Posts from the ‘Charcuterie’ Category

Miso Cured Bacon Two Ways

I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of what is evolving into something amazing, none other than Charcutepalooza. The brainchild of bloggers Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and The Yummy Mummy. A project of sorts that has dedicated the entire year to meat and charcuterie…Brilliant! The second project was bacon which is something that I have blogged before. I decided to introduce a twist that has been on my mind and quite possibly yours too…Miso Cured Bacon.

Miso Paste

Miso is said to be an excellent ingredient that embodies the savory or umami taste, literally translated from the Japanese to mean delicious taste. I was introduced to miso upon moving to Hawaii and enjoyed it many different ways. Miso soup is literally the Japanese version of chicken noodle soup and is pretty hard to beat. One of my greatest taste experiences is miso crusted butterfish…if you haven’t you must!

10 pounds O' pork belly

So why not mix miso with what is arguably one of the greatest food groups of all time, bacon. I began the process by making a trip to The Pork Shop. This place is awesome and only fifteen minutes from my house. I had special ordered a fresh 5 pound slab of Arizona’s best. When I got there I was surprised that they accidentally gave me a 10 pound slab which I gladly accepted (and paid for of course).

Just what the doctor ordered

This was great as it allowed me to do a couple other pork belly projects that I have been nagging on me. I decided to make a redo of the maple cured bacon in addition to my miso cured batch.

Coated in dry cure

Both recipes start out with the same Charcuterie dry cure recipes.

Massaged in miso

Once I had the pork belly nicely covered in the dry cure I smeared it thoroughly with the miso and slipped it into a large Ziploc baggie for a 9 day nap in Cureville. I wanted to give it a couple extra days to make sure the miso could work its magic.

9 days later

After the 9 days, overhauling daily of course, I pulled the two bellies and confirmed that they were nice a stiff and fully cured.

Maple cured on right, Miso cured on left

Next, I thoroughly rinse both bellies and begin drying them while I turn the oven to 200 degrees. Once to temp I insert my thermometer and leave it in the oven until the internal temp of the bacon is 150 degrees.

cooking in the oven

I find it easier to cut the skin off immediately after removing from the oven. I of course tried both slabs while still warm and was pleasantly surprised with both.
I decided that I would go healthy being the health freak that I am I decided to do a salad. I used a nice mix of arugula and micro greens and a fresh head of frisee for the greens.

Next, I whipped up the basic vinaigrette from the back of Charcuterie using champagne vinegar and fresh lemon which is abundant in Arizona right now.

Miso cured bacon wrapped scallops

I wrapped some nice day boat scallops in the miso cured bacon and set them to sear in a scorching cast iron pan.

Burn baby burn!

Meanwhile I fried some cubes of the miso cured belly in duck fat as well…what the heck, right? GOLDEN!!! Now that is my kind of health food! I could eat salad like this every day!

Miso cured bacon two ways

Traditional Dill Pickles

I continue to work my way through Chapter 1, Salt, and decided to tackle the Traditional Dill Pickles recipe. I found some decent Persian cucumbers at our local Asian market. Ruhlman specifically tells you that the quality of the vegetable is imperative. He suggests only pickling when they are garden fresh or abundant at your local famers market. If you do not the likelihood of producing a crisp pickle is not good. While the Persian’s I purchased looked pretty fresh I will confirm that they were not crisp however, they still where pretty darn good. So good that I would definitely do it again. I did some research and there is quite a bit of debate on additives to consider for making the pickle stay crisp. Pickle Crisp (which is calcium chloride) marketed by the people who make Ball jars is one option that appears to be popular.

Pickle Time

I gathered all of my ingredients necessary to make the pickles, recipe follows:
The Brine
5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dill seeds
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Pickling Spice
5 cups water
3 Serrano peppers, sliced in thirds (not in Ruhlman’s recipe but I couldn’t resist)

1 bunch fresh dill
10 pickling or baby cucumbers

Boil the brine

Once I had my ingredient assembled I combined all of the spices with the water to create the pickle brine. I brought the brine to a boil and let it go for about 5 minutes.

Let's get pickled!

Next I took my cucumbers, fresh dill and Serrano pepper and layered them into the jar.

Into the fridge for a about a month

Once the brine had completely cooled I filled the jar of cukes with it and refrigerated for about a month before giving one a try. Wow! The Serrano peppers came through loud and clear! If you don’t like spicy pickles I do not recommend using the Serrano’s. Next time I make a batch I think I will add some garlic to see how it goes.

Not too long ago I had the distinct pleasure of trying some fried dill pickles at Hooters. While the jury is still out on their wings I will tell you that their fried pickles are the best I have had to date. With that in mind I set out to make a batch at home for myself less the hooters.

I tried a recipe that I found on the web which used a beer-type batter which I didn’t particularly care for. Hooter’s brand uses more of a flour type breading and possibly some corn meal added as well. I found another fried pickle recipe from Bobby Flay and the Food Network which were much closer.

Pickled and Fried

This recipe called for an egg wash and then flour dip. The egg dip called for 2/3 cup of pickle juice, 1 large egg, a few dashes of Tabasco and tablespoon of flour. To the flour I added a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika, Habanero pepper, garlic powder, black pepper and kosher salt.

Next, I sliced my dill pickles on my handy dandy Matfer mandolin which has a waffled blade. I think the ridges give the flour a bit more surface area to grab on to.

I added my sliced pickles to the egg wash and then transferred them to the seasoned flour and coated lightly, giving them a tap on the side of the bowl as I removed them.

Fry until GBC

Lastly, I heated my vegetable oil up to 375 degrees and proceeded to fry the pickle slices until golden brown and crispy.

Fried Dill Pickles

The redneck in me said ketchup and so it was…nothing fancy but these guys could make you the MVP of the upcoming Super Bowl party.

Corned Beef

When I think of the perfect sandwich the first thing that comes to mind is the Reuben. I will just go ahead and get it out of the way…I am officially certifying myself as a Reuben connoisseur. Albeit self proclaimed and a bit tongue in cheek I can say with confidence that this is by far the granddaddy of all deli sandwiches and the official litmus test for any deli worth it’s salt. I had the distinct pleasure of attending Ohio University in the great metropolis that is Athens, Ohio. Athens was home to Zachary’s Deli who is 100% responsible for my quasi addiction fanaticism for the Reuben. These guys knew what they were doing and effectively combined a wonderful rye bread, ultra thin sliced corned beef, RUSSIAN dressing (not to be confused with it’s bastard cousin Thousand Island aka Secret Sauce), Sauerkraut and of course Swiss cheese. I am sad to say that Zachary made the big jump from Athens to Columbus and has since run amuck however, I am certain it had nothing to do with his Reuben. My good buddy “the Rose” who also knew his way around a Reuben and I would feed our need on a weekly basis at a minimum and many times three or more times a week. I am careful as to when and where I order a Reuben and when I am the least bit skeptical I inquire as to the thickness of the corned beef. In my humble opinion I believe you should be able to hold a single slice up almost be able to see through it. Add another hundred slices or so and you have a sandwich.

Yet another prologue leading into my most recent whack at another recipe from the great book of Charcuterie….Corned Beef. While corned beef has absolutely nothing to do with corn it is all about the beef. The term corn actually refers to the coarse salt that is used in the brine that cures the beef. Corned beef is often associated with one of my favorite holidays, Saint Patrick’s Day, and is usually combined with the combustible vegetable that is cabbage…cheap entertainment to say the least…hehehe. The same passion I have for Reuben’s is shared by my wife and corned beef and cabbage. With that in mind I figured I could stretch this experiment into at least two meals if not a couple lunches as well.

