Category Archives: sous vide cooking

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

Lucky Lobster Lover lives to eat her words…AND lobster, as well

In March, 2010, I put up a post on the subject of lobster (here). I discussed my “allergy” to it, how Mr. Homard (scientifically known as homarus americanus)  was one of my absolute favorite foods and how I believed I would never be able to eat it again. Today I am happy to report that I have overcome this intolerance. I am once again able to indulge in this luscious crustacean. “How did that happen?” you ask.

My inability to eat the stuff, really not an allergy at all, was on account of a badly diseased gall bladder. I had my strong suspicions about this angry organ for nearly 20 years.  That was when it first started bothering me. Fortunately, during the first 10 years, it  would attack me only on a rare occasion. After a good night’s rest with the help of the sleeping pill du jour,  I could mostly ignore the problem. However, for the last 10 years, it increasingly got louder; the attacks became more frequent. I eliminated avocado from my diet (another food I adore) because it always stirred up trouble for me. Other things were eliminated when I could link them to the pain.

I’m really no hero. It is just that whenever I would go with my symptoms to a doctor I would be told to go away. Yes, after poking and prodding me and taking a picture (ultra-sonically) of my gut, I would be told that although it sounded like my gall bladder, it seemed to have passed. This happened three times. I always knew it would be back. I just never knew when. Worse yet, I had no idea what I would be forced to eliminate from my diet next.

Several years ago I realized, after four trys, that every time I ate lobster my diseased organ unleashed it’s tremendous wrath inside my gut. Now lobster was out and this really pissed me off. Still, I put off returning to the doctors, only to be sent away once again.

Finally, the thing became acute. This time I was determined not to let the attack pass without seeking medical attention mid attack. Not to worry. The “attack” became a massive siege. I actually had all the time I needed since the agony would not subside. I spent a miserable week in New York. Even a small burger without the fries at the Shake Shack  had me bent over clutching my waist. It seemed eating anything was a problem.  As we drove home from the airport, I turned to my darling and said “take me to the hospital.” This time, sure enough, the diagnostics backed me up.

 At the risk of  TMI, I’ll tell you that my gall bladder was actually 97% dead! Yep, completely non-functioning but thankfully not gangrenous. It had to be yanked. This was a very welcome determination. Though for me the procedure was not easy to recover from, eventually I regained much improved digestive health. A big reward for a lot of suffering. Little by little, I am thrilled to report, that I was able to reintroduce every single eliminated food back into my diet.

Lobster is the one I rejoice in the most.

I love the concept of “butter poaching” just about anything. So, when I read on eGullet all about how people were doing it with lobster in their sous vide machines, my mouth watered. Yes, yes, I am a hardcore locavore and lobster certainly does not fit the test. But, fanatic be damned, one has to make reasonable exceptions especially for the things one loves…especially for the things one has been deprived of for so many years.

In Costco of all places I spied these gargantuan tails and impulsively decided one of these guys would be a good place to start my experimentation. After all, if I blew 20 bucks and didn’t have to wrestle to pull it out of the shell, I wouldn’t be so bummed if my first sous vide go around with lobster came out terrible.

I forgot to get a photo of the tail before I yanked it from its shell, but you know what a lobster tail looks like, right? Just imagine a HUGE one. The thing was a full 10 inches long and weighed a full pound! This must have come from a relatively old lobster. Attached to its body I would speculate that this fellow must have weighed at least 3 pounds.

In sous vide cooking, you don’t put the lobster in the bag still in its shell because of the risk of piercing the bag and making a mess of your sous vide machine. At the open end of the tail, I took my flower shears (yes, smarty pants, I cleaned them first) and began clipping the bones on the underside, one by one, right up the middle. Then I took my thumbs, placed them on either side of the tail with the cut bones up, and gave the thing a good strong pinch backward to expose the raw meat inside. A solid but gentle pull of a fork freed the meat in one big piece. The meat alone was at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter!

Here is a photo of the tail meat after it was bagged. Yes, that IS an entire stick of butter in there with the seafood. Now I am one of those weird people who does not dip my lobster in butter before stuffing it down my gullet.Perhaps this is why the tail is not my favorite part since it usually comes out so dry. But butter poaching is a horse of a different color. When you butter poach a protein such as this, the butter does not get infused into the substance. The butter simply serves to keep the meat nice and soft and totally moist. Once out of the poaching medium, most of the butter remains behind – these are not the calories one needs to be concerned with.

