Daughter Miriam has been “off” onions and garlic for several months now. As a result I have been adapting some of my old recipes. The last time I made a Sichuan pepper tri-tip I used a wet overnight marinade with lots of ingredients and garlic. This time, I greatly simplified the recipe and I used a dry rub. This came out very well.
Sichuan pepper is not actually a pepper, it is a tiny citrus fruit. Besides a very distinctive flavor, it has a tingling numbing effect on your mouth—but only when it is very fresh. It is uncommon, in America, to find it fresh—do you have any friends going to China?
While this is a Chinese flavored recipe, very few Mainland Chinese chefs would cook any meat in one large slab. Fuel is at such a premium in China that meat is usually cut into small pieces and cooked very hot and fast. Slicing up a slow roasted, juicy piece of meat is a Western technique.
Tri-tip is a very popular barbecue roast in California. It is an oddly shaped piece of beef—triangular and usually thicker in the middle than at the pointed ends—that makes it a challenge to cook evenly. On the up side, if you have some diners who like their meat rare and others that like it well done this is the cut for you.
Another oddity of tri-tip is that the grain of the meat runs along the short side of the triangle. When you are slicing up the roast, it would seem that the obvious thing to do is to start at one of the thin points and slice towards the middle. This ends up cutting along the grain of the muscles, giving you slices that are tough to chew. The solution is to cut the triangle down the middle from the point to the long side. Rotate the meat 90º and slice each half from the cut to the remaining points.
Karl’s Sichuan Pepper and Salt Tri-tip
4 tsp. Sichuan pepper, separate uses
1½ tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
2-3 lb. beef tri-tip
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1. Grind the Sichuan pepper and salt into a fine powder.
2. Trim the tri-tip to your liking, and cut half inch crosshatches through the fat cap.
Tip: Try to cut through the fat without cutting too deeply into the meat below.
Note: Beef tri-tips are sold either “trimmed” of “untrimmed,” meaning that the thick fat cap that covers one side of the roast has be completely or partially trimmed away—some cooks think that this is a heresy. With Jan’s fat restrictions I prefer mine mostly trimmed—an eighth inch cap is OK, but not a three eighths inch slab of dense fat. Some cooks prefer to remove the entirely fat cap.
3. Rub the soy sauce all over the tri-tip.
Tip: This both flavors the meat and helps the spice stick to the roast.
4. Use ¾ of the pepper blend and rub it over all sides the meat.
Tip: Sichuan pepper will lose many of its volatile elements when it is heated. To “refresh” these flavors you will want to sprinkle more of it over the meat after you have finished roasting it.
5. Place the tri-tip into a gallon plastic bag .
6. Squeeze the air out of the plastic bag, seal it tightly and put it in the refrigerator.
7. Marinate the beef for 4-5 hours.
8. One hour before you plan to start barbecuing, set the tri-tip on a tray on the counter and let it air dry.
Tip: This rest lets the meat come to room temperature and to allow the surface to dry out, so that you get a good sear when the meat hits the meat.
9. Prepare your grill:
A. If using a charcoal grill: Start your coals and when they are ready build a bi-level fire and place an aluminum pan on the front side of the barbecue. Replace the grill and heat it for 5 minutes. Push all of the coals to the back of the barbecue. This gives you a hot zone—to sear—and a cooler zone—to roast the meat.
B. If using a gas grill: Oil the grill and then set the burners on one side to high flame and the other side to low flame. Close the lid and let the grill heat for five minutes.
10. Place the tri-tip, fat cap side down on the hot side of the grill.
11. Close the grill and sear the beef for 20 minutes.
12. Turn the meat over and place the thickest part of the roast at the edge of the coals/hot side of the grill with the thinner end slanted toward the cool side of the grill.
13. Insert a constant-read meat thermometer, set to 129-132º F, into the thickest part of the meat and close the grill again.
Tip: Daughter Miriam likes her beef bloody (129º F), but wife Jan likes hers well done (140º F).
Note: The shape of the tri-tip allows you to please everyone. The thin end tips come out well done and the thick center part comes out medium or rare.
14. Continues roasting, covered and undisturbed, until the alarm rings, about another 20-30 minutes.
15. Remove the roast to a platter and sprinkle on the rest of the pepper blend.
16. Wrap the tri-tip in aluminum foil to rest for 10 minutes.
Tip: The covered meat will continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 136-140º F, as the heat from the outer parts of the meat moves into the center and the juices migrate to the outer edges.
17. Slice the beef across the grain into serving portions.
Tip: I captured the juices and put them in a small bowl for people to spoon over their meat or the steamed rice I served on the side.
18. Serve the meat warm.