Mike’s South Texas Carne Guisada


This is a variation on a regional favorite which combines authentic Mexican and South Texas cooking. You may look at the ingredients and preparation method and assume that it is the same as chili, but the rich gravy in this stew really sets it apart. There is also far less chili powder and heat. A note on the chili powder used here: my signature ancho and Hatch red ground chili are staples in my kitchen. The ancho is mild and adds so much to the earthy aroma, while the pure Hatch chili is an irreplaceable spice in Southwest cooking, including the base for authentic enchilada sauce. Be sure to source pure Hatch chili not cut with other fillers — it can be purchased in both mild and hot form. Links are provided for your convenience in the sidebar. It is expensive but you get what you pay for regarding quality.

This is a fantastic dish served with freshly-made tortillas and can even be prepared as burritos, baked with some of the sauce and lots of cheese on top. Or serve it over rice with tortilla wedges on the side for mopping up all of that decadent gravy.

Since the cut of beef is so lean, you will need the bacon fat to add a depth of flavor. 

In one recipe I’ve reviewed on YouTube, (the name of the author will not be mentioned here) the preparation of the meat completely missed its mark because it was stewed in one large batch using a Dutch oven instead of evenly browning it in a large skillet over high heat. You can’t throw two to three pounds of cubed beef in one pot and expect it to sear properly. Work in two batches and don’t crowd the skillet — the larger surface area will ensure success and fall-apart goodness. (See the photo below for reference.)

You will only need two cooking tools for this recipe; a large skillet and 5-quart dutch oven. A propane torch or gas burner will be needed to fire the poblano chili. A killer recipe that defines Tex-Mex comfort food. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds cubed sirloin or top round beef stew meat (your choice on the size of the pieces – 1” cubes are ideal)
2 tbs. rendered bacon fat or lard
1 tbs. XV olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, roasted and minced
1 large yellow Spanish onion, rough chopped
32 oz. beef stock
1 large ripe garden tomato, diced
2 dry bay leaves
2 tbs. ground ancho chili powder
1 tbs. ground pure Hatch red chili powder
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1 tsp. beef base granules
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbs. cumin seed, toasted and ground in a mortar
1 large poblano chili, fired, peeled and diced
3 tbs. flour, mixed with 1/4 cup cold water to form a slurry (thickener)

Serve With~
Corn or flour tortillas (preferably made from scratch)
Mike’s Famous Guacamole
Fresh salsa
Lime wedges
Cilantro
Mexican cotija cheese
Hot sauce

DIRECTIONS:

In a large heavy cast-iron skillet, heat the rendered bacon fat until shimmering and add the stew beef, browning in two batches over medium-high heat. Ensure the beef evenly browned as this is a critical step in adding flavor. Remove and transfer to a 5-quart cast-iron dutch oven. Keep tightly covered over low heat.

Next, add the 32 oz. beef broth and diced tomato to the dutch oven. Bring to a low simmer and keep covered. Roast the garlic cloves in a heavy small skillet for about ten minutes, turning often so the pieces don’t scorch. 

While you are roasting the garlic, chop the onion. Add 1 tbs. olive oil to the skillet and saute the onion until just soft. Remove and add to the pot. Peel and mince the garlic and add to the pot with the dry spices. Stir and keep covered at a low simmer. 

Prepare the flour/water slurry and mix in to form a gravy. Stir well to incorporate.

Braise covered for 2.5 to 3 hours on your stove top or at 325° F. in your oven.

At the last hour, fire the poblano chili until the skin is evenly blackened. Place sealed in a paper lunch bag and let it sweat for fifteen minutes. Rinse under cold water to pull off the tough outer skin. Seed, dice and add to the pot. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed.

Test the meat for tenderness. Uncover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often to reduce the gravy to your desired thickness, about twenty minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Using a slotted spoon, serve the meat with a bit of the gravy on tortillas with the taco fixings shown above.

Serves 4-6.

Culinary Compost never endorses products for profit, and has received no monetary compensation for the content of this post.

Browning the cubed beef over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron skillet will bring out the best flavor.
Firing Poblano Chilis with a Propane Torch | Culinary Compost Recipes

Mike’s Classic Italian Sub Sandwich


Mike's Italian Sub Sandwich | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my recipe for creating a quality Italian sandwich that is on par with Firehouse Subs, one of my favorite deli joints. This recipe is a perfect example of the fact that you will get out what you put into it, regarding a careful selection of ingredients. Top focus is the quality of the bread (which will outright make or break the presentation, in my humble opinion) and sourcing authentic deli meats.

I scored a loaf of fresh-baked soft French bread at my local supermarket which is known for their bakery, and the meat I purchased was from a company called Columbus Meats which included a selection of four Italian salami varieties. Of course, if you are lucky enough to have direct access to an authentic Italian deli, by all means support their business. Freshly made pesto and garden tomatoes add the finishing touch on this classic sandwich.