I left the bag in a 61 degree C water bath for 1 hour. Happily, the poaching medium that was  left over after the lobster was cooked, was infused with lobstery deliciousness which had to be used somehow.

Rice was my choice, other than French fries, the perfect accompaniment for this peasant seafood. I put the lobster in a ziplock bag, without the butter, and set it back in the Sous Vide rig to stay warm. This is one of the beautiful things about Sous Vide – the temperature never goes higher than you set it to so holding food during prep is no issue. Meanwhile, I sautéed some arborio rice in the lobster butter. For the liquid, I used a simple chicken stock amended with a healthy dose of puréed preserved lemon, a dash of nutmeg, a little white pepper and some kosher salt. The lemon provided plenty of contrast in flavor for the rice, even though it was cooked with the lobster butter.

When the rice was ready for serving, I took the lobster out, trimmed the ends (which got sent back into the rice) and sliced it in neat 1/2 inch disks. On the plate, I drizzled a tiny bit of the remaining lobster butter and garnished the plate with parsley. Plain and simple, but lobster really doesn’t need to be anything else.

In truth, I really expected to be disappointed and much to my thrill and surprise, the lobster was moist and succulent. It was not overly tender as I had feared and although it was not from the best of sources, it was sufficiently fresh and flavorful. I suppose that with today’s flash freezing methods, a decent commercial product really is made possible.

I enjoyed every last bite and suffered no pain for the indulgence.

Thanks for reading and thanks for everyone’s support during my long absence from this blog. I hope to have a number of interesting posts coming your way on a regular basis very soon.

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Filed under Cooking, Lobster, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking

Short Ribs: Nothing Short of Fabulous

I have been working with the Sous Vide Supreme  since last February and I continue to be amazed at how great most of what I produce using this gadget. That having been said, let’s just face the truth: this machine is a complete luxury. There is nothing I have cooked with it that can’t be cooked conventionally. It is also true however that certain things come out of the SVS off-the-charts fabulous. So far, the short ribs I made recently top this list.

Short ribs are, IMHO, a fantastic food in their own right though they are also difficult to cook well. Absent an SVS or some other kind of sous vide rig (such as this one or this one), short ribs must be slow cooked using conventional means. This usually involves braising: a method which inherently removes flavor from its subject in order to obtain a desired tenderness and texture. The challenge then is to spice the braise in such a way as to impart some intensity back into the protein and, mostly, to sauce the final product so as to give the consumer back some of the flavor that was unavoidably removed in the cooking process. Take for example a traditional stew. Often made with plenty of aromatics such as onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and bay. But without all that sauce, the meat is otherwise rather dry and tasteless. It is often stringy, too. One of the beautiful things about sous vide cooking is that flavor does not leave the food for the water, as it does with a regular braise and, if cooked at the right temperature, the meat does not become stringy.

With all that fat surrounding it and nestled close to a bone, short rib meat actually has an astoundingly delicious natural flavor. In the sous vide cooking process, unless you cook meat at a high temperature (at least 70C/158F), the fat does not render out into the braising liquid, either. Instead it stays in place, moistening and tenderizing the meat all during the  cooking time. In addition, with sous vide cooking, even at a very low temp you are able to cook protein for a long enough time to precipitate the break down most of the collagen within without turning the protein to mush or, worse yet, string. This method results in a level of tenderness that cannot otherwise be achieved in normally tough cuts of meat. All the while, you can maintain the doneness of the meat by choosing a temperature low enough to leave it pink and juicy even after the hours required to break down the collagen.

I bagged my short ribs after patting them dry and sprinkling them with salt, white pepper, a little paprika and some garlic powder. Each rib got its own pouch.

I cooked them in the water oven for 72 hours at 55C/131F. That’s right 3 whole days the meat was swimming! The temperature I chose is the one generally used to obtain what I would call medium rare beef, though some might call it rare.

The above photo shows what the short ribs looked like after their 72 hour swim.

You can see that they are still very pink and you can also easily see why the fat had to be cut away. But let me tell you, that fat did its job. The texture of the meat was way beyond incredible. As usual, to make the dish more appealing, some browning was in order. I used my handy Iwatani Torch though a searing in a red-hot skillet would have worked just fine too.

Though I removed a great deal of the fat, this meat was beautifully marbled which meant that a quick searing produced a perfect crust. The fat left on the meat became crunchy while the juices carmelized on the outside My mouth was watering as I plated our meal.

