Burma: Rivers of Flavor

Remember, as you read this, that butcher’s apprentices don’t live on innards alone. I am so excited that Naomi Duguid’s latest cookbook is nearly available –in fact, you can pre-order it at Amazon already. I took a peek at the book using the “look inside” link, and was thrilled to find a promising recipe using okra, which is the current darling of my garden.

A pale yellow okra blossom

Beautiful okra blossom

A few things about okra: First, I’m growing stunning okra right here in Vermont, way north of the Mason-Dixon line. Secondly, when a bone fide Southern Lady tells you that your okra pods are monstrous big and almost certainly inedible, take the hint and harvest more frequently. No bigger than the average middle finger. Before I learned this lesson, I tried deep-frying some huge pods which I’d thinly sliced. They tasted deliciously of okra, but the texture was twiggy, straw-like, and splintery: don’t try to emulate my stubborn ways or you may do permanent damage to your hard palate .. Thirdly –prettiest flowers ever! Next year I’ll be growing more Clemson’s Spineless, a nice green okra, as well as the stunning red ones that Naomi turned me on to yesterday.

Every culture that uses okra has two basic ways to eat okra –either as a vegetable thickener for stews (think gumbo) or fried. I haven’t tried okra in a stew, because I’m loving all the fried versions I’m cooking up these days.
The Burmese recipe Naomi offers in her cookbook is warmly seasoned, beautifully golden from being sizzled in turmeric, and deliciously savory with a mess of fried shallots.

strainer of okra pods and some sliced pods

Slicing the okra

Not only are the flowers dramatically beautiful, the pods themselves are studies in gorgeous botanical design.

close-up of sliced okra pod

Okra pod beauty shot

I love how golden the peanut oil and shallots get from the bit of turmeric in the recipe.

sizzling shallots in turmeric-yellow peanut oil

sizzling shallots in turmeric-yellow peanut oil

I was running around like a crazy woman getting ready to leave for Scrabble club; this okra dish, a bit of rice, and some spicy beef & green tomato stir-fry, and garlicky naan, of course, were the makings of my Scrabble club dinner.

Sliced okra and a cooling garlicky naan bread

Sliced okra and a cooling garlicky naan bread

Then there was an unexpected and delightful visit from a pair of monks out on an impromptu road-trip. I and my cat, Mouse, entertained them mightily as I rushed around getting ready to take off for Brattleboro .

I think I might adjust my timing with regard to when I add the okra so that I can get a tiny bit more crispiness on the okra without risking over-browning the shallots. I’ll get it right next time. The bottom line: this is my absolute favorite okra recipe, and would be enough reason to keep on growing the pods. Mmm!

Burmese okra & shallots, nearly cooked

Burmese okra & shallots, just about finished frying

This dish is also a tantalizing promise that Naomi’s latest cookbook is going to provide years of thrilling cooking. I’m not exaggerating: the book that introduced me to the deeply researched, gorgeously evoked, and gracefully authentic recipes which are the hallmarks of Naomi’s food writing, was Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia. That cookbook was a revelation on so many levels, and I’ve absorbed so much of who I am as a cook and a lover of food today from it.

Posted in books, friends, vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Cometh the Fall

..the nice autumn-y fall, not the consequence of pride one. That means I’ll be going out as apprentice butcher more often, and it means a glorious profusion of apples are just around the corner, so the mincemeat post that I promised Jackie months ago is also coming up soon! For today, a picture of breakfast, a crazy-delicious plate of deviled lamb kidneys on toast.

deviled lamb kidneys with bits of bacon and parsley on 10-grain home-made toast, aka, YUM

Deviled lamb kidneys with bits of bacon and parsley on 10-grain home-made toast

I still have a lot of market garden harvest work in the next month or so, plus putting up the harvest (tomato sauce today), but the blog should perk up this winter. Hope you’ve all had a good summer, and hope to see you here as fall turns to winter: contemplative season, a good time to rest and take stock. And make stock.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Sugar Mountain Farm Butcher Shop Project launches!

Pull on your galoshes and hurry on over to Kickstarter to back a really fantastic project: Walter, Holly, and their family are building an on-farm butcher shop at Sugar Mountain Farm! This really is good news, not just for those of us here in Vermont and New England, but for all who support locally and humanely grown meat with which to feed ourselves, our family, our friends, and our customers.

A Sugar Mountain Farm pig

A Sugar Mountain Farm pig

Sugar Mountain Farm is already known for the sterling, scrumptious, and altogether superb pork that they raise, and when the Butcher Shop Project is finished, they’ll be able to process their meat in a smartly designed abattoir, butchery, and kitchen space. This means the pigs will be free from the stress associated with being transported for many miles, and this is both more humane and results in better quality meat.

I encourage you to go over to the Sugar Mountain Farm Kickstarter page and learn more about this family and their work, and please pledge a little or a lot, depending on your circumstances.

Much of the pork that I’ve used in the cooking projects which I share on this blog have as their delicious center a bit of Sugar Mountain Farm pork, and it means such a lot to me that my ingredients and therefore my food has a back-story, a provenence which encompasses growing friendships, shared passions for modern farming lives, and, in the case of Walter and his family, a genuinely remarkable generosity. If you spend even a little time reading the Sugar Mountain Farm blog, you can see for yourself how Walter shares his astonishing range of experience and knowledge without reserve.

Little girl Hope and little piglets

Little Hope with piglet friends

I am grateful for each opportunity that I have to buy a bit of Sugar Mountain Farm pork for a cooking project –a thick slab of belly destined for bacon-y goodness, a few kidneys with which to cook up my beloved deviled kidneys on toast, or a jowl to make a greedy hunk of guanciale. I’m grateful because I trust these people as farmers, and I just plain like them, more and more as I get to know them. And I love the subversive and clandestine glee that I get when I meet Holly & Hope at the park & ride off Route 91 to exchange a bit of cash for meaty treats.

Hope and I are both fans of a certain genre of books, and while Holly clambers around in the van finding my wares and writes out the receipt, Hope and I exchange these great flurries of book-recommendations. This is how shopping for food should be, at least part of the time.

I can’t wait to see the finished Sugar Mountain Farm Butcher Shop!

Posted in alternatively sourced meat, bacon, charcuterie, curing, extremities, kidneys, liver, nose-to-tail, offal, pig's ears, pork, sausage, tongue, trotter | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pudding Time

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

† ˈpudding-time Obs.

The time when pudding or puddings are to be had; hence fig., a time when one is in luck; a favourable or useful time.
1667 Dryden & Dk. Newcastle Sir M. Mar-all iv, Here he comes in pudding-time to resolve the question.

