Beans, Beef, Cheese, Grains, Midwest-y, Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Southern

American Beauty.

I recently took some grief on Facebook for posting a photo of a sausage, potato, and cabbage supper – specifically, the bratwurst from a couple weeks ago. To quote my critic: “Funny … if I made medisterpølse with rødkål and brasekartofler, I probably wouldn’t post it,” followed by the smiley face icon that is universal internet shorthand for “I’m just sayin.” In other words, barely a step up from unwrapping and snapping a photo of Lunchables. I guess some Danes are all uppity about Noma and Geranium and Formel B these days, what with being the epicenter of modern microcuisine and all. That’s fine. It doesn’t change the basic fact that great house made sausage is one of the most delicious things you can eat.

“I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary,” preened Angela Hayes in American Beauty, without a clue what ordinariness means. There’s an idea among some food people that familiar foods are categorically ordinary – declassé, and “unhealthy.” It’s a little like people who move to Manhattan or Los Angeles and try to erase all vestiges of their midwestern upbringing in favor of a more sophisticated mien. A recent discussion of the merits/demerits of the KFC Double Down was a virtual clinic on the taxonomy of food snobs. In the “Fancier than Thou” category (and overlapping with “My Body Is a Temple”), were dramatic statements like “Buying food from chain restaurants is cultural destruction” and “We’re eating the values that go with the food.” From “Ill Informed Know-It-All” (overlapping with “Fancier Than Thou”), came declarations like “The Guardian [news] is in the vanguard of pimping ‘American Casual Dining’ to its sheep-like, trend-obsessed readers. … The middle classses are now gorging on the same food marketed as ‘hipster’ and ‘gourmet.'” Everyone has encountered “I’m a High Maintenance Special Snowflake” in at least one of its many guises, including “I don’t eat it if it’s not organic” and “I don’t have celiac disease but gluten is as evil as vaccination,” especially if said gluten takes the form of supermarket white bread or mass-produced pasta, not grains hand-threshed by seed-saving heirloom farmers with Master’s degrees in pre-revolutionary French history. I’m not defending the Double Down, you understand, but if I pound out two organic chicken breasts, bread them using fresh crumbs from homebaked bread, fry them in the rendered fat from ibérico bacon strips and bind the sandwich together with Fontina Val d’Aosta, is the result any less caloric? Comparatively speaking, is this sandwich or the Double Down more or less the supposed culinary equivalent of knocking over the Buddhas of Bamiyan in the name of religious fanaticism?

food snob taxonomy

Interestingly, you can get a pass from the food snobs if the foods of your childhood happen to be “ethnic” – and accordingly out of the ordinary – by American standards. Packaged ramen, for example, was basically the lowest form of college poverty shame food in the US until David Chang declared in the inaugural issue of Lucky Peach that, as a kid, he totally would eat the uncooked brick of ramen for a snack, whereupon it became a cheeky sort of treat. (Full disclosure: Yours truly did this as well as a kid, and the desk drawers in my bedroom were always littered with broken ramen crumbs.) This kind of fetishism is its own kind of food snobbery, and one with a hideously ethnocentric and sometimes even racist component, but that’s a subject for another day. For now, let’s deal with the idea that “traditional American” food, if that’s even a meaningful concept, can be extraordinary and is not something to run from in embarrassment.

Knackwurst and Cheddarwurst

Cheddarwurst is a Wisconsin thing. If you’re from Wisconsin, you’ve had it, and if you haven’t had it, you probably aren’t from Wisconsin. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a smoked sausage with Cheddar cheese. Cheddarwurst horrifies food snobs because, despite combining two delicious foods in one compact, tubular package, its most readily available representation is from the likes of Hillshire Farms, a dreaded manufacturer of processed foods. And you won’t find cheddarwurst anywhere in Germany, so get out your Food Snob Taxonomy and shade in the intersection of “Fancier Than Thou” and “I’m a High Maintenance Special Snowflake” the bright annatto hue of melted American cheese. Crayola Yellow-Orange will do nicely. You can hand it over to the authenticity police when they come to haul you away.

As a Wisconsin girl, I found cheddarwurst a matter of great interest in my youth. I always assumed some sort of high-pressure cheese squirting device was involved in its manufacture. Now, as an experienced sausagemaker, I know the truth is probably far simpler – a stabilized cheese is mixed into the sausage meat before stuffing. Because cheddarwurst is an emulsified sausage – typically based on knackwurst – the melted cheese will not leach into the sausage and disappear, as it might with looser-structured sausages like the bratwurst. Instead, it merely resides, melted, in little pockets until someone bites or cuts through those pockets (or until the sausage cools and the cheese regains its integrity). The sausage meat should be deep pink from curing and smoking, and should virtually explode with juice as you bite through the skin. A little sausage erudition: the reason knackwurst, cheddarwurst, and similar emulsified sausages are snappy and juicy is the water within. When the sausages are heated, the water expands within the casing. The contents of the casing are literally under pressure. You’re welcome.

