Dieselboy Has a Secret Life as a Sandwich Master
He made me the world's most over-the-top braised short rib sandwich.
All photos by Daniel Krieger
In this space, I'll be bringing you recipes and food stories from the globe's most cookin-est DJs, paired with carefully selected music for culinary enhancement.
If I had a time machine, I wouldn't want to meet historical figures or wager on sporting events whose outcomes I already know. Screw that. I would go to 1990s Pittsburgh, find sixteen-year-old me, and tell him that one day he'd interview Dieselboy—resident DJ at Steel City Jungle, a notorious local drum and bass night that I once loved—about his short rib sandwiches. After blowing my teenage mind, maybe then I'd go buy some lottery tickets or whatever.
Dieselboy is a drum and bass legend with an expert-level love for good grub. He blogs about his quest for perfect lasagna and hangs out with the likes of mixologist Jim Meehan. Today we're learning about his journey into the deep end of the chef pool by way of this truly insane short rib sandwich. Plus, we also chat about Pennsylvania's junk food culture—everything from its legendary hot dogs to bootleg drinks called "Gremlins"—and how to MacGyver a smoker out of a stock pot (seriously, it's possible).
THUMP: The Dieselboy! Welcome to Cooking With The DJ. Introduce yourself to our hungry readership.
Dieselboy: [I'm] Damian Higgins AKA DJ Dieselboy. I'm from small towns across America, but have lived in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and now Brooklyn, where I've been for 10 years.
What have you been up to recently?
Currently, I am on a hard and heavy bass music tour called "Blood Sweat And Bass" with Downlink, Mantis and Ajapai. In June, I will be doing a guest collaboration dinner at FT33 in Dallas with my friend, [restaurateur] Alex Stupak, which should be a fucking fun experience. Also doing a cocktail collaboration night on March 17th at the Counting Room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with some awesome bartender friends. And still putting out music on my two record labels Subhuman and Human Imprint. I like to keep many irons in the fire.
You also write for food blogs like FirstWeFeast. How did you get into cooking?
I taught myself how to cook by reading cookbooks, food magazines, and websites. I think the turning point was during a trip five years ago to my wife's parents' home in rural Arizona. There wasn't much to do, so I started digging through my mother-in-law's Taste of Home magazines. thought, why don't I get ingredients and make this food?
After that I started using my touring as a way to discover new restaurants. I am somewhat OCD about things that I like, so the "food thing" kept snowballing. I acquired kitchen tools, collected cookbooks, hit up more restaurants, threw dinner parties, and cooked [increasingly] grandiose meals.
You and I are both Pittsburghers-turned-Philadelphians. Let's start with the Pittsburgh food game. What's really good?
I had the best hot dog of my life in Pittsburgh. I went to college there, and this cart was set up in front of the Hillman Library. The guy was, I believe, a Vietnam veteran and had these crazy burn scars on his face. He called every guy "Dad" for some unknown reason. Super carnival barker type vibe. And his hot dogs were fucking magic. He got them from some Polish butcher and would have them resting on his grill in a little aluminum tray filled with some sort of liquid or marinade. When you ordered a hot dog, he would take one out of the tray and give it a nice char over charcoal. I still think about those damn hot dogs to this day!
I once had a random conversation on an airplane with someone from Pittsburgh and he knew the guy as well. Dude was a legend.
I grew up right by there. My Mom worked in that building. I have never heard of this shit! Crazy!
Nowadays there's lots of fancy shit in Pittsburgh. But whenever I visit I always try to go to my quintessential favorite restaurant, Tessaros. It is a blue-collar "meat and potatoes" kind of place. All of the meats are cooked over hard wood and they have an amazing burger. Anytime anyone asks me where to eat in Pittsburgh, that is the spot I recommend.
Dieselboy in his kitchen
OK, now let's move to Philly grub. You used to have a night at Fluid off South Street when it was still poppin'. That was next door to 611 Records.
I used to work at 611 back in the late 90s, and would always eat at places on South Street. This meant a ton of cheesesteaks from Ishkabibbles and Jim's. Of the two, I preferred Ishkabibbles. They had birch beer on tap and you could also get this drink called a "Gremlin" which was half grape soda and half lemonade. Terribly unhealthy but very tasty.
During my final years in Philadelphia, I would hit up the Stephen Starr restaurants, like Morimoto. That was probably prep for where I am at with food today.
OK, so what are we cooking and what's so great about it?
