Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dill Pickles

Every good charcuterie platter needs some pickles and i've been waiting for these supposed gherkin size cukes from my local veg purveyor. Unfortunately, they came much bigger then i was expecting but they were nice and firm and you could tell they were freshly picked. So the boys and I sorted them out by size and soaked them in ice water overnight. I made a batch last month and fermented them with a cold pickle rather then pouring over the pickling liquid hot. I really like the straight fermentation method as the spices really seem to penetrate them in a subtle way as well as keeping there colour and crunch.  Unfortunately, time is tight and i needed these guys sooner then later. So i opted for a hot brine to quicken the process. 
Making dills are easier then most people think. There are no special ingredients and the process is pretty straightforward. First I took the water, vinegar and salt and got that heating up. In the mean time i started layering levels of dill, garlic, pickling spice, horseradish, chilies, and cukes then i repeat the process. Once the brine was up to a boil i poured it over the cucumbers and covered the container with cheesecloth and then weighted them down. its important to keep them fully submerged while they ferment or else they will invite unwanted bacteria and ruin the whole batch. During the fermentation process a white scum should form at the top. This should be skimmed periodically and not be a cause for alarm. You will notice the brine getting cloudy which is a good thing and its basically telling you that you are on the right track. If the brine start to evaporate, just top it up with more. You do not need to heat it up after the initial shocking. 

Brined Dill Pickles
2L water
1/3 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup white vinegar 5%

For every 10 lbs of cucumbers
2-3 bunches fresh dill
3/4 cup pickling spice
20 cloves garlic
1 tbsp grated horseradish
chili flakes to taste

Use enough brine to fully cover cucumbers. The horseradish is used to keep the crunch in the cucumber, but if you prefer, grape leaves or alum can also be used. Happy pickles!

Monday, August 25, 2008

4am Ramblings

This week was a long week and i expect next week to be longer. The stress of opening a restaurant while finishing at another is getting to me slightly. Trying to juggle both jobs at once has been interesting to say the least. I have three weeks left and as the boys in the kitchen say 'let's  finish strong'. I guess the hardest part has been the balance of making charcuterie and preserving what i can while its still in season. If i had known about this whole restaurant a month early everything would be gravy. I could have gotten my charcuterie out of the way the first month and had this month to preserve. Currently, preserves are ahead in the race and are currently my main focus. Trying to judge how much i should preserve keeping within the budget is a whole other battle. I have no clue how quickly i will go through all these mason jars of yummy stuff. If we get busy and i run out of preserves in january that would really suck. So im trying to make the most of what i can and what we can afford. As i write this i'm falling asleep but im already backlogged on updates as i've been processing so much that i have to post a few things and keep on top of things. I got the dill pickles and strawberry jam out of the way this past week. Next week is battle eggplant, coronation grape, wild blueberry, elderberry, and some more peaches if i can squeeze it in. I have 5 days to do it because as it stands, I'll be doing my first Charcuterie Sunday for this restaurant. We will be doing it on the labour day long weekend. A long weekend indeed by the looks of it. I havn't really thought much on what we will be producing that sunday, i have a budget meeting tomorrow and i guess i'll have a better idea on what i can spend. I'm hoping to get some panchetta started, some sort of salami, maybe sopprassata, perhaps a smoked venison if i can source some good meat. i'd like to do a beef and dill one i did a while back which i had a recipe i wrote on a scrap piece of paper but lost it. Hopefully by then my breasola and ducks will be ready to hang. Its almost 4 am, my spell checker is working way to hard and i should sleep. I still havn't quit smoking, but im planning too soon. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008


