Monday, March 21, 2016

Smoked Brisket Pho

What is phở? It is a Vietnamese soup with rice noodles. The broth is rich and flavorful and typically beef based. I have seen chicken and vegetarian bases. The meat that accompanies pho can be flank, steak, brisket, tripe, meatball, chicken, and even shrimp. I love rice noodles. I order extra noodles almost every time. Growing up, my mom would cook us pho or we would go out and eat it at least twice a month? I love pho. I love smoked brisket. It was time for a mash-up. I have been wanting to make a smoked brisket pho for a while now. We finally had a free weekend where I could spend a chunk of time at home to cook it.

My friends from 44 Farms sent me five pounds of beef bones and a brisket. I split the brisket and was going to use about three pounds of the flat for the pho. I tried to trim a lot of fat away. I did not want a fatty brisket for the pho. I used about half the salt I would use normally and even less for ground pepper. I wanted the broth to shine more than the meat. I also smoked the bones and onion for about an hour to enhance the flavor and to get rid of the impurities that might end up in the broth. I did not season the bones. I pulled the brisket once the internal temperature hit 190 degrees (about four hours). I could have let the temperature go higher, but I wanted the meat to stay together in the soup. I put the brisket aside to rest for at least an hour.
Beef bone from 44 Farms
Brisket from 44 Farms
Light on salt and lighter on pepper
Smoked beef bones and onions
Brisket off the smoker
Profile of the brisket
I threw the bones, onions, sugar, salt, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, coriander, cloves, fish sauce, and ginger all into a stock pot and covered the bones with water. I am going to guess I used about six quarts of water. We did not have a big enough pot so I split everything in half into two separate pots. Bring the water to a boil and simmer it. You will have to add water during the process due to evaporation. I am guessing I added another two quarts or so. You can put the ingredients in a mesh bag so it is easier to get out.
After about five hours, I pulled out the bones and combined the broth. I strained it through a mesh colander with a coffee filter. That help get rid of some of the fat as well. You might have to add more salt to the broth depending on how much water evaporated. I bought fresh rice noodles for the soup, but you can buy the dry kind at most grocery stores and boil them in water.
Ladle time
I typically see onion, cilantro, and green onion in the soup when pho is served. I put everything in the bowl first and then ladle in the broth. You can garnish the pho with jalapeño, mint, basil, bean sprouts, and/or lime. You can also dip the meat in hoisin sauce and/or Sriracha. Not this time. It was about the smoked brisket. I thought the meal turned out great. It took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth at least doing it once. It was fun. The brisket was wonderful, and the broth was smoky, rich and had a ton of flavor. Nice depth to it. Even Amber was impressed. It was pho-nomenal.
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons salt
5 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 cloves
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 ginger about 6 inches long broken into pieces
2 onions

Until next time, happy smoking...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

TMBBQ Fire & Smoke - Pitmaster Tim Rattray & Chef John Brand

I have been to a lot of TMBBQ events over the years. Fest, Road Trip, and Behind the Pit Dinner but never Fire & Smoke until now. Photographer whiz/friend Robert Lerma was shooting the event for 44 Farms and invited me along. The event was being held in San Antonio at the new Hotel Emma in the Pearl District. The hotel combines the elements of the old brewery and a classic, refined look into a beautiful, well thought out space. The culinary mash-up involved Pitmaster/owner/chef Tim Rattray of The Granary and Chef John Brand of Supper. Robert and I arrived in San Antonio early so we spent some time at The Granary. We watched and took pictures (of course) of Tim and his staff prepping for the dinner which was pretty cool.
44 Farms strip loins that have been cold smoked and now being seasoned
Loins being grilled on a Big Green Egg
Finished product
Profile view
44 Farms smoked pastrami
Pastrami being wrapped for the event
The Calm
•Carrot 'Elote" + Espelette Crema
•Asparagus + Miso Mustard
•Smoked Sardine + Lemon Curd + Caviar Potato Salad
•Millionaires Bacon + Smoked Dates
•44 Farms Beef Tongue Sandwiches + Pickled Vegetables
•44 Farms Grilled Flank Steak + Yam Neua
•Texas Toast + Barbeque Butter
•Grilled Leeks + Smoked Clam Emulsion + Smoked Sea Salt

