Archive for the ‘Pork’ Category

From The Farmers’ Mouth – Time to Vote


My highlight reel of ‘From Local Farms‘ videos was just chosen by Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate as a top-four contender in their recent video competition. I’m honored to be on the list, to say the least. The very reason I started a video series at all was directly because of Daniel and Mirra’s earliest episodes – inspiring me to pick up a cheap Flip camera, introduce myself to some farmers, and press some record button. My life, quite literally, has not been the same since.

So a big thank you goes out today to Daniel, Mirra, all the passionate farmers, and especially to you for taking the time to watch what other folks have to say about our food world. You plugging into and supporting projects like The Perennial Plate matters – it creates cracks in a food culture needing to evolve.

Please click over here to like the video on facebook, and vote for it too while you’re at it. If the vid wins the day, it will replace the regular programming of The Perennial Plate next Monday, exposing it to a very large viewership of like minded folks across many borders. That would be very cool. Even if it doesn’t, big thanks to Daniel and Mirra for your support of what I’m up to and sharing your audience.

About This Much…


Interesting question came up this week on Twitter in response to my writing about the economics around butchering your own beef. The question was, how is somebody with limited space supposed to go about butchering and storing an animal?? Fantastic question. And I get it. I show pictures of quarters hanging in my cellar [convenient, but unnecessary], butchering in my garage [did elk and beef in my kitchen this fall], etc. What it boils down to is butchering an animal doesn’t have to take much space, and can be tackled by the downtown condo dweller with the gumption to do it. Here’s an example.

In this rubbermaid bin is a side of pork I cut last night. Started at 7pm, was done by 9ish [hey, that's not much time commitment, is it?]. It was all cut on a counter space the size of a dining room table. That entire side of pig, albeit not the hugest of pigs, resides in the bin you see right there. Doesn’t even fill it. Having lived in an apartment condo a few years ago, I’m rather kicking myself for not knowing this before, because I’m quite sure I could have dealt with a side of pig with a standard fridge freezer and some planning. For example: rather than freeze the fat, simply render it the next day and toss it in the fridge. Rather than do large bone-in cuts, de-bone it. Plan to make a batch of sausage the day after butchering, which would relieve the freezer of a 5 lb bag of trim. Partake in our new family tradition of doing a pig head roast the day of [most pigs come sans-head anyway if that grosses you out]. And if all that failed, I could have easily found a friend to split it with, in which case I’d have had loads of room for a 1/4 pig. Our next door neighbours had a small apartment sized deep freeze, solving their storage constraint.

Turns out this pig was raised by a friend of a friend of a friend, who happened to have too many pigs for their winter barn. Figured I’d grab a side to do some charcuterie experimenting with. This pig side cost me $80, and it wasn’t the first opportunity I’ve had at an extremely inexpensive pig. $80/roughly 60 lbs = about $1.33/lb. I challenge you to compare that to Walmart’s pricing. Not suggesting cheap is king, just that if cheap’s your barrier to local food – or space – there are solutions.

Dry Cured Ham Report


Pulled this piece of dry cured pork from the cellar this morning as it was feeling decently firm after 1 month of hanging, still showing a bit of give. Kicking myself for not weighing these so I could measure by % weight loss – I’ve purchased some tags that neatly fit on my cellar hooks to label my charcuterie now, so weights will go on there in the future. Wrote about cure day here. Wrote about mold-innoculation day here. Some thoughts:

I’m thinking this could have stayed in the cure longer pre-hanging. It could stand a bit more salt. It’s extremely delicate in flavour, super-clean overall – almost so much so that I was wanting a lick of smoke or something else in there to pick it up a bit. The texture’s fine, albeit a little uneven – you can see the harder dry edges vs the softer interior. I’m guessing a few days in the fridge would help even that gradient out. I noticed too that when cut, the piece showed air pockets within the muscle. Rather counterintuitive as you’d think the muscle would firm up uniformly, but makes the case for me for why these pieces are normally tied tight. The collagen casing worked fine – clung to the meat well, allowed things to dry well [another counterintuitive item - wrap something tight in order to dry it..], and was easy to peel back pre-slicing.