I started off with a very nice 6.5 pound beef brisket. One thing that I have learned through my travels is that a good way to judge a brisket before purchasing it is to grab it by the thick end and hold it out. The ease and degree of bend in the middle would suggest the potential of the beef’s tenderness. With that said a brisket comes from the breast plate of a cow and as such does quite a bit of work resulting in a very tough piece of meat. There in lies the beauty of brisket, as it is the technique one employs that dictates the end result which is what separates the cream from the curd of cooks. Any knucklehead can take a beef loin and produce an amazingly tender dish of beef…the same cannot be said for brisket.

Brisket and brine ingredients

Once I had the brisket I assembled the rest of the ingredients which are remarkably simple. Below is for a 5 pound brisket…I had a 6.5 pound brisket so you will notice I used more garlic and adjusted other ingredients as appropriate.

1 gallon water
2 cups/450 grams kosher salt
½ cup/ 100 grams sugar
1 ounce/25 grams pink salt (5 teaspoons)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons/20 grams Pickling Spice
One 5-pound beef brisket

Brining Brisket

I combined all of the ingredients (not the brisket) in a pot large enough to accommodate the brisket and set it to boil until all of the salt had dissolved and the fragrance of the pickling spice could be smelled throughout out the house…my kind of potpourri! Once the salt was dissolved, I allowed the brine to cool to room temperature before adding the brisket. A little trick that I often employ is boiling a quart of water with the spices and then diluting it with 2 additional quarts of cold water and then a final quart of water in the form of ice. This speeds things up and I am always in a hurry…bad habit and you DO NOT want to add your brisket to a hot brine…trust me some things should not be rushed and this is one of them.

After the brisket is in the pot I weighted it down with a plate and rock (washed in the dishwasher for the germ police) and put it in the fridge. The book says to let the brisket and brine rest for 5 days. I felt like I would prefer to over brine then under brine and given the 6.5 pound brisket I opted for a 7 day brine. The only adverse outcome would be a saltier than normal corned beef which I could deal with. I am happy to report that the corned beef was not salty in the slightest. In fact, a palate whom I respect offered an unsolicited comment to the effect that he enjoyed tremendously given the lack of saltiness often found in commercially produced corned beef.

Brined brisket 7 days later

After the 7 days I removed the brisket from the brine and rinsed it thoroughly under cold running water and dried it well with paper towels.

Corned Beef cut into two sections

Next, I sliced it in half giving me the point piece with a thin layer of fat and the butt end which was fatter and actually had a second muscle on top. This is one of the tricky parts of slicing any form of brisket. They key is to slice against the grain and NOT with the grain however, when you have two muscles sitting on top of one another this can be quite difficult. Impossible in fact unless you slice the top muscle off and treat them as two totally separate pieces of brisket. If properly prepared it is very simple to separate the two muscles and slice appropriately.

I decided to use the leaner point for my Reuben corned beef and the fatter portion for my corned beef and cabbage given the fact that the fat would liquefy and ultimately flavor the liquor that they all cook in…fat equals flavor.

Chinese style steamer

After a tremendous amount of research I opted to get my Chinese style steamer out and steam cook my Reuben corned beef. I tossed a tablespoon of pickling brine into the water that would be used to create the steam (more flavor) and placed the corned beef on the second level of the steamer.

Steaming corned beef

Next I inserted my thermometer and began steaming the corned beef. After about 2 hours I had the internal temperature of the corned beef up to 210 degrees and I held it there an additional 30 to 40 minutes to allow the beef to become tender. This was not science as I could not find specific instruction as to time or temps for this process however; report that it was as near perfect as I could ask for.

Straight outta the steamer

Once satisfied, I removed the corned beef and sliced a couple slivers to taste and test for tenderness. All was excellent so I began the process of cooling the corned beef under cold running water for about 5 minutes or more.

Corned Beef cool down

My research suggested that this minimizes shrinkage which we all have to agree sucks…right? Once I felt that the corned beef was sufficiently cooled I decided to vacuum seal it with a ¼ cup of the pickling spiced fat infused water in the bottom of the steamer…zero down side and tremendous upside.

Corned Beef vaccum sealed in it's juices

I can’t say what it did as I didn’t vac seal one without the juice however, again report near perfection. Last but certainly not least I refrigerated until the next day and then proceeded to slice the entire thing into razor thin slices that when held up to light resembled meaty stained glass slices of love….YUM!

Reuben time! I stopped by my favorite local beef butcher shop, Midwestern Meats which just so happens to be a bakery as well. They sell an excellent rye bread that they refer to ask Milwaukee Rye which I thought would fit the bill perfectly. I had already made a batch of homemade sauerkraut that I have yet to post however, will do so shortly hereafter. It is from the Salt chapter of Charcuterie as well and certainly exemplifies the power of salt and its transformative impact it has on whatever it comes into contact with. I purchased some Tillamook Swiss cheese and had everything I needed to make the perfect Reuben with one exception.
Russian dressing as previously mentioned is not to be confused with its hillbilly cousin Thousand Island. Don’t get me wrong Thousand Island has its place in the culinary world and being a full blooded redneck I cannot deny enjoying it however, upon the Holy Grail that is the Reuben I do not. The first step was making a homemade mayonnaise, again another recipe from Charcuterie and then adding some prepared horseradish, Heinz chili sauce, minced onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper and voila…Russian dressing. I will put this up in a separate post at a later date and until then there are plenty Russian dressing recipes on Google should you get a hankering for the real deal.

Wish you were here!

I slathered both sides of rye with the Russian dressing, piled the corned beef on, added a couple slices of Swiss and topped with Kraut and placed upon my trust George Forman grill and dropped the lid for a brief toasting. Accompanying the Reuben are some fresh cut russets fried in duck fat (recipe from Saveur) sprinkled with some smoked Maldon sea salt and garnished with a dill spear that I made from another Charcuterie recipe that I haven’t posted…I know I know…and let me tell you these pickles rock! I slightly deviated from the recipe adding a few Serrano chilies and the result was astounding.
Last but certainly not least was the corned beef and cabbage with some roasted baby red potatoes. I used my old standby cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, for this recipe and stumbled upon a third alternative that I used that small piece of muscle attached to the butt end of my corned beef, candied corn beef!

Boiling corned beef

For the corned beef and cabbage I took a handful of black peppercorns a few bay leafs and added them to a pot of water (just enough to cover the corned beef by an inch or two). I set the pot to boil and allowed it to do so for about 3 hours or until fork tender.

Cabbage time

Next I halved a head of cabbage and then halved the halves while removing the core from each. I removed the corn beef to rest while adding the cabbage to the pot that I boiled the corn beef in. After the cabbage softened I returned the corned beef and set the pot to low. I also added a link of smoked bratwurst for some nice smoke flavor which worked well.

Corned beef and cabbage finished product

I boiled some baby red potatoes and then quartered and placed them into a dish where I added some minced garlic, olive oil, butter, rosemary, salt and black pepper and baked in the oven at 350 until nice and golden brown.

Before

and after

As mentioned I took the small piece of muscle and went with a candied corned beef which was on the same page as the CB &C in the Joy of Cooking.

Soon-to-Be Candied Corn Beef

A quick and easy recipe using soy sauce, brown sugar, powdered mustard and ground ginger. I made a glaze and placed it in the oven with the potatoes for 30 minutes.

