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Crepinettes: Caul-Wrapped Goodness

18 Jun

Caul fat, contrary to what you might expect, is not some kind of witch-magic fat that comes from a baby. It is in fact a membrane that wraps around the stomach and intestines of a pig (and perhaps other animals, although I’ve only ever had it from pigs). It’s an incredibly fun kitchen “toy” — it’s typically wrapped around various meats before roasting, and the thin membrane locks in flavors while the tasty fat melts and infuses the meat; for this reason its often used to wrap lean cuts and game. I’m also partial to caul-wrapped liver (especially chicken livers).

Caul can be difficult to obtain. My most recent samples came from helping slaughter and dress two hogs (you can read about this life-changing adventure on my medieval food blog — it was one of the best experiences of my life). Getting to see caul fat in situ was extremely exciting to me — it’s a beautiful, ethereal net, and it’s quite lovely when it’s still fresh in the pig. I’ve also had fairly good luck ordering it from full-service butchers. If you live in the Portland area, the most reliable sources I’ve found are Laurelhurst Market (they have it at the meat counter) and Ponderosa Meats (where it is a special — and expensive — order). It stores relatively well frozen in vacuum-bags.

When you are ready to use it, and once it’s thawed if necessary, simply soak the piece you wish to use in water; some people recommend adding a little vinegar to “freshen” the odor, but I haven’t found this necessary. If your caul is stinky, it’s gone bad or was mishandled during the gutting process. That may be personal bias, I didn’t find the inside of a pig to be overwhelmingly stinky and I’ve always thought of myself as really squeamish about smells (the outside of a pig is VERY stinky).

I have a lot of caul on hand right now (it’s okay to be jealous of that), and so I’ve been trying out different things to do with it. My current favorite is crepinettes — this is a traditional French fresh sausage, where logs or patties of seasoned pork are wrapped in caul and roasted or pan-seared. There are many ways to season crepinettes, if you are going to make them its really worth making a few batches with different flavors. For my most recent round, I did three one-pound batches, each with a different seasoning, and froze each batch in labeled containers to thaw and eat at my leisure. From one pound of meat, I make eight crepinettes. I found I was able to wrap three pounds of meat using the caul from one pig — depending on processing/trimming and initial size of the pig, your mileage may vary.

Here’s a basic recipe for crepinettes, to be adjusted to your preference:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 complete piece of caul fat
  • 1 T Kosher salt per pound of meat (I like salty food)
  • Spices to taste (generally 1 tsp – 1 Tbsp per lb of meat, depending on your preferences)
  • Other lovely additions: fresh herbs, dried fruit, and nuts

If you are truly insane, hand-chop the pork shoulder by first cubing it, then whacking away at it with a sharp knife in small batches until it is all finely minced. This yields the best finished texture but it is time consuming, rather exhausting, and will dull your knives (and you need to start with a very good, very sharp knife for it to work). Second best option is to grind the shoulder yourself using a coarse grinding plate in a meat grinder. If both of these are beyond your reach, buy pre-ground pork or ask your butcher to grind the shoulder for you.

Divide the meat into one pound portions to season. As you add the seasonings, knead the meat well as you would for meatballs. Once seasoned, divide each batch into eight equal portions, flatten into patties, and wrap in small pieces of caul, overlapping the edges of the caul to form a seam.

To cook, preheat oven to 400°F, roast seam-side up for 25 minutes, flip, roast for another 15 minutes. The exterior should be uniformly brown and crispy.

I like to eat these on a bed of garden greens (mâche, baby kale, and arugula being my favorite combination so far) dressed with — what else? — butteraise, or walnut oil, salt, and white-wine vinegar (or, if you can get it, verjuice — juice from unripe grapes).

Here are some seasoning suggestions:

  • Quatre epices: pepper, clove, nutmeg, ginger (or cinnamon)
  • Exotic peppers: long pepper, cubeb, and grains of paradise
  • Medieval “powder fort” or “powder douce”
  • Sage, fennel, red pepper flakes
  • I made a particularly excellent batch with a mix of medieval “fine spices” that was gifted to me at a reenactment event, walnuts, fresh sage, and dried cranberries, plus salt. For one pound of meat, I added 1 tsp of the seasoning mix (I do not know what all it contained but I do know it had saffron, which went very well in this), 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts, a large bunch of sage (finely chopped), and 1/2 cup of dried whole cranberries. The cranberries were sweetened, which is frustrating if you’re watching carbs or omitting processed sugars, but added a good flavor dimension.

