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Archive for the ‘Bacon’ Category

Why I Need an Annual ‘Charcuterie Day’

11.25.13

Charcuterie Day - Sausage and Bacon It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an annual ‘Charcuterie Day‘ marathon immediately following the annual ‘Pig Day‘ is in my future for a long, long time. Here’s why.

Bacon.

Beyond bacon [reason alone], I’m not concerned with the possibility of trichinosis in my extremely high quality bush-raised-and-handled-by-me pork and skipping right past freezing and into to curing and dry curing. Purists prefer this approach to frozen meats. I’m happy to have it an outcome of pragmatism. Having spent a few hours breaking down the pig, I have fresh in the brain a host of ideas for the delicious possibilities in front of me, and can save myself the following steps: bagging, butcher paper wrapping, hauling to freezer, energy required for freezing, taking it out to defrost, throwing out of packaging, handling of post-freeze sloppy wet meat [fresh is nicer to work with]. I also avoid the possibility of neglecting a cut deep in my freezer, and the worry of having to inventory it to figure out whether that is the case or not.

So I spent a relaxed 8 hour day putting it all up. Both entire sides of the pig went into various forms of bacon – some plain, some spiced with chili, white pepper [deep gratitude to John at Oyama Sausage for the hook-up], and fennel before getting hot smoked. No more ‘when are you going to make bacon again?’ from the family for this guy. It’s done. I also put up the 2 pig faces into guanciale, and a kilo or so of back fat into lardo. In this year’s case, I’d just shot a deer a week prior, so taking fresh deer trim and making 15lbs or so of best-I’ve-ever-made sausage with fresh pig belly seemed sensible. Salted a whole back leg for its long fate of air drying.

I acknowledge that it’s super handy to have cold storage that is my cellar setup to handle the volume of meats so that they’re not consuming my entire fridge. If that was required though, it’d be worth the bother. A big change for me is that I to finally caved on my ‘no energy input‘ purism about my wine/cider/charcuterie cellar and actually put a heater and humidifier in there to create the conditions necessary for dry curing. I’m going to say though [read: justify to myself] that the energy my humidifier and heater consume are a saw-off for the freezer energy, time, and packaging I won’t use for the dry cured items. So while I used to have a 2-3 month natural window [Jun-Aug] of optimal temp and humidity in my 6x6x8′ dry curing chamber, I’ll now have it rolling year round.  Gearing it up is a bit challenging as substantially all of what others have done and shared online relates to the constraints of a repurposed fridge. Still trying to figure out the best way to tweak out my space. A happy problem.

A reason NOT to do a ‘Charcuterie Day’ immediately post ‘Pig day’? It’s a busy time of year typically, and there are many another food thing to tend to. I’m over that one. Or perhaps you don’t have your own ‘Pig Day‘ to follow up. That, my friends, unless you have a religious/cultural justification, needs to be rectified.

Charcuterie Day - Venison Sausage

Episode 50 – Pork Butchery Workshop V1.0

09.09.12

Jeff Senger of Sangudo Custom Meats

If only 2002 Kevin knew this was coming in 2012. 10 years ago I lived in a condo, fondling my tattered copy of ‘Charcuterie’, longing for an opportunity to get my hands on a whole hog to do even just a few of the myriad of possible delicious preparations pork offered – many of which you can do at home but money can’t otherwise buy. But I had no space to do it. I had nobody to show me the way. I’d never met a pork farmer who I could ask to hook me up. In the spring of 2008, I had moved into our current home, and the previous winters’ pent up porcine desires meant its garage was pre-destined to witness many a pig butchering. 4 years on, many sides and porkventures later, and after a few pints of beer with Jeff Senger tossing around the idea, here we are putting on a pig butchery workshop. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no master at breaking down a side – but mastery was not the objective here. Instead my hope was to give folks that were in a position I recall all too well a crack at breaking the ice. To give them a shot at seeing pig go from live on the hoof to wrapped and packed in the freezer, largely by their own hand. Pig Butchery 101, down and dirty.

