Archive for the 'Charcuterie' Category

Homemade Smoked Bacon

Homemade Smoked Bacon
I don’t think I can compete with the superlatives bestowed upon bacon on the internet.  My love of bacon is not as great as that professed on some sites.  I don’t find the idea of chocolate covered bacon appetizing.  I don’t even like bacon a cheeseburger.  To be honest, I rarely eat bacon by itself.  Bacon has, however, become an integral part of my cooking as an ingredient.

One of the advantages of moving to Virginia is that there is a history of smoking in the state and, therefore, there are good local bacons available.  Those at the farmer’s market are even better. In California, I even made fresh (unsmoked) bacon. When I saw a pork belly at EcoFriendly Foods stand several weeks ago, I knew it was time to try smoked bacon again.

This isn’t my first try at smoked bacon.  My first attempt used a maple syrup based cure and the bacon was oddly sweet.  My next attempt was a more savory cure based on a pancetta recipe.  This bacon is a refinement of the second attempt.

While it may be self-aggrandizing, this is the best bacon I’ve tasted.  The cure ingredients only serve to enhance and complement the natural pork flavor as does the smoke.  It’s almost too flavorful to eat by itself.  Almost.  But that makes it even better when it’s used as an ingredient.

Smoked Bacon
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 5 lbs. (2.25 kg) pork belly, skin on

Dry Cure:
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 g pink salt
50 g kosher salt
26 g light brown sugar
20 g coarsely ground black pepper
10 g crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crumbled
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
3 dried red chili peppers, crumbled

  1. Combine the cure ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Place the belly in a jumbo Ziploc bag or other large container.  Spread the cure mixture on all sides of the pork belly.
  2. Refrigerate the pork belly for 7 to 10 days, overhauling the pork belly by turning it over every other day, until it is firm at its thickest point.
  3. Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator, rinse the pork belly, dry it with paper towels, then allow it to dry in the refrigerator overnight on a rack.
  4. Hot smoke the pork belly over hickory until it reaches an internal temperature of 150ºF, 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Allow the pork belly to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator.
  6. Cut into thick slices.
  7. The bacon can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen nearly indefinitely.

Yields approximately 4 lbs/1.75 kg bacon.

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Salsiccie di Lucania (Pork Sausage from Lucania)

Pork Sausage from Lucania

I have something of a love-hate relationship with my sausage stuffer.  I adore sausage but, now that I have a sausage stuffer, I insist that whatever sausage we eat at home be homemade.  There’s a certain amount of setup required to make sausages and I feel the need to make a large batch to make it worth the effort.  Therefore, I ended up rolling the dice when trying a new recipe as to how they’ll turn out.

In this case, I knew I hit the jackpot as soon as I offered Angela a piece of the sample I used to check the seasoning.  No words were needed.  I could see the answer in her face.  And while Angela likes sausage, her level of appreciation is not equivalent to my own.  This sausage may have changed her mind.

I had been looking for a new Italian sausage recipe to use. My last attempt, while decent, had too much coriander seed for one. It just wasn’t quite right.

While this sausage can fill in for an “Italian sausage” (it is in fact a recipe of Italian extraction), it is not an Italian sausage in the traditional American sense.  It doesn’t have the fennel seed which is almost the defining characteristics of such sausages. It does, however, have a lot of garlic and ginger to provide flavor. It’s a lot simpler but still tasty. It can also be used as a breakfast sausage in a pinch (actually the first way I cooked it).

When I have 5 lbs. of sausage in the freezer, I remember why I like to have a sausage stuffer.  When viewing the cornucopia of sausages at a megamart (or even the farmer’s market for that matter), it’s hard to remember why I enjoy making my own.  Part of it’s just enjoying making sausages with Angela, part of it’s the quality, and part of it is choosing exactly what I want in a sausage.

Grinding meat for sausage

Salsiccie di Lucania (Pork Sausage from Lucania)
Adapted from Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home

12 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 oz. ginger, peeled and finely diced
6 oz. pancetta, chopped
5 lbs. pork shoulder, cut into 1″ pieces
1 lbs. pork fat, cut into 1″ pieces
tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 cup red wine

8 ft. pork sausage casings

  1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the red wine  sausage casings.  Refrigerate until thoroughly cooled.
  2. Place the bowl containing the meat in an ice bath.  Grind the meat mixture through the smallest holes into another bowl in an ice bath.
  3. Add the wine to the mixture and beat with a paddle mixer at low speed for 1 minute.
  4. Cook a small portion of the sausage mixture in olive oil to verify seasoning.  While cooking the sample sausage mixture, place the remaining sausage mixture in the refrigerator.
  5. Stuff the sausage mixture into the sausage casings.  Twist into individual sausages.

Makes 6 lbs. sausages

Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken

Smoked Chicken

Last December, as we were getting the keys to our new house from our landlord, we walked in and there was a giant box sitting in the middle of the empty living room.  It turns out that Angela bought me a smoker for Christmas. It just turned out that it arrived before we did.

I’ve used it a number of times since then and have mostly stuck to the “classics.” I’ve done pulled pork several times but I have trouble cooking it long enough to get it truly tender (I haven’t made myself get up earlier enough). The same issue came with brisket. But what truly shows the beauty of smoked meat is poultry. It’s not classic barbecue but chicken and turkey absorb the smoke beautifully. Not to mention the gorgeous exterior. I’m already planning to smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving this year.

I decided to change things up slightly on this chicken.  I usually smoke foods with hickory but I decided to give mesquite a try. I’ll gladly admit to be a novice smoker but there is a definitive difference between the hickory and the mesquite. The mesquite is a bit sharper and tangier in taste. While I don’t think it would work as well as hickory on pork, it adds a really nice bite to the chicken.

A smoker is really a bit of an extravagance but the more I use it, the more I know I wouldn’t want to live without it.

Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

Brine:
1 gallon/4 liters water
1 1/2 cups /350 g kosher salt
1/2 cup / 125 g sugar
8 tsp / 42 g pink salt

1 3-to-4 lbs. chicken, trussed

Glaze:
1 cup/250 milliliters whiskey
1/2 cup/125 milliliters maple syrup
1/4 packed cup/50 g dark brown sugar
pinch of cayenne pepper

  1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Remove from the heat.  Cool to room temperature.  Chill in the refrigerator until cold.  Place the chicken in the brine, weight it down, and brine it for 18 hours.  Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse it under running water, dry it with paper towels, and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
  2. An hour before smoking the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator.
  3. Hot smoke the chicken at 200ºF until it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF, 3 to 4 hours.
  4. While the chicken is smoking, place all the glaze ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer until the glaze is reduced to 1 cup.
  5. An hour and a half into smoking the chicken, brush the chicken with some of the glaze.
  6. When the chicken is finished cooking, remove it from the smoker.  Brush it with the remaining glaze and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Homemade Guanciale

Diced homemade guanciale

Our recent move necessitated the use or disposal of any perishables.  Since that time, I’ve been missing my cured meats the most.  Luckily, we’ve been able to find some good bacon in Virginia. However, I have yet to find any thing as good as my homemade pancetta.

I have, however, made friends with a local pork farmer who comes to the Alexandria Farmer’s Market.  As a side note, his pork is very very good.  So far, I’ve only managed to get one pork belly from him (most are preordered by restaurants, mine has been turned into pancetta) but the real surprise for me was that he regularly sells pork jowls.  I’ve been to quite a few specialty markets, butchers, and Asian groceries and not once have I seen pork jowls for sale.

Homemade pancetta and guanciale drying

To me, the real coup with finding pork jowls is that I can turn them into guanciale (another hard to find product in the United States).  And my desire for guanciale is simply that it is the authentic ingredient in probably my most favorite pasta dish (and quite likely favorite food), spaghetti alla carbonara.

The most difficult part of making guanciale is finding a pork jowl.  It’s cured simply with just salt and a few seasonings.  Then it’s hung to dry.  My choice of hanging spot was in our unheated sun room.  The temperature was pretty close to right (50ºF to 60ºF) and seemed to have a pretty good humidity.  The only possible mistake I made was hanging it by a window as a pork jowl is mostly fat and light can damage fat.  I’ll have to return my drying to a mini-fridge in the future.

Until I had to go without, I didn’t realize how central cured meats like guanciale or pancetta are to my cooking. I like to keep some in the fridge to make quick, but good, pastas.  It’s an effective way to add some protein to a meal or to modify a side dish into being a complete meal.

Along with spaghetti alla carbonara, it is also traditionally used in bucattini all amatriciana.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara made with home guanciale

Homemade Guanciale
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 2-lbs/1-kg pork jowl

Dry Cure:
70 g kosher salt
70 g sugar
10 g garlic, mashed
15 black pepper corns, cracked
1 large bunch thyme

  1. Rinse and pat the jowl dry.  Trim any stray tissue, glands, or hairs from the jowl.
  2. Combine the dry cure ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Place the jowl into a large zip-top bag and rub with the dry cure on both sides.  Refrigerate for 4 to 6 days, until it feels stiff all the way through.  Overhaul the cure by redistributing the cure and turning the jowl over every other day.
  4. Remove the jowl from the bag and rinse off all the cure.  Dry thoroughly.
  5. Poke a hole in the corner of the jowl with a knife.  Run a piece of butcher’s string through the hole.  Hang the jowl in a cool, dry place for 1 to 3 weeks, until it is stiff but not hard.
  6. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for several months.

Hot Italian Sausage

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Sausage has a reputation as a pedestrian food. You eat it at a cook out, at a baseball game, or while camping. It’s something you eat to satiate your hunger, not because it’s good.

But why can’t sausage, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect? When it’s good, it should. Most are based around pork with enough added fat that it isn’t dry. And you can do things with seasonings in a sausage that just wouldn’t work in a whole cut of meat.

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If you can’t tell, I rather like sausages. But every since I realized that some sausages from the grocery store contained high fructose corn syrup, I’ve decided to stick with the homemade variety. It doesn’t hurt that they taste significantly better. It’s also particularly rewarding to cook up a sausage and realize that you made it.

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While I tend to like authentic ethnic recipes whenever possible, this is much more Italian-American than Italian. I’m going to let it slide as it’s pretty tasty. When I make it again, I’d probably use less (or possibly no) coriander seeds. It dominates the flavor a bit too much for my taste. It’s particularly good when sautéed and served with good Dijon mustard and grilled onions.

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Hot Italian Sausage
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

2 kg boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
225 grams pork belly, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
100 grams pancetta, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes (optional)
40 grams kosher salt
32 grams sugar
16 grams fennel seeds, toasted
8 gram coriander seeds, toasted
16 grams smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
24 grams fresh oregano leaves, chopped
24 grams fresh basil leaves, chopped
12 grams red pepper flakes
6 grams coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 cups ice water, chilled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, chilled
10 feet hog casings

  1. Combine all ingredients except water, vinegar, and casings in a large bowl. Toss to distribute the seasonings evenly. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Place the hog casings in a bowl of water and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Several hours before grinding, place the food grinder, mixer bowl, paddle attachment, and any other attachments in the freezer.
  4. Remove the meat mixture from the refrigerator and place in a bowl of ice and salt. Grind the mixture through the small die into the mixer bowl set in a bowl of ice and salt.
  5. Add the water and vinegar to the mixture. Beat the mixture with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute. Mix until the mixture is uniform. Refrigerate the bowl until ready to stuff.
  6. Sauté a small portion of the sausage in a small bit of oil and taste for seasoning.
  7. Remove the hog casings from the refrigerator and rinse both the inside and outside of the casings in running water.
  8. Setup the sausage stuffer using the largest stuffing attachment. Place meat in the sausage stuffer and turn on to low speed until the meat is just at the end of the attachment. Slide the opening in the casing onto the stuffer and then push the remaining casing onto the stuffer until there is about an inch hanging off. Tie off the end of the casings. Slowly push the meat mixture into the sausage stuffer while holding the casing and letting the meat fill it (this is a two person job). The speed is determined by the speed of the meat being putting into the stuffer not the speed of the mixer. When there is no more casing, tie it off and repeat this step with the remaining casing.
  9. Twist the sausage into 6 inch long segments and cut with shears.
  10. Cook the sausage to an internal temperature of 150ºF.

Makes 5 lbs. of sausage.

Homemade Fresh Bacon

I think I’ve made my love of bacon well known. And after making pancetta, what else could I do but make homemade bacon? I don’t need to bring home the bacon ’cause I made it myself. And, yes, my jokes are that corny in real life.

I actually bought the pork belly on a whim the last time we were at an Asian grocery store. I didn’t initially have any plans for it but Angela pushed for me to make bacon. How can you resist a woman who requests bacon? And, yes, that does make my wife the best ever.

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This bacon is a bit different than what you usually procure in a grocery store. The main difference being that it isn’t smoked. I would smoke the bacon but a second floor apartment doesn’t make that easy.

This is actually a lot easier to make than the pancetta. It doesn’t have the flavoring ingredients that the pancetta does. It also isn’t dried like the pancetta but is instead roasted.

The flavor of the bacon is quite good. The bacon and pork flavors are much more pronounced. It’s almost too much (but isn’t). You’d need to be careful using it in a dish where bacon is only one of many ingredients or the bacon may overwhelm all the others (but maybe that isn’t a bad thing).

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Homemade Fresh Bacon
Adapted from Charcuterie

3 to 5 lbs. pork belly, skin on
45 grams kosher salt
43 grams dextrose
7 grams pink salt

  1. Trim the pork belly to a rectangular shape. Mix the kosher salt, dextrose, and pink salt together on a wide low sided tray. Dredge the pork belly through the salt mixture until it is covered on all sides.
  2. Place the pork belly in a large zip top bag and place in the refrigerator. Let it refrigerate for 7 days, turning it over every other day.
  3. After 7 days, the pork belly should be firm. Remove the pork belly from the zip top bag and rinse it under running water. Dry it with paper towels.
  4. Cook the pork belly in a preheated 200ºF oven on rack over a backing tray until it’s internal temperature reaches 150ºF, about two hours.
  5. Remove the pork belly from the oven. Using a sharp knife, cut off the skin from the pork belly. Allow the pork belly to cool completely.
  6. Cut the pork belly into slices of bacon. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freezer for up to 3 months. To eat, cook like normal bacon (fry or bake).

Makes 2 to 4 lbs. of fresh bacon.

Homemade Pancetta

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One of my best memories of pancetta is it in a very American context. I had been through a 4 week study abroad in Italy and was then traveling around Europe. My mom had joined me for a week and we were in Riomaggiore in Le Cinque Terre. Staying in a small apartment, we decided to make breakfast for ourselves to save money. The best breakfast I can remember was simply fried eggs with pancetta cooked in a manner similar to bacon. And it’s not that the product was particularly good (it was), but it was simply such a comforting change from the Italian food I’d been eating for months.

I actually tried to recreate that breakfast back at home but the pancetta I got was too salty and was practically inedible. The main problem with pancetta here is just how expensive it is. It’s really hard to justify paying the equivalent of $16 a pound for pork belly (or more!). Trader Joe’s sells it for a fairly reasonable price but, anymore, they only sell the pre-diced version which isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do well for things that requiring stuffing (such as braciale).

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Ever since I bought the cookbook Charcuterie, I had wanted to make pancetta. It’s probably the inner engineer in me, but there’s something particularly exciting about the chemical changes necessary to cure meat. That, and it tastes good (after all, it’s pretty much bacon).

I was particularly proud of making the pancetta. It’s not that it took a lot of work (it just took awhile to cure and then dry). Similar to the bratwurst, it was the act of making something that was far different than I’d ever made before (I act like I was personally changing the chemical bonds to cure the meat).

The recipe is pretty easy as long as you have the proper materials. Measuring by weight is important as otherwise you run the risk of changing the ratio of kosher salt to pink salt. Pink salt is not the pink Himalayan salt but is instead salt with 6.25% sodium nitrate. It’s colored pink so that you don’t mistake it for regular salt (sodium nitrate is toxic in large quantities but the sodium nitrate will chance composition as the meat cures so there’s no risk).

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The drying step is optional but makes for a more authentic product. I used a small refrigerator that I had left over from college for the curing and drying portions as it had plenty of room and my normal refrigerator is pretty full (I also use it to cool down chicken stock and to brine a Thanksgiving turkey).

As for the flavor? It was good. Really good. It was almost so flavorful that it was too flavorful to eat. I can’t wait to try it in Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, and Sage or Spaghetti alla Carbonara (of course if I could find some pork jowl I’d try and make guanciale).

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Homemade Pancetta
Adapted from Charcuterie

One 4-pound (1.8 kg) pork belly, skin removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 grams (1.5 tsp) pink salt
35 grams kosher salt
18 grams (1.5 tbsp) dark brown sugar
28 grams (3 tbsp) ground black pepper
7 grams (1.5 tbsp) juniper berries, crushed
3 bay leaves, crumbled
3 grams (.75 tsp) grated nutmeg
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme

  1. Trim the pork belly to be rectangular and remove the skin if present.
  2. Combine all the ingredients except the pork belly and half of the black pepper in a bowl. Rub the mixture onto all sides of the pork belly.
  3. Place the pork belly in a large 2-gallon zip top bag and refrigerate for one week, turning over every other day. When the pork belly is done curing, it will be firm in the middle. If it’s not firm, refrigerate for one to two more days.
  4. Remove the pork belly from the zip top bag and rinse under running water thoroughly. Dry completely with paper towels. Spread the remaining black pepper over the meat side of the pork belly. Roll the pork belly tightly (there should be no air pockets) and secure with butcher’s twine. Make sure to loop both around the circumference of the roll and around the length of the roll.
  5. Place the pork belly in a spare refrigerator set to its lowest setting on a middle shelf. Place a tray of water combined with 2 tbsp kosher salt in the bottom. This will allow the pancetta to dry. Leave in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
  6. After drying, the pancetta will keep in a refrigerator for 3 weeks and a freezer for 4 months.

Yields 3 lbs. pancetta