October 7, 2013
cornet de bœuf fumé
A few⁄some⁄many⁄most people of a certain age—mine—can look back at who influenced their early cooking experiences and point to James Beard. He was certainly a part of my cooking in the early 1970s. Long before I was aware that Julia Child was more than the weird lady on my scratchy black and white television—I bought my first color television in 1974 with money from the CIA—I had a small trade paperback book by James Beard called Hors d’Oeuvres and Canapés.
Beard wrote the book in 1940. The recipes were from his experience as a caterer to cocktail parties in Manhattan. Reading his descriptions reminded me of Nick and Nora Charles, although I don’t recall them ever eating anything but breakfast. Once the sun was past high noon, it was cocktails only. Two recipes became my standards for parties in those days before my Chinese cooking period. In one, slices of salami were folded into cornets and stuffed with an herbed cream cheese. Beard called these salami with herbs. The other was balls of ground, raw beef rolled in ground nuts. I’ve been able to find the first recipe in modern revisions of his book but not the latter. My worn paperback copy crumbled into dust many years ago.
Fold the slices of salami around your finger to form a cornucopia. Pinch the edges together well and place in the rack. If they are pressed firmly and securely, they will stick together, but a brushing of white of egg will surely hold them. Chill the cornucopias in the refrigerator for half an hour then fill them from a pastry tube … with the following:
For 15 to 18 cornucopias, one cup of cream cheese, one tablespoon each of chopped parsley and chives, one teaspoon each of fresh dill and chopped chervil, and three‑fourths teaspoon of salt.… Blend the herbs with the cream cheese and fill the pastry tube. Let the filled cornucopias set in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
… These cornucopias are delicious with champagne and with almost any kind of cocktail.
Setting Beard and his cornucopias aside for a moment, last February while I was attending a conference in New York City, I took time to visit a young butcher I know. Adam Tiberio opened Tiberio Custom Meats a few months earlier in the Lower East Side. To get to the shop, you enter a restaurant called “Sauce” and immediately turn right. The shop is small but nonetheless quite complete. On certain days you can stand on the sidewalk outside the shop and watch through the large plate‑glass window as Adam breaks down a whole carcass into cuts familiar to most customers. One of the cooked products that Adam handed me to sample that day was an eye of round that had been brined and roasted. Thinly sliced and served cold, it was amazing. I had never thought about brining beef. Adam had taken a bland, dry cut barely suitable for the grinder and turned it into something worth a special trip.
The Mexican meat market where I purchase much of what I cook periodically has beef eye of round on sale. One day in May, I brought home a 1‑kg (2.2‑lb) chunk. I prepared a simple 2% salt and 2% sugar brine according to the amounts indicated in my brine estimator
. I injected the meat and set it in the brine. The brining container was refrigerated for five days, and each day the meat was given a turn. After the last day, the meat was removed from the brine, dried thoroughly with absorbent paper, and set on a rack to dry overnight in the refrigerator. The following day, I hot‑smoked the meat over applewood at about 65 °C (150 °F) until the internal temperature rose to 55 °C (131 °F). The whole smoking process took about 10 hours.
After smoking, I chilled the meat. Somehow I managed to resist tasting it warm out of the smoker. When chilled, I sliced the cylinder of smoked meat lengthwise into two semi‑cylindrical logs. This made the meat easy to slice and the slices more manageable. I tasted one. It was not as moist as Adam’s, probably because of the long smoking process, but it was tasty.
Now, to return to at James Beard’s cornucopias: I took a few tablespoons of heavy cream and whipped it up. I flavored this with some wasabi powder and a generous amount of ao‑nori
. This mixture was then chilled for a few hours.
I completed the cornets by positioning a dab of the flavored cream in the center of a slice of meat and forming it into a cone shape. I then took a second piece of meat and wrapped it around the first. Nothing else was added. The mouthfeel of the fat in the cream more than overcame the dryness of the meat.
I can hardly wait for this cut to go on sale again.