I’d never come across this figure of speech until I decided to do a bit of research* in preparing to write this post, and technically this meaning is obsolete, but it delights me that despite not intending to keep prodding at the notion of grace, this expression pops up in my first project write-up of the new year with its connotations of auspiciousness, favor, and luck.  So I’ve resolved that 2012, all twelve months of it, will be pudding-time.

I watched the first episode of How to Cook Like Heston last week, and was instantly taken with the idea of making my first beef and kidney pudding; I’d been wanting to attempt it for years, and Heston’s version with oxtail and kidney seemed a good combination of traditional provenance and saucy innovation. This dish involves suet pastry, new to me, about which I still have lots of questions (see end of post), and it was a steamed meat pudding as opposed to a baked meat pie, so the moving-picture aspect of Heston’s TV program boosted my pastry-steaming confidence; a thousand words, etc.

Oxtails undergoing the Maillard reaction, aka `browning,' vital to achieving maximum beefy deliciousness

Oxtails undergoing the Maillard reaction, aka `browning,' vital to achieving maximum beefy deliciousness

First was sourcing the oxtail. My local supermarket didn’t have any, but I was informed that I could request a minimum order of thirty POUNDS at SIX DOLLARS PER POUND. Yes, I did get a bit shouty; thank goodness the butcher at my local supermarket, while not technically functioning as a butcher, is a good friend, and he agreed it was a ridiculous price and that I should look elsewhere.

I called a larger supermarket twenty minutes north of here and the meat man did have oxtail, and when I asked if he would sell me five pounds of it for $3.99 instead of their normal price of $4.99, the nice man agreed. Still, despite the prevailing description in almost every recipe and cookery book of oxtail as cheap, poor-man’s meat, frugal, etc., this meat is not cheap. Having completed this project, and knowing that I’ll have gotten three or four dinners for between two and three people out of this splurge soothes the sting a bit, but still.

So many cuts of meat which for years were described as cheap or frugal, a real boon to those of us who have little to spend, have now become popular, and have therefore shot up in price.

A pair of pretty oxtails

A pair of pretty oxtails

A case in point: a local progressive meat department has been sourcing locally, sustainably reared pigs, and then slaughtering the whole beasts themselves (what a concept!) and offering the pork for sale. I discovered that they were just throwing away the leaf lard –yes, I did nearly fall over sideways. Putting on my best nonchalant face, I asked if I might come and collect it once a week. Sure thing! said the nice butcher. The very next week I arrived at the meat counter and was told that the leaf lard had suddenly exploded into popularity and was now $5.00 per pound. Really? Hmph.

Back to the pudding.

I’ve not strictly adhered to the recipe, but followed rather the dictates of my larder as well as my dogged disinclination to leave the apartment while it’s so gray and cold outside. Also, I don’t have a pressure cooker or crock pot but was very happy with my big oval enameled cast-iron pot, which has a capacity of four liters, which was just enough.

First I gently cooked a mixture of sliced celery, carrots, and leeks in a bit of grapeseed oil, over medium-low heat, for ten to fifteen minutes. I didn’t have as much leek as was called for, so made up the difference with onion.

Sliced carrots, celery, leeks, and a bit of onion cooking over gentle heat

Sliced carrots, celery, leeks, and a bit of onion cooking over gentle heat

Removing the softened veggies to a bowl, I added a bit more oil, and sweated the onions and star anise for ten minutes until the onions were soft, at which point I added the first veggies back to the pot and stirred them over low heat for five or six minutes.

All the veggies getting acquainted

All the vegetables getting acquainted

Once the veggies were done, I used a silicone spatula to scrape every last morsel into a large bowl, and set it aside. There wasn’t any appreciable fond, er, sucs, which makes sense as I hadn’t meant to color the veggies up much, so I didn’t deglaze the pot as was recommended at this point. [Update: next time I'll aim for a bit more browning.]

Back on the heat, I added a bit more oil, turned the heat up to medium-high, and once the oil was good and hot, browned my nine fat oxtails in two batches, a picture of which is at the top of the page.

While the oxtails sizzled, I added a few bits and bobs to the bowl of cooked veggies: a bay leaf, some summer savory instead of the thyme called for, a teaspoon or so of crushed black pepper, and a quarter cup of my own extremely concentrated roast-tomato sauce/paste (instead of tasteless winter store-bought tomatoes), and one substitution that really pleased me..

Veggies, spices, roasted tomato paste awaiting their play-date with the oxtails

Veggies, spices, roasted tomato paste awaiting their all-day play-date with the oxtails

The recipe calls for mushrooms to be cooked and added to the rest of the veggies and aromats, but I had no mushrooms. No fresh mushrooms, and my vast store of dried ones were packed into boxes just last week for the upcoming move. I really did not want to go out, so I thought about what the mushrooms would add, which in my experience is a rich umami depth of flavor, a sort of round, low, lyric baritone savoriness. I thought: why not a big heaping spoonful of hatcho miso? It seemed right to me.

By now the oxtails were all nicely browned; I piled them carefully atop the bowl of veggies and paid 100 percent attention as I poured all the oil out of the pot (an old tin can comes in handy for this operation), careful not to discard any of the lovely browned bits which weren’t stuck to the pot bottom. Wiped a drip of fat off the outside of the pot, and back onto the heat.

In went a combination of red wine and brandy, which I got to ignite! With a wooden match! Look, mine is for the most part a quiet existence, and this is the sort of acrobatic cooking hijinx that I live for. It really was quite dramatic; you have to picture me standing on one leg, hip pressed against the oven, lighter in one hand, old ratty match in the other, set the match ablaze with the lighter, quickly pick up my camera, bring the match toward the pot and WHOOF! A big lovely blaze of alcoholic fumes, my camera is entirely undamaged, and I still have all the hairs I started out with. Finally I plonk back down into my chair and just enjoy the fire, old pyro that I am.

The inebriating fumes all ablaze

The inebriating fumes all cheerily ablaze

Once the flames had died down, I stirred and scraped the bottom of the pot to loosen all the delicious bits of suc to create a fond, and then added back into the pot everything from the veggie bowl except for the oxtails themselves, which I held back momentarily.

