Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Infinitely awesome Texas BBQ

Texas BBQ

I don't write much about home-cooked meals here on the blog, but I wanted to report back on the lunch we had on Monday. You may recall from last week that a group of us recently went to Fresh @ Elwood for the birthday of Jess, a passionate aficionado of all things Texan. For the reasons she articulated in her guest post, we were terribly disappointed by what we felt was a poor example of Texas-style BBQ.

So imagine our excitement when the lovely Kate from the blog Eating Melbourne sent us an email with the subject line "Bigger than Texas" and the opening "Hey y'all,

Texas BBQ potluck. My place. Monday 26th April. HIGH NOON.

If you ain't yeller, bring some fixins."

Yee haw! If you want good Texas BBQ in Melbourne, you've just gotta do it yourselves. We were all inspired to go the extra mile to make it special. We dressed for the occasion in boots, jeans, plaid shirts, big earrings, etc. Kate even tuned the stereo to an internet radio station coming to y'all direct from Texas.

USA Foods

On Saturday morning I drove waaaay out to greyest, grimmest Moorabbin with my travel companion Captain America to visit USA Foods in order to stock up on Tex-Mex provisions and candy bars and stars-n-stripes-bedecked serviettes. I was extra happy to get some more chipotle tabasco - I'm currently obsessed with the smokey taste of it.

USA FoodsUSA Foods

I was assigned a pretty easy dish, the Texas caviar (please note that the name is ironic: it does not contain caviar). The recipe calls for char-grilled corn, so I opted for the cheat's method: microwave the corn for a minute or two, then scorch it using the miniature blowtorch I was given for my birthday last year (supposedly so that I can make crème brulée). Yes I know it's not the authentic method, but it's quick and easy and FUN!

CornCorn with blowtorch
Corn with blowtorchBlowtorched corn

Recipe for Texas Caviar (thanks Jess):
1 can tinned seasoned black beans (available only at USA Foods)
2-4 ears of corn, roasted then sliced
2-4 tomatoes, diced
1 large green capsicum, diced
1 avocado, preferably firm so it doesn't mush into everything else, diced
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped
1 chilli (not the Thai hot one... either a single jalapeño, seeds removed, or one of those mildly hot finger length chillies, also no seeds), finely diced

Throw everything into a bowl, chuck on a couple dashes chipotle tabasco, a smattering of oil to coat and a splash of fresh lime juice.

If you want to go into awesome overkill, you can also crunch some tortilla chips over the salad top.

Texas Caviar

And yes, I did go into awesome overkill by crunching some tortilla chips over the top just prior to serving. At USA Foods I'd picked up some white and blue corn tortilla chips: we served them with Kate's pico de gallo salsa and guacamole.

Tortilla chips

American beers are not normally my beers of choice... but it was a Texas BBQ. Don't mess with Texas.

American beersDon't mess with Texas

Kate's partner J was in charge of the meats (brisket and pork ribs) and was very anxious to do them justice after the disappointment we'd all experienced last week at Fresh @ Elwood. He did a test run of the meats the night before, that's how much he cared. Adorably, he actually joined an online Texas BBQ forum ("Aussie needs a hand!"), and got fantastically detailed advice on how to prepare, smoke and cook the meat from a bunch of friendly Texans. Click on the link and have a read of the comments!

Texas BBQ

I asked J to divulge his secrets and he wrote back: "No big secrets. The idea was to use the 3-2-1 method – 3 hrs smoking, 2 covered in foil and 1 browning in very low heat. That WAS the idea but things went a bit haywire as I couldn’t keep the temp low enough for long enough. The rub was a South Western rub with lots of chilli and cayenne pepper. Oh, and it was smoked with Mesquite wood."

BrisketPork ribs

Bless your cotton socks, J. Both the brisket and the ribs were *awesome*.

Pork ribs

Jess made the fiery BBQ sauce according to her secret recipe, 24 hours in advance so the flavour had time to develop. I WANT THE RECIPE, IT'S ADDICTIVE and it has a kick like an angry mule.

BBQ sauce

And then of course there were all the sides. Jess made biscuits, of the traditional baking powder buttermilk variety this time. They tasted a bit like scones, and were great for mopping up BBQ sauce.


Other sides included potato salad, SENSATIONAL mac n cheese made by M&M, slaw and the Texas caviar. Bravo, everybody!

