UPDATE: The “short break” continues

I’m so sorry, it looks like I’ll be another week without Internet access.  I’m so frustrated with the whole situation, I don’t know where to start.  The techs at AT&T swear up and down that I’ll be reconnected on Friday, but I doubt it for some reason. 

I’m going to try to update here at work at least twice this week.  I had been slowly working on a post with my phone, but it was taking forever and then I realized that I couldn’t upload my pictures, either.

I’m so sorry for the downtime.  I swear on my copy of “The Cookbook” that I’ll be back as soon as possible.


I just wanted to post a quick note that I’ll not be updating next week due to an Internet outage at my house.  We should be back up and running next weekend, and I’ll be cooking all week long so there will be plenty of things to write about.

Here are two really cool articles about Mr. Henderson and St. John that you really should read in the meantime:

First is this AMAZING post over at For Those That Love To Eat about the writer’s week long stage at St. John Bread & Wine.

Next, David Shaw of the always entertaining Belm Blog shot me a note that Mr. Henderson was deemed, “The world’s most influential chef” by Men’s Journal magazine.  It’s a very well written article, and they make a strong case as to exactly why Mr. Henderson is so beloved.

Have a good week, and I’ll be back as soon as possible!

Guest Post – Porchetta Di Testa by Jason Moore

Welcome to the seventh guest post!  I’m letting anyone who wants to show off an offal dish submit a post with pictures.  Want to show the world that noming on noses is okay?  Are you gun-ho for guts?  Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here!  This guest post comes from Jason Moore, and the post originally showed up on his website the power and the glory.

Thoroughly inspired by Chris Cosentino’s video and Ryan Farr’s writeup, I decided to attempt my own completely outlandish meat stunt by procuring a whole hog’s head. Aided by a couple of adventurous friends we set about to create what we hope is a delicious log of glorified lunch meat. A few things worth noting: I am not a professional by any stretch of the imagination, and the most complex assembly i’ve “butchered” is a whole chicken. Everything I know about removing the meat from the head of a pig i gleaned from Cosentino’s video. Hilarity, necessarily, ensued.



The head, fresh from the bag.

To begin with, hogs are animals and animals are a bit dirty, especially when they’ve had their heads mechanically removed in some fashion. This one was no exception – it came to me caked in mud, blood, and with a fair amount of fur and bristles still attached, necessitating removing with B razors and a blowtorch, and then a good scrubbing in the sink. I was very glad to have purchased the 10-pack of razors, as we used  six of the ten getting the bristles removed.

Once the skin was mostly clean of dirt and bristles I started cutting. I don’t think i did a terrible job but there were some really choice bits of meat left behind that Mikeal, in a fit bloodthirsty determination, hacked off after i got the jaw apart. All of the bits of meat and face were then rubbed with a dry cure (kosher salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate), 10-12 chopped cloves of garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and then placed in a bag in the fridge. There they will sit until Saturday-ish, when they will be slow-cooked under partial-vacuum (sous vide? not really.) in a giant roll.

All the meaty bits accounted for we turned our attention to the now-jaw-less skull. Cosentino recommends making stock, and I am fortunate enough to own a stockpot large enough to accommodate a whole hog’s head, so into a hot oven (~500 degrees F) went the skull, and into the pot went the celery, onions, garlic, and carrots. I don’t own a bone saw so we did not get to enjoy the brains, but there was a question as to whether the brains were even present in the skull. Once the skull was sufficiently roasted, i dumped it into the pot along with the drippings in the pan, and brought the whole assembly to a quick boil. Eight hours later, the mostly-meatless skull emerged.

Lessons learned: 

  1. I need more workspace for these sorts of shenanigans. A tiny plastic cutting board and my kitchen table aren’t sufficient space or equipment to take apart a hog’s head, much less a whole hog (coming soon, hopefully).
  2. I need better lighting in my kitchen.
  3. Butchery is messy, artful business.