I think my P. Nalgionvense mold struggled in the cold environment that is my winter cellar – a mere 6C at the moment. I’m guessing if it were up around 10C or higher, the mold would have had a better time. I’ve recently cut a 4″ vent hole through my cellar wall into the adjacent room to hopefully be able to warm it up a bit in the winter, and add some ventilation in general. I haven’t found it’s impacted my humidity or temp greatly which was a bit of a surprise, as on the warm side you can feel the cold air drawing through: evidence that it is indeed exchanging air.

I’ve hung this piece back in the cellar to dry up just a bit more, and it’s time to go take out another piece to try. I’m going to be going on a rather extensive run of experiments over the next while, as there’s a very good chance our local culinary school will be building a first-of-its-kind-in-Canada charcuterie program in the near future, which I’ll be involved in. The more projects and learning and I can cram into the next few months before the first intake of students, the better. In fact, I’ve got a very inexpensive side of local pig arriving here in the next few days to play around with, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

Smoking Heart and Bacon


I had been thinking of cold smoking my piece of curing elk heart, and then ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design‘ arrived from the library. Inspiring book. No question I was going to give it a go after reading all kinds of cool ideas on how to cold smoke. It’d only been curing a couple days, but I had some bacon that was ready to get smoked, and I figured  I’d take care of them both at the same time. I wasn’t looking for a heavy smoke on the heart – just enough of a touch that when it’s shaved thin, you can detect traces of smoke. We’ll see if I got it right in a few weeks post hanging.

So I improvised a setup – one of the things I love about cooking with fire: it’s adaptable and conducive to use of ingenuity. It’s -2C outside, and the books I’ve been reading say cold smoke’s upper limit is 32C, with a desirable range of 12-22C. I figured that so long as I could get the piece in the smoke well above the fire, I’d be good. So I grabbed an old rack from my formerly employed bbq, plopped it atop my fire’s brick wall, and weighted it down with a couple bricks. Surprisingly solid. So the bacon would get a warm-ish smoke, and the heart a cold smoke. I ended up placing my bbq lid atop the bacon to contain more heat and smoke, and it still leaked plenty of smoke onto the heart piece. After an hour or two, the elk heart was still cool to touch.

You’ll see in the photos below that my setup allows for a separate fire/heat source to the right. This allows me to generate embers to keep apple branches smoking away. I found today that the best results came from simply pulling the sticks from under the bacon, placing them atop the fire for a minute until re-lit, then shaking/blowing the flame out and throwing them back under the bacon to smoke away again. Success. Heart goes back into the fridge for the smoke to even out and cure for a couple more days, and the bacon will meet its usual fate.

Playing with Mold & Dry Cure Update


I started the cure on these ham cuts here. They were cut from the rear side of the ham, and post cure I decided that rather than stuff it into a bladder as is traditional with Italian Fiocco, I’d cut it in half and stuff it into some 61mm protein-lined clear casing I had on hand for making saucisson sec. They both fit into a single 24″ casing, which I cut into two pieces. I seemed to recall someone online mentioning soaking the casings pre-stuffing, and I can attest to it making stuffing far easier. Tied the casings with kitchen string, wishing I had splurged on a pair of pliers to put wire clips on the ends.

They were hung overnight in the cellar at 8.3C and 50% RH, which is both too cold and too dry. The humidity’s on its way up though, as I’ve reintroduced the bucket of water with wick for the winter. The hanging meats will also help bring it up. Last winter it was up in the 70% range.

This morning, I got to play with Penicillium Nalgionvense for the first time. Frustratingly, it’s yet another charcuterie product that is locally unavailable, so I had to buy it from the US. I’ve had a concerning lack of healthy white molds in my cellar over the past few months, so I’m reintroducing some desirable molds to see how it works out. The photo below shows how much [1/8 tsp in a ramekin of tepid water] I used, let it soak overnight, then applied it in the morning in a fashion similar to basting meats in a fry pan with the cooking fat. Spooned it on, coating the whole thing a couple times over. I’m extremely curious to see how long it takes to bloom and do it’s thing. I’ll post an update on the mold development and finished product over the coming weeks.

Abstinence & Seasonal Eating


Abstinence. As I get older I find the concept more and more intriguing.

I went through a stage of enjoying posh wines quite frequently. After some time, it took more and more to impress as posh wines became the norm. I found my enjoyment of them decreased, and it took more and more awesomeness to impress. Having noticed this taking place, I majorly backed away from posh wines, and now I find I enjoy them more when they do make an appearance. They’re special again. They’re not the norm. They make a moment special as a nice wine should.

