quarter of a cow: spring chuck pot roast with salade mirepoix

This is Episode 1 of my new occasional series, Quarter of A Cow.  Given I have not been very good about my earlier series, Meal of the Week, I am opting for an unscheduled series.  I would like to help others eating through a beef share with helpful hints and tips, and I’d like to keep a record of what might work for next year. 

Today’s topic: chuck roast.

Life in the southern Willamette Valley means we’re kissing cousins to our livestock production.  All along the valley, one can buy some of the best local meat in the world in bulk — cow, lamb, pig — for an astonishingly low price/quality ratio.  Until just a few years ago, we couldn’t easily buy poultry, but that has changed with more purveyors of chicken, turkey and duck, not to mention chicken awareness in the form of the urban chicken craze.  I had the fortune to watch a chicken butchering at Sweetwater Farm last spring, and I see that the Ancona duck farmers Boondockers Farm is allowing folks to attend their own butchering process.  It’s a good thing to see and understand.

But…I’m already getting off topic, no?

Beef.

This year marked my first as a chest freezer owner, so I opted to share a quarter of a cow with a friend from a small farm with just a few head of cattle.  Completely grass fed, the cow worried me a bit because I was concerned with flavor and fat content often not sufficient to create juicy, marbled meat.  And yes, it is leaner, but the taste is marvelous.  It’s almost as if it was aged. (Um, could that be because we couldn’t pick it up for a week when it was ready?  I hope so.)  We had the meat cut and wrapped at Farmers’ Helper in Junction City, a charming little place that does custom cutting and sells local meat by the pound.

As we move into grill season, I’ll be offering suggestions for the primer cuts; for now, it’s all about the soup bones, chuck, and other tough cuts suitable for braising. A note on names: butchers’ cuts are often confusing because of the bewildering number of names each cut can be called, and similar names for very different cuts.

On a chilly, rainy spring day, I wouldn’t say no to a simple pot roast.  My spring recipe modifies my winter lemon pot roast recipe — it cooks the roast at a low temperature overnight, so it doesn’t heat up the house during the day, and it’s not browned, which creates soft, tender, mild slices of beef.  Browning the pot roast does unquestionably provide a richer broth and a pretty sear, but I also like the cleaner spring version with lemon.  A beef share usually comes with a bone-in chuck roast, so I’ve written the recipe using that cut, but feel free to use a 3-4 lb. boneless roast more commonly available in the market.

Even springier is to forgo the mirepoix — the saute of chopped celery, carrot, and onion which forms the base of so many winter braises — and use the vegetables instead as a chopped salad with a lemon and parsley vinaigrette to serve on the side.  Substitute chives or green onions for the yellow storage onions, in this case.  I would mince the carrots, celery, and parsley instead of chopping it roughly as I did in the picture.

Instead of potatoes, why not cook up some whole grains, like the purple barley from Open Oak Farm?  Also nice and light for spring.

Spring Chuck Pot Roast

This roast needs to be cooked overnight or for at least 10 hours, then cooled so it slices nicely, so plan ahead.

  • 4-5 lb. chuck roast, bone-in
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot, or a mix
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • a few fresh thyme springs (lemon time if you have it) or 1/4 dried thyme
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup beef broth (homemade or low-salt)
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Face the roast situation: how large is your pot?  If bone-in, I recommend deboning.  For me, that means cutting into two or three large pieces, which fit nicely into my 5 L. dutch oven.  Rub the meat with liberal amounts of salt and pepper.

In a dutch oven large enough to hold your roast, saute onion and garlic in butter slowly over medium-low heat until golden brown.

While the onions are browning, zest one lemon and juice both of them.

Add the meat to the pot with the lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme, and beef broth.

Before closing the lid, take a large sheet of aluminum foil and cover the pot tightly.  Then add the lid. This improves the seal.

Place in oven and let cook overnight or for about 8-9 hours.  In the morning, open up the pot.  The meat should be a ghastly grey.  As long as it’s thoroughly cooked and falling apart with tenderness when you slice off a piece, you’re good to go.  If you’re feeling unsure, don’t hesitate to turn the oven up to 300 degrees and let cook another hour or so.

