weigh up to 15 pounds. Considering a brisket takes up the volume of an average turkey, Michele bakes it in two aluminum turkey-roasting pans nested together for doubled strength. “When you’re finished, the oven’s clean and I just throw them away,” she said.
Instead of an enormous whole brisket, I used what is called a brisket top flat or a single brisket, depending on the part of the country in which you’re buying meat. This smaller piece comes right off the top of the whole brisket, as if the whole brisket were a sandwich with nothing between the two slabs, and the butcher gives you the top piece of bread. My brisket flat weighed 6.22 pounds and fit nicely in a lasagna pan. Count on 20% shrinkage during cooking.
Preserving a family recipe
Obtaining the recipe took about an hour on the phone with Michele.
“I never measure,” she said. “My mother just showed me, and I’ve shown my kids. I look at it and think it could use a little more seasoning or ketchup, like Julia Child.”
This recipe is nearly foolproof. My first trial came out great. And like Michele, I’ve already stashed the leftovers in heavy-duty plastic zip bags in the freezer.
I’ve named this recipe Cousin Michele’s Best Brisket in Lush Sauce. I plan to serve it for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Wednesday, Sept. 4. Luckily, I already have plenty in the freezer.
Cousin Michele’s Best Brisket in Lush Sauce
From my cousin Michele Schwartz of Tulsa, Okla., whose father once owned a kosher slaughterhouse in Pittsburgh, comes this recipe from her mother for brisket in a lush gravy.
Michele uses only kosher meat in her home. For that reason, she begins with a small amount of seasoned salt, as kosher meat goes through salting during processing. If you use regular brisket, you’ll have to salt your way through this, starting small and adjusting along the way. Not to worry, there are plenty of opportunities to taste and fix. The sauce should be gravy-like with lots of body and hints of perceivable garlic.
1½ pounds onions
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon granulated garlic (not garlic powder)
1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 (5- to 6-pound) single brisket, sometimes called top flat, fat trimmed as desired
2 cups Heinz ketchup, such as Simply Heinz made without high fructose corn syrup
Splash sweet red wine, such as Manischewitz Concord Grape
1. Heat oven to 400 F. Slice onions in rings.
2. Spread two-thirds of the onions on the bottom of a disposable aluminum roasting pan or a large baking dish, such as a lasagna pan. Sprinkle with half the granulated garlic, seasoned salt and black pepper.
3. Lay the meat on top of the onions, fat side up. Scatter remaining one-third of the onions on top of the meat. Sprinkle with remaining seasonings.
4. Pour the ketchup into a 2-cup measuring cup and then pour it over the meat. Fill the ketchup’s measuring cup with about 1 cup water, swish around to pick up any ketchup still in the measure, and pour this water over the meat. Add a splash of the sweet red wine.
5. Using your hands or a big spoon, combine the elements together, making sure some slides off the meat and down the sides. You should have the beginnings of a sauce.
6. Cover the roasting pan with heavy duty foil, crimping sides to seal. Bake for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F and bake 30 to 40 minutes more.
7. Open cover and prick the meat with a fork. If the brisket resists the puncture and still feels tough, return to the oven for 30 minutes more. The idea is to stop the cooking when the meat is about three-fourths of the way cooked; more cooking will ensue after slicing.
8. When satisfied with the cooking progress, remove the pan from the oven. Uncover and cool on counter, saving the foil cover. When cool, recover the roasting pan and refrigerate the meat in the sauce overnight. The next day, skim solidified fat that has risen to the top (Michele leaves a tiny bit of fat, for flavor.)
9. Lift the brisket out of the sauce and place on a cutting board, leaving sauce in the baking pan.
10. Starting at the pointed end, use a long sharp slicing knife to cut slices about a quarter-inch thick, cutting across the grain. When this portion is sliced, turn the brisket to finish slicing across the grain for the rest of the cut.
11. Taste the gravy. Correct seasonings, adding more ketchup if you prefer it to be thicker. Return sliced meat to the sauce, turning meat to coat it. You may do this in advance and return it to the refrigerator, or proceed to the next step.
12. Closer to serving, reheat the meat in the sauce, covered, at 350 F for 1 hour. Bring it to the table hot with a serving fork to pick up the meat and a big spoon for the gravy.
Top photo: Cousin Michele’s Best Brisket in Lush Sauce for Rosh Hashana. Credit: Elaine Corn
Even an unrepentant meat eater like myself takes pause before the gory spectacle of tauromachia, the so-called art of bullfighting. Not that I’ve attended an actual Spanish corrida de toros, but I’ve recently seen Francesco Rosi’s painfully graphic 1965 film, “The Moment of Truth.” The “truth” of Spain’s traditional blood sport doesn’t get any more in your face than in Rosi’s classic tale of an aspiring young matador filmed on location at a huge bullring in Barcelona with a 300mm zoom lens used for soccer matches.
Animal rights advocates must have thrilled to the news in 2010 that bullfighting was being outlawed in Catalonia. From their perspective, a slaughterhouse bullet to an unsuspecting bovine brain is far more palatable than a matador’s sword “artistically” delivered between the shoulder blades to the heart of a charging one-ton toro.
After seeing Rosi’s film, I wished I could ask a bull: Would he prefer a painless but oblivious exit to one with suffering and style, or as bullfighting aficionados might say, con arte (with art)? As for me, I’d want to go con arte.