This is a great recipe which I hope you will enjoy.

INGREDIENTS:

1 loaf quality Italian or French bread (divide into 6-inch sections and slice each laterally in half)
1/4 cup XV olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbs. minced fresh or dry oregano
Provolone cheese (non-smoked)
Smoked Gouda cheese
Freshly-grated hard Parmesan cheese
A premium selection of Italian deli meats (Genoa, Calabrese, hot Soppressata salami)
Thinly sliced red onion
Fresh garden tomato slices
Fresh baby spinach
Fresh-ground black pepper and Kosher salt, to taste

Garnish With~
Mike’s Classic Italian Pesto
Marconi® Giardiniera
Italian salad dressing

DIRECTIONS:

Get all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a small, heavy skillet over low heat and add the minced garlic. Stir constantly for two minutes until the garlic starts to turn a straw color. Remove from the heat and stir in the oregano. This will be enough for two six-inch subs.

Cut the Italian or French bread into six-inch sections and slice each in half. Generously brush the olive oil mixture on the cut side of each piece of bread and then top each with Provolone and smoked Gouda cheese.

Turn on your oven broiler and set it to HI. Place the bread (cheese side up) on a cookie sheet and set it six inches from the broiler. Broil for no more than 1.5 to 2 minutes, watching it closely. Remove from the broiler.

Assemble both sub sandwiches by adding the deli meat and other ingredients shown according to your preference. Top with the garden pesto, a small amount of grated hard Parmesan cheese, kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper. You may also use authentic giardiniera or Italian dressing.

Makes 2 sub sandwiches.

Italian Garden Pesto | Culinary Compost Recipes

Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia


My touch put on a classic tilapia recipe. The Old Bay is essential and one of my go-to spices. Best prepared in cast-iron over medium heat.

INGREDIENTS:
4 large, fresh tilapia filets

Wet Ingredients:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
Old Bay® seasoning to taste, about 1 tsp.
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup Panko crumbs
1 cup regular unseasoned bread crumbs
1 tbs. Old Bay seasoning (yes, tablespoon – you need this much for a proper balance of spice and salt)
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Garnish With:
Lemon wedges
Tartar sauce (See recipe at bottom)

DIRECTIONS:
Allow the tilapia fillets to come up to room temperature. If they smell “fishy” you can correct it by resting them in buttermilk or milk. Market-fresh fish should never smell fishy.

Prepare the wet and dry ingredients in two separate shallow dishes, large enough for the filets.

Dip each piece of tilapia in the wet dish and then evenly coat with the breading mixture.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbs. butter or olive oil. Allow it to come up to temperature and then place the filets in the pan (do not crowd them.) Cook about 3 minutes per side until they flake and the internal temperature at the thickest part of the filet reads 130° F. Turn only once so you don’t pull the breading off. Serve with lemon and tartar sauce.

Home-Made Tartar Sauce Recipe:
Make your own tartar sauce. It’s so much better than any store brand!
1 cup mayo
2 heaping tbs. sweet pickle relish
1 heaping tsp. capers
Fresh-chopped dill, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Allow to set up in your fridge for at least one hour.

Makes just under 1-1/4 cup.

Thai Wok-Seared Pork with Lemongrass and Queen Basil


This is my version of a classic Thai dish that hits all the marks — salty, sweet, tangy, and with significant heat. The lemongrass adds a distinctive high note that should not be omitted. Any Asian grocer worth its street cred should have a well-stocked inventory including fresh lemongrass, kaffir leaves and Thai Queen basil.

Ensure that your wok is capable of generating very high heat. You’ll need it to successfully render the sear needed on the pork. I use a 14-pound cast-iron wok made by Lodge® over a high-output gas range.

An excellent recipe that easily is in my top three favorite Thai dishes. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

2 tbs. canola or peanut oil
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tbs. fish sauce (I highly recommend Red Boat® brand)
4 tbs. oyster sauce
3/4 cup pork or chicken stock
Juice of one lime
2 tsp. palm sugar – or – 1 tsp. white sugar and 1 tsp. light brown sugar
1 large stalk lemongrass, finely minced
1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Fresh Thai bird’s eye chilis, to taste (you can use a jalapeno* if your guests cannot tolerate the heat)
*Ground dry Thai chili to taste to add a bit more heat if using a jalapeno 
2 large kaffir lime leaves, very finely slivered
4 generous cups Queen (Holy) basil

2 fried eggs
Sliced fresh cucumber
Jasmine rice: see directions below

PREPARATION:

Measure and prepare all of the ingredients shown, and have ready and at hand. Thai cuisine is known for its extremely fast cooking time. While you are cooking the main ingredients, time the rice so it is done at the same time. Each should take about twenty minutes. You can save time by combining the liquid ingredients and sugar in one mixing bowl, instead of dealing with the hassle of individual bowls. Have the egg skillet heated and fry both during the last five minutes so they are hot.

