Wild Boar Sweet Italian Sausage

Begin with an 11 pound boar shoulder with the roasting ham intact and 4 and a half pounds of either fat back or bacon belly.

Carve away anything that is bone or silver skin or hard tendon, but render everything else into 1-1.5 inch cubes.

You want to end up with roughly twice as much lean as fat so that your final grind is basically 1/3 fat.

For us, the 14.5 pounds we started with rendered about 10.5 pounds of lean and fat.

Pass a relatively even 2/1 distribution of lean to fat cubes (so that you don’t have to over-mix later to fully integrate) into a meat grinder with a fairly coarse screen choice.

Spread on a hotel sheet into as thin and flat a layer as you can without over working it so that it all fits on the pan.

Sprinkle approximately one gram of kosher salt for every 60-80grams of meat (and fat) depending on your personal seasoning preferences. The charcuterie book I was referencing actually said 1 per 45 grams, I cut that back to 67 and then didn’t even put all that salt on because it looked like way too much and the end result was plenty seasoned for my tastes.

Put yellow mustard seeds and black pepper corns in a spice mill and render fine. Blanket the meat with this powder. When I say blanket, I mean don’t hold back. Make it hard to see the meat.

Apply a sparing amount of smoked hot paprika (or a mixture of smoked and hot if you can’t find smoked hot) depending on your taste — remember the result is a sweet Italian, not a hot Italian and not a kielbasa.

Blanket with fennel pollen. If you can’t find this, grind fennel seeds to powder. The result will be a bit more licorice, and not as sweet, but it still works.

Fold the meat in on itself to the center, gently. Repeat this only as often as you feel necessary to integrate the spices.

Pull out a small ball and pan fry it in a skillet until cooked through to check seasoning and spices.

I recommend portioning into one pound amounts in freezer bags with labels and dates. If you have access to natural casings and equipment and a lot of patience, knock yourself out. I don’t, so I keep it loose.

I also recommend taking at least one pound back to the nice person you bought your wild boar carcasses from.

 

In Texas, wild boar are treated like a type of infesting vermin on cattle ranches. Eating their meat is encouraging neither their domestication nor them being hunted wild. It is a way of ensuring that an animal which will be shot one way or another, doesn’t go to waste. If where you live doesn’t have a wild boar problem, consider finding an ethical source of pork. You will struggle to get beef, lamb or poultry sufficiently fatty for this to produce a sausage which doesn’t seize up and become bone dry when cooked.

A few more successes with basic pan sausages and we’ll be moving on to cured salumi.

Recursive Poultry Potion

I have a new obsession. Braised duck tacos.

The problem with the potion that makes these delicious items possible is that it requires the sacrificing of a duck. No, I don’t mean the one you’re going to eat as tacos. I mean one you probably won’t eat at all, because it may not be very good once cooked. This truly is a recursive potion, and the zero-th iteration is a boot strap and so the results aren’t anywhere near as satisfying as the one through n-th iterations. The best recommendation I can give you is to get this zero-th duck in the Summer, when they aren’t really up to full weight yet, as such a duck won’t yield much meat anyway, but will produce stock, as it will be very bony. You won’t get much, if any, schmaltz from it, but that’ ok, too.

Make sure you have a Dutch oven that is big enough to hold up to about a five pound duck.

For the zero-th duck, fit it into the Dutch oven, breast side down, with the skin scored throughout to allow what fat there is to weep out of the skin. Fill with water until the bird is mostly covered. Cover. Put into an oven set to 210 degrees for at least six hours, until the carcass more or less completely collapses because all the gelatin has melted out of the bones.

Clean what meat you can, strain stock and separate what fat there is. Store the schmaltz separately, but you can store the pulled meat in the stock as if you were making a confit — not that it will last that long.

For every duck after this first one, and now I’d wait until you can get at least a five pounder which is likely to be well into Autumn, score the skin, put in the Dutch oven the same way, but instead of covering with water, cover with the stock and schmaltz from the previous duck. Add some water to make up for whatever stock you’ve used in the meantime for other purposes. Again, pull the meat, strain the stock and separate the schmaltz.

