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Posts Tagged ‘charcutepalooza’

“You have made bacon.  You are like unto God,” said my friend, Chris.

“Oh my God, this bacon is obscene,” said another.

I even received the offer of being my cabana boy in exchange for a hookup of cured pork belly.

I think Kelis got it wrong:  it ain’t milkshakes that bring the boys to the yard.

There’s something so primal about seeing those thick ribbons of fat and the lip-smacking expectation of smoky, savory meat.  There’s nothing quite like the flavor profile that bacon adds to a recipe, turning greens into a sturdy side dish, intensifying sweets with its saltiness, and making a Sunday brunch dish memorable.

It is no secret that I love bacon, and learning how to make my own is one of the greatest pieces of knowledge I now have in my repertoire.   To be fair, this is not the first time I’ve made bacon–when Michael Ruhlman posted his instructions on how to home-cure bacon, I absolutely had to do it.  How could I not?  Still, even though I may have had a head start on some other Charcutepaloozers, I found myself making some rookie mistakes.  The first batch I made, I forgot to rinse off the cure before putting it in the smoker leaving the bacon overseasoned.  It was still good, but I was ready to try it again.  With the maple bacon I have pictured, my timing was all wrong.  The day I had planned on smoking my bacon it rained–and foolishly, I didn’t take it out of the cure, but left it in there for a few days longer, until I was ready to fire up the smoker.  Another rookie mistake:  not letting the bacon dry out and form a pellicle (a tacky ‘skin’ that forms on the meat which helps provide a surface that will hold on to the smoke flavor and also helps seal the meat to keep it from drying out) before smoking.  The bacon is fine enough, but I think the third time will be a charm:  no overcuring, rinsing off the cure, and giving the bacon a day to form a pellicle–got it.

But, if we’re really going to talk about something awesome, let’s talk about the pancetta.  If I got anything right this time around, it was the pancetta.  I followed the instructions to the letter, poking the curing belly every other day, and laughing with Choo as we struggled to tie the roll properly.  I have been so thrilled with how it turned out that I’ve been sharing the goodness with everyone to the point where I now only have a few ounces left.  This past Saturday, I found myself cutting pieces out to all my dinner guests to take home–because cured pork belly is pretty darn close to love under this roof.   I have been using it in bits and pieces with my CSA greens–chard, collards and kale have all got the pancetta treatment, and Kiddo approves heartily.

I didn’t come up with a special recipe this time around, as I wanted to pull up some of my favorite bacon recipes I’ve posted before:

Chard Gratin with Bacon & Chevre

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

The Bacon, Cheddar & Cornmeal Waffle

Bacon Maple Shortbread

 

I’m pretty sure I’m never going to buy bacon again.

 

 

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Remember just ten days ago, I took apart a duck, preparing its pieces for several things:  skin and fat to be rendered, legs to be made into confit, and breasts to pack in salt and hang to dry for prosciutto.   The ten days are over for the prosciutto: one full day packed in salt, nine to hang and dry.  The wait was a trial of patience, but rife with breast jokes:  taking pictures of my breasts to put up on Facebook, squeezing my breasts to check them daily and how tired I was of having my breasts just hang around like that.  But, this wait paid off:  today was the day to try my first bite of duck prosciutto, and it was such a wonderful surprise; the fat is buttery, the meat rich and full of that delightful duck flavor.   I mean, there is no pretending that this is anything other than duck:  it is duck intensified, and it is a good thing.

Other than making dirty jokes over the past ten days, I began to wonder what exactly I’d be doing with the prosciutto when it was finished.  Yes, yes, we’d be eating it–that’s a given–but man does not live by meat alone, no matter just how good it is.  My mind drifted to dates and how that particular luscious sweetness of a date would pair well with the salty richness that I was expecting (rightly so) from the finished product.  Throw in a creamy cheese filling and pistachios, a natural complement to duck;  a little citrus to add a bit of acidity to lighten the overall flavor profile, and I was sure to have a winner.

These scream to be eaten along with a glass of a bold Zinfandel or Merlot–in fact, if I was doing a wine tasting, these would definitely be one of the appetizers I’d serve.  They’re perfectly bite-size, but they pack a ton of flavor.

