There are dozens of reasons someone learns to cook. Perhaps they tired of eating cereal. Or they live in the middle of nowhere. Or their parents couldn’t cook.
None of those reasons apply to me. I learned to cook because both of my parents are fabulous cooks. I grew up watching them cook dinner every night, and I really, really wanted to help.
I still remember the first thing my mom let me slice. I was six, and she let me slice the mushrooms for dinner with a paring knife. She could have had it done in two minutes. My dad, demonstrating he cares more about speed and less about his fingers, would have done it in one minute. I’m sure it took me forever to slice the mushrooms, but it was amazing. And it sparked a fire in me to learn more. More about how to make food. More about other cultures. More about where my food comes from. More about how to make it taste good.
After she handed me that knife, the kitchen was never safe from me again. Avocados that were being saved for a salad for that night’s dinner party? I made them into guacamole. Peanut butter and chocolate chips went into the microwave to become... something.
My parents made the food nerd I am today. I had my first oyster on the half-shell when I was a year and a half. By four, I was eating entire buckets of steamed clams, and if the rumors being perpetrated by my parents are to be believed, those were “my clams” and I did not share. When I took meat fab, I was the only person in my class who had tried liver, sweetbreads, gizzard, tendon, tongue, or tripe.
Now, I do most of the cooking on a day to day basis. I have commandeered holiday dinners, but both of my parents have specialties that I don’t even bother attempting.
My mom makes amazing jambalaya (always served with rice, never pasta). And her soups will always and forever be better than mine.
My dad handles anything cured, smoked, or cooked over an open flame. Pulled pork, ribs, and charcuterie are his domain.
One of his recent masterpieces is lambstrami. Lambstrami is a boneless, butterflied leg of lamb that is pastramied. The lamb is first corned, then covered in coriander and black pepper, and lastly smoked.
It is smokey, salty, and ever so slightly gamey. The lamb is well marbled, tender, and juicy. It makes an excellent sandwich on rye (or even better, black bread) with swiss and mustard. I have no idea where my dad got the inspiration for Lambstrami, but I am ever so glad he did.
If my mom were capable of using a measuring cup, I would get you her jambalaya recipe. But I doubt that will happen any time soon. (Gauntlet, thrown)
Adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman
1 gallon (4 liters) water
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) kosher salt
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
1 1/2 ounce (42 grams) pink salt
1 tablespoon (8 grams) pickling spice (recipe follows)
1/2 cup packed (90 grams) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) honey
5 garlic cloves, minced
One 4-5 pound boneless, butterflied leg of lamb
1 tablespoon (8 grams) coriander seeds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon (8 grams) black peppercorns, lightly toasted
Bring the water to a simmer in a pot large enough to hold the leg of lamb. When it is simmering, add all of the brine ingredients, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until the brine is completely chilled.
(If you want to speed this up, I am guessing you could bring 1 quart (1 liter) of water to a simmer, add the brine ingredients, dissolve, then add 6 pounds (3 kilograms) ice to cool it.)(I really hope my math is right on that--math has never been a strength)
Place the lamb in the brine and weigh it down with a plate to keep it completely submerged. Refrigerate for 3 days.
Remove the lamb from the brine. Thoroughly rinse the lamb, then pat it dry. Get rid of the brine now, you don’t want to use it again.
In a spice mill (or mortar and pestle or a ziplock bag/rolling pin) combine the coriander and black pepper and pulse (or bash) until coarsley ground. Coat the lamb evenly with the mix.
Hot smoke the lamb to an internal temperature of 150°F (65°C). Hint: according to the original recipe, “Traditionally, pastrami is first cold-smoked, then hot-smoked to achieve a heavy smoke. So try to get as much smoke on it as possible by keeping it below its final temperature for as long as possible.”
To prepare the lambstrami for serving, preheat the oven to 275°F (140° C). Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and add 1 inch (2.5 cm) hot to simmering water (don’t pour the water directly over the meat, but the meat should be near if not slightly in the water). Cover tightly with foil, place in the oven and cook for 2-3 hours or until it is tender.
By all means, use a store bought version, but if you want to make your own, here’s a recipe. It makes more than you need, but in an air tight jar it will keep for months.
2 tablespoons (20 grams) black peppercorns
2 tablespoons (20 grams) mustard seeds
2 tablespoons (20 grams) coriander seeds
2 tablespoons (12 grams) red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons (14 grams) allspice berries
1 tablespoon (8 grams) ground mace
2 small cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
24 bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons (6 grams) whole cloves
1 tablespoon (8 grams) whole ginger
Toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Put them into a small ziplock bag and smash with the side of a knife to crack them. (You could skip the bag, but I can never seem to keep them on the cutting board.)
Combine the cracked spices with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.