I’m in love with steak burritos.
I’m very firmly against this whole idea that Labor Day somehow signals the end of summer and, more importantly, the end of grilling season. So last weekend, we decided to throw a “Summer’s Not Over Yet” barbecue, to keep the love of the grill alive. Of course, the weather was totally crap: over 90% humidity and rain, rain, rain. But we were not to be daunted. We fired up that grill anyway, and everyone huddled on the back porch and sweated.
I decided to forgo the typical burgers and potato salad route in favor of a Santa Maria-style barbecue. Or rather, a Boston-style Santa Maria-style barbecue, seeing as how some of the staples of the central California coast are unavailable on this side of things, including tri-tip steak and pinquito beans. I have on several occasions expressed my love for the tri-tip, but in my 20-some years of living in California, I’ve never really heard of this traditional Santa Maria barbecue, and I’d certainly never heard of pinquito beans. In the last few weeks, however, I started reading about this California tradition seemingly everywhere, and I knew I had to pay homage, even if my homage was a bit flawed.
The Santa Maria Barbecue is a tradition dating back to the early ranches of the central California coast, in the 19th century. Tri-tip steak is lightly seasoned and smoked over red oak wood, a tree which is also indigenous to the region. The steak is served with fresh salsa, pinquito beans, cooked with bacon, onions, and seasonings, and grilled French bread. Well, I couldn’t find tri tip, and I couldn’t smoke the flank steak I did buy over any kind of oak chips. And pinquito beans are not easily found outside of California. So I made do with what I had, and while it might not have been exactly aligned to the venerable and tasty California traditions, I think our guests were happy.
And I was really happy, because that flank steak was some of the best steak I’ve ever made. I seasoned it with a dry rub of brown sugar, salt, chili powder, cumin, and a bit of coriander, and Mr. X grilled it for about ten minutes (I say about because he was standing out in the rain grilling and I didn’t want to leave the relatively dry confines of the porch, so I’m not entirely sure what he did, but I know he did it quite well). And the beans, while not quite what I expected, were phenomenal; I can’t wait until I’m back in California and I can make it with pinquito beans, rather than the Goya brand pink beans I used.
Of course, I didn’t have my camera the night we actually barbecued, but I did have leftovers. And, as the true Southern Californian that I am, I turned them into burritos. Delicious burritos. In fact, the flank steak ended up tasting exactly the way carne asada tastes when you order it from a street-side taco stand in San Diego, and that made me very, very happy.
Carne Asada Dry Rub
- 1/4 c. brown sugar
- 1 T. salt
- 1 T. chili powder
- a bit less than 1 T. cumin
- a bit more than 1 tsp. coriander
- a bit of black pepper
This is a pretty simple dry rub. I used about half of it to rub into the steak about five hours before we cooked it, and then mixed olive oil with the rest of the rub to brush over the steak while it was grilling. Boy howdy, this stuff was good. The flavors permeated through the whole thing, and it turned out so tender it was unreal. Mr. X did a great job of slicing the steak up nice and thin, too; it was quite impressive. We served it with fresh salsa (though, sadly, the fresh salsas available here in Boston aren’t nearly as good as my favorite brand, Chachis). No one seemed keen on the idea of eating the steak on the grilled bread with the salsa, but hey, what can you expect from New Englanders?
Everyone loved the beans, though. In fact, I could definitely see a resemblance to baked beans: They were slightly sweet and saucy, but these had a nice kick to them, thanks to the chipotles. There are a ton of recipes I’ve seen for Santa Maria-style beans, and while I mostly hewed to a recipe I found on epicurious, I added a few little bits and pieces from other recipes on the internets.
Boston-style Santa Maria-style Pink Beans
- 1 lb. dried pink beans (or pinquitos, if you’re lucky enough to find them)
- 1/2 lb. smoked bacon, chopped
- 1/2 large red onion, diced
- 1 T. cumin
- 1 T. dried mustard
- 2 c. orange juice
- about 1 T. chipotles in adobo, chopped
- the other half of the red onion, sliced thinly into rings
Soak the beans over night in a large bowl: Cover them without an inch and a half of cold water and let stand, covered, for at least eight hours.
Cook the bacon in a large pot, until the bacon is crisp and has rendered a lot of its fat. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel, and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in a small bowl. Heat the rest of the bacon fat in the pot again, and add the onion, cumin, and dried mustard. Saute until the onions are soft and golden, probably about five minutes. Stir in the orange juice and the chipotles, and let it come to a boil. Cook the juice mixture for another five minutes or so.
Add the beans and the soaking liquid. (Ok, I thoughtlessly drained the beans and didn’t reserve the soaking liquid, so I had to add fresh water to the pot, but I don’t think it affected the flavor at all.) Let the liquid come to a boil, lower the heat to medium/medium-low, partially cover the pot, and let the beans simmer for about two or two and a half hours. When they are almost done, but still a little hard, uncover the pot and continue to simmer the beans for another half hours or so, until the liquid has thickened and the beans are cooked through.
During this last half hour, you’re going to caramelize the rest of the onion in the bacon drippings you set aside earlier. Yes, yes you are. And they will smell crazy good and make you very happy that things like bacon and onions exist. Just heat the reserved bacon fat in a heavy skillet until it’s liquid again, and add the sliced onions. Spread them out in a thin layer, and let them cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Try not to bug them too much, they might only need a nudge once or twice. Season them with salt and pepper when they’ve been caramelized to your liking.
When the beans are cooked through, stir in the bacon and the caramelized onions, and you are good to go.
So, despite the crappy weather and the fact that it’s getting colder and colder in the mornings, and despite the fact that my California-style barbecue was kind of hampered by the fact that I’m not in California, the afternoon was a total success. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with beers and steak, you know?