Heston’s recipe calls for 750 grams each of beef and chicken stock or a total of a liter and a half of liquid. Because of moving-related upheaval and my denuded larder, I didn’t even have any tinned stock, much less good home-made stuff in the freezer, so I added just over a liter of water, and a large spoonful of good beef boullion. I didn’t use the entire 1500 grams of liquid because I guessed, rightly it turns out, that the pot would overflow if I used the full complement of liquid in addition to the vegetables and oxtails. The purpose of the liquid is to thoroughly cover the solid bits, so that as much flavor as possible leaches into the suspension, and once the braising is finished and the solids strained out, the liquid will be reduced by a third or half, so the slightly diminished quotient of liquid was hunky dory.

I warmed and stirred the veggies and spices, water, wine, brandy, and boullion, and tasted a spoonful of the liquor. Once warm, even at this early stage, it was evident that with all the good ingredients, as well as the lip-smackingly savory oxtails with all their meat, collagen, and bones, that this broth was going to turn out well, but it was still missing some of those deeper notes mentioned above. Now is when I took a large mounded dessert-spoonful of hatcho miso and dissolved it in a measuring cup with some of the warm broth, and then added it back into the pot. The improved depth and roundness of flavor was immediately apparent when I took a second taste. Excellent.

I carefully tipped the oxtails into the pot, making sure that they were fully submerged, put the lid on, and placed the whole (heavy) thing into a 250°F/130°C oven and let it cook for six hours or so, checking every now and again to make sure it stayed at a low simmer. As the afternoon passed, my apartment smelled more and more of meaty, juicy promise.

Once the oxtail was well and truly falling off the bone, I turned off the oven, set the covered pot on the counter, and went to bed.

***

Next morning I got a long-fermented lump of dough rising and the oven preheating for the daily bread, and proceeded to pick all the meat off the oxtail bones, scraping to get every last bit of collagen off the ends. That stuff is gold. What I couldn’t scrape off into my bowl of meat I gnawed off with my teeth; cook’s treat.

Picking the now-tender bits of meat off the bones

Picking the now-tender bits of meat off the bones

Once the meat was all picked over, I heated up the cool and thus jiggly broth until it was fully liquid again and then poured it through a sieve; I wasn’t looking for a perfectly clear sauce, so I scraped and turned the veggies around in the sieve fairly vigorously. The broth went back into the pot and reduced via a brisk simmer over medium heat by about a third. I ate the well-braised veggie leftovers with some crusty bread & butter; delicious.

Heston used veal kidney; I used pork kidney, and I used a bit more than his recipe calls for, as I relish kidney most of all offal. I trimmed it, chopped it into half-inch chunks, and added it to the bowl of oxtail meat. Then the reduced and almost-cooled gravy was added to the meaty mix, all glossy and delicious. I did not keep aside a portion of the sauce to later be injected into the finished pudding. I like the idea, I really do, but the middle of the day was about to turn pear-shaped, and besides, I couldn’t find my syringes. Next time.

At this point my carefully planned-out cooking & baking timeline imploded as a fire developed inside my oven. Apparently some fatty broth had sneakily drizzled its way to the floor of the oven during yesterday’s oxtail braise-a-thon, hidden from sight by my baking stone. First there were clouds of nasty white smoke collecting under the ceiling, headache-inducing alarms for 4o minutes or so, a freezing apartment due to having doors open at both ends –yep, like that.

I had hoped that the “bit of fat” might just burn off, but I was wrong, and soon a little fire started inside the oven. At this point I called the local firemen and got dressed. By the time the three exceedingly handsome firemen in all their sexy fireman gear showed up, the fire had gone out. Not my finest moment, but almost worth it. I really like firemen.

Parisian firement wear black uniforms, trimmed with reflective yellow and silver, with shiny silver hats

Parisian firemen wear black uniforms, trimmed with reflective yellow and silver, with shiny silver hats. A group of these Parisian firemen, real working firemen, also have a gymnastic circus act.

My plan was to bring enough of the meat mixture, along with enough ground suet to make the pastry up to my mother’s house, assemble and cook everything there, so I packed it all into a box and headed north.

***

The pastry called for self-rising flour, which I never buy. When I do need it, I make up my own from all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. The ratio I learned is a quarter teaspoon of salt and one and a half teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour.

The pastry recipe calls for five hundred grams of flour, which is approximately four cups. Six teaspoons of baking powder seemed a lot, though the one and a half teaspoons of salt seemed about right. That was the self-rising flour sorted.

Fifteen additional grams of baking powder, approximately three teaspoons, and one more teaspoon of salt. I added two teaspoons rather than three of the baking powder. Nine teaspoons in total just seemed a huge quantity. I blitzed this all in mom’s food processor, and then added the two hundred and fifty grams of ground suet. Suet is a crumbly, dry fat, and I had read that a suet-based pastry can take (in fact, needs) more water than a butter or lard-based pastry. This recipe called for three hundred milliliters of cold water, which I measured; it looked to be around a generous cup or so. I added that to food processor as I pulsed, and I pulsed until the pastry just came together, at which point I removed it from the processor bowl and kneaded it briefly on a lightly floured board. Once it was just together, I formed it into a fat sausage and wrapped it in cling film, and then into the ‘fridge.

A fat sausage of suet pastry wrapped in cling film

A fat sausage of suet pastry wrapped in cling film

Forty-five minutes or so before dinner-time, I took the pastry out of the ‘fridge; I cut three small chunks of approximately one hundred grams, and three more closer to eighty grams.  I rolled each of the hundred gram pieces to about three millimeters thickness, and lined the three miniature pudding basins with the pastry, before filling them with the oxtail and kidney mixture. The basins were not any sort of special British pudding basins; just plain ten-ounce glazed stoneware with what seemed like the right shape. I think a proper one would have some sort of lip so that string or a rubber band could more easily be used to secure any parchment or paper covering.

Three make-do pudding basins lined with suet pastry and filled with the oxtail & kidney mixture

Three make-do pudding basins lined with suet pastry and filled with the oxtail & kidney mixture

I rolled out the three smaller chunks of pastry into 6 mm-thick lids, beat a small egg and used it to brush the edges of the pastry lids, pressed them onto the edges of the pastry lined basin, and crimped them together as best I could.

The puddings with their lids on, nearly ready to steam

The puddings with their lids on, nearly ready to steam

I cut out pieces of parchment paper of a suitable size, and did a slightly sloppy job of attaching them over the top of each basin with a rubber band, then lowered them carefully into a pot with several cups of simmering water. It seems to be ideal if the water reaches halfway up the outside of each basin.

Steaming the oxtail and kidney puddings

Steaming the oxtail and kidney puddings

On with the tight-fitting lid, and the puddings steamed quietly away while mom finished up the mashed potatoes and I finished cooking the buttered peas.