If you want knackwurst instead of cheddarwurst, just leave out the cheese. I recommend going half and half, making about 3 lbs each knackwurst and cheddarwurst. You must use some form of stabilized cheese to make this or risk greasy pools of orange cheese fat when you heat the sausages. I have provided a recipe for the stabilized cheese I used in this sausage.

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1150g beef chuck (with interior fat)
780g pork shoulder (with fat cap)
220g pork belly
40g salt
5g TCM
7g paprika
4g mace
2g ground coriander
13g black pepper
2g smoked garlic powder
large pinch cloves
120g nonfat dry milk
220g ice water
250g processed cheese (see Extra: Processed Cheese elsewhere on this site)
hog casings

Cube all the meats and fat and freeze until firm but not hard. Meanwhile, combine all the dry ingredients. Set aside. Soak the hog casings in ice water for 30 minutes; rinse three times under running water. Hold in ice water until ready to use.

Toss the frozen meats with about half the dry seasonings. Grind through a medium die into a large metal mixer bowl. Immediately toss well with the remaining dry ingredients and incorporate thoroughly by hand. Then add the ice water and mix well to emulsify, increasing mixer speed from low to medium-high. Do not overmix to avoid breakage. The mixture must be ice cold when you add the water. It will become somewhat loose when you first pour in the water but will firm up somewhat as the water is incorporated. Cook a test quenelle and add more salt or other seasonings as necessary.

Before emulsifying.

Before emulsifying.

Once emulsified.

Once emulsified.

Dice the cheese about 1/4″. By hand, stir it into the emulsified sausage, distributing as evenly as possible.

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Fill a sausage stuffer and load on the soaked and rinsed hog casings. Stuff the casings. Pinch off at about 15 cm (6″) intervals and twist every other link in an opposite direction (for example, twist link 2 toward you, link 4 away, and so on). Place in a single layer on a sheet pan and dry in the refrigerator 12-24 hours. Turn over and dry the other side another 12-24 hours.

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Drape the links over a rotisserie skewer or similar and smoke over hardwood for about 2 hours at 88C/190F to an internal temperature of about 71C/160F. Try to avoid letting the individual links touch or you will have to reposition them to ensure even smoking.

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Depending on the size of your links, this may take somewhat longer. Do not allow the smoker to heat over 120C/250F and watch it carefully if it reaches temperatures over 100C/212F or your sausages may burst or leak during smoking.

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Brown in an oiled pan over low heat, or grill indirectly over coals, before serving.

Red beans and rice, auf Deutsch

Why auf Deutsch? Well, red beans and rice are traditionally made with tasso, andouille, or other Louisiana cured, pickled, or smoked pork products, and I’m using the knackwurst made above. I don’t want the authenticity police on my back, so let’s call it German-influenced Creole, or Creole-influenced German.

In keeping with the Creole aspect of the dish, I used a Louisiana popcorn rice, bred for its nutty, buttery flavor. After learning of Sean Brock’s method of preparing Carolina Gold, which he has served to great effect at Husk in a dish called Charleston Ice Cream, I tried it out with the Louisiana rice, aging the rice in sealed containers for a year with bay leaves from our garden, and parboiling the finished product before finishing in a low oven, with butter. The results are spectacular, even if you don’t age the rice first with bay. Try it on its own before adding the red beans and sausage.

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For the beans:

2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1 whole head garlic
1/2 lb dried red kidney beans

For the broth:

3 stalks celery
1 medium yellow onion
2 serrano chiles or one very hot jalepeño, seeded and stemmed
1 cubanelle pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp rendered bacon fat
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
2 1/2 c smoked chicken stock or pork stock

For the rice:

1 1/2 c Louisiana popcorn rice
6 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
2 branches parsley
3 tbsp butter

To finish:

2 knackwurst, from above
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
Tabasco
pickled ramps
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
chives, sliced thinly
assorted herbs and flowers: chive blossom, dianthus, oxalis, thyme, woodruff, sorrel, pea tendrils, anything growing at the moment that is edible and sounds good to you

Cover the kidney beans in water to cover plus three inches, with 1 tsp salt. Cover and stand 12 hours.

Combine the kidney beans with about 6 c water, bay leaves, halved garlic head, thyme, and 1 tsp salt, and cook for about 8 minutes at 15 psi in a pressure cooker (25 minutes if you do not soak). After releasing pressure, drain well and set aside in a colander.

Finely dice (1/4″) each of the celery, onion, and serrano chile. Thinly slice the garlic. Roast the cubanelle over an open flame and place in a sealed bag to steam off the skin. Dice finely, removing the seeds. Sweat the vegetables in bacon fat over low heat, seasoning with a little salt. Add the spices and dried thyme, and saute a minute to bring out the aromas. Add the bay leaves and thyme, and the stock. Simmer, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the drained beans. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add white pepper, salt, and Tabasco to taste.

