Friday, January 28, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #2 - Continued

Makin' Bacon. It's still fun to say.

Making 2 kinds of bacon. I eventually found a pork belly. Not quite 10 pounds. The more square end will be smoked bacon. And the tapered end will be pancetta. I'll also have some trimmings for some sausage for the upcoming Rib & Pierogie Day. Unfortunately a number of conflicts are forcing a schedule change for that event. It won't happen this weekend but it will get rescheduled.

I started with pancetta. I didn't follow the recipe out of Charcuterie. I made a slight variation of this recipe (I skipped the nutmeg) used by one of my Salami Making Heroes, Jason Molinari. One thing that is great about Molinari's recipe is how it is presented. Everything is a percentage of the meat. This method is perfect for cooking with a scale. Just multiply each percentage by the weight of meat and start weighing. And if you are a nerd like me and put everything in a spreadsheet, just type the weight of the meat in the right spot, and the spreadsheet sets it all up for you. This is the method I use to keep track of all my sausage/salami adventures.

Starts with weigh the pork being cured.

This piece weighed in at 1022 grams. Into the mini chopper accessory to a stick blender (stick blenders rule), I added the spices. In went peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, and brown sugar. This went for a whirl.

Then I added the salts, kosher and Cure#2. Cure#2 is a variation from the Ruhlman recipe. With the exception of previously made pancetta, anything I have hung in to dry had Cure#2. Using it makes sense to me but I should add that had I not been following a successful recipe from a good source, I doubt I would make the switch on my own.


It all went for another whirl to distribute everything. I really liked using the mini chopper to make a cure rub. It smelled great and I think it is better than just mixing everything up with a spoon.

Time to rub it all over the belly, both sides got coated. Still smelled really good.

Then into a 2 gallon bag  for curing. I bought a bunch of bags with a slide to seal the bag. The slide is useless. So I fold the bag over itself, usually have a clip to keep it sealed and then put it on a cookie sheet just in case something leaks.

Once that was done, I moved onto the bacon. Again, being a nerd, a spreadsheet was used. The basic salt cure in Charcuterie makes well over a pound of cure (725 grams). I needed less than a cup. So using similar handy-dandy ratios I combined kosher salt, Cure#1, and sugar to make 100 g of cure. I should mention that any weights shown in the photos are useless - I used the tare a lot and I'm pretty sure this picture is showing the weight of the spoon.
Here's the piece of pork belly ready for the cure and the trimmings waiting to be packaged for the freezer.

Another 2 gallon bag was used for the bacon and both packages were off to the basement fridge for curing. Next weekend, I'll smoke the bacon and hang the pancetta. The bacon will make the mid-month challenge deadline, but the pancetta and lemons will be a little late.

Speaking of Charcutepalooza, there have been a few developments. Those that complete all the projects are eligible for a pretty big prize. Judges include Chef Bob Del Grosso and Michael Ruhlman. Participants will also get a discount on meat from D'artagnan. If you care to read all the details you can do that here and here. Plus, the entire thing was written up in this week's Washington Post food section (Wednesday, January 26th). Very cool.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #2

The Salt Cure-

This month I am planning to make bacon, pancetta and lemon confit. I am still having problems finding a pork belly. Struck out at the farmer's market. Found some heritage pork belly for $15 a pound (ouch). I ended up ordering some from a butcher in Clifton Park. They were supposed to call me back and haven't yet. I'll call Monday to see where we stand. If that falls through, I should be able to get one from Rolf's later in the week. Time is running out to get these into cures and have a finished product by Valentine's Day. I think the pancetta will be coming in a few days late.

I got some lemons and manged to get them into salt on Friday night. Two Meyer lemons and one traditional. It is a moment like this that really sets this blog apart from may other blogs. These blogs I am referring to have stunning, well lit photographs of beautiful food. Here-not so much. Earlier in the day on Friday, I donated blood. Then after everyone went to bed, I was on the couch watching Top Chef eating a bag of Original Flavor Goldfish. I thought, what could go better with Top Chef and Goldfish? The answer: mmmm, beer. Completely forgetting I gave blood, I opened a beer. It was very tasty. So I had another. And now I'm watching TV and starting to feel a little loopy. Show's over, lets get those lemons into some salt. I put a bunch of salt into dish that has a lid. Cut the lemons in half and buried them in salt. Looking at this bowl filled with salt, it occured to me that I should have taken a picture. Oops.

Here I give you 3 halved salt covered lemons in a white bowl on a white counter lit by overhead kitchen lights. The first example showcasing my photography skills completly washes out my subject with a flash. I had enough sense to turn the flash off and get another shot. If I ever get a pork belly, I'll try to take better pictures.

Breath taking, right? The bowl got covered and put in the basement. In theory, I will remember they are there sometime in late March. If not, I definitely remember in November because until now, the sole reason for that bowl to be in the house is to serve stuffing at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Week

I recently took 2 books out of the library. The first was Harold McGee's Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. I wanted to love the book, but I couldn't get into it. The format is a little weird, choppy paragraphs and one line thoughts. Just couldn't get into it.

The other book I took out makes me want to cook. A lot. It is Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. I've got to make something out of this. Tonight I am going to make my a starter that will eventually turn into a mother which will eventually turn into bread. There is also a pizza dough that is a must try. One of these days... but the starter will begin tonight. I think I'm going to have to buy this one.

