Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seasonal Reflections (with recipes)

There are a great many things to give some thought to at this time of year.  I'm a college professor, so the end of the term provides some space (well, once the mountain of grading is completed) for looking back and forward, wondering where all the time went, and if you'll have a chance to make amends in the weeks to come. Here's to hoping.

First up, I must note that I've been a lapsed blogger and a wayward chartcutiere. I didn't keep up with all of the challenges for this year's Charcutepalooza, although, as I hope to demonstrate forthwith, I do have samples of most of the challenges to offer.  I had made many of the required challenges in months past, so why not offer them now (strictly for entertainment purposes, as the Ruhls/Rules have already been violated)

I left you, gentle reader, with the August challenge, a full-throttle rendition of Headcheese to demonstrate my skillz at "Binding".  This blog about said headcheese is the most widely read of all my charcutepalooza entries (which isn't saying much, but hey, it's true).  The September challenge called for Packing, and the preparation of paté. Well, in point of fact, I began my charcuterie efforts with a pork liver paté back in November of 2010.  While I certainly can't take credit for it as part of the "competition", I'll take full credit for having made it way back when. Indeed, it served as an inspiration of sorts for the folks who read about it, and even (especially!) some that ate it.  I made a pork liver paté, following Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall's recipe for Ray's Liver Paté, for a very specific purpose. I wanted to feature offal from Cane Creek Farm to sample at the Carrboro Farmer's market in order to sell some liver.  So here's how it worked:

I made this gorgeous slurry of liver and the requisite seasonings, plus some fresh bread crumbs for binding.  The whole thing is whizzed together, popped in a lined loaf pan, baked for an hour, and then cooled in the fridge (keeping the paté under weight, in order to preserve the requisite uniform shape) and then popped out the next day - looking like this:

Just as cool were the homemade crackers on which I served it:

Sampling the paté at the market did the trick.  We sold a ton of liver.  Paté is one of those dishes that both attracts a ravenous horde, and repels a squeamish throng.  This loaf was gone pretty quick. My favorite part of the story is that my friend, Kevin Callaghan the chef at ACME, tried some, bought us out of liver, and put it (or, of course, his own delectable version of it) on the menu that week! Triumph! And tasty, too.

So much for September.  October's Challenge called for Stretching - making a confit, and (perhaps) whipping it into rilletes  Well, I have some confit way back here and also here, as I made both pork belly confit and duck breast confit in January.  They are both dead simple- I won't recap the whole procedure here (ok, here's a photo of the brining pork belly)  

but will say, "make some!"  Once pork is confited, you can crisp some up to sprinkle on a salad, cube and stir-fry with vinegary greens, or whip in the food processor into rilletes (to be spread next to the paté on some of those homemade crackers!)

October down, what of November?  Curing. Ok, I must admit, I haven't given this a shot yet. In spite of my predilection for preserved meats of all stripes, I don't feel I have the right tools (yet!!) for keeping a fresh sausage hanging at 70% humidity and a temperature of 55º.  I'm loving my guanciale, which is a lot more forgiving hunk of fatty jowl.  But for a proper Tuscan salami (or, some day, my own prosciutto from an Ossabaw ham - a boy can dream) I need to jerry-rig that old fridge. 

If I can't muster November, I shall plough on through to December - which is simply a challenge to EAT! How hard is that?? Take some of the many meats prepared over the year, and serve them up for a festive event. Which, again, I HAVE done - way back in late February.  Check it out:

Here's some pork belly confit cubes, fried in their own preserved lard, duck confit fried in the same fat, and my all-time favorite go-to simple-yet-fancy hors d'oeuvres: Devils on Horseback.  Pitted dates, stuffed with grated parmesan, wrapped with bacon- or better, your own cured guanciale - and baked in the oven til the pork is crisp.  Grown men will weep.

The whole pretty feast included a platter with duck prosciutto, homemade pickle okra, and a crock of liver paté, as well.  Can't get much more Charcutepalicious than that!


