Monday, February 28, 2011

Let's Eat Some of This Stuff

I finally got around to actually serving and eating some of the many, many (way too many) preserved/salted/larded meats. And here they are! Along with a few other good things I can highly recommend.

Here's the gunaciale, now ready to be sliced and served in a way that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Take some dates . . .

 . . . slice them open and fill them with grated parmesan . . .

  Then wrap them in thin slices of the guanciale, and bake them (medium oven) until the pork is cooked.

Here are the various confited meats - pork belly on the blue plate, duck breast on the white, the guanciale-date-parmesan (aka Devils on Horseback) on the pink.  Fat, salty goodness each.

One more, non-charcuterie item, again can't recommend it strongly enough: Pernil.  A pork shoulder (this was the Boston Butt, not a Picnic) marinated in adobo, orange, lime, orange and lots and lots of sliced garlic overnight.  Then cooked in a hot oven (450º) for 30 minutes, followed by 225º for 12 hours - or more.  It was so meltingly tender, I pulled the bones right out, and served it with a spoon.  I need more excuses to make this.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some pork in the garage, the beef being corned

In most of my work as a scholar, I am reluctant to embrace the notion - increasingly popular in so many academic and popular discourses – that food is an expression of "identity." This all-purpose, motley, grab-bag of a concept, identity, is so thoroughly over-used, amorphous in its content, and simplistic in its analytical value (Q: "Why do the Bulgarians eat feta?" A: "It must be their Bulgarian identity."  Think about that one…) that I find it wearying to read yet another nostalgic recitation of the importance of this or that repast to the endearing, enduring spirit of my people   Don't get me wrong, as an anthropologist, I'm deeply committed to the importance of understanding what we eat and how we eat, the with whom where and when of eating (i.e., "Food") as a cultural practice. But not all of cultural practice amounts to an attempt to assert my allegiance to "people like us" in all our Italian-American, Asian-American, Mexican-American, African-American hyphenated glory.

Which brings me to corned beef. As a pushing-50 Jewish man with direct ancestral ties to the Tri-State area (parents born and raised in Newark, myself born and barely able to recall living in NYC), how can I deny that my attraction to a fine corned beef sandwich is anything other than a manifestation of that ancient longing to bond with the members of my tribe? Believe me, you'd understand if you'd met the members of my particular neck of the tribe. Yes, I have indelible recollections of corned beef on rye, the meat's fine corral-color, with an iridescent sheen.  The texture both course and supple, the elastic tissues of the brisket grain pulling apart, and the outer layer of beef fat (not too fat, but not too lean) melding in each bit. Yes, I know corned beef, and have eaten many a finely shaved corned beef sandwich at delis from New York to Cleveland, to Chicago and LA.
But that's the thing – here I am wanting to corn my own beef, well the beef of a local rancher anyway. And this is about the most un-Jewish thing I can think of.  I had my very own Yiddish speaking immigrant grandmother – my bona fides are impeccable.  And I devoured plate upon plate of her homemade kreplach, fried in a little schmaltz, sometimes in a bowl of soup. I acquired a taste for her gutsy halupkis, stuffed cabbage, sweet-and-soured with gingersnaps and lemon juice in crushed tomatoes.  All good.  But corned beef -  that's what you get at a DELI.  Rye bread, mustard, maybe Russian dressing, that's it. Homemade corned beef? For this we sent you to college and graduate school?
The truth is, I haven't had a corned beef sandwich in many years (kreplach and halupkis even longer). I'm certainly not going to settle for just any old corned beef; nor do I have a desperate longing for the corned beef of my youth. I'm an adventurous eater, and I remember the new things I've just eaten much more than the sepia toned victuals of my parentage.  But curing a corned beef in my fridge, hanging guanciale in my garage, whipping a paté into a well-spiced spread, this IS my cultural métier, my modest effort to enhance the world I inhabit.  As my friend, Judy Farquhar, has eloquently written, cooking and eating, the what who when where and why of how we do our food, is a way of "crafting the good life" and giving value to the world we share with others, an excellent characterization of culture itself.

Now onto the meat.  Here's the latest pic of my guanciale, two weeks after hanging. 

I think it needs a few more days before it's ready to be sliced and fried with  - oh, some collards (collards and pork jowl, that traditional Yiddish-American delicacy) or something like that.

