Category Archives: Charcuterie

Homemade Hot Dogs Fit for a Finicky Fanatic.


I don’t eat mystery meat. Forgive me if I am repeating myself. Perhaps to avoid repetition I should say  I still don’t eat mystery meat.

Precisely what do I mean by this epithet? It is probably best explained by example. The beloved hot dog is perhaps the quintessential example, with the possible exception of SPAM. If you take a mess of meat or poultry (with or without the addition of filler, chemicals, etc.) and turn it into an entirely different form, such as sausage, luncheon meats, nuggets, and so forth, this has the potential of being mystery meat. It is only saved if you know exactly what “meat” and amendments it is made with and you can reasonably vouch for its origins. Now the definition of “meat” is very broad on a commercial level. It’s much too broad for my eating comfort. You see, the USDA allows the processors of meat and poultry to leave in or on the ingredients and the end-product a certain amount of fecal matter, hair, bones, or just good ol’ generic “debris.” My fear of mystery meat caused me to give up hot dogs and bologna for a long while. Like I said, I just don’t eat mystery meat.

It may therefore surprise you to hear me say that I LOVE hot dogs. I really miss eating them freely whenever the mood strikes. But knowing what I know, I learned to turn up my nose and act disinterested when ever a hot dog opportunity arose. In truth, I am tortured at a baseball game: who can watch the game when all around me they are indulging. I have to walk quickly past the vendor outside the Home Depot. I absolutely have to avert my eyes when I am in New York City and just happen to walk the guy selling the Sabrette’s on the corner. Hot dog deprivation is a tough thing. But now, in exchange for some hard work, I don’t always have to do without hot dogs. I just have to make them for myself.

It is an arduous process requiring concentration and endurance. But it is well worth the energy. To begin, you need to find the right meat. Actually, that is probably the easiest part. Just go to your local farmer and get some pure, organic, grass-fed and finished, beef. Any lean cut will work. You are going to require some fat, too. The best kind of fat is the most solid and pure stuff you can procure. If you are into the all beef variety, this means you will need to buy a good brisket, to go with the lean stuff. Brisket has plenty of solid fat attached to it so you will be able to cut it up and portion out what you need. If you can, instead, get a clod of navel, even better. Navel is the belly of the cow – think bovine bacon. Either way, a batch of dogs requires about 4 pounds of lean meat and 1 pound 3 ounces of fat. If you are one of those “I never gain any weight no matter what I eat” kind of lucky duckies, feel free to up the fat portion by another 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound. Likewise, if you want more German style franks, add a pound of lean pork in place of the same amount of beef. Fancier yet, use good red veal.


Where it gets labor intensive is in the prep, the grinding and the processing. Oh, and then there is the stuffing. The meat must be ground separately from the fat. This happens only after both parts have been cut into small cubes and partially frozen. Freezing is required because otherwise it comes through the grinder all smushed and bruised, only to release its juice. You do want a juicy hot dog, don’t you? The ground fat is kept separate. After the first run through the grinder (I use a 3/4 hp grinder of the sort sold to hunters), the lean meat is mixed with a cure mix consisting of salt and pink salt (“instacure #1″). Both fat and meat then get spread out on cookie sheets separately and re-frozen for another 30-45 minutes to get it nice and “crunchy.” The crunchy stuff is ground a second time and now the fun begins.

After putting the twice ground meat and the fat in my fridge to keep it good and cold I make up my spice mix.

At this point I must digress. There are many recipes for hot dogs out there in the blogosphere and beyond. Every time I make hot dogs I review as many on-line choices as I can find and after I hit the books. I own at least 5 books with frankfurter recipes. Everyone is different. Oy! This time I made a list of all the various spices people recommend and the other dry ingredients. The latter includes non-fat dry milk, dextrose and soy products. The purpose of these is to bind and to help get the dogs to the right texture. All are varieties of processed foods. The easiest to procure (and pure enough for me) is the non-fat dry milk and it does its job like a charm. All you have to remember (and many recipes don’t tell you this) is to reduce that powdered milk to the consistency of confectioners sugar with your blender, food processor or (in my case) spice grinder. The spices include mace, marjoram, dry mustard, coriander, sweet paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder and white pepper. I left out the marjoram. I added about 10 grams of each except for the garlic and onion which I limited to 5 grams each. You can add more garlic if you like. No problem there but I am not a garlic lover. I put everything in my spice grinder and make it into a fine powder and then add back the dried milk. All of the dry ingredients are then mixed well together and weighed out into 4 equal portions.

