Monday, January 24, 2011

CharcutePalooza: The Salt Cure

Fresh Pork Belly
A gorgeous local farm-raised pork belly

   At last! My pink salt has arrived! Now I can move onto more pressing matters, like curing! And blogging! The CharcutePalooza challenge for the month of February is salt curing. While sodium in general has gotten quite a bad rap in the health world, salt is an incredibly valuable mineral our bodies cannot do without. I realize that many of you are concerned about nitrites and pink salt. Nitrites, however, naturally occur in many fresh vegetables (hence why celery juice is used in "uncured" lunch meats). I personally do not consume large amounts of nitrite cured meats anyway, and do not worry myself over it, but that's just me. You should do your own research.
   I feel it is truly a crying shame that more people do not cure their own bacon. If I had known how easy the process was, I would have done it ages ago. My hopes are that I can possibly persuade you to try it for yourself. All it involves is some really nice pork belly, some salt, pink salt (although you can do without it), and whatever flavorings you so choose. Bacon is traditionally smoked, but you can skip this step as well.
   I prefer sweet bacon, so after acquiring a beautiful pork belly, I slathered it in a mixture of salts, maple syrup, maple sugar, and black pepper.

Soon to be Bacon
Basking in all its' maple glory

   From there, it was into a Ziploc bag to be stored in the refrigerator to cure for about 7 days. It will need to be turned over every other day. Finally, it will be smoked. I am really looking forward to a good excuse to fire up our smoker in the middle of winter. Next up was Pancetta. Made much in the same way bacon is, pancetta is its' Italian cousin, just as tasty, only it fore goes the smoking and adds a little dry curing time.
   I trimmed another pork belly until it was nice and square. For its' rub I used salt, brown sugar, pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg, mustard seed, thyme, and fresh garlic. It was hard not to start gnawing on it right then and there, it smelled that good.

Uncured Pancetta

   Like the bacon, it will also spend 7 or so days in a bag in the refrigerator. But instead of meeting a smoker/oven, it will be rolled, tied, and hung to dry in the same coat closet that the duck prosciutto hung out in. Yay, more creepy meat in the closet! It will take a few weeks to finish, but will be oh so worth it.
   After trimming the second belly, I was left with a small heap of meat and fat leftovers. According to Mr. Ruhlman, an excellent way to put those scraps to use (waste nothing!) is to make Salt Pork out of them. I have actually never used salt pork (which is exactly what is sounds like), but it can be used to flavor any number of dishes. Chili, stews, beans, tomato sauces, soups, and risottos can all benefit from a small hunk of salt pork. And it can be kept in the freezer for seemingly forever, so why not?!

Soon to be Salt Pork
Salty & Porky

   Since finally getting my hands on Charcuterie, I have been reading over all of the chapters and getting a good sense of what Michael Ruhlman is all about, at least when it comes to meat. I find it very exciting that someone is so passionate about supporting the art of meat curing. With so much negative hype about salt and fat, most people won't even look at a slice of salami, let alone put it in their mouths. What most people fail to realize is that the real concerns are the quality of the foods we eat, and the hidden evils that lurk in them. Preservatives, additives, flavoring agents...those words you can't pronounce on the label, those are what you should be worried about. Salt and fat have been around as long as we have, and always will be. So here is to salt and fat!

Long live charcuterie!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

CharcutePalooza: Duck Prosciutto, Part Deux

Duck Prosciutto
Duck Prosciutto

  Operation: Duck Prosciutto was a huge success! The meat chunks took only 4 days to cure in my coat closet, much quicker than expected. When unwrapped, everything looked good. No black skin, no mold, no fuzzies (other than what the cheesecloth left behind). The inside is a pretty prosciutto pink, lovely glisening fat. The flavor of pepper and garlic come through nicely. The salt is a bit much, but I think that is due mostly to the thickness of the cut, considering I don't have a proper meat slicer, or even a proper sharp knife for that matter (lazy).
   I am still both shocked and awed that my first home curing experiment went so incredibly well, and that it was so easy. The challenge for February: Pancetta & Bacon! I cannot wait to put a slab of pork belly on our smoker! More details to come.
   For now, the prosciutto will be enjoyed with a healthy amount of red wine and possibly a bite of cheese. I am going to freeze the rest for a nice flat bread pizza, or maybe a pasta dish starring peas and asparagus when Springtime rolls around. Just no Chianti and fava beans please.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chicken Butchering 2010

Chicken what?

