Category Archives: Meat

Greek Lamb Sausage

I have Greek food on the brain.  The current infatuation has many diverse origins.  For starters this summer is the ten year anniversary of an epic trip through southern Greece, and I have been reading old food notes from the journey.  Also I’ll be doing a class on Greek mezze for Metro Continuing Education this fall.  With all this in mind last week I made a Greek lamb sausage.

Coils of Greek lamb sausageIn 2008 I spent five weeks in Greece, eating in tavernas two or three times a day.  I don’t think I ever had a sausage like this.  In other words this sausage is not traditional, but it is very much inspired by Greek loukaniko, a pork sausage flavoured with orange zest.

This version is made with 100% lamb shoulder, so I figured we may as well go ahead and use lamb casings.  And we may as well wrap them up into adorable little coils and skewer them.  I never saw this in Greece but it makes for an interesting mezze.  And as I wrote here, Canadian Greek food is very much wanting for interest right now.

 

Greek Lamb Sausage

Ingredients

  • 2.270 kgs lamb shoulder – I like Four Whistle lamb
  • 35 g kosher salt
  • 54 g garlic, minced fine
  • 25 g orange zest (I use a zest compound called Perfect Purée)
  • 6 g ground black pepper
  • 3.6 g allspice
  • 2.38 g dried oregano
  • 1.8 g cayenne pepper
  • 1.17 g bay leaf
  • 0.9 g chili flake
  • 240 mL chopped parsley
  • 220 g ice water

Procedure

  1. Cut lamb shoulder into 1″ cubes.  Mix with salt and spices.  Spread onto a sheet tray in a single layer and semi-freeze.
  2. Grind meat using a 3/16″ plate.
  3. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand-mixer.  Add chopped parsley and water.  Mix on speed 2 for two minutes.
  4. Stuff mixture into lamb casings.  To make the spirals shown in the photo above, stuff into 19-21 mm lamb casings.  Be careful not to over-stuff as spiralling puts a bit of pressure on the contents.  Link into 22″ lengths.  Cut the links apart.  Curl into spiral shape.  Set spirals right up against each other on a sheet tray so that they are holding each other in shape.  Skewer.

Yield:  Approximately 16 spirals

Chili

A bowl of chili with sour cream and cilantro.Chili is one of the great North American dishes, and one that is especially relevant and useful in modern life, as it is a hearty one-pot meal that can be put together and left to cook in a crock pot or low oven for several hours.

I’ll argue that the only two essential ingredients in chili are meat and beans.  When I was growing up that meat was always, always ground beef, though I have to say I really like using shredded or cubed braised beef like brisket or chuck.  For beans you are not beholden to the canned red kidney beans of my childhood: any and all pulses are great.  These days my kitchen always has dried pinto and garbanzo beans, which have textures, flavours, and names that are all tailor-made for use in chili.

Beyond meat and beans, chili is a very diverse dish, akin to stuffing, in that every little boy will obnoxiously defend his mother’s manner of preparation and dismiss all others.  The beauty of chili is that it can really be anything.  It’s a good way to use leftovers like hamburger or sausage.  If the opportunity presented itself I would even put such apocryphal ingredients as mushrooms and potatoes and lentils in mine.  When given a carte blanche I love to pack chili with as many ingredients reminiscent of the old west as possible:

  • beef (as discussed)
  • beans (as discussed)
  • molasses
  • coffee – Every so often I make more coffee than I can drink.  When I do I pour the leftovers into a jar and keep it in the fridge for use in chili or braised beef.
  • cayenne, paprika, bell peppers, and any other capsaicin-producing relative
  • corn… I am very partial to chili that contains corn.

A recipe in that southwestern vain follows.  It is best served with these biscuits or this cornbread.

Chili

Ingredients

  • canola or vegetable oil
  • 500 g yellow onion
  • 35 g garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tbsp hot smoked paprika
  • 3/4 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 300 g yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 300 g red bell pepper
  • 415 g brewed coffee
  • 1 kg canned tomato, puréed quickly with a stick blender
  • 175 g fancy molasses
  • 260 g corn
  • 440 g cooked pinto beans
  • 440 g cooked garbanzo beans
  • 875 g cooked beef or pork (this can be ground or shredded or cubed)
  • kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine oil, onion, garlic, and herbs and spices in a heavy pot.  Cook until onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add bell peppers and cook briefly.
  3. Add tomato, molasses, and coffee.
  4. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until vegetables are tender.
  5. Add beans, corn, and meat.  Return to a simmer and cook briefly to let flavours combine.
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Introduction to Charcuterie

This is the information I provide students in my Charcuterie at Home class, which I run a few times a year for Metro Continuing Education.