And the corned beef, the Charcutepalooza challenge of the month.  Here's how I'm doing it.  This shows the mixture that gets boiled as "pickling spice." 

If you look at three o'clock on the plate, that's a cinnamon stick followed (counter clockwise) by juniper berries, ground ginger, cloves, bay leaf (like, 2 is plenty), allspice.  The center of the plate is black pepper, and at six o'clock: Pink Salt.  Which is to say, saltpeter, or nitrates.  Not everybody would use these, and I can't recommend a nitrate laden diet, but for the one corned beef I'm going to make this season, ok, I'm going to use it.  It keeps the brisket that lovely rosy color I waxed on about. Plus, I got a great story out of it.  I couldn't find pink salt ANYWHERE in town – the one butcher who usually stocks it was out. But I know my friends at Neal's Deli make some great housemade corned beef and pastrami, so I stopped by to ask if they had any pink salt.  Sheila Neal was kind enough to give me a quarter cup of the stuff in a plastic container, and turn me on to an online distributor should I have a sudden desire to pump my food full of nitrates.  The quarter cup may be a lifetime supply.

So, you boil up this mixture in 2 quarts of water, a whole cup of salt and half a cup of brown sugar.  Cool the mixture down to 45º after the salt and sugar have thoroughly dissolved, and then place the brisket – like so – into the container you want to keep it in.

This will sit, with a plate on top of the meat to keep it submerged, in the fridge for 10 days. Turn it once half way through the cure. After which, boil the brisket in ample water, and then simmer for a few hours.  Can't show you that yet, as I just put it up to cure yesterday. A report will follow when it's boiled and sliced.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Still Eating Ursula! (Just Desserts?)

