Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Acadian Bacon"??? - What is Wrong With Me?

When I started this blog, I intended to chronicle my forays into pork preparation and preservation. Before long, I realized that I was preparing (and preserving) the same dishes over and over. Lonzino is absolutely amazing, but one I've documented how I make it, does anyone really want to see it again and again? I think not. Furthermore, much of my work was recreating the work of Michael Ruhlman and Jason Molinari. Why read my work when you can read theirs? This led to a fairly long hiatus in posting. It's not that I lost interest in pork (or other meat) projects. I needed to make it interesting to read about. The good news is that I am back at it. If you've read me all along, you know that I am interested in barbeque, sausagemaking, meat curing, and basically anything that involves taking "long-cut" to preparing food. I really should join the Slow Food movement.

So among my recent projects was a random idea that hit me one day. I thought it would be cool to take a pork loin and cure it in the style of Canadian Bacon but, instead of using pickling spices, why not give it a Louisiana flavor profile like Tasso?
Pictured to the right is a half of a pork loin bathing in a brine of kosher salt, Cure #1, sugar, cane syrup, garlic, chili, cayenne, mustard seed, and bay leaves. This bath lasted 3 days and then the loin was treated with a crusting of garlic, cayenne, chili, and salt before being heavily smoked over hickory.

I am not posting the recipe yet because it needs some work. This final product was absolutely delicious, but it needs some work. It had the look and feel of high-end deli meat. I was looking for a denser, pinker cured effect. I think it may need more time in the bath. I am going to do some research and try again. I will post the recipe when I get it the way I want it. In the meantime, I am "stuck" eating all of this smoky goodness. Oh, well. I guess there are worse punishments for "failure".


Only one thing tastes like Bacon...

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am trying my hand at making bacon. Well, the preliminary results are in... and we have a WINNER! I modified Michael Ruhlman's recipe for Maple-Cured Bacon by subbing our own Steen's Cane Syrup for the Maple Syrup and then hot-smoked over hickory for 3 hours. All I can say is that bacon is ridiculously easy to make and economical to boot. The main challenge is being patient enough to wait until it is done.

Let's take a look at the process:

First you need a "Green Belly". These can be challenging to find, but a call to the Gourmet Butcher Block here in New Orleans  quickly solved the problem. Whole Foods can get them as well, but theirs are skinless.  For the bacon project, I wanted skin-on. I cut the belly in half and used one piece for the porchetta (see prior post) and then I used the other half for our bacon test.

At the right you can see my finished product. Not bad for a first try! I would describe this as a very porky/smoky bacon with a mild salty/sweet flavor. Overall, very well balanced.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rotisserie and Porcetta!

Hello Spectators! As promised, I am getting my posts back up to speed. Here is the first of several. I mentioned that I built a rotisserie on a budget. Here's what I did:

I searched and searched on eBay until I found a deal on a rotisserie kit for a gas grill. I ended up getting a Weber kit that retails for $179 for $11 plus shipping!. Then I went to Lowes and bought some 1x4's to make a frame to mount over my existing tabletop grill. It is not perfect, but my total investment is sub-$30. Hard to complain!

Now that I had a rotisserie, I experimented with a few cheap grocery store chickens to get the hang of using it. One came out well, the other burned to hell. I learned that bricks can make good spacers to lift your meat a little higher.

Once I had the basic idea, I HAD to try to make a porchetta. I bought a whole pork loin and a whole pork belly. I cut them each in half and proceeded to make the porchetta. The demise of the other two halves will be forthcoming. For those of you who are unfamiliar, prochetta is a traditional specialty of Northern Italian butchers- a pork loin wrapped in an uncured pork belly and tied into a "roastable" log.

Cooking the porchetta was a little challenging in that I had to monitor the fire constantly. I think that I need to raise the meat and build a bigger fire. (I vaguely remember that heat dissipates with the square of the distance or something like that...) That said, this dish came out very well. It is very mild and very porky.

I went to a local bakery and bought ciabatta rolls to make sandwiches. I sliced the porchetta wafer thin and dressed the sandwiches with mayo, romaine, Roma tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, and jus from the resting tray. This was amazing. The skin was crispy and flavorful. It got a bit rubbery (the skin) as leftovers, but the flavor was still there. Good stuff.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Too much pork for just one fork!