There's something about preserving that brings people together. Even after a long day (13 hours) at work my fellow cooks are still up for lending a hand. Especially, when it comes to something so seasonal like pickling cucumbers or harvesting the last of Ontario strawberries for jam. In this we did both. The good thing about my crew is that before i even ask, they already have there hands in on the action. We had two bushels of cukes. Unfortunately, they wern't the gherkin size ones i was expecting. Supposedly you cant find those in ontario. Anyways, we separated them into small, medium and large. It literally felt like a bottomless pit, luckily we killed time talking smack and drinking beers. Nearing the end, we started fighting over what size constitutes a small, medium, large and to see 
who could find the smallest cucumber. Typical of 4 cooks at 1 o'clock in the morning. I poured ice water over the cukes and plan to let them sit over night to crisp up, we will start the fermentation process tomorrow. I halved and quartered the strawberries, then mixed them with a bit of sugar. Im trying a new 3 day recipe, supposedly it helps keep the strawberries a bright red rather then doing everything in one shot where you have to boil them hard for a long period of time to achieve the right consistency, while also losing there colour. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Peach Lavender Preserve

I have done a decent amount of compotes, jellies and pickles in the kitchen, but never really taken a stab at preserving in mason jars the old fashion way. I've either made just enough to last in a deli container or been lucky enough to have a vac pac machine. Come to think about it, this is the first time i've really used pectin. I've always been used to using agar agar or gelatin to set things. My minds been going in a million different directions these days, finishing up my last month at my current restaurant and preparing for this new venture its been hard to focus on any one thing. While walking through kensington this weekend i saw some beautiful ontario peaches. Not as nice as the ones from the farmers market earlier in the week, but nice enough to try my hand in preserving. So i picked up a box and brought in home. 
As I perused my Small Batch Preserving book i came across an interesting pairing of peach and lavender. Then i dug deeper into the world of preserving and read up on the process, the tools, the ingredient (pectin) all so new to me. Seemed easy enough. So i made several trips to the hardware store and local dollerama, determined to preserve those peaches that night. Picked up a box of certa pectin and i was ready to commence. What i thought was to be an easy process wasn't as so. First off the recipe used much more sugar then i felt comfortable using. I thought to myself i was trying to preserve the flavor of peaches for another season, not to taste sugar. I know sugar acts as a preservative, but in my mind it was way to much. So i diced up the peaches, cooked it out for a few minutes with the sugar, lemon juice, and infused lavender "stock" and added my pouch of certa. Mind you the recipes always ask for a package of powder or liquid pectin, but fail to state what brand or in what quantity. After completing the process, i filled up my mason jars, submerged then under boiling water for 10 minutes and took them off to cool for 24 hours unfortunately they didn't gel up like i would have wanted. Right away i was turned off from certa. So i contacted a pastry chef and found a good quality french powdered pectin, unfortunately they informed me that preserving was a touch and go process and there was a ton of variables (pectin contact of fruit, ripeness, etc... ), but i was determined to write my first recipe and acheive a useable product. I also think it will be easier if i pick one type of pectin and stick to it. So i diced the peaches, added the sugar, lemon juice, and lavender stock, again. Weighed out my pectin at one gram per 100 grams of pulp(in this case the weight of peaches) added a touch of sugar to help minimize the clumping as i diluted the pectin in enough water (about a 1/2 cup) . It gelled up right away and had clumps. i took a hand blender and smoothed it out. I then added this to the peach mixture and boiled it out for several minutes. And as quickly as it started, it was finished. I did three batches, same recipe. the first one i kept the peaches in there diced state, another i strained a bit of the liquid off and blended the peaches smooth, and the third one i really brought down and caramelized. The caramelized batch was too stiff. My guess is i didn't change the amount of pectin to take into account the extra water loss. I just thinned it out with some water till it reached a nice consistency and bottled it. 
Attempt #2 a success!