 As I've said . . . I think there is a kind of sliding scale of differences in abilities along a gradient between humans and OTHER animals. Of course, there are real material differences in us, and the worlds we inhabit. But these differences don't have to mean that any one way of "having a world," or any one creature need be privileged over any other.
            Does THIS mean we should never eat animals? I must not think so, since I do eat animals. Why not adopt veganism and vegetarianism as principled stands against "doing harm" by eating animals? My feeling, in the first place, is that there are all sorts of thing that we do that compromise our principles every single day.  We live in an incredibly complicated world, and our very existence often puts us at odds with our own ethical positions, and leads us to do things that we would never do (or really try not to do)  if we were fully aware of the consequences of our actions. I'll bring up only one example that relates to my long experience working in Africa – although this example doesn't come from my own work, but from my friend, Jim Smith's, in Eastern Congo.  Virtually every cell phone in the world today has a circuit board that uses material derived from coltan to maintain its charge.  What is coltan? It's a metallic ore that's found, almost exclusively in Eastern Congo.  And the people living in Eastern Congo have been deeply entrenched in warfare for almost 20 years.  These wars weren't started by the quest to mine coltan, but today, the funds derived from the coltan trade are without question exacerbating this warfare, putting more and more young men directly in conflict with one another, subjugating many of them to powerful militia leaders who are eager to exploit the massive amounts of raw human labor needed to extract this ore.  Of course, the pursuit of this valuable commodity has placed women in the area at incredible risk, as rape and sexual slavery are commonplace in these lawless mining zones.  Moreover, these mining regions are often inhabited by endangered mountain gorillas, who not only get displaced by mining operations, but end up as bush meat in all too many cases.  There is no coltan certification process that can assure you, as a cell phone consumer, that your circuit board is made with "clean" coltan, coltan that wasn't derived from these conflict zones. Odds are pretty good that it was.
            This is a horrifying example, but it's not unique. Look at your clothing. Much of it was produced in circumstances that you know almost nothing about as a consumer.  The same is true of the components of your home electronics, your car, the paper products in your house, your energy sources.  I could go on and on. So is slaughtering an animal for meat more objectionable than exploiting farmworkers, seamstresses, unregistered miners, and guerilla warriors that we will never meet?
            To suggest that eating animals is a line that we cannot cross because it breaches principles that should be inviolate raises the question, for me, of how we apply those principles in the world, and not just in the abstract. Can we say that all killing is a line that we cannot cross, but human exploitation is defensible? Is it desirable to avoid all non-human animal killing, but permissible to exploit and degrade other human beings because it's simply unavoidable?  If we say that eating animals is not defensible then it seems to me we have to do so while at the same time acknowledging the kinds of human exploitation we do not, and cannot withdraw from. 
            While I have no real objections to veganism and vegetarianism as practices, I do think that the attempt to take principled stands against all animal slaughter amounts to using other animals as a kind of proxy  - a tangible, concrete substitute – for the many complex problems that we all live with as consumers.  We live in a world where we are hopelessly unable to really KNOW the conditions under which everything we encounter - especially everything we consume – is produced.  We can't know what the lives of so many producers of the things that fill up our own lives are really like.  I'm sure many times we imagine that those lives can't be very satisfying.  And while we feel at a loss to take any meaningful action to change this vast, complicated, hidden process, many may feel that they CAN (at least) exercise control over what they eat, what they put directly into their body.  It's ironic, but the logic of refusing to eat animals is almost identical to the logic that is typical of animal sacrifice in many contexts. In both cases, a challenging situation is addressed by means of representing that situation in a concrete, manageable entity – an animal – and the way that animal is treated demonstrates your wider intention to change the challenging situation you confront.  Whether slaughtered or saved, the treatment of that animal is meant to act on the problem.  I don't think this makes veganism and vegetarianism "bad ideas" (I'm also not opposed to animal sacrifice – I certainly don't think it's an incoherent ethical practice, and the sacrifices I've participated in were at least as humane as any slaughter I've witnessed), I just think the wider issues persist even after the animal has been saved or slaughtered.
           Just to be clear, there are a number of positions that advocate eating meat produced on "sustainable farms" and processed in "humane" fashion, that I also have problems with. There are  trendy chefs who feel that it's vital to learn how to slaughter the animals they serve as a way of owning up to their role in eating the beast, and – as many of them put it  - taking responsibility for the life of the animal. But it's not clear to me how killing a creature is a way of taking "responsibility" in anything more than a momentary and personal way.  Most animals have long intricate lives before they get slaughtered. Their whole lives can't be summed up in their death.  "Taking responsibility" it seems to me, should have more to do with acknowledging the SOCIAL dimensions of our consumption, and recognizing that a lot of (other peoples' - and some "animal") work goes into birthing, and feeding, and treating, and housing, and moving that animal; we don't really "take responsibility" for all of this work simply by putting knife to throat as we take the life of a beast. Bearing responsibility is not the same thing as personal participation.  It's perfectly possible to recognize the hard, demanding, skilled, grueling work of farming and processing, and to acknowledge and work towards IMPROVING the conditions of those who do such work.  Fetishizing one's own personal experience in slaughter so as to bear some "responsibility" for the "life" of the creature strikes me as a kind of self-indulgence that simply ignores the social conditions that actually make such personal experience possible.