Huge thanks to Jeff Senger and Allan Suddaby for putting their heart into it and sharing their expertise throughout the day. An equally huge thanks to those who came, who took the leap. I think it was a day all involved will remember for a long, long time. And yes, we’re talking about maybe doing more. Maybe even a beef butchery workshop. Maybe.

Cob Oven Bacon

06.03.12

Writing about bacon. Again. Just when I thought there wasn’t anything additional to add to the conversation I have with myself here, there was something else to add. A simple conclusion: wood ovens are fantastic smokers. Different than a commercially manufactured smoker that generally involves automation, an element, and some wood chips, it still requires some finagaling in the way of fire management, making it an enjoyable creative process. Not only does it contain smoke as intensely as you’d like, it’s also well suited to creating smoke, as it’s easy to shut down its O2 supply such that it can’t ‘catch’ flame, and instead smoulders and smokes prolifically. I still maintain that an external fire source is critical to successful smoking, so I had a fire in an old baking pan off to the side to fuel the oven with heat when it started to cool off too much to hot smoke, or generate smoke at all for that matter. As usual, the wood of choice in my yard is apple wood, this time supplied by a friend at Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. A future project of mine: many of the hundreds of trees OFRE has signed up for fruit rescue need some serious pruning + a local meat shop is interested in smoking their meats with said wood = cool.

So after years with a bbq conversion setup, and a year with a dry-stack brick setup, I am now pleased to be staring down a future of smoking in the new cob oven. A friend recently asked me if the honeymoon phase is over with the oven. Nope.

Episode 37 – Bacon

03.21.12

I’ve been writing about bacon for years now. As in, 6-7 years. I’ve made it umpteen times, yet there are always little refinements here and there to make in the process. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it too by now. Nope.

I feel like this episode should be rated ‘N’ for containing the evil ‘Nitrates’. But for all you nitrate haters, consider this: “the permissible amount of nitrate in comminuted meat products [sausages], is 1718 mg/kg.” The amounts of nitrates naturally inherent in vegetables are then quoted, again in mg/kg: “spinach, 1631. beetroot, 1211. lettuces, 1051. cabbages, 338. potatoes, 155…” The list goes on. I’m quoting the book ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design’ by respected charcuterie authors S., A., & R. Marianski. The authors then go on: “If one ate 1/4 lb smoked sausage, the ingoing nitrate would be 430ppm. That would probably account for less nitrates than a dinner served with potatoes and spinach.” 

That’s right. That box-store bagged spinach [which has a nasty history of carrying deadly pathogens, I'll add], cooked into a nice lasagna, would very likely have far more nitrates in it than a healthy portion of bacon. There are many things to fear in the food world, but let moderate use of nitrates not be one of them. And lastly, let me say it for the record: bacon without nitrates is not bacon, it’s pork belly. If you’re smoking pork belly without nitrates to get a ‘pretend bacon’ or ‘nitrate-free bacon’, you’re missing the point that nitrates are present to avoid you having a intimate encounter with ‘Mr. Botulism’.

Smoking Heart and Bacon

11.14.11

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.

Bacon Deserves Some Respect

03.15.11

I know, I write about bacon a lot. And I know, bacon’s so last year, right? Wrong. Putting bacon in all kinds of stupid stuff – that’s so last year. But top-shelf bacon is, and will be so long as man and pork collide, a force of awesomeness to be reckoned with.

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is indeed the bacon cured by my 3-year-old. A week in the fridge, and a couple hours over some wood fire smoke – daddy did that part [see bottom photo]. So simple. So tasty.

For some reason though, this bacon is among the best I’ve ever produced – and I’ve made a lot of bacon. We are literally swooning over it, and it’s not for lack of cured pork in our diet. I’m going to give the credit to Nature’s Green Acres for raising some high-maintenance but ridiculously beautiful pork belly. You can see me butchering this very slab of pig’s belly here.

This beautiful piece of pork has fired me up to asking we quit wearing bacon, crafting with bacon, putting it in desserts, and any other bacon-nonsense – and give it back some of its well deserved respect and dignity. Really.