   As I mentioned previously, the "farm" saw 15 new chicks last summer. Of those chicks, 6 turned out to be boys. Now, I have nothing against roosters. Turns out they are quite useful. Mine is a fine and handsome example of what a rooster should be. He spends all of his time protecting his ladies, breaking up squabbles, finding tasty treats to share with the harem, and (most importantly) being sweet to me. However, 6 roosters is 5 too many. Roosters don't like to share, especially when it comes to hens. And they also have a thing for crowing, a lot.
   So come September, it was time to figure out what to do with them. I knew I wanted to keep one in the hopes of hatching out more cute and fluffy chicks, so the most gentle of the lot was spared. There is no place for mean roosters in this hen house. Selling them was a waste of time, heck it's hard to even give roosters away. So, since I happen to be a huge fan of all roasted, fried, and barbecued chicken, a good old-fashioned chicken harvest was in order. I am a big believer in respecting the animals I consume, hence one of many reasons why I always seek out non-industrial humanely raised meat. And if I do not feel comfortable with the thought of killing the animal I wish to consume, I do not consume that animal.
   There are a million different ways to kill a chicken, so I won't go into great detail about it here, although I do suggest using a killing cone, which is a very easy and less stressful (for you and the bird) way to get the job done. What I want to give you here is an idea of how easy it is to process your own meat in your own backyard. I unfortunately do not have step-by-step photos to guide you through it, so instead go here for a fantastic tutorial by Herrick Kimball, which is what I used.

Step 1: Pluck the Chicken

   For this I used your standard turkey fryer. Fill it with water and heat until hot, but not boiling. Take the chicken by the feet (already dead please) and plunge it into the hot water. Swish it up and down for a few seconds to ensure all of the feathers are getting saturated, then take it back out of the water so it doesn't begin to cook. Do this a few more times, and then test readiness by pulling on one of the large wing or tail feathers. If it slides out easily, it's good to go. Now if you do all of the plucking by hand, it will take awhile, but it is very easy. I was amazed at how easily the feathers just slide right out. If they don't, you need to scald some more. You can also buy/make a plucker, but I recommend doing it by hand the first time for the experience. It took me roughly an hour and a half with the help of a friend to finish plucking 5 roosters.

Step 2: Remove the Feet and Head

   After you finish plucking, give the chicken a good rinse, and grab a sharp boning knife or kitchen shears (the shears were my best friend during all of this). For the feet, start the cut in between the joint right above where the yellow stops.
   For the head, slice directly under the head into the neck and through the esophagus and trachea. You can save both of these to make stock with, or as a weird treat for the dogs!

Step 3: Loosen the Crop

  The crop of a chicken is a little sac that holds all of the food the chicken has eaten before it is carried into the gullet to be ground up. Depending on when the chicken last ate, the crop will vary in size. To find it, loosen some of the skin around the neck and peel it down close to the breast. Get under the skin and feel for a small fleshy sac. It will be tight against the skin and the breast. Carefully peel it away from the skin, but you do not have to remove it, it will come out with the rest of the guts later. Yum!

Step 4: Remove the Neck

   Pull away the excess skin from the neck. Hold the neck firmly, and make several cuts into the very base of the neck. Slowly twist the neck until it pops off. See, I told you this would be easy.

Step 5: Remove the Oil Gland

   Flip the chicken over so it is resting on its' stomach. There is a little oil gland right on the top of its' tail. It is common to slice this off, as it supposedly taints the taste of the meat when cooking. To do this, start slicing right above the gland (it looks like a little lump on the tail) and slice under it. It is yellow in color, so if you see any yellow left, just keeping slicing until you remove it all.