Here’s a picture of my walnut-cranberry-sage crepinettes, complete with ridiculous garnish (and flourish of butteraise — I’ve started storing it in squeeze bottles, which is possibly the best idea I’ve ever had):

crepinettes

A wonderful way for carpaccio

9 Apr

I’ve been on a pretty serious raw meat kick lately. Once I successfully made steak tartare at home, it was like I had crossed some threshold from which I could never return. I love steak tartare and carpaccio with an unrivaled zeal, and these foods have suddenly been transformed from occasional treats that I only splurge on when I’m at a particularly fancy and reputable restaurant to something I could have for dinner on a Wednesday night. And then maybe again on a Thursday night. Or for brunch on a Sunday.

I’m aware that this may not be the wisest choice. I have a healthy respect for the risk of food-borne illness — I’ve been waylaid before by some pretty awful bugs, and I don’t want to repeat the experience. In spite of following lots of precautions when I eat raw meat, I know that I’m exposing myself to a risk. It’s a reward that’s worth the risk, but when you consider each consumption as a separate roll of the bacteria dice, the more times you roll the more likely you are to come up snake eyes… or something, that metaphor got a little convoluted. The point is, is once a week too often for raw meat? Yeah, I think so. But… so tasty! I am conflicted!

In any case, for those who do enjoy the occasional raw meat treat (see my earlier post on the subject for suggestions for lowering the risk of bacterial contamination), here’s a particularly lovely combination: thinly sliced beef over a bed of arugula topped with butteraise, salt and pepper, and finely minced shallot:

Carpaccio Closeup 2

I used butteraise that was freshly made and slightly warm, which meant it was a bit runny. This was a nice effect for this dish.

Carpaccio

I really wish I had one of those nice squeeze bottles so I could have drizzled the sauce more attractively.

Carpaccio Closeup 1

You’re drooling. It’s okay, I am too.

Home Cured Bacon

20 Mar

I started another batch of bacon tonight. It will cure for a week and then I’ll cold smoke it.

This is the cure recipe I used, adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s:

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tsp pink curing salt
  • 1 T peppercorns
  • 2 T juniper berries
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 whole (blade) maces
  • 1/4 cup honey

Grind the spices in a spice grinder. Mix together spices and salts. Add honey and mix into a paste.

This should be enough cure for approximately 5-6 lbs of belly. The belly gets rubbed with the cure and then refrigerated for a week. I cut my belly into smaller sections and put each piece into its own zipper-top gallon freezer bag. When I did this before, I flipped each piece twice per day so that it would cure evenly. After curing, rinse and pat dry, and transfer to a wire rack in the refrigerator so that it will dry and form a pellicle. Cold smoke for anywhere from 2-6 hours, depending on how smokey you want it (I wanted mine super smokey, I think I did like 4 hours). I favor applewood.

Quick word on nitrites: I cut out nitrites years ago and have recently re-added them to my diet. First, when you buy “uncured” products they usually have celery juice, which is full of nitrites, so there’s that. Second, nitrites make bacon taste awesome. Third, although I eat absurd things all the time, there is a risk to making home cured bacon and using nitrites lessens that risk. The first time I made bacon, I made one batch with nitrites and one batch without. I did not like the batch without them, the bacon was an unpleasant color and didn’t taste as yummy. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on nitrites and have come to the conclusion that all together they are not as awful as I had believed. That said, I also don’t come from the perspective that YOU MUST USE NITRITES! It’s a decision you have to make for yourself, so read up on both sides of the argument and decide what’s best for you.

A tasty method for elk heart

8 Mar

Marinated and Grilled Elk Heart(Or any other type of heart, I suppose.)

