Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fennel and Cocoa Lonzino

The great thing about coming from a progressive cooking background is that you look at things in different dimensions. My last chef and mentor taught me to look at things in a different light and to always think outside the box. An ingredient wasn't just an ingredient it was more of a playground of endless possibilities. Whether it was a technique, textural contrast or a flavor combination anything was fair game. So when i initially started curing this pork loin, i was thinking traditional lonzino because I have never actually made it despite its simplicity compared to a lot of charcuterie i've made. I wasn't sure whether i was going to hang it o'natural or spice it up with cayenne and paprika. But, I already had cappicollo smothered in that spice mixture so i did not want to duplicate flavors. So, as i was rinsing the cure off after 12 days or so of curing, it reminded me of a suckling pig roast we used to rub in fennel and cocoa nibs amongst other things. Had it been my chef in my shoes, i'm sure he would have had that same moment of clarity and redirect from his initial route. So i toasted off the fennel, ground it, added about the same amount of dutched cocoa, a bit of black pepper, and some corn syrup solids and rubbed it in. I'n excited to taste the finished product. I'm hoping that it will be a nice mixture of floral grassiness from the fennel mingling well with the sweetness of the cocoa. 

Basic Lonzino Cure
3500g pork loin
125g salt
38g sugar
11.4g instacure #2
11.4g black pepper, ground

Vac Pac Machine

My last few restaurants have always spoiled me with technology. Its been a while since i've worked in a kitchen that didn't have a vac pac machine or immersion circulator to sous vide food. I new entering into this opening of a charcuterie bar that we had a tight budget and the idea of having these fun little technologies would be a long way away. Well, one day, i had had enough. The idea of preserving everything in a mason jar and wrapping logs of salt cured foie gras and terrines in saran wrap didn't sit right for me. I didn't have the money, nor did my partner but i did have one trick up my sleeve...and that was a wallet full of credit cards. I looked into leasing to own but paying an extra thousand dollars over a three year period, Which probably would have outlasted the life of the machine itself made me sick to my stomach. So, surrounded by all this restaurant equipment that could be mine with only a swipe of a card was just too tempting. So i bought a vac pac, and while i was there picked up a smoker and two Tarrison induction burners :)
Despite the $4,000 dollar purchase, which had i purchased anything else would have made my stomach weezy. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulder and dont regret it one bit. Sure i bought the cheapest one out there which just happened to be manufactured in China littered with a retro colour scheme, but this is my baby now and i plan to take care of it as if it were a Bentley! 

Balsamic Cocoa Walnuts

I've "pickled" walnuts before in a previous restaurant and have always found them an interesting alternative to regular nut presentations on a cheese plate. My prior chef used to use banyuls  vinaigrette as the source of acidity, but i'm on a tight budget and quite frankly its way to expensive. I had some balsamic on hand as well as a bit of red wine and beaujolais left from prior recipes so i decided to use these as well. I started with a 2 to 1 ratio of wine to balsamic and began reducing it down with a good amount of sugar and a bit of salt. I through in a spice bag consisting of cinnamon stick, star anise, black peppercorn, bay, all spice, a bit of clove, and some dried chili for heat. I reduced this down till i saw those little rumbling bubbles of goodness that generally tell you your sweetened mixture is reaching a syrupy consistency. In went a couple teaspoons of dutched cocoa, which are cocoa nibs that have been treated with alkaline salts to neutralize the acidity and bitterness commonly found in regular cocoa powder. The cocoa powder really thickens the mixture so if you have to thin it out use a bit of water. In went the toasted walnuts. Keep a watch on the mix now and lower the heat to medium as you stir it regularly. You want to eventually cook out the walnuts and help infuse that acidic flavor while thicken the base so that it coats the nuts but doesn't become too tacky. Remember that, as this cools, your liquid will really tighten up so err on the side of a little loose rather then tighter. Taste a few, make sure you get both the acid and sweetness but neither is stronger then the other. A very nice addition to a cheese plate i think. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mortadella di Bologna

