Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis

It was mid-November and there was just a taste of winter in the air when I left Nashville. Travelling southwards towards Jackson, I pulled into Memphis with bbq on my mind. As fate seemed to dictate, I was once again out of luck with Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous by virtue of their refusal to open for Monday lunch. Hoping to console myself with equally well-smoked pork, I pulled up the directions for Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Avenue.

Why did I choose the Bar-B-Q Shop? The long answer, as you might expect, is that the name makes a consistent appearance in any Memphis bbq discussion. The short answer is that on my restaurant list for Memphis, Bar-B-Q Shop was the first one I hadn’t already tried. That out of the way, I took advantage of store front street parking and stepped into the burgundy colored rooms of the Bar-B-Q Shop.

Once my order had been placed, the first thing out the door was a bbq beef bologna sandwich.
As numerous bloggers have commented before me, the lightly browned Texas toast is a unique feature of Bar-B-Q Shop.
Between the Texas toast slices was a hearty slice of crispy edged bologna with plenty of cole slaw and bbq sauce for toppings.
The best feature of this bologna sandwich, by far, was the combination of textures; from the silky emulsified interior of the bologna to the pepper laced and chunky crunch of the cole slaw, the sandwich was brought full circle with the mustard and vinegar twang of bbq sauce on top.

I was barely two bites into the first half of my bologna sandwich when the star of the lunch hour arrived, the Bar-B-Q Shop special.
A small mountain of meat, the half wet, half dry portion of ribs in the middle was flanked by chopped pork on one side and brisket on the other.
Starting with the chopped pork, this was a welcome portion of well smoked and still juicy chopped shoulder.
There was the odd dry piece scattered in the pile, but drizzle of bbq sauce on top covered any faults and complimented the smoky richness of the pork quite well.

The brisket was a separate story. It’s been a few months since I ordered this plate and I can’t quite remember why I chose bbq brisket as one of the plate components. I can only say that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Finely chopped, overdone, and with a dry texture, this brisket was poor on its own but it went downhill when mixed with the bbq sauce. Eerily reminiscent of ketchup, this bbq sauce and brisket combination is one best left untouched.

With the chopped pork and brisket tried, it was time to move along to the ribs, starting with the wet ribs.
Two ribs dry rub and two ribs wet with sauce, just enough to get a taste of the two styles.
It took a nice tug before the ribs pulled apart but the effort was rewarded with a well-formed smoke ring. Texture wise these ribs were a little overdone but still had a silkiness that made me wish I had gone for a rack of ribs instead of the combo platter. When it came to the sauce, the thick tomato sauce seemed to do more to hamper the ribs’ flavor than help them.
Finished with the two wet ribs, the dry ribs, from a little farther down the rack, were a bit more fall of the bone tender.
Another dose of smokiness and that hard earned smoke ring worked beautifully with the salty and sweet dry rub. Pleasantly reminiscent of the bottom of a bag of bbq chips, the captivating flavors of the dry rub made it clear which part of this four component platter reigned supreme.

Hoping to take full advantage of my relatively rare trips to Memphis, there was one last part of this meal, an order of bbq spaghetti.
After trying it several times before, I’ve never been completely sold on the idea of bbq spaghetti and this example didn’t make a very good pitch.
Essentially a bowl of completely overcooked noodles, a fair amount of chopped pork, some sauce, and enough grease to start a fire, this was an oily and generally unpleasant end to the meal.

With my leftovers packed in Styrofoam and my bill paid, I had at least three hours ahead of me, plenty of time to reflect on what Bar-B-Shop had to offer. However, before I walked out the door, I knew one thing was far certain, the brisket and bbq spaghetti were the glaring exceptions to an otherwise immensely satisfying bbq lunch. With the brisket, these bad experiences happen far too often but I keep hoping I’ll find quality bbq brisket outside of Texas. As for the spaghetti, this is the third version I’ve tried and I still can’t see the appeal to a bowl of limp noodles, grease, and a few pork pieces for consolation. Outside of those two letdowns, Bar-B-Shop puts out a fine bologna sandwich and dry rub ribs that are worth a second visit if not a third as well. While I may not get to Memphis terribly often, until the planets align and I’m there when Rendezvous is open, Bar-B-Q Shop will be a serious contender for a rib-centric bbq lunch.