My 3 Year Old Can Cure Bacon. So Can You.

03.11.11

May the following serve as evidence for all those that say, ‘but I don’t know how’ and perhaps ‘but I don’t have the time’. The following is a series of photos of how to cure bacon – by a 3 year old. Yes. That’s right. A 3 year old can cure bacon. And it took her 5 minutes or so. Now to the skeptics, I’ll concede that I dosed the pink salt and cure amounts – took on the role of responsible daddy figuring botulism risk was not to be managed by toddlers. But other than that, it was all her.

Take some pork belly. Open zip top bag – especially fun when you’re 3. I admit to have lost the appreciation for that simple pleasure. Put belly in bag. Weigh out cure based on weight of meat [again, daddy intervened here]. Dump cure into bag, as seen in top left photo.

The next bit is also full of glee when you’re 3: shaking the bag about to coat the pork belly with the cure, seen below. No lack of enthusiasm there, when you’re 3. If you’re older than 3, you may lack spunk and fight lethargy, and this may actually be deemed ‘work’ or..’hard’. 3 year olds would disagree. All fun. The gayness may be emphasized when you wear really loud, colorful pants. My grandfather wears similar pants to dinner parties. No joke. He must have a good time too.

Next, also seen below, requires adult assistance – the opening of the fridge can be tricky for a 3 year old. Other than that though, the instructions are ‘put bag in fridge’. If you’re pressed for time, don’t despair , it needs to cure for a week. You have time. Time to go to work for a week, do a lot of other stuff, sleep many times. Then a week later, you have freshly cured bacon. The only bad part when you’re 3 is that a week is a really, REALLY long time to wait for bacon.

I’m Thankful for This Soup

10.10.10

I’ve been really grateful for the abundance around me lately. I feel a little like I’ve won the lottery [I don't buy tickets]. This soup kind of summed up my happiness of late. It’s a purée of winter squashes from my former lawned front yard, with celery and leek from my backyard garden + a whack of chevre from Holly. Atop it is a dollop of goat yogurt, wild lobster mushrooms a friend hooked me up with, some burdock root [from the garden] that was sautéed with a little bacon made from Nature’s Green Acres pig. This soup defined a moment, was unique, dynamic and tasted lovely. Every last bit of it was made from the garden, or from food received from a friend.

One of the things I’ll be grateful for this thanksgiving is for the relationships I’ve been building in the local food community. It has made every meal, no matter how small, more meaningful. Just like killing an animal gives you a deep respect for the use of its meats,  or growing your fruits and vegetables makes you love them that much more – so does having a close relationship with the folks that produce your food increase your connection to and enjoyment of their foods. Strange comparison, perhaps, but it’s true.

Amidst all the reasons to support your local farmer directly – health, chemical avoidance, sustainable ag, quality, freshness,  organics, whatever – community was not something I anticipated harvesting from doing so. And for that, I am grateful.

Bacon-&-Egger-Pizza

05.30.10

There’s not much to say here. It’s a pizza, with bacon and egg. In this case, with some other veg stuff. The point is it’s really good, and despite seeing a lot of egg atop pizzas while traveling in Europe, I don’t do it much here. My bad. And well, bacon. Lardons are awesome on pizza. No shocker there. Brunch, anyone?

Bacon. Again.

04.09.10
Yep. Bacon. Again. It seems I’ve written about it so much it must be redundant to do so again. But it is not.

The more I work with pork, the more I love it. So versatile. It seems to embrace transformation and elevation while maintaining an undeniable humility. This batch was 10 lbs of skin-on belly from our last pig. My 3 year old [who loves bacon] had a chance recently to meet our local pork farmer I buy whole hogs from, and it made me think: ‘why am I the only guy I know who buys hogs from a local farmer and cuts them myself?‘ I sincerely hope that one day that practice ceases to be deemed ‘odd’ or ‘hardcore’ and instead becomes seen as ‘sensible’ and ‘normal’. Ah, a man can dream.