A while back i made Mortadella di Bologna. I've made it several times before and have always had inconsistent results. This time i was looking for the best possible result and i came so close to getting it. I used Len Poli's instructions and tweaked the recipe a bit but i found it a pretty solid recipe. I've had several mortadella's split on me and although edible, they have a rubbery/watery texture to them. The biggest reason for this happening would be because somewhere along the recipe i didn't keep the meat and fat cool enough. So I started by chilling the meat and fat. I ground the meat and fat separately through a large die and then chilled them again and then ground them both together through a small die and then back to chill. After gathering my ingredients, I blanched the cubed pieces of fat to make them palatable i then mixed all the dry ingredients with the ground meat and put small batches into the food processor to get it as smooth as possible. Periodically to keep the mixture from over heating in the food processor, i would pour a little ice water in. Before i used to use just Ice but have found the ice water to be a much better choice. After everything was all nice and smooth, i folded in the fat and pistachios and put the mix into the fridge for 12 hours. I then began rolling them into logs in saran wrap, poking holes making sure to get all the air pockets out (you can never make enough holes or use enough saran wrap). I then chilled the roles again for another 12 hours before vac packing them in there saran wrap. I sous vide them starting in cold water bringing the temp gradually up to 180 F (82 C) until the mortadella reaches an internal temp of 140 F. Submerge the mortadella in ice water and let rest for atleast a few days to have the flavor fully develop. I plan to smoke these tomorrow. The smokiness not only flavors the mortadella but also imparts an acid released from the smoke that adds a tang and also helps preserve it for longer. The only thing i would have changed in this recipe is to increase the salt by another 5-10 grams as well as the pink salt by 3 grams or so. 

Pork Mortadella w/ Pistachios 
3700g pork shoulder
450g pork back fat, ground
450g pork back fat, cubed
66g kosher salt
12g instacure#1
10.6g coriander seed, ground
6g black pepper 
4g garlic
4g white pepper
3g anise seed
3g nutmeg
1g caraway
0.8g cinnamon
0.6g clove
2 cups pistachios, whole
Ice water

No Time

Its been a while since i've last post. A million and one things have been going on in the last two weeks. I finished up my stay at my previous restaurant and although i have 4 weeks off before my new restaurant opens, it has been nothing close to a "vacation". I've been running around buying up things, sourcing things, creating, harvesting, cleaning and pricing things (lots of things in my life right now). As the days count down to opening night my heart beats faster. I have a huge stock of both meats and preserves but i dont think it will ever be enough that i will be content with. I guess its not knowing how quickly i will be going through all this product that stresses me out the most. My girlfriend took a job in New York last week. 5 days notice and she was outa here. I guess it works out good, as i will have my hands full for the next year. I took a trip to Montreal to source out some good Charcuterie, although i was extremely disappointed with the end result i did find one artisanal producer and bought a bunch of there stock. I also met some nice people in the industry who were very helpful. Ive been preserving a lot still and brought back some great produce from Montreal. I wont spoil it, more posting to follow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A quick note on mixing starter culture

When i use starter culture, i always use room temp distilled water. The distilled part is obvious, who knows what's in your tap water, also i have it at room temp so it brings the culture alive sooner and quicker. For an added touch, i always add a pinch of dextrose to the water so the bacteria can start feeding and multiplying. And i always try to do this before i grind my meat so it has time to wake up before added. 

Chorizo Salami

It feels like i've made chorizo a million times before, yet each one always turns out a little different, only because of several ingredients i usually just do by eye. This time i switched it up and weighed all my ingredients rather then measured which can alter a recipe alot. One persons tablespoon might be different from an others. There's a different chorizo recipe out there for every person who makes it. Never have i seen a recipe that was identical to the last one. Perhaps that's because the portuguese and spanish use it to describe any type of pork sausage usually containing paprika. I first made it about 3 years ago and have continued to make it in the last three restaurants i've worked for. It's evolved and only recently has my chef put it in recipe format. So i've used that as my base and basically have changed a few ingredients, amounts and the way its prepared. I've always hand chopped the meat and ground just enough pork and fat to hold it all together, but this becomes very very time consuming especially when your doing a large batch. We usually grill coins of it and serve it with some sort of octopus preparation, but i've always found it to be a little chewy and chunky feeling in the mouth, not to mention the ratio of hand chopped fat and pork belly outweighing actual meat. 
So that was my first thing i wanted to fix. The other thing i wanted to change or perhaps just minimize was the amount of pimento paste thats called for in this recipe. If you have never used or heard of portuguese pimento paste i suggest you source some out. It is great on so many levels and is best used while sweating onions, on eggs, steak, and in this case is the secret ingredient in my chorizo. I've found in the past if you use too much of it thats all you can taste and although thats not a bad thing, it doesn't have the balance i look for in a salami. I've also omitted the pork belly altogether, and changed the hand diced pork back fat to a small dice rather then a medium one. therefore it will be a lot more palatable, as i'd like to serve it cut a bit thicker on a bias rather then a thin slice. Although, in the past i have thinly sliced it from one end of the salami to the other and it looked beautiful. I also add some lean beef trim for body and to aid in a deeper colour as well as binding as i find beef binds better then pork when ground. 
When looking for pepper paste try to source out the Ferma brand or Melo's and you can choose whether to use hot or sweet depending on your taste. 

