Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Deer

Kids really do end up acting like their parents. Once I got on my quest to shoot a pig my boy got the bug too. The first problem was that he is just a monkey and it takes a pretty big gun to take down a big animal. "That's no problem!", he said. He asked for a big gun for his birthday in September and ended up with an H&R single shot 7mm-08. It came with a scope and a youth model stock.

The first time he shot it he held it too loose and the scope smashed him in the forehead. This thing is loud as hell and kicks hard. Neither one of us liked the damn thing...but we pressed on. Three months and ~100 rounds later the boy is hitting his targets at 100 yards.

We finally got a chance to hunt deer over Christmas at my folks place back in Kentucky. We froze our butts off but we managed to bag a small buck. I made the blind and helped my boy spot the deer, but once he saw it he took over. A perfect shot at 100 yards. The buck stumbled for ~30 yards and dropped. Neither my father or I had ever shot a deer before so we were pretty much jumping out of our pants when my boy dropped one on his first hunt. Way cool.

So.....I have been up to my elbows, literally, in venison. We took the backstraps, both hindquarters and one shoulder (the other should had a huge hole in it :) ). We also took a bag of random trimmings not associated with the major cuts. I did not save the ribs, they looked like not much was on them and I did not have the cooler space. I also pitched the organs...I know a deer heart/liver pate would be cool to write about but I honestly did not want to make or eat it.

Butchering the deer has been super fun! Seeing how the leg muscles are connected and pull apart is awsome. It has helped me understand various cuts of meat better now that I actually figured out how to find them. that's where a round roast comes from. The deer weighed ~150-200 lbs before we field dressed him. I am guessing we ended up with ~30 lbs of meat. The leg bones have been saved for a stock session this weekend and the skin is being tanned for use as a blanket.

So far we have had peppered steaks, country fried steaks (I am in Texas after all), bacon wrapped, stroganoff and by far my favorite...bratwurst burgers.

3 lbs venison trimmed of all fat, membranes and silverskin.
1 lb pork fat
1/4 pint heavy cream
1 egg
2 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 nutmeg, grated

Put the meat and fat through the grinder then into the mixer with the seasonings. Mix well for ~2 minutes. You could easily stuff into casings at this point but I was out. Instead I formed the mix into 6 oz patties and pan fried them like a burger. Pretty incredible.

Go hunting. It's fun.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fun with Gunpowder

Sous Vide my ass.

I'm sorry, I appreciate the art, but you can't get much farther from the elemental than controlled temperature baths. Braising short ribs at 138 degrees for three weeks...yum, just as nature intended.

And so I revert to the elemental. Gunpowder: Charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. I spent a glorious afternoons a few weeks ago playing with two forms of gunpowder: Black and smokeless.

The black powder was used while shooting a 50 caliber muzzle loader. Pure glorious. Let me set the stage. I hate shooting rifles. I am good at it but that doesn't mean I like it. The crack of the bullet (seriously, wear ear protection) the recoil of the ain't fun. I can do the macho crap and suck it up, but honestly I would rather be eating some chicken wings than spending time on the shooting range.

The difference between black powder in the muzzle loader and smokeless powder in a modern rifle is best described as the difference between being punched really hard in the shoulder and receiving a strong shove. The black powder is a big shove...a big messy shove.

It doesn't get much more elemental than a muzzle loader. Measure your powder (pyrodex) and pour it down the muzzle. Place a lubricated patch over the exit of the muzzle, place a 50 caliber ball on top of the patch and ram the ball down onto the powder. Load a primer onto the trigger and fire. You get a massive amount of smoke, a "Kabam!" that garners respect at the range, and a massive hole in your paper target. Oh, by the way, it is really fun and doesn't hurt. For anybody who has the least bit of interest...go to a gun range and get someone to educate you about this. I cannot stress how much fun this is and how easy it is. That being said, you need someone to walk you through it the first time. Crap can happen.

So after firing massive lead missles we spent the rest of the afternoon making rifle rounds for the 30-30. This uses a smokeless gunpowder. I shall not go into details because it would be meaningless until you have experience doing it. Let me say this: It is easy once you have the right equipment. The right equipment will cost ~$150. Get someone from the gun range to show you. People at the range are lunatics, but in a nice way. Don't be a judgemental ass, ask to be enlightened and they will be happy to share the knowledge. It ain't hard, it's a lot of fun and it's very elemental.

Seriously....muzzleloaders are the definition of the serious fun. Go to the range and learn from the lunatics. Sanity is a matter of perspective.

Beats the hell out of sous vide.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pressed Beef: A nod and a wink

I saw an interesting recipe for cured beef the other day and thought it would be worth a try. The recipe was from the Blacksmith Steakhouse Bar and consisted of placing a steak in a cure, pressing it for 24 hours, then serving it sliced very thin.

So with a nod of my head to Larbo who got me thinking about cured pressed beef in the first place, I thought I might as well give a version of this a try.
0.65 lbs chuck steak
18 grams salt
18 grams brown sugar
5 grams black pepper

The cure was applied and the steak placed in a Ziploc bag. I placed the bag on a cookie sheet and pressed them with 30 pounds for 24 hours. Why 30 lbs? Well obviously because 40 would have been too much. I took me a while to figure out exactly how to press them but then I realized that what would work was a large book to evenly distribute the weight of the 30 lbs. There was no question as to what the book should be: So with a wink of my eye to The Foodie..out came the best use for Bittman's Vegetarian cookbook I have found to date.

I can't say that I loved this but I can say it was very interesting. Incredibly tender, very flavorful and a great way to extend a reasonable piece of meat over several servings. I just had it straight and then with some bread but I can imagine it would make a great highlight to a salad. My only hesitation with this is the texture...tastes good, just doesn't feel right.

I like the fact that this had been pressed. The amount of liquid expelled was tremendous and the resulting firmness made this a breeze to slice.