On Further Reflection

I want to add a note of personal history here. A reflection on cooking, friendship, and untimely loss.  What I have been thinking of most these last three months is the death of my good friend, John Svatek.  Just my age, John and I had been friends since my graduate school days in Chicago.  We shared a healthy (also perhaps not so healthy) and hearty attachment to the delectable pleasures of our adopted urban home.  The chicken fried steak at Heaven on 7th, the rib tips at Hecky's in Evanston, many a platter of Harold's fried chicken. Italian ice and sorbets in every flavor and in every season were a special passion of John's.  My wife, Julie,  always enjoyed a bag of roasted pepitas with her Italian ice, salty, tart and sweet - both available at Mario's Italian Lemonade across from Al's Italian Beef.  John also made his own frozen treats, suitable for palate cleansing at his big deal dinners.

Beyond our treasure hunting through the touristic pleasures of Chicago cuisine, John made some most memorable meals for his many friends, and honored me by eating some of those I made for him and his wife, Misty.  He proudly told the crowd assembled in their festive flat that the roux he made that afternoon for the cauldron of gumbo on the buffet turned out perfectly.  John had so expertly and painstakingly blackened the stuff that "it was like pouring motor oil into the stock" to thicken the soup.  It was an apt description, indeed.  I invited John and Misty to the maiden voyage of the bricolage backporch smoker I fabricated from an anodized aluminum garbage can, several coat hangers, and a bucket that held smoldering charcoal.  As we ate the first order of spareribs I pulled from the rig, John noted that I ate more pork than any three gentiles he knew.  He had a point, and he wasn’t complaining.

All students leave the locales of their graduate schools (at least they almost always do), and we four were no exceptions.  But we had been fortunate to remain close across the years and miles. Always John and Misty, and Brad and Julie. In a recent few years, we had the great good fortune of sharing our Thanksgiving holidays in our home in North Carolina.  John and I had often (though it will forever seem far too infrequently) cooked together, and it was always an unlikely success.  As a cook, John was exacting and fastidious. We always waited for the moment he would point out that some element of the meal had not turned out exactly the way he had expected it to, and that he was really, really sorry, but he hoped we would eat it any way.  Even the most discerning diner had no clue about what he was bemoaning, and ate every bite.  For my own sins, I can be a bear in the kitchen, cursing like a whole fleet of sailors, and sending friends and family scurrying for cover.  Yet, when John and I cooked together we were always generous and deferential, accommodating one another’s preferences, happy to both play sous chef to the other's virtuoso.  Some how, it always worked out, easy as pie. Mmmmm, pie. 

And our Thanksgivings were like that. John would show up with a cooler full of the specialty items he had procured from the Lancaster Central Market – thumbnail size Brussels sprouts, beyond-organically grown celery stalks, some special oddity (salsify!).  And in a mere few hours on a Thursday morning we’d assemble an awfully fine repast for the many who would assemble for the meal, and the mountains of leftovers.

Those of us who knew John well are still reeling from his passing, entirely unexpected and unimaginably too soon.  Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Both his presence and absence were deeply felt, and will be for days and months to come. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good cook. John was both.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Shameless Plug: The Research that Inspired the Blog

For the three of you who might care to know, I simply want to point out that I have a forthcoming paper coming out in the journal Cultural Anthropology.  The electronic edition is already online (for those of you with access to the AnthroSource portal via your library), and the linked url is an interview with me that covers some of the issues raised by this paper (and, occasionally) alluded to in this blog.