Duck cooked in duck is… well it’s fantastic.

Thin slice a jalapeno or similar pepper and sauté in a small amount of schmaltz. Before it begins to brown, add pulled duck meat and salt. Add just enough stock to keep it from burning and to make a small amount of sauce. Fold into a soft flour tortilla, lay flat in a hot skillet, place a lid to press the semi-circle flat and toast the tortilla on both sides. Top with a mild cheese if you really want to.

You will never think about tacos the same way again.

Saute kale in schmaltz with salt and roasted garlic.

Improve any sauce, gravy or soup with the stock.

Use the schmaltz in place of butter in just about anything.

When you start to grow concerned about your supply, recurse another duck.

DO NOT USE SALT WHEN BRAISING THE DUCKS

Because you’re recursing the cooking process, if you cook with salt, the results will just get saltier and saltier and saltier. So braise without it, and then season what you’re using in other applications as you go.

How to Get from Broiled Fish to Sweet & Sour Tofu by Way of Tom Yom Soup

Returning once again to “cooking without a net” and “how to make great food out of what is around the house”, over the last few weeks a series of meals happened which, at least for me, illustrated this wonderfully.

I recently discovered that my not-so-premium local super market has a far better (and cheaper) fish monger than any of the Whole Foods or the HEB Central Market. They frequently have gorgeous, not chemical soaked, sea scallops for less than $15 a pound. They often have 21-25 count shrimp for under $10 a pound. They have the best looking salmon I’ve seen anywhere in Houston. They even have cod loin for what my spoiled New England years thinks of as a reasonable price. They’re also located basically across the street from my church, where I find myself several times a week.

What this means is that I’ve begun to stop in almost every occasion just to see what they have, and even if I don’t need it right away, I buy it. Which means my freezer is now frequently full of fish and shell fish.

Many moons ago, my go-to wow the crowd dish for dinner parties was a poached cod loin served with a mango habanero sauce — which I’d make my simmering fruit and peppers until they dissolved. With the move out of New England in ’07, my access to cheap, high quality cod dried up, and I never found another plump, mild fish that fit into this dish as nicely as the cod.

Then a month ago, I discovered barramundi. Which, if you’ve never had, you should find.

The other week, I also found ripe mangos and some epic Hungarian wax peppers (the latter at the local farmer’s market). This fish is a bit thinner, without being what I’d call a “flat fish”, so rather than poaching I broiled it. I broiled it with the fruit and peppers on top and all around. Once it was all cooked, the oils, fruit and peppers went into the food processor to become a sauce.

There was lots of left over sauce.

A week or so later, I boiled a pound of fresh water 21-25 count shrimp, in their shells, with a little fish sauce. I retained that boiled water, removed the shrimp to an ice water bath and shelled them. The left over sauce went into that broth and got reduced significantly. It was then served with fresh cilantro, rice wine vinegar, the shrimp and glass noodles. It made for an excellent tom yom soup.

After all the shrimp and glass noodles were eaten, there was left over broth.

Two nights ago I put a bag of Trader Joe’s “stir fry veggies” onto a silpat under a 375 degree broiler until they were thawed and dry. I also cubed a block of spongy tofu from CostCo (seriously, this is the best non-silken tofu I’ve ever worked with and you can get three packs very cheaply) and turned it golden in a wide sauté pan of canola and toasted sesame oil. Once golden, the veggies went in and got a little color.

Then the broth went in and the whole thing got dusted with sifted flour and simmered until thickened. This was also served over glass noodles.

Sadly, this is where the left overs gravy train reached its final stop.

Meteil Hearth Loaf with Caraway & Onion

My most recent loaf was the best to date.

Meteil (less than 50%) rye baked as a “hearth” (not in a pan) loaf with caraway and onion flake.

The key? Spraying the crust with water at 2 minute intervals for the first 6 minutes (aka: 4 total sprayings,1 as it first goes in) to produce significant crunch.

Also, I stopped punching down to achieve a second rise before panning. I seem to have been exhausting the levin and thus creating dense final loaves with little to no oven spring.

