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.