I'm gratified by the interest I've received from colleagues and others in this research.  Most especially, though, I want to thank all of the friends I've made among the farmers, and restaurant staffs, and market customers who have helped me in inestimable ways in this research.  I hope I've done you a good turn in this paper; you've certainly all done me a world of good!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Big Two-Headed Hog Dish: The Execution

Phew! Ok, on to the headcheese!  First, I have a delightful story to tell that at least has a little to do with the story I've been telling.  How was I to get a pig's head, given the fact that you can't get a good one (you know, of the pastured-pork variety) commercially? Well, thanks to my ties to Cane Creek farm, I had an "in" with one of their reliable restaurant customers, Vimala's Curry Blossom is a world class South Asian restaurant that also features – as only South Asian joints in Chapel Hill can – whole hog barbecue.  And those whole hogs (as Mr. Chang reminds us) each come with a large head attached.  Working, as I do, at the farmer's market helping to purvey Cane Creek pork – the source of Vimala's whole hogs – I asked Vimala on her recent trip to our stand if any of those heads were spoken for.  Well, lucky me, because they couldn't use the heads (the nasty matter of those bullets decommodifiyng the cranium), and offered to give me one if I swung by the restaurant.  Joy!! I came by and helped saw the lovely thing off some beautiful pork shoulders, and brought it home 

Headcheese is a very very simple thing, though it can be tedious, if not exhausting, to make.  Essentially, there are two steps. You are making a rich, gelatinous stock, and then extracting all of the edible bits from the body parts that provide the richness to the soup.

Here is what looks like porcine heaven, from a certain point of view.   

Admittedly, I had to perform some transformative surgery to get the head and all its tissue into the pot. Much of the jowl had to be removed, along with the pig's ears. But all of them made it back in the pot, covered with the array of veggies shown here; that is, a bunch of scallions, a head of garlic, a quartered onion, much pepper, and some cilantro - though parsely might have been preferable.  A more traditional Frenchified version would have much bay leaf and carrot and leek, which would surely be good.  This was a vaguely Latin version; a little chile in the pot would have been welcome, too.

Boil the stock, and then reduce it to a simmer, and let it go for about three hours.
At this point, you have a huge pot with an extremely hot and unwieldy piece of animal in a vat of liquid.  I strained the liquid through a cheese cloth lined colander into a separate container, then moved the head to a large pan to cool   and put the stock back on the stove

 to reduce a bit more.  Discard all of the vegetables, and then the fun begins. 

Let the head cool a bit, and then start pulling it apart.  This is a job that manages to be both slimy and sticky – if you have latex gloves, use 'em!  I didn't but I survived.  You want to remove the skin. If you can save the ears, great- they add a nice bit of textured crunch to a salad if you fry them up.  Mine were so well simmered that they fell apart.  You will have an enormous pile of fat that you pull off.  Try to go through the larger slabs and look for streaks of muscle that can be pulled out.  There is, of course, a huge amount of meat in a jowl, so really pay attention to that bit.  And a whole lot of meat in the back of the head, where the neckbones meet the skull.  Indeed, neckbones are some of the most tender meat you can get – from any animal – and they are always welcome in posole, barbecue, and carnitas.  Finally, the tongue can be peeled pretty easily, yielding some melting flesh beneath.

You'll get a good amount of shredded meat,

and a pile of bones and fat to discard.  Also: go through the meat and pull out anything that feels or looks like a vein, or a gland.  They won't kill you, but they'll add an unpleasant biterness.

Now, with this much meat, (which you NOW season to taste with a goodly amount of salt.)
 I figured I had plenty of room to play, and decided to try two dishes. First, a straight headcheese terrine.  First, chop the meat finely; large pieces of meat will separate as you cut them in the terrine, and shred the texture of your otherwise delightfully wobbly headcheese.  Line the terrine with plastic, fill it with meat, them top it off with several ladles full of that gelatin-rich stock 

 Into the fridge overnight, and you're good to go.

The second dish is awfully similar, but is finished differently.  This is a torchon (lit. towel, in which this is traditionally wrapped), a cylinder of meat, that is so full of fat and gel that it practically binds itself.  Into the fridge, and later it will be sliced into pucks to make David Chang-style panko crusted pieces. 