Additional final adjustment was realizing that I was working so hard to make the dough not be “messy” that I was working in too much flour which (a) taxed the levin too much and (b) reduced available moisture to out-gas steam during baking.

Crust on the brink

Crust on the very brink of burning ends up with deep flavor and crunch

Airy crumb

By foregoing a second rise and relying on the flavor development from the slow fermentation pre-dough portions, a much lighter crumb is possible

Bubbling Cauldron of Endless Bread Production

How to create your own wild yeast starter from thin air.

I was going to do this pictures again, but as it turned out, they’re all incredibly boring. Just small bowls of pale dough with a few bubbles here and there.

But, I can tell you that the method Peter Reinhart advocates in his whole grain bread book, the one developed by Debra Wink of the King Arthur Baking Circle, does work, even if you’re a bit of a ham handed improviser rather than a proper baker.

After five days I now have a 200 gram wad of spongey, bubbling mush which, if portioned out correctly, will never stop making wonderful bread.

I really do highly recommend this book. The results are fantastic and I’ve only just scratched the surface on these recipes.

Altus Enhanced Whole Grain Hearth Loaf

Altus is made by cubing old bread and soaking it in water until it completely hydrates. After a few hours, this is then added to the soaker when that is made.

In my case, I used the butt ends of the rye seigle from the other week.

Rye seigle ends cut and soaked

Rye seigle ends cut and soaked

final dough flour & caraway seeds

final dough flour & caraway seeds

starter and soaker

starter and soaker

Too wet to cut into chunks

Too wet to cut into chunks

Note the commercial yeast bubbling away, there, ready to help.

With enough extra flour it came together

With enough extra flour it came together

My batards are getting better

My batards are getting better

Center cut and baking

Center cut and baking

The halo effect is from the steam bath in the oven

My most picturesque loaf so far

My most picturesque loaf so far

A teensy bit under-cooked, but still good

A teensy bit under-cooked, but still good

Whole Wheat Hearth Bread

My wild yeast starter is behaving much better* The rye seigle was a bit sweet for my taste, so I left the honey out of the recipe for the whole wheat hearth. This recipe came together more or less effortlessly and the result is delicious.

A story in photos:

whole wheat soaker, Friday night

whole wheat soaker, Friday night

whole wheat starter, Saturday morning

whole wheat starter, Saturday morning

soaker, Saturday evening

soaker, Saturday evening

starter, Saturday evening

starter, Saturday evening

soaker, epoxy ready

soaker, epoxy ready

starter, epoxy added

starter, epoxy added

commercial yeast, final booster

commercial yeast, final booster

smooth combination

smooth combination

get a sense of how it feels

get a sense of how it feels

rest until doubled

rest until doubled

Do Not Punch Down or De-gas at this Point !!!

form a batard

form a batard

bake until deep brown

bake until deep brown

gorgeous texture

gorgeous texture

 

 

 

* It is behaving so well, it bubbles and grows in the refrigerator !!!

Rye Seigle

A seigle is a loaf that is more than 50% rye. This is going to be  a tale told mostly in photos,

whole wheat mother starter

whole wheat mother starter

soaker, Sunday night

soaker, Sunday night

pre-ferment, Monday morning

pre-ferment, Monday morning

yeast, molasses, honey

yeast, molasses, honey

epoxy method

epoxy method

kneading

kneading

one hour of rising

one hour of rising

punched down

punched down

waiting to rise again

waiting to rise again

panned as a batard

panned as a batard

a good start

a good start

flattened a bit

flattened a bit

looks like bread

looks like bread

a bit dense, but very tasty

a bit dense, but very tasty

So, the wild yeast starter I borrowed was mixed to a very different formula from Peter Reinhart’s and as a consequence, my pre-ferment didn’t rise and grow over the course of the day as it should. Thus, there was a struggle to get some levin action during the final mixing and the final dough is a bit dense and a bit too moist. But as a first attempt at very serious whole grain baking, I feel good about the results.

The good news is that I refreshed the mother over night and it is now very (very) active* so future loaves should be much less of a clutch effort.

