Category Archives: charcuterie

Split Pea Soup with Ham, Fresh Peas and Mint

I cured my own ham to serve for Thanksgiving this year. This was one huge piece of pork from Yonder Way Farm. It was cured for a couple of weeks before being smoked, braised, glazed and baked. The ham made for a fantastic meal or more like ten meals including breakfasts and work lunch sandwiches. After a couple of weeks of that I still had a large ham bone with a good bit of meat stuck on it. What else to do with it other than a rich split pea soup.

I remembered that Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home has a recipe for split pea soup so I went to review it and found that, of course, it was not your straightforward typical split pea soup. The typical version usually entails boiling a bunch of dried split peas with a ham hock or ham bone and aromatics. The soup is usually very rustic with chunks of pork from the ham and whole split peas. It’s a tasty warming winter dish. Thomas Keller takes those elements and makes a wonderful version that is at once refined, rich and satisfying on all levels. I stuck fairly close to the recipe, but instead of the ham hock I used the ham bone I had. I used the pressure cooker to make a very tasty ham bone broth with onions, leeks and carrots. Then I simmered  split peas in the strained broth until they were soft and almost falling apart. Now, instead of leaving the peas whole Keller has you pureeing the whole thing to make a perfectly smooth soup that has a creamy mouthfeel but has no cream.

To finish, I blanched a bunch of frozen green peas in boiling water until barely done and still retained their freshness. Half of these went into the pureed soup. In each bowl I put some of the remaining green peas and some shredded reserved meat from the ham (I reserved the meat before I used the bone for stock). Then I poured in the soup and garnished it with mint leaves and a few dollops of creme fraiche. It was amazing, comfort food at its best and a great example of a split pea soup. Keller often talks about “finesse” and refinement, the details that make a good dish great. In this case it’s not just pureeing the soup, but the addition of those fresh green peas and mint leaves. They add so much pop and freshness to a bowl of soup that could be otherwise a bit monotonous. Of course that meant I probably ate way more of it that I should’ve.

Noma: Pig Belly and Potato Skins, Cep Oil and Wood Chips

Cooking with woodchips and hay (yeah, hay) might seem way weird at first glance. My 8-year old was beyond shocked when I told him that I am buying hay at the pet store (all natural packaged and never used hay that is) to use in cooking  at home. He kept asking and double checking that I am not messing with him. He finally believed me when I covered a baking dish filled with small potatoes with hay and stuck it in the oven. If we really pause and think about this though, it makes sense. Usually stuff like hay or, more commonly, wood chips (oak, charred oak) are used as flavorings in many products. The wood barrels, charred or not, are exactly how products like Bourbon, Scotch and wine are aged and get their distinctive look and taste. Brewers add charred wood chips to stouts and porters all the time for their unique flavor. So why not use some wood chips to flavor a sauce that will be served with a rich piece of pork belly? Hay has been used to cook ham in it for a few centuries as well. I believe this is a classic British preparation where ham is fully covered in hay and baked/boiled. Ryan at “Nose to Tail at Home” prepared a version of that from Fergus Henderson’s book. The process gently steams the meat and flavors it with its unique aroma. All these flavors match perfectly with pork, mushrooms and potatoes to create a lovely and comforting dish.

The chef at Noma in Copenhagen uses all kinds of interesting ingredients in his flavor profiles including oak chips, spruce, hay and ash (as in burnt and powdered vegetable matter). His cooking is fiercely local and when your locale is cold northern Denmark you really do not have access to so many of the ingredients we take for granted these days like tomatoes, olive oil, chocolate…Still Chef Redzepi manages to coax flavor from products, both wild and cultivated. He obviously knows what he is doing because he produces beautiful thoughtful food and Noma is named the “Best Restaurant in The World” for the second year in a row. In this dish he combines braised de-boned pork tails with hay-steamed small potatoes and a sauce made from stock, cep mushrooms (porcinis) and flavored with applewood chips.

I did not have any pig tails for this, but I did just make some smoked bacon (two versions this time: maple and brown sugar) and I had a few pieces of thin pork belly that did not get cured. Speaking of bacon, here are a couple of nice shots of said cured bellies. You can also see some of the Canadian bacon I smoked along with the regular bacon

I bagged the pork -I pretty much buy all my pork from Yonder Way Farm these days, it really is great stuff- with some home-brewed stout, thyme, butter-sauteed vegetables and stock then cooked them sous vide for a few hours. The cooking liquid is then strained and reduced to a glaze to finish the pork.