And here they are:  Headcheese two ways.  Slices of terrine 
served with some kimchee and crackers (those are some fried shishito peppers too).  And the torchon
coated in panko, then pan fried to a crisp, served with mustard.  And our fig tree is finally coming into fruit, so some of them go with it.  The headcheese, really, is bland – meat, fat, salt, that's the flavor.  So anything to add sweetness, crunch, and bracing pungency is welcome.

Having made this, I'm happy to have lived to tell the tale.  And it is certainly very, very good - better than I had thought, or had before (I find that often the bay leaf flavor overwhelms the terrine - so try to keep that in check).  But surely, I will never rearrange a pig's head in my kitchen again.  Now neckbones – that's another story.  If you can find some of those - and a pig's foot for the pot - you'll have a perfect rich, shreddy, gelified mix for your terrine. Or torchon.  Or anything that call for chopped pork  And, really, who doesn't call for chopped pork? 

Big Two-Headed Hog Dish: The Exegesis

There's no getting around the ick factor.  Though a great many of us have made our peace with carnivorousness, and sought out sources for sustainably raised meats from farmers who husband their animals with a commitment to concern for their welfare, the prospect of handling, preparing, and ultimately eating certain anatomical features of said creatures fills us with dread.  Ethical consumers or otherwise, who of us is willing to come face to face with our food?  As a point of comparison, have a look at the post on spare ribs I recently posted.  I'm sure at least some of you reading this would look at this photo and say, "yum" (or words to that effect). 

While the thought of cooking this 
 (talk about face to face) probably gives you some pause.  Or makes you outright revolted?  Now why exactly is that?

[This is a post in two parts.  If you want the little scholarly excursus, keep reading.  If you want a recipe and food porn, go here, to part two.]

Let me note, as I have on occasion here, that I'm a socio-cultural anthropologist who has taken up the study of "local food"ism, with a particular focus on pasture-raised, outdoor, niche-market, what-have-you pork here in the Piedmont of North Carolina (speaking of which, here's some textual confirmation of the fact, and a shameless plug).  And it will come as no surprise to find an anthropologist taking an interest in the many taboos that attend to eating animals.  

Take the spare ribs.  Why spare ribs? No, this isn't a cute reference to Adam's gift to Eve, it refers to the ribs that are attached to a pig's belly.  More specifically, this contrasts with the ribs that attach to the loin of the animal, which we now call babyback ribs, thanks to insufferable jingle marketing.  But note, a pig has spare ribs (and babybacks, and a loin, for that matter) while you and I have only ribs.  What I mean by that is that when a pitcher wants to back a batter off the plate he hurls a heater into his ribs - or maybe his rib cage.  But not into his spare ribs; nor does he pop him in the babybacks.  The point (for those of you a tad baffled by the baseball metaphor) is that people have ribs, while pigs have spare ribs and baby backs (oh! and don't forget rib tips!).  In other words, the language we use to designate the edible elements of the animals we eat is structured so as to distinguish those bits from their equivalents in the human anatomy.  Human loins are those features we cover with a loin cloth; pig loins go into pork chops (and note - humans don't have chops, either!) Such differentiations in language (and the claim I'm making here follows rather directly from a classic account by Marshall Sahlins and is not that removed from what Edmund Leach had to say, in a somewhat different way) actually shape out attitudes towards food.  The human anatomy is euphemistically rendered when making reference to edible animal cuts.  We can enjoy our barbecue spare ribs, but would probably be disinclined to order "smoked pig's rib cage" (the unavoidable ick factor) even though they are one and the same thing.  

But when it comes to the head, we have no such poetic license available to us.  A head by any other name would not be meat.  Again, to extend the argument, if the language we use differentiates pig parts (and it works for ruminants, too) from their human counter"parts", thereby rendering them edible, then it makes sense that certain parts of the beast that draw attention to the similarities between we humans and those livestock would also be deemed inedible.  To find it disgusting to eat animal parts that are "just like" our human parts confirms for us the idea that it must be ok to eat those creatures' bits that are "so different" from ours.  And we ignore these similarities, and make them tabooed in our culinary habit (an anthropological way of characterizing the ick factor) largely through the language we use to sustain those differences (edible) and similarities (ick! inedible).  After all, there's no reason why we couldn't call pig heart, or liver, or spleen, or head for that matter by names as equally fanciful as tenderloin, chuck, and brisket and then dig in!