Interesting side note...when served thinly sliced it tasted pretty dang good. When I took one and pan seared it the result was inedible.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fun with The Girl

I have made several posts that have involved The Boy, mainly because we are off doing "guy stuff". However, my wife correctly pointed out that I need to spend more time with The Girl.

And so out came the chocolate.

Nothing here is cutting edge or particularly interesting, but it was fun. And we had fun together.

I poured a bag on mini milk chocolate chips into a bowl and had The Girl melt them in the microwave. 30 seconds of power, a minute of stirring, repeat until melted. Pretty straightforward with the appropriate amount of spillage and lickage.

We started by dipping pretzels into the chocolate and then did some peanuts. Later we dipped bananas and mini-marsh mellows. All good stuff. For desert we had chocolate chip cookies covered in chocolate. Of course desert is not the end. The end was the grand finale...chocolate covered bacon.

Time well spent.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bresaola success

I got back in town after a week of wretched excess in Louisiana and checked on the goodies in my curing chamber.

1. The lonzino quickly got pitched in the trash. I am just too damned tired of fighting the green mold on this guy. Life is short, move on.

2. The bresaola had achieved a 42% weight loss and was covered in a very pretty white mold. I know that this mold is probably edible but since I was going to get the boy to eat some with me I simply didn't want to have a discussion about "white stuff". I was too tired. So I trimmed off the outer quarter inch and while doing so discovered that this was one BEAUTIFUL piece of meat. I wish I was more eloquent so I could describe just how incredibly gorgeous this dark red pile of protein was. Almost the color of dark cherry? Smelled wonderful. I had some plain and thinly sliced. It was enjoyed by me and the boy. I later fixed a small plate sliced thin with a fresh Meyer lemon out of my yard sliced even thinner and fresh cracked black pepper. Delicious.

Thanks to everyone who has blogged about this and offered advice, tips and suggestions. I started a new one today!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Four Days of Frying, part 2

Alright, after all the comments that my last blog generated I know that everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about the remainder of the Fry Festival. First off, we drove my kids nuts by declaring it was Fryday for four straight days.

On the second Fryday (Thursday) we fried two 14 lbs turkeys that had both been injected with massive amounts of creole butter. they took about 50 minutes each and I swear they were freaking spectacular. This is how the Almighty wants us to eat turkey. Period.

After the Thanksgiving feast, when the guests had left and the gin was flowing we brought out the cookie dough that had been frozen overnight. Into the oil it went and it quickly turned into an oozing pile of oily goo. Strike two.

On the third Fryday we made crab rangoon, french fries, breaded cocktail onions and Thanksgiving eggrolls. The eggrolls were a damned good idea if I do say so myself. I took diced turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and some shredded cheese and rolled them in eggroll wrappers. They fried up beautifully and it was a nice way to use up some leftovers. My nephew was getting into the frying spirit and took on the cookie dough challenge. He had been helping me make eggrolls and decided to wrap the cookie dough into a leftover eggroll wrapper. The kid has promise. It fried up beautifully. The cookie dough center was gooey and still "doughy" but highly edible. We have some ideas on how to improve on this next time. At this point lunch was over and we took naps.

Later in the evening we fried fresh Gulf shrimp and speckled trout. I had a complete failure when I tried to convert leftover sweet potato casserole into hush puppies. They dissolved into the same oozing balls of gunk that the cookie dough did. They can't all be winners.

And that brings us to the fourth Fryday, this morning. I woke up with a head full of juniper berries and a family that was ready to hit the road and get back to Texas. I was prepared...the fourth day could not pass without a fry session. And so I made up my batter and heated up the oil. After three cups of coffee the oil was ready and I had the kids gather round as I deep fried a platter of Twinkies. God help me but they were delicious.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Four Days of Frying

I am in Louisiana for Thanksgiving which means the turkey will be fried. We have been numb skulls in the past about this as every time we got out the big fryer we would say, "hey, let's throw in some chicken wings!" This would be soon followed by, "Hey, I've got a bunch of mushrooms, let's do those too." And so on and so on until it was time to finally sit down to the Thanksgiving feast at which point who in the hell could eat another bite?

And so this year we have either become much smarter or much dumber. We have extended the frying season to four full days and will keep our turkey frying session saved for just frying turkey.

We kicked off the Four Days of Frying yesterday in a fine fashion. Boneless Buffalo bites, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, jalepeno slices and olives all met the tender lovings of hot oil. They were served with a remolaude dipping sauce that I thought was pretty damn good. The sauce was about three parts mayo to one part good mustard. Throw in a bunch of minced garlic, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt , pepper and a handfull of minced parsley. Highly reccomended. My biggest delight and disappointment was the fried olives. I loved them because I had never done them before and they turned out beautiful. On the negative side the flovor combination of fried batter and olive brine is not something that God intended me to eat. Some folks loved them.

In the evening we switched over to taquitos. We had some leftover pot roast that got chopped fine and mixed with cheese and jalepenos. This was rolled up in a corn tortilla and fried until crispy. Very, very good.

We followed the taquitos with what I would call the only failure of the day, fried cookie dough. It seemed like a helluva good idea and people were very excited. Turns out that the dough almost melted into the oil leaving behind an amorphous blob of gunk. We have not given up on this. Right now we have the dough rolled up in balls that are sitting in the freezer. I'll try to figure out some breading/protective coating for some of the balls, the other will go straight in as frozen. If this works it out to be killer with some ice cream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cured Meat: Observations and questions

I placed my bresaola into my chamber a month ago at a weight of 725 grams. I weighed it today and found it to be 457 grams. It is not covered in, but has a fair amount of, white stuff. The white stuff is not fuzzy, green or black so I am assuming all is good in the world.

% weight loss = 100 * (725-457)/725 = 36.9%

I am shooting for 40% loss so I stuck it back in.