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Meanwhile, cook the rice. 200F oven. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and 1 tbsp salt. When it comes to a boil, add the rice and stir to prevent sticking. Maintain heat at a low boil for 15 minutes and drain, discarding the herbs. Spread on a sheet pan in a thin, even layer. [At this point, if you are preparing for later service, chill it down immediately in the freezer, cover with clingfilm once completely cold, and refrigerate until 30 minutes before service.] Stud with the butter and the remaining bay leaves. Bake another 18 minutes and stir.

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Cook the knackwurst over low heat until the sausage is taut and plump. Slice each into four pieces. Ladle the beans and broth in the bottom of a bowl, add a mound of rice, garnish with the sausage and the various herbs and flowers.

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Note: This post was brought to you by the Creative Cooking Crew:
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Baking, Midwest-y, Pork Products, Random Thoughts

Ein prosit der gemütlichkeit.

Those who did not have the good fortune to grow up in Wisconsin tend to play down its gastronomic charms as minimal, limited to cheap beer and government surplus cheese. That’s because they have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re probably envious as well. You see, dining in Wisconsin isn’t just about the food; it’s also about a certain sense of comfort and happiness based in relaxing with, and feeling close to, your people – what we would call gemütlichkeit. You don’t have to be ethnically German to understand gemütlichkeit; just being from, or in, southeastern Wisconsin will get you there. Gemütlichkeit is the reason Summerfest happens in Milwaukee and not, say, Seattle, and why the University of Wisconsin has the greatest student union in America. It’s why no one minds waiting in line for sausages at Usinger’s, and random strangers will invite you to crash a party – and really mean it. It’s not really a Midwestern thing, either. Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, is so much more gemütlich than other Midwestern locales that I found Minnesotans closed-off and positively chilly when I moved there.

Possibly the archetypical, most gemütlich, Wisconsin food is bratwurst, which translates in German either to “pan fried sausage” or “finely chopped meat sausage.” This description obviously doesn’t distinguish bratwurst from most other sausages, but if you’ve ever had a good brat, you know exactly what to expect – the snap of the casing, the cascade of juice, the aroma of mace and marjoram spicing up the pork and veal. It’s usually fairly coarse in texture, sometimes finer, but you always should be able to discern the texture of the meat; if it’s emulsified like a hot dog, it’s not a brat. And while we’re on the subject, it’s pronounced “braht,” like “father,” not “brat” like “apple,” or like “beat on the brat with a baseball bat.

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Brats are social food, the sort of thing you eat in the company of others, not like a sad box of Fruit Loops you eat by the handful in the car, alone. They can be pan-fried, of course, but the other standard Milwaukee preparation is to poach the sausages in beer enriched with onions and maybe butter until cooked through, and then grill over charcoal just long enough for the skins to brown, just shy of blistered. This ritual typically takes place in backyard Weber kettles, on the never-cleaned picnic area grills in the Milwaukee County Parks, or in the parking lot of County Stadium* both before and after the game. The centrality of bratwurst, and basically all sausages, to Milwaukee culture is reflected in the Sausage Race at the top of the sixth in every Brewers home game. If you haven’t had the pleasure, the Sausage Race pits people dressed as the culturally significant sausages of Milwaukee – a brat, a Polish sausage, an Italian sausage, a hot dog, and a chorizo (the last two having joined the race in the last decade) – in a footrace around the stadium. The Sausage Race is highly gemütlich, providing Brewers fans a rallying point during games and uniting them around a common love of multiethnic tube meats, even while providing a source of friendly competition.**

Sausages on their marks.
***

I recently recounted to my husband a 2013 incident involving the heist of Guido, the Italian racing sausage. If you don’t recall Weenie Gate, you never heard the story in the first place, because it’s not the sort of thing one forgets. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, “The 7-foot-long weenie was lying unused in a backroom at the Milwaukee Curling Club. …[A] witness saw the sausage walk out of the south door about 7:45 p.m.” In the subsequent week, the giant foam sausage made its unauthorized rounds about Cedarburg, drinking PBRs, jamming at the Roadhouse Bar and Grill, and signing autographs, before being returned by an unidentified hood-wearing man who entered TJ Ryan’s, deposited Guido on a barstool, said “You did not see anything” to the bartender, and strolled out. My husband, who has as keen an insight into Milwaukee’s essence as any non-native, immediately identified the parallels with another famous episode of gemütlichkeit gone bad: the ill-conceived “Martinifest” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In characteristic Milwaukee fashion, revelers drank so excessively that they soon engaged in such completely debauched group behavior as mounting and riding the Gaston Lachaise bronze of a standing woman. One might question why, especially in a city as soaked in alcohol and fun-loving criminality as Milwaukee, anyone thought unlimited martinis for $30 was a good idea. Perhaps the Texas-based corporate sponsor lacked the necessary cultural awareness.****

Bratwurst

The most famed bratwurst in Wisconsin come not from Milwaukee but from Sheboygan, about an hour north on Lake Michigan. The other thing that happens in Sheboygan is chartered fishing expeditions for brown trout and Chinook salmon, but that’s another story. It’s a cute town. One time, my parents went up on an impromptu day trip without telling me and, when I came home from university for the weekend, I had to break into my own house. It’s pretty uncool when the neighbors call the cops because they see someone’s legs hanging out your kitchen window and those legs happen to belong to you.

