Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Smoky Barbecued Beef Sandwiches

Raising a family of hearty carnivores on a less than hearty budget has taught me how to stretch a slab of meat into more than one meal.  Give me a chicken or a pot roast and I'll turn it into two or three (or four) entrees that will satisfy the crowd.

I made a beef roast for company last week and there was a nice amount of meat leftover. Instead of just rewarming it and eating it the same way for another dinner (there was not a drop of gravy left to enjoy a second time with the meat) I decided to make smoky barbecued beef sandwiches. I'll share the method with you and show how it can be adapted to your own tastes and budget.

Cooking to me is so much more then following a recipe. It took years of following recipes before I learned how to deviate from them and make my own recipes. Cookbooks don't usually teach you how to cook on  your own. To be a truly good and versatile cook it is important to understand basic cooking methods and what makes a recipe work. So with that philosophy, I am going to try to explain how to make this dish without worrying about exact measurements.

This smoky barbecued beef is all about the sauce. Barbecue sauce is not difficult to make and homemade is much more economical then store-bought bottled sauce. By making your own you can also avoid unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.

A good sauce starts with a flavor base. The strong horse of flavor in a meat sauce is onions. So I'll start by sauteing some sliced onions in a skillet. This is about half an onion but if you don't love them as much as we do, you can use less. Measurements are not critical and improvisation is encouraged. If I had had some sweet red peppers in my kitchen I would have also sliced and added them to cook with the onions. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to finely dice a jalapeno or two and throw them in if you love the heat. Add a little oil to the pan if necessary.

Barbeque sauce requires tomato sauce and I'm throwing in some tomato paste for an extra tomatoey punch.

Garlic is also equal with onion as a flavor base. Since garlic cooks very quickly- it only needs a minute or so- I am not adding it to the onions until the onions are nearly done cooking. Then to add the smoky, peppery flavor I want on these sandwiches, I am adding one or two chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

I got this nifty cutting board from a friend who visited Alaska this year. It is perfect for keeping the messy peppers in one place when I chop them.

It doesn't take much of this to add heat to the sauce so if you use it start with a little and taste test the sauce until it's to your liking. If you don't want the smoky peppery flavor in your sauce, leave them out completely and the sauce will be more like classic barbecue.

When the onions have cooked over medium high heat until soft and slightly browned, it is time to add the garlic for a short saute. One or two minutes is sufficient. Add as much or as little garlic as you like. I used two cloves.

Then it's time to add the can of tomato sauce and a spoonful of tomato paste. Tomato paste is very concentrated. It adds a lot of flavor to canned tomato sauce but since it is so strong it isn't necessary to use much.

This established the base for the sauce. Now it is time to add seasonings. For a classic, tangy barbecue sauce we need vinegar. I prefer apple cider vinegar but white vinegar would work also. Again, improvisation is encouraged.

 To counter-balance the acidity of the vinegar and to give the sauce the sweet and sour flavor some brown sugar is added. This is a good time to begin taste testing to get a balance of the sweet and sour. Even amounts of the vinegar and sugar is a good place to start. I used about 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of sugar. These amounts can be altered.
Then more seasoning rounds out the flavors. Salt and pepper (a teaspoon or so), dried mustard, chili powder, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder or red pepper flakes would all be possible seasonings for barbecue sauce. This is where the taste preferences (hot and spicy or garlicy or sweet and tangy) make the decisions.

Taste testing is important in finding the balance of flavors but then it is necessary to let the sauce simmer slowly for at least a half an hour. This will help all those separate ingredients meld and blend together and mellow into a coherent sauce.

Here is the chunk of meat I used for sandwiches. Lean rump roast remainders that look dry and unappetizing.
There is probably a pound and a half of beef here. This dish could be made with cooked pork roast, elk, venison, ground meat (beef or turkey) or shredded chicken.

I thinly sliced the leftover roast and added it to the sauce.

I let the meat cook and simmer in the sauce for an half an hour until the meat had absorbed the sauce and was tender, moist and falling apart. This could also all be assembled in a crock pot and left on a low heat for hours.

Serve on big onion rolls, burger buns or like this- with toasted garlic bread.
I'd love to hear what you like to add to your barbecue sauce. There are so many flavor options; it's great to get new ideas.

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