Beef, Brassicas, Cheese, Offal, Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Soup, Vegetables

Cheeky.

One of the most interesting aspects of social networking is its potential to unintentionally reveal the truth about the self, the person behind the crafted public image. Along these lines, a surprisingly large number of self-described “foodies” – the kind of people who TiVo Food Network and would throw their panties at Michael Symon if he turned up in a local supermarket – evidently find certain foods too scary to eat. “I love ya Chef but sweetbreads I don’t think so……LOL!” goes one recent zinger on Facebook. “Ewwww….tongue!” says another. You can’t beat it for wit.

You already know about my low tolerance for this infantile attitude toward food. This goes back a long time. The summer after graduating from law school, I went to Spain and Portugal with some friends, a trip that reached its nadir one night in Seville when, nerves frayed from two weeks of hairpin turns in a packed Peugeot, sweaty nights in a series of hostels without air conditioning, and a couple of travel companions who displayed a surprising lack of dietary sang-froid, we got into an argument at the restaurant. Sitting beside the Guadalquivir and surveying the platters landing at tables around us, one travel companion complained that nothing on the menu was edible because all the seafood and poultry came head-on and bone-in.

“Just … order it,” I gritted tightly. “That’s how it comes in Spain.”

“Well, it’s gross,” she shot back. “I don’t eat food with the heads on. I don’t care where we are.”

“We’re not in Roseville, Brenda*. Shrimp has heads. Chicken has bones. There is no goddamn boneless chicken ranch.”

At this point there was a great scraping of metal on concrete as Brenda pushed back her chair, stood up, and threw her napkin down on the table. “You – are – such – a – @$%&^*@ – $#@&$!” she shouted, storming off and attracting the full attention of the other diners, who I’m pretty sure got the gist of her outburst even if they didn’t speak English. Good times, good times.

Looking back, I probably could’ve been nicer about it. For example, if I were trying to ease someone into the idea of eating offal today, I’d serve them braised cheeks. They’re basically like any other cut of meat but better, with all the flavor concentrated in one small disc, bathed in a glossy sauce. The plentiful collagen in the cheeks – heavily exercised by all that chewing – accounts for the sauce’s body.

Iberico pork cheeks.

Cheeks aren’t always the easiest cut to find, but I encourage you to look around, because they’re well worth the hunt. If you’ve got access to a market that caters to a Latino clientele, you might find them, as they’re a favored cut (and I’ve heard that Wal-Marts with well-stocked meat departments sometimes carry them in the freezer section, so give that a shot – it may be the only time I ever endorse stopping into the Wal-Mart). If you can’t find cheeks, substitute shank, shoulder (in the case of pork), or short rib (in the case of beef). Don’t substitute pork belly; it’s a lot fattier than the cheek, and you’ll wind up with a greasy braise. And don’t substitute hog jowl; it resembles the belly more than the cheek.

Pork cheeks, celeriac pancake, apple

If you subscribe to the textural variation school of cooking – and I do – you will want something firm or crisp to accompany the cheeks, since they’re falling-apart tender and saucy. A celeriac-potato rösti-like cake makes a great accompaniment. Relieve the richness of the cheeks with a fresh apple salad. If you have leftover cheeks, enjoy them with toast points, cornichons, and mustard for lunch.

I used ibérico cheeks and highly recommend them; they had an intensely meaty, nutty flavor that I haven’t encountered in any other type of pork. If you’d like to try them, Iberico USA carries them. The long braising process in the flavorful liquid makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of conventional pork, though, so don’t hesitate to make this dish if you can’t spring for the ibérico cheeks. Keep the cooking temperature low, as near to 180F as you can, to ensure tenderness rather than stringiness. The intention of long cooking at low temperatures is to break the collagen down into gelatin, which then bathes the meat’s muscle fibers. Although it may seem that braised meats cannot become dry, this is untrue; the fibers in the cheek, like those in other heavily-exercised parts of the animal, are long and will become tough, dry, and unpleasantly stringy if they lose too much moisture. If that happens, you can notice the stringiness even when the meat is adequately coated in sauce. So don’t be tempted to cook at a higher temperature, and always be careful when reheating.

