Sunday, December 10, 2017

Water Buffalo Tenderloin, Striploin and Ribeye - Sous Vide

Feral water buffalo have created an environmental disaster in the wetlands of the upper peninsula portion of the Northern Territory of Australia. causing soil erosion, the channeling of flood waters, an increase in the intrusion of salt water into freshwater habitats and the destruction of wetland vegetation. This has caused a decline in native populations such as crocodiles, barramundi, turtles and magpie geese. 
Feral water buffalo in Australia
Between 1825 and 1843 about 80 water buffalo, both the river type from western Asia and the swamp type with curled horns from eastern Asia, were taken to Australia for meat. Their numbers got as high as 350,000 in the 1980s, but there was extensive culling which reduced those numbers. However, the numbers have climbed back up to about 150,000. 
They look quite a bit like cape buffalo.
I was able to get a sampling of Australian feral water buffalo steaks  from Exotic Meat Market: an 8 ounce striploin (long and fatty); an 8 ounce tenderloin or filet (round); and an 8 ounce ribeye. I wanted to cook them together and compare their tastes and textures. 

I'd eaten water buffalo before, but it was domesticated and tasted quite a bit like beef, just a little stronger. This feral water buffalo is a wild animal and all that that entails: it is leaner, has more of a gamy taste and is tougher. 
I decided to forego brining the water buffalo and decided against long cooking times to give the best indication of its natural taste and texture. I decided to cook it sous vide at 55 degrees Centigrade for 1 hour and 50 minutes. 
In a sous vide pouch with butter.
Out of the sous vide pouch.
Briefly fried in butter.
The ribeye was a very dark meat, had a slight liver taste, was a little gamy, very moist, and yet fairly tough.
The ribeye (left), filet (center) and striploin (right).
The striploin was long, a little less fatty, but had a large chunk of fat along the edge. It was closer to the ribeye than the tenderloin and even the fat was chewy. I did not have a strong preference between the ribeye and the striploin.  
The tenderloin or filet was markedly different. It was much more tender and less gamy. I also like the filet as my favorite part of American bison. 

With this experience, I would say that the tenderloin can be cooked as-is without any special preparation, other than do not over-cook it.  For both the ribeye and the striploin I recommend brining it overnight along with some acidity, such as vinegar, to break down the fibers. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Post-Thanksgiving Wild Turkey

This year we had Thanksgiving at some friends' home and I didn't get to cook a turkey. I've gotten wild turkeys the last few years and they are a very different bird than your Butter Ball. Wild turkeys can actually fly, while commercial turkeys can barely walk. Wild turkeys have a much higher proportion of dark meat and the body is structured much differently: the breast bone is more pointed and prominent, the breast less plump and the fat has a different texture, it is more thick and stiff. 

I've gotten my wild turkeys from Exotic Meat Market. Last year I got a little lazy and treated it like a commercial bird without any special preparation. I regretted that decision because it had a slight gamy taste and was a bit stiff. I've been wanting a do-over and targeted a post-Thanksgiving bird this year which I cooked last Saturday. 

Friday night I did two things to get ready. First, I got a very large pot and brined the bird. I normally put a concentration of one tablespoon of salt per cup of water, but it was requiring a huge amount of salt so I gradually decreased the salt to about a quarter-tablespoon per cup. The brine gets extra moisture into the bird and breaks down the texture a little. I also added crushed juniper berries (about 8), several cups of apple cider vinegar and about a half cup of lime juice, all of which help break down the fibers in the turkey. Because I was brining over-night and the pot was too big for my refrigerator, I got a 20 pound bag of ice that I added to the pot and it kept the turkey plenty cold over-night. 
Brining turkey.
On ice on our back patio.
Second, I made my own stock. I bought a package of turkey tails (about 5 or 6), a large turkey wing, 3 bulbs of garlic, a stalk of celery and two large onions. I boiled and then simmered all of those ingredients for about two hours and saved the broth. 
Turkey stock
The turkey recipe I followed called for 6 to 8 red potatoes peeled and quartered in the bottom of the pan along with two medium onions, sliced, two pounds of baby carrots and two cups of water poured over it in the pan. I used regular Idaho potatoes (which I microwaved for four or five minutes ahead of time because I like thoroughly done potatoes), two huge onions and passed on the carrots. Instead of water, I covered it in turkey broth. 
Microwaved potatoes, sliced onions and Mandarin orange sections. 
The turkey was supposed to be stuffed with two quartered apples. I used Mandarin orange segments instead, from our own tree. 

