Cooking Method Can Make ALL the Difference
05/14/2016 - 11:29Filed in: Grilling Tip | Lessons Learned
Initially some of you are probably thinking this blog entry is being guest written by Captain Obvious. But I am going to lay out a case where I didn’t think about cooking method for various reasons until years later. And it turned out that taking an old favorite and cooking it a totally different way, made all of the difference in the world. You may also see I am not quite as dumb as that blog title makes me sound.
The example I am using here is Matambre. This is supposed to mean “hunger killer” in it’s native Argentina. You take a butterflied flank steak, season the inside and fill it with thin strips of meats, cheese and veggies. You then roll it up and tie it in a log shape with butcher’s twine. Here is where the recipe I used 10 years ago and the one I did last weekend differ immensely. The old recipe, from Steven Raichlen’s HOW TO GRILL, has you wrap the outside in foil and cook it on the grill wrapped in foil indirectly. The new recipe, from Eric Mitchell’s MORE BBQ AND GRILLING has you leave the roast uncovered and direct grill it over medium high heat to sear the outside. Then you reduce the heat to medium and finish it off indirectly. I remember thinking that the new recipe with the seared exterior would probably last a little better than the foil wrapped version.
As mentioned, the first version of this recipe was something I tried when I was first getting serious about my grilling. I was trying to move beyond being just a “weekend warrior” who burned some burgers, dogs or steaks on the weekend. Indirect grilling was this magical new concept for me and I had never seen a recipe like Matambre before. So as a newbie I went all in and did the recipe exactly as written. It was so good and so unique in my experience, that I made it several times soon after to use at parties. Typically, I try not to do the same recipe twice unless someone requests it for their birthday or a special holiday. As a result, after those first couple of attempts, It wasn’t until 10 years later I made this recipe again. At this point I have learned quite a bit about grilling and the new recipe jumped out at me as potentially being superior to the first one.
What I am going to suggest is if you are just starting out, you will have to put your faith in the recipe and just try it. But once you have learned a little about grilling and smoking take a slightly different approach. First of all if you have a recipe you’ve made that you liked, look for some other recipes for that same item. See if they all use the exact same cooking method. If they do, with only small variations, you have probably achieved the best you will from that particular item. If there are several variations on cooking method and/or doneness temperature, consider giving one of these variations a try. If the recipe you are considering is an online recipe there often are comments made by the people who have tried the recipe. Look at their comments but have a filter ready. You should probably filter out two types of comments. The person who changed a half dozen items and liked the recipe or the person who changed a half dozen things and hated the recipe. Neither of them actually made the recipe. If almost everyone did one thing, like reduce the sugar, you might give this some consideration.
When I first saw this MATAMBRE on Stephen Raichlen’s BBQ University TV show, I was a relative newbie. Indirect grilling was a totally new and wondrous concept to me and this exotic recipe from South America was very exciting to think about doing. I never gave any alternative cooking methods any thought, other than you might be able to do it in the oven if you could control the dripping. The oven is also indirect cooking. One of the things I find interesting and exciting about the MORE BBQ AND GRILLING cookbook is there are lots of recipes in there that were old favorite of mine. Eric Mitchell often has new and interesting takes on how to cook them. I was excited about the direct/indirect aspect of this new recipe. But it wasn’t until I set about to make it that I realized the other huge difference in the two recipes was the doneness temperature. I was trying to gauge how long this Matambre would take to cook. When I looked up the old recipe I realized there was a huge difference in doneness temperature. The original recipe took the roast to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (71C) or well done, where the new one had you remove the roast at 130 degrees ( 54C). I bumped this up to a 135 (57C) medium rare, where I find 130 is borderline too rare for me most of the time.
This cooking doneness temperature turned out to make a huge difference, almost as big as the cooking method. Together the cooking method and doneness temperature created a totally different experience. The new version was so far superior to the version I made 10 years ago, I am surprised in some ways how much I actually liked the older version. Perhaps it was because I was just starting to get into “serious” grilling and this recipe was definitely new and exotic for me. In looking back and thinking of the versions I made of this 10 years ago, the beef was well done. It was grey and didn’t have a ton of beef flavor compared to the recent version. The roast was sealed in foil so it didn’t have the great flavor of the seared bark of the new recipe. In fact the original recipe had you wrap the roast all over with bacon in order to add some flavor back in. These early Matambres had some bacon flavor, but when I eat beef I like to taste the real beef flavor, not some tacked on flavor. The recent version was rubbed and then seared via direct grilling over medium high heat. This gave it a wonderful tasty bark with a bit of a crust to it. Then it was cooked to medium rare uncovered via 350 degree (177C) indirect heat. It was moist, tender and juicy with a great beefy flavor. I am guessing some of this was definite;y the cooking method and then the tight seal of the Egg resulted in far less moisture loss than a regular gas or charcoal grill. I retrospect in the first version of the recipe the beef served more as a vessel to hold the meats, cheeses and veggies. The beef flavor was not brought to the front at all due to the cooking method used. In the new version the beef flank steak was an equal flavor partner to the fillings.
The were also some other differences brought out by the two cooking methods used. The newer direct/indirect version of the recipe cooked much faster. The old foil-wrapped indirect grilled version took 2 hours to cook. The direct/indirect version took 8 minutes for the sear, then 10 minutes while the grill was switched to indirect and the temperature was reduced. The indirect cooking took an additional 45 minutes. All told just over 1 hour vs. 2 hours. When I inserted the temperature probes for my remote read thermometers after searing, the roast was already at 90 degrees (32 C) meaning it didn’t have far to go to reach 135 degrees (57 C). This faster cooking method also had some repercussions I had noticed in the prep for this recipe. The first recipe for Matambre had called for 1/4” (6 mm) strips for most of the fillings, whereas the newer recipe called for 1/8” (3 mm). The thinner strips were no doubt due to the faster cooking method. Sure enough the 1/8” carrot strips were slightly el dente, but not too much so. But a little extra prep to cut thinner strips was a small sacrifice for better end results in less time. A faster cooking method with better results, you can’t complain about that.
My approach had always been as I described above: Never revisit the same recipe twice, look for something new. What I have learned recently through acquiring more knowledge and more cookbooks is: Sometimes you can find new but different versions of old favorites. They may be both different and better than what you’ve made already. So if you are looking around for a recipe for something new and different explore your options before settling on a recipe. Additionally in my own case with the Big Green Egg, I am discovering new versions of recipes written to take advantages of the Egg and other kamado type grills. The cooking method can make all the difference in the world.
SOME RELATED LINKS:
MATAMBRE PICTURE ENTRIES:
MATAMBRE Photo Entry from 2006 version of Matambre.
MATAMBRE-BGE VERSION Photo Entry from 2016 version of Matambre.
BLOG ENTRIES RELATED TO THE TWO COOKBOOKS:
HOW TO GRILL Cookbook the first version of Matambre came from.
MORE BBQ AND GRILLING Cookbook the BGE version of Matambre I just cooked came from.
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