Q1. Is the same way other folks calculate weight loss? It seems straight forward to me but just want to check.

Q2. Is this much weight loss typical for 1 month? I thought this would be a 2-3 month process.

I have been curing a lonzino along side of my bresaola. Both of them were trussed with twine and hung without a casing. The bresaola was trussed with a hemp twine and the pork loin with butcher twine. What I saw some with my bresaola and to a massive degree with my lonzino is that I am getting green mold every place that the twine touches the meat. About every three days I am scrubbing my meat with vinegar to knock the mold down. Today I got disgusted and cut the twine off. My plan is to rest the lonzino on a cooling rack and rotate/flip it every day to avoid prolonged contact of the meat with the metal.

Q3. Anyone else have problems getting green mold when trussing with twine? I know Scott had an issue with this but looking at his picture it seems like the mold was away from the twine.

Another oddity about the lonzino…this guy weighed in at ~3 lbs. I applied a typical cure and let it sit for 11 days. After the first few days it released a lot of water. By the end of the cure the excess water had vanished. When I weighed it prior to hanging it had increased in weight by almost exactly how much cure I added. That it, the loin released the water and then sucked it back up.

Q4. Is it typical for a pork loin to reabsorb its expelled liquid?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November Hat Trick

November 1st offers a unique opportunity for folks on the Texas Gulf Coast; a hat trick. November 1st is the opening day of oyster season which coincides with the last weekend of dove season and a generally good time to catch redfish as the bulls start their run when the water temperature drops.

I started the day telling my boy that we were going to hunt the savage oyster. Needless to say he was not impressed at the thought. All the same I loaded him up and we headed out. Before we began our great oyster hunt we swung into a marsh and threw the cast net for a while. I got a few small mullet in my net and proceeded down to the intercoastal where we used them on a double leader to try to snag some reds. Long story...we didn't catch any reds but I will claim the mullet as my first part of the hat trick.

Then it was on to hunt the savage oyster, with much eye rolling from my son. It had been raining for a few days and the bay I wanted to get to was off the beaten path. There was a path mind you, just not much of one. I ended up throwing the jeep into 4WL and mud was flying. It was in our hair, in our ears and over every inch of the jeep. Now the boy is getting into the oyster hunt. When we finally get to my spot we jump out and start wading. In the excitement of the off-roading I had neglected to talk to the boy about the basics of oyster harvesting. He looks down, sees a nice clump of shells, graps the largest one and pulls. And at that point the score is "Savage Oyster" = 1 "The Boy" = 0. We had blood...the shells are sharper than hell and he sliced his finger pretty good. Bad Daddy. Before we left I pried one off with a screwdriver for part two of the hat trick.

Not long after the blood started flowing we got a call from my neighbor who finally got off work and wanted to go dove hunt. So off we went, put on some band-aids and loaded up with our hunting gear. We went to the local Wildlife Management Area and proceeded to see a ton of doves. Here is what I learned: doves fly fast, I am a bad shot with a 20 gauge and people who actually can shoot enjoy shooting dove more than eating them. So, after three hours of hitting nothing but air we left the WMA with 7-8 doves that other hunters eagerly gave us so they wouldn't have to deal with them.

Hat trick complete.

It wasn't pretty at any leg but I'll take it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Help Please! Cured Meat

I have cured a few pork tenderloins with okay results...decided to move up to bresaola.

I bought a nice looking "Eye of Round" and trimmed it of all visible fat , silverskin etc.

Meat: 801 g
Salt: 19.2 g
Sugar: 16 g
Cure #2: 3 g
garlic powder: 3 g
black pepper: 4 g

The meat was well coated then placed in a 1 gallon Ziploc with any extra cure. Placed the bag in my fridge at ~35F. I flipped and massaged the meat every day for a week.

I took the meat out this morning, rinsed it off and did not notice any off smells.

While I was tying it to hang in the curing chamber I noticed the end of the meat had a translucent green shine to it. What the hell?!?! I sliced the end off and saw that while I was able to remove most of it that there was still this layer of "greenness" throughout the outer circumference of the meat. This is NOT mold.

What is happening? Have I screwed the pooch?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Feral Hog Tasting

I’ve cooked the hams and backstrap of my hog and was amazed. My preparations were intentionally simple as I wanted to really taste the pork and not a rub or a sauce. The backstraps were cut into medallions, seasoned with salt and pepper, then sautéed in butter. The hams were seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic before being baked until tender. I know, not very creative but again that was the point.

What I discovered was that my little piggy tasted pretty much like any other piece of pork I have ever bought at grocery stores. Makes me scratch my head a little. This guy was not raised in a CAFO and ate precious little corn in his life. The truth be told I am having a hard time trying to guess what this little guy ate as there wasn’t much that looked edible down in south Texas. But the point is….all the foodies out there who pontificate on the flavor of meat as a direct function of the diet of an animal would have been hard pressed to know the difference in my animal.

Go figure. A side effect of this experience is for some reason I really am not concerned with the origin of my pork anymore. All of the ethical arguments from Pollan, etc. still exist but for some reason they just don’t resonate with me right now. I guess what it boils down to is that in the end, it’s just a pig.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pig Hunt Recap

Well, that was interesting. To start with my legs are covered in sores from embedded cactus needles and I am still finding miniature ticks on various parts of my body.

I climbed into my blind at 6:30 on Saturday morning and had to wait 40 minutes until there was enough light to see what was around me. I heard lots of wildlife, mainly deer, coyote and birdsong. It was obvious that I am a complete rookie at hunting as every deer that came within 30 yards of me figured out I was there, gave a big stomp and a snort and hightailed it out of there. The coyotes were howling like mad. Every time the coyote started their song I could hear lots of nervous wildlife skittering about behind my blind.