 

 

 

 

* In fact, it may or may not have exploded all over the inside of a cabinet over night.

The Staff of Life

First, a confession: I’m a lousy baker.

The aspects of my personality that make me a good improvisational cook (the premise of this blog up to this point) are also the aspects of my personality that make me pretty terrible at following precise instructions — which is what baking requires. I always want to fiddle, tweak, exchange, approximate… and that doesn’t create consistent results.

But life often creates moments to learn that sometimes a challenge is the very thing we need to learn some balance.

I’m spending a few weeks visiting family for the long holiday season, and this happened to coincide with my mother discovering flavored balsamic vinegars and infused olive oils. She picked up a sample set of each, and wanted some plain bread for dipping — all the bakery bread in the house wasn’t plain. So, knowing she was very busy, I grabbed a simple French bread recipe from the Food Network website and did my best to stick to the book to produce a couple loves of plain white bread.

The results were shockingly good.

She intended to host a holiday dinner this past Saturday evening, and so with some minor tweaks I turned out some very nice herb infused loaves for the occasion.

Meanwhile, I’d been reading Peter Reinhart’s “Whole Grain Breads”. Why? The truth of the matter is, I don’t eat very much bread. I don’t keep any in the house day to day. Yes, I have sandwiches or burgers if I’m out and about, yes I like pita when I’m at my favorite Lebanese cafe, but I’m certainly not a dinner roll kind of guy nor a morning toast guy. I tend to think of bread as “empty starch” calories and while I do exercise a fair bit, I don’t enjoy exercising enough to tip the cost/benefit scale of enjoying the eating of bread every day. But, if I could start making a whole grain loaf at home, especially if I could make it vegan so that I could even eat it during Lent, then perhaps I could be getting some additional fiber and vitamins into my diet while also filling some of my time with an ancient human activity.

And I have to say, the idea of having bread to give to people has been rattling around in my head for some years now. So, motivation for this project has been unexpected, swift, and definitive.

In the interest of time, my mom acquired some wild yeast starter from a friend, and yesterday we picked up bags of whole wheat and rye flours. Last night a soak of flour and water was established and this morning a portion of the mother was enlarged into a ferment which should spend the day slowly growing (hopefully). Later tonight, they will come together and be baked into a whole grain rye loaf. If all goes well.

When I get back to Houston, I’ll be growing a mother from scratch (assuming I can’t figure out how to get this one home intact) and continuing on my bread baking journey. I’ll be posting here with photos and updates — but not recipes as for now they’re coming from Peter’s book, which I paid for, and I don’t think he wants me giving them away for free.

Stay tuned.

Omu-raisu — Amulet of Leftover Destruction

Trying to return a bit to our early tradition of “cooking without a net”, kitchen improvisation, I want to recount a recent success.

Leftovers in question included an Indian style yellow curry with vegetable medley and shrimp as well as a shellfish paella (Spanish rice dish very much like a pilaf).

The additional major player, and the point of inspiration, was a clutch of farmer’s market eggs I had hoped would become fresh pasta, but which did not have sufficiently impressive yolks for that application (but which were still very excellent and ethical eggs).

Omu-raisu (aka omu-rice, aka omelette rice) is a Japanese comfort food which turns out to be an amulet for the obliteration of leftovers — the above items being a great example.

I beat three eggs with the curry sauce until it had retained quite a lot of air. This was poured into a non-stick pan (eggs are the only application for which such pans are acceptable) which had been pre-heated with olive oil (or butter) over medium heat.

Once the egg had begun to curdle, spoonfuls of veggie medley, curry shrimp and the paella were liberally sprinkled throughout the top and then a tight fitting lid was brought to bear on the situation. I highly recommend pre-heating the “filling” items in a separate skillet so that they aren’t trying to come up to temperature while the egg is trying not to completely dry out.

After a few minutes, remove the lid (careful not to drip all that water on the under side back into the eggs) and using a flexible spatula, fold the egg over itself either in half or, if you’re skilled, into thirds.

If you have leftover brown gravy handy, this will be an excellent addition at plating time.