Texas BBQTexas BBQ

Just as we were falling into a post-BBQ stupor akin to the one you get after Christmas dinner, Kate announced that we still had dessert. In keeping with the American theme, she'd made blueberry pie and Jess whipped up a quick and tasty peach cobbler. We served them à la mode.

Blueberry piePie a la mode

I asked Kate for details of the blueberry pie: "I used the “pâte brisée” (sweet shortcrust) recipe from Bourke St Bakery, except I cheated and made the whole thing in the processor (skipped the kneading by hand), and skipped the multiple chilling times that BSB suggests. (They always overcomplicate their recipes... I suspect it is to make it all seem too hard so that you just go to the bakery and buy it instead.)

The filling is my grandmother’s recipe."

Grandmother's blueberry pie filling is a family secret, and with good reason. It's PERFECT. A huge thank you to Kate, J and all the other Texas potluck contributors for a smashing afternoon - I was unable to eat for 24 hours afterwards, but it was totally worth it.

Peach cobbler and blueberry pie

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Five fabulous flavours from the last fortnight I feel compelled to share with you

Pierre Roelofs Black Gold

It's been a busy couple of weeks for me at work, but I wanted to write a few short paragraphs about five dishes I've been lucky enough to have over the last fortnight that have been just a little bit special.

One: the elotes callejeros at Mamasita.

Level 1, 11 Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
9650 3821

Elotes callejeros

Lunch last Tuesday was at Mamasita with the beautiful KT. I wrote about Mamasita when it first opened in February, but on that visit I neglected to order what has now become my favourite Mamasita dish, the elotes callejeros ($3.80 each). Chargrilled corn with queso, chipotle mayonnaise and lime. DROOL. If you don't like these... I don't think we can be friends any more.

Two: the primo piatto of pickled green tomatoes and burrata at Ladro.

Ladro (Gertrude)
224 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (map)
9415 7575

Pickled tomatoes and burrata

Best-friend-K and I went to Ladro on Friday night. While we were sipping negronis and waiting for our pizze to arrive, we shared an exquisite entree of pickled green tomatoes served with burrata and drizzled with olive oil ($12.50). Burrata (a mozzarella cheese with a gooey mozzarella-and-cream centre) seems to be everywhere at the moment. Served with mouth-watering sweet and sour pickled green tomatoes? Perfect.


Three: my mother's pasta al forno con funghi, spinaci e sugo di carne.

To taste this one, you'll have to cajole your way into my family. On Wednesday night we facilitated a birthday face-to-face Skype chat between my Nonna and Nonno in Melbourne, and Nonna's sister Zia Clara and Zio Mario in Italy ("Che meraviglia, questo Skype!" my Nonno kept exclaiming). For dinner afterwards, Mum made her special pasta al forno. To stop it from being too heavy or stodgy, she alternates pasta layers: one with Nonna's fresh sugo bolognese and mushrooms sauteed with her secret ingredient (a quarter of a Star funghi porcini stock cube, shhhhh), and then one with béchamel and spinach wilted with smoked garlic. Parmigiano between every layer, natch!

Pasta al forno

Four: the grass fed steak tartare at Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus Inc
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
9650 1445

Steak tartare

I know I've waxed lyrical about Cumulus several times over, but as I was on my way there last Thursday to meet the lovely Emily from ...It Pleases Us, I realised this would be the first time I'd ever visited for lunch. I ain't gonna lie: I was nursing a hangover. A hangover that called for something drastic. Hmmmm oh I don't know, how about the GRASS FED STEAK TARTARE?

My fuzzy logic told me that if raw steak ($21) couldn't make me feel better, nothing would. And oh it was good, people. We also shared one of my favourite Cumulus dishes, the wagyu bresaola with fresh horseradish ($14, alas sadly no longer served with remoulade) and Em's favourite, the crispy school prawns sauteed with chilli and garlic ($14). Be sure to eat those suckers in their entirety, as they were intended.

Wagyu bresaolaSchool prawns

Five: the dessert sticks (hell, and everything else) at Pierre Roelofs' dessert evenings at Cafe Rosamond.

Cafe Rosamond
Rear 191 Smith Street, Fitzroy (map)
9419 2270

Pear, couscousPierre Roelofs Black Gold

Count me in as a member of Pierre Roelofs' enthusiastic cheer squad. His are the most creative, exciting desserts currently on offer in Melbourne. Last month I wrote a loveletter to the event he and Raúl Moreno Yagüe held at the MFWF, and I mentioned his forthcoming dessert-only Thursday evenings at Cafe Rosamond. They started this week, and I trotted along with Jess.