When I took the meat from the pouches I had reserved the juices. This I cooked, strained and strained again. I enriched the clear liquid with a red wine reduction that I had flavored with mirepoix, minced garlic and spices. I added all this to some veal demi-glace and reduced it a little more. In the end I had a beautiful and rich sauce which I lightly ladled over the meat.

A while before dinner time, I took a bounty of summer vegetables which I had picked up at one of my favorite farmers’ markets and roasted them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Roasted turnips, baby summer squash, new potatoes and golden carrots made a beautiful rainbow on my plate.

Decadent? Absolutely. The meat had the look and richness of the finest prime rib but it was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a texture that I could not possibly do justice to in words. You simply have to try this if you can some day. No, I could not eat a meal like this with any frequency (though I would love to). But my oh my, we savored every bite we took with our eyes rolling back in amazement – it was truly a religious eating experience. We are not likely to forget this meal anytime soon!

Now consider this: short ribs are considered a cheap cut of meat! They are often reserved for soups or stews or the meat is removed and ground for burgers! If you really enjoy short ribs or other meats usually reserved for braises, put a sous vide rig on your wish list! You will find a new dimension!

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

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

Fanatic Fiddles with Fire; Lamb roast gets torched.

My mother-in-law (Libby) loves lamb. However, she also thinks that it is only for a special occasion. Thus, she only eats lamb at a restaurant…unless I cook it for her. I, on the other hand, eat lamb when ever the mood strikes. This is good for my mother-in-law! I was raised on the stuff (steak or Chinese food was what we ate on a special occasion). As a kid we ate lamb burgers, lamb chops and roast leg of lamb. My mom’s meatloaf even had lamb in it. From the left-over leg, we had lamb sandwiches. I don’t think I ever at lamb at a restaurant until I got a little older and went through a fancy French (aka a we-sauce-it-all)  restaurant phase when Carré D’agneau came into my lexicon.
 
So, when I seasoned up the last of the shoulder roasts I had in my freezer and sent it swimming in the Sous Vide Supreme, I gave Libby a call. Because of its size and somewhat tough nature, the roast was going to be in the water oven (at 57.5C/135.5F) for at least 36 hours. When it came time to take it out, if I didn’t serve it immediately, I knew I could hold it in the fridge for a couple of days after that as long as I quick chilled it down in an ice water bath before storing it. (See this if you have any questions about that.)  I stored it in the the bag I had cooked it in, with all the spicy juices infused with the garlic, herbs, and pepper I had put into the bag with the meat. There was about 1 1/2 cups of jus in the bag at the end with which I planned to make a sauce.  But I got distracted by spring. 

 

The season arrived here in the midwest like it has not done in several years and with it came plethora of articles containing recipes about cooking lamb. Springtime is, you see, the time when lambs are born, not to mention Easter, a traditional holiday for eating lamb (why not try rabbit…ok, ok, just a bad taste joke).  By the way, the spring lamb is not really ready for Easter, at least here, because our lambs are not harvested until May. Anyway I digress: I had seen one article in which people were mercilessly diss-ing that good old fashioned mint jelly (which is actually apple jelly flavored with mint) that we used to eat with lamb as kids. That stuff is really pretty disgusting. So I decided to try something suggested by one of these writers.

As instructed in the recipe, I took a whole mess of fresh mint from my garden, chopped it up with my favorite tool (the immersion blender) using the little chopper attachment. In the end, I had about a cup of chopped mint. I boiled a half of a cup of apple cider vinegar and a quarter cup of water with a half cup of brown sugar, making sure that the sugar was well dissolved. I set the liquid aside and when it was a bit cooled, I added the chopped mint. Voila! This was described by the writer of the recipe as a traditional English “mint sauce” and touted as being a much tastier accompanyment for roast lamb.

Meanwhile, back at the lamb, I heated the roast back up in the SVS about an hour before my mother-in-law was expected to arrive. This was more than enough time to get the roast heated back up to the 57.5C temp at which I had cooked it. And here is something beautiful about sous vide cooking: by heating the meat no higher than the temp at which it was first prepared, the meat does not become more well done!

Think about it. It is impossible for anything in the water bath to get heated higher than the temperature of the water it is cooked in. Even more important is the fact that heat transfer in water is far, far faster than it is in air (like in your oven). On the re-heat, by allowing the meat to spend only as much time as was needed to bring it up to temperature, the meat is not further cooked! If you re-heat something in a conventional oven, in order to get to a desirable eating temperature internally in a reasonable amount of time, it must cook more on the outside.

Just before I was ready to serve this dinner, I took the roast from the SVS, removed it from the bag and patted it dry with some paper towels. 

   

I took out my Iwatani Pro kitchen torch and worked that baby over thoroughly with the fire.

The effect of this was to put a yummy crust on the outside of the roast and also to heat up the outside just a little bit more.  Here is the roast after I torched it but before it was sliced completely. Look at that fabulous crust!

The roast was tender and moist and sliced with ease. It sliced up beautifully and looked so pretty on the platter. 

 

I served it with some lovely pasta from the farmer’s market which I sauced with a little mascarpone and butter. The pasta was flavored with pepper and lemon so it didn’t need much. I tossed together some organic greens with a very light vinagrette and let the lamb do all the talking.

Dinner is served

It was fabulously tender, juicy and so flavorful that it really did not need any sauce at all. This was a good thing because, in all honesty, I just hated that traditional mint sauce. I took one taste of that stuff – way, way, way too sweet (much sweeter than any nasty mint jelly, in fact) – and shoved it off to the side. It might have been nice to have a sauce made from the jus but actually, I was the only one to notice. Bob and Libby ate their meal with relish and my mother-in-law continued to rave about how she loves lamb.

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Filed under Cooking, kitchen tools, Lamb, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Pulled Pork Preeminent

One of the justifications I used to talk myself into buying the Sous Vide Supreme was that it would replace my crock pot. Now those who know me are aware that it is my intention, in just a little more than two years (781 days, but who’s counting), to move to New York City. So this rationale is no matter of little importance. I am going to have to fit a s#%tload of rooms worth of all my important stuff into a shoe box apartment in order to become happily ensconced in the Big Apple. Thus, until such time arrives, I have come up with a rule to live by: anything new which is brought into the house must give rise to the throwing or giving away of something of equal or greater volume. The crock pot, while being shorter than the SVS, definitely has a bigger footprint, i.e. takes up more space in a closet or cabinet.

I have one friend who has an SVS and when he heard this, he said “nooooo, the SVS will not replace the crock pot.” I took that as a challenge. Actually, my friend should have asked me just what I do with the crock pot. All I do with the crock pot is (1) make soup, and (2) make pulled pork. Try though I might, I have never found anything else to do with this appliance that can’t, just as well, be done on top of the stove.

“Slow cooker” you say? Oh no, that is just not so. The darn thing simmers the bejeebers out of everything. I can braise just fine in the oven and I can cook soup on the top of the range, thank you very much. But for pulled pork…well I bought the SVS and so it was time to put up or shut up.

Lets just say that something magical happens to a fatty chunk of pork shoulder or boston butt when it goes into the crock pot for 6 or 8 hours. Even my darling, adolescent, loving, sweet, wonderful, adorable brat of a  step-daughter asks for this dish regularly. Rubbed with a beautiful spice mix I have developed (mild chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, ground mustard seed, granulated garlic & onion, ground coriander seed, and salt) this relatively cheap cut of meat becomes an intensely flavorful pile of porky deliciousness that my family adores. Most often, we stuff it into fresh tortillas with refried beans, spanish style rice, sauteed veggies and other favorite condiments. I call it our “make your own fajitas” meal.

So I had to prove to myself that pulled pork would make the grade coming out of the SVS. For this experiment, I just happened to have a beautiful chunk of Red Wattle in my freezer, perfect for the main ingredient in our fajita fest. I thawed that chubby chunk-o-piggy out and rubbed my spice mix all over the surface of the roast with abandon before bagging it up with my Food Saver. Many sous vide recipes talk about how you have to use a little restraint with spices when cooking by this method but I have found this applies to only a limited range of items. This includes some herbs, especially bay and rosemary, and garlic (which I am, alas, unable to eat much of anyway). I was not worried about overdoing my pork rub. I set the water oven on 60C (140F) and put the sealed up meat in to cook for 48 hours!

 

The results were, if I may say, award winning. Better than out of the crock pot, by far, the pork was tender, exceptionally moist, just the right doneness and orgasmically flavorful. There was not a trace of dryness as is often the case with the slow cooker. The meat pulled away from the fat very easily so that in the end we were left with a much more low calorie version of our old crock pot standard. The spice rub gave the meat a wonderful, smokey, complex flavor that was exactly what we had come to love. One interesting thing is that we poured a couple of cups of spicy meat juice out of the cooking pouch. I froze this wonderful liquid figuring that it will make a delicious sauce for a chop or tenderloin in the future.

Say bye bye, crock pot!

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