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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

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