Tri-Tip Awakened & Aroused

August 28, 2012

A fome é o melhor tempero (Hunger is the best of the spices).
~Portuguese proverb

Fusion cuisine is said to blend the culinary traditions of two or more disparate cultures or regions, e.g., those timeless mélanges of Moorish-Spanish or Vietnamese-Chinese-French or Saracen-Sicilian-Italian or the Malay-Indian-Arab-Chinese-Spanish-Japanese origins of Filipino dishes.  Cookery melded, kitchens merged, and cooks intermingled to create hybrids that emerged as one or so food styles.  Despite current myths, fusion has ancient roots as humans have been sharing and expanding gastronomic traditions for centuries.  Much to the chagrin of the suffering vanquished, fusion has often been the result of invasion, conquest, occupation and settlement in society’s endless quest to seize distant lands and peoples, then impose and interbreed food cultures — altering culinary landscapes. 

Imperialism and colonialism have now morphed some. More an outcome of “globalization,” fusion has lost some punch, becoming almost banal given the blurring and overlapping of culinary borders and the decay of regional boundaries. The globalization of food production, while superficially providing many of the world’s cuisines now stifles local farms and crops, sterilizes the soil, renders the food system less sustainable, and often strips the land for grazing to enhance short term mega-agribusiness profits. This leads to ecological collapses, malnutrition in many nations, and the overfeeding/wasting of unbalanced foods in developed countries. The world is entering a long-term, politically destabilizing food crisis if we continue our ways. Much like marketing was in the later half of the last century, water and food insecurity will likely be the bane of this century.

Sadly, exploitation has become more subtle, yet more pervasive, making globalization almost synonymous with the imperialism of yore. The iconic faceless pith helmets of the old world now have been replaced by the often empty dark suits and ties that grace our boardrooms. Some corporations advocate a certain consumer culture, in which the usual goods, promoted by global marketing campaigns exploit basic material desires and create like lifestyles. Homogeneity and monoculture run rampant and diversity fades. So, all of us wear the same threads and eat the same grub. Other institutions have used a more directed thrust, rendering cuisine (and other goods) more efficient, caculable, and predictable, yet less healthy, as exemplified by the pandemic spread of dreary fast food chains across the globe. These monotonous fast food principles have come to dominate sectors of society. McDonaldization.

What have we wrought?

Back to the days. As early as 50,000 BCE humans used aromatic herbs and spices to flavor their food. In the ancient world, camel caravans trudged from Calcutta, Goa and the Orient to the spice markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome. Traders eventually used ships which sailed along the Indian coast, past the Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia, and finally through the Red Sea into Egypt — always facing inclement seas, robbery, shipwrecks, and piracy. The immensely profitable spice trade was long cornered by Arabians until the 13th century, when Venice emerged as the primary trade port for spices bound for western and northern Europe, making the region extremely prosperous. Later, spices were commandeered and monopolized by the wayfaring Portuguese who first circumnavigated Africa and thus created an empire. Portuguese power began to wane until England and Holland came to the fore. The Dutch organized trading posts and took control of the spice trade until they were crippled in a seemingly endless war with England which ultimately gave the British control of spice cargoes via the British East India Company. Now, spice growers export their goods through houses and merchants.

Considered sacred by most Hindus, beef is considered taboo in many Indian states.  But, peoples of other religions and certain Hindu sects eat the red stuff. It can even be found on menus in southwestern states, such as Goa and Kerala. On California’s central coast though, once home to Spaniards and Mexicans and the “birthplace” of tri-tip, this cut is thought nearly sacrosanct.

A brief, roundabout ethnic and geographic journey from spice to meat to grill, but well worth the miles and the wait. The inspired aromatics and spry flavors of this tri-tip (or any such cut) are flat sublime.   

SOUTH ASIAN TRI-TIP

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1 T green cardamom pods
1 T whole cloves
1 T mustard seeds
1 t cinnamon stick, broken

1 T turmeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 tri-tip steaks or roasts (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs each)

Lemon curd, for basting (optional)

Heat the coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, mustard, and cinnamon in a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic and just lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool some, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to the task. Transfer to a bowl with the turmeric and cayenne pepper and mix well.

Rub the meat with halved garlics then salt and pepper rather generously. Sprinkle the tri-tips with the spice mixture and rub in well. Strew minced ginger over the steaks and press into surface. Allow to stand in the fridge for about 2-4 hours. Make sure the meat reaches room temperature before grilling.