Much as I find this language-based argument compelling, it needs to be modified in a few ways. First, it's clearly NOT the case that this logic of edible:inedible::euphemism:literalism holds up for all peoples at all times. For one thing, some pork consuming peoples have express preferences for those parts that many of us find so repellent.  Blood sausages are a holiday treat in Slavic countries.  Soul food is often centered on food like chitlins/chitterlings (though, again, its hard to find the chitlins on a human).  All you Scottish readers are no doubt ready to jump in with haggis (ok, ovine, not porcine), a sort of ne plus ultra of the inedible as glorious.  In many of these cases, though (all of them derived, in significant part from Euro-American histories of cuisine) the pride of eating such dishes is, itself, an expression of the "ick logic" I've described. That is, foods deemed inedible were, by virtue of that quality, meant to be appropriate for those strata in society not entitled to enjoy all of the benefits of the "truly" edible. Soul food is fine, but we'd rather eat high on the hog. “Eating chitterlings is like going slumming,” as Eldridge Cleaver said, "The people in the ghetto want steaks. Beef steaks."  In other words, edible vs inedible is just another way of ranking the people that eat, not the food they eat.  I find that a little simplistic, and dismissive of many people's actual tastes and preferences.  But I don't think it's a stretch to say that there is culinary and aesthetic value to be had in taking what's been deemed socially undesirable and turning it into a source of esteem, and even celebration.

But there's another reason to see certain limitations to the language-based perspective.  It happens to be the case, as this year-long Charcutepalooza indicates, that a great many food activists and enthusiasts are turning especial attention to these otherwise inedible bits, and revitalizing them as new sources of culinary privilege and priority.  No longer should we turn up our noses at these unmentionables, we should coldly confront them: face to snout. I should note that I'm known by a handful of anthropologists today, as a student of exactly this sort of snout-centric (more commonly known as snout-to-tail) cuisine, as I've presented a paper or two on the social and cultural dimensions of the matter.  Peter Kaminsky has already claimed the title of "hamthropologist" for himself; I suppose that leaves me with "shankthropology," or "guanciagrapher"

In any event, it seems a new article of culinary faith that a commitment to animal welfare, care concern about the food that you eat, and the animals from which it derives (here I must add a link to this video that's been forwarded to me umpteen times- it perfectly captures this new ethos: ""Know your Food!") requires to make the best possible use of every last remnant of that creatures material being.  My favorite quotation to that effect comes from David Chang, the prevailing pontiff of pork fat:

"Farmers do not raise walking pork chops. If you're serious about your meat, you've got to grasp that concept. And if you're serious about sustainability and about honestly raised good meat - which is something that we're deadly serious about at Momofuku and we try to get more in touch with each day – you've got to embrace the whole pig."

So "embrac[ing] the whoe pig" is an expression of precisely one's commitment to "good meat."  A good many other chefs and customers (and bloggers; you can find their rhapsodic waxings everywhere) have equally suggested that eating every last bit of the pig that gave its all is a way of showing reverence and appreciation for that life, lest it have been lead in vain. Headcheese (yes, I'm getting to it!) is just another way of paying your respects.

