Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Christmas Ham


Gather 'round children and I'll tell you the Tale of the Great Christmas Ham! It's a little hazy, but it all started two weeks ago, with a little green nuclear mole named Russell...

Ok, obscure reference to a beloved children's classic aside, the short of it is that this year I set out to make the ham for Christmas dinner. It's a bit of a tradition that my dad loves a Honeybaked Ham with Christmas and generally, the rest of us could take it or leave it. It's always kind of dry, and well, meh. So I figured I'd take a crack at it. The goals of the experiment were:
  • Cure, Smoke, and Glaze a fresh ham from scratch
  • In just over a week
  • Ideally, having it be as good or better than commercial ham and
  • Ideally, cheaper too
The recipe I chose was the American-Style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham from Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie. The idea was get a fresh, shank end ham of between 10-14 lbs. Brine it and cure it. Smoke it. Then glaze before serving if needs be. So step one was get a ham.

The Ham

Ideally I'd have arranged a ham that was much older and with a history of past frolicking from one of my meat guys at the Farmer's Market. And I probably will next year. But for this year, time and budget constraints meant grocery store. Time really was of the essence, I had eight days to cure it before dinner time. Figuring a half day per pound, that meant I had to get on it fast. So Ballard Market it was, as they actually have butchers on hand who can cut things to order, and the pork there is usually pretty decent. But problems arose when what to my wandering eyes did appear but a whole case stocked with only picnic hams. Nothing against picnics (the lower part of the front-leg ham) but they are not for this application. So I talked to the butcher, who said they'd be in the next morning. Next day I'm back. Meat Dept was stiffed on the hams by the packing company. Ugh. Next day I'm back, finally, a whole leg of my own! It was 25lbs, while this would have been awesome (and probably difficult to fit on my smoker!) I didn't have time to cure it and frankly, didn't need that much. So I had them cut it in half and ended up with a nice 13lb shank ham. Quick! Home! To the brine!

The Brine

The basic recipe Ruhlman gives is a gallon of water, 350 grams of kosher salt, 360 grams dark brown sugar, and 42 grams pink salt (sodium nitrite). Stir all the salt in and boom: brine. I subbed in canning salt for the kosher, it's fine grains dissolve more easily in cold liquids. This is also a good place to note the use of weights in the recipe above, rather than cups. There's a lot more salt in a cup and a half of pickling salt than there is in the same volume of kosher.

Because I was down to the wire on time for curing it, I decided to get out my Cajun Marinade Injector needle and pump some of the brine all over. I figured this would help insure that the thicker parts were cured given the minimum cure time. And it presented me with the first in a related line of recurring problems. The skin.

Skin On or Skin Off

In poking around books, the Net and reading at the Virtual Weber Bullet, I couldn't get a clear consensus for skin-on or skin-off. Ruhlman says skin on, no mention of trimming before or after, and leaves it at that with no explanation why. But in the past, the skin on things like my bacon has always ended up like football leather after the curing and smoking. Not great eats, though good for soup. On the other hand, other people seem to trim it off as a matter of course, and again, never really explain why.

So I figured I'd try it with it on and see what happened. My thought was that it would provide a buffer layer, one that might help keep the moisture in the ham, preventing dry edges. Or maybe some people really like to eat it. Or maybe it has other tasty uses that Ruhlman didn't mention. So I left it on.

Which made injecting the cure very, very difficult. The injector was designed for turkeys and the thick skin was too much for it. So I compromised. Got out a box knife, and made a diamond pattern of slits all around the ham, just through the skin, not the meat. Then I injected at the intersections. Once that was done, the whole thing went into a Turkey Brining Bag (3 gallons?) with the brine. Then the bag went in a 4 gallon pot for structural support and flood prevention. I weighted it down with a plate so the ham would stay submerged, and flipped it a couple times over the next six days.

The Pellicle

First step in smoking it was forming the pellicle. This is the tacky outer layer that develops on cured foods when you let them air dry a while, and it is vital to getting a good smoke adhesion. So on the morning of the 23rd I took the ham out of the bag, washed it off and dried it with some paper towels, and stuck it in the fridge on a wire rack. It spent the day there, air drying in the fridge, for a total of about 14 hours.

Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

About 8:00 at night on the 23rd I lit my WSM, Minion method. In BBQ laymen's terms: Filled the charcoal basket with unlit Kingsford briquettes and mixed around my smoke wood: one good handful each of Hickory, Alder and Maple. Lit 24 briquettes and when they were going put them in the middle of the pile, put the smoker together, poured a half gallon of cold water in the pan, and placed the ham on the lower grate. Pretty quickly it was around 225 degrees, vents all open about 25%, they mostly stayed there or were closed for the duration.

At 10:30 I glazed the ham with a coating of Ruhlman's glaze: a mix of 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, 3/4 cup dijon mustard, and 1 T minced garlic. Honestly, I later ended up trimming almost all of it off. This did make the skin tastier, but didn't add much to the ham. Probably won't do it next time.

About 11:00 I went to bed, setting my alarm clock to wake me up at 1:00 AM to check it. At 4:00 AM my cat went berserk, (as she is wont to do), and woke us up. Or more accurately, woke Meredith up as I am largely cat-proof. A hazy "Did you check the ham?" resulted in a "Murrrmurrrr...What? OH CRAP, THE HAM!" moment. Yeah, I'd set the alarm for 1:00 PM. (I blame Winter Ale!) Ran outside, where it was 28 degrees out, in my bathrobe, and... ham was fine. Holding 235-ish. Man I love my smoker, 5 hours of not checking and it held temp like a champ. Poured another 2 quarts in the pan, which had gone nearly dry. I should have put a gallon in at the get-go. Oh well, no harm no foul.

After that adrenaline rush I didn't really go back to sleep, and began to check the meat temp about 6:00 AM. By 7:00 it was done, 150 degrees. Tented it and let carryover take it to 155. Looked and smelled amazing!

Service with a lot of Smiles

Christmas Eve dinner was at my Parent's house, so we loaded up the ham, glaze, some stuffing I'd made, Glogg, Dog, Presents, etc., and went over. Plan was to heat the ham in the oven and glaze it with the rest of the glaze. Here's where the skin again presented a challenge. Now it was smoked? Trim it and reheat like a store-bought ham? Keep skin on? After some consultation we decided to trim the skin, trim the fat, diamond hatch it, glaze and serve.

So I got to work with a sharp paring knife and before long had trimmed a 1 1/4 lbs of smoked rind and 1 1/2 pounds of fat off. You had better believe I saved them though, I was sure they'd be delicious in some future project. (And they were.)

