New York Times, Dining & Wine
By Pete Wells
Published July 9, 2012
When I used to go to Hill Country Barbecue Market as a civilian, I regarded the sides and desserts as unnecessary calories that would keep me from consuming unholy quantities of barbecue. But when I returned as a critic and began to eat my way around the entire menu, I quickly realized that the sides and desserts were often as impressive as the meat, and in a few cases more impressive. Elizabeth Karmel, the restaurant’s executive chef, oversees all the food at Hill Country; I spoke with her by telephone to learn more about three standout dishes from both sides of the operation.
Moist Brisket ($23 a pound)
Because Hill Country uses gas-assisted rotisserie barbecue pits, the pitmasters are able to regulate the temperature precisely. They keep the heat in the pits very low and even, so that much of the meat cooks for as long as 10 or 12 hours before it’s tender. This means that pitmasters are often tending the smokers in the middle of the night so the meat will be ready by lunchtime. (The tradeoff for this extremely tender meat, I think, is a less pronounced smoke flavor than you’d find in an old-fashioned Texas barbecue pit.)
Hill Country rubs the brisket, like all its barbecue, with a mix of salt, cayenne and butcher-grind black pepper, which is coarse-ground pepper with the fine powder sifted out. The restaurant cooks whole brisket, then carves off the deckle and tip; these fatty pieces make the “moist brisket,” while the flat of the brisket is what the restaurant sells as lean brisket. During cooking, the fat cap is left on the brisket. “The brisket really needs to have that fat rendering out and continuing to moisten the whole piece of meat during whole cooking time,” Ms. Karmel said. “That’s the mistake people make when they’re cooking brisket at home. You really need that fat.”
White Shoepeg Corn Pudding ($4.75 for 8 ounces)
At times, I was sure that this peppery corn custard was the best thing on the menu at Hill Country; other times I favored the moist brisket. The corn pudding is Ms. Karmel’s attempt to reverse-engineer and adapt a recipe made by her grandmother, Mary Odom. Ms. Odom, who was born in North Carolina, spent part of her childhood in Georgia and moved to Virginia after she married, made this recipe only in the summer, and only with white corn. “As a true Southerner, she would not eat yellow corn,” Ms. Karmel said. White pepper and nutmeg are spices Ms. Odom relied on frequently; the cayenne and dried chives are Ms. Karmel’s idea.
She shared her recipe, which would make an excellent addition to a Fourth of July celebration. I’d suggest making it in the cool of the morning, though, since the oven needs to be on for more than an hour.
White Shoepeg Corn Pudding Recipe
Adapted from Elizabeth Karmel, Hill Country Barbecue Market, Manhattan
Time: 1½ hours
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups fresh or frozen corn, preferably white shoepeg, cooked and drained
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup freeze-dried chopped chives
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped shallots
1 cup finely shredded skim-milk Cheddar
1 cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sugar, salt, white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg in a small bowl. Purée 6 cups of the corn in a large food processor. Processing until smooth between each new ingredient, add the cream, the eggs, the sugar and spice mixture, and the chives. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. When it starts to bubble, add the shallots and sauté until they are translucent and beginning to brown on the edges. Add the remaining 2 cups of corn and stir until heated through. Add to the mixing bowl with the corn purée and stir. Mix in the cheese until well combined.
- Pour the corn pudding into a buttered 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish and set it in a larger baking dish or sheet pan. Pour warm water into the larger dish to a depth of about 1 inch. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until the custard is slightly golden on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve hot or warm.
What I love about Hill Country’s banana pudding is that it isn’t a fancified, cheffed-up riff on the original; it more or less turns back the clock to a time before many cooks began to get their pudding out of a box. The pudding is a French-style custard with cream and egg yolks with a bit of banana liqueur but no banana extract and no cornstarch. Once the pudding thickens, it’s layered over sliced bananas and Nilla wafers.
“I really wanted it to taste like your mom made it, or your grandmom made it for you,” Ms. Karmel said.