Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brisket Eater

People around the world dream of living in Texas (don’t they?  Of course they do!), but few people realize that Texas is a divided country.  There is Tex-Mex/chili country, chicken fried steak country, and barbeque country.  And each of these divisions is divided into smaller factions with big agendas.  Personally, I find myself divided, uh, conflicted on these issues.

I am a chili eater from way back.  I have my own opinions on this subject, and I’ve written about it in “Chili for One”, and I tend to agree with people who think it best represents the Texas state food dish.  Besides, you can’t have Tex-Mex without some type of chili around, even if it’s in the simple form of chili gravy.

I am a barbeque eater from way back.  I have my own opinions on this subject, and I’ve written about it in “Barbeque”, and I tend to agree with people who think it best represents the Texas state food dish.  One cannot travel through the big state without being aware of the smoky aromas emanating from every third restaurant (the other two are serving Tex-Mex/chili and chicken fried steak). 

Okay.  I’ve eaten chicken fried steak all my life, and, yes, I have my own opinions on this subject, but until now I haven’t written about it.  What?  You thought this was about brisket?  Well, it is.  And it’s about barbeque, and Tex-Mex/chili, and chicken fried steak.

I don’t know when I developed this recipe, but it must have been some 40 years ago.  And it must have been after I smoked a big brisket and had some leftovers, although I’m not certain how that happened.

Smoked Chicken Fried Steak with Chili Gravy

Serves 6 with extra brisket for another meal.

Step One—The Brisket

    1 whole beef brisket (10 to 12 pounds), untrimmed
    ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
    ½ cup coarse salt
    ½ cup coarse ground black pepper
    ½ cup ancho chile powder

Score the exposed fat on the brisket with a sharp knife to make a ½-inch crosshatch pattern.  Using a pastry brush, apply the balsamic vinegar to the fat, covering evenly.  Cover the brisket with plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Mix together the salt, ground pepper, and chile powder.  Remove the brisket from the refrigerator, uncover, and pat the dry rub onto all surfaces of the meat and fat.  If there is any left over, just apply to the fat.  Recover and place back into the refrigerator overnight.

Early (very early) the next morning, remove the brisket from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature while preparing the smoker with an oak and/or pecan wood fire.  (Alternatively, prepare a charcoal fire and add oak and/or pecan chunks that have been soaked in water about 1 hour.  Replenish the wood chunks each time additional charcoal is added to the smoker.)  When the smoker has reached about 225F, uncover the brisket and place on the grill rack, fat side up, as far from the heat source as possible.  Maintain a temperature of 220F to 230F for about 8 to 9 hours.  Remove the brisket, wrap in aluminum foil, and place back into the smoker for another 3 to 4 hours, maintaining the 220F to 230F temperature.

Again remove the brisket from the smoker, unwrap and separate the top and bottom layers.  Rewrap the individual layers in foil and return the top layer to the smoker for an additional 2 hours allowing the fire to die down.  Allow the bottom layer to sit on the cutting board tightly wrapped about 30 minutes before unwrapping.  Slice the bottom (first cut/flat cut) layer in half butterfly-style, and then into 12 equal sized portions.  With a meat tenderizer mallet (the flat portion, not the part with the spikes), gently flatten each portion to about 1/3-inch thick.  These should be individually wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until ready to make the chicken fried steaks.

When the remaining brisket is finished, remove from the smoker and allow to rest about 30 to 45 minutes before unwrapping, thinly slicing across the grain, and serving.

Step Two—Chili Gravy

Makes about 4 cups

    3 tablespoons melted lard (preferred) or shortening
    1 tablespoon bacon drippings (essential)
    1 small yellow onion, very finely chopped
    1 large shallot, very finely chopped
    1 large clove garlic, minced
    ¼ cup chili powder (Gebhardt’s is good)
    ½ teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
    ¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
    2 cups beef stock
    2 cups water
    1 tablespoon toasted corn flour* (not masa harina)
    Salt, to taste

Over medium heat, sauté the onion and shallot in the lard and bacon drippings until the onion is softened, but not browned. Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute.  Stir in the chili powder, cumin, and oregano.  Gradually add the beef stock and water and stir until well mixed.

Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes until mixture is slightly reduced and thickened. Mix the toasted corn flour with 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef stock and stir back into the gravy. Simmer for 10 minutes more. Taste the gravy and add salt if needed

*To toast the corn flour, place on a baking sheet in a 350F oven for 5 minutes.  I like to toast about 2 cups at a time.  Seal in an airtight jar, and use when needed.