Glazed and ready for the oven

This was a fun little treat for everyone to get a couple slices of and was great. I am not sure I would want an entire slab of it but a perfect use for the lonely little piece of corned beef.

Candied Corned Beef

What a simple yet exquisite dinner! This is a guaranteed repeat given the simplicity, diversity and economicity…I may have made that last one up. Give this a shot and you will not be disappointed.

Knick Knock Knackwurst

Knackwurst
The holidays are upon us and as such it ‘Tis the season to make sausage, which is one of my favorite things to do. Call me crazy but I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from grinding and seasoning ordinary meat such as pork or beef and transforming it into a succulently stuffed masterpiece of man food. This will be the first sausage post I have done on the Pickled Pig which makes it that much more exciting. I have been making sausage for several years now and have learned oh so many lessons on what to do and not to do. One of the most painful lessons is to NOT make 15 pounds of sausage before you have tried and tested a recipe and method…what a waste! Go with a 5 pound batch at most.

My hope is that I can pass on many of these lessons to you so that you do not have to make the difficult decision of tossing a bum batch of tube steak. The sausage I am posting today was actually made a few days before Thanksgiving as part of an attempt to produce a twist on an authentic Alsatian dish called Choucroute Garnie. Traditional Choucroute Garnie often consists of sauerkraut, sausages, other salted meats and potatoes. The recipe I tested was again from my favorite magazine Saveur and turned out great. The twist was that it replaced the typical salted meats with a turkey draped in a blanket of bacon on a bed of sauerkraut and onions (follow up post coming soon). This was a perfect opportunity to make two of the recipes from the Charcuterie cookbook. The first is sauerkraut from the Salt chapter that I have been chipping away at and the other is knackwurst.

This was the first time I had made the knackwurst recipe and as such I was sure to follow the directions to a “T”. Knackwurst is a German style fresh sausage that is hot smoked. When translated Knacken literally means to crack which is the sound it makes when you bite into it. It is generally stubbier than a typical sausage and often contains a slightly higher ratio of veal to pork. Below is the recipe that was followed:

3 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cubed
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed
40 grams salt
6 grams pink salt
15 grams coarsely ground black pepper
4 grams mace
8 grams Hungarian paprika
2 grams coriander
1 gram allspice
140 grams nonfat dry milk powder (optional but I strongly suggest)
1 cup ice water
10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes

Crunchy cubes of veal and pork shoulder ready for grinding

The first thing that I always do is cube my meats up so that I can stick them in the freezer for a bit while I gather and mix my spices. If I can stress one thing to you more than any other detail it is to make sure your meat is extremely cold. I like mine to be slightly crunchy however not completely frozen either…somewhere in the middle is just right. If you grind your meat while it is warm it will often smear across the plate and cause the meat and fat to separate giving you tasty meat with a texture of pencil shavings…needless to say, not good! I even like to put my grinder blade and plate in the freezer while refrigerating the grinder and auger. I have found that putting the grinder in the freezer can result in the plastic cracking. I have two small cracks to show for it. My point is that you cannot devote enough attention to the temperature of the meat and equipment. As such I often grind into an aluminum pan that is sitting in a small amount of crushed ice and water to keep the ground meat cold while I finish the process.

Old Yeller, my trusty 70's colored KitchenAid mixer with grinder attachment

After I have assembled the necessary spices and put my cup of ice water in the freezer to chill I begin the grinding process. As instructed I used the smaller of the two grinder plates and proceeded to grind the cubed veal and pork shoulders into the aluminum pan. Once finished I took the aluminum pan and again returned it to the freezer while I broke down my grinder for cleaning. I also took this opportunity to refrigerate the stainless mixing bowl that I will use to merry the spices and meat. I think you are beginning to see how obsessed I am with keeping everything as cold as possible. Toss five pounds of pencil shaving sausage once and you too will understand my attention to temperature. I ground my allspice, black pepper and coriander so that it is fresh and imparts its entire flavor to the sausage. Don’t use pre-ground spices that have been sitting in your cupboard for the past five years…it just won’t be the same.

Spices and such measured and ready to mix

After I have weighed all my spices out I remove the chilled stainless mixing bowl from the freezer and add my slightly crunchy ground veal and pork shoulder to it. I turn my mixer on low using the paddle attachment and begin adding my spices and then the ice cold water so that it all binds and mixes thoroughly. Once well incorporated I kick the mixer up another notch and allow it to blend until it forms what looks like a sticky paste. I totally forgot to photograph this step however, it is pretty straight forward. I do want to endorse the idea of adding the nonfat powdered milk to the sausage mixture. Initially I thought this was weird and would give the sausage a milky flavor which didn’t sound too exciting to me. After research I found that this product aids in helping bind the sausage while enabling the mix to retain its moisture during the smoking and cooking process. This stuff worked awesome and I strongly suggest you’re considering it.

Meat Pudding ready to rest for 24 hours

Once fully mixed I used a rubber spatula to remove the soon-to-be-sausage into an aluminum pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap pressing firmly to remove as much of the air that may be trapped inside. I then put the pan into the refrigerator for about 24 hours to allow the spices to work their magic and permeate the entire meat mixture. As mentioned this fresh sausage is smoked and as such we are using pink salt which is important to prevent botulism from rearing its ugly head. The pink salt will give the sausage a nice pinkish color similar to what you would expect from a cured ham. The 24 hour rest allows the curing process to run its course.

Sausage stuffer is stuffed and casings ready to roll

The next day I put my 5 pound The Sausage Maker sausage stuffer in the freezer so that it can get chilled. Then I took about 10 feet of el-natural hog casings, nothing but the real deal here, and began soaking them in tepid water. I have a perfect little reverse osmosis water dispenser that I slip the casing onto and turn the water on. This does a great job of thoroughly rinsing any of the salt solution the casings are stored in. Once finished I remove the sausage stuffer and transferred the pan of sausage into it. I then assembled it and loaded up my hog casings to begin the sausage stuffing process. The key to stuffing is a nice steady flow of sausage which you can stuff evenly by applying pressure to the casing as you allow it to slide off the nozzle. I tend to do this on my granite counter top and actually make it a little wet so that I can coil the sausage during the stuffing process.

Sausages stuffed and linked and ready for a smoke break

Once finished, I begin the process of linking the rope. My technique is to tie a knot on the end and begin measuring out the desired length and then pinching the sausage rope. Next I roll the link away from me and then move down to the next pinch and roll in the opposite direction. Each time I rotate the process of pinching and rolling a few times away and then towards me as I produce each sausage link.
After the sausages are linked I dry them off with a paper towel and use a sterilized needle to prick the sausages in an effort to remove any air bubbles that were trapped inside the casing. After that I return the linked sausages to the refrigerator while I ready my Bradley Smoker.

Smoked sausages hanging on smoke sticks

I set the smoker to 180 degrees and allow it to get up to temperature. Meanwhile, I break my sausage rope of links into groups of six and allow them to hang in the smoker from a wooden dowel rod that I use to smoke with. After about 2 ½ to 3 hours the sausages reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

Fresh out of the smoke shack and straight into an ice bath

The next step is equally critical and that is to ice water bath the sausages shortly after removing them from the smoker. If you do not and simply refrigerate the sausages you will be disappointed to find that they have shriveled up into a raisin sausage which doesn’t look too cool.

The sausage is fully cooked and can eaten cold if desired. I have since sliced the knackwurst cold onto a meat and cheese platter which was good as well as adding a few to my previously mentioned Choucroute Garnie dish for Thanksgiving (post and photos to follow shortly).