A charcuterie plate with air-dried beef in the top right.

What is charcuterie?

  • Charcuterie is a French word, from char for flesh or meat, and cuit for
    cooked.
  • Originally this was a medieval guild that was allowed to prepare certain cooked
    meat dishes like pâté and terrine.
  • These days it broadly refers to cured meat, whether bacon, ham, salami,
    prosciutto, or even duck confit and jerky.  It also encompasses other meat preparations like fresh sausages.
  • Most charcuterie techniques – salt-curing, smoking, and air-drying – were
    developed as a way to preserve meat.
  • Even though we now have ways to pasteurize, refrigerate, and freeze
    meat, we still use these ancient techniques because they are so delicious!

Types of Charcuterie

  • Most classic charcuterie is make from pork, but there are several examples made from beef, duck, and other animals.
  • Charcuterie can be made from whole, intact muscles, or ground meat
    • eg. of whole muscle charcuterie: bacon, ham, prosciutto, coppa
    • eg. of ground meat charcuterie: salami, mortadella, pepperoni
  • After curing, charcuterie is either cooked, or air-dried (ie. hung in a cellar to dry out, after which it is eaten raw)
    • eg. of cooked charcuterie: bacon, ham, mortadella
    • eg. of air-dried charcuterie: prosciutto, coppa, salami

Important First Principles

When making charcuterie…

  • Use the highest quality meat you can afford (see Resources below).
  • Weigh all ingredients, especially salt and curing salt.  If you don’t already have one, you should invest is a good digital scale with precision to the gram.  I use a Starfrit scale that I got at London Drugs for less than $30 if my memory serves me.  This is partly for food safety (ensuring we always have the right amount of salt) and partly for consistency.
  • Carefully control time and temperature as per your recipe.
  • Invest in a good reference such as Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian
    Polcyn (again, see Resources below).

Salt and Curing Salt

  • All charcuterie is made by applying salt to meat.
  • Salt preserves meat by killing or disrupting micro-organisms.
  • Table salt (NaCl) was used for thousands of years to preserve meat.  Sea salt, sel gris, fleur de sel, Maldon, Himalayan pink salt…. these are all NaCl, just with different mineral impurities that give them subtly different flavours and colours.
  • In medieval Europe a new type of naturally-occurring salt was discovered, saltpeter, which is potassium nitrate (KNO3).  People found that using it in very small amounts improved their cured meats.  It affected the meats in the following ways:
    • produced a distinctive, piquant flavour
    • gave the meat a bright, rosy pink colour
    • preserved the meat better than normal table salt (for instance, it prevents oxidation and rancidity)
  • Later it was discovered that microbes in the meat convert the nitrate in saltpeter to nitrite, and that this is the actual active ingredient.
  • Modern curing salt is sodium nitrite (NaNO2).  It is available at butcher supply shops like Halford’s Hide, Butchers and Packers Supplies, CTR Refrigeration

Cure #1 vs. Cure #2

  • Nitrate can act as a “slow-release” cure, as it is slowly converted to nitrite by micro-organisms in the meat.
  • Air-dried preparations that will spend weeks or months in a celery (eg. salami) are usually treated with a combination of nitrite and nitrate.
  • Preparations that are cured and cooked over the course of a week (eg. bacon and ham) are usually treated with nitrite.
  • In the US, curing salts are usually died pink so that they are not confused with table salt.  For this reason, curing salt is often called pink salt, or tinted cure.
  • Note that there are several types of table salt that are pink, but are not curing salt!  Eg. pink salts from Hawaii and the Himalayas.  This should not be used in charcuterie!
  • Common names for nitrite mixtures: Cure #1, FS Cure #1, pink salt, tinted cure dmix (TCM), TCM #1, Prague Powder
  • Common names for nitrate mixtures: Cure #2, FS Cure #2, Salami Cure, TCM #2
  • If there is any uncertainty, the package should clearly list the ingredients and their percentage weight.