One last thing: in a conventional braise, the meat is browned first to develop rich, savory flavors via the Maillard reaction. I dispensed with this step because the cheeks are quite small and I wanted to reduce the possibility that the meat would toughen up. It turns out not to be necessary.

Oh, actually, one last last thing: the ibérico cheeks came in a pretty large Cryovac package and, when thawed, gave up a few cups of blood. I saved the blood, which smelled sweet and clean, and not slaughterhouse-y in that way that factory-farmed (CAFO) pork smells. I’ll be making blood sausage with that in the future, so watch for the post.

2 lb pork cheeks, cleaned of silverskin if necessary
one large onion, peeled and diced
two carrots, scraped and coarsely chopped
two stalks celery, coarsely chopped
16 oz ale
1 1/2 quart veal stock (substitute white beef stock or chicken stock)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish root
bouquet garni

2 granny smith apples
lemon juice
chives, minced

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the vegetables and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the ale and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half. This step is necessary to reduce the booziness of the beer.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Stir in the mustard and horseradish; place the pork cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

After removing the cheeks

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Heat through.

Prepare a brunoise of the granny smith apples and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Then combine with the chives.

Serve the cheeks with celeriac rösti wedges and the apple-herb salad.

Iberico cheek, celeriac rosti, mustard, celeriac purée.

For the celeriac rösti:

This isn’t strictly a rösti, which classically features just potatoes and butter. It just sort of resembles one.

1/2 celeriac root, washed and peeled (use a knife to peel, not a peeler)
1/2 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 medium yellow onions, minced
1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp ground celery seed
pinch of cayenne or espelette pepper
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
kosher salt to taste, at least 1 tsp and probably more
black pepper
celery salt to finish
vegetable oil and butter

Oven 425F on broil. Set the rack in the middle position of the oven.

Place a 12″ skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, flour, celery seed, cayenne, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet.

Shred the celeriac in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Toss with about 1/2 tsp lemon juice to prevent browning (try not to use more or it will be sour). Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes and celeriac to the egg mixture and stir well to combine.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add about 1 tbsp each butter and oil to the pan. Swirl the pan once the butter foams to coat the sides about 1″ up. Add the entire mixture and distribute evenly throughout the pan, patting to compress somewhat. Cook until the underside is golden brown and pulls away slightly from the sides; transfer to the broiler.

Cook until the top is golden brown. Remove,cool slightly, and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into wedges. Season with a grind of black pepper and a little celery salt.

Golden brown cake.

Beef cheek, ricotta dumpling, cauliflower soup

Certain cuts of beef taste to me like “generic meat.” Beef tenderloin, for example – I’ve never really understood the great love of filet mignon (although I imagine it corresponds with the fear of offal). Or the round – there’s nothing really wrong with it, but I’ve had a lot of roast beef made from the round, which tastes to me like AnyMeat. It could be the reason why I’ve never been able to get excited about deli roast beef sandwiches.

Beef cheek, though? You’ll never mistake that for anything other than beef. Along with the deckle and the short rib, it is one of the three cuts that deliver the most intense beef flavor per bite. The dish below – beef cheeks with dumplings and a creamy cauliflower soup, garnished with flash-fried cauliflower florets – is pretty rich, and a small-portions kind of thing. If you have fresh truffle, now is the time to use it.

You’ll have leftover beef cheek and braising reduction; you can shred up the cheeks in the reduction and toss it with tagliatelle or pappardelle.

For the beef cheek:

1 1/2 lb beef cheeks, cleaned of the most obvious gristle and silverskin
medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
bouquet garni (leek w/bay leaf, thyme, parsley)
2 c dry red wine
1 quart white beef stock or veal stock

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Sear the beef cheeks on all sides until deep brown (a couple of minutes per side). Remove to a plate. Add the vegetables to the pan and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the wine and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Return the beef cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Gently heat through.