These sausages are awesome and can also be poached to temperature in some simmering water, almost how you would heat up hot dogs. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Guten Appetit!!!

The Incredible Edible Pickled Egg

First things first…my last post (Yeah you Jerky) ended optimistically with the fact that I was going elk hunting with the intentions of returning with a trophy.  Well, I hate to disappoint however, we came back empty handed.  I can assure you that it was not a lack of effort as we arose each morning at 4am in position to hunt by 5am and traipsing through the woods till 11am to noon.  A brief “lunch” break and back in the woods by 2pm for the evening hunt which lasted till dark.  We hit it hard three days in a row only to see two bull (male) elks,  who clearly knew we possessed no such tag to legally bag (cow-female elk only tags), and a couple coyotes.  Other than that we were basically camping with guns.  Despite this it was a great time and certainly look forward to next years hunt assuming we get drawn for tags again. 

Glad to get that out of the way.  So I was sitting around thinking about what I should post next and realized that I have yet to do any actual pickling (myself excluded of course) and settled upon the quintessential Midwest dive bar breakfast of champions, The Pickled Egg!  I have found through my travels that the pickled egg too has its geographic and or socioeconomic boundaries much like drinking Pepsi or Coke, playing euchre or sporting spandex biker shorts (not surprisingly Wal-Mart has its own micro-regions).  Growing up as a child my grandmother owned her own bar (cutting a rug at a place) called The Jug on Route 4 in Ohio.  This classic dive bar had upon its hallowed mantle a large jar of purple pickled eggs on one side and a large jar of pickled sausage on the other.  I know what you are thinking, what else do you need, right?!  I vividly remember eating pickled eggs and sausage while listening to The Devil went down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band thinking life could get much better.

Jar O' Pickled Quail Eggs

It with great pride I introduce to you, the pickled quail egg.  Initially I thought this was going to be a Pickled Pig original idea however, was quickly disappointed to find multiple recipes on Google for exactly that (even one by Emeril!).  Oh well, it is a great idea that combines the perfect beer accoutrement with an M&M sized bite (won’t melt in your hands either).  In fact I have already decided that I will most certainly need to have a jar of these on hand to garnish a vodka martini or bloody Mary from here on out…I’m clearly a total health nut.

Let's get ready to piiiiiickle!

 I used a recipe that I have successfully used with chicken eggs that tasted just like the picked eggs of my past.  The recipe called for; 1 15-ounce can of beets (just the juice), 1 cup cider vinegar, ½ cup sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 bay leaves and 4 whole cloves.  This recipe made enough brine for 6 large eggs however; I used 30 quail eggs which worked perfectly.  I was able to purchase three 10-packs of quail eggs at our local Asian grocery store for $1.59 a pack.

Aren't these little guys so cute!?!

The first thing to do is begin the process of hard boiling the quail eggs.  Many people don’t know that there is a right way and a wrong way to boil an egg.  The manner in which you boil and length of time boiling both affect the texture of the prized yolk as well as the yolk’s color.  When boiled too long I find the yolks to be chalky and take on an unpleasant green color as compared to the much desired bright golden yellow.  To properly boil any egg you must first start them in the pot with COLD water.  You then bring them and the water to a boil.  It is at this point you must determine how you want your yolk.  If you want a medium cooked egg you leave them in the water for a total of 4 minutes (begin timing once it achieves a rapid boil)  and remove to an ice bath to stop the cooking and cool the egg for peeling.  In this instance I wanted a hard cooked egg and left them in for a total of 7 minutes before transferring to an ice bath. 

Purple Pickling Brine

While the eggs are boiling I add the beet juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaves and cloves to a sauce pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Once dissolved, I remove the brine from the heat and allow the cloves and bay leaves to steep.

Peeled Quail Eggs

Next I begin to tackle the art of peeling quail eggs…much easier said than done!  I finally settled on a technique where I cracked the egg on the bottom where the air bubble was.  This space between the shell and egg was perfect to peel off and begin the process of peeling the shell downward while spinning it around in my fingers.  After peeling all 30 eggs I added them to the pickling jar.

Everyone in the purple pickle pool!

I then added my purple brine to the pickling jar and let them mingle in the fridge for about 7 days.  After the 7 days I tried my first egg and it was the perfect bite sized snack.  The picture below is after about 2 weeks of pickling.  The difference is evidenced in the purple color that the once yellow yolk has taken on. 

Where's the brews?

 This is just one of many recipes that I found to be popularized throughout Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  A few other that I suggest you consider are the famous Bruce’s B&B pickled eggs as detailed on Michigan Tech’s alumni page (even I being from Ohio have to admit this is pretty cool) as well as some recipes from Washington State University which after reading appear to be borrowed from University of Wisconsin which makes alot more sense.  Enjoy!

Yeah you Jerky!

The Herky Jerky

Beef Jerky reminds me of the good ‘ol days and small town living, which is pretty darn cool. I loved eating at gas stations (beef sticks and beer nuts) as a child and weirdly admit…I still do.  I had one of the best seasonal college jobs in the history of seasonal college jobs working in a butcher shop. It was perfect, Ohio University had a winter break that started well before Thanksgiving and lasted through the New Year.  I could make a quick couple grand to fuel the college party machine and had the time of my life doing it. Our break just so happened to coincided with Ohio’s Whitetail Deer Season and as such had the opportunity to work for a guy (Chuck) who converted his butcher shop into a deer processing operation, Warner’s Locker. We would often put 16 hour days in which also prevented us from spending the cash. I cannot begin to tell you the good times that were had with the various people I worked with there over the years. To not leave you totally hanging, one of the quick but funny ones is the time we called a guy to let him know his deer was processed and ready to be picked up . He honestly had no recollection of ever having brought a deer in! Thus, what happens in deer camp stays in deer camp…cuz you forget most of it! I ended up doing this job each break for about four years and learned much of what I know today about making sausages, smoking and of course JERKY!  I clearly digress.

Naturally I was excited when I saw the Jerky recipe in the first chapter and have actually been experimenting with it for quite some time. I started out using top and bottom rounds of beef and quickly found that any cost savings, when compared to eye of the round, were quickly lost in fat/sinew trimming time.  I started the recipe with an 2 1/2 pound eye of the round that had been nicely trimmed, giving it about a 4 hour chill in the freezer.  This makes slicing the beef on a slicer much easier. 

Eye of the (Tiger) Round

I sliced the eye of the round into as many 1/8 inch thick slices as I could, which was several.  I then stripped the slices into perfect little jerky strips. 

Pre-Jerked Jerky Slices

Next, I assembled the ingredients that the strips of jerky are about to spend the next 24 hours with.  The recipe calls for; 20 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) kosher salt, 5 grams garlic powder, 5 grams onion powder, 60 grams finely chpped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Early on I committed to following these recipes to a “T” which is soooo unlike me and as such I couldn’t resist doubling the garlic and onion powder (absolutely zero regrets on this one). 

Garlic and Onion Powders, Salt and Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

After thoroughly mixing the marinade ingredients together I introduced the beef jerky strips. 

Marinate'n Time

I let them mingle for 24 hours as prescribed and then removed them from the marinade.

Done Marinate'n

 Nezt, I placed them stratigically about my Bradley Smoker trays.  It is important to not overlap the strips on the trays as this will cause the jerky to jerk unevenly.  That’s a technical term and you definitely don’t want it to happen. 