I'm telling you, if you're anywhere near Smith Street on a Thursday night, you HAVE to drop in to Rosamond for dessert. There are no bookings, so just rock up between 7 and 11 and hopefully manage to snare a seat (there are only 25). Order tea or coffee and either one, two or three dishes ($20/$30/$40 - great value considering the number of elements, quality ingredients and time-consuming techniques involved in the creation of each dish).

We had two each. One had a cube of pear pound cake, toasted couscous, honey cream that was just madness, pear sorbet and toasted millet. The other was the "Black Gold" dish I wrote about in my MFWF round-up: it included poached pineapple and (SENSATIONAL) dehydrated pineapple, rigatoni filled with mascarpone, syphon coffee gel, ground Yirgacheffe coffee beans, gold leaf, coffee meringue, dark chocolate granules and micro leaves.

The dishes on offer will change weekly. If there's one thing you need to try though, it's one of the dessert sticks ($9 each). They are glass tubes the circumference of a cigar, filled with four different flavours, and to consume them you tip them up to your mouth and, er, suck hard for a flavour explosion. The ones we tried on Thursday were filled with dried white chocolate, peach, pistachio and rose... and I have it on good authority that next week's will contain pancake, maple syrup and banana (!!!).

Dessert tubes

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Texas BBQ Massacre

Fresh @ Elwood
130-132 Ormond Road, Elwood (map)
9531 4130

Iron Horse

On Sunday, the gorgeous Jess invited a group of us to join her for a relaxed birthday lunch. Because she is so deeply enamoured of the Deep South (I'm rabidly jealous of her impending trip to Austin and New Orleans), she'd searched high and low throughout Melbourne to find a place that serves Texas-style BBQ.

Fresh @ Elwood

She found it at Fresh @ Elwood, a cafe that puts on a Southern-style BBQ every Sunday afternoon from 2pm, with live music in the back courtyard. The meat is barbecued for six hours in a gigantic locomotive-shaped contraption (known as the "Iron Horse"), and you can order as many of the meats as you want (from $20 for one meat to $27 for four).

We were all excited at the prospect of Texas-style BBQ right here in Melbourne, but found the experience somewhat lacking. I'll hand the reins over to Jess, so that she can articulate her critique:


* * *

"I applaud Fresh @ Elwood for creating healthy meals using premium, usually organic ingredients. Salads and vegetables and such. That's their thing. That's what they do. It's not the cheapest cafe in Elwood, but they have a mantra and they stick to it.

That is why I find it completely strange that Fresh, of all places, decided to take on Texas style BBQ on Sundays. Texas BBQ - smokey meats accompanied by carb-and-butter-heavy side dishes. When done right, the ultimate in comfort food. In fact, fresh salad is rarely offered (and further rarely ordered) at a genuine Texas BBQ joint. Most meats are served with a half bag of sliced bread, a tub of beans, a tub of potato salad and various other accoutrements such as pickles, mac and cheese etc. Let's get this straight, its ALL about the meat.

Barbecuing is akin to a religion in the U.S.A. There are three main regions vying for the title of BBQ capital - Texas, Kansas City and the Carolinas, separated by the choices of meats and style of barbecue sauces. What we refer to as barbecuing in Australia, the Americans call grilling. Barbecuing is the art of cooking meats for extended periods of time over indirect heat. Often the smoking/cooking process takes around 12 hours, sometimes up to 24. BBQ masters are known as "Pit Bosses", and each has their own secret recipe. Some inject their meats with flavour, some use a dry rub, some rely on the variety of wood chips used in the smoker to impart a signature flavour. Competitive barbecuing is serious business, and renowned Pit Masters can be as famous throughout the South as any "celebrity" chef. Entire towns in Texas exist purely because their renowned BBQ joints, and locals know that you better get there early or else the meat will sell out. They say you "Don't Mess with Texas", but I suggest you don't mess with Texas BBQ.

Iron Horse

The meat at the Iron Horse BBQ (the name of the BBQ at Fresh) was ok. One of my friends didn't eat her pulled pork, citing it as having no flavour. Another friend ordered only pork ribs and remarked that they were tough, finding it hard to understand how meat which was slow cooked on indirect heat for 6 hours ends up being tough. I find it hard to understand too.