After two hours in my blind I finally saw a feral hog. My heart was pumping hard and my hands were shaking a little as I loaded a shell into my 30-30. Much to my surprise I was able to hold my gun pretty steady as I took aim. I watched the hog through the peep sight for about a minute until he presented himself in a manner that would give a good kill shot. He looked like a pretty nice size; I was guessing about 150 lbs. I was able to gently squeeze the trigger and my hog dropped in his tracks. His legs kicked for about a minute and then stopped. It was a good clean kill with minimal suffering. I know without a doubt that there was less suffering through this death than if he had been torn to shreds by the packs of coyotes which were roaming the area.

When I climbed out of the blind and examined my hog up close I was amazed at how small he was. The animal that had appeared to be 150 lbs while in my sights was now revealed to weigh 50-60 lbs. The hunter I was with just laughed and said the hunting term for that is “ground shrinkage”. The positive note is that apparently this is the perfect size for eating. They have not gotten too tough and also have not developed a strong pig musk smell. I checked the wound and confirmed I had shot him exactly where I had aimed, a clean shot to the heart.

I find it very interesting that from the moment I squeezed the trigger this animal changed in my mind from being “a hog” into being “my hog”.

We cleaned the hog by first skinning him, removing the backstraps and then removing the front and hind quarters. We did not open the abdominal cavity as these hogs are way too lean to have much meat on their ribs. While we were skinning the hog I was amazed at the number of ticks that had made a home on this fellow….possibly a hundred, maybe more?

My emotions were pure excitement. I had expected to feel a sense of sorrow/guilt/loss by taking the life of this animal. Nope, pure adrenaline. I am an alpha male…me kill meat! I would do it again in a heartbeat with zero remorse as I squeeze the trigger.

We put the meat on ice and I was instructed to keep it on ice for at least three days. The three days are up today and tonight I will eat the only pig I have ever killed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pig Hunt!

It’s time to go kill a pig! I’m heading to south Texas this weekend for my first feral hog hunt. The range of emotions is pretty broad; excited, apprehensive, nervous. I’ve never killed anything larger than a fish and I know that I will have mixed emotions if I pull the trigger on a pig.

Many folks would question if what I’m doing qualifies as hunting. I will be in a ground blind about 30 yards from a corn feeder. The landowner is an avid deer hunter and the pigs have been coming in and scaring the deer. This trip is to “put the hurt on the pig population” so the deer hunting will be better for him later this year. The combination of being that close and the fact that the pigs will be coming in to eat the feed corn makes it feel like I will be shooting fish in a barrel. That being said, I’ve never hunted before so I really do not know what the hell I am talking about.

I am nervous about the terrain. The guidance I have been given is to always be wearing leather gloves because everything I touch down there will hurt me. Between thorns from mesquite trees, cactus barbs and a very healthy rattlesnake population it really is best to be very careful where you sit and what you pick up.

I will be shooting my grandfather’s Model 94 Winchester 30-30. I am not an expert with it by any means but after several trips to the range I am very comfortable. I have no worries about being able to make a clean kill at this short distance. I’ll probably be shaking like a leaf and will miss by twenty feet!

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy! Here piggy, piggy, piggy!”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dinner with Mario

I have been stalking Bill Buford for a year (Hi, Bill!). While sifting through his garbage last week I came across the final chapter of his 2006 book, Heat, which, for some reason, was rejected by the publisher. I have included the work below. I assume this is okay since I didn’t find a copyright notice anywhere in the margins. Keep up the great work, Bill. See you soon!

It has been three months since Mario joined me for dinner and witnessed the completion of my metamorphosis from student to chef. I was grateful for all that Mario had shared and was determined to make that evening one he would remember for the rest of his life.

After we had eaten I realized that Mario had never actually seen me practice the skills I had developed under the tutelage of Dario and The Maestro. This, I realized, would make the circle complete. I would put on a demonstration for Mario to allow him to see that these hands of mine, as tiny as they were, were now masters of butchery and the proper preparation of meat.

And thus with a frantic glee I proudly showed Mario the knife and steel which had been given to me by The Maestro, sharpened my blade and dispatched him with a single cut. Yes, it was a spectacular mess. The way Mario flailed and thrashed about was a reflection of his zest for life. Even in his final moments, Mario, the ultimate showman, was still grasping for a little bit more life.

Once Mario had been cleaned and broken into sections it became obvious that I was dealing with a glorious piece of meat. The quality of the meat is governed by the quality of the fat and Mario would have graded out as Prime.

The belly was spectacular, I had never seen its equal. Slicing open that belly was like unwrapping a Christmas gift; the one in the biggest box and prettiest wrapper that tormented you as it lay under the tree. You just knew that there is something wonderful inside and are finally able to tear it open after long restraint. As soon as I saw the quality of the fat on the belly I sliced off a portion and ate it raw; still warm and meltingly tender. Meat will reflect the diet of the beast and it was clear that Mario ate well; the nuttiness of the Parmesan Reggiano, the earthiness of the pastas, the saltiness of the olives, the bold fruit of the wine. I wanted Mario to experience the deliciousness of the Lardo de Mario so I quickly spread some on a slice of rustic bread and placed it into his gaping mouth.

I tried to serve Mario in ways I believe he would have served himself. I split the belly into two portions; one was simply cured with salt, black pepper and a touch of paprika while the other made for a delightful confit. The ribs were seared and braised just like at Babbo and the shanks were used for osso bucco. The chops were brined, grilled and served with seasonal vegetables while some of the tougher cuts were ground and added to a bright ragu. Bones were roasted for stock while the skin was fried and crumbled over salads.

The hands and feet were simmered with the head until they simply fell apart (it’s done when the jawbone detaches). The meat was picked and added back to the filtered aromatic broth. The mix was simmered until thickened, then poured into Mario’s cleaned stomach and left to slowly gel in the cooler. Mario would have appreciated the playfulness. He had thought about what to put into his stomach for so long that now his head is in his stomach! This is just the sort of humor Mario loved to build into his menus.

