Wild Boar Loin, Puy Lentils and Apple-Port Sauce

 

It’s amazing how I manage to find more boar meat in my deep freezer overtime I look in there. I still have a couple of loins, some shoulders and maybe two hind (ham) legs. I see some boar sausage in my future, maybe Italian or Greek flavored…or some of each…we’ll see. Anyways, I took a package labeled boar loin from the freezer and what I thought was one whole loin was in fact more like a couple of pieces from two loins. Either way, the loins were too thin (think half the diameter of a pork TENDERloin) for what I wanted to do, so I knew I will be using some Activa, aka meat glue, to make a nice sized piece of meat.

I am currently in the middle of reading/studying the Modernist Cuisine collection of books and it is very much like drinking from a fire hose. There is so much information in there that deciding what to read and what to start with is a little intimidating. I figured I’ll look through the 70+ page index for pork and see if they have anything interesting I can use as an inspiration for the boar loins. The recipe for a leek-wrapped pork tenderloin fit the bill, but I did not follow it exactly since I did not have the time (Though I love the idea of using Activa to bind leeks that have been steamed with gelatin onto pork tenderloin). I just used the brine ratios from that recipe and added star anise to mine. Then I dusted the boar loins with Activa RM and wrapped them tightly into a cylinder shape along with thyme springs and garlic slivers. Using the Modernist Cuisine tables as a guide (those would be in volume 2 and in the Kitchen Manual as well), I cooked the meat sous vide and then seared it in grapeseed oil.

To serve it I boiled up some French Puy lentils and dressed them with sautéed leeks, a bit of cream and red wine vinegar. For the sauce, I cooked a cut up tart apple with port and beef stock. The stock is also a Modernist Cuisine recipe made in the pressure cooker and also includes port as a base flavor. When I got the exact flavor I wanted for the sauce, instead of reducing it to the proper consistency and risk it loosing its balance, I just thickened it with a very small amount of Xanthan gum. The gum has no taste and, if used correctly (less than 0.5% by weight of the sauce), makes a smooth perfectly thickened sauce and leaves no flavor of its own.

Alinea: PORK, Grapefruit, Sage, Honey

This Alinea dish combines some classic combinations in a more or less classic presentation. It’s basically a pork with polenta dish with a few twists…and grapefruit. Why not though? The grapefruit is tart, sweet and a little bitter. That makes for a great counterpoint to the pork, rich cornbread pudding and the honey that is drizzled on the plated food.

I made the sage pudding first, a week or so before I actually needed it. It’s a typical Alinea “pudding” made with Agar, where the sage leaves are steeped in hot water with a little sugar and then the mixture is set with Agar and then pureed in the blender for a pudding-like texture. I had made a mental note a while back to make the next such pudding with Gellan instead of Agar for a change, but I suppose I must’ve lost that “note”. Next time I will try it with Gellan. As it stands this was a good sauce for the dish, it was slightly sweet with a big sage flavor and a good smooth texture.

For the cornbread puree, I first made the cornbread. I’m pretty sure any cornbread recipe will do in this component, but I went ahead and did the book’s recipe. On it’s own it is not such a great cornbread, probably because it uses a lot of white wheat flour in it. the texture is a bit firm and the taste slightly bland. However, to finish it up, the bread gets crumbled and pureed in a good dose of butter and cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. That makes for a rich polenta-like product that is quiet delicious. I chose not to make the puree in my blender (I hate washing it) and instead used the stick blender. That worked ok, but I did not get the good emulsion and smooth puree I would’ve achieved with a powerful blender.

Alinea uses two cuts of pork here and cooks them in very different ways. The pork shoulder gets bagged with oil and cooked SV for 5 hours at about 180F until it’s very tender. I used  a small piece of boar shoulder instead that I salted a day beforehand and bagged it with some bacon fat. I needed to cook it for more like 6 hours to get it to the proper texture and I still think it needed a bit more time. The meat gets shredded into strings then deep fried in loose disks right before it is served.

The other cut of pork is a pork tenderloin. This one I also salted ahead of time then rolled into a cylinder and cooked sous vide at 137F for about 30 minutes. The pork gets cooked to a perfect pink medium. I went ahead and quick seared it in clarified butter to give it a bit more flavor and variation before slicing. It came out perfectly cooked and looked as good as it tasted.

The last few components of the dish were caramelized fennel strips (fennel rounds browned in butter and then cut into strips), grapefruit segments, fennel fronds and small sage leaves. Right before serving it, the dish gets a small drizzle of honey. That honey goes especially well with the crispy boar shoulder pieces and the corn bread puree. The dish as a whole makes for a refreshing and, at the same time, comforting plate of food. We tried getting a variety of tastes and textures in each forkful, that always makes us appreciate the level of detail involved in these Alinea compositions.