Serve with the cauliflower soup, flash fried cauliflower florets, and the dumplings. If you have fresh white truffle (or black), slice a little bit over the top.

Beef cheek, cauliflower, ricotta dumpling

Cauliflower soup

2/3 lb cauliflower florets and stems, sliced 1/4″
2 1/2 c white veal stock or chicken stock
6 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (to taste)
5 tbsp butter
2/3 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper

To prepare sous vide:

Bag the cauliflower with the salt and 1 tbsp butter. Vacuum seal and drop into a circulator at 183F/84C for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer with the bay and thyme.

Remove herbs. Transfer both cauliflower and stock to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

To prepare conventionally:

Bring the stock to a simmer with the thyme and bay leaf and, when add the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, about 8 minutes; do not continue to simmer beyond that point. Remove herbs.

Transfer to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

For the dumplings:

1/2 lb whole milk ricotta
1 egg, beaten
between 3-5 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
minced assorted herbs – thyme, chives, tarragon, parsley

Combine the beaten egg with the minced herbs, salt, and the ricotta. Incorporate well. Spread out on a flat surface and sprinkle flour evenly over the surface; working quickly, fold the ricotta/egg mixture over itself again and again, using a bench scraper or knife to incorporate the flour into the ricotta, to form a small square. Transfer it back into a bowl and let it rest (you can rest it in the refrigerator for up to a day at this point, tightly covered).

At serving time, bring a pot of salted water to a simmer and, using a small scoop or two spoons, drop balls or quenelles of dumpling dough about 3/4″ into the simmering water. When the dumplings float, let them simmer for about a minute. Remove from the water with a skimmer and drain briefly on a clean kitchen towel.

With a cauliflower soup.

*names have been changed to protect the food-cowardly.

Advertisements
Standard
Holidays, Potatoes, Quick Meals, Vegetables

Hats off to Hanukkah.

Note: I usually don’t republish old posts, but if you’re thinking of making potato latkes this week for Hanukkah, try these out. They’re delicious. I’ve omitted the discussion of sweet potato latkes and celeriac-potato latkes; if you want to try those, visit the original page. If you ask me, though, the classic potato latke, without embellishment, is the only way to go.

From R., 1 December 2009, Hanukkah: the best latkes?

Q: Thanksgiving is over, but Chanukah is just around the corner. Can you give me some latke advice?

What is your preferred potato? I assume there’s some ration of wax versus starchy that would yield the optimum pancake. Also, do you have some new vegetable variations I could work in the mix?

I’m thinking of making ahead and freezing, then reheating for the festivities. Anything special I should know?
Finally, since I’m being a nudzh, any other special Chanukah nosherai you’d like to share?

A: Thanks for your question! When you make latkes – or any other potato pancake – you really want to rely on the starch in the potato to hold the cake together, rather than a batter, which make the cake heavy. So you want to use a starchy potato. You’ll still need to use some egg and flour or matzo meal to bind the potato, but you won’t need much.

What’s a starchy potato? Potatoes run the gamut from “waxy” – meaning high water, low starch – to starchy. How can you tell? Starch content varies by variety, but, generally speaking, russet potatoes – large, with a dark, tougher skin – are starchier at 20-22% than the thinner-skinned, smaller red potatoes (16-18% starch). Yellow varieties, like Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold, are in between. There’s another difference relating to two components of starch – amylose and amylopectin – which relate to the way the starch diffuses or holds its shape. Waxy potatoes contain more amylopectin, and hold their shape better. But that’s more information than you need for this purpose. Brown good, red not so much. And that holds true as well for hash brown potatoes, when you want them to stick together.

So here’s my recipe for latkes. Good any time of year, and not just Hanukkah. I recommend you pre-sauté your onions to deepen their flavor and avoid any potential for a sharp raw bite. If you consider this fussy or want to save about five minutes, you can skip this step, but I recommend it. Finally, I use a food processor with the julienne disc to shred the potatoes into long thin strands, but a box grater works well also. Either way, squeeze the potatoes in kitchen towels as dry as you can – do it twice if you have time.