Eating seasonally is forced abstinence, and I’m increasing grateful for it. Today’s example is lard. I haven’t had lard in the house since last year’s was all used up. That means that I haven’t had a tart, fruit pie, meat pie, in some time. Which makes having one again far more enjoyable than were I to always have it available. It’s a treat, rather than the norm.

The garden provides far better examples – we eat asparagus in May/June, and that’s it. Some people think that’s hardcore. I see it as sensible – eating the item when it’s fresh and local, then abstaining until it’s in season again. It’s an awfully good thing there are other lovely things to eat than just asparagus, and I’ve found that the year is a slow evolution of palette of foods coming into their own. When asparagus season returns, we’re eating it at its best which makes it tasty, but we’ve also not had it in ages which makes it that much more of an event. It’s not ‘everyday’. This forced abstinence seems to inject my life with loads more ‘special moments’ with food than before, that end up tied to time and place. In a sense, it’s largely what I set out to achieve in changing our family’s food culture.

Absence [and abstinence] does make the heart grow fonder. I’m convinced.

Farm-to-Table w/ RGE RD & Riverbend Gardens


The last farm-to-table dinner I attended was a resounding success, and I’m not surprised Blair and his crew have done a few of these since then. By happenstance we ran into each other at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago and I ended up involved with his upcoming dinner at Riverbend Gardens. He ended up buying the last half of the 3 pigs we cut on Pig Day for the event, came over to butcher it, and also wanted to include some rescued fruit in his dessert so I ended up supplying some urban-fruit-rescued apples and evans cherries harvested by myself and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton volunteers. I offered to give Blair a hand, shoot some video and such, cause, well, it’s just a lovely kind of thing to be involved with, really.

It was a 6 course wine-paired menu based on winter-veg from Riverbend Gardens, and pork and beef from Nature’s Green Acres. Plus 3 hors d’oeurvres. Pretty impressive menu, really, and glad it was he and not I in charge of making it happen for the 25 or so guests. It was a well-conceived and well-executed festival of winter squashes, pork, local cheese, kales, cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beef, potatoes, urban fruit, live music, and local and Okanagan wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a spare seat at the huge table, and between shooting video of the courses as they were plated, got to eat the food and be a guest. Thanks to Blair and the RGE RD crew for that, and for becoming such fantastic advocates and supporters of our local food producers, and for cooking with fire. It matters. Enjoy the video.

Smoke-Day and My Current Smoking Setup


I’ve mentioned that on Pig Day I was slipping ham cuts and hocks into a big stock pot of prepped brine. Turns out that was a good idea. Just finished smoking those items, and they turned out really, really well. Heavily smoky, nice and salty with the classic pink-salt flavor and high-quality pork. Pretty much can’t go wrong there.

Turns out 27 hours for the sirloin tip wasn’t long enough – still some un-pink in the center. Also, 3 days for the hocks yielded the same issue. But I think I figured out my solution, and it’s not longer brine time. If I did that the extremities might get too salty – they were already borderline. I think the solution is injecting the meats with the brine. Need to buy me a new food toy. One that will scare many a guest away, perhaps.

I figured some info on my smoking setup would be useful for a variety of reasons. First, I’ve written about my old setup many times [a propane bbq put out of gas service and onto wood-fire], and I’ve been using something different for nearly a year already. Secondly, I’m addicted to accessibility when it comes to good food, and my current setup is built with reclaimed, largely free masonry and bits and pieces of my old propane bbq. This piecemeal freebie model is extremely effective, and addresses a key issue I had before with lack of secondary heat source – I mention it in the video below.

‘Charcuterie Day’ 2011


I’m used to butchering pigs on ‘Pig Day‘, and largely leaving charcuterie fun for some point in the winter when I feel like it. Not this year. My cellar’s empty. I feel like it now. I wanted to get started as soon as possible on a few different preparations. I also had to resist going too crazy today. For example, I had a nice slab of back fat [second photo] that I almost cured whole. Unwise. I don’t need 4 lbs of cured back fat ready all at once. So I split it in 3, started curing a choice piece [photo on left], and froze the other two for curing in a few months, hopefully before I run out of the first piece. I’ve learned with dry curing that pace is important. Have to be able to keep up to the stuff.