Now as an enthusiast of both pig farming on pasture, as well as charcuterie, I have strong sympathy for such aspirations.  But, I am forced to point out (it's the anthropologists' code: evidence matters!) that if you really want to be sure that every scrap of pig gets well and truly used (i.e. to satisfy what's called the "utilization problem" in the pig business), then non-industrial pig production and consumption leaves a LOT to be desired.  To begin with, it is just not possible to process pigs in the small, "artisanal" slaughter facilities that most small-scale producers have access to, and preserve all of the pig for sale.  USDA inspectors will check out the liver of the pig, make sure it's up to snuff (which is also a good indicator of the pig's general physiology), and release it for consumption.  But the rest of the offal? Heart, lungs, chitlins, blood, spleen, bladder, etc. all of that is simply a waste product. Down the chute.  Indeed, check out this head I'm cooking with:   Note the unmistakable bullet-hole right between the eyes.  The bullet, which stuns the pig before exsanguination finishes it off, renders this head unusable in commercial enterprise.  You cannot get USDA approval to sell a pig's head with a bullet lodged in its skull; if you are able to get a pig's head that is "honestly raised good meat" you must rely on the  kindness of a farmer or other purveyor to let you have it.  Alex Blanchette, who's studying factory farming in the US, pointed out to me some time ago that "consuming" pigs does NOT mean merely "eating" them.  There are far more and more economizing "uses" of the pig that are only possible when pig's are produced on an industrial scale, and can be – literally- rendered into everything from bone glue for shoes, to gelatin to clarify wine, to heart valves to treat coronary disease.

If you don't want that pig to go to waste, headcheese is not exactly the best way to accomplish this end. Not that I'm encouraging us to promote industrial hog production.  I simply don't want to mistake an interest in culinary revitalization for a commitment to "real" animal welfare.  There are a 1001 good reasons to support outdoor pig production, but the virtue of embracing the whole hog at dinner is more of a gesture of solidarity (and perfectly legitimate in those terms) than a mode of pig welfare maximization.

Ok! The next post will, at last, tell you what to do with this "inedible" unpoetic pig's head on your kitchen table!

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Summer's Embers: Spare Ribs

Just a few, meager notes about ribs.  My anecdotal marketing experience tells me that ribs are probably the most popular barbecue choice for the backyard cook.  They take less time to do than a whole pork butt, or picnic ham.  They yield a satisfyingly chewy, yet tender repast, and they easily take to saucing/mopping/dipping on the grill to create a really nice jammy crust that gives you an additional texture and flavor.  One of the oddities of Carolina Cue is how hard it is to find good ribs at even the most outstanding barbecue spots.  Eastern style takes whole hogs, pit cooks 'em, and chops it all into wonderful stuff, ribs and all.  Around Lexington, they use whole shoulder for their pulled pork plates.  One excellent exception is The Pig, where Sam Suchoff pulls out the ribs and serves them separately from his otherwise whole hog q (which is mighty tasty, itself).

In any event, my Summer Smoking got kicked off with two racks of Niman Ranch babyback ribs, that were dead simple and delicious. And this is possibly/probably the end of my smoking for 2011: some Cane Creek spareribs.  I developed my first real affection for bbq in Chicago, where a regional specialty, and my personal favorites, are rib tips.  These are the cartilaginous ends of the spare rib, cleaved from the rack, cooked separately in lengthy strips, then hacked up and slathered with a sweet hot red sauce - and some pieces of white bread - and you might as well get fries with that because there's little cause for parsimony or nutritional concern if you're eating RIB TIPS!  That said, my wife and I found our favorite ribs, not in Chi, but on our occasional trips to Memphis (which just happens to be half way between here and there on many of the road trips we've taken).  It's a tourist trap in a surprisingly tony spot in town, but the ribs at Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous are worth the always lengthy wait.  What makes these ribs exceptional is the dry rub - a mixture of aromatics that makes it entirely unnecessary to add sauce to your  racks - but go ahead and sauce 'em up, because that's really good too.  We liked the dry rub result so much that we picked up jars of the stuff, which you can buy in any Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, and then used it as a seasoning on damn near anything you can think of.  So these ribs are semi-inspired by Mr. Vergo's invention.  Starting with the rub

 that I've approximated here.  A lot of paprika, cayenne, garlic and onion powder, and the not-so-secret ingredient of oregano, which adds a layer of herbal smoke to the dry smoky flavor of the paprika, to say nothing of the smoky smoke in which the ribs will be cooked.