I spread the glaze around with a large brush and then for kicks, hit it with a blowtorch. The trick was to get it to caramelize fast enough that it stuck instead of running off, but not so hot that it burned. This actually worked surprisingly well. I then tried dry brown sugar. Instant charcoal. Don't do that. Really the only failure in this whole thing was my glazing, I need to work on that one for next year. On a commercial scale, it's a skill and an art that takes a lot of practice to get right.

Finally I poured the rest of the glaze on, popped it in the oven at 275 until warm and finished it under the broiler just till the top glaze got a bit bubbly.

Sliced it for service. Lovely color, smelled and looked great, cut easily but not falling apart, nothing burnt or over-dry. A whole line of excited dinner guests were waiting... Wish there was a better photo.

Post-Game Show

So how did it meet the goals mentioned earlier? In terms of taste: outstanding. Several people said it was the best ham they'd ever had, and I would have to agree. Even people that "hated" ham were going back for seconds. It was the moistness that did it, some parts were like a tenderloin. It was awesome.

I'm no professional here, but based on my knowledge of the industry practices here's what I think happened. We all know time is money. And this took me a week to make. Commerical hams are injected all over, hundreds of times, by tiny needles and pumped with a cure solution, as well as other preservatives and flavorings. This does two things for the company. First it shortens the curing time to a day or two, meaning less storage space, faster turn around, etc. Secondly, this commercial method pumps the ham full of liquids that increase its weight, meaning more $ when it's later sold by the pound.

But there is a problem. Normally a cure would leech water out of the meat during the curing process, and ironically this makes it more moist later on. (For a great article on why click here.) But when the quick cured commercial meat then gets cooked or reheated, the holes and harsh cure squeezes the liquid out of the meat as the fibres contract, meaning dryer ham and the sortof "Meh, ham" reaction most people seem to have at Christmas. It was certainly clear that among our panel of tasters, the juiciness of the homemade ham was what everyone loved most.

So that's it on the taste. Way, way better than commercial ham. Everyone loved it. And I've been enjoying delicious Ham and Eggs for breakfast for a week now.

In terms of time, it was a close-run thing but the timing is pretty much right on. Six days to cure the ham, 12 hours to dry it, 10 1/2 hours to smoke it, then trim and reheat before dinner. Doing an overnight smoke did make me a bit tired by dinnertime. But it could have been the eggnog too...

Cost? The ham was $20, so counting in charcoal, spices etc lets say $25. Sweet! Though next year sourcing a better, older, more humane ham will no doubt be twice that or more. The time it took isn't factored in, it's a hobby and this was a load of fun on top of being delicious. But if you're really busy, maybe a commercial ham is more your style. But you can still throw it on the smoker though! Some of the recipes on TVWB look pretty good.

Will I do it again? Looks like we have a Christmas tradition in the making...

And the scraps of skin and fat? The post will be up shortly.

Update: the follow up post is up. Smoked Cotechino!
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009



Check out these beets. This one was a quick mid-week meal, that came out of a "What do I have around?" moment. I had a big, old leek. I had a bag of mixed root veggies (there's a farm at the market that sells these 5lb bags of mixed random roots: various beets, sunchokes, purple potatoes, etc., for $3!) Came up with this. It's halfway between Vichyssoise and Borsht.
  • 1 big, somewhat old, slightly fridge burned, leek. Chopped.
  • 1 Red Beet. Peeled and chopped.
  • 1 Orange Beet. "
  • 1 Yellow Beet. "
  • 1 small Sunchoke. "
  • 1 Orange Sweet Potato. "
  • 1 Yellow Sweet Potato. "
  • 1 Quart Frozen Turkey Stock
  • 1 T Fresh Thyme
  • 1 C Cream
  • Sour Cream / Green Onions as garnish.
Saute the leek in a little butter a few minutes. Then in goes the turkey stock and 2-3 cups water. When boiling, in go the root veggies and thyme. 15 minute boil, then in goes the cream, 5 more minutes and it's done. Take it off the heat and hit it with a blender. (I used my stick blender) Puree the hell out of it until it's nice and smooth. Season to taste with black pepper and salt.

Either serve warm, or serve chilled. Garnish with Sour Cream and thin sliced green onions.

Fairly tasty for something that I made up on the fly, that just used stuff I had around that was going to go increasingly bad over Christmas, and didn't cost much at all.
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Guanciale Update

After about nine days in the cure I took the two guanciale (Guanciales? Lo non sono Italiano!) out, washed them off, and gave them a coat of fresh ground black pepper, kosher salt, and ground grains of paradise. Then up in the basement where they'll hang out at 58-60 degrees for about three weeks. Smells delicious.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ghosts of a Law School Past: A Christmas Letter

This blog was never intended to be, nor shall it be, a platform for my inane rantings, petty grievances and the half-baked ideas that cross my idle brain. (Go follow some Twitter feeds if you want that. Ugh.) Nor was it designed to be a fame seeking, sensational or disgruntled catharsis for my professional frustrations. Mostly, it's just random projects I undertake and recipes I try out. Sometimes we go on adventures. I steer clear from controversy, partly because there's more than enough of it on the internet and partly because I have shady visions of some future confirmation hearing where some Senator is taking what I said 30 years earlier out of context and comparing me to Hitler. So it's rarely a platform for my opinions, because opinions are like...well we all know everyone's got one.

That said, counting two months of Bar Prep Classes, three months of waiting on the results, and another month waiting for my Bar #, I've now been unemployed for nearly seven months. Or only one month, if you just count the time after I finally got my Bar #, since in this economy I was essentially unemployable before that anyway.

And yeah, it gets me down. I want to get a job. And I want to get out of the house. And I want to make some money. We get by, but it would be nice to save for a rainy day. This time in my life is doing long term damage to my ability to own nice things and it's frustrating at times. And I look at a half dozen job boards and watch the tumbleweeds roll by. And I see posts on craigslist seeking someone with 4+ years experience who's willing to work for $25k, or that firm in Jersey that posted a similar ad and got over 300 applicants, and I sigh. And I get bored talking to the cat all day. She's not much of a conversationalist. On the plus side, at least the house is really, really clean.

But seriously, we're doing ok, things are going to be fine and are getting better, something will work out, and we'll move on with our lives. So to my friends and family: stop worrying, and stop asking. We know that it's only because you care, and we are lucky to have people like that in our lives.