•44 Farms Beef Cheek + Charred Eggplant + Corn Pudding
•44 Farms Smoked Oxtail Gravy + Cornbread
•44 Farms Smoked Brisket Pastrami + ‘Kraut Aioli + Rye Crumble
•44 Farms Smoked Grilled NY Strip + Barbeque Béarnaise
•Mushrooms + Braised Greens
•Salt and Vinegar Brussel Sprouts
•Crispy Smoked Quail

•IX-XI 911 Cocktail + El Mayor Tequila Anjeo + Licor 43
•Grilled Lemon Poundcake + Blueberry Violet Sorbet
•Butterscotch Pudding + Coconut Tapioca + Pickled Blackberry
•Whoopie Pies + Dulce De Leche
•Cheddar + Apple + Rosemary Galette
•Chocolate Cream Pie
•Sweet Corn Panna Cotta + Huckleberry Compote + Corn Streusel
Smoked Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Roasted Poblano Pico + Smoked Sea Salt
44 Farms Beef Tongue Sandwiches + Pickled Vegetables
44 Farms Grilled Flank Steak being sliced
44 Farms Grilled Flank Steak + Yam Neua
Smoked Sardine + Lemon Curd + Caviar Potato Salad

Texas Toast
Barbeque Butter
44 Farms Smoked Grilled NY Strip + Barbeque Béarnaise
44 Farms Beef Cheek + Charred Eggplant + Corn Pudding
44 Farms Smoked Oxtail Gravy + Cornbread
Crispy Smoked Quail
44 Farms Smoked Brisket Pastrami being sliced
44 Farms Smoked Brisket Pastrami + 'Kraut Aioli + Rye Crumble
There was a lot of food and a lot of courses to eat. I never heard some of the ingredients. I had to Google them. Events likes these let me step out of my culinary comfort zone. I am not afraid to try things. I am just afraid of spending money on something I might regret. The in-house made Texas toast with barbeque butter was excellent. Tim uses the drippings from briskets/pork butts to make the butter. I wish I could buy that stuff. The beef cheek was wonderful. The tenderness and the richness of the meat with other complex flavors and textures made it memorable. I have no words for the smoked oxtail gravy and cornbread. Just wow. Recently Daniel Vaughn declared that the Friday only pastrami at The Granary was the best in America. I have tried the short rib version (Tuesday only) and thought it was fantastic. The pastrami this night did not disappoint. I enjoyed the balance of the smoke and salt. The crust and the tender meat brought it all together. I need to get down there on a Friday soon. Anyone want to join me?
Guards Porsche Red - a drink with El Mayor Silver Tequila garnished with habanero-infused watermelon ice. Delicious.
Dessert Bar
Pitmaster Tim Rattray + Chef John Brand + Daniel Vaughn
I had a great time at Fire & Smoke. Sure the event is pricey, but it is worth it. Come with an open mind and let your taste buds be blown away. Pitmaster Tim Rattray and Chef John Brand did a phenomenal job in joining forces and creating a menu that combined fine dining and barbecue. Their imagination and skills surprised you each time a dish was brought to the table. You kept wanting more even if you were satiated.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Guide to Bánh Mì (Austin)

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich that is served on French bread. You will find it filled with all kinds of protein like grilled pork, pâté, fried eggs, tofu, meatballs, and head cheese. It is normally dressed with cucumber slices, cilantro, jalapeños, and pickled carrots and daikon with Vietnamese mayonnaise. You can find last year's (2015) banh mi guide here. To prepare for this year's guide, I was a part of tasting panel that sampled bánh mì from seven different places. Read about it from Mad Betty and Foodie is the New Forty.

Now to the updated guide for this year...

Baguette House
10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 8:30 AM-7 PM daily

Although the thịt nướng (grilled pork) is money here, there are a lot of great options on the menu. They use a French baguette so there is less bread with more crunch. Add a pâté chaud and a Vietnamese iced coffee to your order, and you will thank me later.

Bun Belly
5001 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751 11 AM-2:30 PM, 5:30-10 PM daily

Bun Belly was on my list of places I needed to try. Doing the guide was a good opportunity to stop in. I ordered the BMT Classic - Banh Mi Thit which comes with pork liver pate, Vietnamese ham (pork roll), and pork belly. It had a good flavor from the meat. The only thing that was missing was mayo. It would have brought the sandwich together better. Keep in mind bánh mì is only available for lunch here.
Dang Bánh Mì
9070 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 11 AM-9 PM daily