I rubbed up these two racks of spareribs for about 24 hours, maybe more

and then set them in the smoker (once it got up to 250º, or so).  They'll be nicely barbecued in about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before I wanted them to be finished, I took a doctored up sweet sauce (ketchupy, garlicky, vinegary) and slathered it on one of the racks.  If you try to put a sweet sauce on ribs more than half an hour before you finish smoking, the sauce will burn and give an unpleasant charred taste to your otherwise excellent pork.  With these ribs, leaving the sauce off and serving it on the side will do just fine, but I wanted some crunchy crust, so I mopped on some sauce.

Here you can see the rack on top is encrusted with some sauce, the other is merely dry rubbed.

Some nice accompaniments to your ribs? Here's some oven fried okra, cole slaw (the barbecue sauce is the dressing for the cabbage!) and, of course, the requisite corn on the cob.  White sweet corn from
Brinkley's Farm, in this case.

Here's a nice look at the spare rib itself.  The pink smoke ring is nicely visible, and you can see the juices dripping off the bone.  Spare ribs are certainly fattier than baby backs, but that is part of their inestimable charm.  And it makes the sticky sauce even crustier, should you elect to sauce your ribs while smoking.

That's it. I thought I might get to some goat shoulders or some lamb shanks  - but the techniques I've given here are sufficient to to get anyone started if they can procure some of those lovely bits of ruminant.  My pal, Chris Nelson, tells me that smoking in enormous vertical smokers is all the rage in Tokyo this year - including TV tips on how to smoke an entire tuna on your balcony.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bratislava Beef Sausage (AKA Pretty Close to Vienna Beef Sausage) - The July Challenge

Whoa. Two posts in one week. This one comes under both the July Charcutepalooza Challenge, as well as the Summer of Smoke Categories.  Hot Dogs.  A homemade emulsified sausage.  In my case, an all-beef hot dog, redolent of the Vienna Beef sausages I'm so fond of from my days of unfettered indulgence while living in the County of Cook.  Chicago Dogs.  Or, at least one of them is.  I'm following Mr Ruhlman's recipe on this one, which claims to hoe close to the row of the Vienna Beef prototype - and when you smell the mixture in the smoker, there's no mistaking it.  It's the paragon of hot doggery. Or is it frankdom?

I also have to say it's the hardest bit of charcuterie I've ever tried to pull off.  I'm still not completely satisfied with the final product - although my second attempt seriously outstrips my first efforts (which I'll also detail here to show you how NOT to do it).

To begin with, here are the seasonings I use, straight from Michael Ruhlman's recipe.  Some paprika, about twice as much dried mustard, a relatively modest amount of salt, good dose of white pepper, and a good deal of garlic. The garlic, mustard and paprika are the strongest flavor elements.  Ruhlmans' recipe also called for a dash of mace, and some coriander.  Sorry, I haven't got any on hand, so they're out.  I put in a pinch of celery seed, for Chicagoness. Also a few tablespoons of corn syrup, as well as a cup of ice water for blending and texture


Here's how I did it the first time. This is some cubed chuck roast.  Very nicely marbled. locally sourced, etc.  Popped it into the cuisinart to grind it up.  It needs to be ground twice, then semi-frozen with the seasoning mixed in, before the mixture is re-whizzed in the food processor in order to emulsify it.  

Now, the first time through, after mixing in all the spices into the ground beef, I froze the sausage mixture to prepare it for the final emulsification. And after attempting to emulsify the mix, it looked like this:  

And maybe this looks good to you, but it's really more of a purée.  Very finely minced, and smooth all the way through, but  as I would discover, not really emulsified. Of course, I didn't really figure that out until later - like, after I ate some of this batch.  I'll show you side by side comparisons of Batch 1 (my brilliant mistake) and Batch 2 (my vast improvement in need of fine tuning).