Allow the ground pork to come up to room temperature.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat. When it smokes, add the cooking oil, evenly coating the surface. Add the pork and spread out to sear using a Chinese wok shovel. Allow it to sear, before turning – about three minutes. When evenly seared and no longer pink, add the lemongrass, shallot and garlic. Stir aggressively, scraping up the bottom of the wok, cooking 3-5 minutes. Add the pork or chicken stock, fish sauce, oyster sauce, lime juice and sugar. Scrape to deglaze the surface. Increase the heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the Thai chili or jalapeno and kaffir lime leaves. Reduce by half. Add the Thai Queen basil, stir until just wilted, shut off the heat on the wok and serve with the fried egg and cucumber on the side.

Serves 2.


To Prepare the Rice:

1 or 1.5 cups dry jasmine rice
Double volume of water
1 tbs. butter

Bring the water to boil in a heavy soup pot. Add the butter and rice and stir well. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to an absolute minimum. Simmer gently for twenty minutes. Fluff and serve.

Culinary Compost never endorses products for profit, and has received no monetary compensation for the content of this post.

Classic Mexican Beef Barbacoa Tacos


This is a legendary recipe with roots going back to colonial Mexico, heavily influenced by the regional cuisine of the Caribbean and West Indies indigenous Taíno (Arawak) islanders who traditionally cooked cuts of meat over hot coals in a pit covered with maguey leaves. This method of cooking is also very similar to the preparation of the classic Cochinita Pibil from Yucatan Mexico. It is more ethnically-influenced by the islander culture than anything from post-Columbian Spain. The word Barbacoa has morphed into the term and cooking method Barbeque (BBQ) in the United States.

In this recipe, we will braise the meat until it is super-tender. I have made only a few adjustments using the spice profiles in my signature Southwest dishes (the use of ground coriander, toasted garlic, shallot and fired diced Poblano chilies.) The Mexican distinction of Barbacoa versus other beef taco recipes is the use of apple cider vinegar and whole cloves, which in my opinion gives it a subtle, unique flavor profile that is unmatched.

The cider vinegar will break down the grain and fat content in the chuck roast, lending an unbeatable, succulent texture. An authentic, historical dish. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

2.5 – 3 lbs. beef chuck roast, well marbled, cut evenly into six pieces
4 tbs. XV olive oil (reserve 1 tbs. for sautéing the shallot)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
4 bay leaves

For the Sauce:
1/2 small can (7.5 oz.) San Marcos® chipotle chilies en adobo, to taste
6 cloves garlic, toasted and peeled
4-6 whole dried cloves
1.5 cups beef broth
4 tbs. cider vinegar
1 large poblano chili, fired, skinned and seeded – chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt, to taste
2 tbs. cumin seed, toasted and ground in a mortar
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper

Garnish With:
• Diced red or white onion
• Chopped cilantro
• Sliced cherry tomatoes
• Sliced radish
• Lime wedges
Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema
Mike’s Famous Guacamole, or sliced avocado
• Mexican Cotija cheese
Your choice of Salsa; this recipe pairs particularly well with salsa verde

• Street-sized or 6″ tortilla shells (if you have the time, by all means make your own using fresh corn masa and a tortilla press.)


DIRECTIONS:
Set oven to 275° F.

Cut the chuck roast evenly into six pieces. Set aside. Measure out your sauce ingredients and set aside so they are ready and at hand. In a 5 quart cast-iron Dutch oven or chicken fryer, heat 3 tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. Working in two batches, brown three of the chuck roast portions until evenly caramelized on all sides. Finish the remaining 3 portions and set aside. (Use a splatter screen so you don’t make a mess.) Reduce the heat on the pot to low and allow it to decrease in temperature. Add the remaining 1 tbs. olive oil and the sliced shallot. Sauté until softened and slightly caramelized, working up the fond from the bottom of the pot. Return the roast pieces to the pot with the four bay leaves, shut off the heat and cover tightly with the cast-iron pot lid.

Prepare the garlic by separating the six cloves from the bulb (leave the skins on) and placing them in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Toast until the skins just start to blacken. Peel and set aside. Next toast the cumin seed in the same skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often so it doesn’t burn. Toast until it turns a mahogany color and starts to smoke slightly. Remove and grind in a mortar.

Next, place all of the sauce contents including the beef stock and 1/2 can of chipotle chilies with sauce in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Pour the sauce into the Dutch oven so the roast pieces are evenly covered. Seal tightly with the cover and place in your oven. Braise for 3.5 – 4 hours until the meat easily pulls apart. Turn the pieces once during this time.

