Makin’ Bacon 2

Makin’ Bacon 2

After the success of Makin Bacon and then being raided by the kids, we needed more.   The pork belly  was a bit more difficult to procure than we had envisioned.  Pork belly can be hard to find in retail establishments on a regular basis. Locally: Panos, a few butcher shops and even Costco had none. When were in Oregon last month Colin and Jean took us to a great restaurant supply place which had some, but it was not likely to survive the trip back to Wisconsin.   So we kept looking…  On our last trip to Costco, I stopped to ask the butcher and he showed me where it was hidden (under the pork loins).   So we bought 2 packages and happily headed home with 20 pounds of pork belly.

 This lead to  Batch 2

This was started 6/30/18 and using the same curing mix as we had previously used, we had:

15 lbs  in 3×5 lb slabs with 75g of cure blend  each

5lb slab with 80 g cure blend  plus  2 tsp Penzey’s BBQ3000 and 1Tbsp crushed black pepper

These went into the garage fridge for a week  in the covered with Saran wrap in the crisper drawers and were then turned once per day. At the end (day 6),  they were pulled out, rinsed and then placed on racks over jelly roll pans for a day in the fridge. This gives the meat a chance to dry on the surface and develop a “pellicle”. The idea here is to dry the surface of the meat a bit so the smoke can penetrate without creating a nasty sooty film.

Smoking

The BGE was set for 220F and the slabs were placed on the 3 tier  rack. At this point I realized that 5 lb slabs were too big for the Large BGE with the 3 tier rack and then had to slice them into smaller sections. Next time I will cut the meat into  3 lb slabs .

These were smoked at 220F for 2.5 hours . The meat was at 150F at  50 minutes and then held more or less . However, once again at the end of the time the fire kept raising despite being damped down and controlled with the  HeaterMeter.   I think that eventually the fat dripping off causes too much combustion to control. So at that point, I pulled the slabs. These were then wiped down with paper towels to remove any excess grease and soot and then placed on racks in the garage fridge to cool for slicing.

Slicing and bagging

We sliced for “normal bacon” thickness.  The slices were stacked and vacuum bagged. Teal insisted that the “spicy” be kept form the “normal” bacon.   However on taste testing she actually liked the BBQ3000 version, but just not for breakfast.

So we have not only another successful batch, but are starting to prove out that the reduced salt and reduced nitrates cure actually works !  The bacon is delicious as proven by frying up samples as we sliced and bagged. The color is great  – nice pink meat.  So I think we have a successful recipe. We will do another batch in a month (or sooner if the kids raid the freezer too much).

20 packages including one of the “ugly bits” which are destined for salads and baked beans.

Next time we will do more of the BBQ3000 version . It is delicious and I can’t wait for the tomatoes to be ready for BLTs.

Lightly Smoked Chicken

The Chicken

It was brutally hot and humid this weekend (at least for Wisconsin, 78-80 F dew point is not my favorite).  So we were looking for something that we could make that did not not require much attention allowing us to retreat to the air conditioned indoors while it cooked.

The goal was to have a brine that was not critical for timing and then to smoke / grill also at a non-critical temp that did not require constant attention in the miserably hot and humid weather.  We chose legs and thighs to provide juiciness and flavor (and the price was right for thigh and leg quarters.).

We prefer to have air chilled chicken that is not already loaded up with a  brine of questionable contents. In our area the Smart Chicken brand fits the bill. By the time we finished, thunderstorms had moved through the area producing a nearly 20 F degree drop in temperature and providing a pleasant evening.

Brine

5 cups cold water

2 lemons quartered, squeezed of juice into the brine and then thrown in

5 TB Mortons Kosher salt. We are aiming for a 5% brine. Other brands will vary a LOT.

3 nice fresh bunches of sage, oregano and thyme. 3-5 stems each . Leaves of the thyme stripped from the stems and the balance chopped finely.