            There's also an argument that says we should eat meat because it's only through eating meat that these animals can endure.  Michael Pollan makes the point that for domesticated species to thrive, they need to be raised by meat farmers, or these forms of biodiversity will die out.  He counters animal rights advocates by saying that individual animals may be protected by saving them from slaughter, but animal SPECIES also have an interest in surviving, and that survival is threatened by animal rights.  Pollan has a lot of interesting things to say about corn production and the hidden costs of industrial food; but on this point, he's just wrong. Not that barnyard pigs and cows won't become extinct if we fail to husband them; they will. Even wild pigs need domestic stocks to effectively reproduce their small numbers.  But it's just not the case that "species" have an interest in survival. Species are categories - they are ideas - that biologists (among others) use to classify the world.  Domestic pigs have no more interest in the endurance of the pig species than Cubist paintings have an interest in promoting this artistic style.  Individuals have interests, subjects have interests, even organisms have interest, but ideas  - like "species" or "Cubism" - are of interest to the people who use them. So we might think it would be a shame if domestic species became extinct – and for very compelling reasons – but I don't think "the species" itself can.
            Like Pollan, Donna Haraway includes a discussion of a feast centered on a wild pig roast, and the ethical challenges that posed for her academic dinner partners (her "messmates") in her big book.  For Haraway, eating such animals is – or can be - part of what she calls "killing well," a recognition of the fact that eating and killing go together, but that doesn't mean we should accept any and all kinds of killing as inevitable and permissible. Haraway's argument is too nuanced for me to address it as fully as it deserves here (this is a BLOG post, not a scholarly paper), but what I appreciate about her views are the way she does NOT search for some moral absolute, or some act of personal responsibility to redeem herself and the world, but says that there's an ongoing conversation we all need to be a part of to IMPROVE what are clearly the dangerous, destructive conditions we live with.  Humans have no privileged position that exempts us from slaughter (you might have noticed that we slaughter each other all the time - not that it's defensible - though many DO defend it), but this is NOT because other animals are just as capable as humans are of living rich, compassionate, compelling lives. Animals have their lives, but they are not the same as, or even equal to ours.  Rather, it's because we are all – together – LIMITED in our ability to do these things fully and completely.  We're fallible, so we should be humble. 
            So this is where I've come down on the matter.  I seem to have landed up in a position that will not claim that it's just fine to slaughter animals because they're "only" animals – or because they're so tasty; or that it's fine to do so when you are fully invested in the "life" of the animal whose life you take with due reverence.  Nonetheless, here I am readily eating animals (see all these other blog posts for evidence!) and scarcely regretting it.  How can I have eaten Ursula? Well, the truth is, I do have some regrets about it - but just enough to recognize that there's a difference between treating animals like a product whose entire life is structured around rendering them available to be killed and eaten as profitably as possible, rather than caring for animals in such a way that makes their lives livable in their own terms (well, as best as we humans can possibly understand what that might be) even if this means - in fact, requires – that they be slaughtered for meat.  Right now, there's simply no other way for domesticated farm animals to get to enjoy their lives.  BUT they don't have to be subject to persistent misery and terror (a little bit of misery and terror doesn't bother me too much, we all feel that at some point. We will probably never design a mechanism of slaughter that leaves all animals without any anxiety whatsoever) – and, crucially, neither do the people who work with them – to make this all work.  What I do feel very strongly is that by helping those who are willing and able to take the time and effort – and frequently endure the  unprofitability - necessary to give animals such lives, I am making a positive contribution to the world I live in. I don't think I need to be the one DOING all of this work (although I do enjoy doing what I can when I can).  This is not about "personal responsibility," or a deep spiritual "connection," or attachment to the "life" of the animals (soon to be eaten) in question.  My view centers on recognizing that there are powerful social institutions – corporations, capital, state subsidies, bureaucratic regulations, and so on - also at work that are clearly indifferent to the animal cruelty (in non-human and human form) that they inflict.  If my support for outdoor raised pigs, grass-fed beef, nearly wild chickens, etc. helps to undermine the efforts of these industrial operations, helps to ease the burden on (non) human animal lives subjected to their mechanism, helps to strengthen alternatives to that systematic indifference, then I'm willing - eager - to do that.  I'd like to think it's possible to create a different kind of world, not by establishing hard and fast rules for what we shouldn't do, but by helping to realize productive new possibilities. This is the account I would give of my willingness to eat even the animals that I have come to know.  They've made a difference to me, and I'd like to help make a difference for them.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eating Ursula (Second Helping)