During the last hour, fire and peel the poblano chili, dice and add to the pot. Keep in mind that it will add a bit more heat to the finished dish, so I’d advise that you taste the beef and sauce before adding it. (You can always slice them and use as a garnish for those who want more heat, as shown in the photo above.)

Remove the pot from the oven and shred the meat with two forks, discarding the fat. The sauce at this point should be reduced by 2/3. You can simmer the beef on the stove top, uncovered, to further reduce the sauce if desired.

Using tongs or a slotted ladle, place the shredded beef on tortillas and garnish with the ingredients shown.

Serves 4.

Leftovers freeze well, (I highly recommend using a Food Saver® Vac-Seal bagger to prevent freezer burn) and can be used for my classic beef burritos.

Mike’s Notes:
The rendered sauce is very fatty (and salty). Drain the shredded beef well before placing on the tortillas. Several internet recipes for this dish call for up to TWO teaspoons of salt for three pounds of beef. This is way too much! Remember, the chipotles en adobo are also loaded with salt (200mg per serving.) Practice reservation — you can always correct it at the table with a little kosher salt sprinkled directly on the tacos.

I was concerned that the apple cider vinegar would damage the inside of my cast-iron pot. It did not and the remaining sauce residue wiped clean with a little cooking oil after using hot water and a plastic scrub brush. If you have a well-seasoned pot you should have no issues.

The braised chuck roast after one hour at 275° F.
Use the inverted cast-iron pot cover to hold the finished beef chuck pieces while searing the rest. Why dirty up another dish?
YIKES!! The price of beef has skyrocketed over the past eight months.

Schweineschnitzel Breaded Pork Cutlets with Gravy


This is a go-to German recipe that is very popular where I live in eastern Wisconsin. Our community is primarily German and Polish. I’m not going to take a deep dive in the history of Schnitzel due to its popularity; there are literally thousands of recipes documenting this dish on the internet. The breading technique can be used for a variety of recipes and is the basis of South Texas Chicken-Fried Steak. You’ll need a large 12-inch skillet (cast-iron works best), and a combination of butter and rendered pork fat to fry the cutlets.

The gravy recipe featured here is verbatim from a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant in my home town. A family friend (thank you T.R.) who worked there was nice enough to part with it. Her recipe was for a large volume of gravy, so I have scaled it back and made a couple adjustments. It’s very close to the original, if I do say so myself.

Take care not to scorch the breading. The cutlets, when pounded flat, will cook quickly so watch them closely. A classic Wisconsin favorite — Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

6-8 boneless pork loin cutlets, trimmed of fat (Look for ones that are no more than 1/2″ thick)
Adolf’s® meat tenderizer
2 tbs. rendered bacon fat
2 tbs. butter
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup flour*
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. coarse-ground black pepper
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

For the Gravy:
1/2 stick salted butter
*2 heaping tbs. flour (reserved from the dredge noted above)
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. ground celery seed
2 tsp. pork boullion
1/2 tsp. granulated onion
1.5 tbs. Kitchen Bouquet®
2 cups boiling water (use more if needed)
Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat your oven to 200° F.
Trim the pork cutlets of fat and pound flat with a meat mallet. (Use a sheet of Saran Wrap or butcher paper to cover them so you don’t make a mess.) Ideally, they should be about 3/8″ thick. Generously sprinkle each side of the cutlets with meat tenderizer and set aside.

Prepare three shallow dishes with the following separate ingredients:
1. Flour, salt and black pepper
2. Three beaten eggs
3. Bread crumbs

Place the cutlets in the flour mixture, then the eggs, and finally evenly coat with the bread crumbs. Preheat your skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbs. butter and 2 tbs. rendered bacon fat. Cook the cutlets about three minutes per side, turning once until the coating is a deep golden brown. This will ensure your gravy has a lot of flavor. DO NOT crowd the pan. You will need to cook these 3 or 4 at a time depending on the size of your skillet. Remove and place on a wire baking rack in your oven. Add more butter and bacon fat if necessary for frying.

Next, prepare the gravy by reducing the heat on your skillet to low. Add the 1/2 stick of butter and allow it to melt, scraping up the fond from the bottom with a spatula. Add the reserved flour and stir constantly to form a roux, about 5-7 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and 2 cups boiling water, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to a simmer and add the Kitchen Bouquet®. Stir and reduce to thicken. Correct the seasoning if needed with salt.

Serve the cutlets immediately with the gravy and mashed or baked potatoes. Traditionally, this dish is served with lemon slices and fresh cucumber salad.

Serves 4

Note: Baked potatoes should be prepared before frying the schnitzel. Scrub each in cold water, leaving the skins on, pierce with a fork and bake at 400° F. unwrapped for 1.5 hours on the center oven rack. Drop the heat to 200° before you put the pork cutlets in the oven.


