Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day

I dont know why i feel the need to write at 4am when all i should be doing is sleeping... but here I am, exhausted after a very very busy valentines day. 
A few things... We dont take reservations....I really didn't think we were going to be that busy tonight....i mean, i know our food is tasty, but in my mind it doesn't scream love is in the air.... maybe smoke in the air due to our horrific venting system in the kitchen everytime we sear foie gras, but far from the romantic evening i would assume most would want to spend with there loved one. But, there we were, 545 pm, people lining up like animals ready to dip there heads into the trough and get there eat on at the hoof. I had my pig snouts pre roasted... i honestly didn't think anyone was going to order it. 1/2 way through the night, we were sold out. I was stunned... i couldn't believe how the plates were coming back licked clean. One table even lifted there plate up to show me how empty it was. It amazes me to see what toronto can handle. If people are down for the pig snouts what else are they ready for. Perhaps its my duty to see how far i can push them. I thought the snout was overboard, but apparently not. 
Its nice to see people dressed up for there special occasion be it valentines or any other special night and eating at the hoof. Not that they shouldn't be enjoying themselves but i always feel like people come to the hoof expecting something different from what we are. From my little cubicle of a kitchen, i watch certain tables and certain people as they order and as they eat, 100% sure that they just dont get it and are not having a good it the food, service, washrooms, or atmosphere..... but then its those same people who come up to us in the kitchen and say how much they enjoyed themselves. So it calms my nerves for the moment until i focus my eyes on the next one... 
For instance, this old couple was in tonight.... they ordered a good amount of food for being old people...not that old people cant eat but i always remember grandma portioning her food like it was the Stalin regime. They started with cheese, then soups and marrow, then foie gras and something else, then i'm pretty sure they had dessert... they sat there for hours, i even had a chance to lift my head up while in the weeds to see them chatting with a young couple sitting beside them, i heard that one table even bought them a drink. 
So as the table was walking by the kitchen, the old women popped her head over the pass and smiled and told me how much she enjoyed her dinner. It made me feel good. Not because it made my day, but because it made me feel like i made hers. 
This is what the black hoof has made me realize. 99% of people dont really give a shit about table clothes, fancy cutlery and plate wear, over the top service that borders on "leave me the fuck alone already".  People want to be around other people enjoying themselves eating good food and drinking good wine, not to mention fantastic cocktails. No one really cares that our tables are unbalanced and that its like a smokehouse in our restaurant... why??? cause they just dont. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy Cabbage

So the dish is complete and i am very happy with it. I had some close ups of the dish but i just really liked this picture someone took of us and it really shows the size of the snout as well as how happy it makes us. This is my biz partner Jen and I. We've decided to call it stuffed big snout on happy cabbage because the ratio of smoked bacon, apples and white wine is quite a lot when compared to the amount of cabbage so that makes us and the cabbage ....well.....happy. The final stuffing was sweetbreads, smoked ham hock and 24 hour roasted pigs head.  Since cleaning the porky fat off of the snout the texture and taste has become a lot less porky, in a good way. 
This is a dish for two which will be on the menu starting valentines day. Maybe its just me, but there is something very very romantic about this dish. Love is in the air. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pig Roast Finale

So i showed up to work this morning to find the head roast pretty black. At first i was sure it was burnt, but at further inspection and taste it wasn't. It was actually pretty damn tasty. Not exactly cooked so i could shave it table side on some eggs for brunch but it tasted much different then say just your typical poached head. It had depth and a very nice caramelization to it. Unfortunately it was stuck to the side and bottom of the hotel pan so when i went to pick it up the meat essentially fell of the head and into its own oil. I was interested in tasting the brains but didn't have a clever so i just busted it open on the tiled floor and got a little taste. The brains were overcooked, not surprising after 24 hours of cooking. The meat attached to the eyeball was pretty tasty though...considering it was attached to the eyeball. Oh and i couldn't bring myself to eat the eyeball. We picked through the remaining meat and i tossed some in for the stuffed pig snout along with some sweetbreads and smoked hock. The rest of the meat got pressed into a terrine. Tomorrow i shall see what the terrine tastes like. All in all i wouldn't call it a failure as it was a learning experience and i have learned a few things i would do differently. 

Pig Roast Update

So we started cooking it yesterday morning. We sat it on some miripoix with some pork stock, browned it for an hour at 400 degrees or so then covered it up with foil and basting periodically. It wasn't ready come service time, so we had to move our cooking operation a block away at my partners house. It barely fit in the oven but we crammed it in there. With no one to watch it for all of service we just kept the oven at 250 degrees. By 10 pm we had slowed down at the restaurant so my busboy and cook went and brought it back to the restaurant. I watched outside our front door as Colin rounded the corner with a big hotel pan. I could smell the porky goodness from down the road. We popped it back in the oven at 350 for the rest of service pulling it out each time we had an order for paying customers. I really should have scored the head in the beginning as the skin started to tighten up and split away from the skull. So we scored it and covered it with sliced apples. Ideally i want the skin to be edible. I'm not sure if it is going to be possible but we will see. It still wasn't cooked by the time we had cleaned up the kitchen, so we topped it up with some water and put it on overnight in the oven at 300 degrees. Hopefully the liquid hasn't totally evaporated and the restaurant is on fire. I'm surprised im not more worried about getting to work then i am. I'm still in my housecoat sipping coffee, blogging. Time to get a move on. 