            It goes without saying (just see the rest of this blog) that I do eat animals like Ursula. And I do so, not really with any regret, but with some questions.  There are a bunch of ways to pursue these questions. In the classic anthropological literature there are a host of approaches to food taboos - what kinds of animals do we eat, what kinds of animals don't we eat, and why? On the general questions about whole species of animals – why we do or don't eat pigs, for example – it's often pointed out that pigs are denied relationships of intimacy and friendship with humans of the kind that we extend, for example, to cats and dogs, but also animals like milk cows – animals that we never intend to eat, and that we'd find quite disturbing to eat. And while pigs are rarely treated with this kind of intimacy, in all sorts of interesting ways, we do often give pigs personalities that "subvert" or "mimic" these close feelings of friendship.  We (and here, of course I mean, we Americans) use, for example, imagery of pigs as human-like eaters, gleefully enjoying the meat at, perhaps, a pig roast.   They not only look like happy animals, as in the cartoon depictions used to sell milk and cheese and chicken parts, they also appear as happy consumers of pigs  - happy as people would be -  eating barbecue.   
     This is a way of giving pigs a "personality" - but the most distinctive thing about this person is how edible they are. This undermines, all the more, the notion that pigs could be a person like other people.  It also, I think, tells us something about why pigs are both the most prized and the most tabooed of animals. Pigs are meant for eating, they are all about eating - when we eat, we make pigs of ourselves (though it's not clear that pigs are any more ravenous than any other creature). But even their being eaten carries with it a sense of the person-like creature that's consumed – thus both the taboo on eating, and the (gleeful) depiction of pigs as human-like pig-eaters.  Pigs are good to eat, but there's always something wrong about that- even if that uneasiness is smuggled in with humorous depictions of dancing pigs at a cook-out. 
            In Sahlins' noted quotation from Lewis Carroll on the question of animal edibility, the Red Queen says "It isn't etiquette to cut anyone you've been introduced to (Remove the joint)!" Naming is certainly one of the ways we introduce ourselves, and attribute personal qualities to animals to whom we extend human-like relationships. And what small farms are increasingly recognizing is that the animals that they have DO enter into relationship with people - but those relationships are not so privileged that those animals won't end up eaten if  they don't carry out what's expected of them.  So here is Ursula, named and known and enmeshed in human relationships – but that didn't save her from the barbecue pit. How is that possible?
            These relationship, it seems, are no longer barriers that keep us from eating particular animals; increasingly, among denizens of the farmers market and the Slow Food crowd, these relationships are exactly the characteristics that we now want in our food, and especially in our meat.  Farmers and consumers alike no longer want to deny the reality of the animal in question, they want to have relationships with the animals they eat, and explicitly acknowledge that the meat they eat was once an animal. 
This in itself is an important change in attitudes, a turning away from the industrial production of meat that conceals not only the animals, but the other people - the human labor - that make it possible for cryovaced packages to end up in your grocery store.  These kinds of shifting attitudes are what make it possible – even desirable – to eat an animal with a name and face and history.
            But that doesn't answer the question: is this a good thing? As we think more about the importance of the life of animals being essential to the meat that's available to us, shouldn't that make us less willing to eat meat altogether? Is there a way to eat meat without violating the whole notion that animals have lives worth living?
           There are a great many contemporary arguments on "the question of the animal" that point out that the kinds of lines that humans have drawn to differentiate ourselves from animals (of course, that means OTHER animals) are awfully hard to sustain once we think critically about the possibilities, and limitations of all animals (the work of my colleague, Barbara King, among many others, has been largely dedicated to this proposition). These fundamental, absolute differences – what Agamben calls "the anthropological machine," ways of thinking and writing that try to insist on the unique, privileged position of "humanity"– have been used to deny animals (and, of course, other "less than fully human" people!) all sorts of recognition, make them less than "real" subjects, and once they're reduced to mere objects, it's acceptable and uncomplicated to eat them (or maybe just enslave and colonize them).  But of course animals have a range of feelings, they communicate with one another – and with us –  they contribute to our activities, and pursue their own. In short, they experience life.  
          Heidegger famously (well, famously for people who care about what Heidegger wrote) wrote that "the stone is worldless; the animal is poor in world; Man is world-forming."  This idea not only claims to tell us something (though perhaps something confusing) about what makes "Man" different from "the animal," it describes that difference in terms of something that's MISSING.  People have "it"; animals, not so much.  This not only gives short-shrift to animals, but really privileges human capacities in odd ways. Of course, we all have worlds, but do we have them in any way that we want? To my way of thinking, we all have world-making abilities- AND we're all "poor in world" in some respects. Animals can all be relatively rich in world (or at least in THEIR worlds) in many ways. As I walk my terrier each morning I often think, what would it be like to get so much stimulation from being able to smell the things he can smell? Think of all the things I'm missing! The dog doesn't just have a different olfactory organ than I do, he LIVES in a thoroughly different way - in a different world.  Any attempts to promote an "anthropological machine" along lines that privilege one such world to the exclusion of all others are at least problematic. If anything, I think there is a kind of sliding scale of differences in abilities along a gradient between humans and OTHER animals. Of course, there are real material differences in us, and the worlds we inhabit (I can't smell all the subterranean wonders my dog comprehends, and he never reads my writing). But these differences don't HAVE to mean that any one way of "having a world," or any one creature should be privileged over any other.
       And yet,  some of us are edible and eaten....