So now starts the fun. Weigh out the meat and fat and divide it into 4 even batches. Using my food processors – yes I have 2 of them (my favorite is your basic Cuisinart DLC-7 and I also have a Cuisinart Elite a friend gave me) – I carefully process each batch of meat with 125 grams of crushed ice plus a portion of the spice mix until it is very well emulsified. At this point I take the temperature of the mix – it has to be 40 degrees F. No problem – the machine generates a bit of heat so the mixture gets to that temp fast. Now it is time to add the fat. The object of the exercise at this point is to have the meat molecules encapsulated by the fat in a beautiful emulsion.

The trick is to keep the temperature below 50F. Otherwise, your sausage will “break” and instead of hot dog, you’ll have dog food! Broken sausage has a very unpleasant texture that makes you leave it on your plate after the first bite. I know this from experience, trust me. The first time I made franks, I broke the mixture. It is also very embarrassing since it shows what a novice you are. The way to help ensure that you won’t break the emulsion is to add another 125 grams of crushed ice and pulse the machine to achieve perfection. If the emulsion becomes a little to hard to process, add a few tablespoons of ice water to get it moving. But get it moving only enough to achieve the incorporation of the fat so that it becomes one with the meat. (A Buddhist frankfurter?)

Put each batch in the tank of the stuffer while you process the rest of the dogs. (I have a 5 pound stuffer I bought at, you guessed it, the hunting supply store). Keep it in the fridge until you have finished preparing all of the batches.

Now let’s talk about sausage casing. All casings are not created equal. For the kosher style dog, you will need sheep casings. For the small-sized dog, you will need small sheep casings and for the jumbo dog hog casings will work fine. Be certain to soak them for hours and flush them 3-5 times through. You do this because they are packed in salt and the salt is nasty. Flushing out all the salt is also supposed to make the casings more tender. I have had problems with tough casings even though I do all of these things religiously, even though the instructions tell you to just soak them for 30 minutes! I think it is just the luck of the draw but I suspect that stuffing the links nice and tightly also helps. Finally, cook the dogs from the fridge, in cold liquid, and bring them slowly to a boil. This helps to tenderize the casings too. I like mine to “snap” when I big into them. I’m still working on this.

Stuff your casings. I’ll give you a lesson on this someday if you need it but for now I suggest that if you are really into it, buy Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. Make the links any size you like. It is totally a matter of personal preference. I like them on the short and fat side because I only want to eat one bun. Once stuffed, the dogs can either be poached or smoked, in any order. If you don’t have a smoker, I really don’t think it is the end of the world. Poach them in water that is flavored with liquid smoke, if you like that sort of thing, or use just plain water. The emulsion should have enough spices to give them plenty of flavor without the smoking. They only get smoked for a short while anyway – it took me just about one hour to bring mine up to the 140F required at that point.

Poaching is a little tricky because you do not want to boil them. Actually, you want to heat them up in water that is 180F and no hotter. Once you have brought them to the same temp as the water, they are ready to go. One way to do this is to use a slow cooker held at the right setting to achieve the desired temperature. You can do it on top of the stove too but this takes real vigilance and confidence in your stove. I don’t have that confidence since my stove doesn’t go very low. Enter the immersion circulator – the precision cooks tool that enables you to regulate the temperature of the water within a minuscule tolerance.

Still there are tricks. First, bring more water than you need up to temp with the circulator. Those of you with the Sous Vide Supreme can certainly use this, too. Fill the tank as high as you can – to the “max” line. Heat up the water to 180F. Meanwhile, place all of your dogs in a couple of big zip lock bags, leaving plenty of room. You are going to add the 180F water to the bag to cover the dogs. Then, carefully, very carefully, lower the partially closed bag into the sous vide vessel. As you do this you will watch as the sous vide water surrounds the contents of the zip lock bag and pushes out most of the air. While doing the lowering, slowly close the zipper the rest of the way until the air is pushed out and the bag is fully immersed in the sous vide vessel. If you need to, you can put a pot lid on top of the bag to make certain it is fully immersed in the water. I use a heavy meat tenderizer I have and it works great for this purpose.