Begin again: 
  II've got two different cuts of meat here, about a pound and a half each.  More of that chuck roast . . . . . . . and also some "special trim" which looks like flanken to me.  That's a cut from the breast, below the short ribs. It resembles brisket in its texture, so it's well marbled, but soft and tender, which I thought looked intriguing for grinding.


So I chopped it up. And then . . .

. . .  here's the big change - a genuine meat grinder attachment to a genuine KitchenAid!  Ya know, I heard Molly O'Neal recently tell a group of food scholars and aspiring writers that if you write about what you had for dinner, nobody's going to read that except maybe your mother. Well, thanks Mom! Somebody's reading the blog, it turns out, and it pays off.  A welcome birthday present!

Grind the meat twice, and then mix it with all of the original spices shown above.

Here's the mince in two batches. I freeze it for half an hour to firm everything up before trying to emulsify it. 
 And here it goes, back into the cuisinart.  This time, though, I take in smaller batches of the mince, and I added about a cup of crushed ice to each batch as it was being processed. 

 When you add the ice, it helps to aereate the mix, and produces the emulsion you see here. Note how it doesn't looked chopped at all. It looks like creamy peanut butter - and the consistency is sticky.  The fat is suspended in the protein, not just finely ground throughout the mix. It should expand and fluff up once its smoked and heated, like - you guessed it - a hot dog!

Now this is what the sausages look liked once they're piped into hog casings.  Compare them to Batch 1 . . .

. . . that looked like this. You can see the grind through the casing. Firm, and well ground, but, no, not emulsified.  It made for a smoky, beefy, fat sausage.  But not a hot dog.

These are the dogs after they've been smoked at 225º for an hour or so - you want the dogs completely firm, and reaching an internal temp of 140º.  These are done.

 After which they get an ice bath, to keep the skins from shrinking. 

At this point, your hot dogs are fully cooked. Here, I crisped them up in a pan for dinner . . .

   . . . and served them up three ways.  One with kraut and mustard, one with kimchi.  The kimchi dog is something of a Carrboro innovation, and demands a shout out to April McGreger and her Farmer's Daughter artisanal kimchi (and to the suggestion from Sam Suchoff of The Pig, who features this on his menu regularly).  

Delicious as it is, it will never replace the Chicago Dog of my twenties. This is ALMOST one of those (if Bratislava Sausage is Pretty Close to Vienna Beef Sausage, I suppose this is a Skokie Dog, Pretty Close to a Chicago Dog). That's tomato, electric green relish (here, just plain green sweet relish), a pickle, mustard, and celery salt on a dog.  I've added home-pickled Hungarian wax peppers, which are a poor, but close-enough substitute for sport peppers - good luck finding those  (or a poppy seed bun, which should REALLY be housing this extravagance) outside of Chicagoland.  But this will have to do.

There you have it. How to make a hot dog - and just as importantly, how not to.  Emulsifying sausages is not for the faint of heart - in the eating or the processing.  You need to keep everything as cold as you possibly can - freeze the blade and bowl of the processor while you freeze the meat in preparation for the emulsifying, that is crucial.  

The KitchenAid grinding turned out to work quite well.  I had my doubts, as the grinding- 2.5 lbs, twice through the small die - took longer than I would have thought (like 30 minutes). The meat turned out smeary and pasty, which I thought was a disaster.  But smeary beef is par for the course with the small die. The trick, I think, was the ice cubes in the slurry as it emulsified.  It fluffed up the meat batter - which piped into casings like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube.  Smooth and creamy.  

Is it perfect? Not yet.  It could be fluffier, a bit lighter, and the sausage casing could be tighter, with fewer air pockets.  I think going a little slower with the piping, smaller batches for emulsifying, and tighter packing of the casings could all improve things.  Also, sheep casings instead of these fat, knockwurst-like hot dogs in hog casings would probably be better.  But, of course, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I've done it! Emulsified sausage and lived to tell the tale! Happy stuffing, charcuterie enthusiasts everywhere (or just my mom).