The recent snow, constant trolling of Craigslist for my dream brick saw and all this daydream of bread have brought back my brick oven dreams. I started drawing. And drawing. And drawing. If I can't make it work in a picture, how the hell can I build it? I learned a lot making many variations of these pictures. Visualizing how certain bricks would get cut. How to make things fit so the dimensions work out. Figuring out how to get a running bond so joints don't line up. There are still plenty of things to draw, but here are some recent drafts for a 39" diameter brick oven. Someday....a work in progress though.

No luck finding a pork belly yet. None to be had at the Troy Farmer's Market this weekend. Found a local farmer that had some, but at $15 a pound. Way too steep. I wonder what the whole pig would cost at that rate? None to be had at Adam's down in Newburgh (more come on Friday but I won't be back that way for 2 weeks). My Adam's disappointment came too late for me to have one put aside at Rolph's. So I am left with 2 options that I know about: The Asian Market on Central or a special order from The Meat House. They dropped the ball on my last order, maybe they would come through now. I could try Henry's in Waterford. I'm pretty sure they make their own bacon.

And the stars have aligned. This year's Summer in Winter aka Rib and Pierogi Day is set for January 30th. Starting to drool already.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #1 - wrap up & look ahead

I've tasted the second breast and it was actually a little different. The scoring had definitely impacted the flavor in a good direction. I would score any future duck breast that I cure. I really want to try one of those ducks from Garden of Spices. I bet that would have a positive impact to the flavor too. The other thing I think I would try is the addition of other flavors. These ideas sound delicious. Maybe more along the lines of a duck pancetta than prosciutto. Either way isn't traditional, but it sounds good.

The new challenge has been issued. I think I will take on bacon, pancetta and cured lemon this month. I am out of bacon and pancetta (tragic, I know) and the lemons sound good. First step is to source a pig belly. I walked around the Troy Farmer's Market and none were to be found. The problem is that making bacon is not difficult and a farmer can increase his profits significantly for a few hours of time. Not a lot of sustainably raised pork bellies to go around. I'll be in Newburgh later this week. Maybe I will try one of the bellies offered at Adam's.

While the challenge doesn't require smoking, I have roasted bacon before and preferred the the hint of smoke. I think I'll have to try both to compare. My oldest daughter will be the judge. The younger daughter likes food. The older daughter LIKES food. I think I'll need to get the shovel out.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #1 - continued

So after a few days in the makeshift chamber, I thought I'd give the wine cooler another shot. Currently the ambient humidity in the basement is very low and keeping the humidity in the chamber a little low too. The humidity in the wine cooler is controlled 2 ways. First, by having a bowl of water at the bottom to boost the humidity and second, by cracking the door to let out some humidity. Monitoring with the indoor/outdoor sensor I got on the cheap a Lowes, I was able to switch between the two. Here are the breasts in the cooler.

I had planned to try the duck breast for the first time on Friday night, but I was asked to help out at the curling club. So I pulled the smaller breast out tonight. It had a nice smell and nice flavor. The flavor, however, was not something I would compare to prosciutto. In my opinion, the original is better but...comparing something that ages a week to something that ages a year is not exactly a fair comparison. The addition of herbs would be interesting to try in the future. I'm also curious to see how much impact a higher quality duck breast has. I bet it is significant. I am going to let the larger breast hang at least one more day and see how that one tastes. All-in-all, an enjoyable project an I look forward to to cooking with my cured duck meat. Don't know what's next, my guess is bacon or pancetta. We'll find out on Saturday.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #1 - continued

Last night I went curling. It was a lot of fun even though we lost. We kept fighting back, but then kept letting the game get away from us...we'll get 'em next time. I got home it was about 12:30 and the duck needed to come out of the the salt and get hung up. Friday morning was going to come early.

I pulled the duck breasts out of the salt, washed them and patted them dry with paper towels. This is going to sound funny, but the breasts were noticeably firmer.I weighed them and they had each lost about 25 grams of weight. I sprinkled on some white pepper and wrapped them up in cheesecloth. Then I went to town with my bastardized knot tying. I couldn't help but think that there are pros out there that would get a good laugh at this.

The wine cooler had a not good smell to it when I opened the door. Which sucked because I had cleaned it and it was holding at an ideal temperature and humidity. So I fired up my drop-cloth-humidifier chamber and hung the breasts in there. I'm going to clean out the fridge again and hope to get the breasts in there soon. The basement is very dry right now and I can't get the humidity near the breasts above 60%. I was shooting for 70 to 75%.

Also, Michael Ruhlman mentioned this project on his blog. Turns out there are 54 like minded crazies at the beginning of the project. I'm proud to be counted as one of them. I expect more to join as the word gets out. You can find the start of this project here and here. The duck project started here.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #1

Duck Breast Prosciutto:

So much for the original plan. The Co-Op only had frozen duck and they were clearly duck that was fresh last week. They were also very lightly wrapped and ice crystals had formed. I was tempted to buy one anyway, but they just looked to have lost too much quality. The meat manager wasn't there so I left her a voice mail asking when the next fresh ducks would arrive. She promptly returned my call and gave me the bad news. The Christmas ducks were the last round of fresh duck until June. Makes sense - snow covered ground, migration, blah, blah, blah. Time to formulate a new plan.

The last time I was at the Asian Market on Central, the ducks look a little old. Plus they were never as gorgeous as the ones at the Co-Op last week. The Troy Farmers Market was out since it was going to be too late for me to make a January 15th deadline. I ended up with frozen breasts from Roma in Latham. I scored one breast and not the other to see if it made a difference. Then I weighed the two breasts and jotted down the pre-cure weight on a piece of paper that I stole from one of my daughters (hope you like it, Jane!) and put them in the salt. They will get weighed again and hung up to dry later tonight.