Monday, February 18, 2013

Steak Sauce Marinade for Beef

Both inexpensive and leaner cuts of beef need a little tough love in the form of a bold marinade to help them come to the table in a tender state.  That and a light touch at the grill or stove timed to rare or medium rare will keep the meat juicy and far off the tough end of the scale.  And don’t forget to let the steak rest a few minutes once off the heat.  This final step seals the deal and you will slice into evenly cooked, tender and juicy steak. 

Leftover liquids like wine and tomato juice make great marinades if you know some basics about which items in your refrigerator and pantry can help break down muscle fiber and add complimentary flavor to the cooked meat.  For lean cuts, acids are your best friend. They include vinegars, wine, citrus, vinegar-based mustards, like Dijon, and even dairy (yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream).  You can encourage meat to caramelize and boost flavor with sugars, but keep this element in the background providing a little mystery.  A little fat, like olive oil, will protect leaner cuts from drying out as they cook.

Herbs, spices and other flavors should be added with the flavors of the whole meal in mind.  For a steak that will be accompanied by green beans and baked potato, a little parsley and tarragon might be nice. A southwest or Tex-Mex dinner might call for dried chilies and cilantro.  Garlic, oregano or perhaps some curry powder can find their way into a Greek or Middle Eastern kebab meal. 

Tonight, some leftover pinot noir and prunes were the inspiration for a steak marinade.  This is a subtly sweet-tart marinade that relaxed a lean top round steak into medium rare submission.  I was happy to find there is a New Zealand steak recipe using the light red wine, Merlot, and prune jam. I was not far into undiscovered territory when I put this together.  When the steak came off the stove, it had a subtle yet distinct flavor of some well known steak sauces. 

Speaking of putting your own marinades together, as long as there is no uncooked meat mixed in yet, you can taste your marinade as you create it.  You are going for a fairly sharp taste but palatable to you.  The top note sharpness will cook away and you will be left with a tender steak redolent of the marinade's dominant flavors.  While developing this marinade, I found the red wine was not adding enough tartness and added a little red wine vinegar to bring that characteristic up.  Lemon juice would have also been appropriate. 

Steak Sauce Marinade for Beef
Ingredients (enough for 2-3 pounds of meat)
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
4 prunes, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

  1. In a 2-cup measuring cup or deep bowl, combine all ingredients except parsley.  Use the back of a fork or an immersion blender to pulverize the prunes.   The mixture will be somewhat thick (like steak sauce)  Add parsley to mixture.  
  2. With a sharp knife, lightly score a 2-3 pound lean steak (like top round) and place it in a sturdy re-sealable plastic bag or a deep vessel that can be covered.  Turn the steak over several times so that the marinade makes contact with all areas.  Try to marinate steak at least 5 hours, turning a few times in the bag or covered vessel.  
  3. Wipe the steaks before cooking.  Cook steak on a grill or in a cast iron pan on the stove on medium-high heat about 2-3 minutes per side for a thick  steak, 1-2 minutes per side for a steak less than 1 inch thick.  
  4. Use a thermometer to check for that your steak is properly done..  A medium-rare steak should be removed from the heat when it reaches 130˚F and covered so that it will come to 135˚F once it has rested 5-7 minutes.  A thicker steak will need to rest 8-10 minutes before slicing. 
This recipe makes a good quantity of steak.  You can halve the recipe but since you are taking the time to marinate, consider making the full recipe.  Leftovers, sliced extra thin, make wonderful roast beef sandwiches and fajitas.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chicken Marbella

My grandmother often expressed concern about the number of children at my parent’s dinner table every night.  OK, we were numerous by today’s standards, but no more than many other families in the neighborhood back then.  Let’s just say, my parents threw a dinner party for eight every night at 7pm. 

The way my grandmother expressed her concern was practical and effective. She took advantage of supermarkets on Long Island that were in the midst of price wars to shop whole chicken sales.  Sometimes she found them for as little as 17¢ a pound. (Granted, it was the 1970s.)