Redzepi uses two kinds of small potatoes, a purple one and a yellow one. These are baked gently under a few handfuls of hay. When done, I cut each in half and scooped most of the flesh out. Right before serving the potatoes are heated up in a water and butter emulsion and plated. The water had some toasted wood chips soaked in it to flavor it before whisking in the butter. The sauce for the dish is a clear mushroom bouillon made by simmering sautéed mushrooms and vegetables in chicken stock. The resulting stock is then clarified using the traditional method for making consomme (i:e using egg whites). The clear liquid is then reduced to about a cup. To further flavor the already very tasty bouillon, a few applewood chips are toasted and then soaked in it for 10 minutes. Lastly, birch wine is supposed to be added in as well. I had none and could not find any at local stores. So, I decided to just go by my own taste and seasoned the bouillon with my homemade maple vinegar. It worked very nicely.

Another two items emphasize the cep flavor, an oil and powdered ceps. Redzepi uses fresh porcini trimmings to make the oil. These are very hard to find and expensive. The dried version though is available everywhere and makes a great substitute in an application like this one. The oil is just heated up and the dried mushrooms are steeped in it. The cep powder is just dried mushrooms pulverized in my spice grinder. That would be the dust-like substance all over the plate. All in all this was a delicious dish to welcome Autumn. It’s rich, full of roasted umami tastes, mushrooms and rustic flavors. The wood chips do add a nice mild flavor. The hay…not too sure honestly. I think that might be more noticeable if the dish they are cooked in includes a lot of liquid, like the ham in hay dish I linked to above. As a cooking medium for the potatoes, I do not think they contributed much.

Beet and Citrus Cured Salmon

Salmon was the first meat I ever salt cured back when I got Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. It’s one of the easiest of the cured meats because it requires little investment and very little time compared to a Bresaola or a cured fermented sausage like salami. Basically all you do is rub a salmon fillet with a mixture of salt, some sugar, aromatics and maybe a few tablespoons of vodka or another alcohol. You let it sit for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge and then wipe away all the cure ingredients and pat it dry. Now it is ready to go as is, basically a gravadlax, sliced thin on a bagel or some rye bread. Another option is to maybe smoke it (cold or hot) after it is cured. Diana loves it hot smoked quickly till cooked (I use my wok for that) and served with a simple slaw, crostini and a sour cream/mayo sauce. Yet another way to take the cured salmon to the next level is to brush it with a glaze of molasses and sprinkle it with a mixture of caraway, pepper and coriander. This makes a unique pastrami salmon!

This time around, I borrowed an idea from Jamie Oliver where he cures salmon using a mixture that includes beets and horseradish. The fish had that crazy funky red color from the beets when he prepared it and it just sounded like a good idea. To actually prepare it though I used the proportions from a Grapefruit-Cured Salmon in the Modernist Cuisine books. They use grapefruit zest, lemon zest and juniper. I just eliminated the grapefruit and kept the lemon and juniper. The copper river salmon I used had an amazing color when done curing and all the flavors worked great. I could taste everything, from the citrus zest to the earthy beets.

We ate it for dinner and/or work lunch over about a week period. One way I served it was with some quick lemon-marinated zucchini and red onions. For this dish I made a sauce from pureed chives, cucumbers, yogurt and sour cream.

For another quick dinner I topped home-baked rye bread with the salmon, added some pickled pearl onions and drizzled with whatever was left of that cucumber-chive-yogurt sauce.

Labor Day Bocks and Brats

We were in San Antonio this past weekend, so I did not have much time to prepare a full-fledged barbecue spread. San Antonio was a fun close getaway with the family and as usual we had a great meal at Dough Pizzeria Napolitana (might be one of the best of it’s kind in the country) and way too much ice cream at Justin’s and Amy’s. Anyways, back at home by Monday Labor Day, what I did have is some good homemade sausage. So I took out a pack of Bratwurst and the last couple of Bockwurst packs I had. Both sausages are made with a mixture of pork and veal. They also both include dairy and eggs. The Bockwurst includes more onions and more pepper, the brats have a more uniform emulsified texture not unlike that of a hot dog. The Bockwurst were cooked (poached) before freezing so they needed nothing more than grilling to heat up and crisp the casing. The brats were raw, so they were cooked sous vide at 61 C for about an hour before grilling and crisping.