1 tsp fresh coarse ground black pepper

Stir the brine until the salt is disolved

Add the chicken which has been broken down into the primal cuts. Legs are cut from thighs, etc. You want the recognizable pieces that folks will eat with their fingers .

Put the chicken in the brine and refrigerate for 2-12 hours. Remove, pa dry with paper towels and air dry on a rack at room temperature for 30-120 min . This is critical to dry the skin a bit, develop the “pellicle” and avoid sooty chicken.  The chicken will not be in the “danger zone” long enough to worry.

This light 5% brine will not over-salt the chicken so the time is not critical. We did 5 hours for this batch.

Grill

Start the grill / smoker with lump hardwood charcoal.  Add a couple of good sized chunks of a fruitwood just before adding the chicken. We use cherry.

Close the grill vents down so the grill stays at about 275F . Add the chicken on direct heat skin up. After 30-60 min flip and cook for an additional 30-45 min.  Remove and serve. Skin should be nicely bronzed and slightly crispy.  With the relatively low temps the times are not critical. You do have to watch for fat flare ups that may mar the bronzed perfection.

Yum.

 

 

Canadian Bacon

With the low price specials on whole pork loins ($1.99 /lb for 10lbs),  I could no longer resist making some Canadian Bacon (or Back Bacon as they call it up there).  The recipe is based on the one in Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn with some more spices added. I have not yet adjusted the salt and pink salt as this is my first attempt and we generally don’t cook this until browned as we do with Bacon.

Brine

  • 4 liters (2 gallons) water
  • 650 grams kosher or pickling salt
  • 480 grams white sugar
  • 75 grams pink salt / Cure #1
  • 1 TB ground Nutmeg
  • 1 TB ground Allspice
  • 1 TB granulated Garlic
  • 2TB dried Sage
  • 2TB dried Thyme
  • 2 Bay leaves crumbled

I would have used fresh herbs but they are not up yet this spring.

Mix well. Note the salts and sugar are by weight. This is important as the density varies dramatically between types and brands.

Brining

Cut the pork loin in half. Trim off the silverskin and surface fat. This was a 10.5 lb pork loin after trimming.

Submerge in the brine and weight down with a plate or 2. Place in refrigerator for 48 hours. Since I was also doing a batch of Smoked Chicken Legs and Thighs  at the same time, this ended up in the crisper drawer of the garage fridge. This is actually quite convenient.

Cook and taste a sample to check for saltiness.  Slice a couple pieces off the end, rinse and pan fry. At the 36 hour point it was a bit saltier than we like so half the brine was poured off and replaced with water.

At 48 hours Remove, rinse and pat dry. Taste test again.  If OK place back in the fridge uncovered for 12 hours to equalize and from the pellicle.

Smoking

Hot smoke with cherry wood at 230F, until an internal temp of 150 degrees has been held for 30 -60 min. This takes about 4 hours. At this point, it is fully cooked and could be served ready to eat. Ours is slabbed like smoked pork chops and thin sliced for pizza and sandwiches.

The verdict

Delicious. Teal said we may never buy ham again!

 

Multigrain Sourdough

Another variation on the Multigrain Sourdough Boule from the King Arthur Flour website.  Each iteration is improving.

Starter

The night before ,feed the starter using 1/2 c starter , 2 cups flour, 1.5 to 1.75 cups warm water. Cover and rise over night at room temp +.   Our lower oven after baking in the top one is perfect. Using the proof setting of 100F  is actually too warm and the rise is not as nice later.

Ingredients

  • 1.5c KAF Harvest Grains Blend  + 1/4c poppy seeds
  • 1c boiling water
  • 3c fed starter
  • 2c whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 c bread flour
  • 3 TB sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp Instant yeast (I use SAF)

Add the harvest grains to the water and let soak for 20 min

Mix and rise

Mix everything together and let sit for 30 min to hydrate the flour. This is especially important for whole grain flours.  Huge improvement in texture

Knead for 7 min  – Kitchenaid with dough hook and #2 . Mixer will get warm.   Dough will be soft moist, and very sticky

First rise 90 min at 100F in the mixer bowl covered with a hot wet dish towel.

