Texas Barbecue Civil Rights Heritage Tour Day 6: Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas

At the back of my mind, my goal to explore Texas and southern barbecue has always felt a little like a farewell tour. It’s not that I planned to gorge on meat to make myself sick of it. Instead, I wanted one last tryst before meat and I decide to end our love affair. The health reasons are obvious; the ethical ones are entering my blood stream like a slow-acting virus. I don’t think I’ll become a constant vegetarian or vegan, but I have been eating less and less of it to the point where I may naturally stop at some point. Why not end on a high note? is the way I look at my predicament.

Today, I hit a short, sweet high note at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. It began as an ordeal. I arrived there at 10:45, 15 mins before it opened, and found this.

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I got in line and half an hour later it looked like this:

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While I stood in line, I debated whether it was worth it. I grew more conflicted when Franklin employees came by with tubs of drinks to sell. How long a wait? I asked. Three hours, one of them said. Really?

According to my pedometer, I walked 5 miles to get there (I took a detour to visit a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the shore of Lady Bird Lake). Did I come so far to give up now?

103 degrees at noon.

I did not leave.  I stayed. It took exactly two and a half hours to progress to the door and step inside.

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It took another half hour to move from the door to the counter where I ordered. As I stood on line, I watched people eat mounds of meat. It was a little repellent.

I waited three hours and ate my order in fifteen minutes.

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A party of three were chowing down on the mound o’meat on the left. My order (below) looked positively monastic next to theirs. I could not finish the one link, the 1/4 lb pulled pork, the one turkey slice, and the 1/2 pint of slaw. Very good, but not worth the three-hour wait. However, I wolfed down the brisket. The sweet, crusty fat on the fork-tender brisket was infused with the smoke of white oak. That chunk of beef had one of the best, most memorable (I’ll never forget a roast pigeon breast in Avignon in 2008) flavors I’ve ever tasted. This, I realized, was Ur-Barbecue. Now I can hang up my samurai sword.

Actually, not yet.

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Rick Bayless’s Mexican Paella with Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo

from Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends, pp. 276-280.

I’ve been home from New Orleans for a month now. What with the rich food I ate there and the hot weather here, I haven’t much been in the mood to cook. Last night, I made up for it. Rick Bayless’s new book has a recipe for paella cooked over a wood-fire. My pyromaniac nerve twitched the moment I saw the photos in his book. I summoned six of my friends together on a weekend night and we had a feast.

However, Rick let me down a bit. I should have known better. The cooking times don’t work. Plus, I overestimated the number of mussels.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. His recipe is intended to feed 30 heartily and 120 stingily. I am going to adapt his recipe to feed 8 people with leftovers. As usual, you will benefit from my mistakes.

The paella pan: I bought an enamel-coated paella pan for 10 servings at The Spanish Table in Berkeley for a comfortable $34. A well-informed employee explained to me the differences between the various kinds of pan. The one I bought was a good quality low-maintenance pan. The enamel does not require seasoning like the carbon steel one does. I thought it worked very well. Now that I’ve used it, I am interested in finding other things to cook in it.

The rice: The man at the store said to calculate 1/3 – 1/2 cup short-grain white rice (like arborio or better yet Catalan rice) per person. I think 1/3 cup of rice per person is ample.

The plan: Organize, prep, organize. Set up a table by the fire. Carry out to it aluminum foil, a timer, tongs, a long grill spatula, salt, trivets. Prepare all the ingredients, except for the chicken, immediately after lighting the fire. I put everything in separate storage containers until I was ready to work at the fire.

The fire: You need a base on which to place the paella pan. If you don’t have a base like this, go buy a bunch of fire bricks — enough to stack them in a circle four or five bricks high with airholes between them. You’ll build your fire within the circle. I know, I know: this is a commitment.