I may as well start there: dry cured back fat. Yes, this is essentially ‘lardo’, but because I fully intend on departing from convention to localize to where I live, use what I have in season, and suit the tastes of the palates I feed, as a general rule I’m going to try to avoid european names from here forward for risk of offending those that feel that a preparation named after a classic, traditional product  should respect it’s heritage. I agree. Mine might be washed in apple brandy and briefly smoked with apple wood if I feel like it. It might have wild herbs and wild onion from the north rather than mediterranean flavours. The differentiation might seem like high-concept wanking to some, but to me it matters.

So dry cured back fat. First off, I don’t need oodles of this stuff. My waistline certainly would appreciate some mindful moderation. I’m going to cure a 3/4 to 1 lb strip of the stuff every 3-4 months to hopefully always have some on hand. Today’s strip was 321g, 7g dry cure, some light grinds of black pepper, 2 sticks of summer savory leaves, and a crushed up twig-tip of dried rosemary. All the recipes I could find called for cure #1 instead of #2, and if somebody can explain that one to me, please do. My intuition says use #2 because it will be dry cured. This will be the first dry cure I do with #1. I think next one will be with #2. Into a zip-top bag it went, with a brick atop it for weight, to cure in the fridge ‘until’. After today, I have many ‘until’ dates that I need to get on a calendar to manage. It will then come out of the fridge and be hung in the cellar.

Next up was dry-cured ham, as I wanted to do a whole muscle dry cure preparation. I’ve long wanted to dry cure some ham, one day a whole one. I gave a small piece a shot as a newbie, and it was a fail. Time to try again. A friend had taken a very successful run at fiocco, and I wanted to do something similar. The piece I isolated was from the same location as a fiocco – which is essentially the sirloin tip as best I could tell [corrections welcome]. It was a good size to take a run at for now. 775g, 27g salt, 2g instacure #2, 3-4 sprigs summer savory leaves. Into a bag, into the fridge. [photo below left]

Next up was to decide when to take the ham cuts out of the brine pot in the garage. Conveniently, the weather has been cold, and the brine pot has been outside for days staying very cold, and not occupying space in my fridge. I’ve under-brined many a piece of ham, leaving that undesirable center with a little circle of gray, unpinksalted meat that makes for terrible presentation when sliced. But I also didn’t want to over salt it.  Estimating 1/2 day per lb, I decided to pull both pieces at the 27 hr mark. If it’s not enough, I’ll give them more time next year. One of the benefits of blogging: notes for when you forget what you did last year. I followed Ruhlman’s brine ratio and opted for no aromatics in it. They will be smoked over apple wood shortly.

The hocks are still in brine. I’m giving them 3 days in there. Looking forward to hot smoking them as well. Hocks are a funny beast. They are big and bulky relative to their meat output, so I’m going to try to keep them out of the freezer for that simple reason to leave room for beef, moose, and other things. Post smoke, I’ll pull all the meat, make some appropriate dishes for a week or so, and freeze any excess. I’m guessing that rather than a cubic foot of freezer space for them, it’ll be a medium sized ziploc baggie at best.

Dry-cured pig face. Although I think that roasting a head and pulling the meat is its best use for us and minimizes waste, I also wanted to dry cure some. I’m going to call this ‘pig-face’ as the cut I’m choosing is not strictly jowl. There’s some cheek in there. Some other bits and pieces. Other name ideas welcome, as ‘pig face’ isn’t terribly aesthetically pleasing, now is it? All the neck meat was put into trim, and the side of face that you see on the left was trimmed up, skinned, and cured. 900g pig face, 32g salt, 2.25g instacure #2, 2g black pepper, few leaves of dried sage, couple sprigs of fresh english thyme, and a tsp or so of welsh onion seeds. Ground up the cure in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkled it on. I’ve been very pleased with how uniformly the ground spice mix applies, the herbs get integrated with the salt really well and distribute evenly – just doesn’t look quite as lovely. Into the fridge it went.

The balance of the day was grinding meat, including some for a simply flavored fresh sausage that’s on deck, and lots and lots of clean-up from the day before. I’ll do individual posts on these items as they get completed, for those that are interested.