At last it was dinner-time, and time to unmold our puddings..

The puddings are perfect!

The puddings are perfect!

They were perfectly delicious, and dinner as a whole was the very definition of comfort. Even though I didn’t manage to inject them with extra sauce, they were laden with gravy, hearty, and warming, and the buttered peas and mash were just the right supporting cast. I was particularly pleased with the pillowy, almost dumpling-like softness of the steamed pastry.

The next morning, back home. Leftover pastry & filling are in the ‘fridge, wooing me, so I invited my friend Jenn to come for dinner. She brought excellent cider, catnip for Mouse, and we had a perfect winter dinner of parsnip & potato mash, peas, and two more perfect oxtail and kidney puddings. Curled up on the sofa, watching Fanny Hill, sipping cider and occasionally nodding off. Bliss.

Savory oxtail & kidney pudding contained in the tender steamed pastry

Savory oxtail & kidney pudding contained in the tender steamed pastry

If you’ve read this far, and you happen to be a suet pastry expert, I have some questions.

  • Why does suet pastry have so much leavening, taking into account the baking powder built into the self-rising flour in addition to the added baking powder? Is this common, or is this a more experimental Heston-esque version?
  • Can this type of suet pastry be used for a baked pie as well as a steamed one, or would another type of pastry be more appropriate?
  • I know that I can keep savory shortcrust pastry in my freezer, well-wrapped, ready to use when I need it. How does suet pastry do with freezing?
Posted in beef, extremities, kidneys, nose-to-tail, offal, recipe | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Spicy Bright Birthday Balls

A plate with three Korean-inspired crepinettes, japchae, and sticky rice

Korean-inspired crepinettes, japchae, and sticky rice

Each December my family celebrates my birthday by getting our Jule-cozy on with a Sunday visit to the Solstice & Christmas revels in Hanover, and then we head over to enjoy dinner at my favorite local restaurant, West Lebanon’s Yama.

Huang and Insook, the owners, along with the lovely staff, are warm and welcoming all the year long, but for my birthday dinner they pull out all the stops and shower our table with the special treats that they know I enjoy most.

Huang always finds something in the kitchen to offer as a gift, which he presents with a giant grin and hug. This year it was two big packages of sweet-potato starch noodles, which he knows I love to make japchae with, a mound of lovely jiggling glistening noodles liberally shot through with bright veggies and drizzled with a sweet & soy-saucy dressing.

Slicing veggies and aromatics for japchae noodles

Slicing veggies and aromatics for japchae noodles

So when I was encouraged to submit a charcuterie recipe for the Charcutepalooza Final festivities over at Food52, I had Korean cuisine on the brain, and it didn’t take long to come up with these Korean-inspired crepinettes. Basically a meatball, and often made from various bits of good pork offal, crepinettes are made a little more festive by being wrapped in a delicate négligée of caul fat, also called lace lard.

If you are new to making charcuterie, crepinettes are a nice introduction to using your meat grinder, to creating a forcemeat mixture, and to dealing with caul fat, which is featured in many traditional French pâtés.

This version includes a mixture of beef chuck and lean pork belly for the forcemeat, and is brightened by typically Korean flavors: soy pickled shiso, gochujang, soy sauce, garlic, and scallions. Luckily for me (as this was to be my birthday lunch) this fusion of Korean and French turned out delicious.

If you’re not familiar with some of the ingredients in this recipe, take a look at the bottom of this post for information about the more noteworthy ingredients.

Bright Korean-Inspired Crepinettes

Ingredients

5 ounces lean pork belly
13 ounces beef chuck
1 cracker
3 garlic cloves
1 scallion
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping tablespoon gochujang paste
1/2 pound caul fat
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil
6-7 soy-pickled or fresh shiso leaves

Mince garlic and scallion fine, and fry gently until just softened. Set aside to cool.

Minced garlic and scallion gently frying

Minced garlic and scallion gently frying

Chop all meat into approximately 1-inch pieces and toss with the pepper, salt, gochujang sauce, and cooled fried garlic and scallion. Process first through the large plate of your meat grinder and then once more through the fine plate. Lastly, break up your cracker and process it through your grinder; it helps to get the last bits of meat through the plate and adds a bit of binding to your forcemeat as well.

A mix of ground beef & pork with sweated alliums & seasonings ready to stir

A mix of ground beef & pork with sweated alliums & seasonings ready to stir

It’s helpful to fry a little bit of your meat to taste at which point you can adjust the seasoning to your preference.

Carefully spread your lacy piece of caul fat onto your clean workspace. I find it easiest to work with the delicate caul fat on a food-safe plastic cutting board just wiped with a cold wet cloth. Depending on the stretchiness and composition of your piece of caul, you may have leftovers. Caul fat freezes beautifully!

Place one shiso leaf in the center of a section of the caul fat closest to an edge.

A soy-pickled shiso leaf positioned on caul fat

A soy-pickled shiso leaf positioned on caul fat

Take an egg-sized portion of your forcemeat and shape into a slightly flattened oval patty, and place it centered over the shiso leaf. Use a sharp knife to trim away a piece of the caul just large enough to wrap your meat in, and gently wrap the edges of your little caul fat wrapper up and over your meat patty.

A finished crepinette awaiting roasting

A finished crepinette awaiting roasting

Roast leaf-side up in a 375°F oven on a rack over a silver-foil lined roasting pan for 20-25 minutes or until the crepinette feels firm to the touch and is nicely browned.

A baker's half-dozen Korean-inspired crepinettes ready to roast

A baker's half-dozen Korean-inspired crepinettes ready to roast

Serve warm with rice and japchae. I’m very fond of Maangchi’s version of japchae, though when I make it as a side I will simplify it, for instance by not adding meat or mushroooms, and with respect to the contents of my larder.

Thanks to all of you who made my birthday splendid this year!

Special Ingredient Notes:

Caul Fat: Also known as “lace lard,” this is a sweet and incredibly useful pork product for wrapping crepinettes, faggots, frikadeller, and pâtés. Ask your butcher or look online to order.

Gochujang Paste: A savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Delicious, complex, and warmly spicy.

Soy Pickled Shiso Leaves: Also known as “perilla” and “beefsteak plant,” shiso has been described as an Asian version of basil, but it has its own unique and delicious flavor. I grow it and pickle it in soy in the fall. Try find it in a large Korean or Japanese market, or substitute fresh shiso leaves, which are easy to find at Asian markets.

