Sous Vide Corned Beef and Great Colcannon

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For St. Patrick’s Day we had corned beef and cabbage. Not the stinky slow cooker pot of meat and mushy vegetables, but some awesome home-cured perfectly cooked beef with “The Best” Colcannon. making corned beef from scratch is time consuming but pretty easy to do. I used the recipe and process from ChefSteps.com and it all starts with the brisket. I trimmed it a bit and left about a 1/4 inch fat on the beef. The process is very similar to pastrami, really identical except for the smoke part.

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I made a brine with water, sugar, salt and a boat load of spices (coriander, mace, bay, star anise…) The cure also has pink salt or cure #1 which is Sodium Nitrite. This is essential for the proper color and flavor of cured products like corned beef. The brisket sat in the brine for about a week. Really 9 days would have been better since it had a very small dime size center piece that the cure did not get to in time, but I wanted to cook it for St. Patrick’s weekend so it got rubbed with more spices and into a vacuum bag it went.

Red Potatoes

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I cooked it at 63 C for 48 hours. The brisket, roughly half of a full one actually, was too big. So, I had it bagged in two bags and cooked them both. That was a good idea because now I have a nice ready to eat corned beef chunk in the freezer. I had two options for serving the beef, a classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on homemade rye bread. The other option was with a nice helping of Colcannon.

Colcannon is a traditional humble Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. I like most versions, even those that have the whole thing mixed together into a lovely mess. This time I tried Letie’s Culinaria Best Colcannon recipe, adapted from the book, Victuals by Ronni Lundy. Judging by this recipe I might have to get me a copy of Lundy’s book.

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The red potatoes are cooked separately and mashed skin on with butter and cream. Where the recipe shines is with the cabbage and the addition of kale. They are cooked with plenty of onions, butter, spices, beer and broth until perfectly cooked. To serve, I mounded the potatoes in a bowl and topped it with the cabbage mixture. Thick slices of moist corned beef went on top and a pint of Guinness stout on the side. A perfect and comforting dinner.

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Lowcountry Hoppin’ John and Cotechino

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Cotechino with lentils is the classic, but in the American south eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is the tradition. So, here the Hoppin’ John stands in for the lentils and a mighty fine stand-in it is too.

Making Hoppin’ John is not difficult but it does pay to have a solid recipe to follow and a good set of ingredients, namely the peas and rice. Ever since seeing chef Sean Brock on the excellent PBS show “The Mind of A Chef” and then reading through his book, Heritage, I have been ordering various grains and legumes from Anson Mills. The Sea Island Red Peas from them are as delicious as they are beautiful and they are great in Brock’s recipe for Lowcountry  Hoppin’ John.

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I soaked the peas overnight in water before cooking them in homemade ham stock along with chopped carrots, onions, celery, a jalapeno, thyme and bay leaves. They simmer until tender and really hold on to their shape. A cup or so is removed and blended with butter to make a red pea gravy. This gravy stays separate and gets seasoned with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. At service time the Hoppin’ John is dolled out into bowls with rice and the gravy gets added to each bowl as needed. It’s a very comforting and delicious bowl of food and just feels very nutritious. Yeah, I know, “feels nutritious” is a pretty silly term…but well, not sure how else to describe it. It just does….and I can describe it any damn way I want on my little blog anyways.

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Now, onto the rice. It’s Carolina Gold rice also from Anson Mills. It has a lovely nutty flavor and good texture. I followed Brock’s instructions to cook it as well. First I boiled it in plenty of water like pasta until barely cooked. I drained it, spread it in a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 300 F. I dried it for about 10 minutes, dotted it with butter and gave it a stir. After another 5 minutes or so the excess moisture was gone and the rice was perfectly cooked. The grains were cooked through with a slight toothsome texture and separate.

cotechino

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I made the sausages the day before. I rarely make them the exact same way every year. This time I based them on a recipe from the Napa butcher shop called The Fatted Calf and their book, In the Charcuterie. I’ve been cooking them sous vide for a while as well. I did a side by side this year though just to see if anything is gained by cooking the sausage in a pot of water in the oven at a low temp. Well, sous vide wins. The one that went in the oven lost a whole lot more volume and was not as evenly cooked as the sous vide ones. It was not bad by any means but I will be sticking with using my precision cooker for upcoming Cotechino cooks. 

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Terrine de Tête de Cochon

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A pig’s head, or half of one as I have here, is not a pretty thing. No matter what the great Fergus Henderson says a whole roasted half of a pig head is not a romantic meal for two. Most find it unappetizing and gnarly. I get it. It is however delicious. To get to that deliciousness and remove the ugliness we make a lovely terrine with it and if I was serving this at a restaurant, I’d give it a cool French-y name like the title of this post, Terrine de Tete de Cochon as opposed to jellied pig head (or worse, Headcheese!). Everyone ate this at my house from Diana to the kids and enjoyed it.

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I have several recipes for a pig head terrine in my books. It also goes by Brawn in the UK and Headcheese. The process is similar no matter what the recipe is. The main variation is in the spicing and flavoring. The process involves boiling the head in flavored liquid, removing and chopping the meat/skin and packing the seasoned mixture into a loaf or terrine pan to set. I decided to follow the instructions in Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits. She includes two recipes in the book, one she calls for the uninitiated and includes carrots in it with very little “challenging bits” like skin and snout. The other is the more hardcore, or “advanced”, one with those bits and no carrots.

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The picture for the one with carrots looked very cool and I figured the vegetables will make this rich terrine even more appealing. So, I went somewhere in the middle and used a combination of both recipes. I included plenty of skin and such but also made sure to cut up the carrots from the cooking stock and include them.

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The first step here is to brine the pig’s head in a spiced brine for three of days. It is then cooked it in a big pot of water along with split pork trotters, herbs, spices, lemon, aromatics and peeled carrots. The stock is saved for the next step and the meat gets picked off the bone. I cut up all the meat, skin, ear and set it aside.

I clarified the reserved stock the traditional way following McLagan’s instructions as opposed to using Agar. It’s good to practice the classic techniques every so often and I believe the classic method reserves more of the gelatin in the stock and that’s essential to ensuring the dish sets properly. So I stirred the stock with egg whites and minced vegetables and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the protein in the egg white coagulate it glues together all the minced vegetables and forms a raft on the surface that filters any impurities from the liquid and clarifies it. The liquid is then gently strained through cheesecloth. It is pretty much crystal clear and has an awesome full flavor.

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I mixed the meat with the carrots, tarragon, chives, parsley, red wine vinegar and the clear bouillon. After adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper I packed the meat in a plastic wrap lined terrine pan.After an overnight rest in the fridge, the terrine is ready to go. It is set and very firm.

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I sliced it up and plated it with mustard, pickled okra and cornichons. The bright carrots really are a nice touch for both color and flavor. The meat was balanced and had a terrific texture. I will cut the the meat into much smaller pieces next time around to get better and more compact slices from the terrine. We snacked on this for several days and I vacuum packed and froze a piece. I’m curious how it holds up, especially if I am to bread it and pan fry it.

 

Historic Heston: The Meat Fruit Mandarin

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Historic Heston is chef Heston Blumenthal’s tome to historic British recipes. It is really a gorgeous book, hefty and lushly bound, illustrated and photographed. Chef has been fascinated by old recipes dating as far back as the 14th century that he finds in old British cookery (cookery, love that word for some reason!) books. He then extensively researches them, updates them and most end up on his menu at his restaurant Dinner in London.

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Meat Fruit is probably one of the most famous of such dishes. Curious about other recipes with fascinating names? How about Powdered Goose or Sambocade or Taffety Tart? Well, back to the Meat Fruit, a name that Diana hates even if she loved the actual dish. The idea here is to make mandarin that when sliced into appears to be not a fruit at all. It’s an orb of rich chicken liver mousse with a “skin” made of orange. This is the only such recipe that Blumenthal provides for Meat Fruit but he does mention other variations like a sausage mixture made to look like grapes or apples.

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It’s a relatively easy process to make the mandarins once the chicken liver parfait is prepared and piped into hemisphere molds. The molds are frozen solid and each two hemispheres are then combined to form a neat sphere. Each sphere is wrapped tight and put back in the freezer waiting for the next step.

