Blood Cake And Fried Eggs

You will need to ask your butcher for the blood.  Chinese butchers are a good source.  It may be difficult to obtain, but it can be got.  You will also need an 8-inch loaf pan lined with plastic wrap.

This dish is the third panel in the comic illustrated by my friend Laura Williams. We served every item shown at a dinner party for a few of our good friends.  The second–and last–panel will be next week’s update.

I’ve been a big, big fan of eating blood ever since I had my first boudain noir at Bouchon.  Rich, creamy goodness with a luxurious flavor unlike anything else.  So when I happened upon this recipe, I knew before I even tried it I would absolutely love it.  The rough part was going to be finding a place that sold pig’s blood.  But as Mr. Henderson mentions above, heading to the Chinese market is usually my first stop when it comes to finding the more interesting items needed for making recipes from “The Cookbook.”

MT Supermarket in Austin sells pork blood by the pint.  This recipe calls for fresh pigs blood, and even though this blood was coagulated to the point of being like Jello, the butchers behind the counter swore it had been put out that morning.  I gathered the rest of my needed ingredients and headed home.

In a large non-stick skillet my wife started to sweat a finely chopped onion and some garlic in duck fat.  The duck fat is just the tip of the iceberg of the unctuous, rich goodness of this dish.

This was my first time ever using two things: Marjoram and Mace.  It turns out that Marjoram is a relative of Oregano, and that Oregano also goes by the name Wild Marjoram in some places.  It tasted slightly citrusy and sweet with a slightly bitter undertone.  I plucked the leaves from half the bunch, and finely chopped them.

Next up was the Mace.  Mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or arillus of the nutmeg seed. Very similar in flavor to nutmeg, Mace is just a bit stronger.  I had some real issues with finding Mace in the usual megamarts, so I ended up ordering a probably too-big bag from Penzeys Spices.  I dropped half a handful of strands of Mace into a coffee grinder that I commandeered into spice work and blitzed them until I had a powder.

The Marjoram, Mace, some Allspice, the blood and some cornmeal were all added to the onions and garlic in the pan.  The blood jello had to be cut and mashed with the wooden spatula to loosen it up.  Eventually it liquifed only to start thickening back up.  I was looking for a runny porridge-like consistency, before I could add …

… some fatback.  Except this isn’t fatback, it’s caul fat from a Berkshire hog.  The weekend before I made this dish I went to the downtown Austin Farmer’s Market where I found a stall for the Peach Creek Farm of String Prairie, Texas.  I met a nice woman named Rose who suggested that using caul fat would be a fine substitute for fatback.  I picked up this huge slab of fat for a reasonable price, and Rose was so very kind that I’m probably going to be using Peach Creek Farms for most of my piggy needs in the future.  I cut and measured out a half pound of caul fat, and then turned it into 1/4″ cubes.  Once the blood was at the proper consistency, all of the fat cubes were added.  I had to wait until just the right time, otherwise the fat cubes would have just sunk to the bottom of the mixture while it baked.

With a loaf pan properly lined with saran wrap, I poured the blood and fat mixture in. After wrapping it with aluminum foil, the pan was placed in a water bath in a medium hot oven where it baked for over an hour.

Removed from the oven, you can see how the blood had firmed up.  I wish I had let it go a little bit longer, as the cake was a bit crumbly when sliced it later on, but the skewer I used to check its doneness had come out clean after three jabs.  The blood cake went into the fridge to set.

Later on during the dinner party, I removed the blood cake from the pan and made enough 1/2 slices to serve everyone.  Two pans were placed on the stove top and duck fat (hooray!) was added to both.  In one pan I fried an egg, while in the other I fried the blood cake.  When both were properly cooked, I placed the blood cake on a plate, with the egg on top …

… like so.  As I had previously surmised, I loved it.  Perfectly dense blood cake, with hunks of slightly gelatinous pork fat with every bite.  Laura commented that the egg was needed to cut the richness of the cake.  Now that’s what I call rich! I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the flavors to you with no success.  It’s such a unique taste that I can only suggest that you find yourself some blood cake or boudain noir to experience it yourself.  It’s really delicious, I promise.

One down, eighty seven to go.

Paris Hilton is a filet mignon

Over at Serious Eats–which I read daily–Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain have been featured in a video series called Chewing the Fat.  They talk about various topics: fatherhood, music, sex, pork anus.  The usual things.

In the latest video the dynamic duo talk about what they like to order when they eat out at restaurants and the tastiest cuts of meat.

Click the picture for a great belly laugh.

batali-bourdain-parishilton1

Next up, Melissa P from Melissa Cooks Gourmet posted an absolutely hilarious cooking video about some fellow in Greece making fried goat testicles and goat’s head soup.

