Saturday, January 26, 2013

Playing with bellies again...

whiskey bacon
mmm bacon.

  That there is a new batch of bacon I've got going on. Finally. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I have been buying my bacon as of late. What started as a "just this once" exception for lack of time turned into a weekly thing. And while all bacon is pretty much awesome in my book, every single time I bit into an overly crisped and much too thin strip, I thought about how much better my own would be. Making bacon is so easy and so crazy good that it's hard not to feel guilty for skipping it.
  The greatest pleasure in making your own foods is of course the experimentation. I'm not bound by what bacon makers think should be in my bacon, I can use whatever the hell I want (Now that's meaty liberation). And while I usually go the sweet and simple route with maple syrup, I wanted to play with this batch a little. This go around I opted for a bold and molasses-esque buckwheat honey, a healthy dose of whiskey, and an aromatic blend of bay leaves, juniper berries, black pepper, garlic, and nutmeg. As of this moment the pork bellies have finished their week long cure and are forming a *pellicle in the refrigerator, after which they will get slow smoked over Bourbon barrel wood chips. Stay tuned, recipe and pictures of the final product to come!

  *Fun Meat Geek trivia fact of the day*: A pellicle is a thin covering of protein that forms on a meat that is exposed to circulating air. It is essential when smoking meat as its tacky surface traps and locks in smoke flavor. It also acts as a protective membrane of sorts by preventing the meat from drying out. Forming a pellicle on home cured meats is as easy as placing the meat on a cooling rack (for circulation) and leaving it in the refrigerator for 24 hours.


Friday, January 4, 2013

the Next Level of Chicken Stock

chicken parmesan stock

  I know what you're thinking, "I toil away day and night on my chicken stock, but how can I make it better (that is what you were thinking right?)?" Well, as a chicken stock making cheese monger, I have a little trick up my sleeve for you. Enter: Parmesan rinds.
  Yeah that's right, you know those hard ends of your Parmesan that you toss out when the cheese is gone? Stop! In your hands you harness oodles of flavor. I get asked on a daily basis what to do with them, and there are a number of things. Toss them into a nice pot of Italian white beans with rosemary, into chili, or do what I do. Toss them into your own homemade chicken stock.
  First things first, if you don't make your own chicken stock, you are seriously missing out. Not only on flavor, but nutrients too. And it's a great way to use leftover chicken carcasses and bones (you don't throw those out too do you?). Homemade stock is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and doesn't even compare to the store bought stuff. And once you see how easy it is, you'll never go back.
  Homemade stock is packed with high doses of vitamins and minerals which are easily absorbed into the body, as well as natural gelatin, a powerful anti-inflammatory food that especially does wonders for the gut. Once upon a time everyone and their brother consumed it, and the cold fighting chicken noodle soup Grandma referred to wasn't Campbell's.
  Anytime I serve chicken in my house, I save all of the bones and picked over carcasses, as well as any innards and neck bones in a plastic bag in the freezer. When I have 2-3 carcasses (or the equivalent thereof), I make stock. There are a few tricks I have learned along the way that will get you the most bang for your

1. The addition of Apple Cider Vinegar is very important. Adding 2 Tablespoons to the pot helps to leach out the nutrients from the bones, making your stock more powerful and flavorful. And no, you can't taste it.

2. Allowing your ingredients to sit in cold water for an hour before boiling. Doing this will help to extract as much collagen from the bones as possible, equaling a healthier you.

3. Simmering for a looooong time. Almost all recipes for chicken stock advise to simmer for 4 hours. This, my friends, is hogwash. Try 12-24 hours. I know, this sounds like a really long time. But trust me, the flavor and nutrient content soars through the roof the longer you simmer, and the only thing you have to sacrifice is an extra burner (or a crock pot).

4. Lastly, my favorite trick. Toss in a Parmesan rind or two. You can save the rinds leftover from you cheese and stash them in the freezer, or hunt them down at your local cheese shop. You will thank me later.

Chicken Parmesan Stock


2-3 chicken carcasses (or equivalent in bones, necks, and innards)
1 carrot, rough chopped
1/2 onion, rough chopped
1 stalk celery, rough chopped
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
10 or so whole peppercorns
2-3 Parmesan rinds

In a large stock pot or crock pot, combine all ingredients.
Cover with cold water and let sit for 1 hr.
Bring to a boil and skim off the scum that surfaces (this is dirt, impurities, blood, etc.)
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for as long as you can take it, at least 12 hours, ideally 24.
Strain through a colander (discarding ingredients) and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze.
Don't skim that fat off the top, it's really wonderful for you!