Thursday, January 28, 2010

How To Do The News

It's funny 'cause it's true.

That is all.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Brewday: Sake


God help me, I'm brewing a batch of sake. In my ever-increasing portfolio of fermentable experiments this one is new to me, and I've been putting it off and dreading its eventuality for quite a while. Well, the time is now.

You see, sake should be easy. It's rice wine. Cook some rice, add some water and yeast, what's the big problem? One word: Enzymes.

The magic of beer is possible because barley can be malted, the process of which makes starch-converting amylase enzymes available to the brewer. The starches in the barley kernel are broken down into simpler sugars, which the yeast may then feast upon. Rice, however, cannot be malted. The starches remain trapped, unavailable to yeast unless something else unlocks them. In a barley mash, you can add rice as an adjunct and the mash's enzymes will happily convert up to a fairly large amount of it. But what if you want to do an all-rice wine? You'll need another source of enzymes.

This is where mold comes in. Not just any mold, a very specific mold: Aspergillus orzae. When inoculated into rice, A. orzae forms a product known as koji, without which many Japanese foods wouldn't exist, including: miso, sake, mirin, rice vinegar, and more. The mold produces the same sorts of enzymes that malted barley does: alpha amylase, glucoamylase, etc., and will work to slowly break down the rice starches into something the yeast can handle.

In the U.S. you can get dried koji spores in small packets and culture it up yourself, or if you're really lucky you can find Cold Mountain Koji in a store near you, saving you weeks of painstaking koji inoculation and incubation.

I was really lucky. Once again Uwajimaya comes through! FYI: it's in the chill case, by the miso, about $7/20 oz. tub. Here it is on the left, looking like dried, oddly shaped rice.

The next problem is rice. Not just any old rice will do. First, you need Japanese short-grain rice. Next, that rice must be polished down to remove the outer oils and proteins. The higher the polish, the higher the quality of the sake and the more expensive it will be. Fortunately, Oregon's own SakeOne (makers of Momokawa) and F.H. Steinbart have teamed up to sell SakeOne's California-grown, Oregon-polished sake rice to homebrewers. The rice is 60% polished, which will make for a Junmai Ginjo sake. Here it is after soaking, but before steaming.

Incidentally, SakeOne is just a few miles from the vineyard where my Pinot Gris and Riesling originated. Small world.

Finally Yeast. The Japanese government maintains a bank of various sake yeasts. Fortunately, Wyeast got their hands on the most popular #9 strain and sell it in an Activator pack. With koji, rice and yeast we're ready to begin.

The Recipe

Sake is a complicated process, and I'm not going to do a detailed step-by-step when there are several other better guides out there. The basic idea is:
  1. Make the moto, essentially a yeast starter.
  2. The Moromi, the main rice addition. This has three steps, the Hatsuzoe, Nakazoe, and Tomezoe, each increasing the amount of rice and koji sequentially so the yeast can grow and handle it.
  3. There will then be a primary ferment and subsequent stabilizing steps.
  4. Ideally, around May I'll have somewhere near 3 gallons of sake.
I'll be following the recipe from Taylor-MadeAK, and following his task schedule.

The ingredients:
  • 10lbs sake rice
  • 40 oz. koji (two containers of Cold Mountain)
  • sake yeast
  • yeast nutrient
  • epsom salts
  • Morton Salt Substitute (Potassium chloride. It will provide needed potassium to the yeast, lactic bacteria and koji)
Sake is basically an unending series of little chores, and it pays to have a list of things that need doing. I tacked this one up in my kitchen. It has tasks planned out into March.

In Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain talks about how his pastry chef Andy would call him up, hungover, and shout "Feed the Bitch! Feed the Bitch or she'll die!" The Bitch was their sourdough starter, and it needed regular replenishing of flour and water. Sake is like that, very needy.

Feed the Bitch!

So the first step was to start the Moto, which is basically a big yeast starter. Koji, yeast nutrient, and epsom salts were soaked overnight in some water, while some rice was also soaked. I have elected for a more traditional moto in which a lactic acid ferment will coincide with the yeast propgation, which will give the sake the necessary tartness and pH protection it will need to taste good and stave off infection. The more modern shubo starter may be used, in which you add lactic acid at the get go to insure that it does not get infected. I actually have plenty of lactic acid around. Guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Anyway, here I already screwed up and soaked the rice for way too long. The highly polished sake rice needs much less soaking than simple short grain rice (which you can also use if you can't find sake rice). Oh well. Didn't seem to hurt it. Maybe it will ruin it. Who knows, this is my first sake.

Next day the rice is steamed. Yes steamed. You have to steam the rice so it doesn't get all waterlogged. Nothing about sake is easy. I'm using my bamboo steamer and some cheesecloth. Not sure what I'll do when I have to steam 5lbs of rice in one day... Several batches no doubt. And several hours of work.

So I combined the koji, water and rice and set to do its thing for two days, stirring morning and evening. It prefers 70 degrees, but our house is set to 65 right now, so I put it near one of the heating registers. Tonight the yeast goes in and it goes downstairs into the lagering fridge at 50 degrees. Then back out of the fridge for a couple days, then back in the fridge for a few more. Feed the Bitch.

I'll post periodically as it goes along. Next big step is the Moromi, which is about two weeks away.

UPDATE 2/16/10: The Moromi.

UPDATE 3/12/10: Pressing Matters

UPDATE 3/22/10: Kasu

UPDATE 4/20/10: Racking

UPDATE 5/28/10: Filtering and Bottling - It's done!
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Beer Bangers


If you're like me, then you now have M.I.A.'s Bamboo Banga stuck in your head. Maybe someday I'll make a Bamboo Shoot Banger just for kicks, but today's sausage is all about beer. British Beer in a British Sausage.