My biggest dilemma was what to do with all of the little bits and pieces of Mario left over from trimming. Mario insisted that a chef never wasted anything and instead would find ways to dress up any scraps and sell them. The thought of wasting any piece of Mario and therefore breaking one of his cardinal rules was clearly not an option. This dilemma was solved in one of those moments of brilliance, of simple clarity, that identify a true chef.

My moment of clarity came when I saw Mario’s manhood. It was incredible in proportion and very, well…manly. No wonder Mario walked with a funny gait; the poor man must have been horribly uncomfortable. “Of course”, I thought, “I have meat trimmings, beautiful fat and a perfect casing. I can make salami!”

Using short, quick strokes of my knife I slowly peeled the skin away from the organ. My newly procured casing was thoroughly salted and then pricked in multiple locations to ensure the salami could properly dry. I put the trimmings through the grinder and seasoned liberally but gently with salt, black pepper and a crisp chardonnay. For a textural contrast the fat was cut into a fine dice before mixing with the ground meat. The salami was then stuffed and allowed to ferment and dry in a cool, humid spot in my basement. When the salami is done I will send it to Mario’s father. I am sure he will appreciate the craftsmanship and will enjoy getting to spend some time with his son.

What could have been more perfect? The salami was very utilitarian, very Italian and very, very Mario. Couldn’t you just see it now? Mario running around Babbo, slices in hand, yelling, “You’ve got to try this!” Of course he wouldn’t tell anybody what it was, not until they confessed that they loved it and wanted more. Oh that Mario, he was just so Mario!

After that evening there could be no doubt, I was now a chef. I am very thankful for all that Mario so graciously provided and will forever be in his debt. No matter where I go I will always carry a piece of Mario with me.

Seriously, I made a little wallet.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Expanded reading list

I like understanding traditional ways of doing things (i.e. How did we survive before Wal-Mart?). I am also a very cheap bastard. These two aspects of my character are therefore delighted by Google Books where I can get very old instructional books for free.

1. Making the Farm Kitchen Pay (1914): My favorite section is the discussion of “putting down eggs” in which fresh eggs are preserved by soaking in silicate of soda. The fresh eggs will keep for 8 to 9 months. Seriously…I had no freaking clue that you could do this. The chapters for the book are as follows:
a. Dried vegetables and fruit
b. Salting down and pickling
c. Homemade vinegars
d. Homemade wines
e. Butchering time recipes
f. Potato ways
g. Vegetables and fruit
h. Breads and yeast

2. Successful Canning and Preserving (1917): Canning scares the crap out of me. Botulism is gonna get me! This text provides a wonderful overview of the development of canning. It is also a very interesting historical snapshot into 1917 America. I am not sure I would follow the canning recipes in this book…I suspect some of them would not be considered safe by current standards? Who the hell knows…I’ll get this figured out some day. Just not today.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Very Good Reading

Home Pork Making
by A.W. Fulton
The Art of Raising and Curing Pork on the Farm

This text, published in 1900, is available for free download from Google Books.

Chapters 1-2 speak to raising hogs followed by chapters 3-5 which deal with slaughtering, scalding and butchering. Chapter 6 is titled What to do with the Offal and from there the text goes into the finer points of making lard, curing hams, smokehouses, etc. with 17 chapters in all.

Happy reading.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gone Fishin'

I have spent the past few weeks doing a lot of fishing. This is a new habit I picked up in Texas as I quickly learned that saltwater fishing has nothing in common with the freshwater fishing I grew up with. Saltwater fishing is actually a sport; the fish often win.

Three weeks ago we lost a fisherman who waded too far into the Gulf. The next week we lost another one to flesh eating bacteria (this stuff scares the crap out of me!). If this year stays true to past ones we will lose three to four more before the end of the year.

We have been catching sand trout, redfish, piggy perch, black drum, pompano, mangrove snapper, hardhead catfish, skipjacks and speck trout. Out of the hundred or so caught only one trout was a keeper. Using dead shrimp for bait; I'm fishing on the bottom and the boy is fishing on top.

I'm struggling to figure out how to throw a cast net. That seems like a pretty elemental skill that I need to learn. A feller ought to be able to catch his own bait.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pass the Ammo

Gun fever has taken hold at my house. I picked up my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94 30-30 while on vacation and after a day at the range my shoulder was bruised and battered but I was hooked. I love the lever action.

I am nowhere near a good enough shot with it yet to go after pigs but I have a few months to practice. I ended up putting 14 rounds into my 25 yard target (indoor range) which were grouped within a six inch circle. With some practice I know I will be able to do much better. I plan to take the hunter’s safety course in September and by then I am hoping it will have cooled off enough to safely field dress a large animal.

An important lesson was learned on the price of ammunition. At a little over a dollar a round my practice sessions will not be cheap. I have a friend that does reloads who has offered to teach me. I will take him up on the offer!

I also have a little buddy who wants to join me. He will be nine in September and is a strong and stout fellow. He has shot a .22, a .223 and the 30-30 and is as hooked on guns as me. I am getting different opinions on what would be an appropriate larger gun for him. Some folks swear that a .243 would be perfect while others are just as adamant about a .223. From what I can gather the .243 would be great for medium sized game but might have too much recoil for a kid (the 30-30 was just too much for him). The .223 would be very easy for him to shoot but is questionable on stopping power and would be outgrown in a few years. There is also a strong argument that until he learns to be a great shot with a .22 he really shouldn’t be shooting anything else. Any thoughts and input on a rifle for the boy would be appreciated.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jellied Pig's Feet, Part Two

When I was getting the pork tenderloins ready for the curing chamber I trimmed them up so they would have a relatively constant thickness. This left me with a small pile of tenderloin scraps that I decided to combine with the pig feet jelly I made a few weeks ago.