I was having a very nice grapefruit-sage margarita while finishing up the cooking for this dish.

Moose Spanish Meatballs and Vegetable Paella

 

A good friend of mine (same one who was generous with the pheasants), was nice enough to also give me a 2 lb. piece of moose meat. I was not even sure what cut of the huge animal it was, but seemed like a round roast. It felt tough and possibly not suitable for a quick cooking method. Not exactly sure what to do with it, I emailed Hank from honest-food and asked him what he would do. He immediately pointed me to the Swedish moose meatballs recipe he had. Meatballs. That sounded good, but another meatball recipe came to mind. It’s a delicious Spanish recipe from Penelope Casas’ book “Tapas”. Last time I made this recipe was for the World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands and it was a big hit.

Since we had friends coming over for dinner, I decided to make a meal out of the meatballs and accompany them with another Spanish dish (more on that in a minute). The meatballs are fairly standard. Mix the meat with garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley and form them into balls. These then get browned in olive oil and the sauce gets made in the same pan. That’s what takes this dish to the next level, that sauce. It’s made from a base of onions, carrots, green onions and a handful of whole garlic cloves. To that I add a mixture beef broth, white wine and almonds all blended to a semi-smooth liquid. The meatballs and some frozen peas simmer in that lovely sauce for a good while until the sauce gets thick and creamy.

Another Penelope Casas recipe that I love, this one from “La Cocina de Mama“, is the vegetable paella. Is it still a paella if it does not have saffrom? Casas does use saffron in this dish, but I think it works better without it. I love the saffron in meat or seafood paellas, but in this one it just takes over the mild vegetable flavors. So, I usually omit it and up the smoked paprika amount plus adding a small pinch of turmeric  for color. It’s a delicious dish on it’s own or as a fodder for those fantastic meatballs.

For dessert, we had a version of Thomas Keller’s shortcakes from “The French Laundry Cookbook” with my version of a mixed berry ice cream, vanilla creme fraiche sauce and chopped strawberries.

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.

Wild Boar Loin with Onions and Raisins

It’s great to have what amounts to about three small wild hogs worth of meat in my freezer at this point. That includes several shoulders, a few hind legs (hams), 3 or 4 loins and some odds and ends. I am planning to use the meat in many recipes that call for good old pork. Wild boar is leaner and a little tougher than domesticated piggies but with some attention to cooking time and other details that should be no problem at all.

Paula Wolfert has several rustic recipes in her “Meditteranean Clay Pot Cooking” for pork and wild boar. That’s where this recipe comes from. It’s a pork loin, roasted on a bed of onions and raisins in a clay pot and flavored with vin de noix (homemade fortified green walnut wine), fennel and garlic. To marinate the meat I pounded together a mixture of garlic, fennel, sage and salt. I also added some lemon juice for acidity and flavor and marinated the wild boar loin for a longer period of time than the recipe specifies (about 8 hours as opposed to 1).

For the onion mixture, I sliced them thinly and mixed them with vin de noix, red wine vinegar and salt. These were then baked with raisins in a clay cazuela until translucent. I am not sure what the end result is supposed to look like, but the onions never really softened up and caramelized. Instead they were  more of pickled and a bit crisp and the whole mixture is sort if like an intense chutney. The marinated meat goes on top of the onion mixture and then back to the oven to roast until it reaches an internal temp of 145 F. I served the dish with potato cakes made with boiled mashed yukon gold potatoes, eggs, parsley and chives then pan fried till crispy. The meat turned out great, juicy and mild. It was perfect with the tangy onion-raisin relish and the soft and crispy potato cakes.

Pasta alla Chitarra with Venison-Pear Ragu

 

My brother was kind enough to carry this Chitarra all the way from some small Italian town. Apparently it was quiet a chore to locate a Chitarra even in Italy. So thanks to him and to my cousin (who actually paid for it) I get to make Pasta alla Chitarra. For the dough I went with my usual and traditional recipe using 1 egg for 100 gr of flour. I already knew I was going to serve it with a rich and gamey, albeit not traditional, ragu. With that in mind I mixed the flour a bit and used some semolina and some whole wheat in addition to the all-purpose flour. This gave the noodles a very good texture and flavor.

The dough is rolled a little bit thicker than normal (to setting 5 on the pasta machine). Then the sheets of dough get cut and stretched a bit more on the chitarra’s strings. So we end up with slightly thick perfectly rectangular noodles.

