Steaming hot

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Madame Ovary

Not every day do you have the time, hunger, money or energy to cook a hundred dollar steak or to smoke a piece of meat for hours on end.

On such days, the croque madame.

The croque madame is distinguished from her spouse the croque monsieur by her wide-brimmed white and yellow hat. In other words, a croque madame is a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. The egg lifts the meal from the status of a mere snack to a complete meal, especially if you add a side of a green salad. It only contains ingredients you’re likely to have in the fridge, and it takes mere minutes to make.

Here’s how to do it if you want to do it like I do it:

Take two slices of bread. Purists say you should use pain de mie – French sliced industrial bread. I used sourdough spelt bread from Åpent bakeri the last time I made it.

Butter the bread well, on the outside. Spread some good Dijon mustard on the inside of one slice. Top with good cheese. I didn’t have any Gruyere or Comté, but I pimped my Jarlsberg with a bit of grated parmesan.

Put the other slice on top, remember to keep the buttered side out.

Fry your sandwich on both sides at medium-low heat in a frying pan until the cheese is melted and the bread is browned. Fry an egg in butter next to it if you have a large frying pan. Fry it in another pan if you don’t.

Put the croque monsieur on a plate. Perform the sex change from monsieur to madame by putting the fried egg with its protruding yellow yolk on top.

Serve with a lightly dressed green salad. A mustard vinaigrette is the thing to dress it with.

Enjoy on your couch. I like it with Mythbusters or Breaking Bad.

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When the steaks are high

It was a Monday afternoon. My phone rang.
”Are you home?” It was my brother.
”I’ll be right there, I’ve got your birthday present”.

It was six weeks since my birthday, but so what. I knew what I had in store.

My brother, unlike me, is a hard-working businessman. That means he goes on the odd business trip.  Most often to Stockholm, Sweden. And Stockholm, through Östermalms saluhall (and here I’ll make a contentious claim), is home to the world’s best beef.

The meat is called “Guldkött” or “Gold meat”, with reason. The butcher,  Willy Ohlsson, has an unusual way of treating his beef, as you can see in this film (Swedish only, but you’ll get an idea from the pictures). First, he selects the very best beef. You would think that would be from a young steer, but at Willy Ohlsson they disagree. They like to use cow meat, preferably from a cow that has had a few calves. The grain of the meat is finer, and the marbling better.

But even the best meat will turn to nothing unless it’s treated right. After selection, the Guldkött is dry aged for four weeks. After four weeks it is dipped in rendered beef fat, and aged for a further four weeks. The meat is then trimmed and a beautiful ruby jewel emerges from the rough-looking, time-ridden slab of meat. Oh, and it costs around 1,500 Swedish kroner (US$225) per kilo.

It was one of these jewels that my brother had brought me. I unwrapped it, my heart pounding, I was a five-year-old at Christmas. And there it was in my palm, resting on waxed white paper. A thick-cut rib-eye steak just shy of half a kilo. It smelled musky and meaty, but also fresh, like yoghurt. It was a blushing red, white-marbled thing of beauty. I admired it for a while. A tear came to my eye.

“Thank you”, I said and gave my brother a hug.

Later I called my friend Espen. I hadn’t seen him in a while and the Swedish mother of his child doesn’t eat meat. I thought that he deserved some carnivorous pleasure from Sweden, the country that had taken so much of it away from him.

On Wednesday evening Espen rang the door bell, bearing a bottle of wine. The steak had been on the counter for a couple of hours in preparation of grilling. I had planned a simple meal. Grilled steak, a baked potato, an undressed green salad, Maldon sea salt. Nothing was going to get in the way of the meat.

I heated my cast-iron grill pan until it was smoking hot and grilled the meat quickly on each side.

When the steak was seared, I put it in the oven at 175°C, with a digital thermometer set at 50°C. When the thermometer beeped, I took out the meat and rested it for ten minutes, loosely covered in foil.

I cut the steak across the grain. It was perfectly cooked. Golden brown and caramelized, almost crispy on the outside. A deep, juicy red on the inside.

We ate.


It was truffles, it was butter, it was Roquefort, it was foie gras. It was tender, but not without substance. It was heady, but not overpowering.

It was Guldkött.

We drank some wine. And some more. When the wine bottle was gone, we moved on to aquavit, listened to record after record and behaved as if we weren’t both parents of toddlers, as if we didn’t both have to get up at five thirty the next morning.

But we did. Oh boy did we have to.

Edit: My brother informed that me he is 50% nicer than I thought. The actual price was 1,500 kroners/kg, not 1,000. This has been corrected.

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How I started smoking

This post is a recycled and slightly edited version of this one at The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.

AaahI live in Oslo, Norway and just bought a Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker, something of which I’ve dreamt a long, long time. A WSM allows you to make real barbecue, meat smoked for a long time at a low temperature, as opposed to grilling, which is done for a short time at a high temperature.