The tenderloin was diced then tossed with a garlic herb mix and sauteed. I added a sliced chili pepper to the mix, placed it in an oversized butter dish, then poured the jelly (reheated to boiling then filtered) onto the meat. It sat up in the fridge overnight and came out rather pretty.
I wish I could say that I loved this but I did not. It tasted fine but the texture of the cold jelly did not sit well with me. At least it was fun to make.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trial Run

I bought two pork tenderloins for my first run with my curing chamber. Nothing extremely creative here; rubbed with Morton TQ and sugar and let them sit overnight. Wiped them off, gave them an herb rub and hung up to dry. Should be ready in 4-5 weeks.

My approach to humidity is two-fold. I have a foil pan with salt water and I am using a wet rag. To avoid the hassle of having to re-wet the towel everyday I have it hanging into the saltwater so it can wick up the water.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Curing Chamber, Part 1

Part one is done. I found an old frost free fridge at a yard sale and through the helping hands of wonderful neighbors got it moved and installed in my garage.
I removed all the drawrs and shelves, gave the inside a good cleaning and checked how she did at her absolute lowest setting. She cycled between 45 and 60F which would probably be acceptable but I will end up buying an external thermostat to get better control. It looks like Johnson Controls has one that runs ~$65. (Update...just placed an order through Northern Brewer for $67 including shipping.)
As for humidity I plan on using the salt water pans. I have heard some negatives and some positives about this approach. If anyone has insights to share I would love to hear them.


It’s the time of the year to load the family into the minivan and drive across the country to see how much stress we can tolerate. A two day drive will be followed by a four day visit with my family. We will then drive to a lake and spend three days with my wife’s family. Then we get to drive home.

So what does this have to do with salty pigs? Well, several things actually.

1. Country Ham. Last November my dad and I placed a fresh 25 lb ham into cure. After ~1 month on the back porch he wrapped the ham and hung it in the attic. In that part of the country the hams are said to be ready to eat after they have gone through the “June sweat”. Well, this is July so that sucker is ready to go into my belly! This was my first attempt at curing a ham so I am pretty excited to see how it turned out. If it turns out well I would love to talk my dad into doing 10-20 more with me this November. Getting that many fresh hams might be tricky.

2. Firearms. I have always fancied myself a marksman despite the fact that I have hardly ever shot a gun. All the same, it is a nice romantic image to have of myself. My grandfather had a collection of commemorative Winchester 30-30s that went to his four grandsons when he died. I did not have any use for them so I let my brother keep mine.

That was ~12-14 years ago. Now I am living in southeast Texas and am having a hard time finding any decent pork. Fortunately (?) this part of the country is overrun with wild hogs. People beg you to come on their property to kill pigs. The critters can really tear a place up. I figure that if Michael Pollan and Hank Shaw get to kill pigs then I can too. But first I need to pick up my guns.

3. The Green Lantern. My brother owns a fine establishment that offers live music and good stiff drinks. He has done a great job of turning a dive with highly questionable clientele into a hopping joint that contributes to the community social scene. He does not sell food. When my corporate life starts to suck I always daydream about setting up a kitchen at his place and serving up the pig. I want to go see his new renovations so I can make my daydreams more accurate.

4. Twenty picky eaters. One of my vacation duties is to fix dinner for twenty at the rental cabin by the lake. I have strict instructions to fix nothing fancy; we are talking a Mac N Cheese crowd here. Problem is I just can’t do it. I have got to find a way to slip them something a little bit piggy. What would be a good euphemism for headcheese?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sweet Sorrow

Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow. Oh that Juliet, she’s going to get a sore throat.

About four years ago a scored a nearly mint Weber Smokey Mountain on Craigslist for $60. I thought it would be handy to have two WSMs in case I needed to cook for a large crowd or if I ever entered a BBQ contest. I also thought it just looked way cool to have these two beauties sitting side by side on my driveway. They are beautiful together; my trusty plastic handled workhorse fitted with a 16 inch ceramic saucer sitting beside the old school wooden handled beauty. Two smokers and a collection of grills: the definition of Texas opulence.

Unfortunately times are tough, money is tight and I want a new toy. I want a curing box to make some serious sausage and figure I’ll need to spend ~$150 to get started. I never actually cooked on my second WSM; it was simply driveway art to me. So, onto Craigslist it went again and I’ve got a buyer for $135.

I should be excited that I doubled my money and will be able to buy a refrigerator but I am not. I am a little sad to see my baby go.

Hot Slaw

The 2007 cookbook by the Lee Brothers on southern cooking does not offer much in comparison to Ms Edna but does have at least one recipe worth trying. It is for a “hot slaw” from a diner in Erlanger, Ky. Like all things good in this world it starts with bacon.

Four slices of thick cut bacon were cut into ½ inch chunks then crisped in a large skillet. The bacon was removed from the skillet which was then deglazed with ½ cup of white vinegar. The Lee brothers warn you about the mini-fireworks when the vinegar hits the grease but it only lasts a few seconds.

While the bacon was cooking I blanched a green shredded cabbage in water for ~8-10 minutes. The cabbage was then drained and lightly pressed to remove most of the water.

The blanched cabbage was added to the hot vinegar. The cabbage got several grinds of the pepper mill and two tablespoons of my homemade pepper garlic sauce (which is excellent by the way!).

After mixing/folding over medium high heat for a few minutes the bacon was added back to the slaw and the dish served hot from the skillet.

I thought the slaw looked and tasted fantastic. A nice break from the creamy mayo slaw you usually get. The combination of blanching plus cooking in vinegar gives it a hint of a sauerkraut flavor and the heat from the pepper sauce also comes with a surprising amount of sweetness. This is one of those dishes where your mouth is still tingling ten minutes after your last bite.

I’ve eaten this cold and hot and definitely prefer it hot. Something about steaming vinegar just gets me going. I have also tried this with a mix of green and red cabbage. Personally I prefer the looks of just green cabbage. The green lets the color of the black pepper and red pepper sauce really pop; they get muted behind the purple cabbage.

