Lomo al Trapo – Beef Tederloin Wrapped in Cloth, Salted Potatoes, Chimichurri

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes

I have cooked meat -usually fish- and vegetables in a salt crust before, but not like this. I saw this Colombian dish on Kenji’s Food Lab and it immediately caught my attention. It is too cool, too old and new at the same time and just plain wild. Christmas dinner seemed like an excellent occasion for this. It is a luxurious cut of beef but also most of the attendees -Diana’s family- would be Colombian. So curious to try it out but not wanting to screw up Christmas eve dinner I made a trial run first to make sure. It was a good idea and made the second time I cooked it for a crowd much easier. The concept is pretty simple; wrap beef tenderloin in a salt crust encased in a towel (that’s the Trapo), throw it on a pile of hot coals until done, remove, crack the crust away, slice and enjoy. A few details are important to note though.

Beef Tenderloin

The middle of the tenderloin is the best part to use here. I bought whole tenderloins and trimmed them myself. I managed to get three semi-even cylindrical pieces and the rest of the meat went in the freezer for other uses. To wrap each one, I laid a cotton kitchen towel and covered it with about 1/2 inch of kosher salt and a scattering of herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary). This carefully gets wrapped around the trimmed beef tenderloin. It’s a bit tricky to do and needs some practice to make sure the salt does not clump in one area or falls off the sides. A quick confident roll is key. I tied he rolls with twine and they were ready to go on the charcoal.

Lomo al Trapo3

Lomo al Trapo

When I say “on the charcoal” I literally mean that. Directly on hot fully ashed-up coals. It is impossible to tell how done the meat is in the salt cocoon. That salt gets hard very fast and that is what you want. It just makes it tricky to figure out when the meat is rare and to account for carry-over cooking. So, of course you need to use a thermometer. After 10 minutes on one side, I flip the meat over and started taking the temperature. I over shot a bit the first time and the meat that came up beautiful off the coals, but a little overcooked by the time it was sliced. To get the nice medium-rare final serving temperature, you need to shoot for about 92 F when you take it off the grill. Let the meat rest until it reaches 125 – 130 F and crack the salt crust open.

Lomo al Trapo2

By now the towel is mostly burnt away and a few taps with the back of a knife is enough to reveal the amazing burnished and very savory beef. The smell is really phenomenal at this point and the whole spectacle is too much for any of the guests not to stand, stare and “oooh”.

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes2

I served this very simply and triditionally with boiled salted marble potatoes and a sharp chimichurri sauce (parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar). The potatoes were boiled with lots of salt until the water evaporates and the salt remains. This was another recipe from Kenji (and also a traditional Colombian preparation) but they did turn out a bit too salty so they need some work. By contrast the salt encrusted beef was delicious, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. It really is a show-stopper of a roast.

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Sancocho de Pescado: Colombian Seafood and Coconut Stew

 

Fish and shellfish stews or soups are a feature in almost every culture that has access to water critters. You can find them in Europe, the Middle East, Far East, North America and of course South America. Many of those are very popular, like French Bouillabaisse but others are much less known. Take this Colombian version of the seafood stew called Sancocho de Pescado. It is common in coastal regions of Colombia and is fantastic and different. It’s made from a base of guiso and a seafood stock. It’s enriched with coconut milk and made very substantial with yuca (cassava) root, yam and plantains. If all that starch is not enough, it is of course served with rice and a good dose of aji (a mix of cilantro, chillies, green onions and lime).

The choice of seafood can vary of course. The basic recipe I used for this one is from a Colombian cookbook and it uses bone in fish steaks. If the Spanish to English translation in the book is semi-accurate, the recipe actually asks for shad fish steaks. I used thick grouper fillets instead and shrimp. The first base to this soup is to make the fish stock using fried shrimp shells and if possible fried fish bones. This makes a very flavorful and rich stock. The other key to success is to make a good Colombian guiso which is a mixture of slowly cooked red onions, green onions, tomatoes, garlic and is spiced with chillies and annatto powder, This stuff makes everything taste better.