A Quick Word on “Nitrite-Free” Charcuterie

  • In recent years nitrites have been portrayed as unsafe, even carcinogenic.  Harold McGee, one of the world’s foremost food scientists, writes in his book On Food and Cooking: “At present there’s no clear evidence that the nitrites in cured meats increase risk of developing cancer.  Still, it’s probably prudent to eat cured meats in moderation and cook them gently.”
  • Even though there is no proven link, there are now many “nitrite free” products in the super market.  The disturbing part of all this is that these products always contain something like fermented celery extract, which contains nitrites!  In other words there are nitrites in the product, but they don’t appear in the ingredients list because they are an elemental component of the celery extract.  It’s a bit like like saying that your hot dog is “sugar free” because you didn’t sprinkle white sugar on it, even though there is sugar in the wiener and the bun and the ketchup and the mustard.  Always…

Rub-Curing vs. Brine-Curing

  • Traditionally most charcuterie was simply rubbed with or packed in dry salt.
  • Many modern charcuterie items are cured by being submerged in a brine,
    which cures faster and plumps the meat.
  • Generally, lean cuts like pork loin and leg benefit from brine, while fattier cuts like belly are best rubbed.

Brine Basics

  • We heat the water to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  • Chill the brine thoroughly before submerging the meat.
  • Make sure there is enough brine to keep the meat fully submerged.
  • It may be necessary to weigh the meat down to keep it from bobbing at the surface.
  • Brine penetration: larger cuts of meat benefit from a small injection of brine into the centre at the start of curing.
  • Brine time: a good rule of thumb is to leave the meat submerged for 12 hours for every pound of meat (eg. a 10 lb ham would cure in 5 days).

Rub-Cure Basics

  • Rub-cures should be periodically overhauled: this is simply redistributing
    the cure over the surface of the meat.
  • Rub curing takes longer – even relatively thin pork belly is left in contact with a rub-cure for a week.

Smoking

  • We make the distinction between hot-smoking and cold-smoking.
    • During hot-smoking the meat is held between 200°F-250°F and is slowly
      cooked as it is exposed to the smoke – bacon and ham are hot-smoked.
    • Cold-smoking is done at 100°F or lower so that the meat remains raw – air-
      dried products like speck are cold-smoked.
  • Pellicle formation: after rinsing the cure off the meat, dry the surface of the meat by patting with a clean dish towel.  Set the meat on a wire rack and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight.  The surface of the meat will dry and become slightly tacky: this will help smoke adhere to the surface.
  • We usually smoke with hardwood (eg. maple, apple, hickory, mesquite, cherry) though there are some traditional preparations smoked with evergreen like juniper or fir (most notably true Black Forest ham)
  • Usually 2/3 of the wood chips are soaked in cold water for 30 minutes prior to smoking – this helps the smoulder longer.
  • The key is to have intense heat that can smoulder the chips, while keeping the ambient temperature of the chamber in the ranges mentioned above.
  • For more info and a thorough explanation of how to smoke meat using a barbecue, see my post called Smoking Meat at Home.

Smoking bacon on the barbecue

Air-Drying

  • Air-dried products are cured (typically with a rub-cure), then held at cellar
    temperature and humidity until they have lost a good deal of their moisture
    content.
  • Examples: guanciale, coppa, lonzo, lonzino, lardo, pancetta, prosciutto,
    salami, speck, bresaola, bündnerfleisch
  • The key to this process is controlling temperature and humidity:
    • Too moist and the moisture will not leave the meat and mold will grow on the surface
    • Too dry, and you may see case hardening: the outermost part of the meat will dry so thoroughly as to become impermeable, locking moisture within.
  • Ideal temperature range is 12-15°C.
  • Ideal humidity range is 60-70% humidity.
  • Highly recommended product: Auber Instruments Temperature and Humidity Controller.
  • Friendly mold cultures can be applied to the outside of the meat to prevent colonization by less-desirable microbes.
  • Hang-times vary from a couple weeks for slender sausages to one or two
    years for prosciutto.