Okay…so I had a delay between making the slaw and posting. In the meantime I had one of those “Duh!” moments. I heated some leftover slaw and served with the 4th of July brisket. Wow! It’s a pretty obvious twist on the whole corned beef and cabbage thing so I can’t claim originality, but, “Duh!” a pretty good combination.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Texas Brisket

When life gives you lemons……

I simply can’t get good pork in southeast Texas. What I can get is lots and lots brisket. They are sold as 10-15 lb packers and, during holidays, will sell for $0.87 per pound for USDA Choice. So, while there is nothing pig related about this post it is what I’ve got.

I got up at 3:30 a.m., trimmed up an 11 lb choice packer and coated heavily in a basic rub of seasoned salt, black pepper, sugar and chili powder. I fired up my WSM and had her running at ~225F. The brisket went on and I was back in bed by 4:30. If anyone is considering a BBQ unit I cannot recommend the WSM high enough. I slept soundly knowing that when I did wake up (8:30) that the temperature was going to be exactly where I left it (I use a ceramic saucer in the water pan so I do not have to worry about refills).

I forked the brisket for entertainment a few times during the day but it was done exactly when it should have been roughly 12 ½ hours later at 5:00 p.m. I pulled the meteorite, let it rest wrapped in foil for an hour and then made a complete pig out of myself with the neighbors.

Hey, what do you know, I worked a pig into this thing after all!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Jellied Pig Feet

I picked up four pounds of pig’s feet last night after reading some recipes for Jellied Pig’s Feet. I must confess that I have never tried pig’s feet before and this seemed as good a time as any.

The recipes all seemed pretty simple. Split and wash the feet, cover with water and simmer with aromatics for ~4 hours until those little feet fall apart. Strain the thickened stock, pick the meat off the feet and add the meet back to the stock. Skim the fat, pour the mix into a bowl and chill into a jelly overnight.

The next day slice thinly and serve with good bread with pepper vinegar on the side.

A few recipes called for adding ½ lb of pork butt to the feet while making the stock. I thought this was rather odd and not particularly authentic.

So, how did it go? Well, washing four pounds as pig’s feet is as strange as it sounds. It made me feel very Baptist. One thing that caught my attention was the presence of lots of fat/collagen/skin/toenails but the absence of any visible meat. I assumed the meat was between the skin and the bones and would reveal itself after the feet feel apart.

So….four hours later. Smells wonderful. The feet have essentially dissolved into bone tendons and skin. The meat is…..absent. I spent ten minutes digging through hot, gelatinous feet looking for anything that resembled meat. Nothing. And that, I realized, is why some people add ½ lb of butt.

At this point I have ~ 2 ½ quarts of killer pork jelly that I will thin out into a stock. Look out jambalaya! Live and learn.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pig Wisdom

Wisdom #1

As a young man was walking down a country lane he spotted an old farmer picking apples from his orchard and feeding them by hand to his pigs.

The young man felt obliged to comment to the old farmer and said, “Sir, you could save a lot of time by letting the pigs eat the apples from the ground when they fall off the tree.”

The old farmer thought about this for a moment and replied, “Young man, I thank you for the suggestion, but the truth of the matter is, time ain’t nothing to a pig.”

Wisdom #2

As a young man was strolling down a country lane he spotted a three legged pig wearing an artificial limb for a back leg. Intrigued by the sight he inquired at the farmhouse as to how the pig came to be wearing such a device.

After posing his questions the old farmer replied with a story of how that particular pig had saved the life of his grandson who had been drowning in the pond. The young man agreed that that was certainly a remarkable feat but failed to understand how saving the grandson had caused the pig to lose its leg.

The farmer then told how that exact same pig had saved the life of his wife when she was trapped in the pasture being charged and trampled by the bull. The young man agreed that that was certainly a remarkable feat but failed to understand how saving the wife had caused the pig to lose its leg.

The farmer, who was getting frustrated with the simpleton questions of the young man, replied, “Son, you just don’t eat a pig like that all at once.”

Wisdom #3

Never try to teach a pig to sing.
It wastes your time
And annoys the pig.

Pork Fat

Last night was cornbread and it started with a pile of trimmings from jowl bacon. The last time I bought jowl bacon it had an extra large layer of fat that needed trimming prior to cooking. I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing the fat away so into the freezer it went. Last night I took some out, cut into ½ inch chunks and rendered it down. I probably ended up with ~4 tablespoons of rendered fat and a handful of crunchy cracklins that I should not have eaten. But hey, my wife wasn’t watching and my kids don’t know any better so I’ll just say they were delicious.

The bacon fat went into an 11 inch cast iron skillet in a 425 degree oven. While the cast iron was heating I made the batter.

2 cups white cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 ½ cups buttermilk

The dry ingredients were double sifted and then mixed with the egg and buttermilk.

Once the cast iron got smoking hot (literally) I swirled the fat to coat the sides of the skillet and poured the fat into the batter. The sizzle and pop of the fat hitting the batter is a glorious sound. The fat was quickly mixed in, the batter poured into the skillet and the skillet returned to the oven for 30 minutes.
This was the best cornbread I have made so far. A beautiful golden brown crust, a pale interior with a silky texture and every bite rich with the flavor of pork fat.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conversations while preparing a meal

{Daughter and Neighbor Kid enter the kitchen}

Daughter: Can Neighbor Kid eat dinner at our house?

Daughter: Can Neighbor Kid eat dinner at our house, please?

Neighbor Kid: What are you having?

Neighbor Kid: What are you having for dinner?
Ham steak.

Neighbor Kid: What’s that?
What we are having for dinner.

Neighbor Kid: What does it taste like?
Ham steak.

Neighbor Kid: What?
Chicken butt.

