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Archive for the ‘Guanciale’ 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

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.

‘Charcuterie Day’ 2011

10.23.11

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.

Guanciale – Final Product

02.07.11

We put up 20 Irvings Farm Fresh pork jowls December 11, and it’s finally at a place I’d hope it would get – nearly 2 months later. Dense, with a light high-toned loveliness imparted by dry curing pork.

The verdict? Sliced thinly and fried is a bacon-like experience that is lovely indeed.  It fried up extremely fast [low moisture?], and my meat-hating-toddlers happily devoured their ‘spaghetti-and-bacon’. This particular variation [we did 4] was herbed [from my garden], and I think the herbs are a worthwhile addition. My conclusion simply supports my previous conclusion that jowls, and the rest of the pig head for that matter, hitting the local butcher shop bin is nothing short of sinful waste. It’s a shame. And one of those opportunities for budget minded locavores that I seek – you want cheap or in some cases even free local, ethically raised pork? It can be done.

My honesty-bone requires that I divulge that the crunchy jowl fat texture in its uncooked form is not my favorite. But that’s just me, and palates vary widely. The bottom line I’m finding is that pork is pork, whether from the head, belly, or leg when it comes to flavor. So long as there’s enough fat to bring flavors to the party, the whole hog is all good, in my opinion. Which brings me back to: if it’s tasty pork, why are we throwing it out? I think lack of awareness is the answer. Ask your local pork producer for pig head, and cheap, and you should be able to score some majorly cheap but tasty locavore eats.

Guanciale Project: Day 8. Hang Day and Innovation

12.18.10

Today was the day the plethora of guanciale was due to hang. They’d cured for a week, had released a couple tbsp maybe of fluid per, and a fry-up proved salty enough to proceed – not wanting to risk oversalting if we left them longer. So into a big clean sink of water they went, got a solid rub-down-rinse, then dripped dry. We then did up 5 versions: sage & thyme, bay & thyme, black pepper only,  applewood smoke only, and plain. Poked a hole near an edge, tied them, and hung them up for their long visit to my cellar. Wasn’t sure exactly how this would all go down, but it went smoothly. Now, we wait.

The new hanging setup. One more item to share. Last night, before going to bed, I had an idea pop into my head that I put into motion this morning. I had learned that tying many items to dowels above your head is uncomfortable and just plain annoying – especially when the string’s a bit wet and you’re trying to tie knots securely enough to avoid meat on the ground. Or perhaps  if you cut the string a bit short to begin with. Solution? Nylon coated galvanized strapping [Home Depot] intended for hanging pipes, with a plain old stainless S hook run through the holes. You can buy steel strapping – but for the $3 more I opted for galvanized [it's a wet environment = rust], and nylon coating for overkill. A happy surprise – the nylon coat provides a super-smooth slide on the dowel when moving items. This setup is exceedingly better than untying and retying knots, they can easily be assembled/disassembled, is overbuilt in the strength department, and inexpensive [$6 for 10' strapping, $1.28/4 S hooks]. Now when tying stuff to hang, I simply tie the item, and tie a loop on the other end. The loop gets hung on an S hook, and voila. Hang-time is no longer time consuming. Need to move stuff? No problem. Ah, simple pleasures.

Guanciale Project: Day 1

12.11.10

Today was day 1 of a pretty major charcuterie project – the dry curing of pork jowl. Not that jowl is tricky to cure, what makes this a big project is that we did not one jowl, not a pair of jowls, but 20. Yep. 20 pig jowls. Why? A friend wanted to do some R&D on having the cured product available for commercial use. Plus, it was essentially a waste product as sadly, most of the pig heads around here go in the bin at the kill site. What a waste. A good example of how food abounds, but just isn’t distributed properly. I’ve calculated about 5-7 lbs of meat off the head. The 10 pigs these jowls came from would have had 50-70lbs of usable food in the head. At least we spared the jowls.

These jowls were unlike any I’d seen – and I buy whole pigs from this farmer regularly. The difference: the place they have their pigs butchered cut big slashes into the jowl – which seemed tragic at first. You can see them in the photo below. My current theory is they do it for inspection, as the jowl has lots of glands – I’ve seen most pig kidneys slashed like this for inspection when you get a side. The plus side is it will cure quickly. Another plus side is it allowed us to easily locate and remove the many, many glands I’m fairly sure we’d have missed had the slashes not been made. Begs the question of edibility of the glands if the jowl’s left whole for this preparation. The only downside I can think of so far is aesthetic and potential inconvenience at slicing time.

So today was trim, gland removal, and cure day. They will spend up to 3 weeks curing in my root cellar at 2C before being removed, rinsed, and hung to dry cure for roughly 2 months in my curing room. We used this recipe, minus the herbs which we’ll add to some pieces pre-hanging for dry curing. Now we wait.