Today I did a take on a beef and cheddar sandwich. The version I made combines beer-braised and smoked short ribs with an aged cheddar sauce, hot pickled cherry peppers, and a black pepper and roasted garlic mayo on a toasted brioche bun. What's so great about it? Everything.
What your braised short rib sandwich will look like... if you do it right.
Yeah that sounds ace. How did you discover the recipe?
This isn't actually a recipe. I've never made this exact dish before. I just riffed on some ideas I had from other dishes I've made in the past. The short ribs were inspired by the ones made by my friend Saman Javid, who works at Gramercy Tavern. I went up against him and a bunch of other big NYC chefs for FirstWeFeast's Nacho Throwdown. Him and his head chef Michael Anthony won the competition with these beer-braised smoked short ribs in their nachos.
Do I have to be a genius to make this? What's the trick to making the dish work?
You don't have to be a genius but this exact dish was super time-consuming and a bit of a pain in the ass. It was absolutely fucking delicious, so I'm going to provide two recipes: a streamlined recipe for people to run with if they want to get something similar, and an exact breakdown for people who want to push themselves. [As a warning], I spent $100 on ingredients and produced four sandwiches. The economics suck. Annnnnd it was a two-day dish. Fun!
Your reverse psychology worked, I'm gonna make this. With all that time in the kitchen, what should we I listening to while I cook?
Keep the energy hype to keep you motivated in the kitchen. I suggest one of my favorite mixes from last year by my boy Antiserum for the BBC. Shit is off the hook! Or, if you're feeling extra hyped, you can always listen to my last mix, "Beyond the Black Bassline."
Dieselboy's Braised Short Rib Sandwiches (Full Version)
Note: This recipe walks you through exactly how Dieselboy made his sandwich–including stops at New York's gourmet dens and instructions on how to fashion a smoker out of your home cookware. For the non-New Yorkers and less adventurous broke-asses out there, a simplified recipe follows.
I hit up my favorite butcher, The Meat Hook in Brooklyn, and bought four pounds of short ribs. I scored the fat cap on them with a knife and split them into two gallon-sized ziploc bags. Then, I added two bottles of Brooklyn Beer's "Winter Ale," smashed cloves from two heads of garlic, a few small scoops of red and black miso paste, a little bit of Red Boat fish sauce, and a little bit of Baldwin's Worcestershire sauce. I tried to squeeze as much air out of the bags as possible, then placed them in the refrigerator overnight to marinate.
I picked up brioche buns from Amy's Bakery in Chelsea Market, four-year cheddar from Beecher's Cheese Shop, a couple containers of "Master Stock" (a fresh duck, pork and beef stock) from Dickson's Farmstand Meats, and a bunch of other random groceries from the local grocery store.
I cut a head of garlic in half, drizzled it with some smoked Japanese olive oil, wrapped it in foil and threw it into a hot oven for an hour. I pureed a carrot, an onion, a shallot, a small bunch of parsley and six of the marinated garlic cloves in a food processor. I threw this puree into the bottom of a pressure cooker with some olive oil and salt and cooked it down until it was well browned. I took the short ribs out of the bags and added the marinade to the pan, cooking it down until all of the liquid was gone. I was left with a very brown and very tasty flavor base.
The finished puree
Here's how I made a makeshift smoker on my stove: I took a large stock spot and placed a giant piece of aluminum foil in the bottom. Then I added a layer of hickory wood chips, another layer of aluminum foil with slits cut into it, an "elevating ring" of crushed aluminum foil, and another layer of aluminum foil. I placed the short ribs on top of this layer, and placed the stockpot on the stove over high heat.
I put the lid on the stockpot and waited until I started to see/smell smoke. Then, I turned the heat down to low, placed foil all around the edges of the top of the stockpot and the lid, and let it smoke for an hour. It smelled pretty fucking awesome. Once the short ribs were done smoking, I removed the meat from the pot, patted them dry, and salted them heavily with kosher salt. Then I added them to cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons of leftover Benton's bacon fat I had laying around and seared them on all sides to a super dark brown. Once they were finished, I added them to what was in the pressure cooker along enough Master Stock to come up near the 2/3 mark in the pan. I proceeded to pop the lid on and pressure cook them for about an hour.
While the ribs were cooking, I took some hot pickled cherry peppers and chopped them up into a relish. I took the roasted garlic out of the oven and squeezed the cloves into a bowl along with a cup of mayonnaise, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, some salt, a bunch of fresh black pepper and a splash of smoked Japanese olive oil. I then took a cup of half-and-half and some sodium citrate and heated them in a saucepan until it simmered.