Jerky Tetris

Next I tuned my Bradley Smoker up to the 90 degrees that is suggested by the authors.  It is important to note that this may be challenge depending upon where you live and time of year.  For example, in Phoenix in August it is impossible for me to smoke below the ambient temperature (often 110 or more) plus twenty to thirty more degrees from the heat of the smoking briquettes.  Equally important, your jerky is going to jerky quicker which means you always need to keep an eye on the prize.  Lastly, I did not use any smoke on this jerky as it was not called for in the recipe however, I have applied smoke in the past and found an hour to two hours maximum to be perfectly pleasant.

Time to jerk the jerky!

I ended up keeping these guys drying in the smoker for about 14 hours and they came out just about good as I could ask for.  

Jerking equals serious shrinkage!

I have since modified this recipe to include 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons mollasses, 20 grams brown sugar and a half beer and was very happy with the results.  As the authors suggest, there are no rules when making your own jerky and you should make what suits your fancy. 

I am happy to report that tomorrow morning I am hitting the road with a crew for an elk hunting trip.  We were “drawn” for the 2nd time in three years (crazy lucky) and are heading up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for some serious elk hunting and/or debauchery.  Below is a pic from our last hunt which was clearly successful however, there are no guarantees…otherwise they wouldn’t call it hunting.       

I didn't shoot the sheriff and I didn't shoot the Elk either.

I am most hopeful that we will have a repeat peformace which will be perfect for the sausage recipe in chapter four of Charcuterie, The Power and the Glory: Sausage…more specifically Chef Milo’s Country Venison Sausage.  Until then…

No Fretta Pancetta, Part 2

I finally decided to take the next step with my pancetta. I ended up waiting an additional 6 days for few reasons. The first was based upon the fact that I was having a helluva time trying to calibrate the humidity levels in my curing chamber. The humidifier that I purchased had three settings; Low, Medium and High. I first started out on High and could not seem to find a happy medium where I could keep the humidity consistent. Next, I tried the lowest setting which again produced inconsistent levels which is not good when trying to dry cure something. Moderation, which clearly is not part of my vocabulary just so happen to be the perfect setting…go figure! Anyways, the curing chamber lamenting coupled with the fact that my soon-to-be pancetta didn’t seem to firm up quite the way I remember the bacon feeling. I would overhaul it daily and check the “squishiness” and it just didn’t feel like it should until about 13 days into the cure.

Fresh out of the ziplock with brine intact

After determining that pork belly was finally ready to be removed from the brine I rinsed it thoroughly under cold running water, as cold as water gets in Arizona in the dwindling days of summer that is.

Pancetta post-rinse

After rinsing I thoroughly dried it off with paper towels and prepared to sprinkle the cut side of the pork belly with fresh ground black Tellicherry pepper.

Pancetta, post-black pepper sprinkling

After sprinkling with the pepper I began the process of rolling the belly up and tying into the classic pancetta style form we are all familiar with.

Then I rolled a hog leg...pork belly to be more precise.

The best thing that I found to fully prepare me for the process of tying up the rolled pork belly was the website www.chow.com. This website provides the best detail I have seen on how to actually tie one of these bad boys up.

Given the fact that I was rolling the pork belly and tying it the best I could, it was impossible for me to photograph the process however, I do have a few photos that would suggest that I pulled it off in a bush-league type manner.

Hanging Out!

By the grace of god I actually found the perfect setting for the curing chamber and can peacefully put my pancetta away to rest for approximately 2 weeks as suggested by the authors of Charcuterie. I also weighed the pancetta, just to see how much water weight will be lost over the next two weeks. Based upon my research it seems that 30% (water weight) is often the number one would look for in dry cured salami.

Proud Pappa Shot!

As you will see I actually made two rolls of pancetta which weighed 1080 grams and 896 grams respectively. As prescribed by Charcuterie I am maintaining a solid 60 degrees in the curing chamber and humidity between 55% and 65%. In about 14 days or so I will report back with the process and some pics.

I trimmed the belly slightly before rolling to square the sides up a bit and decided to fry the trimmings up with a little bit of olive oil. While salty I found the pancetta to clearly posses the flavors of bay leaf, garlic and nutmeg.

Looks kinda freaky but tasted great!

I can’t wait to fry up the finished product! Until then, I did the beef jerky recipe under the Salt chapter and will be reporting that before the weekend…I hope!

The Curing Chamber

Many people have me asked the question, “what the hell is a curing chamber” and finally I am now in the position to put a post up that would answer that question in addition to several others that may be lingering.  A curing chamber is an artificial environment where one can control the temperature and humidity at optimal settings ultimately resulting in perfectly cured, fermented and or aged proteins such as pork (salami, ham and sausages) or beef (dry-aged beef). 

The next question naturally is, “why the hell would you make a curing chamber” to which I say, “don’t get me started”.  While this may not be very typical, I revel in the thought of taking raw pork or beef and transforming it through the art of Charcuterie into something that tastes ten times better than it did originally, is perfectly paired with beer and wine and doesn’t even require refrigeration!  What other reasons would you really need to proceed?

When one cures a protein such as beef or pork you essentially create an environment that is inhospitable to nasty things that could otherwise hurt you (bacteria).  When you dry age pork or beef you slowly evacuate the water from the protein at the cellular level where bacteria like to live and feed, creating a situation where they can’t survive.  When you do this you also concentrate the porky and or beefy flavors resulting in a far more flavorful product.  This is why the steaks at Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s always taste better than the steaks you make at home.  The steaks have had a chance to age over time concentrating their flavors as well as improving their texture.

The art of Charcuterie has been in practice for hundreds of years and has been perfected in areas such as Italy and France where the conditions you are creating in your curing chamber exist naturally.  Italians have been dry curing their hams and salamis in caves for centuries, where the conditions (temperature, humidity, darkness) are perfect.  Unfortunately, I live in Phoenix, Arizona (it’s a dry heat) where the temperatures and humidity are often way to hot and way to dry to do so naturally thus my needing a curing chamber.  The optimal temperature for a curing chamber are in and around 55 to 65 degrees with the humidity in the 60 to 65 percent range.  This allows the cure to work its magic while the cells slowly give up their moisture.  The key to the humidity is to prevent the outside cells from drying out to the point where they no longer allow the moisture to escape.  Who would have ever thought biology and osmosis would actually be applicable!?  If the surface were to dry out and harden this would cause the water to be trapped inside the cells resulting in the growth of harmful bacteria which is not good for you or I. 

That is probably way more information than most wanted however, I did warn you to not get me started.  An old refrigerator is a great starting spot for creating your own curing chamber.  While as is it operates at a temperature that is too cold for curing and dry-aging it can easily be modified to suit your needs.  Refrigerators are excellent for maintaining constant temperatures which are critical to well cured meats such as salamis, in addition to being void of light which can cause it’s own set of problems. 

Through my research I felt like the webpage on The Sausage Maker best equipped me with the necessary knowledge to begin building my own curing chamber.  Some of the best advice they gave was looking for a refrigerator that has a bottom freezer section and top refrigerator section.  This allows you to maximize the space where your cured meats are going to be hanging while efficiently using the smaller freezer space to house your humidifier.  As mentioned in a previous post they used a Kenmore refrigerator which fits the bill perfectly.  I had looked around on Craig’s List for a similar fridge only to find models that didn’t have the right configuration or priced far beyond what I was willing to pay.  One day, by the grace of god, my coworker mentioned that he was replacing his perfectly good fridge with a newer and quieter version.  I asked about the configuration and quickly learned that it was exactly what I needed.  After a few emails of pictures I learned that he literally had the exact same model that was used on The Sausage Maker website…JACKPOT!