Here we go…

8 chicken thighs

3 – 4 cups chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled

Salt

1 – 2 lbs ripe tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice (preferably fire-roasted)

1 large fresh poblano

1 large red bell pepper

1 large white onion, chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups short-grain white rice

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled (leaving the tail and final joint intact, if you wish) and deveined

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, any “beards” pulled off

2 cups peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup silver tequila (optional)

Heat the oven to 375. Put the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and roast until mostly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and put on the prep table outside by the fire.

At the end of the 30 mins, go out and start the fire. Make it a good one. Then go inside immediately and get the following chopping done as soon as you can.

Put the broth with crumbled saffron threads in a saucepan and heat until warm. Turn the heat off or keep on lowest flame. You’ll bring this outside to the prep table when the other ingredients have been cleaned and chopped.

Set oven rack 6 inches from the broiler flame. Heat the broiler. Put the tomatoes, poblano chile, and red bell pepper on the baking sheet and broil, turning once, until they are charred on all sides. Remove from oven, put the peppers in a bag while you peel and chop the tomatoes. When you’ve chopped the tomatoes and put them in a container that you’ll take outside, peel and cut up the peppers. Add the cut-up peppers to the tomatoes.

Chop the onion and garlic and place in container that you’ll take out to the fire. Chop parsley and store separately.

Either sausages into 1/2-inch discs or break up into pieces. Put in a container to take outside.

Measure out the olive oil and the rice.

Clean the mussels, ripping or snipping off the gross little bits that hang outside the shell. Store in container with the shrimp, which should be peeled and deveined already.

Now you’re ready to put it all together. Get everything outside on a table within easy reach of the paella pan on the fire. Make sure the fire is hot and that you’ve got wood nearby to keep it hot. The way to adjust the heat is to use a poker to remove a log out from under the pan.

Place the pan on the fire and pour in olive oil. Tilt pan to let the oil cover the entire surface of the pan. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down, salt the chicken, and let saute for about 10 mins each side. Remove and put back in the container they were in.

If there is still sufficient oil, don’t bother adding more. Add onions, garlic, and chorizo to the pan. Stir to make sure all of it will cook. In about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and the peppers. Stir and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, about 7-8 minutes.

Pour in the rice, stir up, and keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice has absorbed the oil and has become translucent, add most of the broth. Save some just in case it needs more moisture as it cooks. Stir thoroughly, assess the fire under the pan. And then don’t touch the rice for about 15 minutes. Adjust the fire, if need be. When the rice is almost soft, with still a little bite, quickly put the chicken, mussels, shrimp and peas in the rice. Bury the shrimp and mussels in the rice as close to the bottom as possible. If they sit on top, they won’t cook.

Cover the pan with foil to trap the steam. Remove the big logs underneath, but leave small pieces and embers. Push the burning pieces of wood and embers together so they form a hill. You want the pan to feel the heat but not enough to burn the rice. Let the rice stand covered in foil for 15 minutes. Test the rice and check whether the shrimp are cooked and the mussel shells open. If not, put one of the smoldering logs back under the pan for another few minutes. When the contents of the pan are cooked, you may sprinkle on the tequila.

Get the pan to the table and tell your starving guests sit and eat.

Then again, you could try all this with a small enamel paella pan on a gas grill. I may do that next time.

Najmieh Batmanglij: Barberry Rice (Zereshk polow)

from New Food of Life, pp. 170-171.

In the early 80s, I shared a house in San Francisco with friends, two of whom were Iranian. One of those Iranians, a gentle man name Hamid, cooked traditional Persian dishes  most of the time. I count my time in that house as one of the most formative culinary experiences of my life. Persian cooking remains very high on my list of favorite cuisines. From the crunchy rice called tah-dig to gormen sabzi to this dish, I love the fragrant complexity of Persian spicing — cinnamon, cardomon, ginger, cloves, cumin, dried roseflower, mint, and saffron.