I did go through the trouble of making some proper buns that will stand up to the wieners and not fall apart. I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A few of these were topped with poppy seeds and the rest baked plain. The buns turned out perfect for the substantial sausages. To serve them, I made a some sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Other accompaniments included a few different mustards and some pickled pepperoncini peppers. That was such a fantastic meal for so little work.

Pheasant Terrine

Making terrines is such a satisfying process. I love every aspect of it. I start by selecting the meat, in this case it’s the meat from two pheasants that a friend shot in Kansas. Next is figuring out what kind of terrine this is going to be. It could be very coarsely ground (or hand chopped), homogenous, smooth and spreadable (making it a Paté), or, as is the case here somewhere in between. I reserved the breast halves from one of the pheasants and ground up all the rest along with pork back fat and a host of flavorings and spices.

The recipe is based on a formula in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. I also usually reference Time Life series’ Patés, Terrines and Galantines for ideas and inspiration. The reserved pheasant breast became the inlay in the terrine. For more textural variation and definition I mixed in some blanched pistachios and finely diced bacon. We feasted on this for a couple of dinners and a few lunches at work with several condiments like mustard and chutney and ALWAYS…cornichons.

Over 60 lbs of Sausage

At least twice a year I get together with a few friends and we make a bunch of sausage. We make 3 or 4 varieties usually. This time we made the largest batch yet, about 62 lbs of them. It was a two-day fest of grinding, stuffing and feasting. We made four varieties this time around:

– Italian Sausage with Basil and Rosemary

– Toulouse Sausage with Herbs and White Wine

– Hatch Chile Sausage with Cilantro, Lime and Queso Fresco

– Chicken Shawarma Sausage (Chicken meat and pork fat with shawarma flavors – white wine, lemon, cardamom, allspice,…)

The first day we do all the cutting, seasoning, grinding and mixing.

These were our dinner. Accompanied with baked potatoes, broccolini, mushrooms in Marsala and a few slices of Cotechino. Light stuff…

Day two is when we stuff and portion out all the sausage.

Till next time

Chicken Faux Gras

Truth be told I am not a huge fan of chicken liver. It’s more of a texture thing than taste. I do not like that grainy mouthfeel most chicken liver (like chopped liver) preparations have. When I cook it, it’s usually part of a bigger picture, like dirty rice. When chicken liver is the star of the dish I go above and beyond to make it as smooth as possible. One example is Tuscan chicken liver crostini from Mario Batali’s “Babbo” cookbook. He only instructs us to puree it in the food processor and I think he values the slightly chunky texture. When I make that, I puree the hell out of it and even pass it through a sieve to get a silky smooth texture.

This recipe takes chicken liver mousse to an even higher level. It’s from Michel Richard’s immensely useful book, “Happy in the Kitchen“. Richard gives it the name of “Faux Gras”, an allusion to the expensive, luxurious and wonderful fattened duck or goose liver. I had to give it a try to see how close to its namesake it really is. My intention was to try some on its own and to attempt to quickly sear a cube of it to see if that would work. Well, I never got to the second part of my experiment, we just ate the whole thing up over a period of a few days!

To get to that smooth and rich texture that real foie gras has, Richard purees in a blender chicken livers with a mixture of sautéed onions, cream, and loads of butter. This creates a stable emulsion that is then passed through a sieve to remove any impurities and “graininess” from the “liver shake” (ewww…liver shake). The mixture is baked in a low oven in a bain marie (tub of water) like a custard until set. The liver is then chilled and covered with a parsley gelee. The gelee is made from pureed cucumber, gelatin, lemon juice and lots of parsley. In addition to looking very neat and tasting great it also helps seal the liver and slow down oxidation and discoloration.

The result? As I mentioned earlier, we never got around to test if I can quickly sear a cube of the stuff in a further imitation of foie gras (I guess I need to make it again to test that out). So it was good, very good. Even Diana who does not like chicken liver ate a plate and enjoyed it very much. Does it taste like foie gras? not really. I still think it tastes like chicken liver, but the fatty smooth texture and the subtle seasoning make this one heck of a special chicken liver mousse. To serve it, I just accompanied it with various sweet, tart and spicy condiments like balsamic vinegar, fig confit, cranberry chutney, Zuni pickled prunes, Pommery mustard and homemade bread.