[Last one on Ursula, coming up!]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Eating Ursula: Pardon me while I take a strange interlude

[As I indicated in my first post, I'm a cultural anthropologist who's working on pastured pork production and consumption here in North Carolina.  And occasionally I'd like to include some moderately anthropological ruminations on this work - so here's one - in THREE PARTS!   I'd be delighted to read your comments]

Eating Ursula (Part 1)
            Just about a year ago,  I met two friends of mine for lunch at the Saxapahaw General Store, a wonderful little "5 Star Gas Station."  One was Ross, an aspiring farmer, and the other Sam, a young chef on the verge of opening his restaurant, The Pig. On the menu for the day was barbecued pulled pork belly, which we all sampled.  Ross, who works at Cane Creek Farm, said to me, you know this belly comes from Ursula. I said, I know, we sold her other belly at the market on Saturday. It was a HUGE belly, much bigger than the 4-5 lb bellies we normally sell.  Yeah, you know she was that bitch. What? That weird looking pig, she looked like a Martian, like some kind of demonic pig.  So I tried to remember which pig she was from my time working at the farm, and asked what breed she was.  Was she an Old Spot?  Or some Berkshire mix? Surely not an Ossabaw because she was way too big.  Ross wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure she was a Farmer's Hybrid cross.  So I said, wait a minute, was she the pig in the garden pen, who was really ornery- to the point of regularly attacking the staff?  He said, yeah she's the one who was impossible.

            Of course, I now remember Ursula, because Ursula was one of the first sows I met when I started working at Cane Creek Farm. I had showed up in December of 2008, mostly to do chores – feeding and watering every animal in sight – and offering two hands to do whatever else needs doing.  You couldn't help but notice the piglets – called "pigs" on a farm – that are more or less free to roam wherever they like on the farm. (as in this video).  The wooden fences that enclose sows and boars on pasture aren't deep enough to hold in little pigs, who like to hang out together, and investigate anything and everything at Cane Creek. But they're not interested in running off and getting lost, so they always come back to their mothers. In the course of feeding sows in the garden pen, I, in my utter inexperience and frank stupidity, grabbed a small mottled, calico-colored pig as it snuck under a fence in front of me, picked it up by its hind leg, and held it up to look at it while it squealed and screamed bloody murder in my face. Who could resist such a cute pig. Well, what happened within a few milliseconds, was that the sow who was this pig's mother, barreled towards me, and had I not leapt out of the way up the fence, she easily would have gotten her jaws around my knee and snapped my leg in half.  I didn't make it back into that pen again for several weeks, and every time I did walk past the pen the sow - Ursula herself – would take a good long look at me, and often rush towards me to back me off.
            When I had asked if Ursula were part Berkshire, Sam said, aren't Berkshires bad mothers? Ross wasn't sure about that – most of the pigs at Cane Creek are not purebred anything anyway  - but he did say that part of what makes any sow a really good mother is what makes her really lousy to raise and handle on the farm.  It became increasingly impossible, with Ursula, to try to get her pigs away from her, to "grow them out," or castrate them (as all market boars are), or otherwise make them independent of her so that they could be raised up for the market. And so, Ursula was taken off to slaughter - not, as was the case with other sows I knew, because she proved incapable of further "farrowing" (that is, of reproducing), but rather because she was SUCH a good mother that she was far too ornery to keep on the farm without doing damage to the staff, and the farm as a whole.
            This indicates a number of things to me. First, it shows the extent to which pigs contribute to their own domestication. That is, pigs' abilities to be "good mothers" are not just "natural attributes" of a particular breed, they are part of the behavior that pigs can exhibit RELATIVE TO the kind of farm work and labor that's needed to see the sow through the processes of reproducing, and raising her offspring up for market.  "Maternal qualities" are the outcome of a "natural-cultural" process, whereby pigs are selected and bred for attributes that contribute to their husbandry.  Being a good mother means being well-suited to raising pigs for slaughter.
            So what did it mean to EAT a pig that did this TOO well?  How were we treating a sow who protected her pigs with such skill and alacrity that she was penalized for it?  Ursula was caught in a double-bind – the very qualities that had made her so valuable, also made her vulnerable.
            Moreover, what did it mean to eat a pig with whom many of us had a history? Certainly I didn't feel any sense of vengeance in eating the pig who had tried to assault me. She was well within her rights to try to do so for having done such a stupid thing.  It does raise questions, though, about our obligations to animals, the extent to which those obligations require us, not only to make sure these animals have a good life (and a "good death" if such is possible), but also to think about whether there can ever be reciprocity in a relationship with another creature who one ultimately eats. What can it mean to provide animals such a "good life" when the purpose of caring for them is to bring them to slaughter so they can be effectively, successfully, and delectably eaten?  Ursula's pursuit of her "good life," the  particular attributes she had, the interests she defended, we might even call it her personality – raise these questions.
[More to come . . .]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More of the February (and some of the January) Challenges