1 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 tbsp flour [you can substitute matzo meal if you like; I prefer it because it makes a crisper latke]
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
2 scallions, washed and root end removed, minced
kosher salt to taste (you will need at least 2 tsp)
black pepper
oil – preferably a blend of olive oil and canola, or just canola. If you intend to serve with a meat only meal, consider schmaltz, duck fat, or beef tallow for a really delicious treat.

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, matzo meal or flour, nutmeg, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet (or wash and return to the stove).

Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Don’t take too long with this step or the potatoes will discolor.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add up to 1/4″ of oil to the pan. Cook a test spoonful of latke mixture to ensure that the pan isn’t too hot (or too cold); adjust the heat accordingly. Fry heaping tablespoonfuls of the latke mixture, mostly the potato. Much of the egg mixture may remain in the bottom of the bowl – don’t feel compelled to use it all. (You can use it at the end to make more of a crêpe-y pancake.) Do not overcrowd the pan – in a 12″ skillet you probably can cook about four at a time. Drain cooked latkes on a rack and hold in a preheated 220F oven. Repeat until all the latkes are cooked. If the oil becomes dark or dirty, start over with fresh oil.

Season with salt if necessary (it shouldn’t be, in my experience) and a grind of black pepper. Serve with applesauce or sour cream. Enjoy!

Latkes (with a little black truffle, why not)

Standard
Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Spain

Waste not, want not.

Here’s a question that comes up a lot: what happens to all the scraps and trim from all those nicely-plated dishes and tiny little vegetable cuts? Isn’t that a wasteful way to cook?

A little history. When I was a kid in Milwaukee, my mother dispensed most parental wisdom in the form of aphorisms, usually when I was under suspicion of wrongdoing or inefficiency. If she suspected me of lying about coming home at midnight rather than 3 am, she’d prod me that “honesty is the best policy.” If I complained about the unfairness of some punishment or adverse consequence – no doubt justly administered – she would declare, in an ominous tone, that “you reap what you sow.” It was as though the ghost of Ben Franklin had come to inhabit the form of a thirtysomething high school librarian in the Milwaukee suburbs. We’re both older now, but even today, a chat about spending habits and 401(k) plans might end with a raised finger and the admonition that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I’ve often thought a great idea for a toy would be a doll, modeled after my mother circa 1973, that would utter a different aphorism every time you pulled the string.

Mom and me, summer 1973

Among my mother’s top five tenets was “waste not, want not,” which I usually heard after she found me throwing out a moldy peach or discovering that I hadn’t eaten the chicken sandwich she’d packed me for lunch because I decided to spend my allowance on pizza instead. I made great sport of this back in the day, but she was right. When it comes to food preparation, you should find a way to use everything, and to avoid waste. Trim goes into sauces, pasta, and soup; bones go into stock; fat converted to a frying or poaching medium. Which brings me to the pig. As you know, I went hogging a little while back and picked up various cuts of the raw ibérico de bellota pork product. The hallmark of the ibérico pork is its clean, sweet fat, and the belly was an unbelievable example of this lardiness. Only the day before, at WholeFoods, I’d picked up a couple of pounds of what seemed to me unusually thick Niman Ranch belly, the meat interspersed with layers of creamy fat. At the time, it seemed like a pretty awesome piece of meat (and truthfully, it is a enough nice belly). The meat embedded in the ibérico belly was the same maroon as in jamón, though, and the fat cap twice as thick. When I got home, I put them side by side.

Side by side: Ibérico belly compared to an actually very nice Niman Ranch belly. LOOK AT THE FAT.

Side by side color comparison.

I trimmed the bellies into two squared-off pieces and froze one. The fat from one I expect will make some superb lardo in the near future. I cured the other in the manner of bacon. Sliced and fried until crisp, the ibérico bacon joined some heirloom tomatoes and avocado in the best BLT ever.