Peach Lavender Jam 
900 gr small diced peaches (approx 4 cups)
730 gr white sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
9 gr powdered pectin 
2 tbsp dried lavender 
1/2 cup boiling water
extra water for diluting the pectin. about 1/2 cup

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Horse Breasola

Whenever i talk about horse everyone always looks so surprised as if they are waiting for me to tell them that i am joking. I don't think there are many animals left that are not on someone's plate somewhere in this world. So why should horse be any different? I've eaten seared horse, horse tartar, even raw horse bits as i'm butchering. I've made a batch of horse salami that turned out great, but my favorite of all horse treatments is breasola. Air drying it really brings out the sweetness in this meat, which is very similar to bison i find, only a hell of a lot bigger!!
A typical horse striploin weighs about 9 kilo's, giving you approx. 15lbs of useable meat for breasola with a bit left over to make a terrine or small salami with. The waste isn't bad assuming you take care in cleaning it. i calculated just over 815 grams of waste. at 20 bucks a kilo, it gives me a decent net. I guess the only catch with horse, or any striploin for that matter is that the meat is very soft and it has a lot of little nicks and grooves that are not the best for breasola.
Unlike a round of eye of beef, which is one big solid hunk of meat, the horse striploin is a bit harder to deal with. You'll have to work around the sinew and silver skin within the cut and make sure you break it down strategically. Take your time and envision your end product. I've found that because it isn't firm like a beef roast and because it has so many grooves, it makes it harder to form a perfect cylinder without having a fold in the meat. To fix this, i usually cure, wrap in cheesecloth and then press it on a rack with a weight on it for the first 3 days. The ones that i didn't press that had a little more body to them i left circular. After drying, as i sliced into them there was white mold lines throughout. This wasn't a bad thing ofcourse as it was good mold rather then that bad stuff, but certainly under the wrong conditions, could ruin your product. Again I'm trying to measure my quantities and i guess ill have to wait till the end product to see if certain quantities should be adjusted. I find that if you dont put enough salt and dont leave it in its cure long enough, your meat will still air dry but it will be a little dull in flavor making the wait not so worth while. 

Horse Breasola
15lbs horse striploin
150 gr salt
150 gr sugar
20 gr instacure #2
25 gr black pepper, coarse ground
6 gr fresh thyme, chopped
3 gr cloves, coarse ground
4 gr nutmeg, rasped
15 gr cinnamon sticks, crushed
205 gr dry red wine
30 juniper berries

Make sure you rub this cure in really well. Place in ziplock bags with the red wine and store in the fridge for 10-14 days redistributing the brine every two days. I plan to cure most of this horse in mustard seeds and i will be sure to post as the recipe progresses. With any luck they will look like these in a couple of months. 

Duck Tenders

I've cleaned a lot of duck breasts in my days... 
And very rarely has the tender ever been of any use. I think i remember using them in a foie gras hotdog once but most of the time it gets thrown  into a consomme raft or staff meal. 
So i started thinking about how i could cure it and make use of it, or better yet how could i turn it into money at this new restaurant. 
I'm a big fan of botarga. I have not had much, but i still remember a simple pasta i once ate with a mound of rasped dried roe. So i got to thinking. What if i was to give the tenders a simple cure, perhaps add a bit more salt then i would normally for curing and see if i could get a rock hard piece of cured duck, hard enough to grate. 
I could see it shaved on a nice salad, cheese, pasta, the possibilities are endless and i think it will be a good use of something generally overlooked. 

Cured Duck Tenders
320 gr Duck tenders (approx. 10pc)
25 gr Confit salt
.8 gr instacure #2

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Consistency = Success

So today was duck curing day and i'm hoping these will be fully cured come opening night. Ducks are simple. There are a ton of different methods of curing them and i've done it a dozen times but never actually measured the amounts of ingredients i've used. I usually just mix enough confit salt with them and leave them for 7-10 days, rinse them and hang till dry. I always get a good product, but each times been different. 
So heres to consistency, which just happens to be one of the main reasons why restaurants stay in business. hmmm... First I started off with 10 Magret ducks. 7 of them got a regular cure. 2 got 
a dried cherry cure and the last one got a lavender cure. I've never done the cherry or lavender, but i've always thought about bringing some fruity floral notes to a proscuitto. 