Future home of many tasty treats...I hope!

 After unloading my new treasure I quickly got to work removing all of the shelving and drawers to make way for my charcuterie endeavors.  After doing so I began the process of removing the layer of plastic and insulation that lay between the fridge section and the freezer section. 

Let's get this party started!

I did this rather simply with a carpenter’s knife.  After puncturing the plastic it literally cut like butter with the brand new razor blade that I used.  I was careful not to cut too far into the insulation so that I didn’t sever any of the wires that potentially lie beneath.

Plastic interior cut out to expose insulation.

After removing the insulation and exposing the wires that ran through, I then cut the second layer of plastic out which opened the two sections creating one large curing chamber. 

Insulation removed to expose bottom layer of plastic.

Two separate chambers become one!

The Sausage Maker version used stainless steel making the hole look nice while creating a barrier between the wires and insulation and the plastic interior housing of the refrigerator.  I have not had a chance to do this part yet however, everything else is good to go.
The first things I purchased were some stainless steel “L” shaped brackets that I could mount on the sides of the fridge.  I will then use dowel rods that will slide inside the fridge and hang from the brackets. 

L brackets to hang salami laden dowel rods on.

The salamis, hams and sausages will be suspended from the dowel rods.  I drilled four holes into the brackets large enough for stainless steel screws to go through and attach to the plastic interior shell of the fridge.

Hang Time!

I then assembled a fixture that I could set inside the fridge allowing me to artificially raise the temperature inside the chamber when necessary (all purchased at Home Depot).  When would that be necessary you may be wondering?  Many salamis must first undergo a fermentation stage which is responsible for the tangy flavor we often associate with dry cured salami and sausages such as pepperoni.  In order for the fermentation stage to begin the curing chamber needs to operate at a temperature of 80 degrees or more for one or two days depending upon the recipe.  The fermentation stage is also important in that is lowers the Ph levels (increases the acidity) in the meat which again aids in creating a bad environment for nasty bacteria to grow and flourish.  To accomplish this increase in temperature I am using an outdoor lighting fixture, an extension cord and two 75 watt bulbs.  I cut the female end of the extension cord, stripped the wires and wired it into the outdoor lighting fixture.  I suggest outdoor versus indoor in that it is more equipped for the humid environment that is the curing chamber.

Equipment for heating element during fermentation stage.

Next, I purchased a thermostat controller from a brewing website called Homebrew Heaven for $46.00, much cheaper than what is offered via The Sausage Maker’s website.  I opted for one that was not digital as it was less expensive and one less thing that could break (in my opinion).  I mounted the thermostat controller to the outside of the fridge and plugged it into a power strip I mounted on the same side.  The controller has a piggy-back style plug allowing you to plug the fridge into it.  When the desired temperature range (give or take 2 degrees) is achieved it will cut the power to the fridge until it is necessary to cycle back on in order to maintain the correct temperature.  I ran the temperature probe inside the refrigerator and will mount it to the back middle part of the fridge’s interior so that it is out of the way.

Thermostat controller mounted on outside of refrigerator.

The next item I needed to purchase was the Titan EOS 1 Humidity Controller from eBay for $112.00, again far cheaper than what is offered by The Sausage Maker.  This controller is mounted on the inside wall of the refrigerator so that you get accurate readings on your humidity level inside the chamber.  It utilizes that same piggy-bag style plug to which the humidifier is plugged into thus controlling its operation on and off as necessary to achieve the 60-65% humidity levels.   

Humidity Controller mounted on inside of curing chamber.

Then I purchased a Vick’s filter free (cheaper to operate) humidifier and several gallons of distilled water from Wal-Mart.  The humidifier was about $45.00.   I also purchased a thermometer that allows me run a cord inside the chamber indicating the interior temperature and humidity level so that I do not need to unnecessarily open and close the door to monitor what is going on inside.  Last but not least I installed an analog style hygrometer, (out of my old cigar humidor) just so I could double check my humidity levels as necessary.

Voila! The Finished Product

I have had the chamber up and running for the past few days and have had to tweak things here and there to achieve a consistent environment of approximately 60 degrees and 60% humidity as is often called for in the recipes of Charcuterie.  The first lucky item to enjoy some R&R in the chamber is the pancetta which has about 4 or 5 more days curing time left.  I hope you find this helpful and can tell you that I am quite possible one of the least handy type people around and I was able to build this contraption…my point…don’t be afraid, you can do it.

No Fretta, It’s just Pancetta!

I have started another recipe from the Salt chapter of Charcuterie and couldn’t be more excited for this one.  Pancetta!  Pancetta is Italian style bacon that benefits from an approximate 7-9 day curing process, much like regular bacon, and then another 2 weeks of hanging in a dry curing chamber.  The final parts for my curing chamber came in today and as such I started the curing process knowing that I have a week to get the chamber up and running.   The book indicates that you could skip the drying process if you didn’t happen to have a curing chamber however; it also clearly states that drying enhances the texture and intensifies the flavor of the pancetta.

I went to our local Asian market and purchased 2 five pound pork bellies which were very similar to the ones I used in the bacon recipe.  I then assembled the other ingredients (for one 5lb pork belly slab):

  • 4 clove garlic, minced
  • 12 grams pink salt
  • 50 grams kosher salt
  • 26 grams dark brown sugar
  • 40 grams coarsely ground black pepper (20 grams reserved for post-curing step)
  • 10 grams juniper berries coarsely ground
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 4 grams freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme

Pork belly and dry cure ingredients for Pancetta.

I first mixed all of the dry ingredients and then ground my juniper berries with the bay leaves and fresh thyme and put the garlic cloves through a press.

Dry cure mixed in with freshly pressed garlic cloves.

I then removed the skin from each of the pork bellies.  To be true to my original commitment to using all of the glorious pig I will turn the skin into chicharrones or pork rinds which is another very interesting process…post coming soon.

Belly trimmed of skin...don't toss the skin!

After I removed the skin from each I thoroughly rubbed the salt cure into all sides of the pork belly and slipped it into a gallon sized Ziploc baggie.

Dry cure coated pork belly ready for baggie and 7-9 day rest.

Each belly will remain in the baggy for approximately 7-9 days.  The variance is based upon how thick the belly is and how long it takes for the cure to work its magic.  Each day I remove the baggy of pork belly and “overhaul” or distribute the cure to ensure an even curing process.  You can tell when it is fully cured based upon how firm the belly feels.  If it still feels squishy it needs a few more days…don’t rush this process.

I anticipate the curing process to be done by next Monday or Tuesday of next week.  Then I will post the next step which is a good rinse and reapplication of the remaining 20 grams of black pepper. After that you roll the belly up into the traditional pancetta format that you will be sure to recognize.  Then into the curing chamber for a two to three week hang and dry session.  I have also started the Jerky recipe in the Salt chapter and should be able to post the first part of this process tomorrow.  Until then…

Sleepless in Seattle

Hey everybody, check out my latest post on my trip to Seattle on my Travel page. If you have plans to go there and like to eat this is a must read.

The Famous Pig at Pike's Market

Boston-Style Baked Beans

I added another recipe using the bacon I cured. Boston Baked Beans, for all of my Celtic fans!

Boston BAKED beans, super tasty yet not so sexy pic

New England Clam Chowder

I added New England Clam Chowder to my Recipes page. Check out this great use for bacon!