She froze the chickens and presented my mother with cardboard boxes of them whenever we saw her.  Thee gifts resulted in us eating chicken at least three, maybe four times a week for many years.

As you can imagine, my family has a number of great chicken recipes, but most often, two small chickens were roasted side by side.  Simple and good. 

When Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella recipe was published in 1982, it was a big success largely because it, too, was simple and good.  Albeit with many more ingredients, Chicken Marbella arrived just as American palates were ready for a more multi-cultural taste experience.  A little Middle Eastern, sometimes described as Spanish-derived (which bases much of its food heritage in the Middle East), Chicken Marbella took ingredients common to the American pantry and combined them in an exotic way.  All of a sudden, salty and bitter flavors like olives and capers were added to our Sweet and Sour Chicken appetites.  We had a new idea about what balance in a recipe could be. 

Twenty-plus years later, home cooks and chefs write that they are adjusting the Silver Palate’s classic Chicken Marbella recipe to reduce the sweetness and add a bit of spicy heat. 

The result is balanced flavors on the tongue, in just the right proportion for you.  Complexity is intriguing to the palate but too much can get muddy.  What made Chicken Marbella popular was that the flavors were kept pure and the flavors balanced. 

To be honest, I made Chicken Marbella for the first time this week.  I just never got around to this particular recipe until some dried prunes, capers and green olives called from the same shelf of my pantry.  Having enjoyed chicken in Spain around the time the recipe was first published in the U.S., I had a pretty good idea of how the dish tasted and saw its popular appeal.  Each of my Spanish cookbooks has a regional dish combining briny olives with oranges as in Andulusia's Pollo con Aceitunas y Naranjas Agrias  (Chicken with Olives and Bitter Orange) or olives and prunes with in the classic duck dish (Anec) from Cataluna. Even meatless tapas that combine salty anchovies with olives and sun dried tomatoes (salty, sour, sweet) speak to our love of complex yet pure flavor.  

As a guide to how you might build your own recipe with simple balance, here is a breakdown of what the major ingredients of Chicken Marbella bring to the palate, silver or otherwise:
  • sweet: prunes, brown sugar
  • salty: capers
  • sour (acidity): white wine, red wine vinegar
  • bitter: green olives
  • savory (umami): the chicken, garlic, herbs, olive oil
Note: sour is to bitter as lemon juice is to lemon peel

So that’s my homage to Silver Palate Chicken Marbella and to my grandmother’s frugal shopping habits that have instilled in our family an enduring love of poultry.  For a copy of the original Sliver Palate recipe click here or check out a copy of the classic cookbook.  It’s still in print.

I will admit to one or two changes to the original recipe that makes it even simpler than the original.  I put all the ingredients into the marinade at once—I do not hold back the brown sugar or white wine.  After marinating for about 8 hours, I dump the whole thing in a shallow baking dish so the skin peaks above the juice for cooking.  I also use only chicken thighs.  Even the most ardent white meat lovers enjoy it, provided it is cooked to 165˚F.  I remove the chicken and place it under the broiler for the skin to brown a bit more.  Meanwhile, I skim the fat off the juices.  These are minor bits of work considering I did next to nothing to prep the meal.  Added time, about 2 minutes.

Could be a simple mid-week Valentine's Dinner......

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mashed Rutabaga

Potatoes, rice and noodles are not the only comforting side dishes to nestle next to roasts and baked chicken.  Mashed rutabaga is a nice mid-winter change up.

You'll find rutabagas next to the potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash in the produce area.  They are the cantaloupe-sized turnip cousins with a heavy wax coating on them.  Also known as the Yellow Turnip, the outside is yellow with a purplish bottom.  Inside they are sunny yellow.

The wax actually makes the large round easier to handle.  To peel, place the rutabaga on a cutting board on its flattest side. Using a large chef's knife, cut a slice off one end and make this cut end your new stable base.  The wax and skin of the rutabega yield easily to a knife (not dangerously hard like an acorn squash).  Cut away the waxed skin then slice in slabs about 3/4" think.  Cut the slabs into strips and then cubes of roughly the same size. 

