Sea Salt and Black Pepper Rub

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How my Irish-American guy, born and raised not ten miles from Boston’s city center, grew up to love barbecue is beyond me. Not only barbecue but a very specific style of barbecue — yeah, Boston boys are complex and pretty cool like that.

He’s not attached to sweet and vinegary pulled pork nor straight up barbecue chicken — the sort of fare most gastropubs add to a lunch-time menu, slid between two slices of bread. He doesn’t pass either of them up, of course, but his tastes have ventured further south.

My husband loves Texas barbecue, the good stuff from the middle of this beef-loving country. And he’s never even been to Texas.

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But this man loves Texas barbecue and I love him, so over time, we’ve become students of brisket and how to properly trim its fat, as well as pit-style cooking, direct vs. in-direct heat, the woods that impart the nicest flavor during slow cooking, and rubs or really the lack of gussied-up rubs used in many (though not all) styles of Texas barbecue. And when that pink slow-smoke ring turns out just right, we slice it up and eat it fast, just as it is.

Sadly, all this informal education has lied dormant since I’ve become way more produce-focused. Thinking about all the ways to cook up beautiful beef kinda gets in the way of managing an ultra-healthy lifestyle — but I’m finding ways to not give up the foods I love forever because life is short and there’s way too much barbecue still to sample.

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In fact, we’ve turned our love for beef (and each other) into a date-night thing. Ugh, yes, it sounds so very Ina-and-Jeffrey but it’s our thing so we own it. Every weekend, he sous-vides and flash-sears a steak to share over a good bottle of red and some roasted and caramelized vegetable. It’s a perfect pairing, in many ways.

I made this Sea Salt and Black Pepper Rub for beef, for those Saturday nights, and for him. It’s a duo of spices that really do belong together in every way — and not just as a light sprinkle but with a much heavier hand.

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Many pit masters rub raw beef with something to flavor it up before slow cooking or grilling or smoking. Some use rubs that are combinations of salt, pepper, spices like paprika or chili powder, garlic, and brown sugar. I actually have a couple rubs in my cookbook, Food Gift Love. You’re supposed to let the rubs sit on the meat for a while, to ooze flavor into it. By the time the meat hits the heat, some of the rub falls off, but all that flavor remains and you can taste it every bite.

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In regards to barbecue, I love all the vinegar used in North Carolina and the sweet rubs and red sauces of Kansas City, but I stand with Texas when it comes to beef. I think very good beef needs no more than salt and pepper. And in this case, I press a hefty layer of my rub into a one-pound hanger steak (also known as a bistro steak). I don’t sprinkle it on, sprinkling is for post-cook seasoning. I literally press it into all parts of the beef. Some if it falls off during the grill but the flavor remains and it’s just wonderful.

When I make this on the fly, I don’t follow precise measurements. I simply add enough of each to a bowl until the mixture reaches a light grey color with bits of pepper throughout. You start with about a half and half ratio, and adjust as you go. I use sea salt because (1) I live by the sea, people, and (2) a textured, thick sea salt is so much nicer than regular kosher salt. Maldon is very nice for this. As for black pepper, I cook a lot so I order Indian black peppercorns in large quantity online.

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The very best part of this recipe? Once poured into a jar and labeled, it becomes a nifty gift. Delivery it to Dad with a steak from your butcher. Stick the jar into a new home gift set with nice sea salt and other dried spices. Or just gift a single jar as is to someone who thinks they don’t know how to cook a steak well — with the instructions for getting it right because the rubbed beef will still taste great whether cooked too rare or a little too well. Though I prefer medium-rare, if you’re curious.

In case you’re wondering, the jar used in the images is an old square spice jar, cleaned and re-used for this gift. The tag is homemade, like the Sea Salt and Black Pepper Rub, and I show you how to do it down below.

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Before you go:

** I want to tell you everything about those Salad Rolls in a follow up post. They are fresh and delicious and ready for summer and inspired by a cafe I hang out at all the freaking time.

** Love making spice mixtures? Try Heidi’s Za’atar Recipe or my Poultry Seasoning. I don’t know why people don’t gift more spice mixes, but they should so let’s start the trend.

** Bug hugs to Lisa Fetterman of Nomiku for letting me play around with the Classic Nomiku. It has changed our Saturday nights forever. Thank you, friend!

** I’m speaking about working for myself at the Society of Grown-Ups on June 9. Get tickets here, and watch me giggle at the thought that I’m a grown up!?! I’ll also talk all things food gifts at the Readable Feast at the Boston Public Market on June 18. More here.

Sea Salt & Black Pepper Rub

Makes: 1 cup

Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup sea salt

Directions:

  1. Grind the peppercorns into a coarse grind with a mortar and pestle. If you don't have the time to do this, you can also grind them with a spice or coffee grinder. Be sure to clean out your grinder by whizzing up uncooked white rice in it just before and just after you grind the peppercorns.
  2. Toss the ground peppercorns and salt together in a bowl until well distributed and light grey in color.
  3. When ready to funnel into a jar, pour the mixture onto a piece of parchment paper and light and angle the paper to create a narrow funnel through which the mixture can easily glide into the jar.
  4. Store in an air-tight jar for up to 1 year.

Materials

  • Tag with pre-threaded string
  • Glue
  • Newspaper
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Source the sections of a newspaper you'd like to use for both sides of your tag. Trim them up to be slightly larger than the tag.
  2. Add glue to one side of the tag and press into the back side of the newspaper. Repeat to cover the other side of the tag.
  3. Trim any excess newspaper by cutting along the outline of the tag.
  4. Write your message or gift name on the tag and tie around your gift.
Photos taken by Heidi Murphy/White Loft Studio

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