Bangers have a bad rap, mostly because in the U.K. they're often made with scary, scary ingredients. But it's a beloved, historical sausage, with roots in the World Wars and meat rationing. Stale bread added bulk to otherwise skimpy sausages. People grew to like it, now most British sausages have "rusk" (flaky bread crumbs) in them.

So this one began with a recipe from Len Poli's excellent site. Substitutions were made and the recipe was as follows:
  • 4 3/4 lbs pork shoulder
  • the last couple ounces of leftover smoked pork fat
  • 1 1/2 Cups British Beer
  • 1 Cup panko breadcrumbs, toasted
  • 5 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mace (I was fresh out of mace, so I subbed 1/2 tsp nutmeg + 1/2 tsp allspice)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 10+ feet of hog middle casings
Diced up the shoulder, then froze to partially frozen. Ran through the 3/8" plate on the grinder, then ran through the 3/16" plate. Mixed all the dry ingredients and added to the meat, mixed in the kitchenaid a minute or two, then added the beer.

I used Wells Bombardier, because it's a tasty and sweet British Bitter. Also I'd never tried it before and needed an excuse to drink the other half of the bottle... It is quite good. But any malty, fruity British beer would probably work.

Mix everything for another couple minutes till it's all come together. Then store the mix overnight in the fridge. Why? Beats me, Len says to do it so I did. I think it has to do with the breadcrumbs gaining volume as they soak in moisture. Who knows.

The next day, stuffed them into my natural hog casings. Again, I bought these during a sausage emergency and have no idea how big they are. My guess is they are closer to 28-30mm casings, not the 35mm the recipe calls for. So it goes. Hung them up to dry for a few hours, then half went into the freezer. All told there were 28 links and two large remaining loaves because I underestimated the casing I'd need, due to their diminutive size. Which was fine, this makes excellent breakfast sausage patties!

Which I ate for a week.

For dinner I paired the bangers with a traditional accompaniment: mash. Only instead of straight up mashed potatoes, I went for a slightly more, and yet possibly less, healthy Winter Champ.

Chop and boil two pounds of mashing potatoes in salted water, give em about 12-15 minutes. In another pan sweat a chopped leek in a stick of butter (see I told you) until slightly browned. Trim the stalks out of a bunch of kale and thinly slice the leaves. Add them to the pan and saute until wilted. Drain the potatoes and add to the pot. Add a half cup of milk, mash away. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

For the bangers: put in a pan on the stove. Set heat to medium. Add a good quarter to half glass of beer (I used my English Brown). Cover, simmer five minutes or so. Take the lid off and continue cooking the sausages until they are 150-160 inside and the beer becomes a syrupy sauce.

It's really, really hard to get a good picture of sausages. But they're still very, very tasty. Only change is next time I'll drop the white pepper to 1 Tablespoon.
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sunset Mine / Snowshoe Outing

So last weekend we tried to organize a large snowshoeing expedition. Get out, snowshoe to an old mine or at least something interesting, get some winter air, exercise, etc. Well, that all kind of fell apart. The recent heavy rain and low snowpack didn't help, and schedules were conflicted.

Nevertheless Meredith, Al and I set out for a two-part hike off Highway 2. The first stop would be the Sunset Mine site for some mine exploration. The second would be up closer to Stevens Pass to try out new equipment: boots, snowshoes, rain pants, hats, etc.

Fortunately it was a lovely day, the rain and wind had passed.

The Sunset mine is a very easy day trip that pretty much anyone could do and it's actually pretty popular in the summer. The Trout Creek area was once one of the most active spots in the Cascades and the hills are peppered with sites. The Sunset lode was discovered here in 1897. Mining began in 1902 and continued on and off until 1946. The mine was predominantly a copper mine. Total production was reported at 263,500 tons of ore, resulting in 1,500 ounces of gold, 156,000 ounces of silver, and 12,912,000 pounds of copper. The workings consist of five levels and over 12,000 feet of tunnels. The mine is now in a state of collapse. The lower levels are flooded. Most of the adits have collapsed. In the 1930's some of the main stopes collapsed, resulting in some spectacular chasms. (Source: Discovering Washington's Historical Mines, Vol. 1 The West Central Cascade Mountains, Ina Chang, Ed., 1997. 127-134.)

The mine site is off the Index-Galena Road, off of Highway 2. The Index-Galena road washed out a couple years back, so it is closed to traffic after a few miles. At that junction, on the right, is a gravel road that goes up into the mountains. This is Trout Creek road, and we 4-wheeled it up about 1 3/4 miles till the road was flooded and blocked, purposely, by boulders. There's a parking area here at the remaining foundations of the old mill site. Apparently the road has been greatly improved, ironically so that it can be destroyed later. Trout Creek road is slated for demolition into a trail, and the road was improved so that heavy equipment could get up it in order to demolish it on the way down. But right now we had an easy 4-wheel up it in Al's Trooper. There are large rocky drainage ditches cut across the road, but we saw someone get a Subaru Outback up it, so they aren't that bad.

From here it's a hike up the old road for maybe 50 yards. The mine is on the left, and a trail takes off in a sort of loop around the major adits. Look for a stream coming out of a collapsed adit on the left.

The shaft is collapsed a few yards back, but you can take a peek in if you want to.

The trail continues up the hillside. Rain pants and waterproof jackets were a very good idea. Even though it wasn't raining, as anyone who's hiked in the Northwest in Winter knows:

Everything is wet.

Actually, scouting the area put me in mind of mushrooming. I'm definitely coming back her next Fall, the area looks quite promising.

The trail leads to another collapsed adit. The whole mine is basically in a state of total collapse, going inside isn't really an option. But there are some nice adits to peek into, and some mining debris around, but not much.

Eventually you'll come to the first chasm. This was a stope that collapsed back in the day, creating a huge pit in the ground. It's hard to get a sense of the scale of it. But I'd say you could fit a three story building inside it.