The turkey was rubbed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of seasoned salt, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Then I coated the turkey in a sauce that included a 1/2 cup of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of French salad dressing (I used mayo and passion fruit mustard instead), 2 tablespoons of catsup, 2 tablespoons of steak sauce (I used A-1) and a tablespoon of lemon juice (I used Key West lime juice).
The bird after brining.
The top glaze.
The bird ready for the oven.
I put the bird in the oven at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 hours, covered in tin foil. I uncovered it for about 10 minutes (the instructions said you could do up to 30 minutes). 
The finished bird with onions and potatoes in the bottom of the pan. 
Some sliced dark and light meat. 
The potatoes and onions in the bottom of the pan were amazing. The maple syrup gave them a slightly sweet taste that I really loved and the potatoes were plenty done. If I do it again, I will put in more potatoes. 

The Mandarin orange sections stuffed in the turkey stayed intact and were nice little warm, sweet nuggets to toss in the mouth. They did not soak up any of the juices from the bird and did not appear to add to the flavor of the bird or the potatoes and onions.

The turkey was moist and did not have a gamy taste or or a stiff texture like I experienced last year. Brining the bird was a good idea.

I made stuffing from a commercial box of breadcrumbs, but I added in two sweet onions, about 8 quite large cremini mushrooms, and quite a few grilled and charred Anaheim chilies and poblano peppers, all sauteed. The stuffing was very good: the mushrooms added some body and the chilies and peppers added some different texture and a slight bit of heat.
Anaheims and poblanos before grilling.
Grilled peppers and raw sliced mushrooms.
Mixture of onions, mushrooms and peppers before adding breadcrumbs. 
Some of the finished stuffing. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Opossum

Judy arranged to have new sod put into our backyard and one morning we went out and were shocked to find it rolled back.  Our neighbor told us it was raccoons looking for grubs.

The live-trap we set for the raccoons has only managed to catch one unhappy opossum. 
I transported the opossum into the canyon near our home and let it free. 
It immediately scampered up a large oak and hid in the leaves near the top. 


It was fun to have a close encounter with an opossum, but the raccoons are still wreaking havoc on our sod. 

Stay tuned. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Katta Langar Mosque - Uzbekistan

One of the more fun and unusual excursions of our Central Asia trip was the transport of our 90 person group down tiny roads in private automobiles in the Uzbekistan countryside to the tiny town of Katta Langar in the foothills of the Hissar Range [Zarafshan Range] to visit the 500 year old mosque there. 

Note: I read quite a few stories about the mosque and Katta Langar and hardly any account agrees with another on any of the details, including whether Katta Langar is in the Hissar Range or the Zarafshan Range. I've cobbled some of the stories, but by no means have identified all of the variations.   

The day before, a Saturday, we were in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and during the night we traveled southwest through Uzbekistan about 185 miles to Samarkand, another 51 miles to Shahrisabz, then another 30 miles to Kamashi, where our train stopped (a tiny village about 266 miles from Tashkent and only about 186 miles north of the Afghanistan border). There we boarded buses and turned right off the main M39, then up the Kashkadarya (or Qashqadaryo) River Valley to the vicinity of Kattalal where we stopped at the home of an 82 year old Uzbeki woman named Mashkura who has 12 children, 32 grandchildren and 47 great grandchildren (or did in 2015 when the writer of that post visited the same house we did). There we saw rural Uzbeki life, including a kiln where bread was cooked, a simulation of a traditional wedding, and a crib for a baby that was most memorable because they attached a tube to a one year old boy's penis and connected it to an outlet below the crib, while the baby wailed. 
These Uzbeki women, in ceremonial dress, have the baby crib shrouded in beautiful carpets. The one year old is hidden inside. 
A clay oven where bread is cooked by slapping the dough against the inside. This is the same kind of oven where the Tajiks cook their non bread (in fact, we were probably within 30 miles of Tajikistan at this point).