The ragu recipe is straight from Marc Vetri’s “Il Viaggio Di Vetri” book. First I made a sausage with venison and wild hog meat along with a host of spices and thyme. That is then cooked with red wine, water and parmesan rinds for a couple of hours to make a rich ragu. Towards the end of the cooking time, thinly sliced pears are sautéed and added to the sauce. It’s an excellent combination of flavors with the fruit working very well with the rich and slightly funky sausage.

Porcini Pheasant, Creamed Corn, Carrot-Orange Sauce

I have cooked pheasant a couple of times before and was always underwhelmed. I hear wild pheasant is a different animal and is delicious, but this farm-raised, store-bought bird is always ho-hum. The legs are tough and stringy with numerous little tendons/bones and the breast meat seems to dry out very fast even though it does have a deeper flavor than a run-of-the-mill chicken. This time I treated the breasts and legs very differently. For the legs I removed the thigh bone and painstakingly removed every string, tendon and skinny bone from the drumstick (but left the main femur there) while keeping the whole quarter in one piece. A pain in the ass that was. Then I seasoned the leg quarters with salt, cayenne, pepper, thyme and bay. I placed them in a bowl of buttermilk and let them cure overnight. the next day we had them fried after a quick dredge in flour. These were pretty good with an eggplant puree. Unfortunately, my camera settings were all screwed up and I have no decent pictures. On to the breasts.

I seasoned those with salt, pepper and thyme and let them sit overnight as well. Thanks to the very nice folks at Ajinomoto (really friendly, helpful and excellent customer service) I have a good bit of Activa RM (Transglutaminase), aka meat glue. This is an enzyme that binds specific types of proteins together, effectively gluing them. Ever wonder how a certain type of turkey at the deli counter looks like it is in one large uniformly shaped piece? Transglutaminase. I dusted the surface of the meat with a bit of Activa, no more than 8 grams or so, and then rolled it into a tight log using plastic wrap. The pheasant log went back to the fridge for the Activa to set, about 6 hours. To cook it, I sealed it in a FoodSaver bag and cooked it en sous vide for about 2 hours at  146 F.

The pheasant was cooked just in time to be plated. To finish it I borrowed an idea from Marc Vetri in his book “Il Viaggio di Vetri” and coated the cooked pheasant with a mixture of olive oil and dried porcini powder. He uses this method to cook halibut and serves it with a blueberry sauce. Then I gently pan cooked the meat for a few minutes over medium heat. The smell was amazing and the porcini really gave the seasoned pheasant a wonderful flavor kick. The enzyme bound the two breast halves perfectly and the slices were neat and efficient. More importantly the meat was cooked perfectly and was not dry. I did not want to throw away the pheasant  skin, so I had it seasoned just like the breasts and for the same amount of time. Then I baked the skin at 400 F sandwiched between parchment lined baking sheets until it got golden and crispy.

The pheasant was good, but the component that I cannot wait to make again here is the creamed corn. The recipe for that is straight from “The French Laundry” cookbook and it is utterly delicious. Too often is creamed corn made the butt end of jokes. It can be soupy, mushy, loaded with salt and cream. Here is how to elevate this humble dish to pure sweet corn heaven. All that is needed is fresh corn, a little butter and salt. No cream included at all, yet the end result is smooth, creamy and full of corn flavor. The secret is using corn juice. More than half of the fresh corn kernels was pureed in a blender and then strained to yield corn juice. The remaining kernels were blanched in boiling water and cooled. To finish the dish, the corn juice gets heated and because of its starch content it thickens to the consistency of whipping cream. The last step is to add the corn kernels, butter and seasoning. That’s it for the best and most addictive creamed corn.

The sauce is based on a recipe from Michel Richard’s book “Happy in the Kitchen” where he uses it in a squab dish. It consists of fresh carrot juice, orange juice, ginger and cut up peach. I used a very flavorful nectarine that I had on hand instead of the peach. I also decided the sauce was a bit too sharp for the rest of the dish and rounded it out with a couple of tablespoons of butter that I whisked in right before plating.

I wanted to garnish the finished dish with clusters of Enoki mushrooms but as luck would have it I could not find any Enoki that day and went with asparagus. I blanched the spears in salted water and quickly cooled them in ice water. I only wanted the top two inches here, so I trimmed that off the stalks (used the stalks for an excellent risotto the next day). Right before service, I finished cooking the asparagus tips in a warm butter emulsion (beurre monte). The other garnish was the crispy and delicious pheasant crackling.