I'm not going to get into statistics or quote articles, you can read the news for that sort of article. Suffice to say that unemployment of recent college graduates is higher than it's ever been, and NALP's own statistics for legal employment of the Class of 2009 are fairly miserable. This year nearly 5,000 lawyers were laid off from the top 'Big Law' firms, as well as about 10,000 assorted support staff. Times are tough out there. But I think the biggest problem (and annoyance) that the job search has shown is a sort of disconnect between the public perception of the legal world and the real world reality. And a bit of a reality check is in order. I am so tired of lawyer = instant automatic riches and success. Solid gold underwear, loose cars and fast women. Yeah that's what I thought too, going into it. But for most of the recent crop of lawyers, it just ain't so. What? You're unemployed? And you'd jump at the chance to make $30k chasing ambulances or reviewing documents 12 hours a day in damp basement? Or as a 3L recently told me, working for a firm right now for free on the off chance that they'll kick him some contract work after he graduates.

Which is sad, because I really wanted that solid gold underwear.

It's probably dry-clean only though.

As an illustration I present this (poorly animated, ugh, retelling of a Christmas Carol by Esq. Never. Despite the computer's inability to pronounce words like 'resume', Part 4 and the Epilogue are really the take home lesson. And I have to chuckle about making $35k in "Insurance Defense Chop Shops". Come on, my attorney friends at the firm I worked for made at least $40k... Haha, haha, sigh... Still, it should be required viewing for all 1Ls and those contemplating a legal career.

What's most interesting about this to me is that it was posted today on the ABA's own newsletter. Yes, the Bar Association spread this around to lawyers and law students, and without any sort of rebuttal or commentary. As always where disgruntled lawyers are concerned, I would advise against reading the comments. It may make your eyebrows curl. It's the Penny Arcade Internet Dickwad Theory in action (Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Dickwad):

But importantly the whole thing illustrates more than just one disgruntled law grad's opinion: it's endemic to the system and there are tens of thousands of law students and recent grads who agree with Esq. Never. And here's the crux: this is going to be part of our legal culture for years. Many of them will eventually find work, but it probably won't pay well and their loans will remain because you can't bankrupt out of them. I've heard tale of desperate lawyers taking out second mortgages on their homes, paying off their student loans, then bankrupting out of the mortgages, and losing their house, their credit rating and probably their license to practice in the process. That's how drastic it can get. And many of these lawyers are the, perhaps naive, but nevertheless well-meaning people who went to law school for public interest reasons, but due to loans cannot afford to work for Legal Aid, the Public Defender's Office or the State Attorney's. (Not that they're hiring anyway.)

Yes, Income Based Repayment makes it more manageable. But what exactly "Public Service" is is not clearly defined, and the only jobs that are certain, Public Defender, State Atty, etc., aren't hiring. So you could spend 10 years working for a non-profit only to be told, nope, no loan forgiveness, not publicy-servicey enough. And yeah, debt forgiveness after 25 years. Sweet! Except there's currently no income tax credit for that forgiveness, which would then be treated as income, and so after 10 or 25 years of making say $40k, you might suddenly find your income taxed as if you made $300,000 that year. Of course technically you did...and you didn't. But the IRS would still want more than your entire year's paycheck as taxes. Mercifully, at that point you'd at least be able to declare bankruptcy.

Meanwhile I'm going to be soldiering on. If the profession is broken, it's up to us, the new lawyers, the Young Turks, to fix it. Because the next half-century of legal culture will be shaped by thousands and thousands of disgruntled lawyers in debt up to their eyeballs. And hey, if U.S. history shows us anything it's that a group of disgruntled lawyers can get amazing things done!

Despite what has and is happening to the profession I still believe it's an honorable one, that things will improve, and that I can make it. And it's difficult, it's so easy to be a cynic about it. It's looking like I may try doing some pro bono work for the county Bar Association, so at least I can get out and accomplish some good in the meantime.

Which is very welcome, because the cat steadfastly refuses to actually read the book before our little book club meetings. What nerve. She just doesn't seem to care for Hemingway.

So to all of our beloved friends and family, and whatever Chinese spambots randomly crawl this blog in the future, I wish you Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Festivus or whatever Secular Non-Denominational Seasonal Celebration you celebrate! (Jesus isn't the only reason for the season, the Earth tilting away from the Sun has a lot to do with it too.) And now I have presents to go shop for.

Hey, turns out that was pretty cathartic.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Glögg For What Ails Ya


Continuing with the hot spiced posts!

So we live in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, which although experiencing rapid and, in some corners unwelcome change, has historically been the Scandinavian heart of town. And it's still pretty easy to get a glass of Glögg around the neighborhood this time of year. Pronounced 'glug' with a 'u' like in "turtle", it's a hot, spiced, and often fortified wine that, for many, is a winter staple. I mulled some mead last year, and it was ok, but I've never made Glögg. So I figured what better way to celebrate my near-total lack of Scandinavian heritage than by taking a crack at it.

There are about a million recipes for Glögg. But in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, "I was on the Internet and I found this..." Looking at several recipes I went with this one from a gentleman by the name of Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn. What attracted me was his reference to a historical recipe, fortification of the wine, and the idea of making enough to bottle it, so you just heat some up when you want it, rather than making a whole batch every time. Brilliant!

  • 1.5 liters of cheap, dry red wine. I used a WA Cab Sav that was $10.
  • 1.5 liters of port. I used one bottle of Whidbey's, a $14 WA fortified wine made by Chateau Ste Michelle from their Cold Creek vineyard and probably too nice for this application, and a bottle of Sheffield, a cheap CA port (Gallo) that was $7.
  • .375 liters of brandy. His recipe calls for .750ml, but only uses half. It's a bit confusing. Unless I was supposed to add the whole bottle and he just left that part out. So I just added to taste before it was done, which was about half the bottle total. I used a cheap VSOP, probably $14.
  • 10" of cinnamon sticks. I was suffering from stick envy and only had about 3", so I put a heaping teaspoon of ground cinnamon in to make up for the missing inches. DO NOT DO THIS. It just makes unpleasant grit at the bottom of your glass. Boo I say. Boo.
  • 15 cardamom pods, cracked with a pan.
  • 24 whole cloves
  • 1 orange peel. Used a potato peeler to take it off a navel orange. Avoid going too deep and getting the white layer, it's bitter.
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup blanched almonds. I picked up some blanched, slivered almonds in the bulk aisle.
  • 2 cups sugar
Ok. Wine and port go into a large pot. Add all the spices, the raisins, and the almonds. (It's probably a good idea to put the spices in a tea ball, or cheesecloth, to make separating them from the almonds and raisins easier later. I didn't do this and paid for it later.) Bring it up to about 120-30 and hold it there for about an hour. 'Simmer' on my stove worked pretty well. Remember, ethanol boils at 173 degrees. An hour at a near boil would significantly reduce the amount of alcohol in the wine. You wouldn't want to boil all the alcohol away now would you?