Liberally butter the inside of a dutch oven (including the lid).

After the first rise scrape the dough into the dutch oven. No need to knead. Even out the top. Cover with the wet towel again .

Rise again for 40-60 minutes at 100F until doubled.

Bake

Preheat oven to 425F .

Move to the hot oven and bake covered on convect for 30-35 min.

Uncover and continue baking 10-20 min and check the internal temp. 190F is done.

Remove from oven when done. Rest in pan for 5 min, then turn out onto wire rack.

Eye of Round Roast

Rare Roast Beef sandwiches

Having the ideal tools now in hand I decided to tackle one of the tastier but more difficult cuts of meat to do well. This is the Eye of round.

This bullet shaped piece of meat is extremely lean and has sinewy bands through it. If you are not careful it can end up tough and chewy.

However prepared this way it is tender and delicious. The  secret is in not overcooking the meat and then slicing it extremely thinly . This cuts through the connective tissue and makes for a very tender sandwich without pieces sliding out of the sandwich when you take a bit but cannot easily bite through.

Spice blend

1TB freeze dried shallots (Penzey’s)  – ground in mortar and pestle

1TB Italian Seasoning  – add to the shallots and grind finely

1tsp Penzey’s seasoned salt -4S

2tsp granulated garlic

Cook and serve

Coat the roast with the spice blend and seal in a vacuum bag

Cook sous vide at 136F for 8 hours.  Some recipes call for 24-36 hours

Remove from the bag reserving the juice and pat dry

Sear directly over charcoal with cherry wood chunks. This will give a nice crust in 60-90 seconds per side. Brown all of the sides and the flat end . The browning adds a nice flavor component especially with the seasoning blend used.

Set aside to cool . I placed ours in the freezer for 30 min

Slice thinly. I set the meat slicer to 1.25. The rare meat stays together in nice thin slices and does not crumble as it might with a longer cooking time.

Serve on hard rolls with fried onions and cheese. Teal likes Muenster.  I prefer blue or Montamore with a good mustard.  this is time to break out one of the exotic ones

Store the rest of the meat in a closed container. Add the reserved juice and pack down. This will minimize the oxygen exposure preserving the flavor for 10 days or until gone.

Teal says this is her favorite sous vide recipe so far.

Penzeys spices https://www.penzeys.com/ is a local company with stores across the US.   Truly superior spices and a wonderful  view f public policy.

Makin’ Bacon

Background

We had been searching for a lower nitrate bacon alternative. This is due to the nitrates combining with the meat and forming nitrosamines when cooked at high temperatures (e.g when you cook the bacon until crispy). The so called “uncured” bacons that we had found uses celery juice or extract rather than Sodium Nitrite.  However celery is very rich in naturally occurring nitrates. The uncured bacons with the celery  in many cases have MORE nitrates in them than  than those made with sodium nitrite! See this article where it was quantified. https://www.cooksillustrated.com/ho…/5734-nitrate-free-bacon.

We also prefer a less salty bacon and with a mild smoke flavor such as from apple or cherry.  We have an abundance of cherry wood for smoking.

So I did some research, on the web, bought the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman, and talked to co-workers. Finally, I was confident I could do this and set out to buy some pork belly (where did I see it in a store last?).   After a few false leads I ended up at a small local grocery with its own butcher shop – Panos in Waukesha.  There I procured an 11 lb slab of meaty pork belly – skin on.   I took it home and the skin came off without too much trouble.  I tried making chicharrones but that was a disaster.   However the bacon turned out great!