Pulled pork and brisket

Pulled pork and brisket (and sides) at Fresh

I had the "Beef Ribs" and beef brisket. When you order a beef rib in Texas, you are given a Flintstone-sized mammoth bone of bovine goodness. A cow rib - epic in its awesomeness.

Whole lotta BBQ meatBeef rib

What epic beef ribs look like (examples from Texas)

The ribs we were given at Fresh were short ribs. Since short ribs actually have a specific name, it might be appropriate to specify this on the menu, and then i would have known in advance not to order them. The brisket was well cooked and tender, and all who ordered it enjoyed it. However, none of the meat of any kind appeared to be flavoured with that signature smokey bbq scent, or have any deliciously blackened outer edges. Someone at the table remarked that their plate tasted exactly the same as oven roasted/slow cooked meat.

Pork ribs

(Short) Ribs at Fresh

BBQ sauce is also somewhat of an institution through the U.S.A. Much like Tomato Sauce/Ketchup, you are usually given carte blanche to add as much or as little as you'd like, and there is always an extra bottle of sauce on the table. In BBQ restaurants it's always almost home made, and some even offer a variety of two or three sauces. Iron Horse BBQ sauce had a good flavour, and was served already poured over the meat in the kitchen - there was no "DIY" bottle. However, I have never seen BBQ sauce "un-puréed" before. Chunks of tomato and thick slices of onion were ladled on top of the meat, and nearly had the appearance of a stew or goulash. My perfect texture of sauce is thick enough to coat the meat, should never really be too watery, and should definitely be blended to ensure all spices and ingredients are evenly distributed.

Iron Horse

I think it was the mac n cheese that truly turned me into a sad panda. Mac and cheese is one of my favourite side dishes. Variables include combinations of cheeses, baked breadcrumb crusts, the addition of green chile etc. Usually the biggest difference is whether it's baked (lasagne style) or "loose" straight from the saucepan.

Mac n cheese, baked style

An example of baked style mac n cheese

The Mac and Cheese at fresh was baked style. It was an Australian cafeteria-esque take on a pasta bake. There was more bechamel sauce per square inch than pasta, and it was heavy on the flour. The "squares" of mac crumbled under the fork, and fell apart as they were cut into. Sadly, not the sign of the gooey, cheesily sinful side dish i had hoped for. Upon seeing photos of the dish online, my friend in Texas asked me what the "square bread roll looking thing" on my plate was, referring to the mac n cheese.

Mac and cheese

The mac n cheese at Fresh

Other sides included dirty rice, a slightly acidic coleslaw and potato salad - sadly, nothing like the creamed kind typically found in the U.S.A. Chilli Beans are also on the menu, but we didn't order them.

Dirty riceChicken fried steak with mac n cheese and potato salad

Dirty rice at Fresh, and a Texan example of typical U.S.A. potato salad (served with mac n cheese and a chicken fried steak)

For those who dont know better, the experience would be an OK meal. And this upsets me. The real deal Texas BBQ is honestly THAT good. Fresh are serving Texas BBQ in the way that Taco Bill is serving Mexican food - an Australian take on a cuisine.

The trick to honouring and respecting a cuisine largely unfamiliar to the Australian palate is authenticity. I believe one of the reasons Mamasita is enjoying such huge success is their no-frills attitude to serving authentic Tex Mex/Mexican food. They have not substituted their menu to make it friendlier and more approachable to the average Aussie punter. They have invested in authentic recipes and ingredients, and the result is deliciously effective.

Hopefully, the same purist attitude can be applied by the chefs behind the Iron Horse. They have the equipment, and i believe they have the capacity to do it really, really well if they so choose to."
* * *

Thank you to Jess for being a guest contributor to Melbourne Gastronome! As someone who has never tried real deal Texas BBQ, I didn't mind the pulled pork and brisket (though I thought the sauce was far too acidic). It's a shame though that despite the meat being cooked for as long as it was, there was no charred goodness.

When Jess had called to book our table and had learned that Southern-style biscuits were not on the menu, she'd taken it upon herself to make us some delicious chipotle and cheddar biscuits.

Chipotle and cheddar biscuitsSanta Cruz organic ginger ale

Have you ever had Texas-style BBQ? Know of anywhere else in Melbourne that serves it?