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.