Following the mostly-successful meat removal and subsequent stock-making, the meat was left to cure in the fridge for about 3 days. and it was a lot of meat – about 8.5 pounds, all told (from a 20 pound head). Finally, on Sunday, i decided it was ready to cook, and bounced out of bed around 7 AM to begin the preparations.

Chris Cosentino and Ryan Farr both cook their porchetta sous-vide, so why argue with success? Unfortunately, I lack both a chamber sealer and an immersion circulator. However, I have read that FoodSaver sealers stand in fine for the vacuum side of things, and since the cooking itself is done at a rather-warm (for sous vide) 190 degrees, I decided that a pot of water in the oven and my FoodSaver sealer would make an excellent poor-man’s sous-vide-rig.


 Porchetta, in jeans.

Wrestling the rolled head into the FoodSaver bag was no easy task – in fact, the entire head wouldn’t fit on the first go, so i made the decision to lop off one of the jowls and hang it to dry in the basement. Even with the removal of the second jowl, the head barely squeezed into the bag. Farr wraps his in cheesecloth, but i think cheesecloth is, more or less, shenanigans, and it turns out that the leg from an old pair of jeans was a perfect size to give some form and support to the porchetta while it cooked. So into the jeans it went, and into the pot and into the oven and then I waited. For 14 hours,  I monitored the temperature using a probe thermometer and it turns out that my oven, on it’s lowest setting, will maintain a pot full of water and vac-sealed porchetta at 190 degrees. Perfect!

Now, more waiting. Cosentino claims that the meat needs two days before it is unwrapped “to develop flavor”. I dutifully strung the meat up in the fridge and waited. Finally, the big day. I rush home from work, visions of lumpy, gelatnous meat spilling forth from the unsealed bag, reeking of botulism and fail – the meat is still vac-sealed and wrapped in jeans at this point, and i have NO idea what has happened since I sealed it.


The porchetta, sliced.

I cut the jeans off of the outside, and slice the vac bag open and…..glorious, porky aroma spills forth. The meat slides out in one coherent loaf, covered in a gleaming, beautiful layer of pork fat and gelatin. Slicing into the meat reveals an unctuous spiral of meat and fat punctuated by squiggles of cartilage and pockets of gelatin. I nervously shave a thin slice to sample. Amazing – subtle pork flavor, assertive but not aggressive. The fat, almost liquid at room temperture, melts in my mouth. The spice hovers in some twilight zone between salt and sweet, hot and soft.

Per Ruhlman, this really is “the power and the glory” – animal fat, salt, and the Pig – although he was referring to sausage; close enough I say.I have a meat slicer arriving Friday to serve this properly. Did i mention I have about 6 pounds of this (four of which are frozen at this point)? Please, invite yourselves over, bring some beer, and let’s grub on this. Porchetta sandwiches, porchetta-wrapped asparagus…the possibilities here are endless.

Thank you Jason!

Guest Post – Pickled Pig’s Feet by Jacqueline Venner Senske

Welcome to the sixth guest post!  I’m letting anyone who wants to show off an offal dish submit a post with pictures.  Want to show the world that liver can deliver?  Are you ballistic over brains?  Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here!  This guest post comes from Jacqueline Venner Senske, and the post originally showed up on her website The Pasture Gate.

A while back, I bought some pig’s feet that came from La Quercia. They lived in my freezer for several months, and last week, I made up my mind to finally use them. Since pig’s feet are not a part of our regular diet, I am somewhat unfamiliar with their preparation. The project required some planning.

Research

A quick internet search showed that many pig’s feet recipes involve pickling. I talked to my grandmother, and it turns out that she prepared pig’s feet on the farm by pickling them as well. (Of course, she not only pickled pig’s feet but in fact butchered whole hogs and used every part in some way, but that is a project a beyond my current capabilities. I’ll start with just the feet and see how it goes.) Grandma mailed me a small cookbook called Schmeckt Gut: Traditional German Cookery, which is full of collected recipes from farm wives and traditional German families. Among the recipes is indeed one from Pickled Pig’s Feet.

Pickled Pig’s Feet
4 pigs feet
Salted water
2 cups vinegar
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 small stick cinnamon
1 cup chopped dill pickles

Scrape and clean pig’s feet well. Put in a kettle to boil with enough salt water to cover. Simmer for four hours or until meat will separate easily from the bones. Remove feet and add vinegar, salt, pepper and spices to stock in which meat was cooked. Boil for 30 minutes. Strain liquid and remove spices. Pick meat off the bones. Place pieces of meat and chopped pickles in a class loaf pan and pour stock over it. Chill until cold. Slice and serve. May be made ahead of time. Keeps well in refrigerator.

I carefully reviewed the recipe from the cookbook and also talked with my grandmother about her process, asking questions along the way. So how much salt should I add? Do I need to shave the feet first? How much pickling spice? How did you eat the pig’s feet?

Notes on Cooking Feet

I followed the recipe for the most part, with a few adjustments according to advice, capabilities, and taste. For example, I added sugar, at my grandma’s suggestion, but I left out pickles. Along the way, I took notes and photos. Here are a few excerpts of my adventures in pig cookery.

Day 1


8:30 am
I opened the packaging and cautiously poke at the feet. After a minute, the smell hit me from the feet, and it wasn’t altogether pleasant…

So the feet went into the pot with water to cover and I dumped in some kosher salt…around 1-2 tablespoons (and added another tablespoon or two later). Then onto the stove with the burner on medium-high to bring the water to a boil. Then I turned the water down to a simmer and let it cook with the timer set for 4 hours. The scent of the cooking feet grew stronger and stronger…to be expected when processing meat at home, but also motivation to consider cooking things like this outside or in a sort of summer kitchen.


11:45 am
Meat really starting to separate from the bones. The joints are relaxing and popping.


12:40 pm
Bones popping out and skin loose. Broth very fatty and rich looking. Smells porky and a little rank.


12:55 pm
The feet seem ready – meat is falling off the bone. Grandma said she threw out the water in which the feet cooked and used fresh water for the pickling brine, but the recipe says to use it. Plus, my gut says its good stuff, with all that fat and bits in there, so I’m using it.


1:33 pm
Feet are picked clean now, so I have a pile of bones and cartilage and another of soft, meaty tissue. I wasn’t sure about the skin, so I called Grandma. She said they not only ate the skin, but they put the whole foot – intact – into the brine, rather than picking off the tissue. Also, at her suggestion, I added sugar to the brine.


So in the end, I picked off the meat and tossed it in with the brine after I fished out the spices. Then I ladled the brine and meat into a bread pan lined with plastic wrap. There was a bit more than fit into my big loaf pan, so I also made a baby loaf.


2:00 pm
I placed both loaf pans full of the pickled meat on a small cookie sheet and placed them on the top shelf of my refrigerator.

Day 2


7:30 pm
I got home from work and was greeted by two nicely gelled-up loaves of pickled pig’s feet. I inverted the pans and jiggled and tugged the plastic until the meat slid out.

And then the moment of truth

…the taste.

Hmm…firm texture…highly spiced…holy brine! I recognized the flavor of German pickling. Not unpleasant, but pretty strong. And too much vinegar. The real pork flavor came in the third bite, when I got a more significant piece of flesh. A taste reminiscent of the scent of the cooking feet – rich, funky, porky. Closer to the true porky flavor I was hoping to achieve.

In the end, this recipe – or at least my virgin execution of it – resulted in a concoction too strongly spiced to draw out the full, meaty flavor of the feet, as I imagine it is supposed to. Placing the intact feet in the brine, according to my grandmother’s method, rather than picking them clean, would probably yield a greater amount of porkier pork, rather than a mass of congealed brine that also contained meat. That’s how I will do it next time.

Or maybe I’ll look for other things to do with pig’s feet.

A Lesson in Learning

At any rate, this project also got me thinking about traditions and passing them on. Specifically, about learning skills. I really think this project – and the product – would have been better had I learned about it in a different way. I think the process required apprenticeship, someone to teach me in person from their experience – or at least pictures of what I was really trying to accomplish.


I sort of worked toward creating something like the traditional processed meats we saw in the markets of Paris (At top, processed meat in Paris’ Rue Cler market; below, my pickled pig’s feet), but I think I was really going for something a little different (though I did follow the recipe).

Hmm.

More research – and practice – and apprenticeship – required.

Thank you Jacqueline!

Hash

A very good dish if you are feeling a little dented.

This is a very useful and delicious way of using up the remains of your Pot Roast Brisket and Boiled Beef and Dumplings.  I cannot tell you how much you will have left over, so we cannot be exact here.  Look at your remains and decide what will be appropriate.  You will need roughly equal amounts of meat and veg.

Firstly, I’d like to say Happy New Year to everyone!  I know I’m not the only person ready to forget that 2009 ever happened.  2010 is looking good so far, so let’s keep it going!

Secondly, another cook the book blog has joined the fray: Momofuku At Home.  I’ll admit that I was secretly hoping to start working on David Chang’s magnum opus myself, even going so far as to buy a domain name.  Thankfully, Chris over there is doing a fine job, kicking things off with some awesome looking steamed buns and pork belly.  Head on over and say hello!

While this recipe is a fantastic way to finish off that corned brisket you made last night, I ended up needing to make a whole new corned brisket for this post.  Terrible fate, right?  While I was shredding the meat, I noticed that it lacked the usual rosy pink color that one would expect with corned beef.  The reason can be summed up with this little blurb from Hank Shaw’s awesome site.

Do you add flavorings to the brine? Yes, you do; it’s what makes your corned meat different from mine. Do you add sugar? Probably, as it softens the salty twang of a salt-only brine. Do you add nitrite? Yes. And this is where I defend the stuff: Nitrites are what give you that pretty rose color. Nitrites add flavor. And most importantly, nitrites defeat botulism, which is among the most toxic substances known to man.

Can you make corned meat without nitrites? Yes. But it will look gray, lack the proper flavor — and you will have a small-but-real possibility of dancing with your new friend clostridium botulinum. And it will be a brief dance. Do nitrites cause cancer? Not in the levels used in modern meat. The poison’s in the dose, like a lot of things. Booze for one. Fat for another. OK, I’ve said my piece. If you hate the notion of adding nitrites to your brine, leave them out.

So that means that not only have I dealt with acid, I’ve also been playing Russian roulette with lethal diseases!  Pair those two with fire and knives, and I’m shocked I’ve not managed to do any real damage to myself or my loved ones.  Cooking: it’s not for pansies.

In a cast iron pan, chopped onions were fried in a little olive oil until they were nice and soft.

In another pot I started boiling a bunch of little red potatoes.  I love little potatoes.  They cook quickly and sport the same big flavor of larger spuds.  Once they were finished cooking, I chopped them roughly and set them aside.

Next, crushed canned tomatoes were added to the onions and allowed to cook for a little while.

At this point the onions and tomatoes had fulled cooked through and were ultra soft.  I mixed in the shredded beef and chopped potatoes, and then seasoned everything with just enough salt and pepper.  No more over-salting for me!   The pan looked a little dry at this point, so I added some leftover tomato juice.

While the hash cooked in the cast iron skillet, I fried two eggs with a little butter.  Pretty much anything could stand to have a fried egg added to it, right?

And here’s the final dish.  A healthy amount of steaming hash in the bowl, with a fried egg right on top.  While you won’t find something like this at Alinea or French Laundry, that’s quite all right.  It’s a much more homey, simple recipe that’s meant to be enjoyed on those cold days when you want to be comforted (Like right now in Texas.  Brrrr!)  The hash itself was rather filling, and very tasty.  Meat, potatoes, tomatoes and onions topped off with a fried egg sounds like a lumberjack’s breakfast, and that’s okay.  Heck, I’d say that a man could work all night and work all day with a meal like this.

One down, sixty two to go.