{Daughter and Neighbor Kid exit the kitchen}

Pork Belly

Cured pork belly as per Ruhlman

“Lardo and cured pork belly

Lardo is cured pork back fat, pure unadulterated fat. If you use belly instead, you’ll have striations of meat. Both are excellent-provided you use excellent pork, preferably from a small farmer who raises his hogs naturally.”
Charcuterie, pg 201 Ruhlman and Polcyn

Initial attempt:

First, plant your piglet.

Second attempt:

Salting a pork belly is not as easy as our friend Mr. Ruhlman would have us believe. It took an hours worth of rubbing her belly with one hand and scratching behind her ear with the other before I was able to get her to fall asleep. I propped her up on her back between two bales of hay and applied the salt, cure and maple syrup. I’m pretty sure she’s going to waller in the mud as soon as she wakes up.

It’s been seven days. It got pretty easy around day four. Now she just waddles up to the hay, flops herself over and waits for the rubbing. She thinks she’s getting a little piggy spa treatment. Pigs are such smart animals.

I checked her belly today and it isn’t all that firm yet. I don’t want to bring this up with her as all of those “fat as a pig” comments have made her self conscious. I might start taking her to the pool and see if she would enjoy one of those water aerobics courses. I would have to choose my words carefully, “No, sweetie, I’m not saying that you need to get more exercise. I just thought you might enjoy the company. You know, be around some other women instead of being stuck here with me all the time.”

Aarrghhhh! You spend the whole weekend looking at swimsuits. If it’s the right size it’s the wrong color. If it’s the right color then it looks too much like something her grandmother would wear. Two piece or one piece? American bikini or Brazilian bikini? Wrap or no wrap? And the hats, my God the hats! My mother told me I needed to start with chickens but did I listen? Oh no, Mr. Smarty Pants has to go off and start raising pigs.

Well she loved the pool and seems to have made many new friends. She received many compliments on her swim attire, especially from someone named Enrique. Apparently Becky and Susie were very friendly. She thought they were trying hard to make new friends since they had both left their husbands within the past few months and were probably lonely. Becky and Susie have invited her for drinks next weekend for a “girl’s night out”.

We are not getting along today. It turns out that despite waiting up on her until three in the morning that I do not appreciate her. Apparently waiting up on her is “controlling”. Becky’s husband didn’t appreciate her either. Susie said that I wasn’t treating her right. She was a Berkshire wasn’t she? Well, yes she was. And aren’t Berkshires the Kobe beef of pork? Well, yes, I guess I have heard some people say that. And don’t Kobe cows get daily massages and buckets of beer? Well, yes, yes, I have read that they do. Then why don’t I take better care of her? All I do is rub salt on her belly and that is starting to cause some chaffing. Couldn’t I at least be a little more careful? She doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. She says all of my yelling has given her a headache and that she needs to lie down.

She’s right about deserving a massage of course, she’s always right. Pigs are such smart animals. I am going to try to make it up to her tonight. The scented candles are lit, Barry White is on the stereo and she has just gotten out of her bath. She decided that she did not want a bucket of beer. She wanted what Enrique had gotten her the other night. I asked what Enrique was doing there the other night, wasn’t it supposed to be a girl’s night out? She tells me to stop being jealous. Enrique is almost like one of the girls. He’s the lifeguard at the pool and the girls like to go out with him because he makes them feel safe. Besides, it’s always nice to have someone to dance with. She’s right of course; if I had been there I wouldn’t have danced. I say I’m sorry and go and fix the margaritas.

That was not right. Somewhere in between the music, the massage oil and the margaritas a line was crossed. I don’t want to blog about it. She is on a strict two margarita limit from now on.

It hasn’t been a good week. On Tuesday she found my copy of Charcuterie. I usually have it hidden on the top of the bookcase but on Monday I left it in the bathroom. She said the book was disgusting and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to look at those pictures. And just why, she demanded to know, was I looking at pictures like that in the bathroom? Becky and Susie were right. I don’t respect her; all I was ever interested in was her body and after what happened the other night I act like I don’t even want to be around her. She feels like she doesn’t know me anymore.

I’ve been so lonely. Enrique came by two Thursdays ago and picked up her belongings.

I really do want her to be happy, and I realize that she is probably better off with Enrique than with me, but three hundred dollars a month really hurts. Her lawyer spelled it out for me pretty well; between the spa treatments, the pool membership and her clothing allowance things add up. She has a really good lawyer. Pigs are such smart animals.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hot Sauce

An early harvest from my pepper crop.
1/4 lb peppers
two cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup white vnegar
Simmered for 5 minutes and taken for a ride through the food processor.
Sitting in the fridge and waiting for two weeks. we'll see.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Making Tasso

My first solo attempt at curing meat!

I chose Tasso Ham as it is a quick cure with no special equipment needed. There are many, many recipes for this and I decided the following:
Started with a 4 lb butt and removed the small section of bone. I sliced it into four ~1 inch steaks. I completely coated them in a cure:
1 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbls black pepper
1 Tbls paprika
1 tsp pink salt

I let the steaks cure in the fridge for three hours. After three hours they had given off a LOT of liquid. I rinsed off the cure and patted dry then placed them on a rack in the fridge to dry/cure for three days. After three days they had firmed up quite a bit but were not hard.

I then rubbed them with the following:
2 Tbls Cayenne
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp allspice

The steaks were smoked at ~225 F for ~2.5 hrs with hickory. I pulled when they temped at 170 and let rest.End result...VERY pink, quite hammy and HOOTTTTT. Incredibly juicy.

They were vaccuum sealed and thrown in the freezer. Will use this to repace ham hocks in my beans as well as add to jambalaya. A great seasoning meat, definetly not a main course.

John Folse Recipe:
Len Poli Recipe:
Randy Q's recipe:
Pork and Whiskey:
DJFoodie recipe:
Ruhlman also has a the book.