Since you put the water inside of the bag and the sous vide machine keeps it at temperature (after it has equalized in the bath), you are able to “poach” the links and bring them to the desired temperature in about one hour. Use your meat thermometer to test a random dog in one of the bags, just to be sure.

When you have determined that the sausage is at the right temp, remove them from the water bath, place the bag in the sink and cut off one corner to let the hot water drain off quickly. Immediately put the drained dogs in an ice bath (50/50 water and ice) to cool them down as fast as possible. Add more ice if needed. Once they are well cooled, take them out and let them dry off a bit. I package mine with the food saver making sure there is a little space between each dog. That way I can remove one at a time for my eating pleasure. They will keep in the freezer for many months – if they last that long.

To be certain, this is a lot of work and it takes a great deal of time. I made about 30 big fat dogs in about 6 hours. It goes faster if you have help. It goes even faster still if you have good equipment. Also, you could cut the recipe in half if you just want to give it a try or you don’t have the patience.

For this fanatic, making my own frankfurters fills a sorely missed hot dog hankering.

Special note: Yes folks, I am back. I am well. I am sorry to have kept you all waiting. Please forgive me.

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Filed under Charcuterie, Cooking, Hot Dogs, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking

Pork Belly Divine

Every once in a while I am able to get my hands on a whole pork belly from my local pig farmer, without having purchased the whole animal. This may seem like a simple matter, but it is not. Our local restaurant chefs and artisanal (local/retail) charcutiers always get first dibs. The short supply for us ordinary folks is also due to the fact that pork belly has become one of those “it” foods I have talked about before (here). The stuff is being roasted, braised, and sautéed. I’ve even seen it make an appearance  breaded and deep fried. On many of the more modern or experimental restaurant menus, said pork belly is showing up increasingly more often and it is being used in a greater variety of ways: it’s not just your mother’s bacon anymore. 

In the summertime, when the tomatoes are at their best, we can go through a whole mess of bacon here. So, for my family, it takes a lot of fortitude to resist curing every last drop of fresh pork belly I am able to get my hands on. A fresh whole belly weighs about 17-20 pounds with the skin on. When all is said and done, you will probably yield about 65-70% of that weight as  home cured, smoked bacon – maybe 12 pounds in all. Bacon is easy to make, too – have a look here.

This time, with this belly, I was ready to try making something other than bacon with at least a portion of the slab. By the time I recieved word from Colby Jones (Farrar Out Farms) that he had a whole fresh belly for me, I had chosen my strategy. I sliced off two (approximately) 1 1/2 pound chunks of meat and took off the skin with my great big chef’s knife. (I reserved and froze the skin. Eventually I will smoke it and use as seasoning for greens and other vegetables.) I made a brine using 6% salt and 3% superfine sugar. The superfine sugar dissolves very well in tepid water, as does the salt. Adding a touch of pink salt to the brine helped to maintain the pink color of the pork. To the brine I added two bay leaves, some fresh thyme, several whole garlic cloves, and some peppercorns. I made the brine directly in a jumbo zip lock bag and put the hunks of belly in the brine. This was left in the fridge for a day.

Once it was ready to be cooked, I took one chunk of the brined meat, dried it off and put it in a vacuum packing bag. I added a good half of a cup of local honey to the bag – enough to coat the meat, once the vacuum was applied. Now this is somewhat difficult to do with the Food Saver machine I have, since it is not the greatest with liquids. But there is a good trick that I use to make it work. Use a bag that is large enough so that the meat and the liquid hangs about a foot or so over the edge of your counter after it is inserted into the mouth of the machine. This means that your bag will need to be about 18-20 inches long. With the help of gravity, the Food Saver will pull out the air and seal up the bag without sucking out the liquid or creating a faulty closure.

The belly went into the Sous Vide Supreme water oven which was set at 79C/175F. I left it in the bath for 14 hours. When the time came, I took it out of the water oven and quick chilled it to stop the cooking. This is done with a large bowl filled with half ice and half water. Once the meat cooled down, I removed it from the bag, dried it off with paper towels, wrapped it tightly in plastic and popped it in the fridge. I reserved the sweet honey flavored pork juices for a sauce.

The next day I took the belly out and brought it up to room temperature.

