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Archive for the ‘Dry Cured Meats’ 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

1867 – Oyama Sausage Co. [Ep 62]

06.25.13

Many a romp through France got me very dearly attached to saucisson sec. The count of Albertan charcutiers in business back then, and still, added up to a disheartening zero. There was, however, hope. Every visit to the west coast meant pilgrimage to Oyama’s stall at the Granville Island Market to get a fix. I’ve adored their rillettes, confits, terrines, sausages, dry cured meats, you name it. And this whole damn time I wondered how they got it all so right. Then I met John.

It was really, really hard not to make a reference in this post to Yoda or Mecca somewhere, and will likely be scorned for capitalizing both those words in the same sentence. John’s at the top of his game, and goes right to the top of the list of coolest people I’ve ever met in the world of food. Folks think they know their shit. They don’t. John does. A mini-series of videos wouldn’t be sufficient. It was a humbling visit.

1867 – Joy Road

05.25.13

Joy RoadOn a recent [amazing] trip down to the Slow Food Canada national meeting, I happened to end up in a restaurant for dinner in Penticton, Cam and Dana happened to be there as well, and the restauranteur happened to introduce us. They’d just been back from foraging, and had a van full of watercress and nettles destined for the dinner the following night for the Slow Food national delegates. Already had 2 shoots booked the following day, but couldn’t not slide by to visit them in between to interview them while they prepped.

Anybody, especially those in industry, that takes the leap into local producers and organics, makes their own charcuterie, does artisan baking, raise laying hens and hogs, and forages their greens for a posh dinner gig = super cool in my books. I have time for these kinds of folks, all day long.

The Okanagan food scene is changing. Fast. I spent a fair bit of time down there a few years back and loads of what I saw at the Slow Food conference – artisan bakers, cheese makers, foragers, etc – didn’t seem to be around back then. A lot of twenty-and-thirty-somethings are making a major dent in improving the burgeoning food scene, thank god for that. The wine scene seems to be maturing as well, with more consistently higher quality bottlings, and the price points to go with. Having just spent some time in Napa & Sonoma, I will bravely admit to vastly preferring the Okanagan. Wine critic extraordinaire Jancis Robinson once wrote something to the effect that the Okanagan is only behind New Zealand for most epicly beautiful wine region on planet Earth. Add a wicked food scene to that? Joy Road are in the pack making that perfect storm happen.

Dry Cured Pig Face, Complete.

12.27.11

When we butchered pigs back in mid-October, one pig face was allocated to dry curing [details here], and today it came down from its hook in the cellar – 2 months later. I’ve successfully cured a number of jowls, and was keen to see how this one turned out as it lacked the slashes we’ve had from processor-butchered jowls, and I had also left cheek muscle, and other muscles in the preparation – you can see the dark cheek meat on the left. The simple conclusion is that it’s darned lovely, period.

I’ve admitted before that I’ll take a well made bacon over guanciale, generally speaking, but I’m certainly starting to see the appeal to this piece of charcuterie. The dry curing gives it some complexity and intellect that bacon can lack – bacon’s strength is pure hedonism, it’s not so much about the brains. The dry curing brings some mystery to the table – some light funk and earthiness. Some drama.

What to do with it? Lunch was fried lardons of dry cured pig face, onion, and tomato sauce – classic pasta all’Amatriciana, really. So tasty. I get why this dish is a classic – the dry cured pork has a chance to show its character. Of all dry curing, this one seems like a good bet if you’re thinking of trying your hand at it. Seems consistently successful and presents few challenges if any. Except maybe, for finding yourself a pig head in the first place.

Episode 25: Cellar Food

12.14.11

Strange. It’s mid-December, the soil’s frozen, plants toast – but counterintuitively, this time of year is one of the best times of year food-wise. The freezers are full of a variety of meats, fruits, stocks, lard, and more. The wine cellar’s full of apple wines, ciders, and dry cured pork and game, while the root cellar is an exciting world of veg – from squashes to parsnips, potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas, leeks, shallots, and more. It is a time of year rich in food in our home, and will continue to be for some time in fact – nearly all the way into spring when the veg starts to go sideways, the cider stash drops, and the freezers are once again navigable. All the way into the ‘spring gap’ that I’ve largely found ways to close.

Since my cellar seems to be desired stop number one for folks that visit my home, I thought it’d make a decent location to shoot video at a time of year when the food scene has moved from outdoors to underground. It’s a cold place to shoot video – about 2C at this time of year. So I grabbed some things from the cellar, put together a snack for my wife and I, and rolled some…SD card. Rolling tape sounds way cooler.

