This is how we celebrate in our home. We eat well. If the miners trapped in Chile have just been freed, we eat the fare of the Chilean working class. If we don't have a particular food in mind, however, we have Santa Maria Style tri-tip. This is my husband and father-in-law's comfort food, born and raised on California's central coast, just like they were. If you are unsure of what a tri-tip roast looks like, it is a triangular cut from the bottom of the sirloin. Ask the butcher at the grocery store; all but a few on the east coast will be able to help you out. The roasts are typically between two and a half and four pounds, boneless, and you can figure feeding about four to seven people per roast. Most of the time, Andy or his dad cooks the meat on the grill for me, but last night the grill was out of propane and I had to quickly learn how to broil the meat in the oven instead. I did my research, but still, I was afraid. This wasn't just a family dinner; this was the celebration dinner for our class of woodworkers. The class celebration dinner is a big deal.
The first bite, however, eased my fears. I had done it. Have a reason to celebrate? Here's a meal idea for you.
Santa Maria Style Tri Tip
First, the seasoning for the meat. Mix 4 parts garlic powder with 2 parts kosher salt and 1 part black pepper in a small bowl. Make more than you need and you will have it ready for the next time. Once you've tried this, you will be looking forward to the next time, I promise. Thoroughly rub both sides of the roasts (I never make less than two at a time) with this spice mix and place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for a couple of hours, until it is close to room temperature.
Preheat your broiling pan. Get it good and hot and then put your meat on it. With your oven rack up as high as it can go, slide the pan in and sear the meat under the broiler, turned as high as it can go, for five minutes on each side. The key here is to leave the oven door open the whole time--not all the way open, but a good sized crack. You don't want steam to build up in there.
When both sides are seared, take the roasts out for a minute while you lower your oven rack. It doesn't have to be all the way at the bottom, but maybe the second level from the bottom. Put the meat back in and keep the broiler on high, door cracked open for ten minutes. Flip the meat over and give it another ten minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 140 F. Don't cook it any higher than 140 F. If you are a red meat sissy and can't bear to have your meat less than well done, this is not the dish for you. Tri-tip must not be served tough and dried out.
When you have hit the magic 140 F, remove the meat from the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. DO NOT slice it before this rest period is over, or you will have a mess on your hands and take the chance on your meat being dry.
While the meat is resting, do the bread. Take a basic loaf of French bread; open it up; spread it with butter and a little garlic salt, then go ahead and slice it like you are serving it and put it on the pan under the broiler for a couple of minutes, watching it to make sure it doesn't burn. This will make sure that every slice is nicely toasted, even on the sides. Once done, dump it all into a basket.
Grab the pretty green salad and the baked beans that you made earlier. I'm sorry I didn't mention those sooner, but you do need to have those. The meal is not complete without them. Oh, and don't forget the salsa! The salsa is the other absolutely crucial element. It is served with the meat, believe it or not. Force even your purist friends ("Oh, no thanks, I don't want to cover up the flavor of the meat.") to try a little salsa on their meat. It's part of the experience. This is Santa Maria style barbecue, after all, not their own personal style.
And there you go. This is a meal you will come back to again and again for special occasions. My son asked to have it this year for his birthday party--no variations in side dishes, just exactly like I've described it here. His friends loved it. Last night, our students loved it. They always do. It is a celebration dinner to remember. Let me know how it turns out for you if you try it.