Inside it's hard to take a good picture. It's very wet, and very dark. The mist kept fogging out my photos. The roof is slowly coming down, and there's a lot of loose rock and a steep descent. At the bottom is a small waterfall that supposedly conceals a tunnel which connects to the largely caved in and cut off Level 1 of the mine. Of course, a look at the map will show that there are two winzes within feet of the supposed entrance, which means ropes, helmets and harnesses if we ever return to check that spot out.

Fortunately my new rain pants and oilcloth hat worked like a charm.

Did I mention it's wet in there?

There are some old structures still up in this chasm. I gather that this building was designed to protect the miners' access and the ore chutes after the stope collapsed in the 30's.

Now it hangs, eerily suspended in space above the cavern floor.

Moving back along the trail, occasionally bushwhacking it as the trail comes and goes, you come over a rise to another spectacular chasm.

Again, scale is difficult to show. That Douglas fir log on the left? Full grown, 100+ foot tall Doug fir.

A five story building would fit in this hole.

One of the cool things in this hole is a support beam placed high in the chasm.

Also, check out the green copper veins in the rockface.

I also really like this photo Meredith took from the bottom of the second chasm.

We cautiously entered the chasm and took a look around. Yep, it's a big, interesting hole in the ground.

Just then, we heard a loud crack!

We stood stock still and looked around, checking for falling rock. Another crack! We turned and hightailed it out of there as fast as we could. As we approached the surface though, it became obvious that the noises were gunshots. Someone had pulled up for a spot of target practice in the area. Still, whew. Yeah, this mine is in a state of collapse after all. We didn't know where our gun-enthusiasts had set up, so we stuck Meredith in front as we marched downhill to the car.

No, not as a shield.

She has bright yellow raingear. That was the reason. Absolutely. I also wrapped my obnoxious yellow and purple Husky scarf around my hat brim for increased visibility. Hey, it's warm and bright and there are people with guns out. Fact.

Afterwards, we headed up the highway toward Stevens Pass. We pulled off before the pass on the old Cascades Highway and went up the road for about two miles. The snow became deeper. We went into 4-wheel. The snow became deeper. We trudged on. Just when we hit the parking area where we would take off snowshoeing, the Trooper bottomed out.

We spent the next two hours digging the car out with a small entrenching shovel, some ski poles, a large stick I found, and some rocks pulled from the river. We got out just before it got dark. No snowshoeing. The less said about it the better, other than:

Chains. They're not just for decorating your trunk.

And yes despite that photo, we all dug the car out. I'm just heating my hands on the warm hood. Yep.

Obligatory Disclaimer: Don't go into old mines. Seriously, they are dangerous. Don't do it. Unless you really want to. Don't blame me if you pull a Cask of Amontillado.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pig's Head Soup Dumplings


Homer: Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute.  Lisa honey, are you
saying you're *never* going to eat any animal again? What about
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
Turns out Homer is right, pigs are indeed a wonderful, magical animal. Even the most unloved parts can turn out amazingly, given a bit of work and knowhow. And so we continue on with Pig Head project part two: Shanghai Soup Dumplings.

The idea for this one, indeed the whole pig head project idea arose during a conversation my wife and I had back in December while at the Seabreeze Farm Christmas fete. Over an excellent, amazing dinner we talked about headcheese with a couple seated near us. Suddenly, Meredith came up with an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, awful idea! We'd steal the Whos' presents and ruin their Christmas... No, wait that was last year. I've still got their tartoofers. (And they're not getting 'em back!) But this year the idea was: Headcheese Soup Dumplings.

Soup Dumplings or Xiaolongbao are a type of steamed Chinese dumpling popular in Shanghai that contain an amount of aspic which, when steamed, melts into a soupy filling. They range in size from quite large (you need a straw to drink the soup!) to bite sized, and typically contain pork and shrimp. Most modern recipes have you use powdered gelatin to set the stock. But we had a suspicion that historically a more natural pork aspic would have been used (and probably still is, in good dumpling joints). After all, headcheese is just pork head meat suspended in its own aspic. With a few minor alterations we figured we could make it work.

The starting point for this was the article: Bon Appetit Master Class - Shanghai Soup Dumplings from the May, 2007, issue of Bon Appetit. It's a great spread with lots of photos, so score the magazine if you can. We tossed the issue long ago but had cut out and saved the two pages of the article. If you can't locate the issue, the recipe itself is up on Epicurious here. This was the starting point. From here I adapted things.

Day 1

First I had to score a pig head. Seabreeze Farm came through in spades, scoring me a fresh half-pig's head of about six pounds. This was the other half of the head, the one that didn't go to pot-roast. I also bought four trotters, figuring that I would use them as an insurance policy to make sure that my aspic set properly. Step one, as with all pig head and trotter recipes, is to shave the head and trotters. Totally gross, totally necessary, and talked about before. Grab a disposable razor and get to work. The trotters had a fair amount of hair between the toes, and the pig still had some stubborn whiskers and eyelashes. Eww.

Into a four gallon pot went:
  • 12 cups cold water
  • 1/2 pig's head
  • 4 trotters
  • 1/2 cup or so of coarsely chopped white part of green onions
  • 2 coarsely chopped leeks
  • 2 coarsely chopped carrots
  • 2 whole dried shiitakes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, whole, crushed.
  • Two 1" x 1/2" coins of peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 2 t Shaoxing Rice Wine
Bring to a boil, skimming the skuzz off as it rises. Then reduce to a simmer and go for about 3 hours. Strain the soup, remove the head and trotters, discard the other solids. Put the soup back on the stove and boil down to two cups. Meanwhile, let the head and trotters cool down a bit then strip off any meat, fat, or skin that looks tasty. Discard the rest. Stick the meaty bits into the fridge for tomorrow. Once the soup has boiled down to two cups, pour it into a 9 x 13 glass pan, cover it, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

Make the dipping sauce. Combine:
  • 1 C Chinese Black Vinegar
  • 6 T soy sauce
  • 2 T matchstick strips of peeled ginger
Stick it in the fridge to mingle.