Step 6: Open 'Er Up!

   Flip the chicken back over onto its' back. Make a very small slice right above the vent (er, where the bird takes care of "business"). Be careful not to cut too deep as not to puncture any organs and make a mess. Use your fingers to tear the hole open large enough to fit your hand inside.

Step 7: Remove the Viscera (Guts!)

   Woo! Here is the fun part! No really, it is! Take your hand and slowly plunge it into the hole you just made. Keep your hand high up against the breastbone. When you reach the top, lightly grasp all of the squishy goodness and sloooowly pull. Make sure to do it gingerly so you don't go breaking the gall bladder. Keep pulling until all of the junk is on the outside of the cavity, but still connected to the vent. Cut the skin around the vent to free everything from the bird. You will probably have to go back in and feel for the lungs, which are tight against the ribcage on either side of the backbone. Honestly, I was not sure if I had removed them or not.

   This is the only picture I have from the big day.

Chicken Harvest
Guts are fun!

   From here you can pick through the pile of fun to save delicious treats such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and gizzard, which I did. You can compost what you don't use. Now you want to give the chicken a good hose down, and chill it as quickly as possible. Keep the chicken in the refrigerator for 3 days before cooking or freezing. You want to make sure the rigor mortis has subsided so you don't bite into shoe leather at dinner time.
And that is all there is to it....chicken butchering made easy!

Fresh from the smoker

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CharcutePalooza: Duck Prosciutto

   Georgia doesn't see many snow days. So when it does, complete panic ensues. These last few days have been affectionately referred to as The Snowpocalypse around the city. But while everyone else was out hurriedly gathering up enough bread and milk to pave their driveways with (at least, that's what I think they do with it all), I was planning phase one of CharcutePalooza, first installment. Oh, and frolicking in the snow with this guy...


   First, I acquired a duck. The breasts by themselves would have been sufficient, but the whole beast was a much better deal for the money. I broke it down for several different uses.

Waste Nothing

   The skin and fat will be rendered down for cooking (mmm, duck fat fried potatoes), I slow roasted the legs/thighs for enchiladas, the liver will be reserved for pate, the breasts are of course for the curing experiment, and the remaining innards and carcass will be frozen and made into stock at a later date.
   As far as duck prosciutto goes, the process is very simple and straight forward. I totally encrusted the breasts in salt, let them rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours, and rinsed the salt off. At this point you can go straight into hanging them, or you can flavor them if you like.

Duck Breasts

   I decided to rub them with black pepper and garlic powder. I then soaked cheesecloth in brandy and (very badly) tied them up. In my haste to get this recipe started, I forgot to pick up more butchers twine. So I improvised with festive holiday raffia. I'm not sure if it makes the ugly job I did tying the things up better or worse.
   Finally, they were to be weighed and hung. Ideally, you want a somewhat cool and humid place to hang them, around 50 - 60 degrees and 60% humidity. I have a coat closet that roughly meets these standards, so that is where they hang today.

Hello Clarice...

   And there they are. Sorry for the picture quality, the closet does not have lighting. I admit that it is a very strange feeling to have chunks of meat hanging in my coat closet. I am terribly excited about the results, but the process is a tad Hannibal Lectorish. Maybe one day I will have a proper meat suspension enclosure. The whole process should only take about a week if everything goes right, at which point I will post the results. Here's to not getting food poisoning!

Happy Curing!