Best BLT and chips EVER

The potential for waste in this process was pretty high. Turning pork belly into crispy bacon means leaving behind trim (before cooking) and melted fat (after cooking). In fact, being mostly fat, about 1 1/4 lbs of ibérico bacon yielded about a quart of clear, clean-tasting fat after cooking. Rather than waste the fat, I used it to fry paper-thin slices of russet potato, seasoned with white truffle salt. And rather than tossing out the trim, I diced it and incorporated it into a surprisingly quick yeast bread.

Note: I bought the raw ibérico product at Wagshal’s Market in DC. You can buy via mail order through their Ibérico USA site, or through La Tienda.

Ibérico bacon

Do yourself a favor and use a kitchen scale. I’ve provided approximate dry measurements, but you’re better off weighing everything. Generally, I like to smoke the bacon (or use a smoked salt or pimentón to lend the same smoky taste), but in the case of the ibérico belly, I think it’s best to let the taste of the fat stand on its own.

4 lbs (~2 kg) ibérico pork belly, skin removed (reserve for chicharron or something)
100 g kosher salt (2/3 c)
50 g granulated sugar (1/2 c)
5 g TCM (about 1/2 tbsp)
2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 sprigs thyme, washed and dried
4 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled

Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly. Dredge the pork belly to coat on all sides. Press the thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and crumbled bay evenly to coat.

Place in a large (2 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. Double bag. Press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. Place the bag in a stainless steel pan (or other large, flat) container and refrigerate for about ten days. Every day, turn the bag over and redistribute the cure evenly over the surfaces of the pork. Touch the pork each day to feel its firmness.

After about ten days, the pork should feel firmer and there should be more liquid in the bag as the salt has penetrated the meat. Once the pork feels fairly firm/rigid, remove the pork from the bag, discard the cure, and rinse thoroughly. More curing time is not better in terms of curing since your belly just gets saltier and saltier. Once it’s firm, take it out.

Preheat an oven to 180F/83C. Place the bacon on a rack over a sheet pan and roast for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours (depending on thickness) until it reaches an internal temperature of 140F. Chill promptly and refrigerate up to three days before use; otherwise, freeze.

Sliced up.

Potato chips

Unless you cook a lot of the bacon at once (say two pounds or more), you’ll need to save it up in the refrigerator or supplement it with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or rice bran oil, for frying. Use something with a high smoke point whose taste won’t compete with the ibérico’s flavor. Fry the potatoes in batches and don’t try to fry too many at once; if the temperature of the oil drops too much, the chips will be greasy.

Don’t be tempted to fry at too high a temperature (over 350F/176C); the oil will break down (rancidify) more quickly, and what’s more, your chips will burn. You can slice potatoes into cold water, soak, and rinse to remove some of the surface starch first, but I’ve never found this a necessary first step. Instead, I slice using a handheld benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil.

one very large russet potato, washed well and dried
2 quarts fat rendered from ibérico bacon, strained (or as much fat as you have, plus enough grapeseed or rice bran oil to supplement)
fine salt, such as popcorn salt

Place a rack over a baking sheet and line with a double thickness of paper towels. Place a deep but not wide pan containing the fat over medium high heat, with a frying thermometer. The oil should not fill the pan more than halfway. Heat to 345F/174C. Slice using a benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil, being sure not to crowd the pan. You should slice about 1/8 of the potato in each batch.

Russets frying in iberico fat.

Adjust the heat upward if necessary to keep the temperature from falling below 285F/140C (and be sure to lower it again if necessary to keep it from rising above 350F/176C). Using a spder-type skimmer, move the potatoes around in the oil to ensure that they remain separate.

Fry until the potato chips are crisp (not soft) and light golden. Remove with the skimmer and drain on the paper towels. Season with salt (I like a white truffle salt). You also can try adding some flavors – I sometimes like combining a fine salt with powdered malt vinegar, for a salt and vinegar potato chip, .