The finished air-dried sausage

Resources

Meat

  • Acme Meat Market – These guys source quality meat and are great with special requests and cutting instructions.
  • Nature’s Green Acres (City Centre Market) – Probably the most unique and ethically- and sustainably-raised meat in the province.  This is the meat I use in my home.
  • Pine Haven Meat Shop – Pine Haven is a Hutterite colony near Wetaskiwin.  This is the meat I use at work at Elm Catering and Salz Bratwurst Co.  You can order their meatonline for pick-up at Ben’s Meat and Deli.

Equipment and Material

Books and References

  • Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn – One of the most influential food books published in the last 20 years, this is an amazing primer on curing, grinding, sausage-making, and air-drying.  Lots of theory, and an expansive collection of solid recipes.
  • Charcuterie by Fritz Sonnenschmidt – An old-school reference by a German-born Master Chef. I  like this book because it includes some lesser-known old world preparations like Pressack, Leberkäse, and Kassler Rippchen.
  • Salumi by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn – A very thorough treatment of traditional air-dried Italian preparations like salami, coppa, pancetta, and prosciutto.
  • The Button Soup Charcuterie page.  Basic theory and lots of recipes.

 

Goulash

A plate of goulash, Hungarian beef stew, served with ServiettenknödelnGoualsh is a beef stew originally from Hungary but eaten all over Central Europe.  It is the kind of preparation that Europeans will fight to the death over.  Matters like whether it is properly called a stew or a soup, whether it contains tomatoes, or potatoes, or what starch it is served with (if any) often become violent.  It is estimated that 12 Europeans are killed every year in goulash-related arguments.[1]

The following is an original recipe, inspired by the goulash made at Seewirtshaus in Semmering, Austria.  When I worked there they made a goulash similar to this using Maiboc (May deer) and served it with Serviettenknödel.  Many would take exception to my use of tomato paste and bell peppers, but I like this recipe just fine thank you.

 

Goulash
original recipe

Ingredients

  • 2.5 kgs beef chuck, cut into 1.5″ cubes
  • 150 g unsalted butter
  • 350 g onion, thinly sliced
  • 350 g bell pepper
  • 22.5 g garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 500 mL very rich beef stock or jus
  • ~1/4 cup cornstarch slurry
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Procedure

  1. Spread the beef out on a sheet tray lined with a clean cloth.  Use another clean cloth to pat the beef dry.  Season with salt.  Sear in a very hot, heavy pot so the meat is amber on all sides.  Remove the beef from the pan and set aside.
  2. Reduce heat and add butter to the pot.  Once the butter is melted add the onion and sweat briefly.
  3. Add the bell peppers, garlic, paprika, and oregano.  Sweat until onions are starting to turn translucent.
  4. Add tomato paste and cook briefly.
  5. Add red wine and bring to a simmer.
  6. Add beef stock and bring to a simmer.
  7. Add seared beef and bring to a simmer.  Cook very gently until the beef is tender, maybe 1 hour.
  8. Add cornstarch slurry to adjust consistency.  Should be the nap consistency of velouté.
  9. Add salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

 

Footnotes

  1. Not true.

Irish Stew

The defining element of Irish stew is the use of lamb neck, or scrag.

Traditionally it is made more like a casserole than a stew.  Actually it bares an uncanny resemblance to boulangère potatoes.  Lamb, potato rounds, and other vegetables are layered in a casserole, then covered with stock or water and baked in an oven.

Lamb neck is a very tough cut of meat.  I sear and braise the necks to tenderize, then use the shredded meat and cooking liquid to make the stew.

Once the necks are very tender to the tip of a paring knife, I remove them from the liquid and let cool briefly.  While the necks are still warm I fold back the meat and remove the neck bones in one piece.  There is also a large band of yellowish elastin that should be removed.  You can see it running down the centre of the neck meat below:

Removing the bones and elastin from the braised lamb neck.