Saturday, January 8, 2011


1. Sausages, ham, pâtés, and other cooked, processed, or cured meat foods.
2. A delicatessen specializing in such foods.

   Do you DIY, eat copious amounts of cured meats, and like anything that has "Palooza" in the title (I know, me too!)? Then man oh man do I have a fun project for you! Welcome to CharcutePalooza (shar-koo-ta-pa-loo-za)! This year is officially The Year of Meat thanks to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, and everyone can get in on this fascinating year-long project.
   Based on the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman, each month will feature a new recipe to try out, photograph, and document. To join in the fun, send your name and blog info to Mrs. Wheelbarrow, who will add a new recipe on the 15th of each month. You will have one month to complete the challenge and blog about it if you so desire. Just send a link back to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and she will post your experience in a round-up of links on her site on the 30th of each month. You do not, of course, have to blog about or document anything if you choose not to (but why not?), you can simply follow along and try some great recipes you may not have tried otherwise. However, if you do join in this online community challenge, here are the rules according to Mrs. Wheelbarrow:

  • Let's celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors, and presentation.
  • Let's agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
  • Let's write about our experiences. Not just how the charuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
  • Buy a copy of 'Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing' by Michael Rulhman.
  • Cook along as often as practical, there's no obligation.
  • Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
   The first recipe is already out, which I admittedly am a little late getting to. But I intend to start it at once, and blog the results anyway. What is the recipe you may be wondering? Why, Duck Prosciutto of course. Yes, you can make this at home. Even better is it really isn't that difficult. Can you imagine serving homemade duck prosciutto at your next dinner party? Yeah, that's like instant rock star status. I plan to start the recipe tomorrow, which will take 8 days to complete. Check back soon to read all about it. I ordered my copy of Charcuterie this morning, which has been on my Amazon wish list for quite some time. I highly advise you to do the same, in it you will find all of the recipes to come in this Year of Meat.

psst...if you buy from this link, I get Amazon credits!

   For those of you who revel in the unusual and delicious, I can't think of a better commitment to make than this one. What a great feeling it is to realize that all of the foods we consume can be made easily by our own hands, with the ingredients and flavors we choose. Frying a piece of bacon you cured yourself  is a truly liberating experience. Now get to it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

(Apple) Pie oh Pie!

Oh Snap! Pie!

    I really can't think of a reason why I shouldn't talk about pie right now. I have been toiling for years to come up with the perfect recipe. And while it's actually not that late in the evening at all, I have had a little too much wine you see, so thoughts just naturally turn to pie.
    I am not a baker. Not even remotely close to it. It really pains me to even try, which is why I do it. Have you ever heard the saying "Cooking is an Art, and Baking a Science"? Yeah, that's so true, and I really suck at Science. I have been perpetrator to countless baking experiments gone horribly wrong. Crusts that didn't brown...doughs that didn't rise...fillings that spilled over...oven fires...I have done (or not done) it all.
   So when one such as myself finally perfects the elusive pie recipe (crust from scratch and everything ) it really is a big deal. Like blog about it big deal. So with some help from Ms. Stewart, here is my tried and true pie recipe.

Crust Ingredients:

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c (2 sticks) salted butter, very cold, cut into small chunks
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
6 - 8 T ice water

   Ok, a few things first before we get started. When it says cold, means cold. This is something I have always bypassed before. No really, it needs to be COLD! I am not just referring to the butter and the water, but also the workspace and your own two hands (hold under cold water for a few seconds). You do not want the butter to start melting yet! Why? This develops the gluten, which makes the dough tough. Tough is not always cute, and certainly not tender and flaky.
   Chill the water in the freezer for several minutes, and the butter for up to an hour.
   Salted butter? Really? Yes. I know, I know, everyone swears by unsalted when baking, but really, there is such a minimal amount of salt in "salted butter" anyway that it doesn't make much of a difference. And salt is really just flavor right?
So now that we have that out of the way...

   Blend the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. 
   Add the butter chunks and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. (You can do this by hand with a pastry cutter, but I find a food processor blends more quickly and efficiently, which means less time for the butter to warm up.)
   Add the water (a little at a time), until the dough starts to come together.
   Turn dough out onto a floured board, divide into two halves, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (1 hour!? Yes! 1 hour!).
   After 1 hour, take one half of the dough and roll out to a size slightly larger than your pie plate. Make sure to roll from the center and out, not from side to side (and make it thin!).
   Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
   Roll dough around your rolling pin and unroll onto pie plate.