Chips fried in iberico fat.

Ibérico ring bread

The bread dough for this recipe isn’t mine; it comes straight from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible. This is her recipe for prosciutto ring bread, substituting diced ibérico bacon for the prosciutto. Amazingly, this bread goes from raw ingredients to finished product in two and a half to three hours, meaning that it’s possible to make it on a weeknight.

Because the diced ibérico bacon is far oilier than prosciutto, you will have to incorporate it by hand rather than using a machine.

I’ve made this using both barley malt powder and barley malt syrup. I highly recommend using the powder. You will not be able to stop eating this bread once it comes out of the oven. After the first day, toast it. There’s no need for butter or any additional fat – the ibérico bacon makes the bread very rich – but if you like, a fig jam would complement the pork perfectly.

340g AP or bread flour
10g barley malt powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp instant yeast (just shy of 1 tsp active dry yeast)
3/4 tsp salt
1 c water, 90F
1/2 lb trimmings from ibérico bacon, about 50% meat/50% fat more or less, diced 1/4″
2 tbsp melted ibérico fat

450F/232C oven, with baking stones or an upturned large cast iron pan.

Whisk together the flour, yeast, pepper, and barley malt. When combined well, whisk in the salt. Add the water and mix, using the dough hook, on a stand mixer, or with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand or in the mixer for about ten minutes on a medium-low setting, until the dough is smooth and springs back slowly when depressed.

Turn out onto a board, stretch out slightly, and spread the diced bacon on the surface. Roll up and form into a ball. Dust with flour and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Rest for about 20 minutes or so.

Roll the dough into a rope about 18″ long. Form into a ring, tucking the ends together. Transfer to a silpat-lined sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and rise for about 90 minutes to 2 hours in a warmish room until doubled.

Load the sheet pan onto the baking stones and throw a cup of ice onto the oven floor. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until deep golden brown on the outside. The loaf should be hollow inside when tapped, about 190F.

Cool on a rack.

See how it's studded with bacon

Standard
Uncategorized

Secrets of the Spanish forest.

Normally I answer reader questions in a different format, but this time I’m devoting an entire post to a reader question as it coincides with something I was writing about already.

From R.R., 2 December 2011, ibérico pork – how to cook it?

Q: So we went on vacation to Williamsburg, and eded up bringing home this as a souvenir: Presa de Paleta Iberica – Iberico de Bellota Pork Shoulder Steak from Spain.

But now I’m all confused by the cut, which I’ve never used before. Do I slow cook it, like a regular shoulder? Grill it? (and outdoor grilling is not really on my list of things to do now that it’s 50 degrees out). Most of the recipes I’m finding for the cut online involve a brine, but would that defeat the point of the getting the Iberico in the first place? How do I show this cut and this meat off?

A: Thanks for your question. Am I glad you wrote – it happens that I’ve been trying to finish a piece on exactly this subject for nearly a month and needed a kick to force me to get it done.

Remember back in October, when we chatted about Spanish jamón and cooked up some croquetas? If you’re a fan of Spanish cuisine – or high quality products in general – you already knew about the acorn-fed jamón ibérico de bellota, and its creamy, nutty fat. Perhaps you wondered what happens to the rest of the pig?

Until 2008, the jamón ibérico de bellota, not to mention the raw cuts from the pig, wasn’t available in the States. I wasn’t even aware until a few months ago that those raw cuts were sold here at all. Earlier this summer at the Fancy Food Show, though, I was lucky enough to try some other cuts of the ibérico pig. Jose Ignacio Martinez-Valero, the distributor for Iberico Fresco lured me in with a lomo crudo – thin slices of the raw loin, dressed with just a little salt and olive oil. Imagine putting a slice of raw supermarket pork in your mouth – it’s a disgusting idea. But the raw ibérico was at its best as a crudo or barely cooked, with the fat dissolved around the tender meat. After noticing my response to the crudo, Señor Martinez-Valero encouraged me to stick around for the other cuts – the solomillo, a lean and tender cut like tenderloin, served just medium-rare; the secreto, or shoulder skirt, thinly sliced and barely seared like tataki; and the pluma, loin tips as well-marbled as Wagyu beef. As a matter of fact, between samples, we discussed the superior quality of the pata negra pigs and the resemblance to Wagyu. “Ibérico pork is the Kobe of pork,” said Señor Martinez-Valero, and he was right. The meat tasted like Wagyu -or really, more like ventresca or otoro, the fattiest cut of the tuna belly.