One of the important things when curing meats is to do everything by weight, not volume. The density of salt can vary by two to one (e.g table or canning salt vs a coarse kosher salt.  I dry cured the bacon for a week before smoking.  The cure recipe below has far lower levels of nitrite than any of the recipes I found on the web. The justification for the lower level still being safe is the bacon will be cured in a refrigerator, hot smoked and then eaten quickly or frozen. This minimizes the chances of botulism growth.  I would not try this low a level for a dried salami or other products cured at room temperature (but those are not generally cooked crispy either).

Basic Dry Cure (adapted from Charcuterie)

450 grams kosher or canning salt

225 grams white sugar

28 grams pink salt (cure #1)   – note this is HALF of the amount recommended in the book

This was mixed up and then applied to the meat. I had 2 pieces 1.9KG and 2.2 KG which used 70g and 85g respectively (approximately 1/4 cup) .   The cure was rubbed in well. The balance is in a jar waiting for the next project.

The smaller piece was to be spicier.  TO this I added the following:

3 bay leaves crushed

4 large cloves garlic finely chopped

1.5 tablespoons black pepper coarsely cracked (next time I will double this)

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

The spices were mixed and then rubbed all over the piece.

The bacon to be slabs were placed in glass baking dishes and covered with plastic wrap and then put in the fridge in the garage. They were turned once a day. The weather was unseasonably cold so the fridge temps were probably lower than planned (26 degrees when I inserted the probes for smoking).  There was not much liquid given off.

Smoking prep

The night before smoking, the bacon was rinsed well and then placed on skewers over the baking dishes and returned to the fridge uncovered. This allowed the outer layer to dry and from a pellicle which helps the smoke penetration.

Smoking

The Big Green Egg was fired up and set for indirect heat. 2″ thick chunks of cherry branches were placed on the charcoal. The Heatermeter was set for 205 degrees. Temperature probes were placed in the thickest part of each slab.  It was a very windy cold drizzly and snowy day  (good thing the Heatermeter case is waterproof).  When the meat hit 130 degrees I rotated each by 180 degrees so the outer edges would not get too done  as the slabs filled the grill and were not entirely shielded from direct heat.  At 3 hours the meat was 150 to 175 degrees and the smoker temp was rising due to the high winds (I don’t have a damper on the fan yet) . So I pulled the bacon off the smoker and put it back in the fridge.

Taste

This bacon is great. The right level of salt and spices and very meaty. Nice pink color even with the low nitrite level. I had taken a few strips the night before smoking to taste and make sure it was not too salty . However it did not fry up near as well as the smoked bacon.

Teal and I like both flavors and the savory one will be great for salads, BLTs, etc. The bacon cooks up very crisply.

At the moment the house smells like a good old fashioned butcher shop and smoke house – yum.

Slicing

We got a new meat slicer for this and other cooking projects. It worked like a charm. So easy and consistently thin slices (the way Teal likes them).   Of course you could slice by hand especially if you like thick cut bacon. It will just take longer and you would probably want to slightly freeze the meat before slicing to firm it up even more. The bacon was then divided up and vacuum packed for freezing.  We ended up with almost 8 lbs of finished bacon.

Conclusion

This is definitely something we will do again. There is not a huge amount of applied time involved, but you do have to wait for the meat to cure.  Not hard and a great payoff. While the bacon was smoking, David and I also brewed up 2 batches of beer .  Teal was very patient with us and helped out as well.

We have bacon that tastes great and we know exactly what has gone into it.

Next I wonder about doing some pork loins for canadian bacon. They were on sale last I looked.

 

Beef Stew (a.k.a. Beef Bourguignon)

Beef stew

One of our favorite mid-winter dinners is a hearty beef stew accompanied by fresh baked bread.   The bread of choice today is a Sourdough Baguette but almost anything freshly baked will do.

Meat

The meat is a chuck roast of about 3 lbs. Break apart along the seams and trim off all of the visible fat.  Cut into 3/4″ cubes

Dredge the meat pieces in flour which has some salt, pepper and granulated garlic added  . About 1c flour, 1/2 tsp salt , 1/2 tsp black pepper and about 1 tsp granulated garlic mixed.

