Since getting back from vacation I haven’t done much in the way of cooking. Thrown together a pasta dish once or twice but mostly it’s been eating out or just surviving by making my way through my liquor/wine collection before moving it across town.
I even completely skipped last month’s challenge, grinding, and turned the pork shoulder that should’ve been chorizo into pulled pork tacos. Charcutepalooza fail.
When I finally made my way down to the farmer’s market this past Sunday with Adam, inspiration hit and I spent the day making ice cream with the last of the season’s strawberries and pickling my favorite veggie – sugar snap peas – and working on bagels for my life list.
But there was no way I was going to fail at the Charcutepalooza this month. I was going to make sausage if it killed me (and I do mean literally, with, like, food poisoning and all that.) I had all the ingredients, I had the casings, and I had the time tonight and even though what I really wanted to do was get a burger at Central and then see Tree of Life, I came home and made me some damn sausage.
Well technically the first thing I did when I came home was pour myself some good Spanish wine and bake some brie with Mike’s Hot Honey since I figured I wasn’t going to eat for a while. I spent that precious time reading the manual for my new grinder and sausage stuffer.
When I bought the sausage casing I assumed that like any good SAUSAGE CASING it would be in individual units, Trojan-style. Instead I got a mass of flesh-like substance stuffed into a tub of salt rock, totally impossible to figure out one casing from the other. It may have even been just one incredibly long casing but lord knows I couldn’t tell . I’d hoped to extract a single casing since I knew I didn’t have that much meat to stuff (TWSS#1) and save the rest for future sausage-making attempts . Instead I had to sacrifice the entire batch into the bath of water in order to even find an end to use.
In the meantime I cut up my duck breast and set up a nice set of seasonings for the sausage – equal parts salt, pepper, and Penzey’s Bouquet Garni which I got as a free sample and wanted to use up before the aforementioned move, as well as two whole shallots and a garlic clove minced well. Then it was time to take a deep breath, shove the cubes down the hole (TWSS#2) and hope for the best.
When those first couple of cubes started appearing through the grind plate I felt a surge of confidence. I AM A MEAT GODDESS (TWSS#3). LOOK AT ME GRIND. It was slow but it happened. I felt so good that once the meat passed through the grinder plates I suited right up for stuffing.
Stuffing was…harder (TWSS#4). I’d read the instructions carefully for seemingly every part but this so I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to thread the casing onto the stuffer tube. I dug deep into my learned knowledge of stuffing-a-sausage-in-casing rules and figured: air is bad, right? So I freaked out if any of the meat made its way into the casing with air bubbles or if it was clear that the meat wasn’t fully filling out the casing completely. The first sausage was a piece of cake. The second sausage was a disaster so in a panic I shoved a ton of casing onto the sausage stuffer tube which somehow affected the rate and quality of stuffing and I don’t even know. I DON’T EVEN KNOW. It didn’t work properly at all and finally I just gave up. Two sausages. That’s 200% better than zero. I GOT A 200%.
I cooked both of them and honestly, they were really really good. The rest I saved as loose sausage to crumble on pizza or make into mini duck sausage sliders.
If there’s any indication I didn’t do something right it’s when I cooked the second crappily-stuffed sausage and the meat started pooping right out of the casing.I’m a little panicked that we’ll have to stuff again for the Charcutepalooza. The idea of making a fermented sausage like real salami and have to go through this again, with the added panic of bacteria and whatever else fermented sausages could harbor, sounds like a nightmare. But I shall prevail!
The whole point is it tasted really good and woooo meat grinder! I stuffed two sausages (TWSS#5)! I win at cooking! Look out Thomas Keller!
When Mrs. Wheelbarrow announced the fourth Charcutepalooza challenge – smoking – I knew exactly who I was going to call. My friend Wade is as crazy into food projects as I am, has a house with a sick kitchen and outdoor space, is super handy when it comes to technical fix it stuff, and – best of all – is really enthusiastic.
After last month’s disaster I didn’t want to cop out with a stovetop smoker, nor did I expect either of us to go out and buy a smoker. I had a better idea: when I saw it on the web a while ago the Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker had stuck in my head like a piece of gum under a movie theater seat. It fit into our budget and I knew Wade wouldn’t think I was insane for suggesting we try it. We had our smoker.