Posted in beef, charcutepalooza, charcuterie, nose-to-tail, pork, recipe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Have Feast, Will Travel

A slice of baguette with truffle-studded duck rillettes

I made just over two half-pint Mason jars worth of truffle-studded duck rillettes, and what didn't fit into the jars was immediately shmeared onto a slice of baguette and devoured. Most more-ish stuff ever.

I recently asked a group of friends to help me pin down a secular, psychological, or philosophical equivalent to the term `grace’ as it is sometimes used in a religious context, describing the experience in which a person feels that God is smiling upon them or their actions, or that their actions are in alignment with God’s good will.

At this point in my life, I’m more atheist than religious, and when I asked my friends for their thoughts, it was not because I was experiencing grace at that moment (though I have enjoyed, keenly, a phenomena akin to grace numerous times over the last forty years) but just the opposite. For several months I’d been feeling as if anything that could go wrong would go wrong, and I frequently felt cranky, depressed and sluggish as I worked hour after hour in the kitchen, and it seemed that I could no longer count on the sense of quiet contentment in my labor that I was generally accustomed to. Those of you who follow my adventures know that it has been a rough year, but I wanted a bit of the bliss back, thank-you-very-much.

Forming the savory duck savory ducks, topping them with rose-petal thyme, and wrapping them in caul fat

Forming savory duck savory ducks, topping them with rose-petal thyme, and wrapping them in caul fat

My friends helped me come up with some good examples of a secular grace: fortuitousness (or fortuity), serendipity, golden coincidence, and Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow. I think this last idea of flow came closest to what I was searching for: a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in a given activity, with a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and and a sense of success in the process of the activity.

Over the last several months I was experiencing an acute lack of flow in my life, particularly when I was engaging in what were generally my most rewarding and sustaining activities of cooking, brining, curing, grinding, smoking, and roasting.

It was during the final Charcutepalooza challege that I was given the opportunity to figure out what has been missing, and what I might do about it.

Savory duck Savory Ducks with pistachio and dried cherry

Savory duck Savory Ducks with pistachio and dried cherry

We were asked to create a menu or a platter or a dish, and we were further challenged to transform it into a celebration. On the day I learned of this challenge, I was a hot red mess; I somehow missed the initial announcement and only stumbled over it by chance. Nine days after it was posted. Nine! Whole! Days!

Not only that, but there was a twist in the final challenge that made my forehead go clammy: the deadline was December 6th instead of the 15th. I instantly pulled an ostrich and slammed my mind’s door shut, made tea & popcorn, and settled in for an all-day alternating marathon of The News Quiz and Lost Girl. That’s what I do when I freak out, I pull my feather puff up so I’m real cozy, and I avoid & deny, deny & avoid. I find this tactic is actually quite helpful, and lets me calm down enough to think a bit more clearly and coolly.

Chopping the savory and aromatic bean-flavoring bits

Chopping the savory and aromatic bean-flavoring bits

Once I did settle down, it didn’t take long for me to decide how and who I wished to celebrate. Paul is my oldest friend; when I studied philosophy at Bennington, he was the music librarian, and I got lucky enough to work for and with him, and we became friends pretty much instantly. We’re both nuts about language, obscure humor, bawdy jokes and smart puns; we both love travel, we both love to eat really good and often foreign food; and we are both extremely fond of playing scrabble.

One vivid and cherished memory is a bright and lazy day spent in Frank Baker’s pink house, playing game after game of good scrabble with our friend Christopher. Between moves, Paul taught me how to roast a chicken properly, and the sweet happy memory of that perfect day resurfaces, even if only for a moment, always prompting a smile, each and every time I’ve roasted a chicken in the intervening twenty-five years. A moveable feast, if ever I’ve known one.

Pâté de campagne with pistachio decorated with juniper & bay just before going into a moderate oven

Pâté de campagne with pistachio decorated with juniper & bay just before going into a moderate oven

Paul and I spoke on the phone, compared calendars, and settled on a date: Monday the 5th of December, one day before the deadline. Of course I was a bit nervous to once again be flirting with a deadline, but if this year of Charcutepalooza has taught me anything, it has taught me that I perform well in tight temporal spaces.

Still, I experienced several times during the next busy days where I completely lost the plot, my confidence just crumbled, and I’d have a microburst of hot tears. But each time, I’d go back to this idea of keeping on keeping on, working steadily even though the work wasn’t giving back that sense of flow. Because during this stormy year, I’ve done that, I’ve kept on, and it has worked. Out of what felt like a barren and fruitless process came beautiful sausages, splendid pies, and the real prize: tasty meals shared with friends and family. And as I look back at the many meals over this last year, honestly, I only have a vague recollection of the grim bits.  What I really remember are the meals: the tastes, the amazement and appreciation of my friends, and always a lot of laughter.

Nine gayettes de campagne topped with truffle and then wrapped in beautiful caul fat

Nine gayettes de campagne topped with truffle and then wrapped in beautiful caul fat just before roasting

I was up at five o’clock Monday morning; I had made a batch of long-fermenting bread dough which needed to be shaped and baked. While the bread came up to room temperature, I showered, dressed, and began packing Paul’s feast into a large crate.

A moveable feast in every sense, crated up and ready to go

A moveable feast in every sense, crated up and ready to go

In the crate was the following:

1 saucisse sèche
1 saucisse sèche aux noisettes
1 noix de jambon
sliced coppa
sliced smoked magret duck breast
6 pork & liver gayettes avec truffe
3 Savory Duck Savory Ducks
1 paté de campagne avec pistache
1 pork rillettes
1 duck rillettes
hot pickled maple jellies
prunes in armagnac
pickled ramps
pickled cornichons
13 baby red carrots
3 baguettes
1 beautiful round pain d’epi
1 box of good crackers
1 large bowl dandelion & other bright salad greens
humbolt fog & a fancy Vermont creamy cheese
1 small bowl roasted garlic paste
1 bottle calvados
a large pot containing my own Vermont cassoulet

Over the last months, weeks, and days, I had grown and/or made everything in the crate except for the crackers, the greens, the cheese, and the Calvados.

The saucisses and noix de jambons I’ve posted about. The coppa and smoked duck are both amazing and deserve to show up in their own posts, soon, along with Gertrude, the amazing 1964 commercial Globe meat slicer that I acquired this summer and which is thrilling to use.

The dried beans for the cassoulet were all grown on my genius bean-trellis this summer, and I pulled the little red and yellow carrots for our salad out of my raised bed garden as I made my way out of town.

The venison sausages were made and smoked last week (thank you Larry!) and will also appear in a future post, where you can see my riotous cobbled-together smoker. I also confit’d  good Vermont chicken legs in a generous amount of duck fat (thanks Deanne!) for the cassoulet.