With your largest and widest deep pan such as a dutch oven , melt 1.5 Tbsp bacon grease. Dredge 1/2 of the beef in the flour mix and then add in a single layer to the pan. Now on medium to medium high heat (it should not be smoking much if at all), let it sit for 8 minutes or until well browned on the lower side. Flip and let sit another 6-7 minute until browned. Now remove form the pan along with all of the delicious scrapings and set aside on a plate.  Add another 1.5 Tbsp bacon grease and do the same for the rest of the meat.  The careful browning of the meat is one of the most important steps in making the stew. The caramelization of the meat adds flavor and color. This step is the biggest contributor to the final results being a rich brown color rather than grey.

At the end of the cooking push the meat to the side, add 1.5 Tbsp sweet Paprika and continue cooking for another 2 minutes stirring after 1 minute.

Now add the rest of the ingredients below.

Potatoes and veggies

4 lbs russet potatoes peeled and cubed to about 3/4″

3 lbs carrots peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks

3 large onions diced to about 1/2″

1 bulb of garlic finely chopped

Herbs & wine

2-4 Tbsp dried French Thyme

4 or 5 Bay leaves

1 tsp Coarse ground black pepper

1 tsp dried Oregano

1 liter burgundy

1 Tbsp Better than Bouillon vegetable base

1 small can (8 oz) tomato paste

1.5-2 c water

1/4 c flour  (balance of the flour used to dredge the meat)

Cooking

Cover the pan and bake at 300F for 4-6 hours. Stir every hour and be sure to taste the scrapings.

Serve with the fresh bread you baked in the meantime and more of the wine.

Stuffed Chicken Thighs

Stuffed thighs are better than stuffed breasts

You will find many recipes for stuffed chicken breasts. However stuffing chicken thighs produces a taster and juicier dish.  A few years ago we were set to make stuffed chicken breasts and only had a package of thighs on hand.  It takes a bit of a lighter touch as the meat is not as uniform but we won’t go back. They are so much more tender, juicy and flavorful (as well as less expensive) .  I use boneless , skinless thighs which are typically found 4 per package.

Prep the meat

Remove the fat and butterfly any thick sections slicing form the center outwards and then folding the flap out. Pound out under a piece of plastic (the top of the package they came in works well) until about 1/4″ thick.  They will be irregular and have holes – don’t worry.

Prep the stuffing

1.5 cups net of frozen spinach thawed and wrung out well. You may need 2-3 cups to start with before wringing out the extra juice.

1 c shredded cheese . We like 4 cheese mexican blend

1/3 c finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic finely chopped

Microwave the onion and garlic for one and about 90 seconds and let sit for another 3 minutes covered. You want them to be translucent and not browned.

1/2 tsp dried oregano – roll in your palm to crumble

1/2 tsp dried basil  – roll in your palm to crumble

Mix all of the stuffing ingredients, being sure to break up the lumps of spinach.   Having the spinach and cheese well mixed helps keep it from leaking out while baking.

Coating mix

1c Panko crumbs

3 Tbsp pine nuts crushed

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (“green can cheese” is ideal for this)

Stuff, roll and coat

Place 1/4 of the stuffing mix on each thigh, fold over and roll lightly. Place 1 wrap of string in each direction (along the roll direction and across like putting ribbon on a package) .

Dredge in flour, then in a beaten egg to which salt and pepper has been added.

Roll in the crumb mix and pat down to set the crumbs. Let sit for 10-20 min.  which helps the coating stick better.

Pan fry and Bake

Heat 1.5 Tbsp bacon grease in an oven proof pan

Brown on 3 sides , roll to the 4th side  and then place in 350 degree oven on convect for 25 min. Internal temperature should be 160F when done.

Variation – Greek style

Instead of shredded cheese blend , substitute feta cheese.