Sheboyganites get kind of tense if you talk of poaching their brats in beer before grilling, they way we do in Milwaukee. They consider it an amateur move. I don’t know about that, but beer-poaching tends to make for plumper sausages, and soften the skins a little so they burst less readily during grilling. Anyway, don’t overcomplicate your sausage-making – no need for special modernist twists, just straightforward grinding and stuffing. There is a time and place for esoteric ingredients and complex technique in cooking, but making bratwurst is not that time. Let it be about good quality meat with a decent amount of fat, and a liberal quantity of both sweet and hot spices. Making sausage with at least one other person – who can turn the crank on the stuffer or even just hang out and work the bottle opener – is more fun than doing it alone.

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950g veal shoulder
1350g pork shoulder (including a generous fat cap comprising about 1/4 the total weight of the meat)
30g salt
7g each black pepper and white pepper
5g crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp chopped marjoram
1 1/2 tsp smoked granulated garlic
1 1/4 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
natural casings

Dice the meats and spread on a sheet pan. Incidentally, meat proportions here are not really crucial (I set out a 3:2 ratio of fatty pork to veal, but if veal is too expensive or unavailable, you could decrease the amount of veal, or go with all pork, for example). If your pork shoulder is mostly lean, substitute some fresh belly or fatback. Freeze until firm, but not hard. Meanwhile, combine all the dry ingredients.

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Toss with the frozen cubed meat and grind through a medium die. Add about 175g (2/3 c) ice water and mix lightly by hand just to distribute evenly. This is not an emulsified sausage so don’t beat in the water.

Stuff the casings. Pinch off at about 15 cm (6″) intervals and twist every other link in an opposite direction (for example, twist link 2 toward you, link 4 away, and so on). Cook within the next 3 days. If you don’t intend to use all your brats within that time, freeze on a silpat-lined sheet pan until solid and then vacuum pack in bags.

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Note: If you have access to really small-diameter natural casings (18-20 mm), such as one uses to make breakfast links, you can make something very similar to the famous Nuremberger Bratwurst (Nürnberger Bratwürste). Change the ratio of veal and pork to 1:2 (about 33% veal to 67% pork), and omit the black pepper, garlic, and red chile flake. Pinch off at 8 mm intervals and, after grilling, serve three to a roll.

For beer bratwurst:

Per 6 bratwurst:

2 bottles German-style pilsner or some similar beer
1 large onion, sliced thinly pole-to-pole
2 bay leaves
about a dozen black peppercorns and a few whole allspice
2-3 tbsp butter

Combine all the ingredients in a pan with a lid and add the bratwurst. Bring to just short of a simmer (about 82C/180F) and cover. Don’t let the liquid boil or even simmer visibly or the casings will burst. Turn over, using tongs or even just a spoon, after about 8 minutes. Cook another 8 minutes or so until completely cooked through. Handle carefully to avoid piercing or otherwise damaging the sausage casings.

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Remove to a plate and rest for about 5 minutes to dry out the casings. Finish over medium heat in an oiled pan, or on a well-oiled grill over indirect heat. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat or your brats will burst. They may take longer to cook than you like, but just have another beer and don’t worry about it.

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Serve in a split crusty roll brushed with melted butter, thinly sliced onion (rinsed in cold water and drained), and dill pickle slices, and lots of mustard, or with German fried potatoes (bratkartoffeln) and some kind of cabbage product. If you go the sandwich route, know that eating brats two aside in a roll is considered normal Wisconsin behavior and not degenerate or unduly gluttonous.

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Extra: Hard rolls

Wisconsinites are an easygoing people and not doctrinaire in most matters. Except when it comes to bratwurst. Opinions vary whether yellow mustard and ketchup are ever appropriate (certain hardass types say no, but reasonable people can disagree), and as noted above, there exists a beer/no beer parcooking divide. The one universal point of agreement is a categorical ban on the use of hot dog buns. You need a sturdy roll, crusty on the outside and airy within, to soak up the brat juices and still retain its integrity. If you do it wrong, you will be shunned.

Unless you live in Wisconsin, your supermarket bakery is unlikely to carry the right kind of roll. These hard rolls are a basic bread you can make at home in under three hours, most of which is rising time.

350g bread flour
6g barley malt powder
4g yeast
175g warm water
40g olive oil
4g salt

Combine all ingredients but the salt and knead (by hand or in stand mixer with dough hook) until smooth and not sticky to touch. Knead in the salt and place in a deep bowl or lidded container. Cover the bowl tightly and rise an hour or until doubled. Heat oven to 400F.