Some Uzbeki women in their everyday dress.
From Kattalal we continued up the Kashkadarya River Valley in (lots of) private vehicles to Katta Langar, also known as Langar and  Langar Ota [most sources use Langar, but Katta Langar has a nice sound to it]. I believe we had five people, including the driver, in our vehicle. Here is a You Tube video in two parts of someone else taking that same drive which provides a flavor of the scenery and the rutted road: part one and part two
View from the car of people walking along the road.
Clay houses along the road.

This impressive canyon is not too far outside Langar.
Some of the buildings of Langar can be seen above the canyon above. 
The village of Langar with the mountains behind it. 
Mud/clay buildings near the mosque.

This is an alley just down from the mosque.
Beautiful tree outside the mosque.
A man walking down a dirt road not far from the mosque.
View from near the mosque.
Katta Langar has a 500 year old mosque and a 400 year old mausoleum that survived the religious purges of the Soviets because they were so far out in the country. 

One of the conflicting stories of Katta Langar's origin is that Muhammad Sadyk (aka Sadik and Sodiq) was the disciple of a well known Sufi named Baba Ishki (aka Babe Ishqiya, Ishkiya or Iskiya), the founder of the Ishqiya Sufi order (the Sufi master worked with adherents to obtain union with Allah through meditation on deceased saints and masters). Sadyk overslept one cold winter morning and did not have boiled water for the washing ceremony with his teacher. So he clasped the narrow-necked jug to his bosom to give it some warmth and then passed it to Ishki. The water was boiling. Ishki told Sadyk he'd reached the highest level of enlightenment and that there was no more Ishki could teach him. Sadyk must leave and go and teach others. He told Sadyk to take a camel and ride it until the camel was so tired it could not go anymore. Along the Silk Road, when a camel stopped at the end of a long day it was known as dropping anchor. Langar means "anchor" in Farsi and there are many other towns with anchor variations in Central Asia (Ankara in Turkey is another town named "anchor"). 

Another origin story that is less intriguing, but rings more of truth, says that in the last quarter of the 15th century in Samarkand there was a rivalry among Sufi orders and the more dominant Naqshbandi Order drove out the Ishkiya Order of Sufis who retreated to the secluded Katta Langar. They commissioned the mosque and mausoleum soon after they arrived. One variation says this happened during the time of Tamerlane, but he died in 1405.  