Bar-B-Q Shop Address & Information
Bar-B-Q Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cooking the Book - The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups - Hungarian Goulash

For reasons quite unknown to me, I have a great affinity for cooking seasonal foods very much out of season. The glowing July sun can be roasting every one of us poor Mississippians and I will inevitably decide that it’s a good night for stick to your ribs beef stew or that everyone needs to break a sweat leaning over the steaming nabe for a shabu shabu feast. I like to imagine that it’s wishful thinking and by preparing wintery foods that the heat will soon disappear and a bone chilling wind will takes its place. Fortunately, when it comes to summer foods in winter my good sense typically prevails as there are few things as insipid as a winter tomato. However, with February drawing to a close and one last good week of tweedy weather in the forecast, I decided that it was time to cook seasonally for a change and began looking for soups and stews.

Although my bookshelves are beginning to groan under the weight of my cookbook collection, I don’t have many books that are dedicated to soups. While there are soup recipes dotting many tables of contents, I haven’t had that much success in finding truly satisfactory soup cookbooks. David Ansel’s The Soup Peddler’s Slow & Difficult Soups is a potential exception. After finding the title in an old Chowhound thread, I bought a copy and have enjoyed pretty favorable responses to his recipe for Chao Tom but for this weekend, I skipped the shrimp and fish sauce and went straight for the Hungarian Goulash.

While combing the pantry and spice drawers for the necessary ingredients, I couldn’t remember ever eating goulash, or at the very least one with a distinct caraway seed flavor. Mulling that over, it didn’t take long to prepare the mise-en-place and soon I was ready to begin.

-1 ½ pounds chuck cut into 1 inch cubes (Ansel calls for stew meat but I try to stay away from mystery meat packages)
-1/4 cup ap flour
-3 tbs vegetable oil
-3 tbs sweet paprika
-2 onions sliced lengthwise into quarter moons
-3 tsp dried marjoram
-8 cups water
-6 oz can tomato paste
-3 potatoes diced
-1 ½ tsp caraway seed
-egg noodles for serving

Fortunate for timing and unfortunate for pictures, I took Ansel’s advice and used a pressure cooker for this recipe. That aside, it’s a fairly straightforward recipe.

1. Coat the beef in the flour, heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the beef for roughly 10 minutes
2. Scrape the fond to ensure that it doesn’t burn and then sprinkle the paprika over the meat. Sauté the meat and paprika for roughly five minutes and be sure to add extra oil if the meat begins to stick.
3. Add the onions, two teaspoons of marjoram, stir and add water to cover.
4. Stir in the tomato paste. I found this more difficult than it should have been. My advice is to fill a small bowl with the goulash liquid, add the tomato paste, and stir until dissolved. Without that step, I spent far too long making sure the tomato paste was incorporated and not forming a clump at the bottom of the pot.
5. At this point you can either bring things to a simmer, cover and simmer for an hour or do what I did and put the pressure cooker lid on, bring to pressure and have a drink for the next 20-25 minutes.
6. Release the pressure completely, remove the lid, add the potatoes, remaining marjoram, caraway and the rest of the water. Bring everything to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife.
7. Season to taste with salt, simmer and serve over egg noodles.

Just how did this first batch of goulash turn out?
The answer is a little spicier than I expected.
Scrounging through my spices, I found that I didn’t have enough sweet paprika to cover the recipe requirements. Not wanting to miss the chili flavor, I used Spanish smoked to fill out the three tablespoons. That decision made a very forward flavor that went straight to my nose.