The prunes I made months ago, so by now they’re beautifully boozy bombs which will heal whatever ails you and make you glow and possibly make your hair grow curlier.

A bowl of mixed dried beans will soak overnight before cooking with savory meat, pork rind, and aromatics

A bowl of mixed dried beans will soak overnight before cooking with savory meat, pork rind, and aromatics

I left home not long after nine o’clock, and the drive over the mountains was pleasant and uneventful, except the part where I got pulled over for speeding. What can I say, I was keen to get there already!

When I arrived, it was a comfortable jumble of hugs and unpacking and bumping up steps and setting up to plate all the treats for our lunch. All of us –Paul, his incomparably lovely and loving wife Jennifer, her visiting-from-afar sister Sidni, and Jennifer’s two wildly handsome and clever sons, Maxx and Cameron– sat around the living room sipping little snifters of Calvados while I unpacked, sliced, described and plated all the pretty meat. They were a curious and wonderfully appreciative crowd, and as I fed them each little samples, and answered their questions about what this bit was spiced with or how long this bit had hung, oh, I was buzzing with pride and joy.

Jennifer found all her prettiest plates and platters and bowls, and even brought out the fancy silver. As I worked on making the platters in the living room, she made the table in the dining room, and as each plate was finished, she would bring it into the dining room. There was one particularly thrilling moment when she announced that she had to put the leaf into the table because running out of table space. I’d brought so much charcuterie that we needed the table enlarged to fit it all!

Look at the beatiful table that Jennifer laid for us!

Look at the beatiful table that Jennifer laid for us!

When we sat down to lunch, I was amazed and filled with such warm happiness that I could share all this beautiful food with my friends, and especially with Paul. He is the brightest, the most daring, the most elegant, and the most generous cook I’ve ever known. Through the years our friendship has been sustained by visits which almost always had some good meal as its centerpiece; by phone calls where we have intense, passionate discussions about ingredients, where I could interrogate him about the sausage & clams he had made, and where he would gleefully recount exactly how he had roasted the turkey which had sadly met its demise against Paul’s station wagon’s fender. Yep, it is because of Paul that I can rustle up a bowlful of delicious from a bit of fresh roadkill.

Savory Ducks, the old Yorkshire moniker for faggots. These are made from duck, so I call them savory duck savory ducks.

Savory Ducks, the old Yorkshire moniker for faggots. These are made from duck, so I call them savory duck savory ducks.

The savory ducks were especially delicious with the spicy pickled maple jellies that I made. Sweet, tart, and a perfect wobbly foil to the rich duck. These were inspired by some gorgeous maple jellies made by Alex Rushmer.

Hot Pickled Maple Jellies

1/3 cup of the darkest maple syrup you can find (grade b, dark amber)
1 star anise
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 very hot dried chili
3 allspice berries
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon gelatin powder
scant 1/4 cup cold water

In a small heavy pot, add the maple syrup, star anise, cinnamon, dried chili, allspice berries, and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a lively simmer and take off the heat, allowing the spices to infuse for 20 minutes or so.

In the meantime, sprinkle the gelatine onto the water and let it bloom thoroughly. Fish the spices out of the warm syrup and add the softened gelatin, mixing well. Pour into a small smooth rectangular dish and let jelly stiffen in the ‘fridge. Slice into pretty shapes and serve atop slices of savory duck, or duck rillettes, or roast duck, etc.

A plateful of hot pickled maple jellies, excellent with savory duck

A plateful of hot pickled maple jellies, excellent with savory duck

Paul really liked the duck rilletes.

Paul enjoying a bite of the duck rilletes

Paul enjoying a bite of the duck rilletes

Maxx and Cameron were entertaining tablemates, making me giggle a lot.

Cameron makes his dream charcuterie plate

Cameron makes his dream charcuterie plate

The gayettes de campagne are essentially a crepinette or faggot made from some of the pâté de campagne forcemeat minus the pistachios.

Pretty and tasty pork and liver gayettes

Pretty and tasty pork and liver gayettes

Everyone thought they went especially well with the Armagnac-soaked prunes.

Prunes in Armagnac

Prunes in Armagnac

Cam painstakingly chose a little of everything to taste, and we imagined what a good lunch box his plate of food would make.

Cameron sure has attractive fingers

Cameron sure has attractive fingers. The pâté de campagne ain't bad-lookin' neither.

One of our favorite bites was a bit of baguette with a shmear of Humbolt Fog cheese and somewhat smaller shmear of roasted garlic paste. I learned this from my friend Chris, who in turn learned it from Tracey (both of Bulky Love fame).

Baguette, Humbolt Fog, and garlic paste = delicious

Baguette, Humbolt Fog, and garlic paste = delicious

At last we pulled back from table, loosened our belts, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, talking, and sipping root beer. Paul and I played an excellent game of scrabble, and I beat his PANTS off.

I cackle with evil glee as I trounce Paul at Scrabble

I cackle with evil glee as I trounce Paul at Scrabble

Maxx diverted us with his amazing t-shirt collection. The one he is wearing here says “Stop Clubbing Baby Seals.” I think there should be a comma after “clubbing,” but I’m known to be pedantic.

Max is cooler than snake's pyjamas, hotter than magma

Maxx is cooler than snake's pyjamas, hotter than magma. I made three bingos.

Cameron brought Scrummy the snake out to play, and we all petted and admired her. Him? Oh right, him. Two penises. I remember now.

Cam wears Scrummy as a bracelet. We think Scrummy really likes Cameron and cashmere.

Cam wears Scrummy as a bracelet. We think Scrummy really likes Cameron and cashmere.

And finally, we ate a comfortably late dinner of cassoulet, which had been bubbling away most of the afternoon (the house smelled super cozy), with a salad of bright and bitter greens, and sopped up the sauce with bread torn from the round pain d’epi. It was all very good.

My first Vermont cassoulet was a success! A little juicier next time, but delcious and comforting.

My first Vermont cassoulet was a success! A little juicier next time, but delcious and comforting.

The grace, the flow, the bliss that I had been missing during these last months, I think they were away temporarily because I was super stressed and especially because I was fairly isolated. As my friends and I sat around the table enjoying our meal, laughing, sometimes thoughtful, I had the insight that what we were doing at the table, over the scrabble board, and as we ate dinner was the work of friendship. There is the difficult work of being there when a friend is having rough times, of supporting them through loss and sadness, and there is the happy work of spending time, eating, arguing, playing. I think I lost sight of that for a long while, and I intend to make more time for my beloved friends in the future. And sausages will undoubtedly be involved.