Confit Salt     
250gr Kosher salt
50 gr Sugar, white fine
45 gr shallots, chopped fine
45 gr parsley, chopped fine
20 gr black pepper, ground
15 gr garlic, chopped fine
5 gr fresh thyme, chopped fine
6 bay leaves

Confit salt is a great thing to have in a kitchen at all times.
Heres what i did.... 

Duck prosciutto 
1 magret duck breast     
25 gr confit salt                                    
3 juniper berries                                
0.9 gr instacure #2

w/ Lavender
1 Magret duck breast
25 gr confit salt
1 gr dried lavender 
0.9 gr instacure #2

w/ Cherries 
1 magret duck breast
12 gr salt
3.5 gr sugar
1.6 gr black pepper
40 gr dried cherries 
0.9 gr instacure #2

Tomorrow i think i will take one of the seven regular duck prosciutto and up the juniper ante and throw in some orange zest. I'll check back in 7 days to see how they are coming along. 

Wild Boar Salami

About 3 week ago, i brought in a wild boar shoulder to make a salami i've been wanting to make for a while. I had never seen a boar shoulder before and when it came in i thought my meat distributor had screwed up because what i was looking at looked more like a de-boned venison leg. i called a few butchers i knew and by there description it was infact a boar shoulder. Much leaner and darker then i would have though. Anyways, it wasn't nearly big enough for the three beef bungs that i had for it. So i looked to see what scrap meat i had in the kitchen and the closest thing i could find was some bison striploin trimmings. It wasn't very gamey smelling and the colour was similar and i had everything else ready to make the salami so i ran with what i had. 

I based my recipe on several different salami recipes, some of my own, salt levels of bertolli's and fennel ratio from a salami on the cured meats blog. 

Wild Boar Salami
5.5 lbs wild boar, Lean 
5.5 lbs bison trimmings, lean
19 oz back fat, cubed
1 L red wine
12 gr instacure #2
148.5 gr kosher salt
21.5 gr garlic minced
19.8 gr black pepper, coarse cracked
24.75 gr dextrose
35 gr fennel seed, coarse ground
starter culture
distilled water

First off, i reduced the wine with a few whole garlic cloves down to about 1 cup then  discarded the garlic. I do this so the wine takes on a nice garlic flavor which distributes itself in the meat nicely. I weighed out my starter culture in proportion to my meat and fat content and put enough distilled water (preferably room temp) in to dissolve the culture. I also added a pinch of dextrose. Do this prior to grinding so you give your culture enough time to wake all that good bacteria up. After chilling the meat and fat in the freezer till nearly frozen (think crisp), i ground the meat through a coarse die into a chilled hotel pan. I added the cubed fat, spices, salt, and red wine reduction and mixed well. I then added the remaining dextrose and starter culture and gave it a good mix to promote the natural myosin in the meat. 

I stuffed the salami mix into beef bung casings and went through the typical process of pricking to get any air holes out. I find this a little tougher with beef bungs as they are so big so what i usually do is hold them up with one hand, prick, and let gravity do the rest as i slowly move the hand thats holding the salami downwards as the casing frees up some space. 

Once the salami's were all tied up, i put them in a fermentation chamber, which in this case was a rubbermaid with a resting rack inside. i put a little water on the bottom and left the lid only slighty ajar so it wouldn't get to humid, but humid enough. I fermented these guys for 36 hours and then into the fridge they went. 

Its been three weeks now, they've lost about 15% of there mass. I'm guessing another month and they will be ready.  

New Beginnings

Today was an eventful day.

i turned down an $85, 000 job offer for an executive chef position at a well known toronto restaurant, for a head charcutier job at a place that hasn't even opened and for almost 1/3 the pay. 

Am i Crazy? Most people would probably assume so. Not me though. Most cooks i know always opt out for the shittier paying job at the better restaurant. They continue to push themselves before taking that step to make it big, or in this case, make it rich. I am no different. I could have taken this job and had to manage the typical brigade of 7, come up up with new menus 4 times a year, maybe even change up the brunch menu to keep the owners happy. But in the end, i would hate my life. maybe not my life, as i would probably have one, but i would hate myself for spending a decade to be doing this. 