Tuscan Garlic Chicken with Spinach, Rosemary and Sun-Dried Tomatoes


This is a recipe that I have heavily modified, based on several I’ve reviewed online. The cream sauce is based on the regional cuisine from Tuscany, Italy. In my version, I have taken the time to create an amazing marinade featuring authentic Italian herbs, garlic and lemon. Don’t rush or skip this step. You can substitute fresh basil for the spinach (spinach is also prominently featured in Chicken Florentine, from the city of Florence, Tuscany.) Each work well. The sauce is decadent, made with butter, heavy cream, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan and white wine that your family will rave about. Take the time to finely-grate your own hard Parmesan cheese from a block and resist the shortcut of buying the pre-grated product. The texture of the sauce will not be the same.

A stunning meal for mid-winter nights. This recipe honestly trumps Chicken Marsala and Piccata, two of my all-time favorites. It’s that good. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

For the Chicken Marinade:
2 or 3 large boneless chicken breasts, pounded with a meat mallet and cut laterally in half
1/4 cup XV olive oil
Juice of one fresh lemon
5 cloves garlic, crushed through a press
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tbs. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

For the Chicken Dredge:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup fresh-grated hard Parmesan cheese
2 tbs. butter and 2 tbs. XV olive oil for frying, plus more as needed for each batch

For the Pan Sauce:
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 stick salted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup white wine
1 heaping tbs. flour
1 cup fresh-grated hard Parmesan cheese
1/2 of an 8 oz. jar of sun-dried tomatoes (I prefer Mezzetta® brand), drained and sliced
2 tbs. tomato paste
1/2 sprig fresh rosemary, minced (use care, rosemary is a very strong aromatic and can quickly overpower your food)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Pair with your choice of pasta. This recipe works really well with linguine.

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the chicken marinade by combining the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk to incorporate.

Pound the chicken with a meat mallet so the breasts are evenly flat and then laterally cut each breast in half. They will cook much more evenly and quicker if you follow this step. Place the chicken and marinade in a plastic Ziploc bag. Ensure the marinade has evenly coated the chicken and push the air out before you seal it. Double bag it in a second storage bag to ensure it doesn’t leak. Place in your fridge for 4-6 hours so the flavors have time to set. Rotate occasionally.

When ready to cook, ensure that the chicken has been removed from the fridge and allow it to warm up to room temperature for about 45 minutes.

Prepare a 12” cast-iron pan with cooking spray and preheat over medium. Add 2 tbs. butter and 2 tbs. olive oil and heat until shimmering. Dredge the chicken fillets in the flour and grated parmesan cheese mixture. Fry in the pan until golden brown on each side and the internal temperature reaches 165° F. You may need to do this in two steps — do not crowd the pan. Turn only once so you don’t pull the coating off. Remove the fillets and place in a covered serving dish.

Next, prepare the sauce by reducing the heat on the skillet to medium-low and deglazing the pan with the wine and 1/2 stick of butter. Scrape up any stuck-on bits from the bottom of the pan using a plastic spatula. Add the minced garlic, rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes and cook until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the flour and dry spices and stir to form a roux, 3-5 minutes. Add the heavy cream, chicken broth, tomato paste and then slowly add the Parmesan cheese while stirring constantly so it doesn’t clump. Stir until the sauce is reduced slightly. Add the chicken back to the pan. Add the spinach and cook only until the spinach just wilts. Shut off the heat and stir gently, garnishing with fresh Italian parsley. Serve immediately or cover until ready.

Serve over your choice of pasta. Leftovers hold up well.

Serves 2-4 

Wok-Fried Pork Lo Mein with Shiitake Mushrooms


Wok-Fried Pork Lo Mein with Shiitake Mushrooms | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is a recipe that i have frustratingly tried to perfect for the past two years. Invariably, every type of dried lo mein noodle brand I’ve used disintegrates as soon as it hits the intense heat of the wok. I resorted to using dried Thai wide vermicelli noodles, thinking they would hold up — but that’s not a lo mein dish. My solution, as recommended by my local Asian grocer, was to use frozen lo mein noodles. They are a game changer and are easy to prepare. Ground pork may seem utilitarian compared to cuts of beef or chicken, but the flavor profile is unmatched.

A few other tricks for a successful stir-fry: Ensure that your vegetables are patted dry and at room temperature. Moisture is the enemy of a stir-fry; leaving you with a soggy, clumpy mixture left to stew instead of properly searing. Your wok must be screaming hot to achieve that smokey, charred essence known in Chinese cooking as Wok Hei — the breath of the wok. It is what defines a really great stir-fry. If cooking indoors, ensure your kitchen is properly vented with a high-output exhaust fan. Your wok is hot enough if a drop of cold water sizzles on contact. Ensure your cut vegetable pieces are evenly-sized so they cook evenly. Finally, DO NOT overload the wok… this is the biggest mistake people make and I’ve been guilty of it many times myself. Small, quickly-fried portions work best for achieving that proper high-temperature sear.

