Sunday, January 30, 2011

The February Challenge: Guanciale

I've only just begun the process today, so look for updates later in the month.  Here we have a Cane Creek pork jowl.  Wish I could tell you the breed; the pork chops were larger than usual this week, so I'm guessing it was a Crossabaw, or perhaps Old Spot (like one of these lovelies) 

The jowl will become guanciale (that's Italian for, uh, "jowl") after a cure.  Here's how I'll do it:  The jowl is covered in a mixture of equal parts salt and sugar (it's a one pound piece, so I went with 35 grams of salt and sugar, each) and some well-ground black pepper, paprika, allspice, and dried thyme (as I can't be bothered to go buy some fresh stuff).  What you see is the jowl after being well rubbed with this combination. It will then be put in a ziploc bag, into the fridge for a week (turning it over once or twice to distribute the brine as it extracts moisture). Then, you thoroughly wash off the jowl, pat it very dry, and tie it up as I've done to the meat you've seen below. Traditionally, one pokes a hole through a thick corner of the jowl, and ties the string through the hole, and hangs it from that corner.  I usually truss the meat, and hang it.  I may put the whole thing in "the Box," as the duck SHOULD be done by then.  

This is the fourth or fifth time I've made guanciale - the easiest cure to do.  I really recommend it as an introductory meat, if you're thinking of trying to cure for yourself.  Just hanging the meat in the garage  - or any cool, well ventilated, preferably slightly humid place -  for, oh 2-3 weeks, works wonderfully. I haven't died yet, so I'm most optimistic.  The fat from the jowl is much more complex than that of belly fat, as in bacon (or pancetta, for that matter).  If you think about it, the pig uses it's head and neck much more than its belly, so the muscle gets worked much more, which - typically -  makes for meat that is a little less bland. Also less tender, but tenderness is not really prized in cured meat, is it?

More to come. . . 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

At Long Last Duck (Two Ways)

It turns out it's not that hard to find well kept duck after all here in Carrboro. I picked myself up some at Cliff's yesterday. I really wanted a whole duck, to confit the legs and prosciutto the breasts, and make some duck soup. But, all they had were a pretty large pack of frozen duck breasts- which turne out to be two whole duck breasts. Well, there's an embarrassment of riches for you. I might have liked the idea of some simply roasted magret for two of the breasts, but duck isn't anybody's favorite meat in the house - except for me. So, I figured, confit the other two breasts, and I can serve it in small doses on festive occasions, when even my wife might enjoy a mere morsel, rather than a whole breast.

What you see here is basically Round Two of each of the applications I've already done in other meats. The Chicken Prosciutto has been transformed into Duck Prosciutto, the Pork Belly Confit, recast in Duck Breast.

The confit first, since it's now DONE (while the prosciutto has just started hanging, and will have to be updated).

Here's two breasts ready for the confit overnight cure. Some garlic, couple teaspoons of salt (not too much, actually) and some black pepper, bay leaf and allspice berries

Here are the breasts with the mixture applied

And here are the two breasts fully confited.

I left the cured breasts in the fridge overnight, then washed them off before they hit the oven. Now, since I only had the duck breasts, I didn't happen to have any duck fat on hand, so these have been poached in - yes - lovely lard, which I always have on hand (occupational hazard of the pig farming anthropologist). Also, as these are breast meat that has less connective tissue, etc. than cuts that are typically subject to this method, I only poached them in the fat for two hours at 180º. Haven't even tasted them yet, but the errant puddles of pork fat they left behind- they just had to be licked up by somebody - wow, really good. I'm looking forward to crisping these up.

NOW - on to the certified challenge of the month: Duck Prosciutto!

Here's the salted magrets - I'm following the method (if not the recipe) recommended by this Gascon chef. Much simpler than the Chicken Prosciutto recipe I followed- a lot less salt, which I think will be good, because the chicken prosciutto was AWFULLY salty. Tasty, yes, but the salt overpowered the funk of the meat.

From here, I washed off the duck

peppered them up.

and then tied them up pretty simply. No cheesecloth or fancy trussing.

Now, the really exciting new feature of home curing: the Box. As you can see, I just took a large cardboard box (which once housed a lawn mower) and rigged it up to hang the duck in. The water in the bowl will add some humidity, which should keep the meat from desiccating quite as much. My last experience was that the chicken thigh ended up a tad too salty and chewy. I hope that this additional moisture will retain some suppleness in the duck.