 

Irish Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb necks
  • 75 g bacon fat
  • 240 g yellow onion, 3/4″ dice (roughly 1 large onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 200 g carrot, 3/4″ dice (about 3 medium carrots)
  • 200 g celery, 3/4″ dice (about 2 large ribs celery)
  • 1/2 tbsp dried herbs (I use a mix of thyme, rosemary, and savoury)
  • 75 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 x 341 mL bottle ale
  • 375 g turnip, 1″ dice (rutabaga for all you moderns…. about 1 medium rutabaga)
  • 425 g yellow potato, 1″ dice (about 2 smallish potatoes)
  • spinach or kale

Procedure

Part One: Cooking the Necks to obtain super tender meat and flavourful broth

  1. Season the lamb necks with salt and pepper.  Sear, either in a pan or a very hot oven, until amber in colour.
  2. Transfer the seared scrags to a pot.  Cover with cold water and put over medium-high heat.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.  Regularly skim the surface of the water with a ladle to remove foam and fat.
  3. Gently simmer the scrags until very tender when poked with a knife.  This will take at least a few hours.
  4. Remove the necks from the liquid.  Let cool, then remove the meat from the necks.  Vertebrae and a very hard bit of yellowish connective tissue.  Reserve 450 g shredded meat for the stew.  The rest of the meat can be used for other preparations.
  5. Reserve 1 L of the cooking liquid for the stew.  The remainder of the liquid can be reserved for another purpose.

Part Two: Making the Stew

  1. Melt bacon fat in a separate pot.  Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and dried herbs.  Sweat the vegetables until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add the flour and cook briefly.
  3. Slowly add the ale while stirring.  A thick sauce should form.
  4. Slowly add the 1 L of lamb stock.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add turnips and potatoes.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until turnips and potatoes are tender.

A bowl of Irish stew with buttered bread.

Corned Beef

Originally posted on March 18, 2012

Corned beef and its delicious, delicious juicesCorned beef, also known as salt beef and spiced beef, is a national dish of Ireland.  Recipes vary, but the cure is usually made of kosher salt, curing salt, a heap of brown sugar, and spices like clove, allspice, black pepper, and mustard seed.  The cured meat is gently simmered (usually in water, sometimes in beer) until tender, and can be eaten hot or cold.

To clarify, corned beef has nothing to do with maize.  “Corn” was once a broad English term for a small bit, whether a grain of wheat, or a crystal of salt.  “Corned beef” is beef that has been covered in corns of salt.[1]

Like most charcuterie, corned beef was first developed as a way to preserve the meat.  Because of its good keeping quality, the British navy adopted Irish corned beef as a ration for its sailors.  Wherever the British navy went, there was money to be made in provisioning its sailors, and many, many inferior corned beef producers sprang up around the world, notably on the Hawaiian islands and in South America, where the cured beef was later canned.  Sailors detested the canned meat, and apparently called it “salt junk.”[2]

Inferior corned beef was also used extensively as cheap, long-keeping food for British and French slaves, especially in the Caribbean.[3]

Despite its bastardization at the hands of imperialists and industrialists, corned beef remains one of the great festive dishes of Irish cuisine, along with colcannon, discussed below.  It is commonly eaten on Christmas, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Corned beef is made of brisket, a cut of beef from the breast of the cow. It is actually comprised of two muscles: a long muscle on the bottom called the flat, and a smaller muscle on top, off to one side, called the point.

The bulk of the flavour of corned beef comes from the pickling spice used in the brine.  Don’t buy pickling spice; make your own. Here’s a simple procedure. I divide my pickling spices into two families: the “sweet spices” like cinnamon, clove, and allspice, and the “deli spices” like mustard seed, black pepper, coriander, and chili flakes.  Combine one measure of each of the sweet spices with two measures of each of the deli spices by weight.  Add the spices to the brine as you are heating the liquid to dissolve the salt and sugar.

I’ve had some issues with brine-penetration when curing brisket in the past.  It seems that the tough, fatty muscles of the brisket resist curing more than, say, a pork loin.  Some tips on achieving uniform cure:

  • Consider separating the point and flat from each other before curing.  This creates two, tabular muscles that will brine more evenly than a whole brisket.
  • Don’t overcrowd the meat in the brine.  It’s tempting to try and cram as much meat as you can into the tub so that it is all just, just submerged.  If you do this there will not be enough salt to cure the entire mass of meat, and there will be grey, un-cured pockets in the centre of the brisket.  Maintain the ratio in the recipe below: 4 L of curing brine for every 2.25 kg of meat.
  • Inject the meat with some of the brine.  A good rule of thumb is 10% of the weight of the meat.  This is especially important if you have decided to keep the briskets intact.
  • Curing time: 5 days should be sufficient if you follow the guidelines above.

