Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stewed Beef with Turnips or How I Got My Brother to Eat Tongue

As I mentioned in last week's post, Lucky Peach was in my reading pile, and also happens to have some of the best food, cooking, culture writing out there. Irreverent, edgy, interesting, I don't think it will be too much longer before it starts pulling in major magazine writing awards. I've been on board since the beginning, when the rep for the publisher told our buyer all about it, so I have every issue. And though every issue has recipes, we've only cooked from it once before, a noodle recipe that happened to be, also, the only recipe that contained a basic error. Until we came across the innocuously named “Stewed Beef with Turnips,” by Danny Bowien, the chef of Mission Chinese Food, in the current Chinatown themed issue. (DO NOT FORGET ABOUT IT, Jake!)

As I mentioned in my post on tomatoes, one of the challenges with getting your food from a farm share is that it is real easy to get sick of certain foods. Climate, weather, bugs, deer, parasites, labor force, all of it can combine into years where you get a lot of one thing until you're sick of it. Never being a huge fan of turnips to begin with, Riss and I have been sick of them since about July. Not that I have anything against turnips, it's just well, really that says it all. And we still had a tongue in the freezer. When you come across a recipe that makes use of one of the biggest things in your freezer and one of the ingredients you're having a hard time getting rid of, well, I wouldn't go so far as to say you're spitting in the eye of god if you don't make it, but you're probably spitting in the eye of god if you don't make it. To further solidify our destiny, we had pretty much everything else for the recipe as well; pork bones left over from a roast, carrot, onion, bay leaves, ginger, cheese cloth, a big old pot. The only things we needed were short ribs--which gave us an excuse to walk up to the new locally owned, organic, pasture raised, grass-fed only butcher--kombu and tofu, which gave us an excuse to go to the Japanese market.

The recipe also lets me return to one of my “overarching food themes;” the most important ingredient is almost always time. This is a three-day recipe with a fair number of steps. It looks daunting, but most of it is just waiting. Season the meat with kosher salt and let it sit in the fridge over night. The next day, sear it, put it in a pot with the bones and some of the other ingredients, bring to a boil, and then simmer for three hours, (For the complete recipe, buy a copy of Lucky Peach. Seriously, it's an awesome magazine.) during which, if you're me, you can watch college football, scratch out a few sentences in a novel, read a book you're reviewing, read a galley you've been dying to get to, and read a history book you've been interested in since it came out in hardcover. Then add the turnips, simmer until fork tender, let the whole thing cool and put it in the fridge, again, over night.

According to Contemporary American Corporate Food Culture, this is a hassle. If you feel like Stewed Beef with Turnips, damnit the whole reason we fought the Cold War was so that you could eat it now. Time has somehow been equated with effort. But, most of the time, most of these time intensive dishes really only require you to let time pass, during which you can do whatever else you want. Most of the time when I'm making stock, smoking pork, or making this dish, I'm doing something other than cooking. You just have to get over the idea of eating the exact thing you want at the exact time you want it. Which, of course, has a socio-economic component to it. (Doesn't everything on this blog.) The massive carbon footprint of American eating comes from only eating what you want when you want. To eat a certain vegetable, out of season for your region, involves a massive economic structure, with a massive carbon footprint that combines commercial farming with commercial shipping. To only eat a certain cut of meat, creates this whole other economy, where shmillions more of an animal needs to be bred and slaughtered and something must be done with the rest of it that you don't want, in order for the rancher and butcher to make ends meet. The real mental/cultural breakdown here is that just about anything edible can be made delicious if you know how. And with the internet, you can find out how to make anything delicious. And, not every meal has to be delicious for you to survive. A decent tasting meal will get you through the day just as well.

But this was delicious. It's described as one of those restorative soups, and we ate it after this year's pick your own day at the farm share. It was restorative. Because the broth has a really clean, fatty flavor, you can augment pretty much at will. The recipe suggests a salty, fermented chili sauce which we didn't get to, but I ground up some of our radish kimchi and put it in and that was fantastic. You could easily add siracha or soy sauce. I also threw in some fresh mustard greens. Any fresh greens would do. You could definitely serve it with noodles too. Or extra tofu. And it's also a good starter dish for someone looking to eat a little more adventurously (or someone looking to trick someone else into eating more adventurously). Beef tongue tastes like really beefy beef, and if it's cooked in certain ways (including all the boiling it goes through in this dish), has this really nice, velvety texture. Throw in the cleanness of the broth and you have a dish that tastes very different from average American fair without being particularly challenging to the American pallet. My whole family, even my teenage brother, enjoyed it.

And let's face it, you should never pass up a chance to take a picture with a beef tongue.

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