Mashed Rutabaga
Serves 4
1 peeled and cubed rutabaga
1/4 -1/3 cup hot milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Extra butter or vegetable oil to butter baking dish

  1. Place the cubed rutabaga in a large pot and cover with water.  Allow at least one inch of water over the vegetable.  
  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a medium boil and cook until rutabaga are very tender.  The cubes should be soft enough to crush easily with the back of a fork.  This will take 20-30 minutes.  You may need to add some extra boiling water to keep the level over the cubes.  
  3. When tender, remove from heat and drain well.  Using a hand-held masher, mash the turnips allowing as much steam to escape as possible.  (Where long sleeves to prevent steam contact with skin.)  The drier you can get the rutabaga the more milk and butter they will absorb.  
  4. Once mashed, stir in most of the hot milk and the butter.  Mash these ingredients together.  Add more milk if mixture will absorb it.  Finally add salt and pepper and taste.
Mashed rutabaga can be served from the pot as is.  If you would like to hold them while your roast rests, they do very well in a buttered deep casserole in the oven at 350-400˚F for up to 20-30 minutes. They puff up slightly while in the oven during this final bake so if you have the time, this is a pleasant option that saves the cook from last minute rushing while meat is resting and carved.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Taquitoes

After the holidays we made a stellar chili from the leftover meat at the edges of a standing rib roast.  The next day we gilded that lily by rolling the remains of the chili with cheese in corn tortillas for taquitoes worthy of an occasion like the Super Bowl. 

Actually, many fillings are Super Bowl worthy from secret recipe house chilis and shredded leftover chicken to the simple ground meat mixture below.  Try some vegetarian options like bean and cheese or cooked potato and cheese. 

Years ago, while visiting the Oaxacan province in Mexico, I fell in love with a chopped potato and chorizo taco filling that is so tasty it defies its simplicity.  You just heard the recipe—just cook the potatoes and chorizo before rolling the taquitoes. (Mexican chorizo sausage requires cooking.   If you are using Spanish style cured chorizo just dice it and toss with cooked potatoes.)

Our home taquitoes are baked rather than fried so they are a lot less greasy than what you order out.  The secret is to lightly coat them with cooking oil and then to bake at high heat to get the desired crispness.  The filling should be tender to contrast with the crisp exterior. 

Super Bowl Tacquitos
Makes 24, recipe may be halved

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, turkey, pork or a mixture
1 cup salsa (something natural please)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
24 corn tortillas
cooking oil spray or vegetable oil

To dip/garnish tacquitos:
Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
Guacamole (a ripe avocado chopped up with a few tablespoons of that all-natural salsa above makes a really easy guacamole)
squeeze of lime

  1. Brown meat in a skillet until cooked through.  If using ground turley, you may need to add a little vegetable oil to the pan to prevent sticking.  When cooked, drain the meat.    Let meat cool a bit.  
  2. Stir in salsa and shredded cheese.  Filling may be made a day ahead.
  3. Line a baking pan with foil and lightly brush or spray with cooking oil.  Preheat oven to 450˚.
  4. Loosely wrap half the tortillas in paper towel and microwave on medium 30 seconds+ until pliable.  (This step prevents them from breaking when you roll them.) 
  5. Put 2 tablespoons of filling onto each tortilla in a strip– don’t over fill.  Roll tortilla and secure with a toothpick.  Don’t worry if they are not perfect.  
  6. Place rolls on prepared baking pan and brush or spray lightly with oil.  Repeat with second half of tortillas.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, uncovered, until taquitos are crisp.  
  8. Remove the toothpicks before placing on a serving platter! Serve with a squeeze of lime, greek yogurt, guacamole or extra salsa as dips. 

You can make extra and reheat these.  They even freeze well.  Reheat at 350˚ 12-15 minutes.