The cast-iron wok i use is manufactured by Lodge® and weighs 14 pounds. It is an irreplaceable workhorse due to its heavy, large surface area and ability to retain and evenly disperse heat. I prefer the concave interior bottom to flat-bottomed woks — and the best part is the exterior pedestal base is flat, allowing use on a stovetop without a silly makeshift wok ring. I mostly use it on my outdoor charcoal grill over direct heat and have been floored by its performance. Many of my Asian-inspired recipes including lower-temperature curries feature this wok. Its only disadvantage, due to the heft compared to thin carbon-steel woks, is that it responds slowly to real-time temperature changes needed in preparing recipes requiring a high-heat sear and then a quick simmer for sauce reduction or braising.

The Lao Gan Ma® sauce is essential. It is hard to find locally but can be purchased on Amazon. I’m going to straight-up state that this secret weapon should be illegal in the U.S. — an amazing Umami bomb with multiple uses.

Enjoy — this is one of my go-to recipes!

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound coarse-ground pork
1/2 tsp. white pepper
3 tbs. corn starch
2 tbs. Shaoxing wine
Pinch of salt

2 heaping tbs. Lao Gan Ma® chili oil with black beans
2 tbs. peanut oil

Sauce Ingredients (combine all in a small mixing bowl):
1 tbs. dark soy sauce
2 tbs. Tamari soy sauce
2 tbs. Oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. pork boullion
1/2 cup water from the mushrooms*

*6 dried Shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups warm water for 4-6 hours (reserve the water for the sauce)
6 dried Chinese Tien Tsin chili peppers (leave whole)
5 large cloves of garlic, slivered
1 shallot, sliced
1 small head broccoli florets
1 stalk celery, cut at a bias in 1/2” slices
1/2 medium white onion, cut into wedges
1 large carrot, cut into thin planks, about 2” in length
1 green bell pepper, cut into planks at a diagonal
2 red Fresno chilies, seeded and cut into strips
2 stalks scallion, cut into 1” pieces at a bias
1 tsp. sesame oil

1/2 package Twin Marquis® frozen Lo Mein noodles (the package is 16 total ounces)

DIRECTIONS:

Cut and prep all of your vegetables and aromatics and prepare the sauce ingredients so you have them ready and at hand. Wok cooking is known for its extremely fast stir-fry time. You do not want to be a stress-head scrambling for items at the last minute.

After steeping for 4-6 hours in water, cut the mushrooms in slices and aggressively squeeze out all of the water by placing them in paper towel. Set aside 1/2 cup of the water for the sauce mixture.

Prepare your noodle pot with 2 quarts of boiling water (see below). Timing this is one of the most important steps. Add the noodles and cook for no more than five minutes, so they are ready when the stir-fry is finished.

Prepare the pork mixture by adding the white pepper, corn starch, Shaoxing wine and salt in a mixing bowl. Break up the pork and mix evenly with a fork. Allow to come up to room temperature.

Preheat your wok on medium to high heat (depending on your range’s BTU output). When it starts to smoke, add the ground pork and 2 tbs. Lao Gan Ma black bean chili sauce. Break up the pork and evenly spread around the wok so it sears, stirring occasionally. When evenly seared and no longer pink, remove and transfer to a bowl.

Next, add 2 tbs. peanut oil to the wok and scrape up any charred bits from the bottom. Add the Tien Tsin peppers and stir until fragrant — about 30 seconds — do not burn them. Add the garlic and shallot and stir to combine for no more than one minute so it doesn’t burn. Add the onion and continue to stir until slightly carmelized.

Add the rest of the vegetables and continue to stir-fry for 3-5 minutes until just crisp-tender.

Add the sauce ingredients, including the 1/2 reserved water from the mushrooms. 

Drain and stir the noodles into the wok with the seared pork to combine. 
Add the tsp. of sesame oil and stir to evenly coat.
Garnish with sliced scallion on top.

Serves: 2-4

NOTES: You can use the whole package of noodles but it’s a lot. The corn starch helps to crisp the pork while also adding a binder component as a thickener for the sauce. Sliver the garlic vs. mincing it so it doesn’t burn. Watch the amount of cooking oil you use; too much creates an unattractive presentation and also prohibits high-temperature searing. (The Lao Gan Ma black bean sauce is also oil-based.)

Culinary Compost never endorses products for profit, and has received no monetary compensation for the content of this post.

