Crisp Pig’s Tail with Broth

A pig’s tail is an extension of its spine: a sequence of small vertebrae, surrounded by meat, and fat, and skin. The tail meat itself is not so different than the meat from, say, the shoulder. You are, however, afforded the pleasure of gnawing the meat off the bones.

The tail is a surprisingly tough muscle that needs to be simmered for a few hours to become tender. This got me thinking about the broth that would result from the cooking process. It happens that my second favourite soup of all time is ham soup. When smoked ham hock is simmered with vegetables, the resulting liquid somehow takes on the flavour of the meat without any noticeable detraction from the flavour of the hock itself. The final soup is comforting, smoky, salty, savoury, perfect for cold weather, and a great example of the ingenuity inherent in so many simple, frugal dishes. I decided I would serve the tail-broth alongside the crisp tail.


The Process

As with heads, tails usually have some whiskers that need to be shaved or singed. You can see that my tails both had a small piece of the rump still attached. That meat was later used as a garnish for the broth.


With the ham hock soup in mind, I kept the tails in a standard brine (salt, brown sugar, curing salt, herbs) for about a week.


After brining, the tails were patted dry and left overnight in the fridge, uncovered, to dry out the surface. The next day they were hot-smoked, then simmered with vegetables, herbs, and, to add a little body to the finished stock, a couple of trotter bones.

Once the meat was tender, about three hours, the broth was strained and chilled so that the fat could be removed.

I pulled the chunks of rump meat from the tails, then cut the curly-queues into segments. Each tail was about nine inches long, so with six diners, everyone got a three inch piece.


We coated the tails with seasoned flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs.



Finally we fried the tails until brown and crisp. They were served with hot mustard. Brined, smoked pork, clinging to a bone: a bit like a ham lollipop.


The broth was reheated and simmered with a few sprigs of rosemary. Once thoroughly infused, it was poured over green lentils, vegetables, and some of the shredded rump.

The flavours were simple and direct: smoke, rosemary, and pork. A restorative broth to be sure.



Scotch Broth, or Barley-Broth

Roast lamb bones and vegetables in a stock potSome would think this is the inside of my compost bin, but it’s actually the inside of my stockpot: roasted lamb bones and vegetables, as well as all the darkly caramelized bits scraped from the bottom of the roasting tray. These flavours formed the soul of the Burns Supper, as the resulting stock was used not only in the soup, but also in the haggis and the clapshot. They were the mellow, earthy foundation of the entire meal.

Making a pot of stock the night before a large meal has become a very fond tradition. The house fills with the aroma first of roasting bones, then of the simmering stock, while excitement for the coming meal slowly accrues.

Some specifics on the stock. First I roasted lamb bones from Four Whistle Farm. It’s hard to come by good lamb femur bones, I think because of the popularity of leg roasts and shanks. A touch of tomato paste was smeared over the bones for the latter half of the roasting. Then onion, carrot, celery, and garlic were baked. The pans were deglazed with water, and bay and rosemary were added. Finally the whole lot was covered in cold water, brought to a simmer and left overnight.

 

Barley-Broth, with kale and scrag

The first course of my Burns Suppers is always barley-broth, which in North American is usually called Scotch broth.  Vegetable-wise the soup contains onions, kale, and carrots.  The pearled barley is cooked in a separate pot so that it doesn’t cloud the stock.

The final garnish is lamb neck, or scrag. Neck is a variety-cut that sounds a lot grosser than it really is: the meat is indistinguishable from that of the shoulder. The necks are seared, braised in some of the lamb stock, cooled, shredded, and added to the soup.

A bowl of barley-broth, with kale and scrag

 

 

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

Leftover turkey and wild rice soupToday I used the rest of my turkey giblets, as well as some other Thanksgiving leftovers.

I simmered the turkey neck, heart, and bones with onion, carrots, celery, thyme, white wine, and water to make stock. The neck gave a lot of body to the stock. A lot. When I chilled some extra stock it solidified to a thick pudding. To the rest of my stock I added mirepoix, corn, and left-over turkey meat. I also threw in some wild rice, which was cooked in a separate pot (cooking rice in the same pot will leach starch which clouds the otherwise clear soup).

More ideas for using up turkey:

Turkey Pot PieTurkey pot pie

Turkey and Waffles

Turkey and waffles

Civet – Stew Thickened with Blood

Civet of elk with morelsThis week I had the opportunity to cook with pig’s blood. There’s actually more classical applications for blood than you may think.

Fresh blood has a beautiful colour, similar to red wine, but with an opalescent sheen. When heated, the blood turns burgundy, then brown, and eventually black. It coagulates somewhere around 75°C, which makes it ideal for thickening liquids.