Just before it was time to sear and serve my fatty and hopefully delicious treat, I cut the belly into two inch cubes.

Searing was no job for my good old Iwatani torch, however. Instead, I placed the meat into a very hot skillet. As each side of a cube of pork crisped and released, I turned it until all sides were very well caramelized. This took less than a minute per side and by the time all sides were crispy, the inside was nice and warm.

I was able to make a wonderful sauce out of the juice that I had reserved from the bag. I took some apple juice (pure, organic and unsweetened) and reduced it by 50%. I added a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some cloves and the stuff from the bag that was already highly concentrated with porky, honey flavor. Before thickening the mixture with a little cornstarch, I strained the liquid. My meal was now ready for plating. As sides, I served whipped parsnips and glazed sous vide carrots.

This dish is a real keeper. I would happily serve this to guests. Because of the use of a relatively high temperature in the SVS, the fatty part of the belly was rendered well enough to leave just the right balance of both meat and fat. The pan searing process gave the chunks of belly exactly the right crispness and a perfect texture. The unctiousness of each bite was beautifully counter-balanced by the  mildly sweet and sour, apple flavored sauce. No doubt, this is an incredibly rich and calorie filled meal that can’t be consumed too often without dire consequences to the waistline. However, as a special treat…well all I can say is “everything in moderation.” Actually, my husband’s enthusiastic “wow” said it all.

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Filed under Charcuterie, Comfort Food, Cooking, Farmers Market, Food Trends, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Braunschweiger: How can something with such an ugly name taste so fantastic?

I have mentioned to you previously (here) about the great group of folks who get together every so often to buy whole animals. When you do this, you get all of the animal including the offal. Yes, say it just like you would say “awful” – an unfortunate coincidence to those of us who love the stuff. The word is derived from the expression “off fall” (hence the pronunciation, you see) which describes that which falls out or off of the animal, on to the floor of the abbatoir when the carcass is hung and sliced up by the butcher, thought of by many as the stuff nobody is willing to eat. People also call these parts “specialty meats.” I guess that is perceived as a little nicer. A rose by any other name?

Well, I am a big fan of offal – I cannot tell a lie. I am one of those weirdos who absolutely adores well prepared beef liver (with carmelized onions, especially). I drool over sweetbreads and dream of a well prepared torta de lengua from my favorite taqueria. So, when nobody else wanted the livers from our first Berkshire pig and later from our Red Wattle pig, I happily volunteered to take them home. A pig liver is about 2.5 pounds – not small! But from a pure, organic, well fed, all natural, free and happy pig, you can expect pure and tasty eating.

Being a person who makes it a habit never to eat mystery meat, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that liver. Pig liver, you see, is the main ingredient in braunschweiger (aka liver sausage that is usually smoked or has a smoky flavor). Since I gave up mystery meat (about 8 or 9 years ago after reading Molly Ivins, but that is another story) I had not tasted said sausage. I grew up on the stuff and truly loved it all my life. Who thought about it being made of anything questionable back in the good old days?

Come on, there is just nothing to compare to a sandwich made on a couple of slices of good, light rye bread, a generous slathering of mustard or mayo, fresh lettuce and tomato, and some generous slices of braunschweiger. The stuff is spicy, unctuous and just plain delish! Nevermind the fat, cholesterol and (after a few tough years in college) heartburn. This food is well worth eating and, after all, all things in moderation. When I saw the recipe for Braunschweiger in several of my charcuterie cookbooks and realized that ordinary humans could make the stuff, I decided to give it a try.

The recipe I settled on came from my recently acquired book on garde manger from the Culinary Institute of America. Being who I am, I couldn’t resist a few little, tinsy, weensy adjustments, but the basic technique I learned from this book was essential. Sausage making of any kind requires very meticulous mise en place – gathering and measuring out everything that you need for your recipe and making it all ready before you begin the actual production. Emulsified sausages, such as braunschweiger, hot dogs, bologna, etc. (i.e., those with a fine texture) also require extremely careful adherence to technique. Truthfully, it is not easy and is best done with two people.

