As March roared in with yet more stormy winter weather, a series of dismaying events occurred. First, my beloved truck broke down in a decidedly permanent fashion. As a wheelchair-using person who lives rurally, I spend most of the year out and about, garden-farming, butchering, fly-fishing, kayaking, and participating in our local farmer’s market, and the truck is a vital part of a generally happy and very busy life. Replacing it isn’t at all straightforward.
I also learned rather suddenly that my move to a new flat, which had been planned for some vague future date was happening on the 12th, three days before the March Charcutepalooza challenge was due, and this precipitated several weeks of gale-force packing and general disruption. Rough seas!
Early March’s wild lion has finally padded away, having inflicted a respectable amount of damage, but as the days pass, all filled with hard work, there is a great deal to warm my heart.. and feed the hungry bellies of family and friends! The truck is still a problem to solve, but the move was a complete success, and March’s Charcutepalooza projects are finished just in the nick of time, and all this goodness is due to the support of family, friends, and a few extraordinary strangers. The cherry atop this ice-cream cone of happiness is that I’ll be driving to Maine in a little over 36 hours to meet Neal, Kate, and Dominic, Janis and David, and other as-yet unknown friends to take part in what will surely be a superb two-day workshop on French butchery and charcuterie.
On to the briny challenges..
When I first read about the March challenges, I was immediately drawn to the corned beef brisket. I learned to love a good New England boiled supper from my old friend Geoffrey, and it was from him I learned to make a really good Reuben sandwich, which I still look forward to each March. So I sourced a beautiful 4lb beef brisket from North Hollow Farm, and mixed up a batch of pickling spices, roughly following the ingredients and proportions suggested by Ruhlman & Polcyn in their Charcuterie book.
I put the brisket in the freezer, because I wanted to prepare it closer to Saint Patrick’s day.
Life was getting busy with the aforementioned gale-force packing, so while I wasn’t exactly twiddling my thumbs, I did spend some time doing some exploratory reading about brining. And lo! One of my new friends, Lone of the excellent Danish-language Beretninger fra et autentisk landbrug blog, uploaded a guest-post by Søren: how to make rullepølse. Rullepølse! If you’re a Dane, or a lover of Danish smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches), then you’re familiar with this classic luncheon meat roulade: pork belly slathered with fresh herbs, shallots, and spice, and then rolled, brined, simmered with aromatics, pressed, sliced, and served on good bread with a bit of meat-jelly and a few slices of fresh cucumber and tomato. Delicious, and I wanted to try.
I needed a pork belly, and as fate would have it, I was attending the gala launch of my meat-cutting mentor Cole Ward‘s new Gourmet Butcher DVD the next evening, and who was there but my favorite Vermont pig farmers, Walter and Holly Jeffries! I explained what I needed, and Holly and I made a date to meet at the Hartland-Windsor park & ride to exchange one of their beautiful pork bellies for a bit of cold hard cash.
I wish I could have taken more photos of the process of making the rullepølse, but by this time my little home was in a state of advanced chaos, so Lone kindly lent me the photo at the top of the page, which shows Søren’s piece of pork belly, slathered with a mixture of parsley, thyme, shallot, allspice, salt, and pepper. Notice how beautifully the roll is tied? Distinctly neater than my roll ended up, I can assure you!
Once the meat roll was tied up, I placed it in a doubled ziplock bag with a brine made from a liter of water, 300 grams of coarse salt, 50 grams of sugar, 10 cloves, 10 juniper berries, 3 bay leaves, and a few whole allspice berries, and into the ‘fridge it went on Friday, the day before The Big Move.
A funny moment occurred the next day when one of the most diligent movers, a little girl named Michelle, transported the ziplock bag from the ‘fridge in the old flat, across the parking lot, and into the new flat. She held it up with a frankly revolted expression which morphed into complete horror when I told her it was a giant pickled grub. Honestly, it looked like the evil get from a love match between a gargantuan Japanese beetle larva and a baby Arrakeen Shai Hulud. And notice the ugly tying job!
On Sunday evening I rinsed off my somewhat jolie-laide rullepølse in clean running water, and then kept it at a low simmer for a little over an hour with water to cover, a few bay leaves, some more peppercorns, a few halved shallots, and a chopped carrot. Søren’s advice on how to discern when the rullepølse is cooked is to pierce the roll with what we call in Danish a kødnåd –meat needle or skewer? At any rate, a very thin metal skewer; if you feel resistance, the rullepølse isn’t cooked enough. When it is fully cooked the needle will pierce smoothly through the meat. Here’s how it looked when it was finished cooking:
Once the rullepølse was cool, it was time to press it to give it a nice dense texture and it’s classic rectangular shape. In Denmark you can find very nice purpose-built rullepølse presses, but people often rig up a DIY solution like I did:
I rolled the cooled rullepølse in cling-film, placed it in a glass bread pan, placed a piece of wood on top, and one underneath, and then clamped them pretty firmly with these two C-clamps rustled up for me by Carl. It was quite cold outside, so I rested the contraption (which wouldn’t fit into my ‘fridge because of the one super-long C-clamp) against a slightly open window. By morning the rullepølse was finished and ready to cut up. So exciting!
Of course I sliced a bit off and tasted, and it was delicious. I think my filling could be spread more evenly, and my meat rolled more expertly so the herbs form a nice, thin, and uniform layer, but I consider this to be a good first effort, and certainly a delicious treat for lunch. And mom gets half, which makes for a happy mom :-)
Today I finally got around to finishing the corned beef, and it’s now in the ‘fridge, moistened with a bit of the cooking liquor. When I return from Maine, mom and Carl and I will have our own little celebration with the corned beef, boiled veggies, crispy fried Boxty, and some horseradish-cream sauce. Mm!
So, the March challenge really was a challenge, started in my old home and finished in my new one, but everything came out beautifully in the end. Despite a tetchy back and hip, and the month or two of unpacking and settling ahead, I am supported by a kick-ass crew of good friends, a wonderful family, generous online buddies, and a few amazing volunteers who, after the move, are now new friends. Spring is so close that I can almost smell it, and after nine years in a flat without any sunlight at all, here I am curled up with Mouse (my cat), a plate of tasty food, and big silly grin on my face as I watch the warm golden sunlight undulating across the walls of my little home. Life is good in the neighborhood :-)