Essential: after cooking, remove the roast and let rest until cool.  You might do it quickly on the counter for about 20 minutes, or even better, in the refrigerator for a few hours.  You’ll find the roast slices beautifully when cold, then you can reheat it in the juices left over from the braise.  Don’t discard your meat juice!  Boil it down with a pat of butter, then strain and pour over the meat after sliced.  Add some chopped chives to be very springy, indeed.

Serve with the salade mirepoix described above (minced celery, carrots, and chives in a lemon-parsley vinaigrette) and steamed barley.  Also wonderful with spring greens.

Other Chuck Roast Recipes from the Files:

cutting costs with flat iron beef kabobs

Another Public Service Announcement:

I’m sure you’ve been intrigued by the new “flat iron” cut of beef, especially if you’re trying to buy more sustainably raised and butchered cowflesh.  Our local supermarket, Market of Choice, seems to be extraordinarily fond of this budget cut, promoting it in roasts and marketing it in the big saver packs for the budget-conscious consumer.  I would imagine other higher-end groceries are doing same.

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The flat iron cut comes from the shoulder, or chuck, part of the cow.  It’s also called a top blade steak.  The flavor and chewy texture on one side is reminiscent of a thick, juicy, meaty flank steak; the other side is more tender and mild, but still with excellent flavor.  Butchers often recommend marinating it and not eating it well done: very good advice.

With all those positives, why is it considered a “waste” cut?  Well, if you’ve tried it, I am sure you’ve seen why it’s a bargain for premium meat, and why it hasn’t been sold until recently.  There is a piece of gristle that runs down the center of the steak lengthwise, kind of like a T-bone but smaller and grosser, that makes eating it difficult.  The image shows it well in the upper-right corner.

But why let a little gristle come between friends?  I found it quite easy and profitable to buy flat iron cuts whole, in a roast the size and shape of a — wait for it — flat iron, then carefully cut the meat into kabob chunks about 2 x 2 inches.  As kabobs, flat iron cuts grill beautifully.

I experimented with broiler kebabs this winter, and learned that butchers are absolutely right about keeping the meat at medium or rarer — they turned to burnt chewy sawdust when I became distracted in dinner preparations one evening.  Ack.  But grilled or broiled medium rare, they are quite delicious.

As for a marinade, I’ve treated these steaks as I would a porterhouse: just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  They are also delicious with a spice rub, some za’atar, or pulverized onion.  Serve with lemon wedges, rice pilaf, a dilled cucumber yogurt salad, and a smile.

Have you found other ways to utilize this cut that you’d like to share?

amusing

Amuses bouches have hit the unhip boroughs of our fine country (read: not New York).  Now, everyone is amusing their bouches with them.  Frankly, they’ve been uncool since 2002 among the hipsters, but since we don’t orbit in that galaxy, Daddy-o, we shall press on.

Trying to be hip myself (and thus always already outmoded), I’d say they are Derridean food, but it’s easier to prove and more 2008 if I just spit it out: they are tiny mouthfuls of fun that precede the appetizers in your fancy restaurant meal.  Like appetizers, but smaller and more liberated, contradictory even — more fanciful, less leaden and less predictable.  Amuses bouches are like the Beat Girl of appetizers:

(Yes, I watched this last night.  You’re seeing the best of it.  Well, maybe a café scene or two is better, especially since they use two of my husband’s favorite phrases, “you wanna fight?  Then join the army,” and “aw, nuts.”  He’ll be pleased to know the former phrase contained an even better ending: “you wanna fight?  Then join the army!  That’s what all the squares are doing.”)

But ANYWAY.  Amuses bouches come from Paris, like Gillian Hills, the star of Beat Girl.  There, they’re often called amuses gueules by the French poodles, which is too hard to say for us squares, so they became known as amuses bouches.

I translate these amusing mouthfuls most often when I have a very rich or very garlicky dish.  My cream of kabocha pumpkin soup with bacon, for example, served at Thanksgiving.  Or two or three strange flavors that might be overwhelming if they were served in larger portions, like this seared flank steak with Fraga Farm raw milk goat feta, boysenberry, and homemade blackberry-thyme vinegar.  Just one mouthful, that’s the ticket, dad, something that makes your tastebuds sing.  And sing they did:  the metallic tang of the meat, the funk of the creamy fresh cheese, the tart musk of the berry, and the echo of vinegar.