Chicken Tinga Tacos (Tinga de Pollo)


This is a classic taco recipe from the state of Puebla, Mexico, heavily influenced by Old World Spanish cuisine. It can also be served as tostadas. A few simple ingredients and straightforward preparation elevate this meal to an instant classic. Here is my take on it, featuring my tried-and-true fired poblano chilis and easy to find supermarket cherry tomatoes; a real blessing in cold winter months when you don’t have access to your garden.

If you don’t have a portable propane torch, GET ONE. They are very therapeutic — and let’s face it — in these trying times it’s just cool watching stuff combust in under two seconds flat. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

2 tbs. XV olive oil or butter
1 pound leftover shredded rotisserie chicken (Skip supermarket takeout and make it yourself!)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fired poblano chili, diced
1 or 2 chipotle chilis with 3 tbs. of the adobo sauce from the can (control the heat based on your preference)
1 10oz. package cherry tomatoes, fired with a propane torch until charred
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1 tsp. toasted cumin seed, finely ground in a mortar
1 large dry bay leaf
1/2 – 3/4 cup chicken stock 
Kosher salt to taste

Sides~

Cotija cheese, grated
Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema
Fine-chopped fresh cilantro
Diced red onion
Sliced radishes
Mike’s Famous Guacamole, or sliced avocado
Your choice of salsa (my classic recipes are feature here)
Kosher salt, to taste
Tortilla shells, preferably made from scratch using Masa Harina, fired over a burner or lightly pan-fried
Refried beans spread thin on each tortilla

PREPARATION:

If planning on serving guacamole, salsa and fresh crema, prepare and put in the fridge so those tasks are out of the way.

Rinse the cherry tomatoes under cold water and pat dry. Using a large 12” cast-iron skillet under your stove exhaust fan, char them evenly with a propane torch. Use extreme caution so you don’t start a fire. Move them around to ensure all areas are blackened. Allow to cool. Place 1/2 of the tomatoes in a food processor with the chipotles en adobe and pulse until smooth. Set aside the other half of the tomatoes. 

Next, fire the poblano chili with the torch, ensuring the skin is evenly blackened. Place the poblano in a sealed paper lunch bag for 14 minutes to allow the skin to sweat. Rinse under cold water to remove the charred skin. Dice and set aside.

In a heavy, deep skillet or chicken fryer, heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sliced onion and minced garlic and saute about five minutes until softened. Do not burn the garlic or it will taste bitter. Add the pureed tomatoes with chipotle en adobo, the remaining whole cherry tomatoes and the fired diced poblano chili. Add the dry spices and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes. After 15 minutes, add the shredded chicken and cook through (if you add it too soon it will disintegrate into fine pieces.)

Cook until most of the liquid has boiled off. Serve with a slotted spoon over charred tortillas that have been smeared with a small amount of refried beans. Add the remaining sides per your preference and serve.

Serves 4.

Mike’s Pro Tips: Chipotles are pretty damn spicy. Before committing to adding too much spice, taste a small piece to ensure your guests will be able to tolerate the heat. 2 whole chipotles and three tbs. of adobo sauce brings just the right amount of heat for my preference — everyone is different. Back off to using just one if you are not sure.

If you have a gas range you can use your stovetop burner to char the poblano, but it’s a messy affair. I’ve found much more even control using a propane torch and a heavy cast-iron pan. The gas burner is EXCELLENT however for lightly charring tortillas.

Firing Poblano Chilis with a Propane Torch | Culinary Compost Recipes

BBQ Rotisserie Chicken on a Weber Kettle Grill


For Christmas I decided to purchase a Weber rotisserie kit that fits my existing 22″ Weber kettle grill. Turns out it was a great investment. The unit, in my opinion, is overpriced at $209 but it should last a long time and has a string of solid reviews going back six years from what i saw on Amazon. The components are undoubtedly made in China, but the motor has been upgraded for better balance when turning heavier items. In addition, the heavy-gauge enameled steel support ring appears to be exactly the same quality as the kettle and lid. The components fit together well, providing a solid support for even a large whole turkey.

Followers of Culinary Compost will note my love of Beer Can Chicken, featured here. While it is in a class by itself in the BBQ world, you’ll get more even results and a crispier skin when rotating poultry on a spit over offset charcoal. Two of my standby favorite condiments for this recipe are Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce and Famous Dave’s Rib Rub. They have never failed me.

We’ll dive into this recipe by creating a proper brine for the chicken. This ensures that salt, acidity and aromatics penetrate the meat, virtually guaranteeing the juiciest chicken you’ve ever had. The chicken shown in this recipe was a 5.9-pound whole fryer purchased for seven dollars. It blows away store-bought rotisserie chicken from your supermarket.

Leftovers can be pulled from the bone and used in tacos, quesadillas or served cold on a salad. Enjoy!