Civet: A Gateway Dish

If you’re at all squeamish about cooking with blood, this is probably a good dish to start with.

The two things that make a civet a civet are: one, that game is marinated in wine which is later used to braise the meat; and two, that the braising liquid is thickened with blood and used as a sauce. In some cases this is the blood of the animal you are cooking. Collecting the blood of true game animals is difficult because of how they’re killed, so pig’s blood often stands in as a substitute.

In this case I had some stewing meat from a calf elk that Kevin hunted. Here’s the basic procedure.

  • Marinate the meat in red wine (I used a Syrah) with sliced onions, carrots, garlic, bay, and black pepper.
  • Remove the meat and let it drip dry in a colander.
  • Cook bacon in a braising pot. Remove and reserve.
  • Brown the game meat in the bacon fat.
  • Return the bacon to the pot. Pour the marinating liquid (with sliced vegetables and aromatics) over the meat. Scrap the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to capture the delicious fond.
  • Cover and simmer until meat is tender, maybe two hours. I also added some reconstituted dried morels partway through the braising.
  • Separate the liquid from the meat and vegetables. Remove the bay leaf. Reduce the liquid to concentrate the flavours.
  • Use maybe two tablespoons of blood per cup of braising liquid. Temper the blood, then add to liquid. Heat while stirring until the sauce thickens. Be careful not to bring the liquid to a boil, as the blood will curdle and ruin the smooth texture of the sauce.
  • Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

The purplish brown of the finished dish is from the wine, though the cooked blood happens to have a similar colour.

The blood adds a very pleasing mineral note that works well with the flavour of the meat.

It’s also a dead-simple thickener to use. Even quicker than cornstarch or roux, as it doesn’t need to be cooked out. It brought my braising liquid to a nappé consistency in a few moments.

I don’t think I’ve used the word “nappé” on this blog before. Let me explain. “Nappé” (said “nap-EH”) is one of the those fantastic French cooking words that doesn’t have an acceptable substitute in English. Napper (also pronounced “nap-EH”) is the infinitive form of a verb meaning to coat evenly with a thin layer of sauce. When thickening a sauce, the most common way to judge consistency is to simply dip a spoon in the pot, remove, and observe how the sauce clings to the back. In the early liquid stages the sauce will simply slide away, perhaps leaving a few streaks behind. Once the sauce has thickened, it will cleave to the spoon and leave a perfectly even coating. This is a nappé. You should be able to run your finger across this coating and leave a clearly defined streak.

Potato Dumplings in Broth

This post is about simple potatoes dumplings, served in an interesting potato broth.

Conversations about potato dishes usually focus on texture (the ideal French fry has a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, the ideal mashed potatoes are smooth but not gummy…) I love this broth because it makes you think about how potatoes taste. Potato skins are used to infuse a vegetable broth with potato flavour, without any of the thick starchiness we associate with potato soups.

Let’s start with the dumplings. The key to pillow-like potato dumplings is to have very little moisture in the potatoes. This way the milled potatoes will require less flour to form a dough, and there will be accordingly less gluten in the finished dumplings. Use low-moisture, starchy potatoes like russets.

Boil or bake the potatoes whole, with the skins on. Once they are cooked through and still hot, peel away the skins in large segments and mill the potatoes. Clouds of steam will escape in the process, ridding the flesh of excess moisture. Spread the milled potatoes on a sheet pan and cool thoroughly to let a maximum of moisture evaporate.

Lay your potato peels on a rack and dry thoroughly in a 225°F oven.

Potato skins

Once the potatoes have cooled, add flour and mix to distribute evenly.  Then add eggs and melted butter, stir to combine, then knead briefly until a dough forms.  Exact amounts are as follows:

Potato Dumplings

Master Ratio – 4:3:1:1/2 potato, flour, egg, butter, by weight

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 12 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz egg (2 large eggs)
  • 1 oz melted butter

To shape the dumplings, roll the dough flat, cut into strips, then cut the strips into rectangular pillows.

Dough for potato dumplings

Rolling out the dough for potato dumplings

Strips of dough for potato dumplingsPotato dumplings, reading for simmering

Now the broth. Make a simple vegetable broth by sweating onions, carrots, celery, and a touch(!) of tomato for colour and acidity. Add parsley, bay, and pepper. Cover with cold water and simmer for about an hour. Strain out the vegetables.

Add the crisp potato peels to the vegetable broth and simmer until you can taste the potato and the broth has reduced to a flavoursome concentration. Remove the peels before serving.

Potato dumplings in broth

 

 

Austrian Dinner

But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.

-Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction

 

I am part of a culinary exchange between NAIT and a school in Semmering, Austria. This past month I hosted an Austrian student named Dominik, whom a lucky few met at Valerie’s psychedelic taste-tripping party.