Although I enjoyed the tender beef, paprika spice, and the unmistakable flavor of caraway, I was surprised at the watery consistency of the stew. While I would have preferred a thicker result, it was still a peppery and meaty remedy for the February cold. As for Ansel’s book, the stories of his Austin neighborhood alone make the book worth buying but I’m not 100% satisfied with his recipes so far. However with only goulash and chao tom under my belt, I still have more than 30 slow and difficult recipes to go. I’ll need to try a few more before this can become my go to soup book

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

PM - Nashville

Nighttime in Nashville and I was craving something salty. Not the saltiness of a paper-thin slice of well cured prosciutto and not the coarse salinity of a glistening pretzel; I was the mood for the flavor of soy sauce. Sadly, I’m still finding my bearings as far as Nashville Asian cuisines are concerned so when I had arrived in town with time to kill, I decided to see what was near the Gulch. Looking through a few apps, I was buoyed to see a Korean restaurant only a few hundred yards away. Unfortunately, despite the hours listed online, Manna was not open that Sunday. It wasn’t until a few hours later, when my accommodations for the night were secure, that I decided to see what an Arnold Myint restaurant, PM, had to offer.

It’s been years since I last set foot into a Chinese buffet restaurant but I still have vivid memories of the crab rangoons and how I always made an effort to avoid them. That in mind, I decided that a lump crab wonton sounded much more appealing than the greasy buffet staple.
Even with the thick, eggroll wrapper these wontons were crispy and not at all greasy.
Inside the mixture of crab and cream cheese was astounding, mainly for the fact that I could see and taste the crab. While still far from my favorite in American Chinese cuisine, this was one of the best crab and cream cheese wontons I’ve ever encountered.

Even though it was the cheapest option in the shared plate section of the PM menu, I was disappointed to see just one char sui bao inside the steamer tray.
One big pork bun is a little hard to share as well.
Inside the thick and doughy bun was a fair amount of five spice fragrant and relatively lean bbq pork.

Hoping to continue with the well fried texture of the wontons, an order of Peking duck spring rolls was next.
Fresh from the fryer, these spring rolls were layer after layer of crispy wrapper.
Beneath the crunch was a welcome medley of carrots, cabbage, glass noodles, and a fair amount of roast duck.  Much like the crab wontons, this was a well cooked and nicely seasoned version of the buffet spring rolls from my youth.

Unfortunately what good will had been fostered by the small plates was dashed to bits by the arrival of the sushi.
With the crunchy shrimp roll, what would have been a decent filling of shrimp and tempura crisps was completely overshadowed by a wrapping of gummy and frankly terrible sushi rice.
It didn’t matter how much mayo and chili sauce was piled onto this spicy tuna roll, insipid tuna and bad rice ruled the day.

With a maki roll, there is at least the chance that subpar rice can hide behind an abundance of fillings and toppings but there’s no real room to hide with nigiri.
In the case of the eel and bean curd, things were doomed from the start.

Despite leaving the sushi mostly untouched, things at PM did not end on a dour note. Harking back to my disappointment at Manna being closed, I decided to console myself with the seafood bi bim bop.
In addition to the usual assortment of soy bean sprouts, kimchi, and fried egg, there was a sizeable amount of well cooked mussels, shrimp, and squid.
It took a little compromising but we even managed to share this sizeable rice bowl.
Everything mixed, it was just a matter of enjoying the pungent kimchee, seafood, and rice. I did ask for a little more gochujang but that only drew a blank face from our waitress. Instead of the sweet chili paste, I was brought a bottle of sriracha, not a bad substitute but not what I was really hoping for.

Having arrived at PM in search of soy sauce based salinity, I found solace in a well sorted bi bim bop. Along the way, there were a few satisfying if a bit homely shared plates that rounded out the dining experience. While the less said about the bottom of the barrel sushi the better, it serves as an example of where you should and where you should not eat sushi. With something as ingredient and technique driven as sushi, it should be the focus of the restaurant, not just a page to round out the menu. In the end, if I’m craving gochujang and cream cheese wontons the next time I’m in Nashville, I’ll have to keep PM in mind, but the search for good Nashville sushi will continue.

PM Address & Information
PM on Urbanspoon