First, more on the duck prosciutto.  Here's how it looks when you do it right.  A lovely alpine cheese- Hickory Grove from Flo and Portia at Chapel Hill Creamery, rustic bread, and some bracing homemade tangelo-lime marmalade. Salty, bitter, creamy (the flavor scientists miss that one) sweet. Smooth and chewy.  And the red table wine from Languedoc, Chateau d'Oupia Les Heretiques (thanks 3 Cups) a really good, cheap complement 

Next- more on the guanciale I started last week.  Here's how it looked after a week of sitting in the fridge coated with sugar/salt/spices

Here it's been thoroughly rinsed off, and is about to be liberally coated with some ground black and red pepper . . .
 . . . until it looks like this. It's now ready to start hanging.

As it's doing here. Note that I have poked a hole through the "tail" end of the jowl, and tied the twine through the hole.  Usually I just truss the thing up, but decided to give this a shot.  Now, astute observers  will note that I have chosen not to hang this in the box. Why? Well, I've had nothing but success hanging guanciale in this very spot for the last 2 years, giving little consideration to temperature or humidity.  The meat itself is so laden with fat that I feel there's very little risk of drying out, which the box tempers, if only moderately. I figure, if it ain't broke, why fix it.

Alas, this won't be fully cured in time to reveal on the 15th for the Charcutapalooza challenge, but no matter.  In about 3+ weeks, it'll be delectable.  Little crisped up cubes are the perfect fat to throw in a pan when roasting ANY vegetable - squash, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, zucchini - it takes EXCEPTIONALLY well to greens - kale, chard, collards - and you will never eat Brussels sprouts again any other way once you've roasted them with guanciale; and , of course, found a reliable purveyor of pasture raised pork who can offer you jowls which you can now cure yourself following my can't- miss directions here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why a Duck?

Or Episode 6, in which we test the Duck Prosciutto from January.

After the 9 days of hanging in my slap dash cardboard, garage-based curing box, I have sampled the duck prosciutto. And it is good- very good.

Here it is, freshly sliced. Behind the knife there, is a bit of the chicken thigh prosciutto from this entry, for comparison.  The duck is better - you can see it on the board. the duck is thicker, and fatter, and more appealing even on visual inspection.

And a  modest tartine (er, some slices on a slice of bread) for sampling. You can see the salt crystallization, and the shrinking of the fat, along with a bit too much desiccation in the wine-dark surface of the duck. This was, no doubt an improved effort over the chicken thigh.  Two big differences: first, I used MUCH less salt in the duck cure- only half a cup, total. This made for a much less pronounced saltiness, but plenty of fermented funk in the final flavor.  Second, curing in the box dried out the product a tad less.

That said, I have to say that, if I'm going to get serious about this, I need a controlled curing chamber- one of those jerry-rigged ex-refrigerators with a makeshift humidifier and temperature control.  I've had great success with guanciale, just hanging open in the garage, but I think that is because it's much more forgiving - it's so full of fat, it doesn't need the additional humidity. Plus, you cook it, rather than serve it as is, and the cooking process makes the texture more or less irrelevant. For curing uncooked meats, texture becomes more of a concern.

The other thing I'm beginning to appreciate is that there is a distinctive flavor profile to the flora in my garage. That is, I've done this enough to tell that the biotic material that are curing my duck, chicken, pork, etc. impart a distinct taste to the foods I'm hanging there. Noticed it in the pickles I ferment there, as well.  The taste has a distinctive tang that is somewhat herbal, or vegetal, as well as a quality that I'd call wintry - assertive and sharp.  I am loathe to say my garage has it's own terroir, but I do think the combination of my seasoning methods, this exposed air technique, and the material conditions of Carrboro are conspiring to concoct a characteristic edible natureculture.

Next, the guanicale goes into the box over the weekend....