Here’s what we used:
- Two terra cotta pots that can fit on top of each other (I believe they were 15.5″ in diameter)
- Round grate that isn’t bigger than aforementioned pots
- Heating element
- Heavy duty pie plate
- Smoking chips (I foolishly bought the ones for the cameron stovetop smoker, not realizing there was a difference. It worked but you probably should buy the real stuff instead)
- A thermometer to stick in the top to gauge internal temperature of the egg
- A thermometer to stick in the meat to gauge internal temperature of the meat
- Lots of foil
The Pots: It quickly became clear in our search for the items that our smoker wouldn’t look like Alton’s and I recommend to anyone else doing research on the flower pot smoker not to waste time looking for those exact shapes & sizes either. Wade found two 15″ish sized pots of the same size and we stacked them on fop of each other. Following Alton’s sizing does mean that the grate will easily fit into the pot but because we worked around that issue so easily it’s not worth losing any sleep over finding exact sizes.
The Grate: Alton uses a 16″ grate in a 17″ pot. We knew we could get standard 14″ grates, which are everywhere, so we bought 15″ish pots instead (also because Wade quickly discovered that anything bigger is much more expensive). It still didn’t quite fit so in order to keep the grate above the heating element, we rigged it haphazardly with foil so that it would float well above the hotspot. It looked aesthetically terrible but it easily held the grate + the meat. Unfortunately the foil holders prevented the pots from creating a seal which is why we wrapped the whole egg with foil once we’d closed it. It worked! Very little heat and smoke escaped. Wade plans on going back and drilling nails or something directly into the pot so that it could hold the grate up sans foil which would solve the ugliness/seal issue.
The Heating Element: Initially we just stuck the whole appliance in the bottom. We wrapped up the egg like a present, stuck the thermometer in then got really excited as it started to heat up only to have the temperature stop rising and drop rapidly. This happened twice before we (ha, “we.” I mean Wade) figured out that there was an overheat sensor in the appliance and we should disassemble the whole hot plate so that only the heating coil was in the pot. This was also great because it meant we could control the temperature without taking apart the entire pot every time. Wade goes into detail more about how he fixed it on his blog. The short story is that where I would’ve given up, Wade used his super handy when it comes to technical fix it stuff skills to solve the mystery and save the day.
First up was a bison brisket that I brined in brown sugar, pickling spices and honey for a couple days beforehand. The goal was pastrami so we started it with a 1-2 hour smoking period and finished it in the oven over a water bath.
Once we’d put the pastrami in the oven we didn’t see any reason to do the oven finishing for the next cut of meat, a cut of pork shoulder that I’d rubbed with some pimenton, garlic powder, cumin and cayenne pepper the night before. The smoker held at well above 200° so we figured we could just cook the thing in there. We popped it in, wrapped up the egg and sat down to watch a couple documentaries about North Korea.
We’d take breaks to run down to stare at it. Just a couple of giddy schoolkids and their flower pot smoker.
When it came time to open it, the pork shoulder looked like this:
And I was like this:
And then our plates looked like this:
The pork was perfect, really tender and smoky tasting. I would caution future flower pot smokers to ensure the temperature doesn’t get as high as we did. When we’d unwrapped it to take it out the temperature inside the Beehive was up to 260° and I think it should really be done at about 220° for longer so that you could shred it into pulled pork.
While we ate we expressed some concern about our pastrami, still in the oven and still not quite as fork tender as pastrami should be. Thanks to some advice from the Twitterverse, we dropped it directly into the water and gave it another two hours, figuring that maybe after cutting against the grain it would lose some of its toothiness.
It still had some bite to it but it tasted wonderful, EXACTLY like pastrami with its delicious cracked coriander & peppercorn crust. I felt like a magician! It occurred to us after the fact that the bison brisket was much leaner than beef and therefore it wasn’t constantly basting in its own fat juices like traditional pastrami. Serves me right for trying to get creative with a different kind of meat but it was otherwise superb.
So there you have it. SUCCESS. I did it! I made pastrami and other delicious smoked meats! And I couldn’t have done it without Amazing Wade, who  got the pots for us,  had a lot of expertise to help me with the issues that popped up,  provided half of the pictures you see here, and  sent me home with a gift jar of xanthum gum which he just happened to have lying around (see what I mean about crazy cooking project obsession?). I’m so happy with how this turned out I’m cackling with joy over here.
Anyway, independent of whatever Charcutepalooza Challenge #5 will be, I already have my next cooking project set up. I’ll be picking up my pig head from Bev Eggleston at EcoFriendly at Sunday’s market. DUN DUN DUNNHHHH.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I failed on the corned beef. Hard. I was so proud of myself, ahead of schedule, had all the ingredients, and maybe sorta didn’t account for how long beef could stay in the fridge. I was just about to give my four pounds of brisket its brine bath when it hit me with quite an odor. I know raw meat doesn’t necessarily smell delicious but it was enough to give me pause (the gray exterior didn’t help my confidence, although I’m not usually deterred by the color of meat given how quickly it can turn gray). This was a big My Bad. I felt terrible for wasting the meat, the money, and the time. And maybe it was okay but since is the first time I ever really noticed any sort of smell on meat I figured that it said something and I should listen. I tossed it. It hurt.
I thought I could regroup and get more meat but time, work and running obligations, a lack of brisket in any area super or farmer’s market, and lack of imagination in trying another cut led me to this consolation project.
The first (and only) time I made fried chicken came from Thomas Keller’s ad hoc at home. Even without any experience, the ad hoc fried chicken is foolproof when it comes to flavor and one of the key elements is Keller’s lemon brine for for the chicken. The brine makes the meat so bright and succulent, it’s completely addictive. So while I was standing there feeling sorry for myself at the grocery store, I picked up some pre-cut chicken thighs and the brine ingredients.
Brining does add an extra step but it’s otherwise a mostly hands off project. You just dump a bunch of aromatics and salt into a large vessel with some water, simmer it until the salt dissolves, let it chill then leat your meat take a soak. Once you’ve let the chicken brine for a bit then comes all the standard fried chicken steps: dry coat, buttermilk coat, second dry coat, oil bath, stress over temperature of oil, stress that meat isn’t cooked all the way through, burn the first 6 pieces and finally make two perfect pieces of chicken worth photographing.
Anyway the chicken came out perfect, per usual. I’m very sorry I didn’t get to make the corned beef but it worked out since I saw a recipe for banana pudding and it seemed like the perfect way to follow a meal of fried chicken. Or I just wanted an excuse to make banana pudding and then talk about it and share pictures of it. Look!
Today when it was time to eat the leftover fried chicken I didn’t really want to eat it as is so I shredded it off the bone and made a bastardized version of the Chili’s buffalo chicken salad referenced in this post. And just like the one from the chain, it tasted awesome for the first half, like depression for the second and afterward I needed an antacid. Nailed it!
Thomas Keller’s Chicken Brine
Thomas Keller wins again! I’m only listing the brine ingredients since it will taste amazing whether you use it for fried chicken, roast chicken or plain old pan fried chicken breasts. In fact it would improve boring old boneless, skinless chicken breasts by at least multiple of four so if you’re trying keep things fast and cheap and like having things ahead of time I’d recommend getting a bunch of breasts from Costco, brine them all then freeze them until needed.
- 1 gallon cold water
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, smashed but not peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of parsley
In a very large pot, combine the ingredients and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Let cool completely, then chill for at least three hours. Add the chicken, making sure it’s completely submerged, and refrigerate. Do not leave the chicken in the brine longer than 12 hours.
- The brine can be made up to three days ahead of time. I recommend making it the day before you intend to start brining since the chilling process can take a long time.
- This is good for five pounds of chicken, give or take a pound or so.
So I finally ate the pancetta – TWICE – and I lived to tell about it. I first tried a few slivers on top of a pizza and since it didn’t cause any intestinal distress I assumed that I was safe to continue consumption. The flavor shocked me, I was surprised anything I’d done could taste that good. The next dish needed to put the pancetta a starring role. I figured BLT, amirite?, but since it’s technically not bacon and all I had on hand was arugula and I don’t like tomatoes, well. It’s something like that.
On the aforementioned pizza I paired the pancetta with dried mission figs and the sweetness of the figs so perfectly complemented the salty pancetta, it blew me away. I know I’m not the first person to think of such a pairing but I forgot how well they go together and I figured I could translate those flavors into other dishes. Just throwing the fig nubbins onto the sandwich seemed like a terrible and the idea of mixing the figs with oily mayo made my mouth water so I just blended them together. Sounds gross, tastes like winning.
The best part about making your own pancetta is that you probably don’t have a meat slicer and therefore getting your slices razor thin is impossible. Ultra thick cut bacon – bacon steak, really – is the best type of bacon.
This is where I make some heartwarming comments about how I learned what Charcutepalooza is all about: crafting your food rather than buying it and using what you learn to evolve your cooking and be resourceful blah blah happy thoughts HOLY CRAP I made my own BLT, more appropriately called a PAF, or, even better, a Fletch. Unctuous, salty with a hint of sweet. Pretty nifty. Martha Stewart should be making the shifty eyes in this direction.