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Divide into 6 balls and form into ovals. Press to flatten slightly and mark vertically through the center with the handle of a wooden spoon. Place on a lined sheet pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and rise until puffy.

Spray with a fine water mist, place in the oven, and spray the walls of the oven with water. Bake for about 20-22 minutes until deep golden. About five minutes after putting in the rolls, mist the walls of the oven again.

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* I’m aware it’s supposedly called Miller Park now. I’m not used to that name, much like the city airport in Washington DC is and always will be National Airport.

** As the fame of the racing sausages spread, other major league ballparks adopted the use of comically oversized foam racing icons. The Pirates were first to emulate Milwaukee, with the racing pierogies, and the Nationals of course have the Presidents’ Race. This is not the first time Milwaukee set a trend rooted in gemütlichkeit. In the late Seventies, a local songwriter penned a promotional tune for Milwaukee’s ABC affiliate (WISN) extolling the virtues of the city, especially its “thousand yesterdays,” “magic ways,” and how “we’re all good neighbors passing by.” I remember all the words as every third grader in the WISN viewing area ultimately was forced to sing it at spring concerts for the next three years. In any case, the song, “Hello Milwaukee,” was co-opted by 167 cities around the United States and Canada in the ensuing years. I’m sure the residents of each of these cities thought the song was their own, but it isn’t. It’s ours. You’re welcome.

*** Published pursuant to Wikimedia Commons License.

**** In any case, Scientific American used Martinifest as a case study for how not to conduct a fundraiser in any proximity to valuable works of art. Milwaukee is pleased to contribute to these advances in scientific research.

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Breakfast, Cocktails, eggs, Latin, Midwest-y, Pork Products, Random Thoughts

Your medium western states.

When I was growing up in Milwaukee in the Seventies, my city was the epicenter of American prime time television culture, what with Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and all. The interesting thing is it came by this fame not for displaying its contemporary charms, but by portraying a sort of idealized vision of a Fifties-era Milwaukee, evoking a sagging nation’s fondness for its own better days. If you doubt the prominence of Wisconsin in Seventies pop culture and its use as a nostalgic prop, I submit to you that, twenty years later, Fox set That Seventies Show not in New York or San Francisco or Southern California, but in my home state. As viewed through the lens of television, the whole idea of Wisconsin is like standing in one of those bathrooms with a mirrored shower door opposite a mirrored wall. You can stand there and watch yourself traveling backwards through time into infinity.

Fairly or not, in any case, the Midwest as a whole has come to represent the situs of not only American nostalgia but a sort of anti-progress, looking backward at our past as though into the endless regression of those reflected mirror images. Is it true – that we stand still while time eddies around us? Does it matter? Which brings me to South Dakota, where I recently spent a week driving around with a colleague, another transplanted Midwesterner now living on the east coast.

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Here’s the thing about living in the city: it can turn you into a glutton for novelty and status. You get to the point where you always order the one unfamiliar item on the menu, which you have scanned for words like tripe, foraged, and hay-smoked to ensure the chef, like you, has been doing his homework. Securing a cronut comes with bragging rights, until that sudden moment when they’re so over, as over as cupcakes and salted caramel, fodder for copycatting on mommy blogs and the Starbucks bakery case. You watch that Portlandia episode with an expanding sense of unease, like, are you this ridiculous? Maybe you are this ridiculous.

None of this is an issue in rural South Dakota. Your dining options are basically limited to truck stops and taverns, and you had better like beef, or you’re shit out of luck. One night during our visit, we ordered grilled ribeyes, which came with a trip to the salad bar. “You first,” I gestured to my colleague. He returned a few minutes later with a frosted glass plate of iceberg lettuce and what looked like macaroni salad. “Don’t get too excited,” he cautioned me in his low-key Michigander way, as I stood for my turn. Nestled beside the bowl of rust-tinged iceberg lettuce in the salad buffet was something I thought could be creamed mushrooms. For one demented moment, I even thought it might be edible soil folded into mayonnaise. I took a big spoonful. It turned out to be crushed Oreos folded into vanilla pudding, which, I learned the next day, is called “cookie salad” locally and may be varied by substituting other cookies or candy bars for the Oreos, and Cool Whip for the pudding. “That sounds great,” my husband said later that night, when I gave him the post-game over the phone. “Not as salad, though.”

This is the kind of food that makes sophisticates on the coasts cast knowing glances of pity and scorn on their Midwestern associates. And plant foods are not the strong point of rural South Dakota at end-of-winter, based on our visit. But the ribeyes were deeply marked from the grill, rimmed in charred fat, and mine was the perfect medium rare I’d requested. The macaroni salad turned out to be a very good potato salad, the potato grated into long shreds and bound lightly in mayonnaise. Beers were icy, served in frosted mugs. Cookie salad notwithstanding, our dinner was the kind of thing – like grilled cheese or meat lasagne – most of us love when we’re not trying to keep up appearances. Sometimes moving forward is less important than standing perfectly still.