Imagine my joy when I discovered Mediterranean Market here in Sacramento. Never have I lived in close proximity to this halal store that has yet to let me down when I need an ingredient for the Persian, Greek, and Middle Eastern food I cook. Now I buy tins of Ceylon, Darjeeling, and Early Grey tea there as good as any I can find in London and far cheaper than I pay for tea at Peet’s. This is the only place in town, as far as I know, that sells barberries. They keep them in the refrigerated section.

To feed my friends, I decide to make my favorite Persian dish, Zereshk pollo. The tart red barberries look like rubies cast among the golden saffron rice. Delicious. I also made a Yotam Ottolenghi caponata, which was delicious. You’ll find it here.

I made a significant change in the Barberry rice and chicken recipe. Instead of roasting a whole chicken, I used the Gourmet Cookbook’s excellent Flawless Grill Chicken — essentially, you brine, grill, and then toss chicken thighs with a vinaigrette made with the spice in the rice. I think it worked pretty well.

Timing is everything…

Makes 6 servings; preparation time: 40 minutes; cooking time: 2 hours, 5 mins.

3 cups long-grain basmati rice

1 frying chicken, about 3 pounds, or 2 Cornish game hens

Shadowcook: Or an equal amount of chicken thighs. Make a brine of 8 quarts water, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup kosher salt early in the morning; let it cool. Six hours before grilling, brine the chicken pieces. Pat dry before grilling.

2 peeled onions, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced

Shadowcook: Or just one, if you’re grilling already cut up pieces.

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

2 cups dried barberries (zereshhk), cleaned, washed, and drained

2/3 cup clarified butter (ghee) or oil

Shadowcook: Oh, the only way to go is ghee!

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 teaspoon Persian spice mix (rice advieh) or 1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

Shadowcook: I felt sheepish asking for advieh at Mediterranean Market. It turns out that advieh means “spice mix,” so asking for it won’t get you very far. Look for packaged rice seasoning and then look at the ingredients. You want to see a combination of cinnamon, cumin, cardamon, ginger, cloves, and dried rose bud flowers.

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

2 tablespoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water.

2. Place the whole chicken in a baking dish. Stuff the bird with one of the whole onions, the garlic, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon saffron water. Cover and bake in a 350 oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

3. Clean the barberries by removing their stems and placing the berries in a colander. Place colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.

Shadowcook: Don’t skip this part. Sand does indeed settle to the bottom of the bowl.

4. Sauté 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons butter, add barberries and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tablespoons sugar, mix well, and set aside.

Shadowcook: The above is what I called Under-instruction. Give yourself time to sauté the onion. You are caramelizing the thinly sliced onion, but so to the point of greatly diminishing the amount of onion. The sweeter and more caramelized you get the onion, the best the contrast with the tart barberries.

5. Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains; if the rice feels soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.

6. In the same pot heat 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons water.

7. In a bowl, mix 2 spatulas of rice, the yogurt, and a few drops of saffron water and spread the mixture over the bottom of the pot to form a tender crust (tah-dig).

8. Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot, then sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon Persian spice-mix or cumin over the rice. Repeat these steps, arranging the rice in the shape of a pyramid. This shape allows for the rice to expand and enlarge. Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat.

9. Mix the remaining melted butter and saffron water with 1/4 cup of water and pour over the pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or paper towel over the pot; cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over low heat.

Shadowcook: You know have 50 minutes to pat dry the chicken pieces and prepare your grill. If you’re using charcoal, as I did, you should already have started a chimney of briquettes. Let the fire die down to medium-hot before putting the pieces on the grill.

10. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool, covered, for 5 minutes on a damp surface to free crust from the bottom of the pot.

11. Remove lid and take out 2 tablespoons of saffron-flavored rice and set aside for use as a garnish.

12. Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with the saffron-flavored rice, some of the barberry mixture, and almonds and pistachios.

Note: You may place the barberries in the rice and steam them together but the color of the barberies will not be as red as when you layer them with the rice at the last minute.

Shadowcook: Absolutely right. Visually, the red barberries are very pretty.