Day 2

Hopefully the aspic will have set up and will look like this. Mmm, jiggly... and full of goo. Dumpling goo. We may have had a bit more than two cups, it probably wouldn't hurt to actually measure it instead of just eyeballing. Then go ahead and dice the aspic as best you can, shoot for 1/4"-1/3" dice, smaller the better. We could have probably done a better job of this, and certainly will do so next time.

Make the filling. Combine and mix well:
  • The picked over pork head and trotter meat, should be about a pound or so. More is ok, so long as it's within reason. Finely chopped.
  • 1/4 lb peeled, deveined shrimp. Blitz quickly in the foodprep or finely chop.
  • 1/2 C finely chopped green onions, white parts.
  • 3 T sugar
  • 2 T soy sauce (or put 3 T of sweet soy sauce in instead of the soy + sugar)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1/2 t finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 t Shaoxing Rice Wine
  • 1/4 t Sesame Oil
Once mixed, fold in the aspic cubes as best you can. It's not particularly easy, but doesn't have to be perfect. Just get a good distribution of aspic around.

Make Dumplings. First you'll need dumpling wrappers and here we hit a snag. Despite my best searchings I could only find Wonton and Gyoza wrappers at my local Asian grocer. Don't use wonton wrappers as they are too thin to hold up. Yes, there were spring roll wrappers and so on, but you don't want those either. I went with a pack of about 50 3" round gyoza wrappers, then hit a moment of inspiration. A few months back I'd made Delicious Steamed Buns and they'd turned out well. So I picked up a bag of Vietnamese fluffy bao mix. Not traditional, but hey, why not give 'em a try?

Get your assembly station together and conscript your helper(s). Take a wrapper. Place a very generous teaspoon of filling in the middle and make sure you include at least 2-3 aspic cubes in each one.

To pleat the wrappers:

Wet the edge of the wrapper. We kept finger bowls full of water around for this. Then bring a corner of the wrapper up over the filling. Pull up more of the wrapper, pleating evenly as you go, until it's all gathered at the top. Then pinch and twist the wrapper top. There, done. Set on a parchment covered cookie sheet and keep going.

Alternately, go the gyoza method. Carefully fold the dumpling in half and pinch the edge sealed. For the Vietnamese bao, follow the package instructions and roll out the dough to 4-6 inches round. Fill with a big heaping tablespoon of filling, then pleat and twist as above.

How many dumplings this will make will depend on many factors. How full were your dumplings? How much did you actually boil down the aspic? How much pig head meat did you get? So prepare for a minimum of about 75 dumplings. We made somewhere around 50 little dumplings and 18 big fluffy ones. And that used a bit over half the filling... So yeah. Lots of dumplings. But they are small, and we found a serving of six little ones and two big ones to be a pretty ample dinner.

To cook the dumplings:
  • Place 3 cups of water in the bottom of your wok or large skillet. Add a tablespoon or two of rice vinegar if you're steaming the fluffy bao, it will keep them whiter. Bring to a boil.
  • Line each level of a bamboo steamer with parchment paper or cabbage leaves.
  • Place dumplings around, giving them room to expand a bit. Especially the Vietnamese bao.
  • Stick the steamer on the pot. Steam the small dumplings for 12 minutes if fresh, 15 if frozen.
  • Steam the large bao for about 15 minutes with the lid on, then another 6 minutes or so with it off.
Serve immediately with the dipping sauce, they're best when piping hot.

Leftover dumplings can be frozen for later use. Stick the parchment-lined cookie sheets in the freezer until the dumplings are frozen, then bag or tupperware them. Break them out for dinner or a snack as needed.

How was it? Excellent. These are really, really, tingly good. I was actually how surprised at how great they turned out. The only problem was our dumpling technique, which could use a bit of work. I still pleat my bao like a blind ape. But all that matters is that you get a good seal, otherwise the dumplings leak. A good one explodes with this awesome blast of soup when you pop it in your mouth, then moves into a porky-chewy thing as you eat the dumpling. The soup is subtly Chinese, not crazy overpowering in any sense, just very, very mellow and pleasant. It's delicious.

I would not use gyoza wrappers if I had it to do again. It really needs a thicker dumpling wrapper to hold up. Not sure what I'll do about that though. The Vietnamese bao turned out quite good. My only change would be to roll them out a bit thicker in the middle, so that the goo has more bottom to soak its goodness into. And I'd fill them a bit more fully. Still, given that we got at least 100 awesome dumplings from the pig head, I'd say it was a great success.
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Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head

"I say only half a head, as it is a perfect romantic supper for two. Imagine gazing into the eyes of your loved one over a golden pig's cheek, ear and snout."
Yeah, Fergus Henderson is a strange guy. But apart from the recipes it is his little comments and mannerisms that make Nose to Tail and Beyond Nose to Tail so entertaining to read. So here is Part One of a two part Pig-head Project: his recipe for Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head from Beyond Nose to Tail.

This isn't my first time taking a crack at one of his more "heady" recipes, har har. A year ago I used his recipes for Brawn and Trotter Gear, which were my first introductions to both pig heads and trotters. I ended up putting the trotter gear in just about everything over the next few months. So I figured it was time to do some more projects with heads and feet.

It begins with a pig head. As typical for these sorts of projects I ordered one from Seabreeze Farm out on Vashon Island. A week later I showed up at the market and waiting for me was 16 pounds of pig head and trotters. Most pig heads you find come split, so I technically had two half-heads, and I'd ordered four trotters. Hefting it over my shoulder in a mighty sack I carried it about the market, like Santa Claus with presents for some very naughty children.

