The world of Charcutepalooza -- I'm trying things I never thought I could do and learning lots. This month's challenge was to produce sausage -- several types of fresh sausage were on offer. My choice was the pork garlic sausage with the addition of a few of my own spices. I bought a grinder and sausage stuffing attachment for the reliable Kitchen Aid and secured some hog casings -- all from Amazon -- surprised by Amazon being a source for hog casings!! My meat choice was the recommended boneless pork shoulder butt, garlic, salt and pepper and I added my own twist with toasted fennel and sage from my garden. Initially, the garlic was the overwhelming flavor but as the mixture has settled, the toasted fennel is emerging as dominant. No additional fat was added so the final product wasn't overly fatty (my complaint with a lot of sausage).
Seasoning ready to add to sausage
The process was chilling, cubing, chilling, chopping and combining, chilling, grinding (into chilled bowl), chilling, mixing, more chilling, stuffing, more chilling and eating/freezing. Whew! I did it solo and think it would be better as a two person operation -- one to push the meat and the other to guide the stuffing.
I've served the sausage for two friend dinners. One cooked on the stove top and the second on the grill with applewood smoke. Both dinners were well received.
Seasoned, moist and tasty are a few of my adjectives for the March Charcutepalooza challenge – adventures in brining. Because I’m more of a baker, I’ve never experimented much with meat cookery. Charcutepalooza is changing that and I’m developing a lot more confidence in my skills. The March challenge included an apprentice challenge of brining a whole chicken or pork chops and a Charcuterie challenge of brining a piece of beef. My choices were a whole chicken and a beef brisket (in separate preps).
I followed the recipes in Charcuterie for both challenges. My biggest surprise was that I had to heat up the brining liquid to simmer to dissolve the salt and sugar and then cool it to refrigerator temperature before submerging the meat. I never did that in my previous experience brining a turkey for Thanksgiving – no wonder it never seemed to work! The chicken was tasty and had a great texture. I used a free-range chicken from the local farmer’s market. I was unable to buy a brisket from a local farmer, so I cheated and bought a beef brisket from my local BJ’s. Once the brisket was brined, I braised it for around 4 hours. The result was a nice piece of corned beef.
The corned beef was made into mini Reuben sandwiches for a party last Saturday. I give a shout out to Nancy, Holly, Jude, Claire and Marjorie, who mixed, formed, ate, sipped and gabbed on Saturday. I used Zoe Francois Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes and taught my friends the technique. They baked boules, baguettes, pain d’epi and pitas over several hours. The Reuben sandwiches were a hit – whenever I passed a plate, it came back empty. Comments included the best corned beef I ever tasted.
Welcome to the world of Charcutepalooza – a year-long celebration of the craft of meat – salting, smoking and curing. Charcutepalooza is the creation of food bloggers Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy (http://theyummymummy.blogspot.com/). They lay down a monthly meat challenge for participants, taken from recipes and guidance in Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Information about the challenges, “ruhls” and bloggers are on Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog site (http://www.mrswheelbarrow.com/).
A couple of things attracted me to Charcutepalooza. The first is my nearly complete lack of knowledge of meat (only surpassed by my complete lack of knowledge of seafood). What a better way to learn? I participated in Tuesdays with Dorie to teach myself more about baking and pastry and this suits my style of learning by doing. Michael Ruhlman is one of my favorite non-fiction writers and food bloggers so using his book as the guide also was a draw. I love French charcuterie – smoked meats, cornichons and sour onions, Dijon mustard and a fresh baguette. This is my entre to making it rather than gathering it!
The February challenge was the Salt Cure and was broken into an Apprentice Challenge – making cured and roasted bacon – and a Charcuterie Challenge – making pancetta. Before I could begin the challenge, I needed to gather a few things. The first was the Ruhlman and Polcyn bible which came very quickly from my used bookseller. The salt cure itself had a few new ingredients—including cure salt and juniper berries. Living in the Capital District, I have access to some terrific food suppliers and was able to get both items locally from Adventures in Food Trading (http://www.adventureinfood.com/). We had a couple of days of blizzard conditions which slowed me in attacking the challenge. The last and most important item was the meat. One of the Charcutepalooza “ruhls” is to source meat as locally as possible from farms that humanely raise the animals. Again, this area is rich in farms and I am lucky to have Flying Pigs Farm in nearby Shushan, New York (http://flyingpigsfarm.com/). Flying Pigs raises heritage breeds and is a major vendor at New York’s Greenmarket – yes, they travel weekly from Shushan to New York City. When I picked up my pork bellies at the farm, the manager knew all about Charcutepalooza and had already filled several orders for pork bellies.
With all my ingredients, I mixed my basic salt cure (by weight, not volume). For the Apprentice Challenge I processed two pork bellies. To one, I added extra brown sugar and to the other, I added maple syrup, of course, local NYS syrup. At the same time, I mixed the savory salt cure for the pancetta. Being rubbed with their cures, they went into the refrigerator in individual plastic bags. Every few days, the bags were flipped until the bellies were firm. At that point, they were brought out of the refrigerator and the salt cure washed off. The bacon bellies were roasted in a very slow oven until their internal temperature reached 150 degrees F. The pancetta belly was wrapped in cheesecloth because it was too small to roll and it’s currently hanging in my cool and humid back room.
Bacon, bacon, bacon!
Cured & Roasted
Today I cooked and tasted my first slice of bacon (brown sugar cured) in an open-face BLT. The sandwich was served on homemade bread from Zoe Francois’ Artisan Bread cookbook. The tomato was one that I bought on the vine (and tasted pretty close to how a tomato tastes in the summer). I found it challenging to slice the bacon thinly, used a single slice of my homemade bacon on my BLT which was more like 2-3 slices of commercially bought bacon and found it very filling. It was delicious. I’m planning to use a few more slices in the next few days to make Amatriciana sauce (Divina Cucina’s recipe) and then slice and freeze the remainder. The pancetta has 5-6 days more to dry. When it’s done, I’ll make carbonara and write a post to the blog.
Bello Cioccolato is the name of my artisan chocolate business. I made the chocolate bonbons in the title picture. The blog name refers to my love of chocolate and love of Italy.
I have lived in Italy and dream of spending more time there some day. For now, live in Saratoga Springs and travel frequently for work across the US.