Fire In The Fog 06/10/99
Thursday, June 10, 1999
Sure. They swore to us, back in eighth grade, that our axis was guaranteed to tilt itself toward the sun this time of year. But it''s a hollow sort of meteorological affirmation when you can''t see the Weber grill in the backyard because of the fog bomb that daily detonates over your house. Nonetheless, believe it or not, barbecue season has arrived.
To equip you for your alfresco, flame-fired kitchen annex, first be armed with knowledge. While recently trying to re- position some white-hot coals that were threatening to turn my prized slabs of marinated beef into carbon chips, I was struck dumb. I suddenly realized that I had no idea what tri-tip truly was. Dutiful research was in order. But, although Central California may be the tri-tip capital of the universe, all you''ll get from your party guests is speculation and questions.
"Tri-tip is a small, triangular-shaped cut of beef that''s connected to the top sirloin," recited Nettie Chua on a consultation call to Luce Carmel Meats. "It''s also known as the bottom sirloin butt," she reports, "and back east and other places, they sometimes call it culotte steak."
Whatever the vernacular, it''s exceptionally good on the grill. The only pill in the jam is if you miscalculate your slicing axis, your slicing hand obscured by the fog, and fail to follow the curve of the meat. Slicing against the grain, instead of with it, is guaranteed to replace adjectives like "tender" and "mouth-watering" with nouns like "shoe leather" and "Heimlich maneuver." With tri-tip, you slice across the length of the roast, changing the angle of the knife accordingly. And if you''re not sure, it''s best to do a couple of thin sample slices until you find the open-textured grain of the meat, as opposed to closed-textured and striated.
More advice for your barbecue edification. Executive chef of Rio Grill, Kurt DeGuzman sent me his home refresher course from the restaurant''s current newsletter, complete with a nifty dry rub recipe. He recommends purchasing a chimney-style charcoal lighter--the sheet metal kind with vents and a handle--to avoid having to use lighter fluid. "Use indirect heat for slow-cooking ribs or large pieces of meat," says Kurt. "Place a small amount of burning coals on one side of the grill and the meat on the other side. Stack slabs of ribs on top of each other, and keep rotating them, and use the lid to keep the grill covered. You''ll need to keep feeding charcoal to maintain a small fire, and this is a slow process," he warns, "so pull up a chair and crack a few beers."
Kurt Grasing, of Grasing''s in Carmel, also enjoys using tri-tip. His favorite method is to marinate the meat for two days, using lots of garlic, some olive oil, and pepper. And he favors building the coals up in the middle, with the meat on one side and just before it''s done, throwing on some fresh corn, husks removed, on the other side. "Salt the meat just before taking it off the grill," he advises.
Julio Ramirez is adamant about this often-debated rule. "I''ve found that if you salt the meat before grilling, it extracts the juices out of the meat and you''ll lose moisture and flavor," he warns. An achiote paste marinade, the kind he uses at Turtle Bay Taquerias is his favorite, mixed with juice from fresh seville oranges. Marinate first, salt last, crack a few beers, go with the grain and good luck finding the grill.