Pig Snout Update

So the first stage of playing around with pig snouts is complete. It went exactly as planned. I quickly stuffed it with some smoked ham hock, set it while warm in seran wrap, then wrapped it in caul fat, aggressively seared it, then roasted it, then i basted, then sliced. It was very "porky", almost too much and uber gelatinous because of the fat and meat attached to the skin of the snout. Next time i think i will brine them, and clean out the snout better so that its more of a serving vessel rather then part of the meat component. 
You either view the finished product as a work of art or stomach turning. I dont think there is much of a medium when it comes to this dish.
 The plan is to serve it with some braised cabbage, apples and double smoked bacon. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Genoa Salami

Not all the salami's i do try to be different. This is a traditional Genoa salami and its the simplicity that really shines here. Its has a good amount of ground fat so it really keeps its moistness. There's only a few ingredients in this one but the complexity comes from a long fermentation period and good quality pork. I added caraway seed but never measured it, its not in your face but it has brought it to another level in my opinion. The key like any salami is to keep the fat cold. Because of the higher amount of fat in this one, if its not cold, there is more fat to smear and with this ratio it can be a really bad thing. Luckily this batch turned out really well. 
The first time i made it i kept thinking it wasn't ready because it wasn't firm enough, i kept aging it and it never firmed up. I finally sliced into it and realized it was already done. Then eventually i figured out that fatty salami's never get as dense as leaner ones. Makes sense, but it took me a while. If you come across some good heritage farm raised pork i would definitely try this recipe. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mastering French charcuterie ...or atleast trying to...

French terrines can be quite intimidating and difficult. It would be easier if i grew up in France i often think to myself. No one ever really taught me charcuterie. A few basics i learned from my old chef but for the most part ive learned it on my own. Experimenting with dry curing has been fun and its not really "technical" you just need to understand a few basic necessities and then you begin to understand how things work. Terrines on the other hand can be a little more tempermental. En croutes can be the queen bitch. But, me being the kinda guy that i am (and not wanting to be a one dimensional chef) i've decided to devote some time to understanding how all this works. Here are a few nice looking but fairly straight forward ones ive screwed around with. Foie gras in rabbit, head to tail terrine, and something that once was the filling to a cabbage roll that no one "got" at the restaurant and now has ended up in a terrine, Oxtail and Escargot. I'm happy with all three. But trust me.....this is only the beginning. 

Pig Head Roast

I have a weekly order of pig heads. I usually cant keep up with it but never remember to cancel it. this week i got one really big one and the other one went into the headcheese. It was sitting there in a 22 liter container, actually only 1/2 of it was because the other 1/2 was to big. I didn't know what to do with it but i knew i wanted to do something different. It was so big that i didn't want to butcher it. So i've decided to roast it. I've never roasted a whole pigs head but i imagine it cant be much different then a turkey. The task will be doing it in an electrical oven and what pot to use. maybe the rondo. The head got rubbed down with garlic, salt, pepper and fresh dill. why dill you ask? no clue. its been sitting in my fridge for a week now (that stuff lasts forever) and it just called to me. Its been salt curing for two days now. i may roast it tomorrow, but im in the kitchen by myself and i'd really like to give it the attention it deserves. 
Theres something really sexy when i think about basting a pigs head....

Stuffed Pig Snouts

So today I was informed that I wasn't going to be  able to use our infamous Tongue sandwich on Brioche for a magazine shoot because another restaurant was doing a tongue dish. Why we, who specialize in pigalicious and off-cut meats dont get to use our tongue I cant understand, but i was over it as quickly as i got pissed. So what to use instead i thought to myself... Nothing on this weeks menu can outdo the tongue. The tongue is KING. 
And then it hit me... I've been toggling around with the idea of stuffing pig snouts for a week now. I've seen stuffed trotters on menus before but never snouts. is there a reason for this? I took 5 minutes to think about this question....Is it any less appealing seeing nostrils instead of tow nails? is there a big difference between toe jam and boogers? surely there are more people afraid of feet then there are who are afraid of noses. And i'm almost positive there are more nose pickers then toe jam eaters... so quite frankly, i dont see a problem with stuffing snouts. I do see a problem with sales on this one though. I'm not sure toronto is ready for stuffed snouts. I see maybe a few chefs ordering it not necessarily because they're intrigue or because it sounds delicious, but more so because, as chefs, we feel like we must order the grossest sounding dish on another chefs menu as if to say, "Hey! I'm cool, i'm a chef, i'll eat it, i'll eat anything"...when really we usually regret it and would have been better off with an arugula salad. 
Regardless, this dish is in the works. I picture a plate of cooked cabbage with lots of wine and smoked bacon with a big dirty braised pig snout stuffed with smoked ham hock and wrapped in caul fat. So the test snout has been stuffed and is awaiting a trial roasting tomorrow. 