Meanwhile, in another smaller pot heat the 2 cups sugar and about half the bottle of cognac slowly until it starts to form large bubbles and is properly starting to caramelize. Remember: alcohol vapors can ignite, so don't go too hot on this one. Once it's caramelized nicely, into the large pot.

After an hour taste it. You can add more brandy or sugar to taste, I added about 100 ml more brandy. I think it's plenty of sugar. You could strain it and serve it now to a party full of thirsty family members on a frosty Christmas Eve, or to co-workers you don't particularly like and want to watch make fools of themselves at the company holiday party.

Or you could bottle it. He says to bottle while it's still hot, but I get the impression that he's reusing corks. Just shoving them in there. But I have a proper wine corker. And corking them while hot seems like it will just create a vacuum that will suck the cork further into the bottle. So I strained and let mine cool down to about 90 before I bottled. We'll see if cooling sucks the corks in any more. By the way, you could totally use beer bottles if you only have a crown capper. Or just shove an old cork in the bottle and drink it quickly.

I used four bottles, and you can reuse the bottles the wine came in. Didn't bother sanitizing anything, just made sure the bottles were clean. This high octane wine and will be drank by New Years. But I imagine a year in the cellar might meld things nicely, so I may make a batch for storage. Those bottles will be more thoroughly sanitized. When I was done I stuck some shrink capsules on, you know, just to be fancy.

Doing precise calculations is a bit difficult, particularly where sugar additions and heating, and thus water and alcohol evaporation, were involved. But I figure 1.5 liters of 13.5% wine, 1.5 liters of 18.5% port, and .375ml of 40% brandy works out to about 18.5% ABV. If you added the whole .750 of brandy it would be closer to 21%. Now that's a treat for Santa!

How is it? Outstanding. Delicious. Frankly, way better than the Wassail. Warm, spicy, nice oxidized-port notes, warming brandy finish, sweet but not too sweet, pleasantly orangy. The cardamom is a great addition.

With four bottles I've pretty much got Christmas covered, but I'm thinking I may do another 8 or so to get through the Winter. I figure I could make that much for about $50. Not too bad, considering that's over a gallon and a half of 18.5% spiced wine. In Scandinavia it is also made with aquavit. I'm thinking of getting another bottle of Linie and giving it a try. And I'll be saving the leftover raisins and almonds for something later in the week.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Sled Crash Update

No not me, that was so 2004, and I still have the scar to prove it. I mean the beer!

Racked the beer yesterday after 10 days primary ferment at about 65-67 degrees. Gravity was down to 1.016, and I don't think it will drop more than another point or two. Which is fine, it was 1.073 to start after all. Which makes it 7.5% ABV, a proper Winter Warmer. But in my attempts to make it more of an English beer it lost a bit of Northwestyness. So we're going to spice it!

For good inspiration check out The 12 Beers of Christmas in Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing. My first thought was: ginger-bread. On top of that, a few years back we were privileged to sit in on a 10 year vertical tasting of Anchor Christmas Ale. The recipe is a secret, and changes every year, but I remember 2001 had a serious black pepper thing going on that worked very, very well. So I also wanted to add black pepper.

I admit and apologize, in that the spice recipe for Punk! this lacked amounts. Yes, "add some spice to some bourbon" was a bit vague. So here goes. Into a mason jar:
  • 250 ml of Creme de Cacao
  • 100 ml of brandy
  • 4 Balinese Long Peppers, ground
  • 1/2 tsp Grains of Paradise, ground
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
Let this sit, shaking occasionally, until time to bottle.

The second phase of this master plan was this: Spruce Beer.

*Ahhh! Nooooo! Run away!*

Ok ok come back, perhaps an explanation is in order. The 2006(?) Sled Crash was a Spruce Beer. At kegging I added 1/4 of the amount recommended on the bottle of Spruce Extract. The whole keg instantly became Pine Sol Beer. It was hideous. It was undrinkable. It got dumped. Utter failure.

So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I spruce this beer.

But this time I'm adding this. It's a bottle of spruce tea. It was $2 at the Bottleworks. It's almost totally unlabelled, of unknown provenance, and of dubious legality. There's no alcohol, but initial taste tests show that it has a marked but not overpowering Spruce thing going on. (And goes very well with gin.) So I'll add this to taste at bottling. I figure I'll keg half with the spruce tea, and bottle the other half with the spices.

UPDATE 1/10/10

It's good, but it's an Old Ale and it needs time. I've taken the keg off tap and will cold condition it for a couple months before it goes back on.

UPDATE 2/16/10

Back on tap. Mellowed out a bit. Still crazy with a raisiny note. Maybe drop the Special B and certainly back off on the Crystal 80 next time. Still, drinkable.
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Good For Wassail's Ya


Sunday was Chore Day. It has to happen. We all hate it. The bathroom needs cleaning. The kitchen's a mess. The bills need paying. There's four kegs and two draught lines waiting to be cleaned out, and a beer needs racking. Laundry threatens to engulf us all. The cat disappeared into the recycling a week ago and hasn't been seen since. Sometimes things just need to get done.

But who says you have to do it sober? And nothing spruces up wintertime chores like Wassail.

A week or so ago Alton Brown did a Good Eats Christmas Special that is easily one of the best episodes in years. My favorite part is where he and Santa are besieged by militant Elizabethan Christmas Carolers. Back in the day, Christmas had a lot more in common with Halloween, including a sort of Trick-or-Treat in which carolers would wassail around singing for food, money and ale (with an implicit "Pay up or we set fire to your Carriage House.") Once they start throwing rocks through his window and wheel up a catapult, Alton and Santa make up a batch of wassail to appease them with.

Here's the recipe.

We made up a 1/3 batch, because well it was just the two of us, too much of a good thing, yadda yadda. For Madeira we used a terrifying, cheap, evil Madeira because that was all Safeway had. For apples, Galas, because that's what we had.

For ale, Deschutes Jubelale because:
  1. All "Winter Warmer" type beers in the NW are descendants of English Old Ales, which historically, being brewed around harvest in the Fall, would have been brewed stronger and saved in the cellar till Winter and Spring or even longer. As such they'd probably be the ale involved in Wassail.
  2. It was on sale for $10.50 a case. w00t!
  3. As I remembered, Jubelale is more English than most PNW winter beers, which tend to be hoppier. Wellllllll maybe they changed the recipe. In the wassail the beer became a bit too bitter. Next time I'd use a sweet, caramelly British import like Old Speckled Hen, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown or Taddy Porter, or Newcastle.
Otherwise, pretty delicious. And it certainly made the chores go faster! Too bad it didn't snow though.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Guanciale II – The Return


We're out of the last of the pancetta! Disaster! Lunacy! Conspiracy! Ok it's not so bad. But I demand more salty cured pork. Time to make some Guanciale. So on Sunday I picked up two pig cheeks from Seabreeze Farm, which I figure will tide me over until I order another full belly from them.