Pig Day, 2011


Pig Day‘ as it’s known around here is the big day we cut pigs to supply us for the year. We buy no other pork. If we run out, we wait for the next pig day. And we pretty much had run out, so I was particularly excited to get my hands on a whole hog again. And it was a big hog this time – 250 lbs. The fantastic farmers had agreed to keep the pigs a good month and a half past the kill date of all their pig-buddies to accommodate our butchering the pigs at home. There’s only one requirement for butchering at home: cold. Which itself dictates date. Late August and even September are chancy – can’t have a pig in the garage when it’s 30C like it was in September. By the latter half of October and into early November, it’s dipping into freezing at night at least, with day-time highs in the high single digits. My garage becomes a big walk-in cooler. Wait too long and you’re working in a walk-in blast freezer, also a problem.

Pig Day‘ starts with us heading out to a meat processor about an hour out of the city to pick up the pigs. They kill them, gut them, split them, de-hair them, have them inspected, load them into the vehicle, and hand you a baggie of offal if you want it all for the low price of $55/head or so. They kill on a Tuesday, and we pick up when they open Friday morning, so the carcasses have a good chance to chill hard in their coolers. We start cutting shortly after 9am, go all day with a break for a wood-fire grilled steak of whatever looks nice off the table, and go until dinner – which is always roast pig head. That dinner is always one of the best, if not the best of the year for me. Lots of fresh air, camaraderie, fresh pork and garden vegetables, washed down with a variety of apple cider, apple wines, brandies, etc. This year we even had a blind wine tasting with 9 folks to sweeten the day even more. It’s a special day.

So what to do. So many options. In my opinion, there is no wrong way to cut a pig, just a million choices, that’s all. I went into this one with probably the best game-plan I’ve had to date. I had thought through all the primals and listed what I wanted to make from them, which guided what and how to cut each. Here were my choices this year:

Shoulder. Shoulder makes my favorite slow-cook roast and confit cut – needed a few convenient roasts for that. Wanted a serious amount allocated to sausage. The hocks went into a brine pot I’d prepped the day before, to be smoked in a few days. If only the whole pig were made of shoulder…

Loin. One side was simply cut into 5 bone-in, fat & skin-on, 4-5 rib loin roasts. They have about 2-3 inches of rib on them, and are a sexy roast presentation wise. The other side was taken off the spine, and split in two. Half was cut into 10 thick fat-on chops, the other half was kept whole boneless and skinless for brine-curing and smoking – its back fat reserved for dry curing.

Ham. Hocks brined in pot. Deboned, isolated inside round and outside round essentially. I wanted to dry cure a piece, so the inside of one was cleaned up for that, the outside designated for roast, with lots of trim for sausage/ground. I’ve found that if I don’t make a conscious effort to allocate to trim, there is none. The other ham was separated the same way, but both inside and outside rounds going into the brine pot. My kids dig cured, smoked meat and ham, so ham I shall make.

Belly. Ribs off and lean to leave it for the bacon – I try to save them for the following summer. The photo just above shows the remaining belly slab’s copious fat. They were trimmed up, cut into 4-6 slabs per side, and reserved for curing and smoking. My kids love bacon. Ok, everybody loves bacon.

Other. This is a pretty long list, and significant contributor to weight. We roast one head, but because a friend I cut with doesn’t want his, the other gets trimmed out for sausage, the side of the face removed [cheek, jowl, etc] for dry curing. There’s a lot of meat out of a roast head – 5-7 lbs. Then there’s the lard bags – one of leaf lard [hugest I've seen to date], and one of trimmed back and belly fats. They’ll be rendered for pastry dough. Trim – I took about 20 lbs for ground & a fresh sausage batch I’ll make tomorrow morning. Then there’s the offal bags with tongues, livers, hearts, kidneys. Tenderloins. Oh yeah, those.

Once we got through my pig, we did 2 more, with others choosing how they wanted to use the lovely stuff. What I’m now left with is a pile of choice in the freezer still, and cuts that suit my family both in size and intended preparation. Back fat, inside round, jowl for dry curing right away. A pot full of curing hocks and a couple ham roasts needing smoking in a few days. 2 big bags of lard needing rendering. A few slabs of belly curing for bacon. A big tray full of trim that I ground the day after, with a batch of fresh sausage to tackle. And a pot full of pulled head meat. And full bellies.

This was a particularly memorable ‘Pig Day‘. Which was followed by a particularly memorable follow-up day that I will now likely call ‘Charcuterie Day‘. I’ve never done so many different charcuterie preparations in one day, not even close. Next post, ‘Charcuterie Day’ thoughts and details.