Monday, February 2, 2009


Portuguese bread sausage. Actually, it should be called jewish bread sausage because it was originally made by jews back in the day who lived in portugal but didn't eat pork. You see, every portuguese and there cousin makes and smokes chorizo. So during the portuguese inquisition, the jews had to figure out ways to "blend in" with the people around them. Due to there religion they don't eat pork. So they had to come up with there own sausage that would resemble the typical chorizo. So they would use any meat but pork, mix it with bread for consistency, season heavily with paprika and smoke em'.  
The term "using any meat" quickly translates to most cooks as "clean out the freezer". So this is a great way to use up all those left over tid bits that didn't make the cut in the last salami. I'm talking about duck, rabbit, beef, pork, bacon, belly, even a little bit of lamb if it floats your boat.  I mean ANYTHING, save it all!!! Fill that freezer up till it wont shut properly and then thaw it all out and into one big pot. Cover it with some water or stock, throw a bucket of duck fat in there and boil it for hours. 
In the meat time, make sure you have some old baguettes, and by old i mean just a day or two... not everything is fair game here. slice em down the middle and expose that tough crunchy interior. Put them in a bus pan or something that can hold liquid. 
Now back to the pot of yummy odds and ends. Your goal here is to simmer the meat till all the water/stock has evaporated and your left with clear fat. Once you have reached that point. strain the fat and pick through the meat. Now pour the fat over the bread. Not too much that you over saturate the bread but dont be shy with it. 
At this point you have a big batch of braised miscellaneous meat and soggy fatty bread. Sounds good already doesn't it? Chill the bread while you dice up the meat. hack away at it, finesse is not an issue here. Then do the same with the bread, chop it up and then mix it with the meat. I like a 65% meat/35% bread ratio, too much bread and you'll notice it. 
Season it heavily with salt, pepper, garlic, smoked paprika and piri piri spice blend. This is a spice blend, not Emerils bbq sauce you toss chicken wings in. Its available here at our local spice store, so i'll assume its available wherever you are.  It looks like smoked paprika and has whole juniper berries in it. Why those whole berries are in it i have no clue, but i'm sure you'll find it just as annoying as i do while picking them out. 
Now pipe them out into sausage casings, hang them for four days, then cold smoke them for as long as you can and hang em a bit more before vac packing , freezing, eating, whatever. 
The way to eat these is to peel off the casing and fry them. 
They are so fatty and rich so keep in mind what your serving them with. I've always found they go nice with some nice crunchy vinegary pickles of your choice. 
There is no standard recipe. 
Its straight cowboy on this one. 


Head Cheese

So a lot of people like head cheese or hate head cheese, but lets face it a lot of people dont even know what it really is. Luckily for me there's wikipedia so i wont bother explaining it here. Its very hard to get pig heads, trotters, hocks, tongues, ears, hearts, snouts, and tails from any one supplier and if i could, it would take a week... atleast. Luckily, my restaurant is in the middle of little portugal and there is a small butcher who carries it all. So i've had all these goodies brining for the past few days until i had a chance to do something with it. Slow super bowl sunday was the perfect day. Theres no finesse with head cheese. Its a pretty sim
ple process that anyone can do easily at ho
me so i thought id post a quick how-to. Basically after brining your meats for however many days you wish, it all goes into one pot filled with water and aromatics of your choice ( i went pretty traditional here) and simmers away for hours. a good three hours of simmering and your good to go. Take your meat out, pick it off the bone, peel your tongues, wrestle with the gelatinous trotters, fight the ear cartilage, clean up the heart and mince it up good, season it well, recduce the stock to a 1/3 - 1/4 and pour over the diced up meat and press. Even though i said it was easy and layed it out for you in a few sentences, lets remember, it still is an 8 hour process but you dont have to be a professional cook to make it. I undertstand it isn't for everyone but with a few vinegary gherkins and some strong mustard to accompany it with you wont even be able to tell your eating 
boiled pig parts suspended in its own gelatin. YUM!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday

Today was a good day. Horrible for business but a nice break from the typical madness. Every once in a while we (myself and my sous chef g-mo) find ourselves with a small prep list and free time to screw around. Today was terrine day. We did rabbit rilette stuffed with a torchon of salt cured foie gras, foie gras mi-cuit layered with dolce de leche and membrillo, as well as a nose to tail terrine aka head cheese. The foie gras with membrillo didn't turn out how we exactly would have liked, but it was spur of the moment and we know what we would do next time. Its days like this that remind me what i love about cooking so much. The "grind" as most cooks like to call it can be fun, but prepping the same stuff day in and day out can get pretty boring. Its days when i can just waltz into the kitchen early with a small prep list when all the fun stuff happens. I'll be posting alot this week because I harvested some new stuff today which included lardo, pork liver salami, and pancetta along with about 50 other things i have to get caught up on. It will be a busy February.