Chowda Head

Fennel-Cured Salmon

I’m back in action. All that talk about having plenty of time to dedicate to my blog was a bit of hogwash, pardon the pun. I decided to branch off from the pig and focus on our friends in the ocean. Fennel-Cured Salmon is the recipe that I decided to do next, after discovering Duck Pastrami was a pig-ment (couldn’t resist) of my imagination. Charcuterie actually has a recipe for Duck Prosciutto which sounds great however, would greatly benefit from having a curing chamber on hand which I currently do not have. The plan is to make one however, that is down the road and I didn’t want to lose momentum. I am also thinking about actually making a duck pastrami which wouldn’t really be that difficult.

Until then, salmon is a great fish to cure and is often done with a tremendous amount of variation in flavors. Salmon is especially great to cure given its texture and willingness to receive a myriad of flavors during the curing process. Curing Salmon not only improves the flavor of the fish it also modifies the texture in a way that makes it even more delicious to eat raw or cured or whatever it takes to get you to try it.

I began the process by selecting a nice side of salmon which was easier said then done. I hit Sam’s Club looking for a bargain and struck out there. Next I went to a few other local grocery stores only to be seriously disappointed by the freshness and or quality to which I am 100% dedicated to. So with that said I headed to AJ’s Fine Foods, our local gourmet store and was happy to find some of the most beautiful sides of King Salmon that I have seen in a while ($23.99/lb). After doing the math for approximately 3lbs I quickly decided to grab a slab of fresh Atlantic Salmon for $11.99/lb. All of a sudden the blog has gotten expensive! Haha! The fish monger there happily trimmed a 5lb side down to 2 ½ lbs and I was on my way.

Salmon cures are as endless as the imagination and can range from citrus flavors to pastrami style flavors (black pepper and coriander) to dill as used in a gravlax style cure. The amount of time necessary to cure the Salmon depends upon the thickness of the fillet. If you have a tail piece it won’t be quite as thick as a fillet from the center of the fish therefore taking less time to cure. I chose a nice thick cut more towards the head of the fish. As such I am anticipating about a 72 hour cure time. I tried this recipe once before on a similar cut of fish and found 48 hours to be slightly lacking, mostly evidenced in the texture. The recipe in Charcuterie is a sweeter style cure and as such contains both white and brown sugars in addition to a wonderful French liquor called Pernod. Pernod is a relative to its Greek cousin Ouzo, a licorice or anise flavored liquor.
Pernod is actually a successor of absinthe, the potent liquor that contained a toxic oil from wormwood in quantities that were thought to cause brain damage — and which was outlawed in 1915 in France. One of absinthe’s leading manufacturers, Henri Pernod, then focused its efforts on the lower-alcohol, wormwoodless, anise-flavored Pernod. Enough about Pernod and on with the recipe!

The first thing I did was assemble all of my ingredients;
• 125 grams sugar
• 180 grams light brown sugar
• 175 grams of kosher salt
• A 2.5 lb Salmon fillet (skin-on)
• ¼ cup Pernod
• 1 fennel bulb
• 65 grams fennel seeds (toasted)
• 2 tablespoons ground white pepper

Note the bright yellow color of the Pernod

I combined the sugars, salt and ground white pepper into a container and mixed the thoroughly. Next, I grabbed a Pyrex baking dish barely large enough to accommodate the salmon and sprinkled about a 1/3 of the cure into the bottom of the dish.

I then placed the Salmon fillet into the sugar/salt cure and pressed firmly. I lifted the salmon out and poured about half of the ¼ cup of the Pernod onto the skin side of the Salmon and returned it to the dish. I poured the remaining amount of the Pernod onto the top of the salmon flesh and poured on the remaining 2/3 cup of cure.

I then took the bulb of fennel and sliced it thinly all the way to the top, including the green stalk and leaves and layered them across the top of the cure covered fish.

Next, I took the toasted fennel seeds and sprinkled them over the top.

Lastly, I took a piece of plastic wrap and draped it over the fish and dish. I used a rock that I had found in my dry wash out back for the weight. For all of the germ-a-phobes out there, I thoroughly washed the rock in my dishwasher before wrapping it in aluminum foil. The weight on the fish during the curing process acts as a catalyst, assisting with the removal of water from the fish and the introduction of the fennel cure. As mentioned, I will leave this fish in its cure for about 72 hours (next Sunday). About half way through the process I will remove the salmon from refrigeration to overhaul the cure, move it around to ensure an even cure.
I wanted to note a special brew that I enjoyed during this process that I believe may be hard to find without a Total Wine nearby however, it was way too good not to share. My good buddy EC introduced this beer to my while at a local eatery called Red, White and Brew. This place does a great job, especially their house made pizzas!

Perfect with a slice of lemon

It is called White Rascal and is brewed by Avery Brewing Co. out of Boulder, Colorado. White Rascal is a Belgian Whit or White Beer and is characterized by its coriander spice and Curacao orange peel. I couldn’t imagine a more refreshing beer to combat the triple digit heat of Arizona during the summer. YUM YUM! That’s it for now. I will be back shortly to report a few recipes I followed to enjoy the bacon from my earlier post.

Making Bacon – Finale

I woke up this morning and made a trip to Home Depot to purchase some S hooks to hang the bacon from in the smoker. I found a couple of packets of three that fit the bill, $4.00 total. They are stainless steel and I sterilized them in a solution of bleach before using. The Sausage Maker sells actual bacon hangers for about $8.00 per hanger.

S hooks from Home Depot

The surface of the bacon is nice and tacky so the smoke will certainly stick well! I use a digital thermometer probe to puncture each slab of bacon. I found it best to puncture from the skin side first. I also found it best to run the S hook through the skin first and then up, as the skin will provide the sturdiest hanging situation. I hang each slab of bacon onto the smoke sticks from two S hooks.

Inserting S hooks into the pork belly

Pork Bellies ready to be hanged on smoke sticks

The smoker was set to 180 degrees and I decided to use pecan smoking bisquettes. I love the light nutty flavor of pecan wood for smoking pork and chicken. A great example of pecan smoked barbecue can be found at Joe’s Real BBQ over in old town Gilbert. They make their own root beer and the BBQ sauces are in full effect. I highly suggest checking this place out if you haven’t already.

Pecan bisquettes and smoke sticks

I am using a digital 6-rack Bradley Smoker which is a great piece of equipment to be used for all of the recipes in Charcuterie that require smoking. I purchased this one on Ebay for less than $500.00. I have tried cheaper versions (ie. Charbroil Smoker Bullet) and they do not compare to the consistency of what you can expect from the digital Bradley smoker.

Digital Six-Rack Bradley Smoker

The beauty of the Bradley is that you can use the smoke generating component completely separate from the heating element which gives you greater control on the smoke temperature inside the smoking chamber.
You can effectively cold and/or hot smoke with this smoker depending upon the ambient temperature. Cold smoking by definition occurs at or below 90 degrees whereas hot smoking is anything above cold smoking temperature. For example, in Arizona it is impossible to cold smoke Trout or Salmon given the six digit temps throughout the summer months. Another great feature on the digital version is the consistent smoking temperature throughout the smoking experience, essential to great smoked BBQ!

Digital Smoke Generator and Oven Temp Controller

As you will see there is a tube where you can set up to 8 hours worth of smoking bisquettes. Another great feature on the Bradley Smoker is the bisquettes. They have a proprietary blend of wood that guarantees an extremely low amount of resins being produced during the smoking process. These resins can cause a foul smell and taste in BBQ. Each bisquette burns for exactly twenty minutes before being ejected into a pan and followed by a fresh bisquette. This process continues until the preprogrammed time has been satisfied.