These rang in at just over a pound each, which will make quite enough Guanciale for a couple months. I never really cooked with Pancetta, until I had pounds and pounds of it around, and now I can't live with out it. It is the beginning to so many tasty things, so many easy and quick pasta dishes, so many soup and bean things that just need a bit of salty porky. And Guanciale is just more interesting Pancetta.

So step one is to trim them. First I take the skin off. Some leave it on. I think that it basically turns into football leather, makes it hard to slice thin, and keeps the spices and cure from really properly getting into that side of the meat. But to each their own. It does give a bit more texture when it's cooked up.

I use a scary sharp filet knife to remove the skin, just pull the skin up and slice parallel to the meat. I'm going to use the skin for something, I just haven't figured out what. I'm thinking I'll fry them up for a crispy topping to a salad, like I did with the pigs' ears a while back. Maybe braise them a bit first.

Next you need to take the glands out of the cheek. I'm not sure exactly what these do, I presume they're salivary glands, but I'm not a biologist. For all I know they produce the venom that the pig uses to catch its prey. (Alpacas, in case you were wondering.) But the glands need to go. Here's a graphic and gross photo. The Internet Guanciale Recipe World has many descriptions of them, but no pictures. "They look like little bubbles." WTF. So yeah, they're these sortof grey-green-tan marble things. Cut them out as best you can.

Yeah. Totally gross.

Next comes the cure. Last time I sortof skipped over, well, amounts. So in the interests of fairness here's what I used this time:

For two cheeks, about a pound each:

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 T cracked black pepper
  • ½ t nutmeg
  • 1 T Juniper berries, smashed with the bottom of a frypan
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • A pinch of dried basil and savory
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, stripped
  • 1/8 cup of Dry Cure. The basic dry cure from Ruhlman's Charcuterie, a mixture of dextrose, kosher salt, and sodium nitrite. I'm not entirely sure this will be enough, but ¼ cup is enough for 4-5lbs of pork belly. I think in the future I will just dredge the cheeks in it first, then put the spices on.

Mix all the spices and the cure and coat the cheeks. Into a big ziplock. They'll spend a week or so in the fridge, being flipped ("overhauled") every day. Then I'll remove all the spices, give em a coat of kosher salt for good measure and hang them to dry for three weeks in the basement. It's about 10 degrees cooler this time of year, so I don't anticipate any problems, though I did get a second-hand humidifier that I will employ if necessary. So now we play the waiting game, follow up post in a month.

UPDATE 12/22/09

UPDATE 1/10/10

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Wooly Pig Belly Confit

Looking out the window there is every appearance that it’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, there is not a cloud in the endless bright blue sky. The Olympics are white-capped in the far distance. It’s one of those rare Winter days in the Northwest where it’s not raining. Heresy, I know! You feel like you really, really need to be outside. And then you look at the thermometer and see that no, it still hasn’t risen above freezing. Winter in Seattle. If it's not raining, it's ass cold.

So instead I’m in a nice warm coffee shop. You really forget how much better things like coffee and dark beers are when it’s cold outside. Which is why we spend so much time in coffee shops and pubs I suppose.

This post was several months in the making, and I decide to wait until I could tell it start to finish, rather than limp along in installments. It begins with my September attempt at Confit of Wooly Pig. If you will remember, I was fresh out of decent quality fat to confit it in, and rather than use sketchy factory hydrogenated lard I opted to use olive oil. And it worked fairly well, and the pork was quite tasty although the olive oil was a bit overly flavorful. Well, Mr. Wooly Pigs himself, Heath, read the post, and was slightly aghast at the olive oil solution. Credit where credit is due, the man is an absolute evangelist for his pigs and offered to give me some real proper pig fat to try. So I happily took him up on his kind offer, and also purchased a hefty chunk of Wooly Pig Belly from him.

The idea was to recreate the smash hit of last FryDay 2008: Pork Belly Confit, but using Wooly Pig belly this year and confiting it in Wooly Pig lard.

Step One: “To Make Soap, First We Render Fat”

Or, to make confit I guess. The first rule of Confit Club is you do not talk about Confit Club. But I digress. Early in October Heath gave me about 2lbs of Wooly Pig fat. As mentioned in the last Wooly Pig post, these guys are bred to be serious lard hogs and do not disappoint. I took my cleaver and hacked up the fat into roughly 1/2” chunks. My grinder is out of action right now, I would have preferred to have chilled these to just above freezing and run them through the large die. Oh well.

The fat went in a pot with a couple tablespoons of water. The idea is to get the fat to slowly render out without browning or burning anything. The water helps get the initial amount of fat rendered before evaporating off. Onto the stove until just simmering. Then the pot went into the oven, without a lid, for four hours at 250. Every hour or so I gave it a stir. Then ran everything through a strainer. Voila. Chilled, solidified and ready to go: some of the best lard in the world.

For some reason I think this picture is beautiful. It's kind of mesmerizing. Mmmm lard.

Step Two: Prepping the Belly

Step Two: Prepping the Belly

Wooly Pig belly is unlike any other pork belly I’ve used. It was thick, and almost entirely fat. I actually laughed a bit when I got it on the cutting board, I had no idea how it would hold up in the confit.

I carefully trimmed out the few rib bones, and then sliced it into sticks slightly larger than lardons. Maybe 2-3” by ½” by ½”.

The base recipe is Jim Drohman's Pork Belly Confit from Charcuterie. Drohman runs Le Pichet right here in Seattle but I've never been. Need to get out there!

Anyhow the belly strips went into a dish and were left to marinate overnight in:
  • 1 t black pepper
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of cloves
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1 small bay leaf, crumbled
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • pinch of pink salt (sodium nitrite)
  • Dry White Wine to cover (I used Pinot Gris)

Step Three: Confit

After two days I carefully dried and layered the belly pieces in the bottom of a pan. I heated the lard just until it melted, then poured it over making sure that all the pieces were covered. Heated on the stove till simmering, then it went in the oven at 250 for about two hours. I let it cool in the fat on the stove, then layered the pieces in a Tupperware container and poured the fat over the top, again making sure everything was covered. Lid on, into the fridge. See you in two months.

Seriously, it will be fine. Confiting was how many people preserved food before refrigeration.

