Thursday, December 9, 2010

Drinking is Getting Hard: Hooked on Hard Cider

Way back when I was in Culinary School, I took an elective class on Fermentation. One suggested read was Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation. I quickly picked it up and have tried only a couple recipes from it (tempeh, mead). But recently I decided that with so much delicious apple cider coming into Chicago from Michigan, I wanted to try my hand at a homemade Hard Cider. The recipe is really only quite simple instructions, so I doubt it would violate any legal grounds to simply explain it in my words:

Grab a gallon of fresh cider, without any preservatives or any over-modifying procedures. All ciders sold around here are pasteurized. Many contain preservatives. So look for those with one ingredient, apple cider. I found Hy's Cider from Romeo, Michigan at Whole Foods for $5.99 a gallon. I had a couple old empty "Louisiana Hot Sauce" jugs so I washed and sanitized one well. I then poured the cider into the jug and covered the opening with some cheesecloth for a couple days while storing it in my pantry at 65˚.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Latest Leg of the Journey

So if you follow my tweets, you already know what I was up to today. Otherwise: I went by the new pick-up point here in Chicago for Slagel Farms meats, Chicago's Downtown Farmstand on Randolph (a great source for locally/regionally sourced products). I picked up my Easter ham. After a 9 hour day in the kitchen that should have been plenty. But since I still needed the goods by which to brine that 25 pound hunk of natural porky goodness, I stopped at Whole Foods. Whew, just getting there wore me out. So I stopped at the bar inside WF and grabbed a tasty Goose Island Bourbon County Stout to warm me back up and relieve some soreness. I picked up the goods I needed to make my version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Cider cure for the ham. I also grabbed some extra cider for another version (number 4) of hard cider that I am excited about since finding a nice local cider. It is fairly easy to make, I only hope that it turns out as well as I imagine it will! (hope to post more on this soon)

(Scotch Olives filled w/ homemade sausage on right at Bristol!)

As I write this I am eating quite low on the hog, er, cow. As a child I loved taco night with my mom. A pound of ground beef, a McCormick's spice packet, some cheese and tortilla shells. Tonight that's what I am enjoying since I have to fend for myself as Rebecca is in New Orleans on business (oh how horrible, I know. <20deg here right now)! I switched it up a bit by adding some Adobo sauce from the chipotles I included in my first batch on 'nduja long ago! Let's just say Sandra Lee would be proud.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So I lied.

While we did not lie about being alive, we were wrong about getting to some posting in the near future surrounding that September post. The kitchen at the new apartment is pretty much unpacked. The pantry is stocked. And we bought a work table that serves as a kitchen island, providing plenty of cooking space. So once I can find a day that my leg isn't sore from being on it all day, and I just happen to have the goods I need to get something done, I hope to post something. I have started a batch of Hard Cider. That only takes 5 minutes of standing, so I'll try to document that soon to whet your appetite for more fun stuff. I'm thinking of a pig's tail project too, in hopes I can complete most of it on a day off. We've picked up a couple new cookbooks to for inspiration. So please, stay tuned. We hope to get going on another project once it is feasible!

(some housemade soprasetta fermenting @ a local hot-spot)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes, I am still alive!

Though I thought during my hospitalization that I would never again have such a long time without any posts, I have again slipped. I finally got back to work after my motorcycle accident, though it is a new job. Rebecca and I have also found a new, larger place to live and are in the process of moving in two weeks. So with the moving, I haven't really the capacity to start anything that would be safe to be moved a few miles at move time. I am however mentally scheming as to how I might be able to create a space dedicated to my meat pursuits in the new place. So if you are kind enough to bear with me, good things are sure to follow. In the meantime, I will try to post more about the things that have already taken place though I have not yet written about them (pig-roast for example)!

Until then, check out the Facebook page I created for Low on the Hog, it can be found here ...

or by clicking on the badge in the right column, towards the bottom!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting cheeky, or What I did with 5 jowls

On a recent trip to the farm and processing plant of Slagel Family Farms and Slagel Family Meats, I picked up a bag of jowls: five in all. During the drive back I thought about my plan of attack. I hadn't done much since the 'nduja and bresaola I started long before the wedding, so I had a few ideas, to say the least. At some point I realized that I was in no way committed to a single idea. Do I need 5 whole cheeks of any one style anyway?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review of recent goodies!

As it is about 12 weeks since my motorcycle accident, my leg is finally allowing me to get around fairly well. I can run errands and sit comfortably in most normal situations (I could barely get comfortable sitting in a restaurant chair for even a short meal). I have even gotten back into the home kitchen, too, and I hope to get back to some home meat-curing with some regularity. Thanks for bearing with me while I posted more reviews and great finds in a consecutive manner than I ever planned during the inception of "the Hog." I'm hoping now to get back to some of my own stuff for you all to enjoy and hopefully learn something from.

Some of the last things I had worked on before the accident were actually a couple items I had made for the wedding to use on a meat and cheese platter after the dinner had cleared. These items included some 'nduja, beef bresaola, pickles and some jalapeno jelly. Of course 4 weeks to the day before the wedding I had my accident. But with a ton of help from my wife Rebecca and our good friends Henning & Emily, everything was finished successfully and was thoroughly enjoyed by our party-goers! We were even able to knock-out some homemade favors for our guests like more jalapeno jelly, a smoky spice rub and some dill-pickled green beans.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Great Find: Charcuterie: The Dining Room at Biltmore Asheville, NC

For our last night in Asheville, we decided to stay close to home and have dinner at the Dining Room at the Inn.

(The view during the pre-dinner cocktail)

We had mentioned to the concierge that we were celebrating our honeymoon, so after a pre-dinner cocktail in the bar (me: gin & tonic, Rebecca: Biltmore champagne), we luckily scored a seat by the window overlooking the lush Blue Ridge Mountains. The menu was local and refined, with plenty of charcuterie to please my palette: bison carpaccio, venison bresaola, duck proscuitto, pancetta. I noticed chorizo on a dish we didn't order, so I asked our server if I could try a tiny bite, which led to a lengthy explanation of my love for and experience with charcuterie.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Great Find: Bar-B-Que: 12 Bones Smokehouse Asheville, NC

(continued from my Asheville post)

While we had a great BBQ lunch the day before, I couldn't leave Asheville without another taste. In asking for recommendations, 12 Bones Smokehouse came up repeatedly as being "the best." It usually... ok, always... came with this warning: "The line is always long, but it moves pretty quickly, don't worry." (Probably due in part to President Obama's recent visit there). So we decided to check it out.

Sure enough, at 11:15, there was already a line down one side of the building. It was off the beaten path in an area called the River Arts District, but that wasn't keeping many away. Luckily, the line did move quickly. At the register was one person taking the order and another taking the loot. This place had much more of a typical BBQ joint feel to it. Goofy signs alongside nostalgic advertising, an un-sided Morton shed offering covered outdoor seating, and of course, photos of the current President during his recent visits. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Butchering A Pig, a video tutorial from

For those of you interested in breaking down a side of pork, I recently ran across this great video tutorial. If you can handle a nice Canadian accent, this guy does a great job of covering everything from whole side to primals, all the way down to country ribs and bone-in chops! Be ready for a commitment if you watch the whole series of videos. Some are under 2 minutes, some over 5, but there are 12 videos in all! Well worth the time.

If you want to see a full screen version, click on the youtube logo. From there you can also find 9 more videos in the series. For all 12, go to Le Gourmet. Enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Great Find: Bar-B-Que: Luella's Asheville, NC

(a continuation from my Asheville post)

Luella's Bar-B-Que came up in one of the online articles I found during an initial search for good eats in Asheville. It caught my attention, not because of its locally sourced FtT concept (Product of Buncombe Co.), but because they use the same pig drawing in their logo that I use for the LotH tweets. So after reading through the menu it instantly made it on the list. But it was the only BBQ on the must-see list. The bellman at the Inn hadn't even heard of it when we asked. Should we worry? Naw.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Great Find: Cities: Bar-B-Que & Beer in Asheville, NC

So when the news finally settled in that injuries sustained in my recent motorcycle accident (read more here) would prevent me from just about any flight, let alone a three-legged one from Atlanta to Chicago to Madrid to Barcelona, a second plan for a honeymoon, a back-up if you will, had to be made. Rebecca thought that plan should include a whole lot of nothing in case I was still somewhat immobile. And what does her mind translate that meaning? Sitting around on the veranda reading while sipping cocktails. And who am I to argue with that? As a child she had visited Asheville, NC to see the Biltmore Estate and found online that the Inn on Biltmore Estate had a large veranda with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had seen History Channel shows on the place and it intrigued me quite a bit, so why not? I was more interested though by the fact that I had heard of some great BBQ and eating down in Asheville. The BBQ part was almost a given in the Carolinas, but my uncle had recently sent me an article about the ten most surprising food cities as rated by a magazine, that included his beloved Pueblo, CO. Also on the the list was Wichita, KS (Rebecca's one-time home) and Asheville, NC, touted as a leader in the farm-to-table movement and also a city big on beer (recently named BeerCity USA). So sign me up!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Great Find: GastroBrewery: Revolution Brewing Chicago

Every once in a while, when out running errands, I'll remember that there are a lot of places in Chicago that I have been wanting to check out. And on rare occasion, I might actually be in the area of one of those places when I think about it. This was the case a couple weeks before my motorcycle accident when I found myself near the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago. I wasn't real sure what the menu was like, but regardless, I was in the mood for a good mid-day beer on my Sunday (Monday). So I made a slight detour to the fairly recently opened and well received Revolution Brewing Company.

The menu turned out to be a decent mixture of fun pub-grub and some more traditional things like burgers and sandwiches. A couple entrees and pizzas round this out. But two things grabbed my attention rather quickly and nothing else swayed me away from them. I love a good beer-cheese soup. Rebecca and I have spent lots of time trying to find one, any, in Chicago and have never suceeded. So to see one with a home-made brew and local cheese, it took NO effort on my bartendresses part to get things rolling. And let me tell you, it is great. I am not a fan of sour cream or lots of thyme, but my first bite (slurp) led to me eventually wanting to lick the bowl clean!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Great Find: GastroPub: Old Town Social Chicago

Recently I hit the legal age to run for the position of Commander in Chief. But instead of beginning a campaign for 2012, I went out to celebrate with Rebecca and our good friends Art and Chelsea (of Pleasant House fame). Old Town Social in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago has been on my list of places to check out for some time. I recently mentioned them in my Chicago Charcuterie posts here and here.  I had enjoyed some of their charcuterie at some local festivals, but had never been into the place.

As some of our favorite friends with whom to dine, these two were down with ordering a bunch of share-able items. It's actually pretty easy at OTS, because the menu is quite geared for sharing. We opted for the cheese platter, the charcuterie platter and the accoutrement platter. One thing I would have liked to be a bit different with these would have been the ability to select the items on the platters. Many places offer the choice to build your own when it comes to platters, but OTS has all three of their platters pre-selected. This isn't horrible, especially when one can be indecisive (like me), but tonight, I was in the mood to select!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Goodbye Ronald, hello homemade breakfast sausage!

I don't do fast food too often. My developed tastes and increased conscience have led me away from a one-time big-hitter in my culinary repertoire. But lately not many box restaurants can pull me in. The biggest winner for a long time has been Arby's. I just love their juicy roast beef sandwiches. My fave is still the Bacon, Beef and Cheddar. And I may never want to give it up. Especially when you pair it with their curly fries with more cheese sauce and a Mt. Dew. The only other thing that calls my name regularly is a sausage and cheese biscuit for breakfast from McD's. and at a buck, it so easy. So I decided to just start making these myself at home every week and microwaving one or two every morning. So sorry Ronald, the only thing you have left for me is your fries on special occasions!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bresaola, official wedding version.

Since the time restraints hit me harder than expected for the charcuterie for the wedding, I needed to choose wisely that which was going to grace the cheese and charcuterie table after the main courses were cleared at our May wedding. I had already done 30# of 'nduja that was well on its way to deliciousness. So I wanted something quick (less than a month), whole muscle (eye of the round) and something I was familiar with as to not take on too much in such short time. So I decided to redo the bresaola as a hybrid of the last versions I did here LotH. I was able to grab two pieces at about three pounds each. I did some basic trimming of the exterior to remove any silver-skin and tough spots. Then I split the two pieces down the center end-to-end so they could cure quickly and evenly.

I wanted to incorporate all the great things from both versions I made previously and leave out those that didn't seem a positive contribution. So for this version I gathered up some white wine, black peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, fresh rosemary, minced garlic, lemon zest, orange zest, cure #2, salt and sugar. I cannot give the exact recipe at this moment because I am in the hospital while the recipe is at home, but I will included it later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A bump in the road.

When I started this blog I told myself that I must keep up to date with it. I didn't want to be another blog that got some people excited only to start to whimper off and fall into the rare-poster category. Some weeks I have had as many as three posts, but never less than a post a week. Not long ago I was even nervous about having a week post and ended up posting one or two more times that week. But last week was the first, and I hope last, time I didn't post at least that one time. And although some say excuses are for the weak, I'd say I have a pretty damned good one!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Round 2 'Nduja update.

So after the four days of fermentation in my chamber (oven) it was time to get some smoke onto these 32 'nduja monsters. The pH had dropped below 5.0 in the first 24 hours after stuffing and fermentation began, and was down to 4.6 in less than 48 hours so I felt good about food safety. I did a week straight of daily smoking with hickory wood. Because I don't have a cold smoker I simply waited for the full blast of smoke from my propane smoker to hit and threw these guys in and killed the gas, in two rounds, for 15-20 minutes a day. Everyday before I smoked them I cooled them down in my fridge for an hour beforehand and returned them for another hour to cool back down slightly. Each day our apartment smelled like the best smoky Slim-Jims you've never eaten. This was great for me, Rebecca wasn't so excited! After the week and a half of fermentation and smoking it was time to see their new home, my recently built drying rack at Emily and Henning's.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Equipment: home-made custom drying rack.

When I finally found a place to do my drying in a more controlled manner, I wanted to have a versatile drying rack for whatever I may decide to do. It also needed to fit into the "long-closet" type of room I was being allowed to use. So I was able to get a general idea to size, shape and placement of the to-be-built rack. I drew up a nice drawing using the skills I acquired in my High School drafting classes, back when you still used pencil and paper to make said drawings. Then off I went to Home Depot to grab up the supplies. It all came to about $80 with tax.

I wanted to be able to dry anything from small sausages to full hams, but had to keep it under 2 feet deep. I wanted to use dowels to hang the meats from, either strung up, or directly on them (i.e. polish sausages). I also wanted to keep it neat and not leave my kind friends' closet a mess or attract unwanted guests with floor drippings. So I designed this to hold a commercial sheet tray on the bottom. It's easily removed and cleaned. Once I got to my friends' place and showed them the plans, we checked it against the space. To increase the ease of passage to the things in the back of this space, I reduced this by 3 inches in depth. It will still easily hold the sheet tray, it just doesn't nestle down perfectly into the base, no biggie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Round 2: Kinda quick 'Nduja

As part of our culinary offerings for our wedding in May, I am getting to do a cheese and charcuterie table. I have to admit that I am a bit pressed for time in preparing the things I am offering, so I have to take the 6 week time-frame into account. I do think that this might be just enough time for a decent 'nduja, a quick version. You might have read about the lack of success with my first attempt. It was far from notable with it having over-dried and having a bizarre graininess. But as I eluded to in that last post, I have a couple fixes that I am banking on working out. Most importantly, my friends Emily and Henning (the same couple for whom I prepared the pulled shoulder) have recently moved. It just so happens that they have a room seemingly ideal for some charcuterie drying! And being a meat lover, Henning is happily accepting my offer of products in payment for his space and occasional tending to the goods (checking temperature, weight and refilling humidifier)!

Instead of beating a dead horse, I'll quickly remind you what wasn't right with the last batch: dry, grainy and it was rather mildly-porky in taste. So I changed the meat composition, peppers, added a controlled drying process, improved the pork quality and fermented this batch. And thus far they are looking much better, though I felt the last batch held good potential at the start. Since I wanted a large enough batch to give to friends as well as offer at the wedding, I ended up with a 24 pound batch, that should yield around 16 pounds in final product! The composition of this batch is:

3 parts Shoulder
2 parts fatback
1 part belly
9% hot pepper puree
9% sweet pepper puree
9% hot pepper powder
4.5% sweet pepper powder
Bactoferm™ F-RM-52 as directed (6g for my recipe)
.1 % cure #2
1% salt

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An egg-ceptional lunch, hamburgers in the BGE!

Spring seems to have physically arrived here in Chicago. And along with this I dusted off the Big Green Egg and moved it to its Summer-long home on the communal space between our coach-house and the front-house. Thanks to our fairly moist basement, it had started to grow some small spots of white mold on the interior. So a quick fire-up at 500˚ inside killed it quickly. I scrubbed it down later (after lunch) to remove any visible signs of the unwelcome visitor.

I picked up a bag of Cowboy Lump Charcoal from Home Depot, 20oz. of stewing beef and a couple fresh baked rolls (one sesame/one cheddar). At home I ground and mixed the beef with some Pickapeppa sauce, fresh black pepper, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. I formed 2 huge (see the picture below) patties that would fit nicely onto the rolls. One got bagged up for the next day. The other was seasoned with more black pepper (I am a fiend) and sea salt (I never salt ahead, it pulls out too much moisture if not used soon).

Chicago Charcuterie update

Well, the word is in, and I was kind of surprised. The Publican ended up taking home the Gold in the Time Out Chicago Readers' Choice Awards for Best Charcuterie Program. In saying that I was surprised is in no way saying it was unmerited! Cured meats aside, it is all done in-house and they switch it up nicely with some regularity.

But some other nominees in that category didn't go home empty-handed. Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social took home the trophy for Best New Chef. The Purple Pig grabbed up the Best Late Night Menu category.

I am not sure what it says for being the big dog in town, but the only nomination for one of Paul Kahan's restaurants that didn't win was for Most in Demand Dish. The Publican's Pork Rinds lost out to, oh wait, Pork Belly Tacos at his other place, Big Star! Personally, I voted once for each of these, love 'em both! Once again, my favorite sausage shack won an award, Most Worth the Wait at Hot Doug's was no surprise. My second home showed up twice on the ballot but failed to take home any prizes. Wait 'til next year guys!

For the full list of results, click here! Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some hunger-inducing reading: Smithfield, Parma and Spain

In preparation of Easter it seemed I came across a lot of good reads about ham. I have been a little busy with wedding prep and work to get a post worthy of you, so I am offering a couple good reads to amuse you in the mean time.

The Wonders of Ham
A nice story comparing the country hams of Virginia and Parma, Italy. Informative!

A great travel log in Spain eating some great sounding delights! Honeymoon here we come!

The Meat District
An article on the Meat District in London where I recently spent some time staging and dining. More than just ham!

(Smithfield Market from the balcony of Smith's, London)

I also just got news that a neighbor is going to allow me to use his garage rooftop as an urban garden. I have a great friend and also a newer acquaintance very versed is such things from whom I am looking forward to drawing on their knowledge. Pickle buckets, PVC and ladders are all in my future. Does this type of thing interest you? If so I might post things as I move along. But if you guys are just looking for meat, meat and more meat, I understand that too!

But worry not my friends, packages have been received and plans are in order for the next post. I'll give you a teaser, it involves a fiery Calabrian sausage I've attempted before!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Something sweet: Jalepeno Jelly

Believe it or not, I've made something not meaty. I will admit I do it fairly regularly. But since this is a preserve and it's done in an artisanal way, I thought it merited being shared with you guys. I love preserving. I know it's not very manly, but it helps offset all the extra testosterone built up from my smoking and braising! In my past posts I have talked a lot about my growing up and why I like meat so much. But I haven't yet talked about my paternal grandfather, Grampa Joe. We was an airplane mechanic in the Army Air Corps, was part of The Civilian Conservation Corps under FDR's New Deal, and even later worked for the postal system with my maternal grandfather. But two of the biggest things I remember him for now, and always will, are his hobbies. He was an avid carpenter/handy man. He is the one I credit for my ability to build, fix and create. He had a huge "wood shed" with all the necessary power-tools and he was always more than happy to take me out there and show me how to do something. I would look forward to having a reason to have him teach me a different technique or use a tool I had not yet seen. I took advantage of this when ever I had the chance.

But it was his other hobby that I think most other people cherish most in their memories. He was an avid gardener. Their property on the west side of town was over an acre, and at one point it seemed that half of it was a garden. I imagine his green thumb came from his time with the CCC. These young men made our National Parks what they are today, beautiful, safe and accessible. And this definitely carried over into his later years. Unfortunately for me, I was never really into gardening or eating vegetables. I remember my cousin would come over and head straight to the tomato plants, grab one, come inside and devour it with a little salt. I preferred to use the garden as a back drop to my target practice with grampa's pellet gun he'd let me use. As he grew older the garden grew smaller and the dust in the tool shed got thicker.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let me explain!

I guess there are a couple things I would like to air out for everyone. Perhaps no one has even noticed or questioned them, but I'd feel better to let you all know a few things!

I am happy to share recipes. If it is a recipe that I assembled myself I will usually put it in the post. If it is something I got from a published book, I will not publish it on my website, but will always happily credit the author who put the time into their publication and link directly to it in hopes you'll make the wise investment and buy one of these great resources. Either way though, I would likely send you a recipe via email if you request it, and again urge you to buy the book!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crispy strips of smoked Belly, a.k.a. Bacon

One of the most common things I hear from the few vegetarian friends I have is that of all the meaty deliciousness they left behind, it's bacon that they miss the most. I can see this. I am not so understanding of those meat eaters out there who claim to enjoy non-pork bacon though. Turkey bacon in particular. I understand curing something besides pork, but slicing it thin and calling it bacon doesn't do it for me. I have had, and enjoyed, beef fry, a kosher beef preparation very similar to bacon, but at least they aren't calling it beef bacon. I have read about lamb bacon and again question the use of the name. But who am I to say what other people can and can't call their creations. I just know that I would look at it with discern if anything but pork carried the sacred name (I know, sacred, a bit strong). But since I am sure you've already read my introduction post, you know how I feel about my bacon. It was one of the few meats I had with some regularity as a child, and will never want to live without it.

So that being said should make it no surprise that I enjoy making my own bacon at home. I can control the quality of the pork, the thickness of the slices (thin, thick, lardon slices), the additional flavorings (maple, black pepper, etc), the amount of smoke and type of smoke used (applewood, hickory, etc) and if I want to cold smoke it or hot smoke it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Leprechaun's pot of Corned Beef Brisket

Like most Americans, I am a mutt, a crossbreed, a cornucopia of mostly European bloodlines. But I can say that from both sides of my family I have a good amount of Irish, Scotch-Irish, even Kentucky Irish (one of the many sources for the term Rednecks). Throw in some French, German and Crow Indian and you have the whole me. My middle name is Patrick and my family name starts with a Mc as if the above didn't help or my pasty white skin and red-headed/freckled past wasn't enough to give me a good reason to prepare the Mid-March Feast of Corned Beef. But you don't have to walk with a shillelagh or kiss the Blarney Stone to make this treat at home from scratch. It does take a week from start to finish though, so be sure to plan ahead if you want this for the big "everybody's got some Irish in 'em" day.

I personally used a sous-vide method and will describe that, but I will also let you know what to do if you don't have a vacuum sealer since a decent zip-lock will work too. But first you'll need the following:

5 # Beef Brisket (you can go larger or smaller, but adjust the amount of spices accordingly)

1 t Black peppercorns
1 t Coriander seeds
1 t Mustard seeds
5 ea. Bay leaves, crumbled
10 ea. Allspice
4 ea. Cardamom pods, smashed
8 ea. Juniper berries
1 C Kosher salt
3/4 C Brown sugar
1 t Curing salt #1 (optional to preserve pink color)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chew on This

Ever since I was a little kid there has been a place in my heart, and belly, for the chewy goodness of beef jerky. Whether it was the simple stuff in the plastic zip-locks at the grocery store or the clever use of the scraps they used for the shredded jerky that they packaged into the "chewing tobacco" dip cans found on the counters of gas stations across Illinois, I gobbled it up. Even at a young age I appreciated the history of salting and drying meat to save for later. While I personally never had to worry about storing the meat from a whole buffalo during a long and arduous journey, the lore of it intrigued me. And so did the taste. Until the late 90s I had only ever had a beef jerky. But while living in hunter-central Wisconsin I had my first venison jerky and loved the mild gaminess of it. Unfortunately I haven't had it since.

There was a turning point for me earlier in that decade when I found a jerky recipe in the "How To" section of a Maxim Magazine. I had never considered that it could be made at home. I guess I bought into that "slabs of meat drying in the plains over a wooden rack" idea a little too much. Thanks Jack Link. But the idea was exciting and frugal for me. I could make this stuff at home and not have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for such little product. So before I knew it I was making the good stuff a couple times a year, and it never lasted long. Not because it spoiled, but because I devoured it! I remember it being a combination of soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, sugar and hickory liquid smoke (and of course a couple other little things). It was oven dried at the lowest setting over night. I don't recall what cut it called for in the recipe, but it ended up being only slightly cheaper than buying the stuff in the bag. But like we often feel when we create something delicious, I did it myself!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Meat butter on bread, or Roasted Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad

Since you are on a blog that focuses on charcuterie and other meaty items, it is likely that you've been around the web once or twice reading protein enriched writings. And it is also probably safe to assume that since you are media savvy and like smart-alec cooks telling stories that you are at least familiar with Anthony Bourdain. And since you likely have at one point been entertained by his musings, you have probably read his thoughts on Chef Fergus Henderson and that little restaurant he runs across the pond, St John. Well I certainly had when I was living in Toulouse, France and decided to be the ultimate tourist and visit Dublin for St. Patrick's Day. But being on a budget I had to go about it in an affordable way, and by affordable I mean budget airlines and cheap lodging. The budget airline took me from Toulouse to Dublin, via London. But the connecting flight was the following day each way. So I found myself having some time to kill in a city I had yet to visit, except of course, during lay-overs.

But after having read so much praise from Bourdain and so many other lesser known food-writers out there, I was very eager to give St John my sparse coin. After reading nothing but positive reviews and deciding that I could almost afford a lunch there after the horrible exchange rate, I set out that morning to eat nose to tail. And of course I had to have the oft written about signature starter of Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad. I had never eaten bone marrow, and usually avoided that part of the steaks that included a slice of bone when younger. But the descriptions I had been reading tantalized my taste buds.

Friday, February 26, 2010

You've got the brains, I've got the brawn.

When working in the second restaurant during my stage in France, I had my first experience with fromage de tête, what we Americans call head-cheese, or as I learned later while staging in London, the Brits call brawn. I now see some humor too in the Pet Shop Boys song (Opportunities) that mentions, much like the title here, brains and brawn, but in a much different sense. My Apple dictionary might help explain...

brawn |brôn|
nounphysical strength in contrast to intelligence :commando work required as much brain as brawn.Brit. meat from a pig's or calf's head that is cooked and pressed in a pot with jelly.I will admit that the first bite was quite off-putting many years ago. It was rather indescribable at the time. It was like pork times 100, an unusual pork taste times 100. It was served with a sauce ravigote (mustard, vinegar, shallot and capers). But less than a week later I was found snacking on the scraps every time I had to slice it for service. So when I made my last batch of Bath Chaps I picked the remaining meat morsels and decided to make a mini-brawn.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tough choice in Chicago Charcuterie.

One of the hardest times I tend to have when ordering charcuterie is simply deciding what I want to enjoy. Do I stick with an old favorite like chorizo? Do I try a twist on something I am kinda familiar with like a lamb lomo? Or do I go completely off the path and get something I have never even heard of like a Catalonian vic fuet? If it is affordable and offered I usually opt for a pre-selected collection on a "platter/board" of some sort. But that isn't always an option. Sometimes I might pick one from the first two categories just listed and ask the server to pick a third for me, kinda leaving just a tiny element of surprise.

But then I had to throw all my methods of operation to the wind recently when I was forced to select only one thing from a charcuterie list. I guess the only good point was the fact that instead of ten things to choose from, there were only five. This was made more difficult though by the simple fact that all five offerings were great choices. I had eaten all five before, so going for the one that was new wasn't an option. Another important thing to consider was the fact that I wasn't simply choosing between a type of charcuterie, but rather an entire charcuterie "program" from five of Chicago's best pig-loving hot-spots. I was excited to see this category while I was clicking away on the website for the TimeOut Chicago Eat Out Awards reader's poll. But when I saw the list I was suddenly overwhelmed and felt like a grandparent being asked to choose a favorite grandchild. And it wasn't made easier by having a juvenile delinquent or murderer as an option.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tongue-in-Cheek cuisine.

The English seem to have found a slightly more appealing way to name what some might consider some less-desirable seeming food objects. Brawn fills in for head-cheese, a terrine shaped dish made from the meat of a pigs head that is set in a sort of meat-jelly resulting from the head's cooking process. Or within the same category, take the English term offal, pronounced perhaps without coincidence the same as awful. It is a way of saying variety meatsfifth quarterorgan meats or simply innards. And since I am a little less hesitant than most to try things of this nature, when I was offered some Bath Chaps during a recent stage in a London kitchen, I jumped at the chance to give them a taste. As I learned as I took my first bite, Bath Chaps are a preparation of the pigs jowls, or cheeks, that have been brined, poached, often rolled up with the poached tongue, sliced and pan fried. And let me tell you, they are fabulous. Nice visible layers of fat and lean with a little bit of skin and tongue.

As you can see in the photo, this one from my dinner at Hereford Road in London's Notting Hill neighborhood, that it almost resembles a cross between pancetta and fried bacon, only sliced thicker. Both places I enjoyed this, Hereford Road and St. John Bread & Wine served their version with a small green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Project Revisited: Air Dried Ham

During the Fall after returning home from my second stay in France I decided to get a little more serious about my cooking plans. At a local farmer's market I saw a pig farmer hocking his wares and asked if he'd sell me a half a pig. He did so happily and I picked it up a week later from the slaughterhouse in Chenoa, IL. I wanted it in part to practice some butchery, in part to get a lot of meat for less, and in part because I wanted to try to dry a ham, much like those I saw in that first charcuterie shop I wrote about here.

As I mentioned before, it was my first venture into this, so I wasn't looking for an acorn finished wild breed. This was a standard central IL mix, fed 85% corn and 15% soy, but raised just up the road. It came in at about 90#. I weighed out the main cuts and recorded them at:

Ham: 24.5#
Butt: 15#
Jowl: 1.3#
Belly: 8#
Ribs: 2.5#
Skin: 5.5#

Monday, February 8, 2010

From across the room.

My maternal grandfather was a cook in the US Army. I never really asked him anything about it while he was alive. He'd occasionally make a crack about peeling potatoes, but that was all I really remember about him relating to food except for a few things I knew he loved to eat. He loved the fried catfish at Barney's, the BBQ at the Caboose, Buffalo Wings at Schooners (who doesn't love these?!), the Fried Chicken from the Grand Hotel and fried livers and gizzards, but I don't remember where he got those. But he didn't cook much at home. I do remember loving his huge batches of hamburger hash cooked up in an ancient seeming cast-iron skillet, something I always pictured him cooking for the ranks back during The War. Since I spent a lot of time at their place during the summers, there are two very distinct foods that always accompanied his quart of Busch as he swore at Andre Dawson or cheered on Ryne Sandburg (OK, we all know it was mostly swearing as any die-hard Cubs fan does, a lot). They were salted, roasted-in-the-shell peanuts and pork rinds. If you heard a bag being opened in the kitchen, you knew a small snack was at hand. But unless you were paying attention you didn't know which it was until Charlie took his first bite. And if it was pork rinds, you knew it from across the room.

These bizarrely shaped super-crunchy curls of deliciousness always intrigued me.
"What is a rind?"
"What part does it come from?"
"This can't really be the skin."

These days, when you buy a bag at the store a lot of them come with a small packet of hot-sauce. Clearly an influence of our central American population and their treatment of the "chicharron," though this wasn't the case back when I first started eating them. But as with so many things that once just had its place, the crispy bits of often discarded deliciousness, pork rinds seem to have been moved to a new status. Being seen on pork-centric and gastro-pub menus across the country, they are perhaps almost, chic? But I assure you, that with his white t-shirt and fatigue pants driving down the street in a woody-station-wagon, Charlie was not looking to set any trends!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pulling your leg, err, butt.

Some friends of ours recently made the purchase of their first home. Unfortunately it came with an electric range/oven. So Rebecca came up with the idea that since it won't be installed for two weeks that we make them some food as a house warming gift. They have a lot of work ahead of them, unpacking, putting together 2 trips worth of Ikea furniture, etc. And since they both have full-time gigs, they will be plenty busy. One of the many things we have decided to make was some pulled pork. Henning, the husband, is a German born, French (Alsatian) raised meat lover, so this was my gift for him in a way!

I started with a 7# shoulder piece and split it in half, kinda following the split that was started from removing the bone. I brined it overnight with salt, maple syrup, mixed peppercorns, yellow and black mustard seeds. The next day I made a dry rub of hot italian powdered peppers, sweet paprika, garlic powder, salt, fresh black pepper, ground clove, ground guajillo pepper and onion powder. After patting the shoulder dry I liberally rubbed the spices in and let it hang out for 30 minutes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'Nduja update.

So, yesterday I finally gave in and had to try one of the small tester pieces of the first 'nduja batch. It had started out at 170g and was at 100g when I finally cut it open. All of the pieces are at the 40% loss point. So I took them off the drying rack and put them in an unsealed plastic bag with room for some air circulation. While I want to stop/slow down the weight loss, I want them to remain untouched to prevent bad growth. I am leaving them at the 60˚ temp to continue to promote some internal maturation.

When I sliced it open and took that first whiff it was smokey, peppery and a little porky. I knew right away that the fat content was too low. While it wasn't firm in any way, it also wasn't spreadable. I peeled off the casing, which was pretty easy, and took a bite. Not very porky. This is likely because of the fact I used "commodity" pork from the carniceria and because it hasn't had enough time to develop its flavors through aging. The heat took a second to hit me, but it did on the back of the palate after a few seconds. It wasn't as hot as I had expected though. Another aspect that wasn't as prevalent past the first smell was the smoke. I thought that with the chipotle purée and 4 smoke sessions it might be too smokey, but it was only barely smokey. And the last thing that disappointed me was the occasional "sandiness" from what I am assuming was the paprika powder. I thought I had mixed everything well, but maybe I hadn't. I guess it sounds like this was bad, but it wasn't. It is still quite tasty, but just not as I had expected and aimed for. I am going to let these continue their affinage and have some every now and then. But in the meantime, I am going to get started on the next batch, with some changes!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bresaola update.

Well, my first project that was birthed and finished on Low on the Hog has happened. The bresaola comparison is now complete. Neither piece came out perfectly, but that is why I do this, to learn what I can "get away with" with my less-than-ideal conditions, to compare and to eat some great things. And I must say that all three happened.

And the end of my last post on this project I thought it would take another week to reach my weight loss goal 40% on the two pieces. Actually it only took 3 more days. The Charcuterie version hit it easily while the Beef version got pulled at 38%, basically because it was getting too hard. I had also mentioned that the Beef version had taken on some white mold. I am still not 100% certain that this was actually the case. The more I looked at it the more I began to think that it was simply salt residue. There were a couple spots that looked more like mold, so maybe it was just a combination.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another beast, Bresaola

So, it doesn't come from low on the hog, or from any part of the hog for that matter, but Bresaola is a delicious Italian cured meat, made from beef. I used the eye of round. I picked up a piece a little over 3# and cleaned it up to just under the 3# weight. At this point I had been trying to decide which of the 2 recipes I had narrowed it down to I was going to use. But in knowing that a single 3# piece was a bit thick I decided to split the eye down the center and try a version of each.

The two recipes I was trying to decide between were those of the Charcuterie book by Polcyn/Ruhlman and the one of Beef from Torode. In the past when researching recipes I tended to find a chunk of recipes that were quite similar baring only slight differences. For things like charcuterie the differences might be specific cuts of proteins, times of processing, spices & seasonings or slight variations in these things. But these two recipes are quite different. The Charcuterie recipe is what I expected when I started thinking about this project. A highly herbed and spiced dry cure followed by a few weeks of drying. But the Beef recipe was quite a surprise. It was a wet cure, or what some might call a brine or even a marinade. These two later styles are normally followed by cooking though.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Great Find: Restaurant: The Purple Pig Chicago

Several months ago I had read in a local media outlet that a new Mediterranean influenced place was opening up and that it was going to focus on "cheese, swine & wine." A few weeks later I saw a job posting on craigslist and even submitted a resume. But I never heard back. It wasn't the first time nor will it be the last. But I still kept waiting for the place to open. It would continue to get press always saying it would be opening soon. And finally last week it did.

All of the media outlets talked about the 3 "heavy-hitters" involved in The Purple Pig; a Chicago restaurateur: Scott Harris, another Chicago restaurateur/chef: Jimmy Bannos Sr., and an unnamed "well-known Chicago chef." That first chef's son, Jimmy Bannos Jr., who has worked in some great NYC kitchens, would be running the kitchen here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On the 'nduja train

This past fall I visited London with my now fiancée. One of the places we visited was the Borough Market. I found some great things to eat there and others to take home. Things like the hundred great English cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy, the bacon sandwiches at the Northfield Farm stall (who's display case is my profile photo), the mouthwatering menu from Roast, beautiful jars of pickles and preserves (with noteworthy packaging) from England Preserves and last but far from least, the Calabrian spreadable salumi called 'nduja. I came across the website for Boccalone, Chris Cosentino's pork goodies shop, which offers his version online. So I figured that if Chris can do it, I can at least give it a shot. So after some recipe research online I came across a couple recipes, and surprisingly, a lot of other people who are looking for some 'nduja, who are making 'nduja or who are writing about 'nduja. So alas, I am not alone.

In short, 'nduja, pronounced in my poor phonetics, en 'dew yuh, bares a name resemblance to the French sausage Andouille. But aside from including pork tripe it bares little similarities. It is closer to the Cajun version with its heat. The meat generally consists of pork and it often includes some 5th quarter offerings like tripe and a good amount of fat which helps keep it spreadable, a main characteristic. It is richly red, an attribute that comes from its other main ingredient, red peppers. There is a combination of both rather spicy peppers and fairly sweet peppers. Recipes offered either pepper in a powdered or a puréed form. This spice is obvious as soon as you take your first bite and will stick with you through the last! As noted in some of the readings I found, finding these Calabrian peppers right now is a bit tricky. Maybe it is because of the growing popularity stateside for this treat. Another Illinois based pork-nerd, Larbo, over at This Little Piggy notes a couple sources and several more posts on this spicy topic.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year Paté

So I guess it's about time for an actual post about some charcuterie! This past weekend was time for our now annual New Years Day Dinner. We have our 2 "best couples" over for a celebration of the New Year. Since I work in the restaurant industry it works out pretty well to do this on New Years Day since most restaurants are closed. And though I like to try to keep things new each year, I really wanted to do another terrine. Last years terrine was pork belly, duck innards and pistachios. It was done in the standard French method and turned out quite nice. This year I wanted it a bit more American. So I substituted some things in ingredients but stuck with the same technique, which always turns out quite well. "How so?" you might ask!

I started with a 5# skin on pork belly and a single pork tenderloin, a little over a pound. On the first day I cleaned and trimmed the tenderloin so it would be a consistent shape down the center of the terrine. I then brined it overnight with salt, black pepper, brown sugar, Templeton Rye Whiskey, crushed red peppers and some allspice.