Note:  depending on the size of your dates, especially if you’re using high-quality Medjool dates, you may need to use two slices of the prosciutto to wrap them entirely.

Duck Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Dates

  • 1 1/2 ounces Chevre
  • 1 1/2 ounces Mascarpone
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 12 dates, preferably Medjool
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped
  • 12 slices duck prosciutto (or more as needed)
  1. In a stand mixer, beat cheeses with orange zest and juice until smooth.  Set aside, or fill pastry bag for easy stuffing.
  2. Cut dates lengthwise to remove pit;  pipe or spoon in cheese filling.
  3. Place chopped pistachios on a small plate, press the exposed cheese filling towards the nuts to create a coating of pistachios.
  4. Wrap stuffed date with slices of duck prosciutto and secure with toothpick.

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To kick my butt into gear for blogging this year, I signed up for the Charcutepalooza challenge created by Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy.  I mean, let’s face it, I love meat.  I also love sugar, fresh berries, heavy cream, caramel, rainy days and Mel Brooks movies–but that’s beside the point.  As I start moving into a different way of eating–sharply reducing my consumption of processed foods (not that I was eating that many at this point), grains and refined sugars, I needed to re-evaluate what I was cooking and writing up here, too.  Sure, I’ll still make the occasional baked goodie because I’ll never stop loving the smell of something baking in the oven, but in the few changes I’ve made in the past few months, my health has turned around for the better–nearly 30 pounds lost, cholesterol and blood sugar down–the numbers don’t lie.

ANYWAY, back to what I’m doing for 2011:  Making Meat.  Or, more specifically, making meat products.  Charcuterie, the art of curing, smoking and otherwise preserving meat, was a class I barely paid attention to while in culinary school.  I’m serious–I was all about the pastries, and why in the world should I know how to make duck confit?  If I had a time machine, I’d go and kick myself in the pants for feeling that way.  I’m making up for lost time here, and along with over 100 other food bloggers, I’ll be reading, learning and cooking (three of my favorite things) out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.

First up is January’s challenge:  Duck Prosciutto.  It’s really not a difficult task; it’s a simple salt cure and 8 days of hanging to dry.  The challenge here is being in Southern California where the temperatures as of late have been in the 80′s, and the duck requires temperatures in the 50-60° range.   I fixed this by finding a mini-fridge off of Craigslist (which will serve as the Poker Night Beer Fridge when it’s not curing meat), that I will fidget with until I can get it to do what I want.

The next challenge I put upon my own head:  butchering a whole duck.  I’ll say it now:  I haven’t handled a duck since school, where I have this vague memory of making a Duck Galantine with Pistachios, thinking, who the hell eats this nowadays? I have no problem taking apart a whole chicken, but I was feeling a little intimidated:

I only need the breasts for Prosciutto, but that leaves the rest of the duck.  I decided that the legs would go into a Confit, all the skin and fat trimmings would be rendered for their fat, and the rest of the carcass would be used for stock.  In the end, nothing was tossed out but a few bone fragments from my hack job of butchering.  Otherwise, I was able to use the whole duck which made me feel a little proud of myself for not being wasteful.

I started with kitchen shears, and first cut off the wings and removed backbone, popping out the leg joints as I approached them–this made the removal of the legs very easy.  My biggest worry came when it was time to detach the breasts from the rib cage–I never do a very good job of it with chicken, but it ended up being easier than I thought.

The breasts came off with a flick of the boning knife and a little pull.

The line up:  the ceramic dish that will hold the breasts smothered in salt, which I didn’t bother to take a picture–it’s a dish that looks full of salt; my not-too-horrible-for-10-years-out cuts of duck; the pot of fat and skin to be rendered.  Not pictured:  everything else, which was in the stockpot, simmering away.

After packing the breasts in the salt, I started on the legs:

They’re seasoned with salt, pepper, clove, garlic, orange zest and a lone juniper berry.  Those will sit in the fridge for a few days as is, until it’s time to cover them in duck fat and poach them for hours.  I’m really not sure what I’m more excited about, the prosciutto or the confit!  I’m hoping to change Choo’s mind about duck–he’s not much of a dark meat guy, but I think he’ll enjoy what comes out of this.

Come back in about 10 days when I’m able to talk about the finished products!

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