So now im in the beginning stages of opening a charcuterie bar. Something i was hoping to do myself in a year from now, but low and behold just happened to come across someone hiring for a charcutier on craigslist. I thought to myself, i could easily not give it any thought and continue on with my plan. But a part of me wanted to dig deeper and see what it was all about. 

Being the nosy cook that i am, i contacted this craigslist poster to see what was up. After a brief phone call and brunch the next day, i found myself sitting across from a person who had the same concept i had, the same design i had, the same size of restaurant i wanted, decor, even the name of the bar was similar. What was i to do.... 

I had a couple "maybe" part time jobs lined up for 12 bucks an hour at the local organic butchers but not much else going for me at the time. 

So today i finalized the deal. I'm not getting paid as much as a head chef might typically get  , but i've been given an opportunity to do exactly what i want with no added bullshit. But with every good thing comes a catch. 

Due to a tight budget, opening night is Oct. 1st. Thats exactly a month and a 1/2 away!! How the heck am i suppose to make cured meats and have it ready in a 45 days! So a minute after hanging up with my new partner, i got on the phone and called my local mushroom guy Roy (who also gets in great cuts of game meat) to bring me 10 magret ducks tomorrow, i also got him to order me a horse sirloin for next week, because nothing makes a nicer breasola then horse. I also talked to the local veg guys down the street about baby cucumbers. I've never seen them available, but have always wanted to pickle my own gherkins. He told me that they are called #2's.... as in there size and that the farmers only bring them to the food terminal once a week. So, considering its late in the summer season, i told him to grab me a whole bushel for next week. Thats 50lbs of baby cukes he told me! Im not sure if its already too late, but id love to get in some baby zukes too. I havn't decided what type of pickle ill apply to these guys yet, but im thinking ill do a fermented style to keep the colour and keep that nice crunch. 

i'll keep you posted.

Ode to english class

I've never been much for writing.

I mean grammar... punctuation...i remember learning about it in school, but once that was over you really dont keep up on it and i think with most people the "rules" of proper writing slowly dwindle with time. I just try to throw in comma's and periods here and there to make it look like im not a complete idiot, and get on with it. No matter how many times i re-read what i've written im never content, but cant bother to perfect it. 

I cook for a living and free time is too precious to waste on editing. Which brings me to my reason for being here.... Charcuterie. 

The art of curing, cooking, and smoking meats. An art that so many people enjoy eating but have no idea how it's really made.  Something which most chefs have dabbled in but few have mastered. No doubt because their time is consumed by the rest of there menu. 

Well folks. I've been cooking for what feels like forever, but in actuality has only been since 99. I have been a sous chef at several great restaurants in Toronto and its probably my time to take an executive role somewhere. make that jump, get paid that good stuff, maybe even paid vacation, perhaps even benefits if i play that corporate card right. But the more i cook in this high end restaurant business, the more i want nothing to do with it. 

This blog is the birth of new era in my life as a cook. I am leaving (at least i hope im leaving) this fine dining scene and enter into a world of tradition and technique. Perhaps its just 230am, i cant sleep and my life is feeling turned upside down as i leave behind the only thing i've known for almost the last decade and this blog will be forgotten about come morning time when i have to go back to work in just a few hours to finish my last month at work. But perhaps it wont. Maybe, just maybe i'll stick with it as i have with my daily attempts at quitting smoking yet never succeeding. If so, its bound to be around for a while. Although i do plan on quitting smoking....soon. Hopefully this sunday before my dentist appointment.... 

 So as i end with my conclusion... this blog will be used to track my progress in the art of charcuterie. It will help me to remember to weigh things, right down temperature and dates, and to truly think about tastes and flavors as i transfer then into words. I will share with you everything i can in regards to what i make as i believe the sharing of knowledge is something not practiced enough in this industry, especially when it comes to curing meats. And as soon as i figure out how to put up pictures, it will be game on.