Bacon hanging out in the smoker, note ham on bottom rack

I smoked this bacon for about three hours between 180 and 200 degrees. The only disadvantage of the Bradley is the cost of smoking bisquettes. While not expensive they do begin to add up when you do enough smoking. I have learned the art of adding other items to the smoker so as to use as much smokable square footage in the smoking chamber (note the addition of honey cured spiral cut ham…YUM YUM!).

Smoked spiral cut honey cured ham

I first removed the smoked ham which will be part of our BBQ fiesta with our neighbors, a bon-voyage for my family who will be heading to Hawaii for another summer. Of course this is good in the sense that I can dedicate much of my time and attention to creating the recipes throughout Charcuterie. At the same time the house gets extremely quiet which is weird but enough of that.

Fresh from the smoker, note color transformation...the beauty of smoke!

I then took the three slabs of bacon out of the smoker and proceeded to remove the layer of skin that lies above the unctuous bacon beneath. It is best to do this while the slabs are still warm however; I found it extremely easy to remove the skin from the unsmoked fresh bacon with a sharp carving knife. I kept pressure from my palm on the skin as I slid the knife across slab of bacon.

Bacon after slicing away skin

One of the key themes of the Pickled Pig is the commitment to honoring the pig and using every single glorious part. As such I am going to keep the smoked and unsmoked skins from each belly to be used for flavoring a bean dish or stew or transform it into the ultimate happy hour snack (post and recipe to follow), a pork rind of sort.

From here I am going to refrigerate the three slabs of bacon and slice them on the THICK side (pictures to follow). I will make a couple meals from each of the three cured slabs and add them to the Recipes page of the hog blog, please stay tuned.

Well that concludes the first official whack at Charcuterie. My next recipe will be the Fennel-Cured Salmon and the Duck Pastrami and I can’t wait.

Making Bacon – continued

Is it just me or did that seven day curing process seem more like seventeen days!? Well the time has come to remove each newly cured pork belly from its respective ziplock baggie and rinse it off well under cold running water.

Rinsing Bacon

Once completely rinsed I am going to place all four bellies on a wire cooling rack set overtop of a baking sheet pan with edges. I will put the pork bellies back into the refrigerator over night uncovered so that the surface can dry. This is especially important if you plan on smoking your cured pork bellies or bacon. Once the surface dries it will become slightly tacky that which will allow the smoke to adhere more effectively. This is called forming a pellicle.

Bacon on rack for drying overnight

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to smoke the savory-style bacon as well as the maple cured-style bacon however, not the fresh-style bacon which was only cured with the Salt, Sugar, Pink Salt cure. I am going to leave this one alone and utilize it in a few classic dishes that require fresh bacon such as New England Clam Chowder and authentic Boston-Style Baked Beans.

Chapter 1 Salt continued – Dry Cure

We are officially on our way to testing every recipe in the great cookbook, Charcuterie. Before diving into the bacon I think it is wise to share some of the key points that authors Ruhlman and Polcyn discuss in Chapter 1. Salt is essential to preserving food. Salt has several effects on food when it comes into contact with it. One very important effect is at the cellular level where salt facilitates a fluid exchange that makes food preservation possible. At the same time flavor is introduced to the meat while changing the shape of the proteins, enabling the meat to retain more moisture which is great for pork due to its lean fat to meat ratio. The last wonderful effect salt has on food is that it creates an inhospitable environment for the microbes that cause decay and spoilage to live and or multiply. Basically, if we didn’t have salt life would suck!
Of all the positive effects that salt has on food, the pig may be one of the very finest. One thing Ruhlman and Polcyn drive home is their admiration for the pig which I too have embraced and want to champion to you. “Of all the world’s foods that can be preserved to great effect, the pig has proved to be by far the most versatile. It is the only animal that has generated it own culinary specialty: CHARCTUERIE.” “…the pig is an animal whose glories go largely unrecognized in America. In France they like to say that every part of the pig is used except the oink.” “Furthermore, the pig provides a range of widely differing things to eat, more in fact than any single other animal we know of.”
Now to the Bacon. The first thing I did was assemble the dry cure which contains the magic white dust that is salt. The basic dry cure contains three things; Salt, Sugar and Pink Salt (curing salt/Nitrites). We have thoroughly discussed the effects of salt on food. The sugar provides the cure with a subtle sweetness as well as having nice browning effect on the surface during the cooking process. The pink salt or sodium nitrites are responsible for the curing effect which we see in the flavor, the rosy red color of the meat and the prevention of bacteria growth. The basic working ratio for the dry cure is 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar, plus 10% of their combined weight of pink salt. A very good point is made by Ruhlman and Polcyn when they encourage you to weight your ingredients. A cup of Morton’s Kosher Salt weighs 8 ounces while a cup of Diamond Crystal Salt weights 4.8 ounces.
I made a half batch of the dry cure using 225 grams of salt, 212 grams of dextrose (112 grams if using granulated sugar), 25 grams of pink salt. Dextrose and sugar can be used interchangeably given the weight difference. The authors like dextrose better due to the fact that it is less sweet than sugar with a finer grain which dissolves more easily.

I had said that I was going to go to The Pork Shop in Queen Creek however; I called and found out that I need to place the order a week in advance. I wasn’t about to wait another week to begin the recipe so I went to Lee Lee’s Oriental Market and purchased four slabs of pork belly, each one weighing approximately 2-3 pounds each. It will be fun to compare the pork belly from The Pork Shop as I am under the impression that the pigs they butcher at The Pork Shop are better in quality aka FATTER. As Emeril says, “Pork Fat Rules!”

I decided to do a few of the bacon recipes in Charcuterie for testing purposes only of course. I am doing the Fresh Bacon on page 41, the Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon on page 83 as well as some Savory-Style Bacon (Black Pepper, Bay Leaf and Garlic) that is discussed in the same recipe.
The first thing I did was place the pork belly in an aluminum pan where I applied about a ¼ cup of the dry cure until it was completely covered in cure.

I then transferred the bacon-in-the-wings to a large Ziplock baggie where it will rest for the next seven days.
Next I assembled the ingredients that I needed for the Maple-Cured bacon. I just so happened to have a quart of some really great maple syrup from the great State of Ohio (Go Buckeyes!-sorry couldn’t resist). This maple syrup is made by a guy that is a neighbor of my mothers in the Mac-O-Chee Valley in West Liberty, Ohio. I used about a cup of Maple Syrup to cure two of the four pork bellies. I am also using a cup of Brown Sugar.

I then put the pork belly into the aluminum pan where I again used ¼ cup of the dry cure to completely coat the pork belly and placed it inside the large Ziplock baggie and then added the Brown Sugar and Maple Sugar. This too will cure for seven days.

Notice the brine beginning to come together. This will work perfectly to ensure an even distribution of the cure throughout the entire pork belly.

Last, but certainly not least I assemble the ingredients to make the Savory-Style Bacon; 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper, 5 cloves of garlic and 4 bay leaves.

After dredging the pork belly in the dry cure I put it in the Ziplock baggie and added the pressed garlic, crushed bay leaf and black pepper.

Voila, we are on our way with beginning two of the many recipes from the great cookbook, Charcuterie and I couldn’t be more excited. After I checked on the kids last night to make sure they were on their way to dreamland I pulled out the drawer on my man fridge and with much excitement checked on my four bacon babies nestled all together doing their curing thing. One day down, six long more days to go before the next step.
As a final note it is important flip the bag every other day or so to redistribute the cure, technically called “overhauling”.