As a side note, once you have cured the brisket, if you were to coat your corned beef in crushed black pepper and coriander, then hot-smoke the meat, you’d be making pastrami.  If your hot-smoker were in Montreal, you’d be making Montreal smoked meat.  Anyways.

Brisket is a tough cut that requires extensive cooking.  I put my corned beef in a casserole, add cider until the meat is half submerged, cover the dish with parchment and aluminum foil, then kept it in a 250°F oven until a fork slides easily into and out of the meat, about eight hours.

The water left in the casserole is extremely flavourful, though very salty and greasy.  Cool the liquid, remove the solidified fat from the top, then dilute with water or more apple cider until the salt content is tolerable.  Serve as a brothy sauce for the beef.

Corned beef is a fantastic dish to serve to large groups.  Once the beef is tender, you need only gently reheat it.  You can throw it in a low oven an hour or so before you plan on eating, then bring it to the table and slice across the grain of the meat.  I probably don’t need to write this, but the leftovers can be sliced and used to make superlative sandwiches.

Corned Beef

Ingredients

  • 4 L water
  • 450 g kosher salt
  • 450 g dark brown sugar
  • 25 g curing salt (6.25% sodium nitrite)
  • 25 g fresh garlic
  • 25 g pickling spice
  • 2.25 kg beef brisket

Procedure

  1. Combine half the water with the salts, sugar, garlic, and spices.  Heat on the stove, stirring periodically, til the salts and sugar have dissolved.  Remove from the stove and add the remaining cold water.  Chill brine thoroughly.
  2. Inject the brisket with 10% of its weight in brine.  Focus injections on the thickest parts of the brisket.
  3. Completely submerge the brisket in the remaining brine, weighing down with ceramic plates as necessary.  Keep refrigerated for 5 days.
  4. Remove the brisket from the brine, rinse with cold water, then let rest in the fridge a few hours, preferably overnight.
  5. Put the cured brisket in a large pan with a bit more garlic, bay, and cinnamon.  Add about an inch of apple cider to the pan.  Cover loosely and cook in a 250°F oven for several hours (maybe 8-10?).  The corned beef should be fork tender and wobbly when fully tenderized.

 

 

References

1.  Kurlansky, Mark.  Salt: A World History. ©2002 Mark Kurlansky.  Vintage Canada 2002 Edition.  Page 125.
2.  Ibid.
3.  Ibid!  Is it bad to have three citations from the same page of the same book?

Butcher’s Cake

A slice of butcher's cake with a dollop of crème fraîche and a salad.I’ll mention right off the hop that this concept is from the brain of Emmanuel (Manu) Thériault.  He might have made this when he was at Woodwork, but I’m not sure.  He calls it “Butcher’s Cake”.  He told me about it and I think it’s one of the most brilliant food ideas I’ve heard in a very long time.

Part of the reason I am so enamored with butcher’s cake is because I work in a sandwich shop. When you work in a sandwich shop, you have at least three significant sources of possible waste.  The first is bread.  Bread is a problem ingredient because it has such short shelf life.  It can be difficult to maintain fresh inventory, and some bread invariably gets stale before it can be used.

The other potential sources of waste are meat and cheese ends.  When using a commercial meat slicer, the last inch of a roast or block of cheese is difficult to get through the slicer without putting your fingers at risk.  For some items you might not even want to slice and serve the outermost part.  For a roast or a ham, the very end is often harder, smokier, and generally less succulent that the rest of the meat.

Ham endsThis butcher’s cake is an ingenious and delicious preparation that uses all these waste products.  It is basically a savoury bread pudding studded with little chunks of cured meat and cheese.  I use trim pieces from ham, salami, mortadella, roast beef, even prosciutto and speck.  Of course, if you don’t work in a sandwich shop you can use plain old ham and cheese; there’s no reason it needs to be the trim or waste.

When Emmanuel told me his idea I knew immediately how I could go about making it: by adding chopped meat and cheese to Serviettenknödel, the Austrian bread dumplings discussed here.  I’ve found that a bit of black pepper and chopped herbs like parsley and rosemary are a nice addition.

Butcher’s cake makes a fantastic lunch, especially when served with with a refreshing salad.  I have a sneaking suspicion it would also be good for breakfast (bread, egg, milk, ham, cheese…. sounds like a breakfast pastry to me.)

