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.

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