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Breakfast Egg

A good breakfast is a lot like a good dinner in the rural Midwest. It’s inherently retrograde – probably taking you back a couple of decades at least – and delivers total familiarity, not intellectual demands first thing in the morning. Maybe you deploy a few tricks here and there – your eggs are cooked in a water bath, your sausage is house-made – but always in the service of improvement, not novelty. Like Steve Austin. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. But also like Steve Austin, the perfect modern breakfast still basically looks like the breakfast you remember.

When I was a kid, I figured out pretty early that I could do almost anything I wanted during weekend mornings if I was quiet enough not to wake my parents. This awareness inevitably led me down one of two paths: slice upon slice of white sandwich bread, toasted one at a time and immediately spread with thin curls of cold salted butter; or eggs, either scrambled with slices of American cheese (one per egg), or beaten and poured into a swirling vortex of chicken bouillon until just set, like a fluffy, poached, chicken-flavored omelet. Both were eaten watching Super Friends while sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter; both were always followed, once my parents came down a couple hours later, by what I liked to call “second breakfast.”

What follows is a modern breakfast interpretation of one of my favorite second breakfasts, over easy eggs with maple-y sausage links and bacon, toast on the side. The yolk should run somewhat; you accomplish this by cooking the egg until only the white is set, chilling, and wrapping the chilled egg in sausage. If you let the egg come to room temperature before frying, you probably will end up with a set (if soft-ish) yolk.

Transglutaminase is not strictly necessary. It binds the protein in the pork to that in the egg white, but you can achieve a pretty ok effect by rolling the eggs in flour. The downside to flour is it can form an unappetizing pastelike substance when it combines with the moisture in the pork, so use only the merest coating. And if you don’t keep quarts of bacon fat around the house, pretty much any vegetable oil will do, though your eggs won’t taste all that bacon-y.

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For the eggs:

6 large eggs, at room temperature
Egg carton

Prepare an ice bath.

Bring 3000 ml (3 liters, about 3 qts) salted water to a boil. Carefully add the eggs. Cook just at the boil (not a rolling boil) for 4 1/2 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and deposit in the ice bath. Once the eggs are just cool enough to handle, tap lightly all over to form shallow cracks, including at both ends. Allow the eggs to rest in the ice bath under refrigeration at least 3 hours. This allows the eggs to cool but also permits water to penetrate the cracks and loosen the shell.

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When ready to coat in sausage, remove the shell. Store the eggs upright in an empty egg carton lined with clingfilm.

For the sausage:

700g/1.5 lbs pork shoulder, quite fatty (2:1 ratio shoulder to belly if a fatty cut of shoulder is not available)
2 1/4 tsp smoked salt
2 tbsp maple sugar
1/8 tsp pimentón
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
leaves from 3 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, peeled

Cube the pork shoulder and season with the salt, sugar, pepper, and pimentón. Freeze briefly and then add the thyme leaves and thinly sliced garlic. Grind through a small die. Cook a test quenelle and add seasoning if necessary.

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To fry:

2-4 slices bacon, depending on thickness
4 g transglutaminase (Activa RM)
4 c bacon fat
1 c flour
1 egg, beaten with 3 tbsp water
2 c panko

Set the bacon slices on a rack over a quarter sheet pan and bake at 150C/300F for 8-15 minutes (depending on thickness) until the bacon, including its fat, is just cooked but not browned. Reduce heat to 82C/180F and continue to dry the bacon until crisp, about 3 hours. Not browning the bacon is important, as browned bacon will burn once fried later. Drain well on paper towels, cool, and grind to a powder. Combine with the panko. Up to this point, you may store the panko blend tightly covered for several days in the refrigerator.

On a large square of clingfilm, spread about 75g (around 3 ounces) sausage in a thin (about 3 mm) layer large enough to cover the egg evenly once completely rolled. Note: You should do a test run to get a sense of the size of the sausage layer before proceeding to the next step as mistakes cannot be undone without an adverse impact on texture.

Sprinkle transglutaminase over the sausage surface in a thin layer (about 1% by weight, so just over .5g per egg). Place an egg in the center and gather the clingfilm upwards, covering the surface of the egg with sausage. Twist to enclose completely and form into an ovaline ball; repeat until all the sausage and eggs are gone. It is best to place these in a muffin/popover tin as you work so they remain round while they chill. Chill for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.

Set up a standard three part breading station and heat the bacon fat to 163C/325F. Unwrap the sausage-covered eggs as you are ready to fry. Ensure the sausage is well attached to the egg; dip in the flour, the egg wash, then the panko-bacon mixture. Fry on each side for about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm with rye toast for dipping in the runny yolk.