BRINE INGREDIENTS:
1/3 cup Kosher salt and 1 quart filtered water
1 additional quart of cold water for tempering the brine water shown above
1 whole lemon, cut into eighths (squeeze the juice from four of the wedges to boost the citrus content in the brine)
1/4 cup roughly-chopped fresh chives
1/2 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 heaping tbs. whole peppercorns, coarsely crushed in a mortar
4 large dry bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp. dry thyme
1/2 tsp. dry Italian oregano
1/2 tsp. dry whole rosemary
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

BBQ CHICKEN INGREDIENTS and HARDWARE:
1 whole fryer chicken (your choice on size)
XV olive oil
Your choice of BBQ rub
Your choice of BBQ sauce
1 lemon, cut into sections with a plug shaped to seal each end of the body cavity
Butcher’s twine
Aluminum foil drip pan for the grill
Real hardwood charcoal

You will also need an accurate instant-read digital thermometer

DIRECTIONS:
Ensure the chicken is thawed fully and the body cavity rinsed in cold water. Remove any giblets from the body cavity. Wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to combine with the chilled brine ingredients.

Bring 1 quart filtered water to a boil in a soup pot. Add 1/3 cup Kosher salt and stir to dissolve, about three minutes. Shut off the heat. Temper the brine water with 1 quart cold water, mix well and chill. Once chilled, add the bird and aromatics. Stir to incorporate, cover and chill 8 to 12 hours, turning occasionally. Do not exceed 24 hours for the bath or the bird will be too salty.

About an hour before you are ready to grill, remove the bird from the brine bath and rinse off any aromatics stuck to the skin. Pat dry. Add the remaining cut lemon inside the cavity and use two pieces shaped to seal the neck and butt opening.

Place the bird in a large clean roasting pan and carefully truss the drumsticks and wings using butcher’s twine. It helps if you wet the twine to ensure tight knots. Using the pan as a brace, insert the grilling spit through the bird cavity and secure one fork on each end of the bird using the thumbscrews. Ensure the bird is roughly in the middle of the spit so you don’t have to adjust the position once on the grill.

Next, in the same pan, hold the spit and wipe the bird down with a light coating of olive oil, taking care to get the oil under the wings and legs.

Generously apply BBQ rub evenly over the entire surface of the chicken, while turning the spit. Use the pan to catch the excess. Again, ensure to get some in between the wings and legs where you tied it.

Prepare the grill with a foil drip pan on the center of the coal grate. You will not need the top grilling grate. Set an even amount of lump wood charcoal on each side of the pan — but DON’T add too much or it will get very hot and scorch the chicken. Light the charcoal and ensure it gets evenly hot, about twenty minutes. Keep the bottom “propeller” damper FULL OPEN.

Next, center the rotisserie ring over the bottom kettle and align the spit holes lengthwise with the pan to ensure the drippings don’t make a mess. Carefully place the spit with the chicken through the hole to insert in the motor drive socket, and center the handle end in the opposite slot on the support ring. Turn on the motor. Open the kettle dome damper about halfway and cover the bird. Choke off the bottom damper to 1/2 open.

The ambient grill temperature you are shooting for is about 425-435° F. Real wood charcoal burns very hot and larger pieces should last quite a while before the need to restoke. Cook the bird for approximately 1 hour. During the last 15 minutes, open the cover and generously slather the bird with BBQ sauce. Allow it to crust up but do not blacken.

Remove the bird from the grill when the temp at the thickest part of the breast reads 165° F. CAREFULLY remove from the spit by wearing oven mitts and loosening the forks’ thumbscrews.
Rest covered in a clean roasting pan for 5-7 minutes before serving. Cut the butcher’s twine and serve.


MIKE’S NOTES: I suck at trussing a chicken and desperately need practice. Once the chicken is thawed, holding on to it is like trying to fight a pissed-off wet goose. Don’t get frustrated — there are a lot of YouTube videos demonstrating the proper way to tie the drumsticks and wings.

I recently purchased the Meater®+ digital wireless thermometer and it has worked quite well. It is the only thermometer on the market that will work on a rotating rotisserie grill. Outside of a few WI-FI connection issues, it really takes the guesswork out of accurately calculating the remaining time on a cook — especially for larger cuts of meat. I highly recommend it.

The stainless steel pot for my 8-quart Instant Pot Duo works very well as a brine pot with the silicone accessory lid.

Be sure to keep the point end of the spit clean before inserting it into the drive motor socket. Wipe it down with a hot soapy dish rag. You don’t want bacteria from raw chicken meat hanging around, creating its own guerrilla movement on your grilling tools.

Culinary Compost never endorses products for profit, and has received no monetary compensation for the content of this post.

Use a roaster pan to support the spit and chicken — it will save you time in prep work.
The chicken and brine ingredients. Brine for at least 8-12 hours but do not exceed 24 hours.