At that point I used a stick blender to blend in the grated Beecher's cheddar and some leftover grated "Glorious Glastonbury" aged cheddar I had leftover from a recent trip to London. Once the cheese sauce came together, I added a spoonful of plain greek yogurt for extra tang and a little salt.
When the short ribs were finished cooking, I let the pressure out of the pressure cooker and put the meat into a bowl. While the ribs cooled, I ran the remaining braising liquid through a chinois and skimmed as much fat as I could off it. Then I put the liquid into a sauce pan and added some extra master stock to thin it out. Using my hands I pulled the meat into small pieces and discarded the fat, then added the meat to the liquid on the stove to stay warm.
Spreading the mayonnaise on the buns
Finally, I cut the brioche buns in half, spread the roasted garlic mayonnaise on them and gave them a quick sear in a hot cast iron pan. I placed some short rib meat into a small bowl and added a splash of Worcestershire to it. I put one half of a bun on a plate, smeared it with garlic mayonnaise, added some chopped cherry pepper relish to the short ribs, and drizzled with the aged cheddar sauce. I put the other half of the bun on top and proceeded to eat the hell out of it.
This was probably one of the top five sandwiches I've ever eaten. Maybe I was just hungry from all of the hassle of making it. But yes, super fucking tasty.
Dieselboy's Braised Short Rib Sandwiches (Simple Version)
4 sandwich buns/rolls/ciabbata
1/2 cup hot pickled cherry peppers, minced
Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
1 cup mayonnaise (preferably Kewpie or Helman's)
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 pinch salt
12 oz Velveeta cheese
1/2 cup of beer (from one of the bottles used in Short Rib prep)
4 - 6 oz any other cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon full fat Greek yogurt (optional)
4 pounds short ribs
2 bottles of beer
6 cloves of garlic
1 small bunch parsley
16 oz beef or chicken stock
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
1. Place the carrot, shallot, onion, parsley and garlic in a food processor and puree.
2. Pat the short ribs dry and sprinkle on all sides with kosher salt.
3. Take a dutch oven or pressure cooker and place on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then add the short ribs in two different batches and sear on all sides until brown. Remove short ribs and place on paper towels.
4. Add puree. Add a pinch of salt and cook until browned. Pour the beer into the pot and reduce until the pan is mostly dry. Add the short ribs (might have to squeeze them in tightly) and add enough stock until the liquid almost comes up to the top of the meat.
5a. If using a pressure cooker, put the lid on and seal. Bring the heat to high on the stove and wait until steam starts coming out of the lid. Reduce the heat to low (there should be a small but steady steam percolating out of the lid) and cook for an hour. When finished, place the pan in the sink under cold water until the pressure stabilizes. Remove from sink and hit the release button on the pressure cooker until all of the steam is released. Remove lid.
5b. If using a dutch oven, roast the garlic first (see below). Then reduce the oven to 275 degrees. Place the lid on the dutch oven and cook for 2 - 2.5 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove from oven.
6. Remove the short ribs from the pot and place in a bowl to cool. Strain the braising liquid into a large measuring cup.
7. Let it sit for a few minutes and then skim off as much fat as possible from the cup using a spoon. Return the liquid to the pot.
8. Pull as much fat as possible off of the short ribs and discard. Pull the meat apart with your hands. Return the meat to the pot and let warm in the liquid. Add more stock if necessary or desired.
1. Take the head of garlic and cut it in half so the tops of the cloves are exposed. Wrap it in foil with a drizzle of olive oil and roast it in a 350 degree oven for an hour.
2. Remove and let cool.
3. Squeeze the roasted cloves into a bowl and mash them up with a fork. Add the other ingredients and stir.
4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
1. Take the Velveeta and the beer and put in a saucepan over medium-low heat until melted.
2. Add any extra cheese you might want and the yogurt. Keep warm on low heat.
1. Cut the buns in half. Spread the roasted garlic mayonnaise on the cut sides.
2. Put a large skillet on the stove and brown the mayo covered sides of the buns (or put the buns cut side up on a cookie sheet and broil them for a minute or two in the oven until browned).
3. Spread more garlic mayonnaise on the buns, added the chopped cherry peppers, add short rib meat and then cover with the cheese sauce.
Dieselboy is considering a vision quest to find the secret of the magic hot dog juice. He is currently on the road with the Blood Sweat and Bass Tour - @DJDieselboy
Michael Fichman is a DJ, producer and writer living in Philadelphia - @djaptone