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Bonus: Michelada

On the way home from South Dakota, I stopped at O’Hare. I never complain about laying over in O’Hare because I can stock up on Garrett’s cheese corn and have molletes at Tortas Frontera. This time, I added a cocktail to my routine. The bartender was kind enough to put it in a to go cup so I could use it to take the edge off my flight. Midwesterners are so thoughtful.

I’ve consumed many a michelada, but this was by far the best. I attribute it to the extra lime I requested. If you like drinking with breakfast at weekends, this is better than bloodies – more refreshing and far less drunk-making. I have no idea if this is how Frontera makes micheladas, but it tastes right.

Tajin* or Valentina fruit seasoning (Note: these are both dry seasonings of chile, lime, and salt and are pretty much the same. Excellent on melons, mango, and papaya. Substitute a chile salt)
One 12-ounce Negro Modelo or similar; Corona or PBR will do in a pinch
1 tsp or so Valentina hot sauce (specifically)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 shakes Maggi
Juice of two limes or one really juicy, large lime
Optional: between 1/2 and 1 shot tequila (NOT silver or blanco, and nothing really expensive)
Several ice cubes

Moisten the rim of a pint glass and dip in a plate with a shallow layer of Tajin.

In the glass, stir together the hot sauce, Worcestershire, Maggi, lime juice, and tequila if using. Add the ice cubes. Slowly pour in about 1/3 of the beer and stir gently just to combine. Add the rest of the beer. Drink with more lime.

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*Note: The Tajin bottle bears an interesting warning:

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Just right.

Not long ago, a chef I know posted on Facebook about his horror of composed plates. He explained that, for his entire life, he has not been able to stand for the different components of a dish to touch each other. Meat is not to touch side dishes, and sides are not to touch each other. His revulsion evidently is not uncommon*: the internet is replete with obsessives who cannot abide the thought of carrots nudging beef. This fear, which amazingly has a name (brumotactillophobia), seems almost universal among children, perhaps accounting for the necessity of those partitioned lunch trays in grade school.

That said, pointing out to a fully self-actualized adult that his eating habits stand him in good stead with the second graders of the world wins you no friends. Sometimes it’s better just to set an unavoidably good example. For instance, one might make a dish in which every bite was perfect and complete, and so well integrated the committed brumotactillophobe would have no power to resist.

Farro porridge, smoked pork, pickled cabbage

Many laughs have been had at Brooklyn’s expense over the past few years, and justifiably so. I’m as fond as anyone of mocking the borough’s Warby Parkerization, a process so thorough I no longer associate Brooklyn in any way with the opening credits to Welcome Back Kotter, with its tenements and pushcarts and working-class juvenile delinquency. And so I rolled my eyes last December at the news that an “artisanal porridge shop” had opened in Park Slope.

But as with so many things that initially appear ridiculous, there was a tug, an irresistible impulse to turn back for a second look even as you feel sheepish for doing so. I laughed at the Three Little Bears-ness of the artisanal porridge vendor, but the fact is, I looked at the menu and totally would have eaten the hell out of any of the savory porridges. Back in the early 90s, I had a barley “risotto” at Joachim Splichal’s Los Angeles restaurant Patina, and, on replicating it at home, found it far more delicious and easier to prepare well than its namesake. For one thing, whereas risotto leans heavily on the quality of the stock for its flavor, whole grains like barley, farro, and rye are hearty and earthy even prepared with water. For another, risotto’s perfection is fleeting; once attained, it vanishes almost immediately, leaving the dish gummy and soft. Porridges made from whole grains absorb liquid more slowly, and retain their bite even after being held for some time. I’ve used hulled barley, unpolished carnaroli rice, farro, rye grains, winter wheat, malted wheat … pretty much anything the beer supply store carries – to make savory porridges over the years. I’ve even made it from malted grains left over after my husband drains off the wort during beermaking. On my last trip to Copenhagen, I enjoyed a tremendous rendition featuring wheat berries, red cabbage, traditional Danish pickled cucumbers, and ham from Mikkel Marschall of Kadeau Bornholm.

Porridge is best made from things you already have lying around. For example, I don’t recommend actually going to the trouble to cure and smoke a pork shoulder specifically for this dish. It just happened that I did smoke about fifteen pounds of shoulder in the early fall, vacuum sealing slabs of the pork with its own fat and freezing it for the winter. We always have some form of cabbage in the house during the cold months. And we have a huge bin of various grains for making beer. You don’t need to buy or prepare anything special for a delicious pot of porridge. If you have brown rice or barley lying around, use that. Stir in bits of leftover mushrooms, or diced roast beef. Any foods that taste good together will be delicious combined in porridge. Make sure to include a tart element, like pickled onions or similar, so every bite is complete and perfect.

For the smoked pork shoulder:

Note: This yields far more than needed for this recipe. If you’re the kind of person who would go to the effort to cure and smoke a pork shoulder, having a surplus of smoked pork shoulder will not bother you in the least.