Filling Ingredients:

7 large apples (my favorite is Pink Lady) peeled, cored, and cut into varying slices (I say varying slices for texture's sake. The thinner slices will cook down into a applesauce-like consistency, while the thicker slices will remain slightly crunchy.)
3/4 c sugar (or less depending on the sweetness of the apples)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice
pinch of fresh lemon zest
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 vanilla bean,  halved and scraped (don't skimp here and use the extract, trust me.)
2 T butter, cut into chunks and chilled

   Mix all of the ingredients together except for the butter.
   Fill the bottom half of the pie crust with the apple mixture, mounding the apples up.
   Dot the apples with the butter.
   Roll out the other half of the pie crust, roll onto rolling pie, and unroll over filled pie.
   Use egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 T water), to brush and seal the two pie crust edges together.
   Trim the crust overhang with kitchen shears.
   Crimp the edges together with either your fingers or a fork.
   Cut 3 small flutes into the center of the crust.
   Brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle with both raw and table sugar (That texture thing again).
   Transfer to baking sheet and bake at 450 for 15 min.
   Reduce heat to 350 degrees F, bake for 1 hour (or until crust is delicious golden brown, cover edges with foil if it browns too quickly).
   Cool on wire rack 1 hour before serving, IF you can wait that long.

 And that is it. My personal favorite recipe for an apple, or any other fruit, pie (ask me about fresh cherry pie this summer). It is certainly easier to buy the crust from your local grocer's freezer, but you don't strike me as the kind of person who would do that...


Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Hard Pear Cider (Perry)

Behold! Perry!

   New Year's Eve has come and gone, during which I finally popped open the first bottle of hard cider I brewed late last year. Results? Um, well it was ok. At first swig it is everything I wanted my cider to be: gorgeous golden blush color, good nose, lightly carbonated, sweet and peary. But then it finishes into a very strong sour note that isn't all that different from a Lambic. Which is not exactly a bad thing, but pretty jarring if you aren't expecting it, and not what I was going for.
   However I purposely didn't pasteurize the juice before brewing, so I can't be too surprised. I am a bright shade of apple (or pear?) green when it comes to brewing, but I believe the sour kick at the end is the result of wild yeasts from the pear juice. Any thoughts? While it didn't turn out exactly as planned, I am still pleased with the outcome. The process was a blast and I now have a drinkable cider I made myself. Plus it's just damn cool. So how does one make Perry you ask? Well I'll give you a quick rundown, just forgive me for lack of pictures. Like I said, I am working on this photo documenting thing so bear with me.
   First you need pears. No problem there, my trees give me enough to feed a small pear-loving town. I don't know the variety, but they are very hard and mildly sweet. I needed enough pear juice to fill a 5 gallon glass carboy, which is A HELL OF A LOT.

About half of a hell of a lot

   I used a juicer to juice up the pears, which only took about 3 hours... I'm thinking next time I will rent an apple press. I added 1lb. of honey, and an English lager yeast. Then I slapped on the airlock and kept it in a dark and somewhat cool place for about 1 month. I then racked it into another carboy to remove some of the sediment, and let it sit again for roughly 1 month. Finally, I bottled it all into lovely green Champagne bottles, and corked them using plastic corks which I could put in (not so easily) by hand. Before bottling I added a very small amount (about 2 cups) of organic apple cider to the brew, as well as a small amount of sugar to each bottle to give the yeast something to chew on in the hopes of a little added carbonation. Then I bottled and let sit for just under, you guessed it, 1 month.
   Now did I need to let the cider sit that long? Nope. I did take my time in the beginning after reading that honey can slow fermentation, but really I was just procrastinating. Luckily when making cider that is ok to do. So juicing aside, the process was very easy and fun to do. And I got 15 bottles out of my first batch, most of which I shared as Christmas presents. Next time I foresee using an apple press and pasteurizing the juice beforehand, but all in all I am thrilled with the outcome and can't wait to brew again. Next up, brown ale!