Chorizo Salami
3000g pork shoulder
700g lean beef, horse, or bison
700g pork back fat, small dice
200g pork back fat, ground
210g portuguese pimento paste, hot or sweet
24.1g kosher salt
7.5g black pepper, ground
26.5g piri piri spice blend, not the sauce
10g smoked paprika
1.6g cumin, ground
4.1g corriander seed, ground
15g dextrose
66g white wine, dry
88g fresh garlic, minced
1.8g dried red chili pepper, ground
11g instacure#2
Starter culture
Distilled water

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mustard Seeds and Bresaola

The first time i made horse breasaola i gott it in my head of introducing mustard seeds in the mix. Not during the cure, but actually during the hang and incorporating it into the finished product. I wasn't sure if the seeds would stick or what the consistency was going to be like, but i just had to see what would happen. Then one day i was playing around in the charcuterie fridge at my old restaurant and the horse felt ripe. I brought it back to the kitchen and cut off the butcher twine holding the cheesecloth in place. I knew right away there was some good mold cause i could smell it and the cheesecloth put up a fight. What appeared was a beautiful hunk of black meat speckled with bloomed yellow mustard seed intact with the rest of the gaps covered in healthy looking white mold. I sliced into it and the meat was purple outlined with yellow speckling. I let a piece come to room temp, splashed a bit of olive oil on it and down it went. It was great! It had that pungent air dried smell of red meat and the mustard seeds gave it a spicy finish. Unfortunately, i only did two small pieces. One was straight mustard seed cut with a bit of kosher salt, the other had a bit of chopped fresh rosemary in there as well. So this time i cured to large pieces almost 2 feet long. Pressed them as usual and dipped the cheesecloth in a red merlot littered with rasped garlic and salt. once it loses 35% of its original weight i'll post pictures and comments of the finished product. 

In the mean time...

Seeing that the Cave isn't ready for use yet, i've been storing all the charcuterie in my walk in. 
I just bought this metro style rack and its already filling up way to quickly. I wish i could stick another one in there, which i could, if i didn't need to save the other side for kegs. This is unfortunate, but it would be more unfortunate if we couldn't serve a nice cold pint of Belgium beer with the charcuterie:) The fridge guy is coming by the restaurant tomorrow to see if he can raise the temperature to an ideal of 10-13 degrees celsius (50-55 F)
I'll have a big load of capicollo, pancetta and venison bresaola coming shortly. Better make room soon!

Elderberry Juniper

A couple weeks ago i was at a farmers market with my girlfriend and stumbled across a stand with a bunch of freshly picked elderberries. I've only encountered them once before and they were frozen and didn't taste great. Intrigued by the freshness and the possibilities of a nice compote i asked to taste them. They tasted a little bitter but had a unique sweetness to them. e Like a crab apple to the apple, they reminded me of a blueberry's distant cousin. So i snatched up all the stand had to offer, 8 liters or so for 48 bucks. I took them home and sat on them for a couple days as i came up with a pairing i was happy with. I thought about pairing them with another dark berry, something perhaps a little sweeter to balance the astringency of this berry but decided to go another route and showcase the berry with the woodsy flavor of the juniper berry. The recipe was quite simple, the only difficulty is in the balance of berry to sugar to juniper. I didn't want any of them to overpower eachother or for any of the ingredients to get lost in the mix. The berries themselves hold up to some abuse and don't breakdown as easily as a blueberry. With the addition of the right amount of sugar i was able to give it the sweetness the berries needed to help preserve it and make it palatable to ones senses but also displaying the uniqueness of this new favorite preserve. I was a little nervous about the juniper pairing but in the end couldn't get enough of it and I had to can it before I didn't have any left.
I noticed the natural phenomenon of these berries wanting to clump together, which is different from any other berry i've seen. Because of this, i decided to only add a little bit of apple pectin powder to gelify the surrounding syrup rather then reduce it more therefore making the syrup to intense. The apple pectin powder is new to me and im still trying to figure out the amounts to add. Its a little less powerful then the other french stuff i initially started using but i happy with the consistencies it has given me thus far. 

Elderberry Juniper Compote
8 liters fresh elderberries
16 cups sugar
4g ground juniper
16 tbsp lemon juice
16g apple pectin powder

The Cave

Construction at the new place is coming along. I still cant tell whether were on schedule to open for Oct. 2, but im sure things will come together closer to the date. i wouldn't mind a couple extra weeks to be honest:) i didn't even know about this space at first. It was tucked away through a trap door and a little walkway covered in spiderwebs. As soon as i saw it, i saw the potential for curing meats in an ideal environment, finally. It smells a little dusty and funky right now, but as soon as a plumbing problem is fixed next week i'll have my work cut out for me cleaning and patching the brick and getting it sterile for hanging meats. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Charcuterie Sunday August 31 2008