Unfortunately, all I had was little old me – my darling was off to China on business. Nevertheless, being the pioneer woman that I am, I was bound and determined to get it right on this, my second try. My original effort (with the liver from the earlier pig) had resulted in a product that I was only willing to serve to Sadie (my wonderful and now departed furry little, 7 pound companion). It tasted fine but the consistency was just terrible. This is because the emulsion “broke” meaning that the fat cells did not get bound in the protein, resulting in a grainy product with a mouthfeel that was just plain wrong.

Well, all of my concentration and attention to detail this time paid off. Truthfully, I have never tasted braunschweiger so perfect in consistency and flavor. I am convinced that two main things are essential. First is to keep everything, including bowls and all tools as cold as possible while you are working. Second is to religiously follow the proper order of operations: cut up your meats and fat into one inch pieces, including liver, well smoked slab bacon, and pork shoulder. Put the liver and pork mixture and the fat on  separate cookie sheets (parchment lining helps). The pork and liver combination is first tossed well with the salt, tinted curing mix (instacure #1) and sugar, prior to being set in the freezer to become slightly “crunchy.”  The bacon is also put in the freezer. When just barely frozen, all of these things are put through the grinder using the 3-4 mm disk. The minute it comes from the grinder, the meats are put back into the freezer on the cookie sheet to become crunchy again. The bacon is put through the finer disk a second time, and again, put back in the freezer. Once everything is good and cold again, the other spices (white pepper, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice, marjoram, mustard and thyme, rubbed sage) are sprinkled over the ground meats. This is placed in a food processor with some crushed ice and  emulsified. My food processor is on the smaller side so I had to do it in two equal batches, keeping the unused portion of the meat and fat in the freezer until the moment it was ready to go in the processor bowl. Every 30-60 seconds you take the temperature of the mixture while processing. When the temp gets down to 32F, you add the bacon, emulsifying until the temp rises to about 42-45 F. It is pretty amazing to see the gloppy mess that results but you can see it working correctly right before your eyes.

By the time the emulsion was ready to be stuffed into the casings it was the consistency of very, very gooey dough. I wish I had remembered to take a photo for you because it is a little tough to describe. I used large collagen casings  which I am able to purchase locally instead of beef middles which are very expensive and only available on the internet. After all, you just peel off the casing anyway and it does not make any taste difference.

The next step, which can be eliminated, is to smoke the sausage for about 2 hours at 175F. I chose to skip this step because it was raining like a mother and my smoker is not supposed to get wet (due to its digital circuitry). My bacon was very, very smoky anyway and this flavor seriously comes through in the end product. So skipping this step did not make much difference in my opinion.

For the final step I was instructed to poach the sausage in a water bath at 165F until the braunschweiger reaches an internal temperature of 150-160F. But how? How do I control a water bath at that temperature? Sure, I can turn the burner way, way down but even still, 165F is far less than even a bare simmer. Restaurant kitchens have flat tops on which they can accomplish this task fairly well (this is where they often keep the stock and other hot liquids at the ready). Commercial kitchens have way hi-tech equipment for this, not to mention immersion circulators for controlling the temperature in water baths. Wait….

DID I HEAR SOMEONE SAY SOUS VIDE SUPREME????? What a perfect opportunity for the use of my trusty water oven! I heated her up to 165F/74C. I took the stuffed pieces and placed them in zip-lock bags. It is fine to use these in the SVS and, because I would need to take the temp of the sausage during the cooking process, this was the most practical thing to do in this application. When you use this kind of bag, you leave it open while you lower it into the water. The pressure of the water pushes the air out of the bag and just before the bag is fully immersed, you zip it up. When the internal temp of the sausage reaches 66C (definitely well done meat) it is ready to come out and be plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking. This also serves to help avoid the multiplication of bad microbial spores which could cause spoilage or illness.

When the temp is reduced to below 17C/60F in the ice bath, it can go into the fridge where it will keep for at least two weeks. Also, you can easily freeze it for a very long time, due to the generous fat content. I vac packed it with the Food Saver before freezing, which also goes a long way toward keeping things for a long time in the freezer.

 

 

Well, as I have said, the finished product was better than I any version of braunschweiger I ever recall eating. I am thrilled that I get to enjoy this delicacy for many months to come – I cut and packaged it in small portions to ensure our long-term enjoyment. It was a lot of work but worth it and I learned tons.

Next up: Come back soon for the pork belly I promised you!

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Filed under Charcuterie, Cooking, Offal, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven