Charcuterie

Pancetta Part 2 & 3

IMG_3816I was a bit delayed in the pancetta posting because, as usual, I became pressed for time. I never got to the stringing and hanging part of the pancetta process until a few hours before a flight to Japan. By that point, the pork belly had cured in the fridge for about 9 days. The entire slab had lost its “squishiness” and firmed up quite nicely.

After pulling the belly from the fridge I began the next process: rinsing it off thoroughly with cold water and patting it dry.

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Next came the tieing (kitchen twine) and the hanging phase of this sizable piece of meat. I learned how to tie meat while in culinary school and it’s definitely a skill that is best learned with visual observation, rather than a written description. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I checked out youtube and of course there was an excellent instructional video (which is far better than anything I could make) created by a Le Cordon Bleu Chef: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=rFIwbUBiRSE&feature=em-share_video_user.

I rolled the pork belly from the widest point until it was tight cylinder.

I rolled the pork belly from the widest point until it was in a tight cylinder.

Finished product.

Finished product. Ready for hanging.

We have a temperature controlled wine closet (one of our best and most successful DIY projects!) and Roger installed a hook in the corner for curing meats. The temperature runs about 58 degrees and the humidity is around 64%. Ideal for curing meat.

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So I hung it and left it hanging for 2 weeks.

So I hung it and left it hanging for 2 weeks.

You might see a few white spots and/or small light green dots during the aging process, but you shouldn’t be concerned. However, it’s not okay if it begins to be smelly and oozy…NASTY. Some experts advocate dabbing the white/green spots with vinegar and others say that these occurrences are a natural process. I dabbed at the spots I saw (just for esthetics) with a little white vinegar on a Q-tip  and they didn’t reoccur.

IMG_4314I recently had major foot surgery and I’m sporting a major cast. I had to ask Roger to retrieve the belly and put it in the fridge for a day until I could move around better on my crutches. When Roger brought up the meat, prior to wrapping it in foil and putting it in the fridge for a day, we both noticed – in the light of the kitchen – how much darker the belly had become. The wine closet is so dim that I had trouble seeing the change in hue.

I unrolled the meat and shaved off thinner areas that had become fairly tough during the aging process.

I unrolled the meat and shaved off thinner areas that had become fairly tough during the aging process. Some pancetta is maintained in a cylindrical shape, but I wish to chop my pieces up into lardon size.

IMG_4322As you can see, the meat turned out beautifully! I now have 5 pounds of pancetta to spread around to friends. I hobbled around the kitchen last night and made a pasta dish tossed with chèvre, asparagus, fresh peas, and sautéed pancetta. Because everything is so much more difficult now with this damn cast, I didn’t think to take a picture until after we ate the finished product. All I can say is that the meat tasted outstanding and I lived to write about it today, so it was a great success!

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Eat well!

April

The “Cure” for What Ails You: Pancetta!

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I’ve been wanting to dabble in charcuterie for years. The biggest hurdle I had was the shortage of one cool, humid location to cure a substantial hunk of meat. There aren’t basements in California like there are in my beloved New England (Dear Family & Friends: I pray the overabundance of snow and cold you’ve experienced this winter ceases well before opening day April 4th); therefore, my options for such a location were limited to nada. That was until Roger and I embarked on big a four day home improvement project over Thanksgiving break: a genuine wine closet with humidity control and everything! I’m sure you can imagine his dismay when I told him AFTER we finished the closet that I’ll need a teeny tiny corner for curing meat and potentially cheeses 🙂

Because, sadly, we don’t have a Farmer Hogget nearby, I had to resort to calling our nearby Whole Foods last week (the store in our town is the size of a postage stamp so you MUST preorder something like this) and request a 5-pound pork belly “harvested” from an organic and hormone/antibiotic free swine ($7.99 a pound). For those of you who don’t know, pork belly is in fact located where its name implies: the belly of a pig, which is uber popular and tasty in Chinese and Korean cuisines. Charcuterie is primarily made with pig and includes, but is not limited to: salami, bacon, sausages, terrines, and pâtés.

Because curing takes some time, I’m going to walk you through the process in steps. This post is going to cover the seasoning and curing in the fridge for 7-9 days. I began the refridgerator portion of the curing process 6 days ago and it feels as though my belly might be ready for stringing and hanging either Friday or Saturday.

Here’s what you’ll need (recipe courtesy of Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn):

  • 1 5-pound slab pork belly (skin removed)
  •  4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp/12 grams of pink curing salt
  • 2 ounces/50 grams of kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp/26 grams of dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp/40 grams coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp/10 grams juniper berries, crushed with the bottom of a small pan
  • 4 crumbled bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp/4 grams freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 or 5 sprigs of thyme (You’ll need to pull the leaves off of the stems. Drudgery)
  • A large 2-gallon Ziploc bag or a in a non-reactive container. I used a turkey brining bag.
Clean up your belly by getting rid of any loose pieces.

Clean up your belly by getting rid of any loose pieces.

Trim until you have a neat square with tight edges.

Trim until you have a neat square with tight edges.

Get all of your ingredients chopped, grated, etc. Note that I still haven't removed the thyme leaves from the branches. I HATE that job.

Get all of your ingredients chopped, grated, etc. Note that I still haven’t removed the thyme leaves from the branches. I HATE that job.

Get it all into a large bowl and mix. Hopefully an elf will come along and take care of that thyme.

Get it all into a large bowl and mix. Hopefully an elf will come along and take care of your thyme.

It's done.

No elf. Had to do the job myself. Done.

Rub it all over one side.

Rub it all over one side.

Flip and repeat.

Flip and repeat.

Place in the bag and tie it off.

Place in the bag and tie it off.

Every other day flip your belly. This process is called "overhauling."

Every other day flip your belly. This process is called “overhauling.” Once it’s firm and not squishy at its thickest point, you can string and hang.

As I type this post I’m reminded of the cat’s line in the movie “Babe”: “They only call them pigs when they’re alive.” Apologies to my vegetarian friends.

On another note, I was recently in Portland, OR and enjoyed dinner at an amazing place called Le Pigeon: http://lepigeon.com. It’s about the size of a phone booth, but the food they crank out is well worth the sardine-in-a-can experience. I ordered the heirloom beet salad and beef cheek bourginon, but the dish that was the show stopper was dessert: Foie Gras Profiteroles, caramel sauce, and sea salt. The crunchiness of the profiterole contrasting with the creamy foie gras with the sweet/salty backdrop of caramel and salt. Arresting combinations.

I got to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. PERFECT spot!

I got to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. PERFECT spot!

Profiterole perfection.

Profiterole perfection.

Stay tuned for the process of stringing and hanging…hopefully this weekend if all goes according to plan.

Eat more pork!

April

 

Pickling

In preparation for the long holiday weekend, I pickled some veggies yesterday. I plan on utilizing them a few different ways over the next couple of days. My first use was for dinner last night. I grilled a dozen spicy smoked sausages and slathered them in Pommery Meaux grain mustard and then topped the links with the pickled veggies (see above photo). The contrast of flavors: smoky, spicy, tart, and sweet, all in one bite, are scrumptious. Needless to say, we all went back for seconds.

Perfect meal to have with an ice cold glass of beer.

Pickling sounds like a complicated task, but it’s super simple. The only chore in the process is the julienning of your vegetables. Below are the ingredients and instructions for the pickling of say, a sliced whole onion.

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1.5 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup water (use distilled water if you plan on canning your veg)
Whisk the first three ingredients with the water until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Using warm water will help this process along.

Pour the vinegar mixture over your onion and let it sit at room temperature for at least one hour. This recipe will keep for two weeks in your fridge.

I decided to pickle half a head of green cabbage, one red onion, and a couple of carrots. In order to cover all of my julienned veggies with the pickling mixture, I tripled the above recipe.

As I said before, the only chore is julienning your veggies. Because the carrots I had were kinda on the small side, I decided to use my food processor with its julienne attachment to make my job easier.

I added my veggies to a large glass bowl and poured the pickling juice over them.

I placed a bowl on top of the mixture in an effort to keep everything submerged.

I let the mix sit on the counter all afternoon and we took what we needed for dinner and put the rest in the fridge overnight.

This afternoon I reserved about two cups of the mixture for a pasta salad (I recommend mincing the veggies for this purpose) and for dinner tomorrow night. The rest I decided to can for a future date.

I was able to can three jars of the pickled veg, and I’ve put them up in our wine storage closet. It stays cool in there all year long so it’s the perfect place to put up any canned items you might have.

Water bath, etc. is done and we’re waiting for the lids to pop (ensuring a good vacuum seal).

Monica just heard the first pop!

There are a couple of great books out there to help you with canning and preserving. The best one, in my opinion, is ” Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry,” by Liana Krissoff and Rinne Allen. Check it out!

Eat well!

April