There's been a whole  lot of preserving and not enough meat curing going on in this blog . So after getting my first round of preserving out of the way, we finally had a charcuterie sunday this past week. Even though most of my cook cronies were hungover from there weekly afterhours binge, they still managed to show up, albeit, some 2-3 hours late, but we still managed to get everything i wanted to done. The day began at 11 am. My first priority was getting the alcohol...these guys dont work for free you know. One by one they trickled in, each one looking worse then the last until there was 4 plus myself. We had a busy day planned. I had most of the meat butchered and ready to go and was just waiting for the casings my buddy Guy was bringing. After a beer and a not so quick catch up, things got underway. I like to tackle days like this like im prepping for a station. Get the big things started first and squeeze in the little things somewhere in between. First we all cleaned up our meat to see where we stood with weigh outs. Everyone was given a sheet of recipes (i don't believe in keeping recipes secret) and began gathering there ingredients while there meat chilled in the freezer. We had a big list including smoked venison, horse bresaola, venison bresaola, beef and dill, soupie, pickled cauliflower, romanesco, roasted peppers, and duck prosciutto. My girlfriend Rita showed up with pizza for the boys and a brief break and  eventually we were on a roll and moving forward. We took turns on the grinder and stuffer and lost some salami makers along the way as they ran out of steam or had girlfriend's to tend with. Rita, the best girlfriend around and new to the kitchen, preserved the peppers and then stuck it out in the pit for a couple hours which at the end of the day is the one job no one wants to be doing for free. Luckily, she enjoyed the use of the spray nozzle, until she too retired to her civvies. Before i knew it, it was almost 5 in the morning and i was still labeling and weighing salami's. I left the kitchen as clean as i could after 17 hours and left the salami's out to ferment in the warm kitchen. Once they lose about 35% of there weight i'll post some recipes. 

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sicilian Eggplants

If you like eggplant and want something other then the typical italian black eggplant commonly found year round you should keep an eye out for sicilian eggplant which usually hits the markets in middle to late august. Its colour is a light purple, similar to japanese eggplant but big and round like a melon. Its interior is a beautiful white with minimal seeds. Since it doesn't have much seeds it tends to be sweeter rather then bitter (its the seeds that make eggplant bitter). I came across a bunch of these at a local farmers market one sunday and i bought the whole bushel. I knew exactly what i was going to do with them when i got home. I made a great pickled eggplant last year that everyone that tasted it loved it so i decided to try it with this sicilian type. The recipe is dead simple and is great on its own with bread. First, you want to julienne the eggplant. I use a mandolin when i do mine so i get nice even strips of eggplant and then i julienne them by hand. Take kosher salt and salt them liberally. Put then in a colander (in th
is case my sink) and weight them down for an hour. The salt will help extract any bitterness and wilt the eggplant. After the hours up, give the eggplant a good squeeze. You may think the eggplant will turn to mush, but it really stands up to a lot of abuse. Then give your eggplant a good rinse in cold water and squeeze again. Blanch the eggplant in salted water and for every liter of water add 100 ml of red wine vinegar. Depending on how thin your eggplant is, it should blanch for a good 3 minutes but still keep a bit of its crunch. Strain it, and lay on clean clothes to cool. Bottle it and cover it with chilies and good olive oil. If covered, you can keep it at room temp for a month or so and is best served at room temp.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Strawberry Long Pepper

I managed to get some Ontario strawberries before they went out of season  the other week and although strawberry jam doesn't come to mind when i think about cheese accompaniments, the addition of long pepper gives it a interesting contrast of flavor and complexity. Long pepper is a close relative of black pepper and is cultivated in and around india and indonesia. It is similar in flavor only a little hotter and very floral. Inspired by a sorbet we once did in a restaurant, i decided to try my hand in a simple strawberry jam. I decided to add some cracked black peppercorn as the base with a last minute spike of long pepper. This jam was a three day process to preserve the integrity of the strawberries shape. I started by cleaning the strawberries then taking the weight. i tossed them in the sugar and lemon juice and allowed them to macerate overnight. i then brought them up to a boil, turned off the heat and let them sit in the fridge overnight. The next day i strained the solids and began reducing the liquid. i added the coarse cracked peppercorns at this point to infuse there flavor into the syrup. Be careful not to add to much too early. I added the peppercorn more for a base flavor 
but more so for its visual appearance. Once the syrup was where i wanted it i added the strawberries and the apple pectin and brought it to a simmer for 5 minutes to activate the pectin. I then put the batch, which was a large one, into a 
bus bin and cooled it down a bit before adding the rasped long pepper. In the end i think i cou
ld have upped the long pepper a bit after trying it on a piece of toast and i guess its all depends on personal taste.  

Strawberry Long Pepper Jam
9000g Ontario or local strawberries
4000g sugar
9g coarse cracked black peppercorn
17g apple pectin powder
1 tbsp ground long pepper
juice of 8 lemons.