Yesterday, when I began writing this, I didn’t really know why I was writing it. Today I do. It’s for my friend Peter Bonta. I met Peter many years ago when I was working in the Mid-Atlantic area. He’s an amazing musician, playing guitar, organ and piano like nobody’s business. He was also a highly successful producer and engineer with Grammy nominations to his credit. Nowadays, Peter and his lovely wife LeeAnn are enjoying the fruits of their labor in the Caribbean, living on their catamaran sailboat and offering tours and cruises for small groups. You should really check them out, and you can do so here. It’s a great boat, with great people and great food. And it’s in the Caribbean. What more do you need?
So what does Peter have to do with this recipe? Here’s the thing: Peter and I both love hot, spicy food. For years, we made a game out of trying to find food that was so hot the other person couldn’t eat it. Every recording session I did with Peter included food. (Big surprise, right? Not!) Usually it was one of us that provided it. And if we did, it was going to be hot, Hot, HOT!!!
A story: I remember one session for vocals. I woke up clogged like a old sewer pipe, and could barely breathe. When I talked, it sounded like I was pinching my own nose. I called Peter to tell him the bad news and he replied, “no problem. I’ve got something that will fix that.”
I bit into the pepper and within ten seconds my mouth was on fire. Two seconds later, my eyebrows melted. A second after that, my vision started to blur and my eyes wouldn’t stop watering. I tried to spit it out, and he put his hand over my mouth. “Just a few more seconds,” he said.
When I managed to escape his grasp, I spit that thing right on the floor and proceeded to read him the riot act with all amendments. I ate half a loaf of French bread, then downed half a quart of half and half. Less than a minute later, I had to run to the bathroom, because my sinuses began to drain in a flood. I stood over the bathroom sink for more than a minute. When it was all said and done, my sinuses were the clearest they’ve been since birth! You could darn near hear an echo up there. It was amazing, and it saved the session. But I’ve been very careful with Peter ever since.
Anyhoo… back to hot, spicy food. We’re both crazy, I know. So does the waiter at the Thai restaurant Peter introduced me to. Peter ordered for both of us and requested all dishes “Thai hot.” The waiter looked at me – not Peter, me – and he asked with a very concerned look in his eyes, “are you sure?”
“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “I’m good.”
“You crazy, that’s what you are!” he replied, shaking his head as he walked away to place our order.
We both loved the meal as we sweated through one course after another. And that put Peter back on top as King of Heat again. Six months later, I sent him a bottle of Pure Cap which, at the time, was the hottest hot sauce on the planet. (It claims to pure capsaicin in a bit of oil, and you have to sign a release of liability to buy it.) A week or so later, I got a lovely note:
And I was King of Heat for a time.
That was many years ago, but Peter and I still stay in touch. I keep track of his Caribbean adventures and he keeps track of my musical career and my cooking. In fact, yesterday, Peter commented on my Authentic Fry Bread recipe over on the MK Facebook fan page. I had already planned on doing this recipe and then one for Indian Tacos to follow it up (see below). But knowing that Peter was into fry bread, I commented that he’d love what I was putting up for today. His reply was “Could it be Native American tacos? pleeeeeeeeaaaase?”
Well, who am I to turn down a request from a great friend? And since I was going to do it anyway, it costs me nothing, but I know there’s at least one person reading this that’s going to love this recipe!
Here’s what I’m going to do. First, I’m going to show you how to make some seriously awesome shredded buffalo or beef. The title says beef, but Iv’e got to tell you, this recipe is even better with buffalo. Maybe it’s because the buffalo is native to this continent and the cow isn’t. Maybe it’s because buffalo goes really well with fry bread. Maybe it’s just because, you know?
So… here’s the beef. And at the end, there’s a link to Indian Tacos, and also a link to fry bread if you need to review that recipe as well. Right now, though, it’s time for some fun in the kitchen with a big ol’ brisket. Let’s go!
4-5 pound beef or buffalo brisket
2 large white onions
2 stalks celery
10-12 garlic cloves
2-3 New Mexico chili peppers
4-6 jalapeno peppers
3 large or 5 small bay leaves
4-6 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon black pepper (or cayenne for more heat)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
6 medium tomatoes
Cut your brisket down to large cubes – about two to three inches on a side. Set aside on the counter to come to room temperature while you get everything else together.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a bit of olive oil and heat it until it shimmers. Swirl it around the pan to make sure all cooking surfaces are covered.
Brown cubed meat on at least 4 sides. It’s even better if you do every side of every cube. Don’t ask me why. Let’s just do the math. I’m here for taste, and more sides browned equals more taste. Case closed. By the way – don’t crowd the meat, as that leads to steaming instead of browning. Leave generous space around each cube. Yes, it will take more time. Be a man, not a baby! Turn up the music or the game, grab a frosty beverage and do your thing. Have fun with it, and it will go by in no time.
As you’re browning the meat, chop your onions and celery into a medium dice, and roughly chop your tomatoes. Peel and mash your garlic cloves. Then mince them as small as you can. Chop chili peppers and jalapenos, and get rid of the seeds. Place all of that in a large slow cooker and turn the cooker to HIGH.
Add the beef stock and the spices. Stir everything up to get it happy, and let it all get to know each other while you continue to brown the meat. (Do I have to tell you to put the lid on?)
As each cube of meat is done on all sides, put it in the crock pot. Once it’s all in there, sprinkle two or three generous pinches of salt over the whole thing and walk away. Wait! Put the lid back on; then walk away.
Let everything go for about another hour, then turn slow cooker to LOW. Leave it alone for the rest of the day – at least six hours. But more is better.
About an hour before you intend to serve your meal, take two forks and start shredding. If necessary, you can remove the meat from the slow cooker and do the shredding on a cutting board or other clean surface, then return it to the slow cooker. Taste a shred or two – it’s your right and responsiblity – and add more salt if needed.
By now, you should be able to turn the slow cooker to WARM. Just stir everything up and let the shredded meat bathe in all those juices and get really happy. Use a slotted spoon to remove meat when ready to serve.
As I said in the beginning, this is even better with buffalo than it is with beef. Sure, doing it with a beef brisket is amazing, but if you want to go all the way to AWESOME, and/or go all-out authentic for a Native American dish, do it with the buffalo. You could also do it with elk or venison, but the buffalo is the reigning king for this recipe.
If you’re not into cooking for a battalion of friends, you can use a smaller brisket, or another kind of roast. Go for one about half the size, or one quarter the size so it’s easy to cut the spices accordingly. Either a large pound, or about 2-1/2 pounds are the sizes to consider.
I always substitute cayenne for the black pepper. Always. If I’m doing it for a brave group of friends, I might add crushed red pepper and/or some serious hot sauce. If it’s for Peter, I’m going to add a whole bottle of habanero hot sauce! Generally, though, I just flip black pepper for red, which gives it just a little extra kick but not enough to make anyone cry. The brave ones can always add hot sauce to their own plate.
The last step of putting the shredded beef back into the pot is my own addition. I find that it just makes this recipe even better to let the meat simmer in those luscious juices for a bit. When I’m ready to serve, I spoon the shredded meat into a colander to drain before putting it all in a nice serving bowl, or serve to plates or whatever.
Now that you have a big ol’ slow cooker full of perfectly spiced, juicy shredded meat, it’s time to do something with it. As soon as you get done reading this, check out the recipe for Authentic Flat Bread. Then, click on Manly American Tacos and get busy! And, as always,
Play with your food!
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.