Hello Spectators! I will once again apologize for the spacing between posts. In the last year, most of my meat production has been remaking bresaola, lonzino, and pancetta. While I love each of these products, I cannot see the point in posting the same projects over and over again. Fear not! I am back to innovating and have several new projects to tell you about.

First, I have built a custom wood (and charcoal)-fired rotisserie. I live in New Orleans and, each year, the local Greek community puts on a fantastic Greek Fest. I always make a point of getting the spit-cooked lamb. This year, I decided that I needed to make my own. The large ones that can handle a whole pig or lamb cost $3,000+. I decided that it would be unlikely that I would cook a whole animal  often, so I scaled my plans down. I will post the details later, but I ended up building a decent rotisserie that can handle cuts up to about 30-40 lbs for under $30!

Next, I have multiple new projects underway. I currently have Cane-Syrup Cured Bacon curing in the fridge. I also have made a Cajun-Spiced Porcetta that is drying in the fridge as well. I wil find itself on the aforementioned rotisserie tomorrow afternoon.

Lastly, I have a new project underway. Earlier this year, I made pastrami according to the recipe in Michael Ruhlman's Chacuterie. I decided to use his brine, less all of the seasonings, and use it to make a Creole/Cajun-flavored Canadian-style Bacon out of a pork loin. I am jokingly call it "Acadian Bacon" as a nod to out Canadian ancestors.

More postings (with pictures) to follow. I promise.


Thursday, June 30, 2011


I am working on getting this blog back up to speed. This has been a very busy summer for me at my day job, but meat projects are still on my mind.

My latest project was to make the Pastrami recipe in Ruhlman and Pollan's [u]Charcuterie[/u]. I made the brine exactly to the specifications and used a 5 lb grass-fed brisket from Whole Foods. I smoked it for 5 hours using oak and orange wood.

It is simply stunning. Delicious. I atee it by itself for a few days, then I made some sandwiches.

My very best was to place 6 slices on foil in the broiler until the edges started to crisp. Then I topped them with baby Swiss and continued to broil until the Swiss started to brown. I transferred the meat and cheese to toasted rye slathered with German mustard and pickles... Awesome, just awesome. So good I forgot to take pictures. Sorry. But it was really, really good. Try it.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Still here!

Hello Spectators,

I am still here. In February I sat and typed a massive post including pictures of all of the meats I had made through the fall and winter only to have my browser crash and ditch it all at the end. My disgust after that experience is partially responsible for my lack of posts in the last several months. Still, I apologize to those who still follow me. I will try to make it up to you in the coming months.

Here is a brief catch-up on what the heck I've been up to for the last year:

1. I bought a new house and moved. The new house has a "shop" that I have renovated to include an area to store all of my meat processing equipment and house my brand-new (larger) curing chamber.
2. I have been making boatloads of fresh sausages, such as sweet Italian, hot Italian, bratwurst, merguez, and linguica. I also developed a new venison sausage that it really good (recipe available on request).
3. I have been curing the basics, bresaola, lonzino, and pancetta.
4. I have been preparing to take the dive into fermented sausages, which leads me to the secondary purpose of this post- I have run into a problem and am asking your help.

I bought a new curing chamber last year. It is a temperature controlled wine fridge. I chose it because wine fridges don't dehumidify like regular fridges do. It has a built in thermostat that controls the temperature from 50-65 degrees. I have used it for several months now ith great success. As I prepared to jump into fermented salmumi, I got the idea to check the accuracy of my controller. I set my thermostat to 60 and placed a digital thermometer in the chamber. 24 hours later, the new thermometer was reading 66 degrees. Perplexed, and thinking that my thermostat was busted, I decided to add an analog thermometer to cross-check the thermostat and digital thermometer. To make things worse, the analog read 58 the next morning, while the digital still read 66!

So I tried another experiment: I placed a glass of tap water in the chamber overnight. The next day I tested the water temperature with my digital meat thermometer. The meat thermometer read 60.8 degrees while the analog stayed at 58 and the digital 66.

As of right now, I am inclined to trust the meat thermometer and the thermostat in the wine fridge. However, I feel like I need a better handle on temperature control before I ruin a bunch of meat. Conversely, there is a part of me that thinks that there are probably many Italians who just make this stuff in their attic or basement with no controllers.

Any comments, advise, or suggestions from the Spectators are welcomed. How do you all ensure your temps are right? Am I over-thinking fermented meats?