Step Four: Fry Day

Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we celebrate (and then bemoan) Fry Day. It developed as a way to reuse the oil leftover from frying the Thanksgiving turkey and has since turned into a gut-stomping festival of oddly inspired fried things.

For example, on a belly-related note, my mother made Chicken Fried Bacon this year.

It was sick and wrong. It was crunchy and maple-y. It was salty and delicious. Somewhere some poor bastard eats this with horrifying regularity. And probably protests against Healthcare Reform too.

So on Fry Day the belly confit went into the oven at 150 until the fat had melted again. This makes it much easier to remove from its protective fat, a lesson learned hard after the prior year’s confit. Carefully arranged on a spider, then lowered into 350 degree oil. Deep fry until crispy and puffy and golden brown and delicious. Goes well with a good mustard.

And of course, since I was frying, I don't have any photos. After all this work. D'oh!

How was it?

I’ve got to say, overall, a bit of a disappointment. The problem was not the quality of the ingredients, but rather their use in this application. The Wooly Pig Belly was simply too fatty for this. Think about it this way. Really good bacon is all about the balance of fatty and porky, salty and smoky, crunchy and chewy. There just wasn’t enough meat in the belly to get much pork flavor. It was crispy and delicious, and exploded in piggy fatty unctuousness, but ultimately was just too much. I think there has got to be a better preparation out there. Maybe trim an inch or so of the fat off, (and for godsakes save it and use it somewhere delicious!), and then roast the belly? Or maybe salt cure it and dry it? I’m guessing it would make outstanding lardo.

Of course the leftover lard is, if anything, more flavorful and interesting now that it has a hint of the confit spices. Even though the belly didn't work out as well as I'd hoped, the fat from these pigs is simply outstanding. So I’ve been using it to cook with. I’m thinking about doing some tamales with it soon, use up the leftover turkey…

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Monday, December 07, 2009

No Knead Bread

In the past bread, and most baking in general, certainly the esoteric world of pastries, has been the exclusive domain of my lovely wife. It's not that I can't bake things, it's just that I don't get quite the same giddy thrill out of it.

Nope, I'm pragmatic when it comes to baking. Get it in, get it out, quick and easy with minimum fuss. Recently though, due to her becoming a productive member of society, the weekly bread loaves were slipping. So I stepped in and took charge of bread. Because well, what else have I got to do. Talking to the cat is getting old.

As I was saying, bread is pain in the neck and I hate making it. All that kneading, and sticky dough fingers. Bah. So I started experimenting with so-called 'No Knead' bread. The basic idea is that rather than kneading and rising and folding and rolling, you let the yeast do the work for you, albeit over a longer time-frame. The gluten necessary for soft springy bread develops naturally, rather than through your kneady efforts. Then you use the magic of a scorching hot dutch oven to keep it from drying excessively and to ensure a crunchy awesome crust.

Here's the recipe as I have been making it for the last few weeks. This has become our house bread. It's great for sandwiches and for soups. It costs maybe a buck to make. It takes about 3 minutes of actual work. Get a pen and paper ready, it's incredibly complicated.
  • 22 ounces of bread flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 16 ounces of warm water
That's it. Seriously, bread is easy. Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a big bowl. Add the water. Stir around with a spoon until it comes together and most of the flour is absorbed. Done. Stop. No more mixing. Cover up with plastic wrap or something to keep it from drying out too much. I use my largest pyrex bowl (4 qt) which as a matching lid.

Now we play the waiting game. Let this sit somewhere reasonably warm for 19 hours. Yep 19 hours. Or 18, or 20, it doesn't really matter too much. I wouldn't go for say, three days. (Though I might do that soon just as an experiment...) During this time the yeast will rise the dough and glutens will develop. It will look like gross bread soup.

Flour up a counter or cutting board. Use your hands to pull the dough out, it should be sticky but will stick to itself more than to you. Fold it over on itself a few times and try to punch the dough down and press out the air. Cover with a towel and leave 15 minutes. Then get a bowl that will hold roughly twice the dough's size, lay a kitchen towel in it. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of corn meal on the towel. Shape the dough into a ball, drop it in the towelled bowl, and sprinkle another tablespoon of corn meal on top. Then fold the ends of the towel to cover it and set it somewhere warm to rise another 2-3 hours.

About half an hour before it's done, set the oven to 450 and stick your dutch oven inside. I have an enameled cast-iron one. I suppose you could just use a baking sheet and a pan of water in the oven, but I haven't tried it with this dough. When both ovens are hot, take the dutch oven out and take the lid off. Using the towel, carefully drop the dough into the dutch oven. Slap the lid on and stick it the oven. 30 minutes with the lid on, then take it off and go another 15 minutes without the lid.

Your bread will be golden brown and delicious. And it was foolproof, quick and made very little mess.

One thing I have also done that worked out well was add herbs. A handful of chopped rosemary went in a couple loaves back, and it was delicious. Just add right at the beginning, when you're mixing everything.

A couple months ago we tried making a sourdough starter. We got about two loaves out of it before it went horribly, horribly wrong. To the point where I kicked it outside to make it think about what it had done. And had to wash it out with the hose. Seriously, how can flour and water make that kind of smell!?! But if you've got a good starter, you could add a scoop rather than the yeast and this would make awesome sourdough bread.

Finally a word on scheduling. This bread takes about 24 hours to make. In terms of actual work time it takes about 3 minutes, but there's lots of resting. So I start it in the afternoon, so it's ready to be folded and re-risen the next morning, then baked and ready by dinner.

Now it's time to go make a sandwich, with some of the leftover sous vide turkey breast...
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Why it's Christmas sah!

Fremont lit up the Lenin statue.
And it's 28 outside right now.
It's officially Christmas Season.

Merry Christmas Comrades!

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Sous Vide Turkey and Stuffing

Ok, got a nice pint of Snoqualmie Avalanche Winter ale in front of me. Onwards.

Follow up to the Fried Turkey Post. So a year ago I saw this video of Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame, cooking a Thanksgiving dinner sous vide.

I really wanted to try it but never got around to it. Well this year we had several days of Thanksgiving chaos and at the end of it M and I were feeling a bit...let down. It had nothing to do with our families or the meals, it had everything to do with, dare I say, Holiday Imperialism!

Which is to say, when we lived in Miami we stayed there for Thanksgiving and came home at Christmas. So it became our holiday. We cooked what we wanted, invited who we wanted, and ran it how we wanted. And though it was fun to see our families and friends, something had been lost. So we talked about it and hit upon the solution: Thanksgiving 3.0

We went to the Farmer's market the Sunday after and picked up some ingredients: sage, thyme, root vegetables, mushrooms. Went to the Ballard Market and picked up a 20lb turkey. Went to Larsen's and picked up some day old bread. Got to cooking.

