Eating my way through LA!

Check out my latest post on my Travel page, Eating my way through LA!

Langer's Deli - Home of the World Famous Pastrami

Phillipe's Original French Dip

Pizzeria Mozza

Sabatino's Sausage Company

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