Needless to say, with les amuses bouches, one needs to use absolutely pristine ingredients.  Shell out for grass-fed local beef, Oregon Tilth (the big organic certifier around these parts) cheese, and just picked berries that you’ve rushed home from the vine.  Your guests will be wild for those kicks, even if you’re a bit behind the times, verging, dare I say it, on square.

And that’s what I’ve got for you today.  I’m gonna fade out, doll.  Zero.

corn-fed: home preserved corned beef

I’ve started in with the hooligans over at the Mid-Willamette Valley Eat Local Challenge, representing the South Valley, an emissary of sorts. The challenge is to incorporate more local products into one’s summer cooking. Frankly, if you’re not doing this already and you live in the Willamette Valley, you’re missing out on some of the best produce, meat and nuts in the country. I’m going to track what I’ve sourced and talk more about the changes we’ve made to our diet over the past five months since I’ve been back in Oregon in a later post, but for now, it’s all about CORNED BEEF made from local brisket.

One of the chief joys in my life lately is, as I have mentioned, my Family Food Education/Master Food Preserver training through OSU Extension. This week, we learned about emergency food storage and root cellars, and spent several hours making cheese. Does it get any better than that? Why, yes, it does. A few weeks ago, we had a presentation on how to corn beef and tongue. My friend Janet is a tongue fan, so she asked me to provide the recipe. I told her I had to make it first to see if I could replicate the deliciousness, and, after three weeks of prep and curing, it turns out I could!

I bought the 5-lb. brisket at Long’s Meat Market (see under Eugene Marketplace links to the right). The meat is from Knee Deep Cattle Company in Coburg, OR, who also makes an affordable and delicious pound-bag of ground beef that sells at Friendly Street Market for $2.99. (N.b., the cows are not corn-fed until you rub ’em with spices and let them cure in your corning procedure.)

The Morton’s Tender Quick might cause some issues with those of you — it’s a blend of nitrates, nitrites, sugar and salt used to fix the color and help preserve the meat. Paradoxically, it turns raw meat brown and cooked meat red. Science! I’ve seen recipes without it, and if you’d like to omit the Tender Quick, please don’t alter mine but use another recipe, like this adaptation from Julia Child, at your own risk. Tender Quick can be found at many grocery stores and places that have big canning sections in spring, like Fred Meyer.  (The image is from a product website, so you have a sense of what you’re looking for.  Try the spices aisle as well as the canning supplies aisle.)

This recipe is my adaptation of OSU Extension Service document LC 712, “Deli-Style Corned Beef or Tongue.” Other cuts to try include pork loin (for Canadian bacony taste), bottom round, and shoulder. Check to make sure your brisket will fit into a ziplock bag before the process starts, and plan for several weeks of curing time!

Corned Beef or Tongue

1 beef brisket (or tongue), 4-6 lbs.
2 T. Penzey’s premium pickling spice mix, toasted (or another brand, or make your own, using the ingredients listed here)
5 T. Morton’s Tender Quick
2 T. dark brown sugar
1 t. ground pepper
1 t. smoked Spanish paprika
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. garlic powder
4-5 fresh bay leaves, chopped, or 1 t. dried, powdered bay leaves

Toast spices in the spice mix in a small pan over medium heat until mixture smells aromatic. Crush spice mix spices in a mortar with pestle. Mix together sugar, all spices, and Tender Quick in a small bowl.

Prepare brisket or tongue by removing whatever surface fat you can. In a bowl or platter, rub mixture well into the meat, covering all exposed areas. Place meat in ziplock bag, seal tightly, then place into another ziplock bag for safety, and set on clean plate.

Allow meat to cure in refrigerator for five days per inch of meat thickness (measure at the thickest part). A corned beef brisket is usually around 2 inches wide; tongues are much wider, so plan for three weeks for a large tongue.

Turn bag over every other day.