I decided we'd do both the sous vide turkey and the stuffing. Recipes here.

Boned out the breasts of the turkey, and cut off the hindquarters. Stuck the breasts in one gallon ziplock bag, thighs and drums in another. Each bag got a stick of butter, some sage and thyme, salt and pepper. I say some because, like Achatz, I really didn't measure. Squeezed as much air out as possible.

Took the cleaver and hacked the hell out of all the bones, the neck, and the necks and guts from the two fried turkeys from Thanksgiving. Roasted for an hour at 425, added some mirepoix, roasted a bit more, made stock. With the amount contributed by my mom (from the Fried Turkey carcasses. Thanks mom!)

I am now the proud owner of a gallon and a half of delicious turkey stock. Of course this went into the stuffing, made gravy, and formed the base of a Thanksgiving Leftover Shepperd's Pie.

Took my largest pot, the 7.5 gallon aluminum pot I use for frying turkeys, and put 4 gallons of water in. Heated to 175 and added the turkey bags. Thanks to all that water volume, it held 170-175 without too much faffing for the 2 1/2 hours of cooking.

Got to work on the stuffing. To the recipe I added about a quarter pound of cooked Chanterelles, two good handfuls of wild cranberries, and the rest of our leftover pecans, chopped. Again, everything went in a bag and into the pot. This one floats way more than the turkey, bread is full of air bubbles, so I weighted it down with a pot.

After 2 1/2 hours we pulled it and took some temp readings. Right on, even a bit over-cooked. Next time I may keep the water at 170 for an hour and then ramp down to 160.

But there was a problem.

Here's what the legs looked like.

Not particularly appetizing. There's no direct high heat, so no Maillard reaction, so no delicious browning. The meat may be perfect and moist, but the eyes say "Eww".

Depending on your serving plan you can skip this next step or not, but if you plan to present this to anyone or are a huge fan of crispy skin, you'll need to do this. Take a big pan, heat it to scorching, ridiculous hot and film it with oil. Sear the hell out of the turkey until the skin browns, it doesn't take long.

When you're done it looks like this.

Much better, no?

The Final Verdict:

It was seriously delicious turkey. Moist, and well seasoned. Also reasonably easy to do, and still took less time than oven roasting. Next time I'd cook them to 160 or so. Even sous vide, where no liquids can escape and it can't physically go above the temp of the water, 170 is pretty dry for poultry. Carving is a breeze, it's more like slicing deli turkey. All in all, if I didn't want to bother with the oil and cleanup of Fried Turkey I'd totally recommend this. On par with fried. Waaaay better than oven roasted.

The stuffing, however, was OUTSTANDING. For days we've been talking about it and because we made a whole Thanksgiving feast (there was also mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc) for two people, we have been eating it for a week now. And will be for at least another week... It is seriously, awesomely delicious. Chanterelles: absolutly, god yes. Cranberries: gives a nice sour bite and red color. Pecans: enh, take em or leave em, it's a texture thing. I may use pine nuts next year. But if you take nothing else from this the lesson is clear: poach your stuffing. Which is kind of funny. Here we have the chef of one of America's most cutting edge restaurants, essentially making a boiled British pudding right out of Lobscouse and Spotted Dog.

And it's delicious.
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Brewday: Sled Crash '09

Right. Way too many distractions at home. Way behind after Thanksgiving. So I've relocated to the Dray, got a nice glass of La Folie in front of me, and it's time to write.

It's been really nice here this last week, clear and crisp, cold but no rain. So it was time to get outside brew while the sun shines. Above is a photo I took yesterday while taking Ase for some walkies in the park. Of course they're forecasting it to get into the 20's tonight, maybe the teens with windchill.

Sled Crash is my annual Winter Ale, and is pretty special to me. My first proper brew ever, once I got serious about brewing, was Sled Crash '04. Brewed nearly six years ago to the day comes Sled Crash 09. The recipe evolves but at it's heart it is a standard NW Winter Warmer, a hoppier version of an English Old Ale.

Recently I've been working on cutting back on my crystal malts. I feel that in past years I've been overdoing it, and at high percentages crystal can give a bit of a caramel-sour taste that I'm not going for here. This year I added two biscuit malts to up the Englishness a bit, give it a bit of toasty-bready. Special B just for a little sumpin sumpin. Hops were just an ounce and a half of Cascade and some leftover Magnum and Nugget I had around. Yeast was Safale 04, the dry British yeast. This will be a starter for the next two beers: Buckwheat Honey Stout (on Nitro!) and round two of Triticus Maximus, my wheatwine.

One thing I did differently this time was I really got into the water chemistry. Seattle's water is pretty darn close to distilled, and while that's great for making Pilsners it needs some more buffering capacity if you don't want darker beers to over-acidify the mash. I used John Palmer's spreadsheet to calculate the mineral additions. It was actually pretty instructive, I ended up using four times more chalk than I normally would. It must have worked, I ended up getting exactly the gravity I calculated for, 75%. Not bad considering the problems I've been having in the previous batches.

Otherwise a largely uneventful brewday. Missed my target mash temp of 152, got 147-149. Two kettles of boiling water brought it to 153 pretty quickly. No prob. Also the knockout was cold, 163, but I blame the fact that it was 40 degrees out. So here's there recipe:

Sled Crash 09

5.25 gallons, All Grain
Est O.G. 1.073, Act O.G. 1.073
Est F.G. 1.017, Act probably 1.015
ABV 7.5%
21 SRM, 39 IBU

  • 9lbs US Pale
  • 2lbs Munich II
  • 8 oz Crystal 80
  • 8 oz Special Roast
  • 8 oz Victory
  • 4 oz Chocolate Malt
  • 2 oz Special B
  • 1/4 oz Magnum (Leaf, 14%) at 90
  • 1/2 oz Nugget (Pellet, 12%) at 90
  • 1/2 oz Cascade (Leaf, 5.5%) at 30
  • 1/2 oz Cascade (Leaf, 5.5%) at 15
  • 1/2 oz Cascade (Leaf, 5.5%) at 2
Mash Water Modification (for 3.8 gallons mash water)
  • 8 gm Chalk, 1 gm Baking Soda, 1 gm Kosher Salt, 1 gm Gypsum
  • Whirlfloc tablet at 15
  • 1 lb. Dark Brown Sugar at 15
  • 2 packets dry Safale 04
Mash in at 152-54 for 60 minutes. Knockout at 168 for 10. Collected 7.5 gallons, boiled 90 minutes, got pretty near 5.25 gallons. Fermenting away at ambient house temp, 65 degrees.