Mandarin Puree

To make the “skin” of the mandarin I combined a mixture of mandarin puree, gelatin (a whole lot of gelatin sheets), glucose and a touch of paprika for color. I made my own mandarin puree by cooking several of the quartered fruit (peel and all) Sous Vide until they were soft. I blitzed them in the blender to make a smooth puree. I put the frozen parfait spheres on skewers and used that to dip them into the mandarin jelly two times.

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After every dip in the mix the spheres went into the fridge to set for a few minutes. I do think maybe my jelly was a bit thicker than Blumenthal intended. My mandarins’ skin came out a bit thicker than it should be. At this point the chicken liver mandarins need to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the parfait can thaw and soften for service. The final touch, right before serving is to put a small twig into each “fruit” to give it a nice realistic look.

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Twigs

The finished meat fruit look very convincing and just damn cool. These are not just gimmicks though. I’ve already talked about how delicious the chicken liver parfait is and now with the sharp citrusy mandarin skin it is a complete package. I toasted some good bread (sourdough and brioche), rubbed the slices with herb oil and cut into the Meat Fruit. I cannot think of too many appetizers as impressive as this. It’s a dish that has a rich history, it looks stunning, it’s whimsical and simply delicious.

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Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

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The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

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This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

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Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

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I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

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Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

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I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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Coppa

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The process to make a Coppa is very easy with the biggest challenge being actually locating a Coppa. The way meat is cut and butchered in the US pretty much ensures that this cut is never left whole. It gets sliced through with the rest of the shoulder-Boston butt of the pig. This means that your best best is to procure a large whole chunk of bone-in pork shoulder and then do the butchering yourself to harvest the Coppa. The last couple of times I’ve done this the pork shoulders from the butcher counter at the Whole Foods store had been perfect. There are several online videos and pictorials showing the location and method of removing the Coppa like this clear video or check out Jason Molinari’s pictures here. It’s a thick cylindrical muscle that is relatively easy to see when you have a whole shoulder piece from the butt end (i:e the end closer to the loin not the end closer to the leg) of the shoulder.Coppa-Potatoes2

To remove the muscle in one piece just follow the seam, that’s why this style of butchering meat is called seam butchery and trim it a bit to get a semi even shape. I used the process and recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to salt and cure the meat. They recommend the “salt box” method. I put a generous amount of kosher salt in a dish and rolled the meat thoroughly in the salt. Then the meat went into a FoodSaver bag along with thyme, bay, peppercorns and juniper. I vacuum sealed it and let it cure for a couple of days in the fridge. I then removed the meat, rinsed it off and dried it well before rolling it in a bit of spice (fennel and black pepper coarsely ground). Now the waiting starts. I tied the meat and hung it in my little wine cooler (That’s my makeshift curing “chamber”) until it lost 30% of it’s weight. That took exactly two months.

By then it was firm throughout and covered with a thin layer of good powdery white mold. The mold is something I sprayed the meat with when I hung it to dry. It is not strictly required but I like to use it when I have it. It is very similar to the stuff you see on the outside of a Brie cheese. The mold helps keep any undesirable bacteria away (just in case) and helps keep the meat from losing too much humidity.

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I could’ve sliced the meat right then, but since controlling the humidity in the wine cooler is a bit tricky the meat had a little bit of surface dryness. Meaning the outside is a bit too hard and would be drier than the interior. To balance the moisture in the meat, I vacuum sealed it and allowed it to sit in the fridge for about 9 days. This helps the humidity to equalize in the meat and softens the surface. Now it was perfectly ready.

How to serve it? That is not a problem. We’ve been enjoying it mostly as is, thinly sliced with good bread and little else. It does go good with a few shards of medium sharp cheese like Manchego. Sometimes I do like something a bit more…composed like these two examples.

Coppa with Warm Potato Salad and Olives

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This one is straight from the Zuni Cookbook. Warm potato salad with plenty of olive oil, parsley and olives. It matters a lot that the potato be warm here since just slightly softens the Coppa giving it a lovely texture.

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Coppa with a salad of Nectarines, Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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The salad of mozzarella, nectarines, tomatoes and basil from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite was the kids favorite salad this summer. It’s  just a rif on a Caprese salad of course but the addition of juice nectarines just elevates it. Adding salty savory Coppa was a natural fit here.

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