On Dominik’s last full day in Canada, we coerced him and two of his Austrian colleagues, Mike and Lena, to cook us a classic Austrian dinner.

First Course: Frittatensuppe – Pancake Soup

Domink requested that we make a good beef stock for the soup course. To make good stock you need good bones. A few vendors at the Strathcona market sell “soup bones,” which I think are small sections of rib and chine. When I told the owner of Trowlesworthy Farms that I was interested in something more substantial, he opened a cooler containing whole femur bones, which he sells as dog bones. It just so happens that these shin bones, in particular the “knuckles” at the ends, are the best bones you can use for making stock, as they have a lot of cartilage that breaks down to form gelatin, giving the finished stock a rich mouthfeel. I asked if they could cut one of these bones, which are roughly two feet long, into three inch segments. They could. One shin bone, cut up, cost me about ten bucks.

The knuckle end of a beef shin bone
When Dominik told me they were going to serve “pancake soup,” I thought I had a good idea of what he meant. In culinary school we have to memorize a collection of classical French terms for garnishes. For instance, any dish with the words “Du Barry” in the description will feature cauliflower. Dishes described as “à l’égyptienne” will usually have rice, eggplant, and tomato. Consommé “célestine” is garnished with julienned crêpes. This is what I had in mind: a bowl of broth with a few delicate strands of crêpe.

I was wrong. We were served a heaping mound of sliced pancakes with a cup of steaming stock ladled over top. It was the most satisfying soup I have had in a very long time. I love sopping up the last bits of soups and stews with bread. In fact, I have eaten entire bowls of soup by soaking them up, teaspoon by teaspoon, with pieces of bread. This was like a fetish soup, that gratified my perverse reliance on starch to consume soup.

Slicing the pancakes
Frittatensuppe (Pancake Soup)

Etiquette sidebar: Lena scolded me for trying to drink wine during the soup course. Canadians are barbarous.

Second Course: Wiener Schnitzel

I just found out, this week, that “wiener” means “from Wien (Vienna)”. Wiener Schnitzel is often made with pork, but sticklers for authenticity will demand veal.

Large cuts of veal never make it to the display case, but most grocery stores that sell fresh veal cutlets will have made those cutlets in-house, meaning that they will have some kind of veal hip on hand. We bought 2kg of inside round from Andy’s Valleyview IGA for about $35/kg. I have no idea why veal is so much more expensive than beef.

Mike cut the round into slices about 3/8″ thick, then pounded them a little flatter than 1/4″. “Pounding” is a pretty misleading description of what Mike did. There was a pronounced horizontal aspect to his strokes, which stretched the meat without tearing it.

The schnitzel was dredged in flour, egg wash, bread crumbs, and then fried. The meat was very nearly submerged in the oil. Apparently Austrian restaurants cook their schnitzel in the deep-fryer, not a pan.

The veal was served with potato salad. Waxy potatoes were boiled whole, then peeled and mashed with grainy mustard, white vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.

The monstrous hunk of veal from Andy's Valleyview IGA
Mike flattening the veal
Wiener schnitzel and potato salad

Dessert: Apfelstrudel – Apple Strudel

Austrians love sweets.

North American cooks base a meal around the meat they will be serving. They say, “We’re having steak for dinner”, and they plan any vegetables, starches, and desserts around that meat. I once read that Austrians plan meals around the dessert. “We’re having sachertorte for dinner”, and they choose the meat and vegetables accordingly.

Strudel was another dish that I thought I understood quite well: puff pastry with a jam-like filling. Apparently that is a French-style strudel, a far cry from the Viennese strudel of Dominik’s homeland. His was a long cylinder of apples, raisins, rum, sugar, and bread crumbs, rolled into pastry by an ingenious dish-towel method (see below). The log was then sliced and served with whipped cream.

The apple filling
The first fold
Rolling the strudel
The strudel, before baking
The strudel, after baking, dusted with icing sugarApple strudel and whipped cream

A pot of coffee accompanied dessert. Austrians are prodigious drinkers of coffee.

Schnapps

When Dominik first came to our home about one month ago, he presented us with a bottle of apple schnapps. If anything I consumed during the night represents Vincent Vega’s “little differences” speech, it is schnapps. Do we have schnapps in Canada? Of course. It’s that 15% peach liqueur that sixteen year old girls drink. Dominik’s schnapps, which was made by his neighbour in Schwarzau im Gebirge, smelled of apple orchards and burned like whisky.

Our Austrian dinner finished outdoors, under the lilac tree in our backyard. It was grey, chilly, and mosquito-ridden. We made a serious dent in the schnapps.

I hope Dominik remembers his time with us fondly. (I know Lisa and I will.)

Mitterhofer Apfelschnapps