Place fully cured meat in a large stockpot, and add generous amounts of water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim surface, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, about 3 to 4 hours. Tongue will be done when you can skin it, and you should skin it before serving. Do not do this in room with vegetarians.

In the last 30 minutes of cooking, you may add whole new potatoes and/or cabbage to the cooking liquid.

Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing, or meat will fall apart.

embittered beef stew and cuisine tristesse

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I’m a humanities graduate student finishing her dissertation who has just gone on the market for the first time. Needless to say, I am embittered.

For months, I have been flirting with a recipe category I call “la cuisine tristesse,” exploring the bitter side of food with ingredients like endives, artichokes, escarole, almonds — anything that makes you pucker up or bites back. So what better way to perform one’s emotional angst than experiment with bitters?

The only bitters I can find in my lovely two-bit town are Angostura, which are available in every grocery store. A friend has scored me some Regan’s orange bitters, which I’ll pick up on my next trip to the Bay Area. So my experiments have just begun. Until I can get my lazy behind up from winter hibernation and on the road, Angostura is my monogamous plaything.

And just what is it that I’m playing with? Angostura is meted out in dashes. It’s an herbal concoction that is faintly sweet and spicy, with a bitter kick in the end. The standard use of Angostura, of course, is in cocktails. The mixology historians say a cocktail isn’t a cocktail without Angostura. But there’s also a slew of recipes out there, many concocted by the Angostura corporation itself, for food seasoned with these bitters. It makes sense. If it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quois to mixed drinks, it can also enliven food. After some research, including this fantastic 1933 recipe booklet from Angostura scanned and made available by LambMartini, I have found that the best recipes for an Angostura infusion are those with a high fat content, the creamy mouthfeel acting as counterpoint to the bitterness.

I’ve already written about my coeur à la crème experiment with Angostura. Last night my husband made the mistake of telling me to refill his drink, so I made him a “Poor Man’s Orangina” with OJ, Perrier, lemon and Angostura. (For the record, it was tasty, and he requested it again tonight!) I refrained from adding Angostura to the butter cookies I made the other day, but I did try it in a dressing for salmon and roasted fennel, combining the Angostura with whole-grain mustard and olive oil (much tastier with the fatty salmon than the fennel). And it is delicious on orange slices. I can’t wait until strawberry season, peach season! Mmm…and in whipped cream.

But by far, the best marriage I’ve made is Angostura and beef stew. This recipe is my Boeuf Bourguignon On Vacation in Provence recipe made zippy with Angostura. It will serve four, and freezes well. Share your bitterness. Your friends will love it.

Embittered Beef Stew

1 bottle deep, rich wine (I use Syrah or Cabernet, but a Burgundy or Pinot Noir would be more authentic)

3-4 pounds chuck beef, cut into 2-inch chunks (best to buy a chuck roast and cut it yourself, since “stew beef” contains a variety of cuts)

2-3 T. bacon drippings or vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion

1 juicy orange, peel removed with vegetable peeler with as little white pith as possible and juiced into bowl

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 t. dried thyme or a handful of fresh thyme

2 T. flour

salt and pepper

optional: 2 c. frozen pearl onions and 1 package button mushrooms, chopped

a few dashes of Angostura bitters

If you have time, marinate the meat overnight in 1/2 bottle wine, orange juice, orange peel, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. If not, rinse and pat meat dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a heavy dutch oven, brown meat in several batches in bacon drippings or vegetable oil (if you have any leftover bacon or salt pork, add these for more flavor).

When meat is a deep, mahogany brown on all sides, remove the meat and set aside in a bowl. Saute onions in drippings until golden, then return the meat to the dutch oven. Add the marinade or 1/2 bottle wine, orange peel, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and place in oven.

Pour yourself a glass of wine. Set aside rest of bottle.

After about an hour and a half, remove the stew from the oven and skim the fat from the top into a pan. If there isn’t about 2 T., add some butter, then the 2 T. of flour. Make a roux, which you will use to thicken the stew: stirring constantly, cook the flour with the fat until mixture is peanut-butter-colored. Stir it into the stew, along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another hour and a half, or until meat is fork tender and can be pulled apart easily.