Brawn (Headcheese)

A splendid dish, a slowly cooked pig’s head, the flesh pulled from the skull and set in its own jelly; sliced thinly, a fine lunch.  You can use the pig’s ears to make the Sorrel, Chicory, and Crispy Ear Salad (page 43), which is an ideal accompaniment.

I’ve been putting this update off for a little while.  So why stop procrastinating now?

Reader Christopher Pepe shot me an e-mail:

So I’ve been following your site for a while and recently picked up The
Whole Beast.  This weekend we had a little party celebrating the less
celebrated parts of animals and I made a few things from the cookbook.  I
thought you might be interested in seeing it.

Corned Tongue (reubens)

Brawn

Bath Chaps

Mayonnaise

Stuffed Trotters

Prep pics (some ‘graphic’) are the last pictures here.

I also made the Tripe and Onions but don’t have a finished picture online
yet since it took a lot longer to cook than I expected.  Looking forward to
your next culinary adventure.

I think Christopher did a fantastic job, and on top of that, he found some willing dinner guests!  Color me impressed.  Now, for my own attempt at making brawn.

I’m not exactly sure why, but at various points in the year my local megamart stocks frozen hogs heads for only eight dollars.  They remove most of the hair from the head and clean them very well.  I picked up two they were so cheap.  This fella was so big he just barely fit into my stock pot.

The usual stock vegetables and herbs were added to the pot, along with the zest of a few lemons, a healthy splash of red wine vinegar, and …

… some pig trotters!  The extra fat and collagen will help later to make the stock liquor set.

I brought the water to a boil, then reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and left it that way for a couple of hours.  Eventually the flesh began pulling away from the skull, which meant the head had finished cooking. Public service notice for those of you attempting to make your own brawn:  The stock will be INCREDIBLY HOT. So don’t scald yourself like I did while you fish the hog head and trotters out of the pot.

Once I got done yelling and running around the kitchen holding my hands, I removed the vegetables and herbs from the stock, strained it and seasoned it with salt.  The stock went back onto the burner to reduce down and intensify the gelatin content.

As the stock reduced, I picked through the trotters and flesh for meat and peeled the tongue.  I’d like to take a moment to mention that in the recipe, Mr. Henderson instructs us to go about “picking flesh”.  I took that to just mean the meat, not the skin and the fat.  Oh, what a mistake that was.  You’ll see what I mean shortly.

Thinking that I was on course, I lined a loaf pan with saran wrap, filled it with the meat bits I had found and then poured in just enough stock.  I picked up and slammed the loaf pan on the counter top a few times to force any trapped air bubbles out.  The pan was then placed in the fridge to set.

Well, it looks like headcheese, right?  Various random meat shapes all floating in a gelatinous environment.  There was only two problems:

One, the chunks of meat were too big, so when I tried to make a cut, whole pieces of meat would just rip right out of the gelatin, still attached to the knife.  That brings up the second point, the stock had not been reduced down enough, so the gelatin was very weak.  This is what I’d call a complete failure.

I ended up hitting the internet for more information on how to make brawn.  While there isn’t exactly a bevy of headcheese info out there on the ‘tubes, I gleaned enough from the few links I did find to set me back on track.  With the help of my lovely, understanding wife, we began tearing apart the loaf of failcheese and reworking it.  All of the gelatin was placed back into a pot for reducing, including the left over stock I had saved.  I had also saved all of the skin and fat from the hog head for use in other things, so that too was revisited.  As my wife removed the flesh from the pig trotters, I began chopping it and the fat and meat into much smaller chunks.

Our efforts were not in vain, as attempt 2.0 looked much more like the pictures of brawn I found on the internet.  I can confirm that this version was indeed sliceable, and the gelatin held firm.

Never having eaten brawn before, I was expecting something transcendent.  Pig meat with little nuggets of fat here and there should be right up my alley.  For whatever reason, it’s just not to my liking.  Oh, everything tasted just fine; I had added enough salt, so seasoning wasn’t an issue.  It was the texture that threw me for a loop.  Add that to the realization that I’d much rather make Pig’s Cheek and Tongue (which I did with the other hogs head I bought) and brawn loses it’s luster.  Maybe I’ll give it a go again later on.

One down, eighty eight to go.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about headcheese, but today I wanted to show you what my awesome wife got me for Valentine’s Day.

August of last year, I posted a few pictures of my poor copy of “The Cookbook”.

That was then, this is now:

This is such a great gift!  Now I don’t have to buy a new copy of the book–I’m pretty attached to this one.  Thanks Honey!

