Friday, July 29, 2011

Head Cheese: An Initiation Rite

Head cheese made in loaf pan

I feel like I've been through an initiation rite, and at first, I wasn't even sure into what I had been initiated.  Charcutepalooza's Sensible Worlds, aka Brad Weiss, writes about The Fetishism of Charcuterie and the Meatiness Thereof and I think he pretty much tagged this fascination correctly.  But having spent the last six months salting, brining, smoking, grinding, stuffing, and emulsifying, in other words, indulging this fetishism, why now did I feel "initiated"?  After looking over the "binding" challenge Charcutepalooza Facebook photos available, and at my own photos, and thinking about it for several days, I now know it was the pig's head.  I can't believe that I actually cooked the animal part that even Mrs. Wheelbarrow avoided.

And as I thought more about it, I realized it wasn't the head, per se, because, after all, I couldn't even see the nasty bits like the brains.  No, it was the eyeballs.  And they probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't watched  the video of Chef Chris Cosentino removing the meat from the pig's head in order to make porchetta di testa.  During the video he says " be really careful not to puncture [the eye]," so the whole time my pig's head was cooking, I kept worrying about accidentally puncturing an eye.  I had no idea what would happen and why I shouldn't do it.  So when my stock began to reduce and I needed to turn the head a bit to keep it submerged, my stomach turned with it.  And suddenly I felt very liminal, between one state and another, just as occurs in an initiation ritual.

Nothing about charcuterie had really bothered me so far, so buying and cooking a pig's head really made me feel like a member of this charcuterie community.  Being a Charcutepaloozer was one thing, but working with a part of an animal in which you have to overcome hesitant thoughts, like dissolving brains and delicate eyes, really made me feel like I had entered a new stage of charcuterie.  For me, it was the biggest challenge so far, but I did it.  Wow!  Does that feel good!  What an initiation....

Simmering the meat
So, in my giant stockpot are simmering six hocks and one head.  Following the Charcuterie directions, I added the proper herbs and spices, including the nutmeg and allspice, and the aroma was, well, "heady."  After draining the stock back into the pot to reduce more, it was pretty easy picking out all of the meat, although it was also really, really greasy.  The leeks had absorbed all that fat and just clung to my fingers.  But when I finally finished my hands felt so soft.  Because I chose to use the pink salt, my meat remained pink, something I don't think I would do next time.  I don't own a terrine (yet), so I stuffed the meat into a loaf pan.  I think I packed it in a bit too tightly because the gelatin/stock didn't really spread as much as I would have liked.

Head cheese
I also saved the leftover stock/gelatin in 1/2 pint canning jars so I could freeze it and then use it in soups and braises.

Head cheese stock/gelatin
And after finishing the whole process, having taken up something that was a real, personal challenge, I sat down and had lunch.

Head cheese sandwich
A head cheese sandwich with homemade roll, my own canned dill pickle, and some Dijon mustard.  How much better can it get?  I love Charcutepalooza!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pig's Head

Pig's Head
Yup.  I picked up my pig's head today.  As is obvious, it's cleaned, and quite well cleaned at that.  It certainly does not even compare to Chris Cosentino's beautiful pig's head.  Good job, Chris!  No ears, no tongue, no skin.  But I did get the eyeballs, ugh.  I'm not sure I understand the USDA set up for being able to sell ears and tongues, and the butcher was far too busy today for asking questions.  I know I can get the tongue and ears when it's my pig, but I guess they can't sell them.  C'est la vie...

I also picked up 6 lbs. of ham hocks to be added to the recipe.  Given that I barely had a container large enough for the brine, I think that is more than enough meat for two people and one (I hope) head cheese.  I have a pig's heart that I thought about adding to the mix, but again, all that meat and just two people, I don't think so.  I did find a few stray whiskers and some hair that I had to get rid of, so the head is even cleaner now.  I put it and the hock into the Charcuterie brine, so it's soaking in a bit of heaven.  Of course it was so heavy and so big that I actually had to set it outside where it may possibly do well in the cold spell we're having.  Just in case, I keep adding ice.

I would be more nervous at this point in time in making the head cheese, but I found a marvelous video that provides just the imagery and descriptive words I needed in order to proceed with ease and confidence.  Thank you Carl Tashian, Winnie Yang, Marisa Huff, and Johanna Kolodny.  I think I'm ready for the next step....

Friday, July 15, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen, Hot Dogs!

Long Hot Dogs
I almost forgot to photograph my hot dogs before putting them in the freezer.  That's the kind of month it has been (I totaled my car but luckily wasn't injured).  With all the meat I had, I couldn't imagine using a pastry bag to stuff them, so I took the lazy path and used my Kitchen Aid. It wasn't bad but they did turn out a bit uneven at times.  I made some regular sized hot dogs, but I have fond memories of the 15" chili dogs sold at Cupid's across the street from the San Fernando Valley State College campus (now Cal State Univ., Northridge), so I made some long ones as well.  They weren't thin enough, but that's because I used local hog casings instead of sheep casings.

My biggest problem came with the smoking.  My first edition, fourth printing copy of Charcuterie called for hot smoking, but with my old Brinkman smoker, sans attached thermometer, I think I should have cold smoked them.  I thought I saw a comment somewhere by Bob del Grosso saying that hot dogs should be cold smoked, but I couldn't find it so I dutifully followed the directions as printed.  So, the hot dogs were a bit too smoked, plus I put them on the grill so they had those grill marks, but I must say, the flavor is very good.
Hot Dogs and Kraut
I like my dogs with kraut and Dijon mustard.  When I lived in Stuttgart one year, I ate the local Rote Wurst all the time.  It tasted like a good hot dog should taste.  I wanted to duplicate that recipe, but couldn't find it.  In southern Germany (and maybe all over the country) and in Austria, small "sausage" kiosks are often found in front of department stores and on the streets late at night.  They usually offer two kinds of sausage or "wurst" and they come with a roll (Semmel) and Scharfe (sharp, but think quite hot) or Süsse (sweet) mustard on a rectangular plate.  The sausage are not put in the roll, after all the rolls are round, one just holds it in the hand, dunks the end into the mustard, and alternates bites with the roll.  It is the best!  And I loved when they had Rotwurst in the kiosk. 

Hot Dogs with Baked Beans
My husband likes his hot dogs with baked beans, even canned beans.  It works for him so although we sit at the same table, we part ways with the hot dog accompaniment.

I had great ambitions for this month.  I wanted to make the Weisswurst.  And I really wanted to make Thüringer Bratwurst like I remember it.  Actually, I like the Freybe's Thüringer Bratwurst that I buy up in Canada.  I know that in Thuringia two necessary ingredients are caraway and marjoram, and often garlic as well.  It gives the bratwurst such a pronounced flavor.  I didn't get the task done in this month's challenge but I will in the future.  I also wanted to use my pig's liver in liver sausage this month, but that wasn't made either.  Oh well, something to look forward to!  Along with next month's challenge: headcheese!