St. John Chutney

There is nothing finer, after having a good stock up your sleeve, than having a reserve of chutney.

Two updates in a month?  My goodness, the insanity!  Oh, that’s depressing now that I think about it. Let’s get to it before I start the inevitable downward spiral into self loathing.

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This recipe started last Saturday during the Manchester Derby.  While my allegiance is strongly elsewhere, any chance I can see the Scum beaten can’t be missed and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t entertaining. Back to the recipe, the chutney started off with me peeling and coring a couple pounds of apples…

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… followed by chopping the apple slices up into smaller chunks.

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Next I worked on chopping up a few pounds of Roma tomatoes. It seems like I’m making ketchup again, doesn’t it?

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Here’s where things took a new direction.  I peeled and minced roughly a half pound of fresh ginger…

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… and peeled a bunch of shallots. These were large shallots too, roughly half the size of a tennis ball. I have no idea where our markets are getting these monstrosities, but this is Texas. That might explain a few things.

At this point I threw all of the previous mentioned items into a stainless steel pot along with the following:

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1. Almost two pounds of brown sugar

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2. A bunch of raisins and dates.

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3. A cheesecloth bag full of black peppercorns, coriander seeds, white peppercorns, allspice, mace, bay leaves, celery seeds, cloves, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and whole chilies.

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All of the ingredients were places in the stainless steel pot, along with a fair amount of malt vinegar, and placed on a low heat for about an hour.

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Mr. Henderson warns against going too far and ending up with a “brown, jammy consistency” but the shallots I’d used were not fully softened because of their size. So I kept things going.  Eventually the shallots had softened, but I was fairly close to that jammy consistency that I’d been warned against.  If you make this recipe yourself, try finding smaller shallots that will soften quickly without compromising the integrity of the other ingredients.

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Quickly I moved the chutney into sterile jars and sealed as much of it as possible away for later use, per Mr. Henderson’s instructions.

Flavor wise, this chunky chutney is delightful with its fruity sweet/sour/savory nature all mixed together with a wallop of spice combination.  I love blathering on and on about flavors and such, it’s just tough to describe other than… it’s chutney.  A very fine, delicious chutney that you’ll have to try and make yourself if you’d like to understand where I’m coming from. Wow.

If you do decide to give this a go, you should try pairing it with grilled meats or as a side dish to various Indian dishes.  I even like to take a little, puree it and add it to mayo for sandwiches.

One down, thirty to go.

Tomato Ketchup

You will need a stainless-steel pan, large enough for all the ingredients. Tie the peppercorns, allspice, and cloves in cheesecloth.  This ketchup will improve with age.

Sometimes it seems as though the site has grown an attitude. “Won’t update me, eh?  Well guess what you jerk, I won’t let you update at all! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!”

For the past week I’ve been trying to nail down a php error that has been giving me blank pages while trying to login, edit pages or simply refreshing pages.  Only last night was  I able to whip things into shape, so I’m going to go ahead and get something up while I have a chance.  Even worse is the fact that I’d announced on my Facebook page that I planned on updating days ago only to be made a liar by my own website.  That’ll teach me to open my fat mouth.

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Regardless, I’m here and I’m writing about the process for making ketchup.  That’s all that really matters. I’d like to take a minute to point out how looney it might seem to be making ketchup when grabbing a cheap bottle at the store takes only a fraction of time with fairly consistent results. I say “looney” because that what I literally—yes, literally and not figuratively—was called by more than one person when they asked what recipe I was working on next.

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Aside from a large stainless-steel pan I also needed a lot of tomatoes, a bunch of apples, an amount of sugar capable of giving someone type two diabetes, and more than enough malt vinegar for 173 orders of fish and chips.  Not pictured was half a dozen onions because I forgot to pick them up and had to go back to the store shortly afterwards. Sigh.

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Once I’d picked up the onions my lovely wife and I started on prep for making ketchup. While I began roughly chopping the Roma tomatoes…

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… my wife peeled and cored all of the apples we needed.