Dry Cured Elk Heart Verdict

12.12.11

I got a lot of questions about how the dry-cured elk heart turned out – and I didn’t know until today. Sliced into it exactly one month after the start of the cure, and I’m on the fence if leaving it longer would do it harm or good. You can see in the photo that the exterior’s dry like a jerky, while the interior’s got some texture like a lightly cured fish. Describing fish texture and game meats in the same sentence likely doesn’t conjure pleasant thoughts, but it’s not unpleasant. That’s what’s shocking.

My expectations were strong, rich, heavy, mineral/irony, dense. It in fact is delicate and mild – almost to a fault. It smells lightly like game but not strongly so, with light smoke notes from the cold smoke [I'd go longer next time], and is simply mushroomy & salty. I noticed the mushroom, then looked to see if I’d added any, and sure enough it’s obvious in the photo below that I’d dusted it with crushed wild mushroom and hadn’t noted it. I need to work on my note-taking-discipline. The texture reminded me of a thin slice of lardo in texture [more on that later] – denser than the norm, but in a pleasant way. Overall this is so light, in fact, that when thinking about pairing a wine, I think it would be lost by any red, even the lightest. I wanted a brandy after giving it a go.

So the dry cured heart was surprisingly delicate. Next time around, I’d omit the mushroom [too dominant], and herb and cold smoke it quite a bit harder so that it had some aromatic balance to the game vibe on the nose. Other than that, pretty happy with this one. Yes, I’m a little surprised.

Dry Cured Bull Elk Eye of Round, Part 1

12.07.11

The day we butchered this year’s bull elk, we started curing a couple pieces of eye of round whose fate was to dry in my cellar. Outside the loin and tenderloin – which I’m so not going to dry cure – eye of round is about as uniform a shape as comes out of an animal. That makes it handy for dry curing as it dries evenly and ready all at the same time as  opposed to having a dry end of a piece and an end that needs time. It’s also a bit of a boring and not particularly tender cut on a big animal, so adding some interest via dry curing is now my default use rather than having an uninspiring steak or roast from the cut. It cured in the fridge for 17 days simply in salt, instacure #2, and black pepper. I gave the pieces a quick rinse today and dusted them with some dry summer savory and maldon organic black pepper. Tied them up like a roast, wrote up the tag, and hung them.

Below you can see the tags I’m now using. They’re little shipping tags from an office supply store, and they happen to slip perfectly onto my S hook hanging setup. They also happen to be very easy to read hanging on the hook, as opposed to tied to the string – you can stand in the middle of my cellar and easily read all the tags of what’s up there without mucking about. Handy. This is the first time I’m actually tracking start weight, a step I should have taken long ago to track progress – you can measure moisture loss by loss in weight. The waiting begins.

Dry Cured Ham Report

11.29.11

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

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.

Dry Curing Elk Heart

11.12.11

Heart is a misunderstood piece of offal. Like the tongue, and unlike the liver or kidneys for example, it’s a muscle rather than an organ. Like pig heads and other butcher-shop wastage that makes me cringe, the heart often ends up left in the gut-pile of a hunted wild animal, or tossed in the bin at the local meat processor. My guess is the big meat processors have figured out how to make some use of it by burying it in a processed meat of some kind. Which brings me to a story.

Last year, as I contemplated cutting the testicles out of a recently harvested bull elk, my dad expressed concern that I’d gone crazy. He dislikes wine too. My joking rebuttal at the time was that he eats hotdogs and drinks brandy, so he essentially eats testicles and drinks wine, in one form or another. In his defence, heart [and tenderloin] traditionally doesn’t leave moose camp, as it’s enjoyed first. My point here is that heart is meat. Not working with it is a waste.

As I cleaned up the fresh heart from my recent bull elk adventure [great video here re: cleaning one], I contemplated what its culinary fate might be. It then occurred to me that there was a nice thick slab, not too different in shape and size to a small pork jowl, that might be suitable to dry curing. A quick google of ‘dry cured heart’ turned up virtually nothing. Will it work out? No idea. But it’s worth a shot. For those interested: 356g bull elk heart, 1g instacure #2, 11g kosher salt, 1.5g black pepper. Into a bag, into the fridge, to cure for a week or so. It’ll then be rinsed, and I’m thinking lightly cold-smoked, maybe with a light dusting of ground dried herbs, then hung in the cellar to dry. I’m pretty curious to see where this goes – most of the dry curing I’ve tried have been variations on well beaten paths. This, not so much.