***

Thanks to Cathy & Kim and the amazing sponsors for Charcutepalooza. Thanks to all my fellow ‘paloozies for being so brilliant and generous, and especially to Janis & Rich for being so funny, loving, and down to earth. Thanks to Kate, Annie, Neal & his family, and the amazing Monsieur Chapolard for the extraordinarily inspiring Cochon workshop. Thanks to mom & Carl for saving my ass any number of times, and for tasting all the odd bits with gusto. Thanks also to my dear friends who never failed to taste & heap praise on whatever I brought them, especially Jenn, Mandy, Dotty, and Walter.  Thank you Mary, Cecelia, elegant warm Emily, Laoshi, and Laoshi Deb for your caring & friendship throughout this year. Thank you, Bulky Love crew, for everything. Thank you Chet, Nicholas, and Cole for being such generous butchery & meat cutting teachers. Thanks to those of you who have helped me move, and move again, and yet again. One more time and I swear I’m done moving until I get my dream house. Lastly, thank you Paul for sharing this feast, and all the feasts. I love you so much. Thank you Jennifer for your loving heart and for setting that beautiful table. And Maxx & Cam for sparking my frisky bits and making me grin & grin.

Posted in charcuterie, curing, duck, hog casing, liver, offal, pork, recipe, sausage, Smoke, venison | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

A Picnic with Walter

The saucisse sec and the saucisse sec with hazelnuts see first light

The saucisse sec and the saucisse sec with hazelnuts see first light

The elements which produce a well-cured bit of charcuterie are straightforward:  really great meat, salt, and time. It sounds simple, and honestly it is, but the loving and obsessive details –the herb and spice choices, the long close scrutiny, the careful adjustments to temperature and humidity, the careful squeezes– these are what make the final product truly outstanding. That and sharing the delicious results with your closest friends, your mom, and maybe that fascinating and attractive and apparently single neighbor.

For November’s curing challenge I chose to make two types of charcuterie. The first was saucisse sec; it was my favorite sausage to buy, along with a baguette and some fruit, for impromptu outdoor lunches when I was a student in Paris, and later in Provence.

While researching recipes and lore about saucisse sec, I stumbled across a reference to a Swiss version of saucisse sec which included whole hazelnuts, and this was like catnip to a hazelnut-lover like me. I decided to make the plain traditional version, and a the hazelnut version as well.

My second choice was noix de jambon. I think all of us who were so fortunate to join Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard at the Cochon & Charcuterie Workshops around the US this summer fell instantly in love with this diminutive cured whole-muscle –it was like a mini-prosciutto: sweet, porky, salty, and with a nice peppery kick. Noix de jambon is the perfect choice especially if you have a less than ideal curing environment, and if you want or need speedy results.

The noix de jambon is made from small pieces of a fresh ham, cut using seam butchery techniques into an elongated cylinder shape with tapered ends.

A half-dozen noix or nuts of ham salted and ready to cure for 2 days

A half-dozen noix or nuts of ham salted and ready to cure for 2 days

After two days in a salty cure, the pieces are brushed off, rolled and pressed into roughly ground pepper, and tied into neat compressed packages.

The noix de jambon tied, peppered, and ready to hang

The noix de jambon tied, peppered, and ready to hang

A short cold-smoking over apple wood and they are then hung for anywhere from ten days to three weeks, depending on the size of each noix and the temperature and humidity of your curing chamber.

I’m still in temporary digs, so once again I had to cobble together a curing environment; in this case I used a corner of my larder nearest a window which I keep a little open, with a humidifier positioned underneath, and a wooden frame with lots of hooks screwed into it. While I was setting that up, the noix hung quite happily on a broomstick. Much as I like to do.

The noix de jambon await their curing "chamber"

The noix de jambon await their curing "chamber"

While it was rather swiftly thrown together, the wooden hook rack-ma-doodle worked great, and it will be used many times in the future.

The wooden rack with hooks from which my curing meats hang

The wooden rack with hooks from which my curing meats hang

The curing environment was a real success, in that I was able to keep a relatively consistent temperature / humidity of 55°F / 67%, and after a week and a half I had the most delicious and silky slices of noix de jambon to enjoy, and enjoy them I did. I went through two of them by carrying them, wrapped in some butcher paper, in my knap-sack, along with my sharpest knife. At the slightest hint of interest I’d whip out my little ham-ling and slice paper-thin bits to share. Everyone loves the little jambons.

Thin slices of silky noix de jambon. I LOVE this stuff :-)

Thin slices of silky noix de jambon. I LOVE this stuff :-)

I love this ham to nibble just as it curls off my knife’s blade:

A very sophisticated nibble, slices of noix de jambon are at home on any charcuterie plate

A very sophisticated nibble, slices of noix de jambon are at home on any charcuterie plate

I’ve found all sorts of ways to use it as an ingredient in the kitchen. For instance, grated on a little plate of steaming fingerling potatoes tossed with butter, salt, and pepper.

Simple, fast, and delicious

Simple, warming, fast, and delicious

And the salty porky goodness is a natural with any egg dish:

A delicious egg dish halfway between scramble and omelet

A delicious egg dish halfway between scramble and omelet, with potato and julienned noix de jambon

This is a beautiful, substantial, and warming fall dish: pasta with roasted winter squash, fried sage leaves, finely chopped noix de jambon, and shaved Pecorino Romano:

Pasta with roast winter squash, fried sage, and Pecorino Romano cheese

Pasta with roast winter squash, fried sage, noix de jambon, and Pecorino Romano cheese

Finally, and possibly my favorite use for a bit of the peppery-salty goodness is a pureed vegetable and apple soup brightened and made swanky with sage brown-butter and julienned noix de jambon:

Pureed vegetable soup with sage brown butter and jullienned noix de jambon

Pureed vegetable soup with sage brown butter and jullienned noix de jambon

Amazing apple-celeriac-carrot-cabbage-onion soup with noix & sage brown butter drizzle

Serves 4 as main course

Ingredients:

2 slices great bacon
6 small or medium potatoes roughly chopped (if peel is tired-looking, remove it)
1 very small or 1/2 a medium green cabbage
1 large onion
4 medium carrots
1 large or two small celery roots (aka celeriac)
1 bright apple-y apple
2 fat cloves garlic
5-6 cups water, or to cover
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
15-20 fresh basil leaves
scant 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram (or 1/4 teaspoon oregano)
several springs fresh thyme, rose-petal thyme if you can get it
1 cup of whole milk

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 fresh large sage leaves
1/4 cup julienned noix de jambon (substitute prosciutto if you can’t make or find the noix de jambon)

Fry bacon slowly, in either a large heavy soup pot or in a very large heavy frying pan.  When the bacon is cooked, set aside for tomorrow’s BLT or breakfast scramble.

