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Archive for the ‘From the Cellar’ Category

Episode 26: Smoke & Ice

01.06.12

I grew up hunting and gardening, abandoned them both as a young adult, then fell in love with both again later in life. Apparently, same goes for ice fishing. I have semi-fond memories of exhausty ski-doo-trailer rides on to the lake, sitting on a pail getting blasted by the elements, eye lashes freezing together, not catching much of anything, getting cold, and hearing stories about how at one time you caught way more and way bigger fish. When you’re a kid, those kind of stories are far from any form of consolation.

A friend of mine [who I met when shooting another video, coincidentally] invited me out ice fishing with him and a co-worker of his, and I just couldn’t say no. It’s January. In my usually busy food world, action had slowed. Gardening season was over. Hunting season was over. But ice fishing is just getting started. And I had a blast, despite it being a particularly slow day. Ice fishing is immeasurably more enjoyable when you’re protected from the elements in a shack, and more importantly, can see down the hole to watch the fish swim about. Add to that some camaraderie and wild-food action – I now get why folks enjoy it. I’m hooked. I want to go again.

Music courtesy of The AwesomeHots

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.

Maybe Apple Wine CAN Improve With Age

12.09.11

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about apple-booze-making, something near and dear to my heart, and I learned that he had out-produced me in volume this past year. And I made a lot. It was immediately clear to me that we would have to get together to do a tasting of our products to check them all out, compare notes, etc. So we did. That was last week. And I made a discovery.

Last year, on apple crush day one of many, I opened a bottle of the 2009 vintage, then a year old. I had kept a half case back, tucked it in a top corner of my wine cellar, and was resolved to test one a year to track its evolution. So pulled the cork, and besides some light bubbliness, it was very austere and boring. The newer vintage was better by far. I was really disappointed, and had built a lot of capacity to properly age wine. Looked like this stuff was going to be like most white wines – lose its bright fruit after a year or so and tank steadily after that. It was so disappointing that I wondered what to do with the remaining bottles.

So at last week’s mega-tasting among other things we tried a 3-4 bubbly ciders, and 3-4 apple wines, including a vertical of the 2009 and 2010 vintages from my tree. And lo and behold, the 2009 knocked the socks off the 2010. It was unquestionably more concentrated on the nose and palate, and had a far better flavor profile. Lovely stuff. I enjoyed every last bit of that bottle. So what happened?!?! It shut down after a year [it was good young], and then perked up after 2? Not sure, but I can tell you that I’m extremely glad I have a few more bottles tucked away in the cellar for future years, and am relieved that I have space to age more of the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Clearly more research required.

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.

About This Much…

12.01.11

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

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.