Step Three—Chicken Fried Steak

    12 refrigerated smoked brisket portions
    3 cups all purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
    1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 ¾ cups buttermilk
    2 large eggs
    4 teaspoons Cholula or Tapatio hot sauce
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Lard or vegetable shortening for frying
    6 jumbo eggs, fried as desired for serving
    Grated longhorn or mild cheddar cheese for serving
    Chopped onion for serving
    Sliced pickled jalapenos for serving
    Corn tortillas for serving
    Salsa for serving

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.  In a second dish, stir together the baking powder and soda, pepper, chile powder, and salt, and mix in the buttermilk, egg, hot sauce, and garlic.  The mixture will be thin.  Dredge each cold steak first in flour and then in the batter.  Dip the steaks back into the flour and dredge them well, patting in the flour until the surface of the meat is dry and well coated.

Add enough lard or shortening to a deep cast-iron skillet to deep-fry the steaks in at least 3 inches of oil.  Bring the temperature to 325F.  Fry the steaks, turning them over each time they come to the surface.  About 7 to 8 minutes the steaks will be golden brown.  Drain and transfer to a platter to keep warm until served.

Serve 2 steaks with a fried egg, and chili gravy.  Garnish with grated cheese, chopped onions, and jalapenos.  Pass the tortillas and salsa.

Actually this works with just about any way you prepare the brisket.  The smoked version is my favorite, but I’ve made this chicken fried steak with oven-baked brisket also.  Just make certain the cooked brisket is refrigerator cold when frying.  Since the meat is already cooked, this will prevent it from over cooking. 

This is not the fastest breakfast you will ever put together, but it’s worth the wait.  It’s even better when served with a couple of big cheese enchiladas and some pan-fried peppers and onions.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

44th Annual Wild Game Feed

New Post on July 8, 2019.  51st Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on May 30, 2018.  50th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on June 23, 2017.  49th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on June 1, 2016.  48th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on May 27, 2015.  47th Annual Wild Game Feed.

Everyone!  On May 26, 2014, I posted something about the 46th Annual Wild Game Feed.  Take a look.


Today I received an order form for a ticket to the 2012 Wild Game Feed in Irvine, CA.   And by this time tomorrow my money will be in the mail.

I spent years as a fisherman and a hunter.  Somehow I missed fishing in Maine, New Hampshire, Florida, and Hawaii, but there is still time.  As for hunting, well I’ve missed a few more states, and hunting is now in my past due to physical ability, although I will take every opportunity to sink my teeth into just about anything someone else hunted.

My friends and acquaintances over the years have provided many exotic meals in which I was a willing participant.  Several of the meals were better than others, but all were interesting.  Elk, moose, duck, goose, turkey, caribou, bear, deer. . .you name it.  If it came from the wild, we ate it—or at least tried to.  There were a few items on the list that we apparently didn’t know how to prepare (muskrat comes to mind).  I discovered that armadillo makes a pretty good sausage.  Alligator tail is great in a gumbo.  Nutria makes a fantastic stew.  And what is there to say about duck, deer, elk, and goose?

Many years ago I cased my rifles and shotguns for the last time, and when the freezer was just about empty, along came Rich.  Rich was a salesman at the company where I was working, and I thought he was about the oddest character I had met since my recent trip downtown on the bus.  He was big, gruff, and had a loud distinctive voice.  My kind of person.  Rich and I began a unique friendship that has lasted years beyond the job.

Rich was a member of a club known as ‘Wild Game Feed.’  Once a year this club would sell tickets as a fundraiser to an event known (strangely enough) as ‘Wild Game Feed.’  The profits of this event went to a number of worthy charities in the area, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.”  But the more I looked into it, the more impressed I became. 

I didn’t purchase a ticket to the event the first year I knew Rich, but it was only because I wasn’t too certain about it.  I didn’t know if it was a legitimate not-for-profit organization, and I wondered about the legitimacy of the game.  If they were selling tickets, the game had to be farm raised.  Wild caught or hunted fish and game were not legal to serve in California if tickets were sold.  However, the company I worked for provided refreshment (a.k.a. beer) to the Wild Game Feed, so I, along with two others from my department, was invited to the event as a guest.  Only an occasional illness has prevented me from returning every year since.