About 10 minutes before done, add the rest of the bottle of wine. It will brighten the color and add a tart flavor layer to the stew. At this point, adjust the seasoning and remove garlic cloves, orange peel, and bay leaves. You may also now add sauteed button mushrooms and/or frozen pearl onions sauteed on medium heat with a bit of soy sauce and sugar to carmelize.

Serve over boiled potatoes or egg noodles. Immediately prior to serving, add 2-3 dashes per serving of Angostura bitters to each serving dish.

Another option is to substitute Angostura with orange bitters. I will try this as soon as I can.

savory coeur à la crèmes: appetizers for valentine’s day

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These recipes for Bresaola Coeur à la Crème and Lox Coeur à la Crème were inspired by my disaffected husband. On Valentine’s Day, I usually make the French dessert coeur à la crème, a sweetened, cream-cheese-based concoction that is molded, chilled, and served with fresh berries. It’s pretty, fresh, creamy, light…and fattening as hell. Coeur is French for “heart,” so it always seemed appropriate.

Because I had been using the recipe for years, and it seems that there weren’t too many innovations on the Web, I decided to experiment with flavors this year (I’ll post the outtakes, for your amusement, tomorrow). Gamely, my beloved spooned away at the new flavors (well, except for one). Finally, he confessed that he has never been that fond of sweetened cream cheese.

This, my friends, is marriage.

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So I set about making a coeur à la crème that he might like, my Valentine. One of his favorite breakfasts is nova lox and cream cheese on a salt bagel. It occurred to me that the base of the coeurs could be easily shifted to a savory, better-than-cream cheese foundation for all kinds of spreads that could be shaped into molds and chilled. And what better recipe than a smoked salmon, caper, lemon spread for Valentine’s brunch or as a canapé? Aha, maybe a variation on the good old-fashioned chipped beef dip, a holiday specialty of my stepfather, but fancied up with a bit of the Italian dried beef called bresaola and shallots? Even better, what about both! My husband liked his small sample of these spreads so much I was worried he’d sneak into the refrigerator in the middle of the night and break my heart(s).

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The coeurs are traditionally molded in a special heart-shaped mold with holes on the bottom to allow liquid to drain out as it sets up overnight. Two sizes are available in the US, one a bit over 7-in. and the other 4-in., both of which are available year-round at select stores on the Web, and around Valentine’s Day at local kitchen stores and Sur La Table. You’ll want two of the 4-in. molds for each of the recipes below. You mix up the filling, lay down cheesecloth in the mold, and let it sit overnight on a plate to catch the small bit of liquid that will seep out. Alternatively, you can use a small mesh colander or strainer propped over a bowl, then form a heart shape with your knife and spatula.

Bresaola Coeur à la Crème

You will also need two 4-inch (small) coeur à la crème molds and two squares of dampened cheesecloth to line the molds with plenty of overhang.

(A) Base:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened*

1/2 c. sour cream or crème fraîche

1/4 c. whipping cream

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. bresaola, finely chopped, or jar of chipped beef, finely chopped**

5-6 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 T. horseradish

2 T. finely chopped shallots

2 T. chopped parsley

freshly ground pepper, to taste

With a hand blender, blend together ingredients in (A) until smooth and creamy. Be sure to get out all cream cheese lumps (softening the cream cheese first is key here). Fold in the rest of the ingredients with a soft spatula. Scoop out the mixture and place it in the cheesecloth lined molds. Do not skip the cheesecloth, as it will help you unmold the coeurs. Place molds on a plate and tap plate on counter gently to settle mixture. Fold the extra cheesecloth on top of the molds, then refrigerate overnight. Unmold and garnish with chives, parsley and/or black pepper, and serve with any cracker.

* A local company, Nancy’s, makes a good, non-stabilized cream cheese with active cultures. It is slightly sweeter than Kraft, though, and I’m not sure why since it doesn’t contain extra sugar. Sweeter cows, maybe? ;)

** Available at deli counters of upscale markets. Buy about 1/4 lb. and have them slice it very thinly, then roll, cut in thin ribbons, and chop ribbons with a thin, sharp blade. Keep bresaola refrigerated both before and after chopping while you prepare the other ingredients. You may substitute (as in my family’s recipe) chipped beef, the air-dried beef sold by companies like Armour and sold by the jar near the tunafish in supermarkets. The chipped beef will be less salty and the flavor milder than the bresaola.