From the guys who brought us Plucker's comes a joint that brings us the Vietnamese classics. Pho, vermicelli, and bánh mì. They even went to Vietnam to learn from the source. I got the Dang Original bánh mì which has Char Siu pork belly, pork tenderloin, ground pork, homemade pâté, mint, cilantro, green onion, cucumber, Char Siu sauce, saté, Japanese mayo, and pickled papaya and carrots. It is not your typical bánh mì, but it is for sure a hearty sandwich. Use the Dang Sauce liberally. It is a cross between Sambal and Sriracha.
Elizabeth Street Cafe
1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704 | 8 AM-10:30 PM daily

Upscale Vietnamese cuisine? Sure, why not. The breakfast bánh mì changed my mind. The sandwich comes stuffed with jalapeño fried eggs, crispy pork belly, avocado, mint, house-made mayo, sambal, and cilantro. A tasty mouthful. I ordered the House Specialty (chicken liver mousse, pork pâté, and roasted pork) for lunch recently, and it was solid. 10 bucks though? My parents would frown on me for spending that on bánh mì.

Fresh Off the Truck
4209 East Airport Blvd, Austin,TX 78723 | Check their website for updated days and times

Lily's Sandwich
10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 9 AM-9 PM daily

LiIy's is my favorite spot in Austin for xíu mại (Vietnamese meatballs). At $3.70, it is the one of the cheapest in town as well. I have yet to try the other things on the menu that are not bánh mì. That tells you something.

Lulu B's
3632 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 | 11 AM-4 PM Tue-Sat

My first place in Austin that I had bánh mì from was at Lulu B's. I thought it was expensive, but I did grow up in Houston where you could at the time find a sandwich for under two bucks. Lulu B's used to be a trailer on South Lamar, but now they have a brick and mortar location. I tried the lemongrass tofu on this visit, and it was a great change of pace.
8557 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 10 AM-6 PM Tues-Sun

Now located in Lucky Bakery, I stumbled upon Ng BMT while doing research for last year's guide. Here, the bread makes the sandwich as it is baked fresh every day. It has a good amount of chew with a nice crust. The prices are very reasonable as well. The combo sandwich here consists of pâté, Vietnamese ham, and pork head cheese which is the golden standard for bánh mì. The Texas Trinity. Subway's Cold Cut Trio (but better). The Crispy Shrimp is also wonderful here.
Pho Please
1920 E Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78741 | 11 AM-11 PM daily
They just opened up recently. I ordered the grilled pork belly and added a fried egg of course. The sandwich is huge. It was a foot long! I thought I was at Subway for a second. I made a mistake of ordering the grilled pork spring rolls. It was almost too much food to eat. It is another good option for me for lunch; being only a few miles from my office.
Pho Thaison
Multiple locations | Various hours - Check their website for details

Pho Van

8557 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 10:30 AM-9 PM daily

I wonder now that Ng BMT is in the same parking lot, if Pho Van's bánh mì business would suffer. This was the first place in Austin where I had pho when I was a freshman at UT. I went away from my normal order and got the grilled chicken banh mi here. It had a good flavor and texture. The rest of the sandwich brought everything together.
Saigon Le Vendeur
2404 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702 | 11 AM-7PM Mon-Fri, 11 AM-5PM Sat

Saigon Le Vendeur is close to my work so I go here frequently. It is my new favorite and the winner of our bánh mì tasting. I am always stuffed when I am done eating there. I tried the spicy chicken recently. Nice heat and good, fresh flavors. Their specials look intriguing and amazing. Curry ramen. Say no more...
Tâm Deli & Cafe
8222 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 10 AM-8 PM Wed-Mon

If there was THE bánh mì place in town, a lot of people would pick Tâm's. It is a solid pick. I ordered the combination sandwich that came with Vietnamese ham, pâté, and roasted chicken. I thought it was an odd choice for the third meat though. The pickled carrots were grated instead of being julienned which takes away some of the crunchiness. The rest of the menu is really strong and has a lot of options. Besides the classics, the bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls) hits the spot every time.

Thanh Nhi
9200 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 10 AM-9 PM daily

In my humble opinion, Thanh Nhi is underrated in the Vietnamese food scene. I have never had a bad item from their extensive menu. I got the xíu mại (pork meatball) on this visit, and it was good. All of their bánh mì cost $3.99 which is a great deal. When you go, order some nem nuong rolls. It is better than your traditional spring rolls.
Ya Ya Café
3706 Guadalupe Street, Suite B, Austin, TX 78705 | 11 AM-10:30 PM Tue-Sat