Leave out the basil and double the oregano

Add  grated zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon  to the stuffing mix

After baking, squeeze juice of  1/2 lemon over the tops

 

 

Bison Rump Roast – Sous Vide

Roast

3 lb bison rump roast split lengthwise

1 bulb garlic roasted at 375 for 20 min with tops cut off and some olive oil.  The goal is to bake them without much browning. Then squeeze out the cloves and mince them.   Note that raw garlic does NOT work well for sous vide as all of the wrong flavors come out. Roasting changes the flavor.  It should have a “sweet” garlic aroma, not sharp and pungent like raw garlic.

Spice blend

1 tsp sea salt

1.5 tps fresh ground green peppercorns

1.5 tsp dried thyme (or a bunch of fresh but now my thyme is buried in snow)

1.5 tsp dried shallots

Grind the spice blend finely in a mortar and pestle

Prep & sous vide

Smear the garlic and sprinkle the spice blend on the roast pieces. Place in vacuum bag – flattened out.

Place the bag in the water bath at 130F for 22 hours (basically you are making this the night before serving). This will give a rare to medium rare center.

Browning

Over hot coals brown on each side for 60-90 seconds. The meat is extremely lean and browns (or burns) quickly.  I overshot the perfect medium rare somewhat and ended up with medium. So much for grilling when it is minus 3F .  I was not as attentive to the grill as usual.

Slice and serve

Yum. Leftovers also make great Philly Cheese Steak style sandwiches. Teal especially likes hers “wit”  (with Velveeta).

Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

One of my Favorites

Sweet Potato Pecan Pie has become a Thanksgiving and Christmas staple for us. Originally, I was intrigued with Sweet Potato Pecan Pie after having it on some trips to New Orleans for trade shows.

I spent some time searching for a recipe to use and the basis for what we do is in Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking book which is now over 30 years old.  We have modified it, of course, but it is true to its origins with the flavor kicked up a bit.

It does take 2 days to make as the sweet potatoes must be baked and cooled before preparing the pie. We typically make it a day or 2 ahead to ease up on the holiday food prep craziness.  Plus it sets up better after chilling, making serving easier. While I love it warm from the oven, (and this is why there is a small wedge missing in the photo) it won’t serve well being too soft until chilled.

Sweet potatoes

Take 1-2 large sweet potatoes, scrub and poke full of holes (unless you want a grenade in the oven) . Bake at 375 for 2 hours on flat pan with parchment paper to ease clean up.  Remove, cool and scrape out the insides.   These are then mashed in preparation for making the pie.  We usually do this the day before making the pie.

Filling

1 c sweet potato mashed

4 oz (1 stick) butter

3/4 c light brown sugar

3 jumbo eggs separated

3/4 c skim milk

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 c bourbon (Makers Mark or Jim Beam are our favorites)

Prep

Cream the butter with sugar and sweet potatoes. Next beat in the egg yolks and milk. Add the spices and salt and liquor continuing to beat the mix.

Whip the egg whites in a clean bowl and then gently fold into the rest of the mixture.

Pie shell

Favorite recipe – par bake 10 min at 375F

Fill and bake

Add the filling to the shell and bake. Place on a sheet pan as the filling will rise a LOT and may spill over making a huge mess. (I really don’t like being on even cleaning detail prior to the thanksgiving baking, again) After 15 min then add the topping (below). If you do this too early the pecans will burn.

Topping

4 TB butter

4 TB brown sugar

4 TB flour

1 cup chopped pecans  – this  is WAY more than the original recipe called for but is needed.

After adding the mixed topping, bake for an additional 45 min (longer than the original) until the filling has set to a custard like consistency.  If the pecans are getting too dark, tent with aluminum foil right away. We always assume a custard pie will take longer than the recipe says. Burnt pecans spoil the flavor.

Serving

For serving top with fresh whipped cream (not that stuff from the tub or can) .

So go ahead make a slow food desert and forever settle the question of “Should I have pumpkin or pecan pie or both…”  This has the best flavors of both and is better overall.