Once home it was time to get cooking. Step one is cleaning the head. This is by far the worst part. See, the pig gets scalded to help remove the hair and clean it up a bit for butchering. This does a pretty good job. But not a perfect job. So step one is shave your pig. A disposable razor works great for this.

Or you could do what I did and use your wife's razor. A word of caution: only do this if you know your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother/etc. really well. When she got home she was not upset, and was actually quite happy to swap out the blade for a clean one. But pig got deep into the workings and despite my best attempts I couldn't quite clean it out satisfactorily, so I had to get her a whole new one.

Anyhow, it's totally gross, but piggy had some whiskers and eyelashes that had to go. This was probably the only point in the project where I was a little freaked out by the pig head. Shaving is a bit personal isn't it, and it made this meal far more visceral than most. Once done I gave it nice wash in the sink. Time to cook it.

Here's Henderson's Recipe:
  • a dollop of duck fat. I was fresh out of both lard and duck fat, but I did have some chicken fat and a bit of olive oil.
  • 8 shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 1/2 pig's head
  • a glass of brandy
  • 1 bundle of joy - thyme, parsley, and a little rosemary
  • 1/2 bottle of white wine
  • chicken stock
  • a healthy spoonful of Dijon mustard
  • 1 bunch of watercress, trimmed, or other greens - a case of Liberty Hall. Since I was free to spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard I used some kale, as it was in season and is one of the few greens at the farmer's market in January. Cut the stalks out, roll up the leaves, and slice.
  • sea salt and black pepper
I had trouble finding the right size roasting pan for this. My 9x13 was too skinny. My pots and dutch oven were too round. I settled finally on my large roasting pan. Set it on the stove, melted the fat and oil and added the shallots and garlic until they had some color. Covered the pig's ear in foil so it wouldn't "frazzle", then nestled it into the pan. Poured a glass of VSOP over it "to welcome it to its new environment", then nestled the bundle of joy in, and poured a half bottle of WA Chardonnay in.

Here Henderson has you add chicken stock according to what he calls his "alligator-in-the-swamp theory", in which the head is supposed to lurk in the swamp like an alligator. Well I just spent the last five years living in Miami, so I think my idea of what alligators lurking in swamps looks like is maybe a bit different than his, and in this roasting pan it would take a lot of stock to get there... But I get what he's hinting at. So I just added chicken stock (made from an awesome truffle-roasted chicken I'd cooked the week before) until I was out of stock. The size of the pan will dictate the amount needed, but use good stock.

Season with salt and pepper. Henderson says cover the pan with grease-proof paper, but I used aluminum foil as it wrapped around the pan's handles more easily. Then into a Medium oven for 3 hours. I set mine to 350. With about a half hour to go I took the aluminum off the top to give the skin some color. In retrospect I might have cranked up the oven too, it could have been a bit browner.

Once it was out of the oven, I moved the head to the serving platter. Then whisked in the dijon and added the kale to wilt in the hot stock. Dished the kale, shallots, and garlic around on the plate and ladled a fair amount of stock around it. Served up with something red and delicious, a King's Estate Oregon Pinot.

Moon, January, Spoon.

It was pretty darn excellent looking. But Henderson doesn't mention one very important part of this dish: how the hell do you carve it? We sort of stared at it for a bit, trying to plan our next move. Fortunately I'm fairly familiar with pig heads from last year and my guanciale experiments, so here's the top three places to go on the pig head.

First, the cheek. There's a lovely bit of meat in there and a whole lot of fat. Second, the tongue. Peel the skin off and it's excellent. Third, the back of the neck has some great pockets of meat.

Otherwise, there's the brain. It's a texture thing, you'll love it or hate it. Here some crusty bread goes well. I might be a little wary if it were a commercial hog. "Mad Pig Disease" isn't rampant (or even an actual disease), but there are some concerned scientists out there and I'm always distrustful of commercial pork industry practices. But I know where this pig came from, how it was treated, fed and cared for. Which, of course is why I bought it from them. So the brains are fair game, though personally I'm not a huge fan anyway. There's also the ear and snout, that depending on how well you roasted them (and how clean they were before!) you may want to go for. Eventually we had it flipped over and my wife was happily excavating away. Biologists... I married a very special lady.

It looks like a really big amount of meat, but really there's a lot of bone and a head this size would probably feed 3-4. We finished picking over the head, then saved all the leftover meat, kale, shallots and stock. This became lunch for the next few days and it was outstanding. Really, the head was great but the pot-roast soup made with it was the real winner. What's not to like? Wine, brandy, garlic, herbs, shallots, excellent chicken stock, unctuous pig goo.

So it was fun, and visually stunning, but I think that's my head for the year. It's quite impressive but in terms of economy I'd rather use the cheeks for guanciale and the rest of the head for headcheese.

Or soup dumplings, as we did with the other half of the head...
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Site Layout

Though the previous site design was colorful it had some embedded coding issues and it was time for a change. So here's the blog, version 3.0!

The biggest and most welcomed change will be 'click to read more' buttons on the posts, which should cut down on the wall of text and also help shield the eyes of those who didn't expect to arrive to a visceral scene of piggy carnage.

Which is good because I have two pig head posts coming up...

So I'm going to tweak this thing today until it's working properly. I have to say that I found this tutorial on moving your widgets to be pretty helpful. What a pain.

Back in 1998-2000 I was really into computers and envisioned a bright future as yet another goatee'd Seattle dot-commer. I learned HTML, Pascal, Java and some C++ before I realized that I really, really didn't enjoy it. You need that slight OCD problem-solving instinct to program well, and I would lose interest after about the tenth time something didn't work right. Nope, nitpicking code for a missed is not for me.

Days like today remind me just what a good decision that was. Of course the dot-com bust also helped. Then again I wanted to go State Dept during the Bush Years. Now I'm trying to get a job as a young lawyer during the econopocalypse.