Finally, I closed up the box, and covered it with a towel, just to keep it a bit warmer. Again, all for the sake of a slightly slower desiccation, and a richer cure. Everything I've ever hashed up in the garage has been edible, so I trust this will be, too - final report in, oh, 8 days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not on the list: Pork Belly Confit

We're "supposed" to be curing our pork bellies and making them into pancetta. Been there, inhaled that. Yes, homemade bacon is a snap, and better than any you can find in your local refrigerated meat section Make it! Well, really, I've only made guanciale, which is the same thing as pancetta, only made with a pork jowl, rather than a belly. If you have a farmers' market near you, and there's a pig farmer there offering up jowls, go get one. Or more. they freeze beautifully, and, oh yeah, you're going to be curing it so it'll keep for - well, who knows how long, because you'll have licked the unctuous opaque remnants of jowl fat off your fingers in no time. This keeps guanciale from going bad.

Anyway, instead of the pancetta'd belly, I'm offering up my pork belly confit. This is filigree for the gilt on the archetypal lilly (and by lilly, I mean pasture-raised pig). Fat on fat on fat. Fried in the fat of the fat. I cannot endorse this more strongly.

Here's how I did it:

Here's the belly. A smallish piece, a mere pound and a quarter or so. You take your meat, and steep it in a brine made of salt, spices - cloves are classic, but I used star anise, black peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, I forget what else, and loads of salt. All of which is boiled in ample water, cooled, to then provide an overnight bath for the belly.

Next, you take the belly, dry it thoroughly, and then slooooowly poach it in a bath of its own goodness - that is, several cups of lard rendered from the self-same pig (or any other pig - or duck fat. Schmaltz would work, and I've heard tell of canola oil being used *shudder*)

Now, you take the poached pork (5 hours of poaching in a 190º oven) and remove it from the pan. Put it in a solid container (ceramic is classic, but I've got mine in a tuppereware kinda thing) and then pour the cooled (but not solid!) fat over the belly. Then, put a cover on it (saranwrap is fine) and flatten the whole thing with a heavy can or similar weight. You want a flat, even block of pork surrounded completely by fat. Then, store the whole thing in a cool place - like your armagnac cellar, or a stone-paved pantry, or a corner of the garage. Mine's in the fridge. I trimmed up some of it to even the thing out, and then fried it up - - like this.

You should try this. I mean, if you like exceptionally good, rich, toothsome, flavor bombs of meatiness. Otherwise, make it anyway, and impress your friends with the brick of pork belly in your garage.

First efforts: Chicken Prosciutto!?

The first of our efforts was supposed to be Duck Prosciutto. But, unable at first to find any duck breasts in town (ok, I didn't look that hard), I thought the technique for curing looked intriguing, and decided to apply it to - - Chicken Thighs.

Here are the thighs, having cured overnight in LOTS of salt and some rosemary

Next, I took the thighs, coated them in ancho chile powder, tied them and then hung them for about a week.


Here's a thigh, sliced up and served with citrus marmalade and cheese. Pretty good. Rather salty (shocking!), but a rich flavor, and a nice contrast in texture, flavor, and pungency. Quite good.

More preserved meat than is absolutely necessary

So there's this Year of Meat going on at Charcutepalooza, and, while I am not a blogger, I am playing one on the internet for the purposes, not only of recording my own culinary adventures/mishaps, but - believe it or not - of engaging in actual research. Yes, for those of you who don't know me, or what I'm up to, I am a cultural anthropologist at the College of William & Mary, and I am carrying out ethnographic research (ethnography: academic way of saying "studying people") on pasture-raised pigs in the Piedmont of North Carolina, where I live. So, I'll be illustrating this blog with meats procured from the farmers I work with, who raise their animals using Animal Welfare Approved practices and facilities.

The research entailed in this blog comes from you, gentle reader. Because a critical feature of my work has to do with trying to understand why niche market/outdoor raised/heritage breed pigs have become so central to food activisms of all sorts. What has, rather suddenly, drawn such strong social and political attention to the perils of our food system; and why are pigs so prominent a feature of this attention? What are the implications of redefining our relationship to food - and to meat in particular - for our health, our environments, our labor force? To what extent is this a real "sea change" in our culture? Will we remain as committed to these concerns in the coming years, or will we indulge in new obsessions? So here's where you come in. Why have YOU taken an interest in charcuterie and other carnivorous endeavors (at least, I'm assuming you have, if you're reading this - but, if not, tell me why you're NOT, that's equally interesting)? What do you find compelling about meat? Do you care about where your meat comes from, how it's raised and processed? How much do you know about it? How has your interest in cooking changed your interest in pork (and, ok, other meats) in recent years? I'm all (virtual) ears.