Sadyk, himself, became a great Sufi master, and his mausoleum is a pilgrimage site. Because Sadyk had achieved the highest level of enlightenment, pilgrims  believe wishes made there are fulfilled. Pilgrims walk three times around the mausoleum constantly thinking of their requests to God and return home to wait and hope for their wish to come true. The mausoleum was apparently built sometime after 1545 when Sadyk died and restored in 2007. There are four graves inside the mausoleum, those of Sadyk; his son, Hudaykel [or Abdul Hussein Akhund]; a Yemeni sheikh Abul-Khasan who abdicated and became a hermit [another source says Abul-Khasan, or Abul-Hassan II was Sadyk's father]; and a young girl who is believed to be the daughter of Tamerlane (Amir Temur). There is also a small cemetery around the mausoleum. There is a spire on the dome with four spheres on it symbolizing the four paths to God: (1) shariah - Islamic law; (2) tariqat - ultimate truth; (3) marifat - mystical knowledge; and (4) haqiqat - mystical truth, being one with God (the highest level of enlightenment that Sadyk had achieved). 
This is a view of the mausoleum from a window in the prayer room of the mosque.
The mausoleum with some of the colorful country as background. 
A closer view of the mausoleum.
The mausoleum in the background, the top of the mosque in the middle, and a roof covered with rocks in the foreground. 
The mosque was built from 1515 to 1516 [or 1520] and restored in 1807 [or 1870]. One source says that a prayer hall was added in the 17th century. There is a mosaic inscription above the entrance (which I did not see) that states, "On orders from Sheikh Muhammad Sadyk" who by that time was the master of the Ishkiya Sufi order. 
The mosque and one of the cars that took us there.
Entering through one of three front gates.
A side view of the mosque.
A view from the other side and the back. 
A view of the mosque from the bottom of the hill. 
The same view from the top, looking down. 
A window of the mosque from the outside. 
The mosque is Arab-plan, the type first built during the Ummayad Dynasty. It is square or rectangular, has an enclosed courtyard and a covered prayer hall with a flat roof supported by pillars. This one also has an outer arcade that allows visitors to enjoy the shade while outside. 
A view of the courtyard from the arcade. One of the stone bases is off to the left. 
A different view of the courtyard.
Greenery through windows in the courtyard.
The courtyard is all dirt and quite large. Many of the locals had gathered for our visit and milled about there. At least one, perhaps two stone bases, previously supporting pillars, were on the ground in the courtyard. Several locals picked them up and tried to foist them above their chests. At least one from our tour group made an attempt to do the same. 
The outer arcade supported by pillars.
The flat roof of the arcade is supported by wood pillars, made of plane tree or elm, placed on stone bases. Each pillar is uniquely carved. The arcade has a plain mihrab in the center of the wall.
The mihrab in the arcade.
The pillars and the roof.
The inner roof of the arcade.
One of the decorated pillars showing some wear.
Carved design on one of the pillars.
An older man with the mirhab off his shoulder and the entrance to the prayer hall visible to the left.
An old ladder leading up to an attic.
There are two covered rooms which apparently both work as prayer halls as both have mihrabs. Perhaps one for men and one for women? The one on the left is fancier. It has a ceiling band of tiled calligraphy and majolica (painted pottery) panels apparently made by masters from Samarkand and Bukhara. 
The mihrab inside the most decorated prayer hall. 
The floor is covered in carpets and the pillars are more colorful and in better condition. 
A closer look at a majolica panel that goes around the walls.
The inner woodwork is more colorful and in better condition. 
Some uncomplicated patters are painted on the wood.
Tiled calligraphy.
Prayer carpets on the rugs.


The less decorated prayer hall.

The mosque at one time is said to have held both the cloak of Muhammad and in an old chest, kept one of the oldest manuscripts of the Quran, known as the Quran of Langar, or 7 pages, 12 pages or 143 pages of the Quran of Calif Osman. 

Another source identifies Baba Ishki as a resident of Mecca and the founder of the Ishkiya Order of Sufis in the 8th century [instead of as the Sufi master of Sadyk]. He owned the genuine Osman Quran. Osman, the second Caliph, initiated the compilation of the Quran. The compilation was completed in 656 and five copies were then made and delivered to different Caliphates in different areas, but Osman kept the original.  Osman was killed while reading the Quran and his blood is stained on some pages. One version says Ishki, who had obtained the Quran somehow, hid the Quran in a saddlebag and left Mecca with it. In the 13th century his followers, presumably with the Osman Quran, settled outside of Samarkand. In 1472 a cholera epidemic hit and the Ishkiya Sufis moved to Katta Langar. In 1941, the Langar Quran consisted of 143 pages, but only 12 survive today. They have been determined to have been written in the mid-8th century and are now held at the Spiritual Council of Muslims of Uzbekistan in a building we visited. Another version has Tamerlane bringing Osman's Quran to Samarkand after a military campaign in Syria and Iraq and it was placed in his royal library. Somehow it ended up in Russia, then was brought to Tashkent in 1924 in a special railroad car. It was eventually placed in the Council of Muslims building that contains only Qurans in Tashkent where we saw it when we visited.  It is hard to piece together what the real story is, but the Katta Langar Mosque no longer has the old Quran manuscript or the cloak of Muhammad. 

While we visited the mosque I noticed the mausoleum and wondered what it was and wished we'd had time to visit it. It was a much more attractive building. 

In any case, all the stories acknowledge that there was a Sufi master named Sadyk in Katta Langar who was involved with the mausoleum and the mosque. It was fun to travel into the countryside and see a less touristy version of Uzbekistan. The legends and the stories add color to a wonderful experience.