Sometimes I feel like I live my life on an opposite wavelength to the business cycle. Whenever I'm not in need of work the economy is doing fine, whenever I need work nobody's hiring.

UPDATE 1:00 PM "Featured" slider is up and running! Three... Hours... But oh it's a thing of beauty ain't it?
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dick Dale at KEXP

Just saw that KEXP posted some videos of their studio set with Dick Dale last year.

I am an unrepentant surf rock fan, and his show in Miami a couple years back was easily the single best concert I ever had the pleasure of attending. Even at 72 years old, he still shreds. He played his Stratocaster with drumsticks like a mandolin. It was ridiculous! I was so disappointed to miss his concert last year.

The videos are here. Audio of the whole thing here.
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Brewday: Captain Slow's Southern English Brown

I tend to brew two batches a month, usually a week apart. This allows me to pitch the second, usually stronger, beer onto the yeast cake from the first batch. I reversed the gravities a bit this month, but the principle was the same.

The upcoming AHA Club Competition is a style that I don't particularly like and never, ever brew: English Mild and Brown Ales. But hey, time for a challenge. Maybe I'll make one I like. And Meredith has been clambering for a weaker session beer to keep on tap here. I've never even made a Brown before, so I didn't have a proven recipe to work from. So I looked at the ingredients I had. Looked at some recipes. Compared the two and decided on the Southern English Brown from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles.

Southern English Brown is a weird category and a dying beer style. There are no commercial examples in the U.S. and only a few in the U.K.. Basically it's somewhere between a Sweet Stout and a Mild. So it's a caramelly, malty, dark, and low gravity pub session ale. Something I think that James May might like. So I'm dedicating this one to Captain Slow.

Captain Slow's Southern English Brown

6 gallon All Grain
Est O.G. 1.042
Act O.G. 1.044
Est F.G. 1.011
Act F.G. probably 1.013
25 SRM
16 IBU
4% ABV
  • 7 lbs Pale Malt (preferably British)
  • 1 lb Crystal 80
  • 10 oz Crystal 120
  • 5 oz Victory Malt
  • 3 oz Special Roast (subbed Victory for missing Special Roast)
  • 4 oz Carafa II
  • 3 oz US Chocolate Malt (350L. Use 6 oz if you can find the 200L British Light Chocolate Malt.)
  • Hops: 3/8 oz Nugget at 12% AA for 90 min.
  • Mash Water Modification: 6 gm Chalk, 2 gm Gypsum, 2 gm Baking Soda, 2 gm Kosher Salt
Mash at 153. Collected 8 gallons. Boiled 90 minutes. Whirlfloc tablet at 15 minutes left. Pitched onto 3rd Gen yeast cake of Saf-04. Fermenting around 65. I boiled a bit too much, collected a bit under 6 gallons, and so my gravity was a bit high for the style. Enh.

UPDATE: 2/5/10 Man, Jamil knows what he's doing. The beer has been on for a couple weeks now and man is it good. And I normally hate English Browns. Up front is a bit of bitterness, a combo of the hops (could be dropped even a bit more I think) and astringency from the Carafa and Chocolate malts. Then it gives way to a rush of different caramel and fruit things, with a pleasant toastiness too. Changes dramatically as it warms up.

UPDATE: Gold and 3rd Best of Show at 2010 Cascade Brewers Cup
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Brewday: Buckwheat Honey Stout

Ok time for a break from the meat fest. I've got two beers going right now and first up is one of my all-time favorites.

Every brewery starts out with a Flagship Beer. It's the beer they are known for. That they produce a lot of. That's associated with the brand and is the main breadwinner of their line. I think most homebrewers eventually develop the same thing, a favorite beer that they brew time and again, tweaking and improving it each time. For me, it's probably this beer. My Buckwheat Honey Stout.

The first brew was somewhere around five years ago, for it was the first beer I brewed after moving to Miami. I'd found some weird, jet black Buckwheat Honey at Robert Is Here and bought it on a whim. St. Patrick's day was coming up and I decided to brew a stout for it. For kicks, I threw the buckwheat honey in. The result was an awesome stout, similar to a Dry Stout but with a certain something that can only be described as Buckwheat Honeyiness. We tapped it on St. Patty's and though we intended to go to a party later the beer soon was responsible for one of my favorite homebrewing quotes. On the phone to the party host, "We broke into the homebrew and can't make it!"

Over the years I tweaked the recipe here and there. I even made a Braggot version of it that was very, very strange. The hardest thing to get right was transitioning from Extract to All Grain, and this batch is still part of that ongoing process. So I'll post the original extract recipe below as well. Added buckwheat groats for the first time. Not sure if they gave any noticeable extract, but they had a nice nutty odor after toasting. Probably needed a cereal mash that I didn't bother with, I'm not sure what the gelatinization temp of buckwheat is. If it is 180, like I suspect it might be, then yeah, it may need a cereal mash next time.

Also, water modification is pretty important as this is a big dark beer. I seem to have got a handle on my mash chemistry using this water. As with all dark beers, if you've got soft water don't forget the chalk!

When it's done I'm going to put some on Nitro, which should be outstanding.


5.25 Gallon All Grain
Est O.G. 1.063
Act O.G. 1.062
Est F.G. 1.016
Act F.G. probably 1.016-1.018
30+ SRM
50 IBU
ABV 5.75% - 6%
  • 8 lbs Pale Malt
  • 1 lb Flaked Barley
  • 10 oz Roasted Barley
  • 6 oz Black Patent
  • 4 oz Crystal 80
  • 1 lb Toasted Organic Buckwheat Groats. Toasted at 350 for 20 minutes, then ground through the grain mill.
  • 1 lb Buckwheat Honey
  • 1.25 oz Nugget @ 12% AA for 60 minutes
Mash grains at 154. Mineral Addition to the mash for Seattle Tolt Watershed: 12 gm Chalk, 1 gm Gypsum, 3 gm baking soda, 1 gm kosher salt. 90 minute boil. Hops at 60. Whirlfloc at 15. Honey in the last minute or two, stirring so it doesn't just sink the bottom. Yeast this time was about 600 ml of thick Saf-04 English Yeast saved in a flask from my Winter Ale. Took off like a shot. In the past I've used both Irish Ale and American Ale strains. House is about 65 right now, so that's the fermentation temp. (Probably 66-68 inside the carboy, it's wrapped in a towel to keep light out and heat in.)