In the tablespoon or so of bacon fat left in your pan or pot, add the veggies and apple, all roughly chopped in roughly half-inch sized pieces, along with the garlic, chopped fine.

Let all these sizzle in the bacon fat for 20 minutes or so, stirring a few times so that everything is lightly browned. Add water to just cover, along with the black pepper, white pepper, a big pinch of salt, and the herbs.

Simmer for 40 minutes until the veggies are tender but not falling-apart or mushy.

Once the soup is cool enough to handle safely, blitz it in batches in a blender or food processor until very smooth.  Back in the pot again, and add milk until you achieve a creamy texture. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning if necessary, and warm gently.

Make a basic sage brown-butter sauce with 2 tablespoons of butter and eight or nine sage leaves, by sizzling the leaves in the butter until the butter is a warm brown. Atop each steaming bowl of soup drizzle a bit of the brown butter, portion out the sage leaves, and then sprinkle a little mound of the julienned jambon. A final pinch of black pepper, et voilà: an elegant cozy bowl to enjoy and share.

***

The next day I made the forcemeat for the saucisse sec. I used the basic recipe in Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, with a few tweaks and suggestions by a wonderful Swiss butcher named Claude-Alain Christen. He produces a whole slew of gorgeous charcuterie in his shop, Boucherie Centrale, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, just a few kilometers from the French border, and I can’t thank him enough for his generous advice.

Saucisse sec forcemeat with hazelnuts

Adding the hazelnuts to the saucisse sec forcemeat

I started by stuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec, and I quickly discovered that I would not be able to use my KitchenAid stuffer; the hazelnuts wouldn’t fit past/through the grinder screw, so I ended up stuffing around three pounds of sausage by hand. So fun.. not! Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I used the stuffing horn from the KitchenAid and my thumb, and it went fairly quickly.

Handstuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec forcemeat into hog and sheep casings

Handstuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec forcemeat into hog and sheep casings

I made two sizes of sausage; a slimmer one with sheep casing and a more standard one with the hog casings which I made from scratch last year. I did this because I wanted to make sure that the saucisse sec would be cured enough to eat and share and post about by December 1st. As it happens, they’re both cured enough to be delicious, but I suspect they’ll improve with a few more weeks of hanging, what I call a win-win sausage situation.

The plain traditional French saucisse sec was a breeze as I could use the KitchenAid, and the next three pounds were stuffed, linked, tied for hanging, weighed, and finished in less than an hour.

Freshly stuffed links of saucisse sec ready to hang

Freshly stuffed links of saucisse sec ready to hang

These beauties were hung, and each week I would take them down and weigh them.

Another view of the hanging sausage

Another view of the hanging sausage

It was exciting to watch their colour darken, and to witness the steady weight-loss. They looked more and more like the sausage I remembered from those Paris lunches!

The saucisse sec after one week of curing

The saucisse sec after one week of curing

I experienced some uncertainty along the way. For instance, these sausages were still pretty soft and squidgy even when their target percentage of weight loss had been reached. Common sense, which in my case is a result of having bought and eaten a fair amount of good cured sausage, dictated that I wait until the sausage felt right, and it was during the last few days that the majority of the saucisse reached this stage. Hurray!

I sliced into one of the larger hazelnut saucisse this morning. They were so beautiful, and so delicious that once again I was amazed that I had coaxed such deliciousness into being.

Slices of the saucisse sec with hazelnuts

Slices of the saucisse sec with hazelnuts

To have a mound of such beautiful sausages sitting before me, and with the first sunny day in weeks shining all saucily outside my kitchen window, my first thought was who could I share my sausages with, and Walter came instantly to mind.

An embarrassment of riches: saucisse sec, plain and with hazelnuts

An embarrassment of riches: saucisse sec, plain and with hazelnuts

Walter is a neighbor, and even more importantly, he is my gardening neighbor. We have adjacent plots, and we’re an odd-looking pair of old friends. Walter is 88, unobtrusively devout, and sometimes he shakes a lot, while I’m large, profane and one-legged. I scoot around on my ass planting garlic and beans, and Walter always has his tomatoes in the ground before anyone else, and we routinely exchange reports on our observations of the bastard woodchucks (my description, not his) whose offspring our garden’s tenderest bounty nourishes.

Before his wife, Loretta, passed away, he grew more flowers than vegetables, and every morning he was down picking a little nosegay of bright summery flowers to bring up to Miss Loretta. He is as steady, slow, and deliberate as I am noisy, energetic, and impulsive, and perhaps because we complement one another, kind of like basil is happy to grow near tomatoes, we get along really well. I just admire him so, and I hope that some of his warm steadiness rubs off on me over time.

Walter and I enjoy lunch on a brisk and brilliantly sunny afternoon

Walter and I enjoy lunch on a brisk and brilliantly sunny afternoon

We ate thin slices of the delicious noix de jambon, slices of the nutty saucisse, rose-thyme-scented cheese, tart pickles, one of my own good baguettes, an indulgence of some of my old favorite Danish cultured butter, and apples.

Walter reaches for more saucisse sec. That stuff is porky magic!

Walter reaches for more saucisse sec. That stuff is porky magic!

We drank some fizzy just off-dry Farnum Hill cider from the nearby Poverty Lane apple orchard, and finished with warm cups of milky Scottish tea sweetened slightly with maple syrup. It was all very, very good.

Walter and me, well-fed, accompanied by a whole lot of sunshine

Walter and me, well-fed, accompanied by a whole lot of sunshine

One last snapshot of the two of us. It was getting decidedly chilly as we packed up, and the sun approached the hilltops to the west. I was so glad to show Walter around this favorite stomping ground of mine; it’s so close to the town where we live that it only takes ten minutes to drive here, but you feel as if you’re at the top of the world, and all you can see are the soft grey-browns and grey-oranges and grey-violets of early winter. We took a meandering slow route homeward, with a particularly pleasing 4-wheel-drive jaunt up a long meadow. We hoped we’d spot a deer, but we both reckon that they’re all hiding as muzzle-loader season is right around the corner.

Posted in charcuterie, curing, hog casing, pork, recipe, sausage, Smoke | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments