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.

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.

Pig’s Trotter Stuffed With Potato

A good addition to this dish is very finely chopped, blanched green cabbage mixed into your mashed potatoes as well as shallots, so you are stuffing your trotter with a bubble and squeak.

First and foremost, happy holidays to you and yours!

This is—finally—the last recipe for that marathon thing I did a while ago.  It’s also easily the most complicated of the bunch, and that’s all due to the whole debone-a-pig’s-trotter part.  I’m still not sure why I waited to do it last that evening.  Oh, wait.  I remember now.  I was incredibly intimidated by the whole debone-a-pig’s-trotter part.  Thankfully there was an experienced chef on hand to lead me through the tough parts because while the instructions in the book are fairly straightforward, they just aren’t able to properly explain all of the nuances that can arise when it comes time to take knife to pig limb.

Here’s just a snippet of the what’s needed to debone a trotter:

Chefs have likened this to being as easy as removing a kid glove, but if you don’t find this, don’t get disheartened.  Start at the other end from the hoof, cut under the skin as close to the bone as possible (avoid cutting through the skin), work your knife further down the trotter following the bone; you should get down to the first claws!

Now’s the part of the story where I confess something I’m not proud of. I tried my very best to debone the trotters without breaking the skin.  Scout’s honor, I tried. My buddy Paul C. managed to eventually remove the bone in his trotter, so we did have at least one proper pig’s foot among our shortcut versions.

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This was just so much faster.  Keep in mind I was punch drunk from lack of sleep, we were strapped for time and trying to do difficult cuts with a sharp knife and an unwilling trotter was just a recipe for a emergency room visit.  I have no regrets over a little shortcut this one time.

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Here’s one of the “finished” trotters showcased by chef David Holtzman. Each trotter was sprinkled with salt and then placed in the fridge until later.

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And when it was actually later, we shook the salt off the trotters and placed them in a pan along with the bones we removed, some garlic cloves, and a combination of stock and red wine. The whole thing was then covered with aluminum foil and the placed in a medium hot oven for a couple of hours. Once cooked thoroughly I left them to cool in the pan until almost room temperature.

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Next up was stuffing each trotter with a mixture of mashed potatoes and duck fried shallots.  We had to be careful not to overfill them, since Mr. Henderson warned that they would expand during further cooking.

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When the feet were filled properly, each one was wrapped in caul fat to help them keep their shape.

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Here are the trotters right after being seared in a hot pan with duck fat but before they were placed in a hot over for a few minutes to finish cooking.  The caul fat mostly melted away in the process, leaving a wonderfully brown and crispy pig’s foot filled with fat enriched mashed potatoes.

Stuffed Pig's Trotter

Okay, I’ll say it. This is probably the least attractive finished dish photo I’ve taken, which is frustrating considering how wonderful it tasted.

Mashed potatoes and fried shallots infused with duck fat and all of the rendered fat from the trotter that ends up coating the mouth with that fatty, lip-sticking goodness that the amygdala part of our brains crave.  Wibbly wobbly braised pork with a crunchy exterior.  The flavors are bold, the texture sublime.  It reminds me slightly of the trotter dish Marco Pierre White made at his famous restaurant, Harvey’s.

Yep. Terrible picture. Amazing recipe.

One down, thirty three to go.

Roast Pork Loin, Turnips, Garlic, and Anchovies

Is it not splendid when you have a guest to stay who cooks delicious things for you?  A fine example is Ken, a chef from Sydney, who prepared this splendid dish full of most of my favorite things.  He even finished it off with a healthy splash of truffle oil, which I have omitted from this version, but please express yourself,

I recently visited my wife in New York City, and ended up having a fantastic time visiting some of the amazing restaurants that were back up and running after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  Our friends Dan and Katie introduced us to the wonder of North End Grill and its chef, Floyd Cardoz. If you ever get the chance, go and try their tripe crostini if it’s on the menu.  You will not be disappointed, I don’t care if you despise tripe or not.  It’s brilliantly done.  A second visit to Takashi was luckily also in the cards.  The best part was getting a chance to finally meet up with my friend David Shaw and his wife, Diane.  Since I’ve already sung the praises of Takashi’s fare, I’ll kindly point you to David’s take on the evening.

Back to the recipe.

Only two more marathon dishes to go before I actually need to start making things from the cookbook again.  It’ll be good to get back in the kitchen making Mr. Henderson’s food.

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We were nearing the end of the marathon, and only two recipes were left to finish—this one and the pig’s trotter stuffed with potato. Since peeling off the skin of a trotter seemed tough, we opted to do this one first.

One of the frustrating things about not being across the pond is a lack of local, real butcher shop.  Mr. Henderson calls for a hefty cut of pork loin still on the bone, skin on but not scored with the chine removed. Something that specific isn’t going to be sitting in the meat department of your local megamart, and I got mostly blank stares from the people working behind the counter.  I opted for simple pork loin, no skin.  It’s frustrating to settle, but sometimes you just have to make do with what’s available.  The biggest problem with going this direction meant that I was going to have to throw cooking times out the window and just depend on internal temperatures.  Nothing insurmountable, but who needs another wrinkle when you’re sleep deprived and standing in front of the range, right?

Since we couldn’t put the loin in a hot oven for as long as is called for, a simple searing on all sides was done with a few peeled and chopped onions, and then into a medium hot oven for a few minutes to properly cook through.

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As the loins did their thing in the oven, Paul C. started making the dressing for the dish. In that bowl is a bunch of roasted garlic cloves being mashed with a tin of minced anchovies.  Once the two were mashed down to a fine paste we added some capers, parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar and a dash of pepper.

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About fifteen minutes before the pork loins were done we started on the turnips.  Since we’d eaten, and eaten, and then eaten some more we decided that only one or two turnips were really needed.  They were peeled, chopped, and boiled in salted water until tender.

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A handful of rocket (AKA arugula) was added to the cooked turnips along with the dressing and tossed to combine.

Roast Pork Loin, Turnips, Garlic, and Anchovies

Onto the plate went the turnip/arugula/dressing, and the loin was placed on top.  The skin that I whined about not getting earlier was supposed to be crisped and added to the dish as a garnish.  Since the only thing we had that was remotely close that could be used as a substitute was some of the crispy pig ear we’d made early. It was a fantastic stand-if, if I do say so myself.

It’s been almost a year since I ate this dish, but I can tell you all about the flavors from memory.  The pork itself was nice, but nothing that I hadn’t had before.  It was the combination of the pork with the turnip, greens and dressing that made it memorable.  Salty, briney and fishy.  Peppery turnips and arugula. Crispy, bacon-like ear.  The sum of the parts was so much more than you could imagine.

I think I’ll make it again this weekend.  With the truffle oil.

One down, thirty four to go.

Lamb Shanks Eben’s Way

Eben, an old friend of Margot’s, uses a leg of lamb, but it is the fatty qualities of the lamb shank I have found to be most suited to this dish.  This dish goes very well with quince cheese (a very firm paste which gets made from cooking down quinces and their natural pectin), a conserve you can get from delicatessense, village fetes, and some supermarkets.

This dish was completed during the great 24 hour rush, and thusly there are few pictures to trot out and show off like usual.  Heck, I even had to compromise making this recipe by leaving the shanks to tender mercy of my pressure cooker.  Despite all of the insanity and the differing steps everything turned out wonderfully.  I’ll elaborate as the post goes on.

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Here we have four lamb shanks—the two in the back are propping up the front two—each with five holes stuffed with bits of garlic and a few raisins. The garlic and raisins help to flavor every bit of the muscle, even deep down near the bone.  The shanks were then placed in a plastic container with some red wine, red wine vinegar, juniper berries, allspice, bay leaves and black peppercorns to marinate for a few days in my fridge before my mad cooking spree.

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On the day of the event, I moved all four shanks and the liquid they were soaking in to my handy-dandy little pressure cooker.

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This device is honestly a “set it and forget it” kind of deal and during the 24 hour cookathon I was so happy to just let it do its thing quietly in the background as I worked on other recipes.  Set a temp, punch in a time, and once it’s finished you have some tasty food all from one pot.  If you don’t have a good pressure cooker at your disposal, you should start looking now so you’ll know what to say when you talk to Santa next.

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Hours into the insanity, my shanks were thoroughly cooked.  With great ceremony I let the steam valve loose, and much whistling and steam commenced. Once all the noise finished, I had four lovely looking lamb shanks, the meat just managing to hold onto the bone.

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When we plated the first shank, Chef David jokingly added a sprig of parsley as a joke.
Lamb Shank's Eben's Way

It was quickly removed.

So, lets get into what was done incorrectly first.  I totally forgot that the braising liquid was supposed to be moved to a different pot and reduced down to thicken, and the fat needed to be skimmed off.  The grease surrounding the shank is unsightly, and yet it was still really tasty.  Mr. Henderson pointed out in the text above that the shanks should be enjoyed with quince cheese.  Despite trying my darndest to locate just a small amount, none was to be found in Austin.  Next time I’ll make sure I have some handy before I make this again.

Now, here’s what went right: everything else.  The meat was hammer-tender—as in you could cut it with the blunt end of a hammer—and packed with flavor from the garlic, raisins and braising liquid.  It was wonderfully complex and comforting, slightly sweet and unctuous. No two ways about it, this was an incredible way to prepare lamb shanks.

Eben, thank you kindly for sharing this with Mr. Henderson. It’s a fantastic recipe.

One down, thirty five to go.