Extract Version

7 lbs Amber Liquid Malt Extract (or 6.6lbs depending on what brand you use, sometimes it comes in 3.3 lb cans)
2 lbs Dark Dry Malt Extract
10 oz Roasted Barley
6 oz Black Patent
1 lb Buckwheat Honey
1 oz Magnum at 14% AA for 60 minutes.

UPDATE 2/5/10
Tapped on Nitro at a homebrew stout-fest. Excellent. Crowd Favorite. Quite Happy. Bottles not carbonated yet though, not sure why. House is a bit cold I guess. If they don't carbonate soon though I'll miss three big competitions. >:(
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hot Dogs of Mediocrity


Now that I had my shiny new badass meat grinder I decided it was time to take another crack at the "Chicago Style Hot Dogs" from Charcuterie. The Hot Dogs of Failure had left me bitter and cranky, rarely do I have that abject of a failure in anything. The only saving grace of that project was the renewed sense of purpose it gave me.

Must. Make. Good. Hot Dogs!

So with my wife rolling her eyes I set out once more to roll my boulder up that hill. Same recipe as before, but this time I used fresh rendered suet. Chopped fine, heated on low for hours until my house smelled like, well, a rendering plant. Here's the problem. I didn't have enough beef suet. So I added some lamb suet.

Yes, I had lamb suet around.

What?!? I usually buy suet, beef, lamb and/or potatoes from Olsen Farms at the Farmer's Market and they were out of beef that day. So we make due.

The problem was that I rendered a pound of raw suet, and got a little over half a pound of rendered fat. The recipe is a bit vague. Is it 1 lb raw suet? Or 1 lb rendered? So on the day of I had to cut it, again, with the last of the Wooly Pig Lard. Otherwise everything went fine. New grinder kicked ass. Everything emulsified nicely. Went into casings fine. Poached till done the next day. Even smoked them this time! Two hours in my Weber Smokey Mountain: six lit coals at the bottom with some alder chips over the top. Added cold water to the pan whenever it got near 90 degrees. Never went over.

But they were just...meh. There was a hint of gaminess from the lamb and the pork fat just didn't have the right texture. I wonder too if I should have got a leaner, tougher piece of beef to grind? The texture was just completely wrong. Not a broken emulsion, just too squishy. Argh. Not complete failure like last time, but not nearly as good as the first time. The lesson is: watch your substitutions! If I do another round of hot dogs anytime soon I'm going to try a different recipe. I do kind of wonder what an emulsified hot dog made using lamb and lamb suet would taste like though...

But in all probability, next time I do an emulsified sausage I'm going for Weisswurst. I know those will be a tasty success.
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Guanciale Carbonara

The Guanciale is finally done and I've taken it down from the rafters. Actually, the basement, but taking it down from the basement sounds weird. I noticed the slightest bit of mold growing right around where the string tied on the meat and decided they'd hung long enough. (The mold is easily dealt with with a quick wipe with some white wine vinegar, it won't hurt anything if you catch it early.) One will live in my fridge while the other was wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil and stashed in the freezer, ready to defrost when I need it. I love the color and the marbling of it, this was a chunk off the pointy end that dried folded over the string used to hang it.

To try it out I decided to make my favorite pancetta or guanciale dish, and possibly my favorite pasta dish all around: Spaghetti ala Carbonara. The recipe I have used for the last few years is from Armandino Batali at Seattle's amazing Salumi. I have a, now quite bedraggled, copy of it that I got when I purchased some of their guanciale a couple years back. It's easy, quick and open to reasonable modification for whatever you have on hand. It's so easy that I'm able to give it off the top of my head, as I'm out writing over a pot of tea at Miro. The key is to get everything ready before you start cooking the pasta.

Armandino's Spaghetti ala Carbonara
  • 13 oz Good Spaghetti
  • 4 oz Guanciale, sliced and cut into about 1/2" squares (or just lardons)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 Pepperoncini, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 T butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 oz. Parmesan, grated
  • 2 oz. Pecorino, grated
  • Salt and pepper
Cook the spaghetti in at least a gallon of salted boiling water. Meanwhile, add the pepperoncini to the olive oil and saute guanciale until brown, then set aside at simmer. Mix the eggs and half the cheese together. Drain the pasta. In another pan (I just reuse my pasta pot) brown the butter then add the cheese/egg mix, stirring quickly till slightly creamy. Add the pasta, remaining cheese and the guanciale. Cracked black pepper to taste. You probably won't need salt. Serve right away.

That's how Armandino's recipe goes. I often tweak it, for example, this time I used farfalle because I was fresh out of any kind of long pasta. And I tend to use a full pound of pasta because that's what's in the box, though I admit it does make it dryer. Sometimes I only use Parmesan, if that's all I've got. I've added Swiss Chard in with the sauteeing guanciale to good effect. My favorite thing about this is that there is no heavy cream, which always seemed like cheating to me and makes the dish heavy. Here you can really taste the guanciale. Wild success.
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Smoked Cotechino


Right. The follow up to The Christmas Ham.

So I ended up trimming all the skin and most of the fat off the ham. This was no small amount of trimmings, I ended up with about a pound of smoked, spiced pork fat and a pound and a quarter of skin. Shame to let all that go to waste, particularly since it was a 13 lb. ham (wet weight) to begin with, and I just cut two pounds off. The question was what to do with it?