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Fifteen minutes later we’d chopped the onions, apples and tomatoes roughly. I love it when the recipe calls for a rough chop. My OCD gets set aside and I just get the job done rather than stressing over exact cuts.

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Everything—and I mean everything, vinegar, spices and sugar—went into the only stainless-steel pot I had that was large enough to hold it all. I can’t imagine how big a pan would have to be to hold all of these ingredients.  Because I had run out of cheesecloth on a previous recipe all of the spices were free to roam carelessly through the other ingredients in the pot.  It wasn’t ideal to say the least but I knew everything would work out down the line.  You’ll see.

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After two hours of simmering the apples, onions and tomatoes had softened to the point of disintegration. Everything in the pot went through a sieve to ensure that there was a constant texture to end product and by doing so it also happened to remove all of the spices that should have been wrapped in cheesecloth.  Given the chance I highly recommend using the spice bag method but if you’re making a bunch of ketchup with no cheesecloth you’re not completely out of luck.

There is something that I should mention that’s not in the book:  There was an excessive amount of liquid that needed to be removed from the apple-onion-tomato slurry before it could be called ketchup.  As I ran the mixture through a sieve over 2.5 liters or a little above a half gallon of water was leftover. I kept it all just incase I would have needed it to thin out the ketchup, but that was’t the case in the end.  If anything, I could have removed more moisture to improve the texture of the ketchup.

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The ketchup was boiled one more time to remove the rest of the excess moisture and to improve the texture.  I poured everything into my second largest plastic food container to let the condiment “find its feet” over the next few days as Mr. Henderson suggests.

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Soon thereafter my wife and I invited some friends over for an evening of fish and chips, drinks, and Cards Against Humanity.  While the ketchup wasn’t the star of the show by any stretch of the imagination, it didn’t stand out like a sore thumb, either.  The flavor was ever so slightly sweeter but with a spicier undertone than normal ketchup that made it much more interesting than anything you could find in a plastic bottle one could purchase at your local megamart.  Otherwise it was ketchup.  Hand-made, delicious ketchup.  I can’t wait to can it and hand it out to my friends and family.  Aside from the looney comments I know they’ll appreciate the effort that went into this condiment.

One down, thirty one to go.

Bacon Knuckle And Pickled Cabbage, Part Two

Okay, there was that unexpected and totally unwanted sickness and car accident delay, but we should be back on track now.  Picking up where we left off last time…

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In a heavy-set enamel coated cast iron pot I started softening a few thinly sliced onions with a generous dollop of duck fat.  The whole kitchen filled with a heady bouquet of slowly cooked onions. You know, the one that makes your eyes roll into the back of your skull and sends your stomach into fitful bouts of noise-making.

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And here are the stars of the show: A massive hunk of bacon with two stonkingly huge ham hocks procured from the fine folks of Salt And Time and then smoked and seasoned by my buddy Paul C. who went out of his way to get these ready for me.  Thankfully I was able to repay his kindness that evening as he was on hand to help with preparing this dish.

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Back to the pork here in a second.  At this point the onions had all softened to an acceptable level so they were joined by the sauerkraut and a few bay leaves and peppercorns.  All I needed to do from here was cut the bacon into smaller pieces and add them and the hocks into the pot.

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I’m no expert, but I’d hazard a guess that this was one happy piggy.  Look at all of that fat!

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And with lots of Tetris-like moves Paul and I managed to finagle everything into the pot with just enough sauerkraut to cover it all.  Mostly.  A bottle of dry white wine was poured over everything and we stuffed the pot into a moderately hot oven for a few hours.

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Here’s the result of all of the effort, the mistakes and failures, the help of friends both new and old.  You can see in the foreground that the meat has pulled away from the bone which is a popular way for people to describe that no further cooking is needed. The kitchen smelled amazing and both Paul and I were starving.  At first we had wanted to plate everything up family style but I don’t have large enough serving platter to hold so much food.

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We ended up slapping the largest hock on a dinner plate with a hunk of the bacon and a nice amount of the onion/sauerkraut mix. It’s comical, the picture is ridiculous and you can’t really point out where the bacon is without going back and really looking, can you?  We didn’t care at that point, though Paul did notice that the dish was roughly the same size as his head.