Señor Martinez-Valero informed me that, as of summer, he was in the process of negotiating an east coast distribution deal for the raw ibérico product, but that it wasn’t available in my area yet. So I gave up on any immediate prospects for cooking up that sweet, sweet pork until a few weeks ago, when, sourcing jamón in the Washington area, I discovered that Wagshal’s Market in DC actually carries raw ibérico, both in its retail store and by order through the Ibérico USA site. I called up the market, chatted pork with the delightful butcher Pam Ginsburg, and walked out of the store later that week shouldering a ten pound slab of pork belly, four cheeks, and two secretos. Pam is a lady who really knows her meat, and while I sampled her house-made ibérico chorizo, complete with chunks of creamy white fat, she informed me that the secreto formerly was considered a trash cut and shipped to China on the cheap. It kind of makes you wonder about every other cut of meat you’ve ever trimmed away and ground up into mince or fed to the dog.

It's a secreto.

Anyway, on to one of your questions: what is this “presa” cut? According to the description on the Ibérico USA site, it’s a cut attached to the shoulder, at the head of the loin. Have a look at this depiction of American pork cuts and see where the shoulder (the blade shoulder, or Boston butt) meets the loin.

So knowing this, you should treat the presa more as you would the loin, rather than the shoulder, a tougher cut full of connective tissue that needs to be cooked more slowly. Cook it to medium rare – the loin as a whole is fairly lean and is not rich in connective tissue. Give it a good sear in a ripping hot pan with some grapeseed oil (which will take a minute or two), and then turn it over. At this point, for any meat over 2″ thick, I recommend finishing in a low oven – say 275F – until the meat is just barely cooked through to a warmish red/pink center. Otherwise, with a thinner cut, you can turn the stovetop heat down and finish it on the stove. Flip it once or twice to ensure even cooking. Rest the meat when you take it off the heat – five minutes for something about 1 1/2″ or so, ten minutes for something 2″ or larger.

When finished, it should look and feel like medium rare beef, on the slightly more rare side. You do want it to be at least a little warm throughout and not cold in the center – as this meat resembles Wagyu, and even the relatively lean presa has some decent fat marbling, it should be cooked to a warm enough temperature to soften the fat, or at least 100F/38C. Cold fat can leave a slightly greasy or waxy feeling on the palate. Serve it in thin slices across the grain.

Secreto

As I said earlier, I walked out of Wagshal’s with two pieces of secreto as well as the belly and cheeks (which I will address in the near future). On arriving home, I seasoned them simply with salt, and seared them in oil in a super hot pan on both sides for about three minutes each, basting with a little butter added after the secretos hit the pan. The center was barely warmed and the fat had not melted, but was softened. There was a bit more than a tablespoon of fat in the bottom of the pan, which I used to sauté some bunashimeiji mushrooms, finished with a splash of amontillado.

On the rare side (with bunashimeiji mushrooms, celery and apple salad)

The meat tasted rich and clean, without a trace of the barnyard. My husband, who still shudders a little at the idea of eating conventional pork cooked to medium if you let him think about it too much, cleaned his plate without hesitation in about five minutes. It’s a splurge, no doubt – the pound or so of meat cost nearly $40 – but if you’d rather eat smaller quantities of better quality pork, ibérico is the way to go.

[Pork cuts image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:American_Pork_Cuts.svg%5D

Standard