Thanks, Manu!

 

 

Butcher’s Cake
Concept by Emmanuel Thériault
Recipe by Allan Suddaby

Ingredients

  • 8 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 lbs stale bread
  • 1 lb cured meat ends, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz cheese ends, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Combine the whole eggs, yolks, melted butter, milk, and salt in a large measuring cup.  Whisk thoroughly until eggs are completely incorporated.
  2. Put the bread, meat, cheese, herbs, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands until all the milk has been absorbed by the bread.
  3. Move the mixture to the fridge for one hour.  This will give the liquid ingredients time to fully soak into the bread.
  4. Butter a large casserole dish.  Lightly press the soaked bread mixture to the casserole.  If you like you can top the bread with more grated cheese and herbs at this time.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior is cooked and the exterior is golden brown and crispy, maybe 50-60 minutes.
  6. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Yield: Butcher’s Cake for about 12 people

A casserole of butcher's cake, fresh out of the oven.

 

Boning Out Rabbit

In my experience rabbit is usually hatcheted into quarters and saddle, as described (and lamented) in this post.

One year Lisa and I were in Piedmont in northwestern Italy in September, and it seemed that every restaurant was serving rabbit, and all of them had boned-out the entire animal, then rolled it into a cylinder and braised it, usually in Nebbiolo wine.  It’s a beautiful, thoughtful way to prepare the animal.  At first it didn’t make sense to me: I was hung up on theoretics, asking ridiculous questions like, “Won’t the tiny, slender loin get over-cooked before he belly tenderizes?”  This might be true of pork, but I can tell you from empirical study that it is not an issue with rabbit.

So: Boning Out Rabbit.

Make an incision along the breast bone.  Remove the flesh from the breast by following the rib cage from the breastbone to the underside of the foreleg.  Bend the foreleg up as you go.

Boning rabbit: removing meat from the breast

Continue to remove the meat from the rib cage, moving down the rabbit, folding the meat up and away from you.  Once you have removed the meat form the last rib you will then be at the belly flap.  Fold this up and away from you as well.

Bend the hind leg up and away from you.  Snap and cut through the joint where the thigh and hip meet.

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Carefully remove the loin from the backbone.  At this point you have removed half of all the meat from the main body.

Flip the rabbit and repeat all these steps to the other side.  The meat should only be connected to the skeleton in one place, a line along the top of the rabbit’s backbone.

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Remove the last connections at the top of the spine.  At this point you have a relatively uniform sheet of meat, but the fore- and hind-legs still contain bones.

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There’s no trick to removing these bones: make small cuts following the bones as closely as possible.

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You now have an entire rabbit sans bones.  Season assertively with salt, pepper, and herbs.  You can roll the entire thing into one large spiral, or your can roll each side in towards the centre to achieve a double-scroll, with the two loins protected in by the centre of each roll.

Braise this little bundle in red wine.  The meat will be tender in only a couple hours.

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Braised rabbit with polenta, eggplant, and bell pepper.

Cretons

Originally posted December 15, 2009 (if you can believe that).  Re-posted today with some major corrections.  I first read about cretons in an article in The Ottawa Citizen by then-food-columnist Ron Eade.  He presented cretons as a Quebecois variation on rillette.  A while back Emmanuel (Manu) of Pied Cochon, Joe Beef, and Woodwork fame gave me the skinny on cretons, and they really are not like rillettes at all.  I am not able to find that original Ron Eade article to expose it.  Presumably someone from the lower St. Lawrence forced him to remove it as libel or lies.  Anyways.  

A ramekin of cretons.Cretons is a pork spread made by simmering ground pork and aromatics like onion, bay, and clove in milk or cream.  As with any Quebecois dish there are as many variations as there are Francophones.

Pork.  You can use regular ground pork.  Actually the pork can be quite fatty as any lard that renders into the pan will be bound up with the dairy and (in my recipe…) breadcrumbs.

In addition to ground meat, Manu also adds gryons. This is the Quebecois word for greaves (see this post on rendering lard for more info).

Usually I’m a fanatic about searing meat, even the ground meat used in chili and meat sauce.  Searing generally improves the colour and flavour of a dish, but there are a few notable exceptions.  In my book those exceptions are veal blanquette and cretons.  We want a soft texture and a light colour.

