Saturday, March 14, 2009

This Part of the Cow

I went out to the FBO to bring the keys for the mechanic to work on the gauge. I also went on board the airplane to double-check that the brakes were released, so they wouldn't be dragged as the airplane was towed into the hangar. As I opened the door, the hinge broke. Great. I added that to the journey log. The brakes were off after all.

I waited inside the FBO for the mechanic so I could tell him he had an extra door-fixing job, too. There, I chatted with the folks at the FBO. They are friendly and probably think my accent is as funny as I think theirs are.

It's the receptionist's birthday so she has cake which she is offering to everyone so she doesn't have to bring it home. I don't quite understand how cake is a hardship, but I don't search too hard for the logic: I'm being given cake. My Cake Wrecks knowledge causes me to hope that Happy Birthday is misspelled, but it's a pretty ordinary cake. It has a photo of her with her boyfriend on it, which is odd to me unless they have the same birthday, but perhaps it was an anniversary too, or it was just a picture she really liked.

While I'm eating my cake one of the guys mentioned that he's going to go parachute jumping if the weather holds. He names an airport I haven't heard of then says it's north of Shreveport. It's in Arkansas. "Oh, across the border," i say, with recognition. He laughs, at what I've said and then I realize. "Oh yeah, I guess 'the border' would normally mean in Mexico, eh?"

He shakes his head, "No, it's exactly what someone in Texas would say. Texans think that Texas is its own country. I'm just laughing that you'd say that."

I recall then, from American TV shows featuring kidnapping and smuggling that the correct expression is "state line." In the US, countries have borders while counties and states have lines. In Canada countries and provinces have borders.

Later we go out for Texas barbeque. It's a very nondescript place, which we've been told is required for real barbeque. There's a Coca-Cola menu on the wall and specials on the chalkboard, but we don't really understand it all. I was just going to order something and see what we I got, but my co-worker is more direct.

"We're not from around here. How does this work? Is there like a meal that we can order all together?"

There is. We can get up to three meats and two sides for five dollars. There is chicken and turkey, and ribs and brisket and some other things that got lost in the list. No hamburgers or hot dogs, which are the standard barbeque items at home.

"What's brisket?" she asks me while we're talking about it. I don't know. Some kind of cow meat. Again, she is direct and asks the guys behind the counter. "What's brisket?"

The guy at the grill lifts one knee up, as if he were going to put his foot on the edge of a chair to tie his shoe. The position of the leg rounds out the shape of his butt and he slaps it with his hand. "This part of the cow."

I chose turkey, ribs and brisket with baked beans and potato salad and lemonade. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a "wow!" experience. I expected it to be more flavourful somehow. More smokey tasting I guess. The turkey was in big strips, tasted about the same as baked Thanksgiving turkey. The ribs were probably the best, dry, not greasy, so you could flake the meat with a plastic fork. The brisket was very uniform in texture and colour. It reminded me a little of tinned corned beef, but it did taste better than that. And if you know anything about Texas you can guess that there was an amazing amount of food. I took the leftovers back to the hotel and ate some the next day, but hadn't finished it in two days when we moved on and I had to throw the rest out.


Anonymous said...

Brisket is the meat that covers the chest and lower chest of the cow.

The butt of the cow, from the bottom up, is the shank (lower leg), the round (mid-leg up to about the tail) and the last part is the rump, surprisingly enough.

The best selection of corned beef is the brisket, which with St. Patrick's day coming up, would be served with boiled quarters of cabbage and perhaps some boiled potatoes, liberally washed down with suitable libation, which may or may not be colored green.

Aviatrix said...

So did the BBQ guy lie to us or is brisket different in Texas?

Anonymous said...

It might not have been a lie, but what he said was not true.

Anonymous said...

ZD knows his/her beef. Hope you don't leave Texas without a Brisket sandwich and a little fried Okra.

Anonymous said...

Brisket should be the same cut no matter where you go.

Maybe it was not a "wow" experience because:

1) it was cooked directly over the grill rather than indirectly, where the fire is on one side of the grill, and the meat on the other side, with a closed lid to contain the heat,

2) the fat cap was removed. It is the fat on the top of the cut which slowly melts through the meat to give the juicy flavor

3) it was not cooked with a hardwood fire or certain hardwoods such as pecan, hickory or mesquite, to give it that distinctive smokey flavor,

4) it had not been marinated or rubbed with spice before cooking,

5)it had not been basted, or not basted enough while cooking

6) the basting (BBQ)sauce was not that great

7) it had not been cooked long enough because brisket is not a tender cut and needs "low (temp) and slow (long time)" cooking

Anyhow, for 5 bucks, it looks like you got value for your money.

jinksto said...

Yup, the guy was certainly wrong. The brisket is from the chest and is generally rather tough.

Like most of the best foods in the deep south it was originally a "cast off" fed to the lower classes and/or slaves because it's so tough. It takes a real master to do brisket well but once you've found it you'll know.

Thanks for sharing your experiences! I'm originally from a place about 85nm south of Shreveport so it's a lot of fun reading about your views of my home area.

Scott Johnson said...

Barbecue (brisket or otherwise) is a very regional thing. Texas barbecue is unlike Carolina barbecue, which is unlike low-country barbecue, which is nothing like Georgia barbecue. The sauces and the way it's served are the key differences. Even within a region, barbecue varies widely in flavor and texture. You could eat barbecue in a different restaurant every day for a year and never have two plates taste quite alike.

To us in the south, that means two things. One is that if you want variety, you're in luck. :) The other is that once we find a place that makes the sort of barbecue that tickles our fancy, we become fiercely loyal to it.

The message here is that if you got some barbecue that wasn't a "wow" experience, don't give up. With all the traveling you do, you'll have plenty of opportunities. :)

Anonymous said...

He possibly got the shape right.

Brisket is between and forward of the front legs, about where the collarbone or breastbone would be if it was a person instead of a beast. It hangs like a basketball.

The first thing you look at on a beast. (er..the first thing I look at), as a measure of how fat cattle are.

dpierce said...

Great timing! Just two days ago, Food Network re-aired an episode of "Good Eats" (a show that's 1/3 cooking, 1/3 science, and 1/3 food anthropology) that discusses the location of the brisket and its use in making corned beef.

You can watch the ep here. See his visual illustration of the brisket at 01:55 in.

Peter said...

I think your co-worker had the right idea. Having been places where I speak the native language poorly (or not at all), ordering food can be difficult. Whenever possible, I try to get a recommendation on what to order, because I've been burned one too many times by trying to guess what things are and what would I should get.

Anonymous said...

Next time you're in Montreal eating smoked meat, remember it too comes from the brisket...
I highly recommend Schwartz' on St Laurent street. not only for the flavour but for the experience!

Anonymous said...

If you pass through Beaumont, stop in at Willy Ray's Barbeque and get some "Real" Texas BBQ. If not, you can get some via mail order.

By the way, Texas is it's own country. ;)