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See?  Pretty close.

I’m struggling on how to describe the end result of… well… everything that went into making this dish.  The first thing that really stood out was the lack of seasoning of the sauerkraut and onions.  Had cured knuckles been used as a opposed to smoked I’m sure that there would have been enough salt to go around.  That was something I should have taken into consideration during preparation and yet it just didn’t register.  My God, it really was just mistake after mistake this go around.  Thankfully, the meat was fantastically tender and fatty, just the comforting thing one would want on a cold winter’s evening.

This is a good recipe, you just need to be slightly more capable and aware than I was and you’ll be pleasantly content with your results.

One down, thirty two to go.

Whew!

After a week of getting my butt kicked by strep throat followed by more hosting issues not letting me into my own site, I’m back in!  Part two of the pig knuckle post is coming tomorrow.  I’ve fought too hard to get back in here not to update.  See you then!

Bacon Knuckle And Pickled Cabbage, Part One

The bacon knuckle comes from the knee joint of a pig and is brined.  If you omit the knuckles and up the bacon quota, the resulting cabbage makes a very good accompaniment to pheasant or pigeon.

This post has been a few months in the making, and while I could attempt to blame my missteps and mistakes for the delay that wouldn’t be true.  I’ll get into that in another post later on.  For now I’ll focus on the numerous mistakes I made trying to get this dish completed.

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Making sauerkraut is not hard if you know what you’re doing.  Despite my attempts to follow the directions in The Cookbook to the letter I failed four times in a row with the results ending up like you see above, a stinking fetid mass of rotted cabbage.

Each attempt started off the same two steps:

1. Coring then thinly slicing two heads of cabbage.
2. In a non-reactive container, interspersing layers of cabbage with sea salt and juniper berries.

The next step is where everything was going wrong, but I only found out much later.  In the recipe, the reader is instructed to weigh the cabbage down and to keep it submerged in it’s own liquid.  I had assumed that the moisture from the cabbage would eventually be enough that things would take care of themselves.  That was my first mistake, and my first failure.  My next failure was because I didn’t properly weigh the cabbage down and there wasn’t enough liquid to keep the cabbage submerged.  In an attempt to rectify that mistake, I added tap water to the third batch which ended up killing the yeast and bacteria needed to properly ferment the cabbage.  I didn’t know that at the time, but I do now.

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Fearing that the plastic container I had been using was part of the problem, I ended up buying a fancy German sauerkraut.  It didn’t help.  Failure four.

At this point I got desperate and reached out for help on my Facebook page.  It was more whining than anything, really.  But Chase Cole of the award winning Dai Due extended a helping hand and it made all the difference.

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I jetted down to the Austin Farmer’s Market where Dai Due sets up shop and dishes out great food and coffee every weekend while offering incredible butchered products and other fare.  Jesse Griffiths has made a name for himself and his company in Austin because of his tireless attention to detail and dedication to using the best possible ingredients in his offerings.  Getting help from a member of his crew was huge and I can’t thank Chase enough for being so kind.  I still owe you that beer Chase.

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That help came in the form of Dai Due’s own sauerkraut starter.  This is the secret sauce that I’d been missing the whole time.  All of my attempts were wasted simply because I was hoping that some wild yeast and bacteria were going to pop up and make everything work like magic.  With this starter though success was so much realistic.  When I picked it up I was also told that if the cabbage wasn’t complete submerged in liquid to add some distilled water.  That was another puzzle piece that resulted in an my fifth and final attempt.

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At first it looked like this batch had gone bad as well, but it’s very common for mold to grow on the top layer of the sauerkraut.

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Success!  Seriously, wonderfully delicious sauerkraut!  I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I was when this part of the recipe was done.

I can also admit that I should have done much more research after the second failed attempt.  I can’t begin to explain why I just kept hoping for the best each time.   Usually I’m all about learning everything I can about the recipes as I work on them.  I’ll be returning to that kind of methodology going forward.

Next week, part two.