Onion.  To me onion is essential as a sweet-‘n-savoury bridge between the pork and the spices.

Speaking of Spices.  Clove seems to be the most commonly used spice in cretons.  I use a standard quatre-épices blend of black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.  These baking spices can easily become cloying, so use a light hand.

Dairy.  Some use milk, some use cream.  I use cream because it gives the final dish a rich texture but a happy, bright white colour.

Breadcrumbs.  Again, not all recipes include breadcrumbs, but I like using them to bind up any pork fat that has gone adrift and floated to the surface of the mixture.  Starch such as breadcrumb makes for a smoother, more cohesive spread.

Basically all these components are combined and simmered until the dairy has reduced and become a stodgy porridge.  At this point the mixture is potted and chilled.  It is most commonly eaten for breakfast, on toast.

Lazy Man’s Cretons.  Oftentimes when I make pie I misjudge the ratio of dough to filling, and am left with a surfeit of one or the other.  Excess pie dough is easy to get rid of (pie sticks!)  Excess filling can be a bit trickier.  If I have leftover tourtière filling, I put it in a heavy pot and cover it with heavy cream.  If you simmer this mixture for about an hour it’s hard for an Anglo such as myself to differentiate it from true cretons.  I have no idea what Quebecers would think of that, but it’s already happened so we should all move on.

Like many rustic preparations, cretons is a double-edged sword: on the one hand it’s almost impossible to not be tasty; on the other it is truly impossible to make it look appetizing in the modern sense.  It is cold meat porridge, after all.  But it’s delicious, and a great way to use up leftover ground meat.

 

Cretons

Ingredients

  • 600 g ground pork
  • 150 g onion
  • 10 g garlic
  • 1 tsp quatre-épices
  • 470 g heavy cream
  • 30 g bread crumbs
  • 1.5 tbsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Gently cook the pork in a heavy pot.  Do not colour the meat.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, and quatre-épices.  Cook gently until the onions are starting to become translucent.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.  Simmer until the cream has reduced.  The mixture should have the consistency of porridge.  Roughly 45 to 60 minutes.
  4. Transfer immediately to ramekins or ceramic dishes.  Chill thoroughly.
  5. Spread on toast.

Cured Fatback – Lardo

Originally posted on July 5, 2014.

 

Cured fatback on toast.This post is about cured fatback, most commonly known by its Italian name lardo.

Fatback is the subcutaneous fat that covers the pork loin.  Resist the urge to say “back fat”: it’s called fatback.  Industrially-raised pigs are intentionally grown very lean, so the fatback is typically only an inch thick.  Heritage pigs can have three inches or more of fatback.  These are the animals you need in order to make lardo.

Two autumns ago I got a side of Tamworth pork from Nature’s Green Acres.  The fatback was two and a half inches thick in some places.  It was the first pig that I ever cut that truly deserved to have its fatback cured and enjoyed on its own, instead of, say, simply being ground into sausage mix or rendered into lard.

The procedure for curing fatback is simple.  Cut the fat from the lean meat.  Rub with salt, sugar, herbs, and spices.  Rosemary is common.  I used thyme, juniper, bay, and black pepper.  Store the fat in a cool, dark place for six months or longer.  A cool, dark place could be a centuries-old Carrara marble box in a dank Tuscan cellar, or it could be a drawer in the bottom of your fridge.  In the latter case, put the salted fat in a Ziploc bag and cover tightly with aluminum foil to keep out light.  Light promotes oxidation and develops off-flavours in fat.

Six months later your slab of fat is ready to taste.  My first taste of lardo was in a salumeria in San Daniele.  Raw pork fat sounds so outrageous to my Anglo-Saxon ears that I expected an audacious flavour and grotesque texture.  Truth be told lardo is an extremely subtle preparation.  It is mild, sweet, faintly lactic, and above all creamy.

My homemade lardo is similar to the stuff I ate in Italy, though I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the sugar.  And the exterior was extremely salty: the first few slices were frankly inedible.

I’ll use this word again: subtle.  Lardo is so subtle it promotes contemplation. How could something so crude be so nuanced in flavour and texture?

A civilized preparation, this cured fatback.

A slab of cured fatback, or lardo.