Lox Coeur à la Crème

Prepare as above, using (A) for the base and substituting (B) with:

(B) Add-ins:

1/2 c. chopped nova lox or cold-smoked salmon***

2 t. lemon juice

zest from 1/2 lemon, chopped finely

1 t. horseradish

1 T. grated red onion (or shallots)

1 T chopped chives (or green onions)

4-5 dashes tabasco sauce

1 T. capers

Follow procedures as above. For garnish, you can use 1 T. of seeded, juiced tomato, 1 t. chopped red onion, and 1 t. capers. Serve with baguette slices or water crackers like Carr’s.

*** You could use the thicker hot-smoked salmon for a smokier flavor and chunkier texture, but I like the way this spread becomes a silky, creamy version of lox-and-cream-cheese.

Edited to add: I submitted this recipe to my first food blog contest! If you have a heart-shaped or otherwise hearty treat for Valentine’s Day, please consider submitting it here by February 15, 2008. If you need inspiration, check out the recipe roundup with all the entries.

korean bbq wraps

If you’ve never had Korean barbecue, you should feel cheated. I desperately miss the grill we used to frequent in Oakland, California, a big restaurant with high powered fans over each table and waitresses who would hurry to the tables with pans full of real, honest-to-goodness wood charcoal, weaving through the aisles and dodging customers in what surely must violate all kinds of codes. Folks would grill pieces of marinated, succulent, thin-sliced sirloin, then wrap it in lettuce leaves with a dab of miso, a jalapeno or garlic slice for the brave, and sesame-scallion salad. In Korean, it’s called bulgogi. In America, it’s called dee-licious.All is not lost, though. If you have relocated from the Bay Area, you’re tired of the slow cooker, or you just plain want some barbecue meat in the middle of winter, I have the perfect recipe for you.

korean bbq wraps

Korean BBQ Lettuce Wraps

Serves: 2 with no abandon, or 4 more reserved people, with rice and a side dish or soup.

A.
2 lbs. thinly sliced sirloin, rib steak, or flank steak (an Asian supermarket will stock this, or slice your own)
3-4 scallions, chopped
1 T. chopped garlic
5 T. soy sauce (I use imported Kikkoman, also worth a trip the Asian market to buy)
2 T. sesame oil
1/8 cup sugar

2 T. sake or Chinese cooking wine

Combine all ingredients in A. to marinate meat for 2-12 hours. To cook steak, either grill on high heat (sugars will carmelize and it will cook very quickly), or place in one layer in a roasting pan with marinade and broil on high for 5-10 minutes (again, keep an eye on it, as it will burn easily). When meat is browned and tasty-looking, remove to cutting board, chop into bite-sized pieces, and place on serving platter.

Serve with rice, a side dish such as a vegetable stirfry or a soup, a variety of kimchi if you have access to such things, and the following:

B.
a head of romaine lettuce, washed and drained well and leaves separated
3-4 green onions, sliced LENGTHWISE several times with tip of knife to create thin ribbons, then cut at 2-3 inch lengths
2 t. sesame oil
1 t. soy sauce
1 t. sesame seeds (I use the black sesame seeds with salt available in Japanese markets, but white ones are fine)

For the wraps, chop the bottom ribs off the biggest leaves of romaine, and set aside tops of leaves in pretty pile to serve. Chop the ribs finely. Place in a bowl, then add scallion ribbons and the inner leaves of the romaine, chopped. Mix sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds in small bowl for dressing. Toss salad with dressing at the last minute. DO NOT ADD DRESSING UNTIL IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO SERVING, since it will make the lettuce limp rather quickly.

To assemble wraps, place a few pieces of meat and some of the dressed salad on a lettuce leaf. For a more authentic version, add a dab of miso or Korean bean paste, which is darker and more rustic than the standard Japanese white miso but tastes similar, a slice of raw garlic, and/or a slice of jalapeno. Koreans don’t generally add kimchi to their wraps, but I’ve seen some Americans doing that and they seemed happy, so go for it if that appeals to you.