Dining at Incanto

Last month on a trip back to California for work, I had an opportunity to visit the west coast Mecca for offal loving foodies, Incanto.  Run by chef Chris Cosentino–who is famous for his appearances on Food Network–Incanto is nestled in a quiet neighborhood of San Francisco.

My wife and I showed up a little early for a dinner meeting with Lee Gomes, the journalist that interviewed me last year.  While we waited, my wine savvy wife picked glasses of wine out for each of us.  When the waiter brought us the wine, the glasses had a small paper disk attached around the stem with the name of each wine on them.  What a great idea!  Not only do the labels keep people from mixing up glasses (unless everyone ordered the same wine) but, if you find a wine you really like, you can just take the label with you after dinner.

Here you can see a few of the various awards Incanto has won.  Note the artwork hanging over the doorway into the kitchen.  In the deli case…

… lots of tasty, salted pig parts were on display.  I’m going to assume they were from Boccalone, Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore’s Salumeria located across the Bay in Oakland.

Mr. Gomes arrived moments after I took the above image.  We were then seated at our table, and the tough decisions began.  For the appetizer, should we get the zuppa di zucca with duck liver crostini?  Or maybe an order of the pastramied goose with chervil, shallots & pickled cherries?  Thankfully, we had three people so we could order more than one thing to start off with.

I picked the Chef’s last meal, the sanguinaccio with a fried egg and oysters. Sanguinaccio is a traditional northern Italian blood sausage.  I’m a big fan of blood sausages in all forms and this one had a light hint of chili which worked well with the creamy and rich pork blood.  The wonderful texture of the fried egg and the briny oysters really made this a memorable dish.  I understand why Chef Cosentino loves it so much.

My wife picked the grilled sweetbreads with green walnut salsa.  The sweetbreads were perfectly cooked and the green walnut salsa was very interesting.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe its flavor, but the best I can come up with is that is had a very light pine taste to it.

As we were working our way through the appetizers, all of the sudden a waitress walked up and placed a few more dishes on our table.  It turns out that Mr. Gomes had called the restaurant and told them that we were coming.  While Mr. Gomes is a journalist of note, I’m not really anyone per se.  It was very kind of the restaurant and I really appreciated it.  The fact that the dishes they brought us weren’t even on the menu made it even more remarkable!

First up was smoked cod puree on toast.  We demolished this in no time, and my wife described it like so:

“It had a lovely smokey flavor to it, but not to the point where the smoke was over-powering. It was nicely balanced with the light taste of the fish.”

Next was the spicy trippa neapolitan.  I’d like to consider myself a fairly recent tripe loving convert.  The first tripe I really enjoyed was at B and B Ristorante which I talked about last year.  Mario Batali brought me far enough to like tripe, but Chef Cosentino convinced me that it possible to love tripe.  It was soft with a great texture and covered with a rustic and spicy tomato sauce that ignited my taste buds.  The tripe was so good, that I had the leftovers the next day for breakfast.  That’s right, breakfast. I love tripe!

Before our main dishes arrived, the last gratis plate showed up, seared lamb kidneys with spicy lentils & mint.  The kidneys had no uric flavor to them, just a slightly sweet hint of liver.  I’ve made lentils a couple of times now and I’d have never thought about adding mint to them.  It’s a stroke of genius and they worked very well with the kidneys.  If you’d like to try this at home yourself, here’s the recipe.

At last, our main courses arrived.  I had picked the roasted lamb neck with creamy polenta, rapini & gremolata.  The neck meat was wonderfully tender, with an intense lamb flavor to it.  I get the feeling that the neck meat was actually braised like one would braise short ribs, but I could very well be wrong.  Sadly, I was so full at this point that I couldn’t finish my meal, there was just no more room in my stomach.

My wife had ordered the corzetti with trotters, foie gras, dates & pangrattato.  Corzetti are a kind of fresh pasta made in north-west Italy.  What my wife was given was curzetti stampae, which are small, thin rounds of pasta.  Without a doubt, this was the best dish of the evening.  Everyone had a bite of it, and we all agreed that it was beyond spectacular.  The dates added just the perfect amount of sweetness, which worked in harmony with the richness of the foie gras and trotters.  I only managed to steal one bite, as my wife began moving the plate farther and farther away from me to protect it.  The next time I visit Incanto, I’ll be ordering this for sure.

If you live in California, or are visiting San Francisco, I highly, highly recommend you make reservations at Incanto.  The prices are beyond reasonable, the food is top notch and the staff is friendly to a fault.  Chef Cosentino’s reputation as a talented chef is well deserved and I personally appreciate his work on bringing offal to the masses.

Incanto
Noe Valley
1550 Church St
(between 28th St & Duncan St)
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 641-4500
www.incanto.biz