More than a thousand men (stag event) were gathered at the private park in Irvine, California.  The ticket included almost everything.  All food and drink were covered in the price of the ticket, but more that that, it was all the food and drink one could consume.  The menu included buffalo ribs, frog legs, alligator, crawfish, wild game chili, salmon, quail, Cajun gumbo, wild game tamales and tacos, clams, specialty sausages, spit roasted pig, chucker, gamehen, oysters (Rocky Mountain style), as well as many other things I’ve forgotten about.  And that was just the appetizers.

Then they brought out the main course.  Venison, antelope, elk, boar, buffalo, musk ox, duck, ostrich, albacore, sea bass, and more.  There were a few radishes and celery sticks for those who wanted a salad.  For some reason, the only leftovers were the radishes and celery sticks.  Actually there were plenty of leftover meats, which many of the ticket holders divided among themselves to take home.  Nothing went to waste, except a few radishes and celery sticks.

I sat there that first afternoon with some refreshment and a cigar enjoying a plate full of appetizers and thinking to myself, “I’ll be back.”  I watched as the various raffles took place and men won everything from rifles to big screen televisions to a fully restored vintage Jeep.  Camping gear, motorcycles, fishing equipment, GPS, optics, barbeques, archery equipment, shotguns, and a hunting dog were all raffled off that afternoon while the food kept coming. 

I don’t know how much money was raised that day, or in the many years since that day, but I do know it is significant.  Every year the event grows larger, and someday the organizers may see the need to limit the number of men who can attend, but for now the group keeps growing.  Each year I start looking forward to the next year’s event the day after it is over.  Once a year isn’t enough for me.  I’d like to see this held several times each year, but I know that isn’t possible.

Each year, the third Friday in September is the annual Wild Game Feed, and I will see my friend Rich once again.  As I said earlier, we have a unique friendship.  The only time we see each other is at this event each year, but Rich is a highly valued friend, and I know I could call on him for help at any time, and he could call on me any time.  We will have a few cigars, a few beverages, a few appetizers, some pickled quail eggs, and we will catch up on the past year.  Even though I don’t hunt any more, the rewards are still coming.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bow Fishing

Many times while fishing backwaters in Texas, and also a few other southern states, I wished I had brought my bow along.  Sometimes it could have provided dinner when a rabbit wandered by, or, in season of course, sometimes a deer.  But mostly I wanted it for a particular fish known as an alligator gar.

The gar is an ancient fish, a holdover from the age of dinosaurs.  It comes in several sizes and types, but the one that I would regularly see had a double row of sharp teeth and was somewhat reminiscent of an alligator.  And many times it would take my bait as though I was there just to feed it.

When I first started asking about bow fishing at the local hardware store, the owner just looked at me as though I was crazy.  He was equipped to sell me anything for bow hunting or pole fishing—but bow fishing?  I inquired at several hardware stores before I found one that knew what I was asking for.

Stud’s Hardware was one of the local fishing and hunting supply stores in Fort Worth.  They sold a few screws, nails, and hammers, I think, but mostly they existed for the local hunters and fishermen.  One of the employees, Eddie, was a bow hunter like me, and he had recently begun to bow fish.  He had managed to talk the owner into special ordering a bow reel and fishing arrows from an archery company, and he had been using it almost every time he wrangled a day off work.

He had his setup in his truck and ran out to get it for me.  When I looked at it I could see the simplicity of the concept, and I thought I could make it work for me.  When I left the store that afternoon, I had left behind down payments for the same equipment.  I could expect it to arrive in six to eight weeks.

Summer was almost over when the reel and arrows arrived, but all was not lost.  Eddie offered to take me to one of the rivers for a few lessons, but first he wanted to see for himself my skills on a stationary target.  I assured him I was quite proficient, and I had been a successful bow hunter for several years.  But he wanted to see for himself, so we went to my place where I had a number of permanent targets set up at varying distances.

I was quite used to the targets and their distances, so for me a center shot was normal, but Eddie had no idea of the distances.   I took the first release at a fifty-five yard target and was about two inches from center.  Eddie placed his arrow about the same.  Next was a target at about thirty-two or thirty-three yards.  I centered my shot, and Eddie’s arrow tip was touching mine.  We played this game for dozen or so shots before Eddie decided I could hold my own with the bow.  Now we would try this in the river.

The Trinity River holds some strange wildlife, and among the strangest are the snapping turtles.  These provided my first water dwelling targets, but they were as safe as could be.  I couldn’t hit one if I had to.  Eddie tried to explain the light angles to me, but I just couldn’t get it.  It wasn’t until he took a shot that I could see the difference of angle where the arrow entered the river compared to the location of the turtle.  Then I watched as he reeled in the turtle.  It was a fight.  Man versus turtle.  But I learned how it was done, and I learned that day how to dispatch a turtle and prepare it for the stew pot.  (For the record, snapping turtle isn’t very tasty.)