I had a request for some photos and explanation of my cooling setup, so here it is.

From Left to Right. Ball valve from the converted keg-kettle goes to a high-temp hose line into an NPT fitting in the Wort-In on the Shirron plate chiller. Below that is the Hot-Water-Out, connected to a short hose that drains the waste water. In the Summer I collect it and water the plants with it. Top Right is the wort-out, an NPT fitting that goes to a Blichmann Thrumometer to a hose with a spray tip and into the carboy. Below that is the Cold-Water-In, which has a plastic garden hose quick disconnect, so I can just click my hose right into it. The basic idea is that cold water and hot wort run past each other in opposite directions and separated by copper plates in the plate chiller.

On this day I had to really throttle the cold water end, almost to a trickle. The ground water is pretty cold right now and at first the Thrumometer was showing temps off the bottom of the chart (58). I'm planning to put a butterfly valve there at the connection so I can throttle it there, rather than having to run to the side of the house. But I got the 5 gallons cooled in about 8 minutes. In the summer I have to run the water full blast and throttle the wort valve to deal with warmer groundwater temperature.

UPDATE 12/14/09
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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fried Turkey

A couple years ago, while still in Florida, we took to the hallowed Southern tradition of frying turkeys. The merits of the method are many. Moist meat. Crispy skin. Total cooking time of about an hour and 15. So now we're back in Seattle and naturally The Family commanded that we produce a fried turkey. Or two, as the case turned out to be. So I've got my frosty beverage and will sit down to write. Here's the story, following this anyone should be able to handle frying their own turkey.

First, if you haven't seen it yet watch Alton Brown's Fry Turkey Fry.

At least watch part 2 for the flaming lesson in what not to do.

  • I have a Bayou Classic Cajun Cooker of about 40,000 BTUs. It was $40 at Home Depot. It's main purpose in life is brewing.
  • A large pot. I have a tall 7.5 gallon aluminum pot with a turkey lifter insert that came with a previous Turkey Frying kit. It is also good for things like Crab Boils. The burner that came with the kit was terrible though, and was replaced within a year.
  • A lifting device. No, you don't need Alton's Turkey Derrick. It's ridiculous and no doubt the product of gun-shy lawyers. (Seriously, what is with those guys?) But I also wouldn't use the "glove and small lifting handle" method either. Solution: my patented turkey lifting stick. Ok not patented, or particularly special. It's a broom handle with a steel hook screwed in the end. Sturdy and cost about $8. You could also use it to, I don't know, reach tall things and, um, hook them.
  • A long clicky lighter
  • A long dial thermometer. They come with the kits but otherwise run about $10.
  • A fire extinguisher rated for grease fires (Class 'B'). You're not going to spray water on a grease fire are you? No you're not. Because you like your house and skin just the way it is. Un-incinerated.

Ok. Now we need a turkey. 10-14 lbs tends to work best. Bigger and you start running into trouble. But smaller is ok. (Or try a 3lb chicken as practice. Or three, stacked on the turkey lifter...) We went for some labelled "Northwest Natural" and though 'natural' means nothing, at least these were apparently local-ish, vegetarian, antibiotic and hormone free. Farmer's market turkeys all were reserved well in advance. Bummer. Figure a pound a person so we got a 10lb and 14lb.


Of course you're going to brine your turkey, because all turkeys should be brined. I've done it several ways, including the cajun injection and cover with Tony Chachere's method. Spices always just fall off and burn, and ruining your oil. No, keep it simple. Alton's on the right track here. You'll need:
  • a gallon and a half of water
  • 1 lb dark brown sugar
  • 1 lb pickling/canning salt
Stir until everything is dissolved. Then stick your turkey in a bag and pour it in. Squish out as much air as you can. I've used garbage bags before, but actual Turkey Brining bags are available and they are cool because you can fit two smallish turkeys in! Double the brine, naturally. Let it sit in the fridge overnight, or at least 12 hours.

Time to Fry

Measure the oil you'll need. Have at least 3 1/2 gallons on hand. Peanut is best, but anything with a high smoke point will work. Got 4+ish gallons from Costco for cheap-ish.

Take your turkey out of the brine, put it on the lifter, and stick it in the pot. Add water until the level kindof meets the ankles of the bird. That's how much oil you'll need. But even in my 7.5 gallon pot I think 3.5 gallons is about as much as I'm comfortable using, I wouldn't go much past that even if I measured more. No one eats the bone part of the drumstick anyway. Dump the water, towel dry the bird, and dry the pot.

It's time to fry.

Add the oil in and start heating it. Adjust the air vent on the burner to get as much blue, and as little orange, as possible. From now on you're glued to the burner, so send someone else to get you a beer.

Heat it to 250. In the past I have tried heating to 375 first. While the addition of the bird is fantastic and terrifying, it mostly resulted in a lot of unnecessary danger and overcooked birds. But if like me you are frying two turkeys, you don't have much choice. Oil stays hot a long, long time.

Add the bird
  • turn the flame OFF
  • make everyone stand back
  • carefully lift and SLOWLY insert the turkey
  • if the oil is 250, this won't be very spectacular
  • if the oil is 350 this will be very spectacular, so add it slowly, an inch or two at a time and hold it there for 15 seconds or so before lowering it any further.
  • Dropping means splashing. Splashing means overflowing. Overflowing means Burn Ward.
Right. Turkey is safely in. Light 'er up and crank up the heat.

You're shooting for 350. It will take a bit to get there as the water boils off the turkey, but then it will shoot up once most of the water is gone.

So don't go anywhere.

Drink your beverage.

On the first turkey, at 14 pounder I put in 4 gallons of oil, which was a bit excessive and I had to watch it like a hawk. Frankly, I didn't need the added stress and about halfway through carefully took out two quarts of oil. Safety first.

I went for 35 minutes on the 14 pounder. Turn off the heat and carefully lift it out, then check various parts with a thermometer. It worked out pretty well, a bit overdone at internal temps around 160. You're shooting for 151 because carryover will take it to 160, so the carryover took it to 170ish, which is a bit overdone. Still tasty though. Went down to 30 minutes on the 10 pounder, came out perfect.

Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before serving.

How was it? A rousing success. Moist, tender, crunchy skin, pleasantly seasoned. And two turkeys, enough to feed 21, took about 2 1/2 hours, didn't occupy any ovens, and were also entertainment for the crowd.

Unfortunately now it looks like I might have "volunteered" for all future T-days...


Let the oil cool down, overnight is best. Crispy crunchy bits will sink to the bottom. You can a) pour it out on your compost/corner of your yard or b) decant off the cleaner oil through cheesecloth and use it again. We always do.
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