Donner? Party of 12?
Your table is ready.
As the Smiths song has it, meat is murder. According to a recent verdict in a British court case from Yorkshire, it is apparently delicious, cannibalistic murder. It seems that a former Mr. Gay UK had been convicted on charges of murder, and of cooking and eating at least a portion of another man. One can't be too careful about those offers to come for dinner.
I do my part to keep human flesh consumption to a minimum. Even so, we don’t eat as much meat as I did growing up in Kansas City—where any meal without a bit of flesh seemed like we got stiffed—but we are far from vegan.
Since moving to California, one of the area’s dishes I’ve come to appreciate is Santa Maria barbecue. This variety from the central coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco uses tri-tip, a vaguely triangular piece of beef cut of beef that is infrequently found in the US beyond the state's borders. Cooked Santa Maria style, tri-tip is bathed in a marinade of salt, pepper, garlic, and occasionally other spices, and then slowly grilled over red oak.
Now, because it’s grilled and not smoked slowly for hours, it’s not barbecue as we understand it when we eat in places such as Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, or nearly anywhere in the Carolinas. California is far enough away from those other places, though, that those living there shouldn’t get their backs up about it.
The seasoning I use when grilling tri-tips is your standard Santa Maria spice mixture, except that because lemon trees are so common here, I include dried, powdered lemon peel that I make myself once a year when concocting my annual batch of fish house punch (that calls for a quart of fresh, strained lemon juice).
If you don’t have tri-tip, you’re not out of luck. It turns out that the seasoning works very well with flank steaks, tenderloins, and other beef cuts as well as pork cuts you would normally grill.
As for manflesh? I shall leave that and its preparation to your discretion. As with moonshine and home-distilled liquor, it is prudent to obey local laws.
Santa Maria Tri-tip
For this, I used a mild canola oil because an assertive olive oil taste would throw off the flavors of some great beef, but do as you will. The beef itself should not come very fatty, but trim off any huge hunks of fat, leaving enough to help the marinade along as it slowly cooks over the coals.
1 small handful of garlic, peeled
½ cup canola oil
2 Tbl coarse sea salt
1 Tbl whole black peppercorns
2 tsp powdered dry lemon peel
3.5 lbs tri-tip, trimmed of outrageously excess fat
Put the ingredients (except the beef) in a food processor or blender and blend until the mixture is emulsified and fairly smooth. It is not necessary to make a completely smooth and homogenous mixture. Smear the mixture all over the tri-tip. Place the meat in a zip lock bag or a nonreactive bowl and let marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
About an hour before grilling, let the meat come to room temperature.
Sear the fatty side over direct heat, then the other side, about 3-4 minutes per side.
Cook over indirect heat about 20-25 minutes (it’s to an internal temperature of 120-25 Fahrenheit). Let the tri-tip rest 10 minutes and slice thinly against the grain.
Note that the traditional accompaniment to this is a small dish of the small ruddy pinquito beans one finds up the coast. I'm lucky since I can get them at our local farmers market. But they can be tricky to find outside California. As you can see in the photograph here, sometimes I just throw some vegetables on the grill for the last several minutes of cooking.
Goes well with:
- Rancho Gordo's pinquito beans. Check out their website and if you like the look of these little buggers, order a few pounds. They also sell Christmas lima beans, vaqueros, borlottis, red nightfalls, and other tricky-to-find beans.
- Peter Greenaway's 1990 film, The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover in which Michael Gambon's despicable Albert Spica gets a mouthful.
- Ravenous (1999) starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, and the inestimable Jeffery Jones. A tale of meat in California.