Norway is not a barbecueing nation, and my knowledge of real barbecue has until now been mostly theoretical. My only encounters with the stuff have been at Bodeans in London, which I thought was heavenly, but I have had nothing to compare it with.

Because I’ve lived in an apartment block with no grilling allowed, my dream of owning a WSM was long put on hold. Until this autumn that is, when we gained access to a nice little place in the country, one hour’s drive from the city.

And so I ordered and received a 22 WSM in a big, big box last week. With great apprehension I fired up my new-bought love for the first time on Saturday, having read nearly every word on the Virtual Weber Bulletin Board over the last couple of weeks.

I decided to start off with spare ribs. There is no culture for barbecue in Norway, and spare ribs are not easy to get hold of. On Tuesday, therefore, with plenty of time before the weekend, I decided to call the only remaining butcher’s shop in Oslo, Strøm-Larsen (founded in 1906), to inquire.

I’d seen baby back ribs there before, but  I wanted to try to cook the more meaty spare ribs.

I attempted to explain what I was after.
“I want the ribs that you get when you remove most of the meat from the belly.”
“Oh – do you mean tiger ribs?”
“Tiger ribs?”
“Yeah, tiger ribs!”

I’d never heard of tiger ribs, but decided to trust him. He sounded both convinced and convincing. I ordered four racks.

On Friday I went to pick them up.
“Okay, 13.2 kilos (29.1 lbs). That’ll be 1,980 kroners, please,” said the young blonde in the butcher’s apron, struggling to lift a huge see-through plastic bag chock-full of meat over to my side of the counter.

1,980 kroners. That’s $341.20.  Norway is an expensive country in which to barbecue. An expensive country in which to do anything at all.

“Er, OK. There seems to be a lot of meat on those”.

I had been given what were basically whole pork bellies with the skin and a bit of the fat removed.  Oh well, if the butcher didn’t know what spare ribs were, I could make my own. I trimmed most of the meat off, and ended up with what looked like decent ribs, if a bit on the triangular side. The rest of the meat went in the freezer, I’ll find use for it in a pending sausage-making project.

I rubbed the ribs with a modified version of Mike Mills’ Magic Dust and put them in the fridge overnight. I could hardly sleep that night. The big moment was at last drawing near!

We were planning to eat at about eight o’clock. I was unsure about how to time the cook, but decided to set up the bullet and ready it for smoking at about one. I had two 3kg bags of Weber briquettes. I used the minion method, ¾ of a chimney lit coals, and the rest unlit.

I filled the water pan, assembled the beautiful shiny black piece of American engineering and waited for the needle on the lid’s thermometer to move clockwise. After about twenty minutes the temperature was where I wanted it to be (225F – barbecue is a wholly American thing, so no centigrade here).

Chunks of smoking wood are hard to come by here, but I had managed to get hold of a bag of Weber hickory chips. I made three small foil packages of unsoaked chips and carefully put one of them on top of the glowing coals.

The ribs went on.

The lid went on.

I was barbecueing!

The next couple of hours were spent tweaking the air vents. The temperature was very steady, mostly between 210F and 230F with one little jump up to 240F.

I was smoking!

After about an hour, I put in a new wood chip envelope and removed the spent one. I repeated the process an hour later.  And again after another hour.

I resisted lifting the lid and poking around for about another hour, at which time I admired the ribs for a little while before spraying them with apple juice, grabbing a photo and putting the lid back on.

At about a quarter past six, I did the tear test. The meat behaved just like I’d seen it should on Youtube. And the flavour! Perfectly smoky, sweet, deeply savory, juicy.

With nearly two hours to go until serving, I decided to foil the ribs and put them in the cooler.  I left the WSM chugging along at idle. Half an hour before we were to eat I sauced the ribs and put them back on.  I’d made a variation on the Apple City sauce in “Peace, Love and Barbecue”, the only barbecue book so far in my library of 200 cookbooks.

And here’s the result:

I served the ribs with a simple cole slaw with apples and onions, and beans cooked from scratch. My recipe includes onions, garlic, big chunks of bacon, tomatos, chipotle, molasses, a dash of coffee, Spanish smoked paprika, and a teaspoon or two of my dry rub.

And the smoke ring!

The funny thing is that the whole process – putting the rub together, cooking the sauce, trimming the ribs, rubbing them, waiting, lighting the coals, smelling the smoke, waiting again, fine-tuning the temperature, mopping the ribs, logging the progress, waiting some more – in ever-increasing trepidation, trembling in fear and hope – the whole process is so fulfilling that you hardly need to eat the meat when it’s done.

But then again, it sure tastes good.

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Fattus norvegicus has boarded the ship

This here’s my blog. I will blog about food, which I enjoy cooking, eating, talking about and sometimes taking pictures of.

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