Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smoking Convert

Smoked pork, shallot, garlic, squash.

I confess, I was never really big on smoked foods.  I'm not even a big smoked bacon fan.  And I'm not a fan of barbecue sauce.  Maybe I'm an American culture failure.  But now that I've smoked one spicy, dry rubbed pork loin, there's no stopping this smoking convert.

In the above photo, the spice rub looks much darker than what I see. Hmm, any photo hints?? This first photo also shows that I really went wild over the first time smoking as I also smoked shallots, garlic, and winter squash. The shallots and garlic need to be tended more carefully next time, but the winter squash had a slightly smokey flavor that combined well with the sweet carmelization and earthiness of the squash. Had I had more squash, I would have cooked it all for some great soups and raviolis!

For the pork loin, I followed the dry spicy rub from my curing bible, Charcuterie.  I also ground up some very fresh, dried herbs and spices from my favorite local Health Food Store, Mt. Mike's, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  After wrapping it in plastic wrap, it looked like this:

Red, wrapped, and ready to begin

I left it in the fridge for the required amount of time, then prepared myself for smoking.  We have a Brinkmann electric smoker.  We didn't use chips because they just burn too fast in this smoked; instead, we used larger, water-soaked hickory chunks.  We have some applewood, but it isn't chopped up yet and with our very wet winter, not really dry enough.  So, we used what we could find.

I thought I'd just follow the directions in Charcuterie for smoking but obviously different smokers require different timing, heat up at various rates, and have a high temperature limit.  I could not get our smoker hotter than 250F and that was with lots of wood.  So, I settled for a longer cooking time.  Also, the final temperature of the meat was a bit higher than what I really wanted, so next time I'll go for the lower, fully-cooked pork temperature.

Smoking away

On another occasion, I served the pork loin plain again, but this time with sauteed yellow peppers and onions and with saffron rice and dried tomatoes.  Loved it!

More spiced pork with peppers, onions, and rice.

I didn't have time to take a photo because we were late for our ten hour trek to the Oregon coast, but the pork also made into a delicious banh mi sandwich.  My son just cut slices and ate it plain because he liked it so much.  We have a bit left and that will become some other dish when we return to Bonners Ferry tomorrow.

The smoking bug did not stop at the pork.  I also smoked a curry rubbed, butterflied leg of lamb.  The yearly lamb comes from my friend, Annie, who raises the sheep for wool.  It's usually smaller and our local USDA butcher cuts it.  I always get the leg bone in, so I had an opportunity to try out my "butchering" skills in order to have the butterfly cut.  I felt good about how it went.  I also made some freshly chopped curry spices but followed too closely a recipe I once found on the web and ended up with a bit too much coriander, which didn't allow the cardamom to come through as much as I wanted.  But it was still good!

Curry crusted butterflied lamb leg

Again, the photo makes it appear darker than it is.  It's pretty good.  I think I'll mix it with some lentils and spinach for soup.  And make more sandwiches out of it, maybe something in a homemade pita with yoghurt raita, tzatziki, raita*, and dal.  There's just no end to it....  Now what shall I smoke next?

*linguistic and cultural confusion....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Corned Beef and Corned Beef Tongue

On to the Brine!  What a great idea for our third Charcutepalooza challenge!  My husband and I love corned beef so we decided to be really decadent and make both corned beef and corned beef tongue.  Like other bloggers mentioned over at the Charcutepalooza Facebook page, some of us had decidedly gray brisket after it came out of the brine.  Mine was really weird because it also sported a nice pink spot in the middle.

I wasn't too worried about it because several of the bloggers said that it turned properly pink when cooked.  However, I did check with one of my favorite food bloggers, facebook friend, and brilliant food scientist, Bob del Grosso.  Although he was busy and knee-deep in butchering, he did send some information.  So, after giving him an abundance of detail into how I brined the brisket, he suggested that somehow an air pocket had been created in the brining liquid because air can cause the gray.  That's quite possible because I put the brisket in a very large bowl, put a beef tongue on top of that, and then topped it all with an upside down plate.  Certainly the presence of the tongue may have caused the pink spot because that is where it rested.  But I still wasn't sure about the gray coloring.  However, after perusing many of the corned beef Charcutepalooza photos, it seems that this happened to some degree or another with everyone's beef. 

When he had a bit more time, Bob went on to explain that beef turns gray as it oxidizes.  However, if brined "...with nitrite and then cooked, the oxidation will mostly disappear as the meat shrinks and the heat drives off the oxygen."  It was a simplified, scientific explanation that I could understand.  It certainly explains why so many photos had shades of gray coloring after the brine.  And now we all know why it turns properly pink again!  Bob knows so much, shares so much important information about food and cooking, and writes so well that many people are faithful fans of his blog, A Hunger Artist.  Thanks, Bob!

I did brine the brisket with freshly made pickling spice, borrowing the recipe that Ruhlman provides in "the book."  My local health food store always has very fresh, dried spices.  I loved how the flavor of the clove came through.  I never knew corned beef could taste so good!

We ate the corned beef last week in our traditional St. Patrick's Day style with boiled potatoes, cabbage, onion, and carrots.  Then we snacked on it.  And we made sandwiches with it.  And then we took the tongue out of the brine and cooked that for even more corned beef!

My husband loves corned beef so much "too much" peeling or removal of gristle, fat, etc. is not allowed.  I'm not crazy about tongue, but it tasted as delicious as the brisket.  Now he has enough lunch to last awhile. 

I cannot wait to find out what the next challenge will be!

Salt Cure Round-Up

Between shoveling snow and picking up six substitute classes for six weeks, I just could not find the time to post my final projects on the salt cure.  Luckily, most of the snow is now gone so I reserved a morning to write.

I was extremely pleased that my second pancetta turned out as good as the first.  I'm a homemade pancetta convert and will never buy it in the store again.  I picked up a half pork belly this time at my local USDA butcher, cured it a la Charcuterie, and the result was fabulous, again!

I've used the pancetta in a variety of preparations, but I cannot stop eating one of my favorites, Angels on Horseback!  And, of course, instead of wrapping the oysters in bacon, I used pancetta!

For the final salt cure item, I made something that I had been wanting to make for a long time: Preserved Lemons.  After checking Charcuterie, I also took a look at similar recipes in two other cookbooks that I love, Sunshine Food by Sophie Grigson and Modern Moroccan by Ghillie Basan (which is way overpriced online - I bought it as a remainder for $5).  Charcuterie did not call for the addition of any liquid using only the salt.  Grigson called for some juice and some water.  Basan called only for extra juice. So, I checked out Michael Ruhlman's website on the same day that he posted an article about Lemon Confit, or, preserved lemons.  It's an article worth reading with many helpful suggestions in the discussion zone.

I bought some Meyer lemons and, using kosher salt, stuffed them into a one quart canning jar.

I decided to follow Basan's suggestion to put the jar of lemons aside for several days to let the skins soften, then push them down and add more lemons, salt, and juice.  This is what now sits in my root cellar.

Thank you Charcutepalooza!  I can't wait to use the preserved lemons and now it's time to post about brining!