Prepare grill to medium high heat.

Grill the tri-tip for about 10 to 12 minutes per pound, turning every 6-8 minutes or so, until medium rare. Baste with lemon curd several times on both sides while grilling. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks, the size of the ‘cue and the heat of the grill. The internal temperature should reach near 130 F. Because tri-tip is so lean, cooking beyond this point will render it tough.

Let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving. Consider serving with raita, a mesclun salad with fresh or roasted figs and vinaigrette along with warmed naan. Just a thought.

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Please Sir. I want some more.
~Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens.

Today, Britain marked the birth bicentenary of Charles Dickens with a wreathlaying at his grave in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The church congregation included what may have been the most prodigious gathering of the revered novelist’s descendants. Simultaneously, a street party and ceremonies were held in his native Portsmouth. Ralph Fiennes, who will star as Magwitch in the adaptation of Great Expectations, read a moving extract from another of Dickens’ most beloved novels, Bleak House. The venerated Victorian author was an almost incomparable inventor of character, both ordinary and grand. His prolific pen authored numerous novels and other writings, all resonating with humanity and compassion. A deft storyteller, Dickens skewered wretched and greedy affluence, depicted the misery of poverty, and explored such varied themes as needed educational reform, sordid workplaces, class diparity, dismal childhoods, and destructive guilt, loneliness and despair. No slight to Shakespeare, Chaucer and esteemed ilk, but this is Dickens’ day.

Most know that Dickens coined “scrooge” (miserliness) and “uriah heep” (insincerity), but he is also the creator of “pecksniffian” named after Seth Pecksniff, a character in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit. The definition: hypocritically affecting benevolence or high moral principles (e.g., pompous politicians).

Over six decades after the end of British colonial rule in India, the works of Charles Dickens continue to be studied and taught across the sub-continent. The issues he addressed in his works–caste inequity, social injustice and poverty–repercuss in the modern world.

India had long ago exported the flavors of chutney, mustard, pepper, and curry to loyal (and perceptive) followers in the isles. Since imperial times, Indian fare and British gastronomy have been inextricably intertwined. About the time of Dicken’s birth, the first Indian restaurant opened in London and by the time of his death, curry was well entrenched in the country’s cuisine. This is not to say Dickens had a penchant for curry even though food passages abound in his novels.

Indian restaurants began to really proliferate in London in the 1960’s — flock wallpaper and spicy hues, tablas, biryanis, naan, and vindaloos, with piped sitars and seductive curry aromas wafting throughout. Decades later, foreign minister Robin Cook even proclaimed chicken tikka masala, arguably the most favored curry there, “is now a true British national dish.” No, not Sunday roast or Yorkshire pudding or fish and chips, but CTM.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 t mustard seeds

2 t dried chili flakes
1 T ground turmeric
2 t garam masala
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 2 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and finely chopped
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into chenks
1 1/2 C Greek yogurt
Sea salt

3 T unsalted butter
2 small to medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 T paprika
2 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t mustard seeds
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 t garam masala
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
1/2 C plain yogurt

Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Basmati rice
Naan

Soak bamboo skewers in water.

In a dry heavy bottomed skillet, heat the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over medium low heat for a couple of minutes. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds and set aside for the sauce later. Grind the mustard seeds for the chicken marinade with red pepper flakes in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. In a food processor or blender, purée turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard, garam masala, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, and slowly add water until a loose paste forms. In a bowl, stir together half of the paste, yogurt, and salt thoroughly. Rub into the chicken and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. Reserve the remaining paste for later.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator so it reaches close to room temperature. Prepare charcoal grill to medium heat. Thread the chicken pieces through skewers. Grill chicken until just done, about 2 minutes per side, then arrange on platter and tent with foil. Do not worry if the chicken is slightly undercooked, as it will cook more in the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium high. Add onions, paprika, and reserved coriander and cumin. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes. Add remaining paste, tomatoes, garam masala, and cinnamon and cook another another 10 minutes. Stir in cream and yogurt, and chicken bring to a slight boil and reduce to a gentle simmer until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt to your liking.

Serve with basmati rice and naan.

Pourboire: should a charcoal grill not be an option, simply broil, sauté or roast the chicken during that step and then continue with the remainder of the recipe.