Start with a very fresh heart. Trim out the nicest, most even solid pieces of muscle (I tossed the remainder to the very happy dog). Marinate in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, saba (a grape juice reduction — if you don’t have this, use balsamic vinegar in place of the red wine vinegar), juniper berries, whole blade mace, whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, and some salt. I marinated it for a couple of hours in the refrigerator, shaking the container occasionally.

I’m not good at keeping track of quantities, but I would say I used approximately:

  • 2 T oil
  • 1 T vinegar
  • 1/2 T saba
  • 1 tsp whole juniper berries
  • 1 whole mace
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Build a nice hot fire in your grill, ideally using a combination of wood and high quality lump charcoal. When the coals are red hot but there are no flames, grill the pieces of heart for just a few minutes per side, until the outside is nicely seared but they are still very tender when poked.

Let stand 5-10 minutes, then slice. Top with finishing salt (I like locally produced Jacobsen’s).

This was A+++ — I love heart, and this is the best way I’ve ever had it. The spices in the marinade are all traditional game accompaniments, and have wonderful robust flavors that stand up well without overpowering the fundamental awesomeness that is heart. I buy my elk heart from a guy at the farmers’ market, because I am a soft city girl.

(Hmm, I think I’ll add elk to my list of beasts for this year, even though I ate this before I “officially” started my challenge.)

A Simple Method for Steak Tartare

19 Feb
Steak Tartare

Having health insurance is nice.

I love steak tartare. I might eat it at every meal if I didn’t think that would send my beloved into absolute hysterics. I recently decided that, at the very least, it’s time that tartare stops becoming something I only ever get at very fancy restaurants and starts being something I’m brave enough to make at home. I found a few different methods for preparing it online, and decided to go for it. Before we start, I feel the need to say that this might not be for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not for the weak of stomach. These procedures are meant to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, but you are still eating raw meat. I think the risk is acceptable for me personally, you’ll have to make a decision for yourself.

The first step is meat selection. Generally speaking you want a rather lean and uniform cut of steak. I chose London Broil, which is also what I tend to choose for jerky. It’s nice and uniform and flavorful without being unbearably tough. I bought the nicest, freshest grass-fed piece I could get my hands on, directly from my extremely competent butcher. This is not something I would do with a smeary, plastic-wrapped abomination.

When you’re ready to make the tartare, clean your tools and work surface as well as you possibly can. I prefer to start with a cutting board and knife that are fresh from the dishwasher and a counter that has been wiped down thoroughly. Honestly, I bleach my counters fairly regularly, because I am pretty uptight, and I bleached my countertop before starting because I couldn’t remember for sure the last time I had.

Once everything is clean, it’s time to prep your meat. Some people recommend rinsing and then drying off the meat first, although I didn’t myself. Select a portion of your meat that is approximately 3-5 ounces in size and very uniform in texture, marbling, etc. and cut it out from the rest of your meat. Choose a storage container that is just barely bigger than this portion of meat and put about a half inch layer of salt in the bottom of it. Put the meat into the container and then completely cover it with salt. I used Kosher salt for this as it’s cheap and I have a lot of it. Put the container into the refrigerator and let is sit anywhere from 1-3 hours (I chose one hour). This salting step accomplishes a few things: it improves the texture and flavor (in my opinion) and desiccates any bacteria on the surface of the meat for safety.

After the meat has sat refrigerated for at least an hour, remove it from the salt, rinse it, and dry it. Using your sharpest knife (and again ensuring that your knife and cutting board have been sanitized before you start), slice the meat into tiny cubes.

Now it comes time to season, dress, and garnish the meat. I used a bit of salt (yeah, even after salting, I wanted more salt), freshly ground pepper, finely minced shallot, and the yolk of a very fresh organic and reputably-sourced egg. Fresh parsley would have also been great, but I had none. Traditionally steak tartare is served with toast, which obviously isn’t paleo and plus I can’t eat gluten even if I want to, so I ate this alongside a pear. A bit of pear after a few bites of the tartare really cut the richness, and was a perfect counterpoint (although not an option if you are keeping strictly low carb).

This was one of the most delicious things I’ve made myself recently, and I felt like I climbed a culinary mountain. I genuinely cannot wait to try this again!

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