I find that smoked, cured pork skin tends to resemble football leather, but there's still many good things you can do with it. In the past I've tried various ways of getting my trimmed bacon rinds to crisp up chicharone-style: microwave, oven, hot oil... nothing worked. My current theory is that the curing process leeches too much water out. No expanding steam, no puffy crispy skin. But it's still got a lot of smoky-porky flavor to impart, and goes great in soup and bean dishes. Just add during the boil and remove before serving. And of course, there's a million tasty things you can do with smoked pork fat trimmings.

In this instance a confluence of factors resulted in this application. First, I received Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's amazing River Cottage Meat Book for Christmas. The day after Christmas I sat down and read it for several hours (although I did check it the day before for pointers on a standing rib-roast that we did for Xmas dinner!), and it has entered the ranks of my top 5 favorite cookbooks. It's not just the encyclopedic number of recipes that make it great, it's the discussion of the ethics, practice and dare I say theory of eating meat. Start with good ingredients, know them and understand their strengths and weaknesses, apply the right technique and bingo, you've made the most of the animal. Here I agree with Hugh, in that eating meat is only acceptable on an ethical level if you can do this. Perhaps this explains why I have a deep aversion to throwing away any potentially useful meat or bones. There's always stock to be made, or sausage, or stuffing, or soup, or something with it.

In this case, Hugh has a recipe for cotechino in the book. It's an Italian sausage from Modena that uses pork skin in the grind. I first came across it on Jason Molinari's very helpful Cured Meats blog, and while I didn't have any spare skin around I did file it away somewhere in the deeper basements of my brain.

The idea behind the sausage is that it's boiled for several hours before serving. This extended time at such a high temp in a wet environment causes the collagen in the skin to turn to gelatin, which as we all know from pulled pork is lip smacking delicious. In Italy it's traditionally served on New Years with lentils. I thought "Hey, what luck! New Years is a week away!" Perfect. But mine would be a little bit different, as you will see.

Smoked Cotechino

I began with the River Cottage recipe, and then tweaked it to suit my ingredients. Traditional Cotechino does not contain smoked anything, it's closer to a quick cured salami that gets boiled instead of fully dried. So with my smoked skin and fat this would become a sort of North Carolina meets Italy fusion sausage. A gamble that paid off, I might add.

Besides the book another important Christmas present was my shiny new meat grinder. Somehow in The Move several parts of my Kitchenaid grinder went AWOL and so it has been out of action for six months. But now I have a shiny new 3/4 hp grinder... It's bigger, badder, and much, much better than the Kitchenaid grinder. It sounds like a jet taking off. Children flee, women scream, and grown men weep at its awful power.

Here's the recipe I used:
  • 2 lbs lean pork shoulder, cubed
  • 1 lb smoked, cured ham fat trimmings, cubed
  • 1 1/4 lb smoked, cured ham rind, cubed
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Pink Salt (Sodium Nitrite)
  • 1 glass red wine (I used a Columbia Valley Cab Sav that I was also drinking)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • pinch or two of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • pinch of mace
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 finely crumbled bay leaves.
  • Casings: several feet of at least 2" diameter and I guess you could go up to 4" or more.
Partially freeze the pork and fat, then run through the coarse grinding plate. Garlic and Skin go into a Cuisinart and are blitzed until finely, finely chopped. Then everything goes into the bowl of a Kitchenaid and is mixed on medium with the paddle attachment for a few minutes until it comes together well.

Stuff the casings with the mix. I used artificial 3"-diameter "Deer Summer Sausage" casings that I got as part of a artificial casing variety pack. You're looking for 8-10" sausages. Tightly pack them, and try to keep as much air out as possible. Poke small holes to let any large air bubbles out.

Tie both ends with a double knot. Hang them in a cool, dry, dark, airy place for a couple days or even a couple weeks. There's no sodium nitrate (Cure #2), and because the fat and skin were already cured I cut Hugh's pink salt amount in half, so the long, long term storage of these is in doubt. But there's still a lot of salt in there and they'll be fine for at least a month.

When it comes time to cook one, just cut it off the line. Stick the cotechino in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for about two hours. The sausage is really salty, but the boiling will reduce this considerably. Serve sliced on a bed of lentils. I used this recipe from Mario Batali's Babbo which was a bit bland. Next time I'll spice it up a bit more.

The first cotechino was served up as an appetizer to some friends at my wife's birthday party. It was quite good, but not spectacular. It needed something. The real twist came when it struck me that I had a mason jar full of North Carolina Red Sauce that had been happily festering in the back of my fridge since Summer. So I added a couple spoonfulls of it as an experiment. Amazing! Everyone agreed that it went from good to outstanding. The vinegar bite was just what it needed, brightening it and cutting the fattiness a bit. Smokey, porky, nice spice level. The skin did a great job of being unctuous but still with just a bit of bite left. North Carolina meets Modena! Fusion food!

So that's about it. I've still got two more hanging downstairs. Plan to eat one next week (having had two weeks of drying) and the other in a month or so to see how it ages. Next time I get a pork shoulder with the skin on I think I'll try this again, but tweak the spices more toward pulled pork. Mmmm, pulled pork sausage...

UPDATE: 3/2/10

The last of my little cotechini is gone. I was getting tired of the lentil pairing and started plotting other uses. Finally came up with: Baked Beans. Makes sense I think. Sweet, smoky, porky, salty, unctuous. So I took the last one, took it out of its casing and chopped it up. Cooked it up in the bottom of a dutch oven with a chopped onion. Added garlic, three chopped apples, a pound of soaked kidney beans, a can of tomato sauce, a dash of cider vinegar, a drizzle of molasses and some black pepper. Baked for three hours or so until the beans were tender. The cotechino worked really well with the beans, the skin made the whole thing very lip smacking. Not bad at all.
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