For the next seven or eight months I practiced bow fishing in an attempt to learn the angles.  When I could, I traveled to a nearby stock tank where I could shoot at various things growing just under the water’s surface.  Weeds, lily pads, and other ‘stuff’ became targets for my arrows, and slowly I began to understand.  Eddie and I got together a few times; however, he soon moved up to Oklahoma leaving me on my own.  But I got there.

Texas fishing regulations allowed for bow hunting, and that surprised me considering I had never before seen anyone attempt it; however, it was legal.  There were a few restrictions, and game fish such as bass were not allowed, although gar, carp, catfish, certain turtles and others were fair game any time of the year.  I knew that I would be prepared for a gar the next time I encountered one.

Mid-summer had arrived before I saw another alligator gar.  It was broiling hot, crystal clear skies, and the humidity was approaching 100 percent.  And I was sitting in the tail waters below the dam at Eagle Mountain Lake.  These waters held some big fish.  Really big fish.  A four-foot catfish was not uncommon.  And the ‘gator gar could easily double that.

I was soaking a worm under a red and white float and thinking I needed to drop it another 10 feet toward the bottom of the hole I was fishing in.  My bow was on the ground beside me gathering dust, and I wasn’t paying much attention to the churning taking place about 40 feet away.  I knew it was a gar rolling just under the surface, but it was just a little too far for me to take a shot.  Not that it was very far, but I still wasn’t too certain about the angles.

I dropped the line under my float another 10 feet or so and within five minutes a catfish was hooked.  It wasn’t a big one, maybe two feet long, and I brought it up to the top rather quickly.  When it reached the surface, the catfish began to thrash around a bit, and this must have gotten the attention of some gar, because they began to surface within fifteen feet of the bank I was sitting on.  I unhooked the catfish, tossed it over onto some grass and grabbed my bow.

There were two large ‘gator gars on top of the water close enough to me that I decided to take one.  I carefully aimed just behind the head of one and released the barbed arrow with the line attached.  It was a solid hit, but I saw the most unusual thing—I saw sparks fly when the arrow struck the gar.  I had to think about that for a moment, but only a moment, because the gar was quite unhappy about the arrow in its neck.  It began to thrash and churn the water.  It ran deep, then out before surfacing and turning back.  And I was just trying to hang on to my bow.

A reel on a bow is little more than a line holder designed to peel off line quickly as an arrow pulls against it in flight.  As a retrieving mechanism, it is almost worthless.  I grabbed the line with my hands and started pulling the big fish in manually.  Slowly I gained mastery over the gar, and eventually I pulled it up onto the bank where it thrashed around for more than an hour.

I tried to kill it more than once, but it refused to die.  I carried a small club for dispatching fish, and I whacked that gar’s head until the club broke.  Several men nearby were watching me, and one tried to help out by dropping a large rock on its head.  I think the big rock just revived the thing into more thrashing.  Finally, I dragged it about twenty-five feet back from the water and let it be.  Eventually it stopped thrashing, and I put a tape measure to it.

My tape was only six feet long, and the fish was a bit longer.  My two-piece measurement put the gar at seven feet ten inches long.  I removed my thrash broken arrow from the gar, and now I was faced with what to do with the fish.  I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to figure out what to do if I actually harvested a gar.

The man who dropped the rock on its head asked if I would give him part of the fish, and I told him if he wanted it, I would keep a small portion, and he could have the rest.  Problem solved.  We cleaned the gar, cut it up, and packed it into his car.  I put about a pound of it into my ice chest, and remembered my catfish.  By now it had been out of the water a little too long.

Well, a dog beat me to my catfish.  The last I saw of it, the fish was in the jaws of a big black lab trotting back to its owner who was fishing nearby.  Problem solved.  I hate to waste anything I kill.

I took the portion of gar home and cooked it up with a bit of lemon and pepper.  I can’t say it was good, but it wasn’t bad either.  It was just okay.  Over the next year or two before I quit bow hunting, I tried my hand at bow fishing a number of times.  Several times I had good shots at gar, but I passed them up.  I brought in a few catfish, and on one occasion a huge carp (tasty but bony).  When I sold my bow a few years later, the reel and fishing arrows went with it.  The man who bought it was anxious to try it out.  I hope he still enjoys it.