Bottom line, in either scenario the bull will be killed, butchered, cooked and eaten. Frankly, I’ve never considered bullfighting from a gastronomic perspective. I can now see, however, that the matador’s art form represents, in some sense at least, the first stage of an ancient life cycle ritual that ends, one way or another, at the dinner table.
A Spanish butcher in Berkeley
For all I knew, before Anzonini del Puerto arrived on the Berkeley scene in the late 1970s, the bloodied hulks dragged from bullrings were buried with cultural, if not military, honors. Anzonini, a legendary flamenco performer, butcher and cook from Andalusia (one of his nicknames was “butcher of bulls”) disabused me of my naïve disconnect.
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As a young man, Anzonini, born Manuel Bermúdez Junquera in 1917, worked at his family’s carnicería (butcher shop) in Puerto de Santa María, near Jerez in southern Spain. Among his tasks was to help cart bulls from the ring and prepare the meat for sale. The family shop was located near the town’s majestic Plaza de Toros. Legend has it that Anzonini could break down an entire bull and be back at the bullring in time to see the next fight.
When Anzonini arrived in Berkeley to visit a group of young flamenco students who had seen him sing and dance in southern Spain, they were ecstatic. These would-be performers worshipped Anzonini not only for his magnetic arte on stage, but also for his gifts in the kitchen. All of which were on full display the night I met Anzonini at a small fiesta held in his honor.
The evening was special for everyone involved: Anzonini’s fans and those, like myself, who were witnessing and tasting his special talents for the first time. As for Anzonini that night, well, he fell in love. The object of his coup de coeur (I know no Spanish language equivalent) was my fellow Cheese Board co-worker and founder of the now legendary Swallow Café at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum, the late Patricia Darrow.
Anzonini’s favorite matador
Moving into Darrow’s small Gourmet Ghetto bungalow, Anzonini was soon presiding over local fiestas; performing, cooking and sharing stories about Spain with his adoring minions. I became one of Anzonini’s minions, and he bestowed upon me my flamenco name: Juan Ajo.
One story, recorded in Darrow’s unfinished manuscript about Anzonini and his food, expressed his deep connection to the Spanish corrida, not merely its beefy spoils. His favorite matador was Curro Romero who was, according to Anzonini, usually terrible, unintentionally comedic and often cowardly. But on some occasions Curro surpassed himself and his fellow toreros with technical and stylistic genius.
Darrow quotes one of Anzonini’s quips about Curro’s unique presence in the ring:
Running away [from the bull] Curro has more arte than all the rest … That’s how I dance; twenty times badly and one time with arte.
Anzonini obviously saw himself in Curro, at least in terms of performance. But in the kitchen there was never any doubt about Anzonini’s brilliance, and the dishes we tasted over the years were invariably delicioso.
Cocina con arte
Anzonini’s tasty contributions to Berkeley’s gastronomic gestalt in the late 1970s and early ’80s are seldom referenced today. That his sausages, especially his chorizo, inspired important California chefs such as sausage king Bruce Aidells (see the scene in Les Blank’s 1980 film “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers” where they make chorizo together), and were a popular item for sale at Chef Victoria Wise’s legendary Gourmet Ghetto charcuterie, Pig-by-the-Tail, is passed over in most published accounts of Berkeley’s revolutionary food scene.
Nevertheless, Anzonini and his cooking live on in the memories and stomachs of those who shared those exciting years with him in Berkeley. The aroma coming off his beefy Puchero, a classic Spanish soup simmering on my stove as I write this, is a ticket back to those delicious days when Anzonini del Puerto, butcher of bulls, served his inimitable cocina con arte.
Serves 10 to 12
One of Anzonini’s most celebrated dishes is a delicately seasoned soup/stew prepared with a variety of fatty meats; in this version, oxtails, short ribs and shank. He kept containers of the broth frozen in the refrigerator and would bring it to friends when they were sick. The dish can be served separately as a Sopa de Picadillo with chopped egg, ham and mint followed by a meat course accompanied by small potatoes cooked in the broth.
For the broth:
6 to 8 quarts cold water
6 to 8 pounds beef (oxtails, short ribs, shank)
¾ pound salt pork
2 large tomatoes, quartered
2 large onions, quartered
1 large green bell pepper, sliced
2 to 4 bay leaves
8 to 10 black peppercorns
Salt to taste
2 dozen small boiling potatoes
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 cup diced ham, preferably Spanish
Fresh mint leaves
Bread brushed with olive oil and toasted
lemon slices (optional)
1. The day before serving, bring all ingredients for the broth to a boil and skim off impurities. Continue cooking at a slow boil for 2 to 3 hours, until meat falls off the bones. Refrigerate overnight.
2. The next day, remove the fat layer that has solidified on top of the broth. Then heat the meat and broth and correct for salt. Remove the meats from the broth and discard the loose bones. Keep meat warm.
3. Boil potatoes in the broth until soft. Keep warm.
4. To serve, place a few teaspoons of chopped egg and diced ham in shallow soup bowls. Pour in the hot broth. Garnish with a mint leaf and serve with toasted bread. (Anzonini would fry the bread in olive oil.)
5. For the meat course, place meat back in remaining broth to heat through — a few minutes in simmering broth should do. Then serve the meat on plates with the potatoes. Hot broth can be placed on the table in gravy boats.
Note: Anzonini also served this broth in glasses with a slice of lemon and a mint leaf.
Top graphic: Gastro-graphical ISO street sign #4. Credit: L. John Harris