4 lb/1800g bone-in pork shoulder (picnic)
75g salt
50g brown sugar
5g smoked granulated garlic
5g pimentón dulce
5g onion powder
5g ground black pepper

Combine the dry ingredients. Rub the pork shoulder well on all surfaces, and in any cavities. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and cure, refrigerated, for three days, turning every 12 hours.

Set up a smoker with wood of choice (I prefer fruit woods for pork and smoked this shoulder over applewood). Smoke the unwrapped shoulder fat side up for 4 hours at 200F, rotating 180 degrees once about three hours into smoking.

Wrap the shoulder in foil and return to a 225F oven. Cook to an internal temperature of 190F. Remove from oven and rest about 45 minutes or so. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat in as large a piece as possible from the bone, being sure to extract the big nuggets within the bone hollows.

For the smoked pork stock:

This yields about 4 liters of stock.

4000g chicken stock (use water if stock unavailable and add 1000g chicken wings, necks, and backs)
smoked pork bone from shoulder, above
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
2 allspice berries
2 cloves
12 black peppercorns
250g each diced onion, carrot, and celery

Bring the stock (or water and chicken wings/backs/necks) the smoked pork bone, and the herbs and spices to barely a simmer (around 190F). Keep covered and hold at that temperature, skimming if needed, for about four hours. Add the mirepoix and simmer another 45 minutes. Strain.

For the compressed cabbage pickle:

about 10 leaves savoy cabbage (medium sized head)
75 ml white wine vinegar
75 ml filtered water
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar

Combine the vinegar, water, spices, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, cool.

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Shred the cabbage about 1/8″. Bag (in 2 separate bags) with equal quantities brine. Seal and drop in a large pot of vigorously boiling water. Boil 6 minutes and chill in ice bath.

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For the farro:

250g farro
45g unsalted butter
one small onion, small dice
125g dry white wine
500g smoked pork stock from above
80g unsalted butter
175g cabbage pickle from above
275g smoked pork from above, diced
Dehydrated spinach**
Chives
Garlic chive blossoms
salt and pepper

Soak the farro for about 6-12 hours in cold water. Drain well. Set immersion circulator to 194F.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Reduce heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and sweat; add the drained farro and toss well in the butter to coat. Sauté for about 3 minutes until well toasted. Add the wine and stir, allowing the grain to absorb the wine. Season with additional salt.

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Transfer to a plastic bag. Add smoked pork stock and vacuum seal. Drop into circulator and cook for 25 minutes. If necessary, chill in ice bath until ready to serve. [The bag will contain a substantial amount of unabsorbed liquid; absorption will continue to some degree during cooling. This is normal.] If you have neither the means nor inclination to cook the grains sous vide, continue ladling in hot stock as you would for risotto, stirring constantly over low heat. Expect the cooking process to take about 45-50 minutes.

Transfer bag contents to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until farro is soupy but liquid is thick and creamy.

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Beat in remaining 80g butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in diced cabbage pickle and smoked pork. Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with dehydrated spinach, herbs, and flowers. Serve immediately.

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*YumSugar polling is obviously unscientific.
** You can dehydrate spinach leaves in the microwave or dry at 150F on silpat-lined sheet pans in a convection oven.

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Mystery of the pyramids.

Every kid who grows up in Wisconsin considers Chicago The Big Time, usually with a certain amount of contempt and possibly even undisguised hatred. Chicagoans in turn regard Wisconsin residents as ice-fishing hicks and drunks. Kermit the Frog-style man on the street interviews in both cities tell the tale pretty quickly. Mention you’re from Wisconsin anywhere in Chicagoland and you’ll get one of three loud responses, the first two with a mocking accent: “eh, dere,” “ya der hey,” or “Cheesehead,” each of which means, roughly, “go home, Sconnie.” Ask a Wisconsinite for his or her opinions on Chicagoans and you will be treated to a tirade about FIBs, particularly their incompetence behind the wheel when driving outside their home town and inexplicable support for sports franchises like the Cubs and the Bears. If you aren’t from Wisconsin and don’t know what a FIB is, try sounding it out with various swear words at the beginning and end until you get it right. Hint: the middle word is “Illinois” and there are two possible correct answers.

Even so, most of us if pressed would admit to intense jealousy over Chicago’s cultural opportunities and urbanity. My own family made the pilgrimage a couple of times a year, to visit the museums down by Soldier Field – the Museum of Science and Industry was my favorite, with its giant walk-through model of a human heart – or window-shop on Michigan Avenue. We never stayed more than a day or so at a time, though, and Chicago remained a mystery to me for years, even though only 90 minutes separate it from Milwaukee. Once I got my driver’s license, I sometimes begged off Saturday night parties to drive to Chicago, alone, tossing forty cents after forty cents into each of the toll booth baskets the way down just so I could cruise up and down Lakeshore Drive, and all around the Loop (at least once forgetting to save any cash for the drive back). At the time it seemed the height of adventure to parallel park my mom’s 1977 Olds Toronado and walk around downtown at 10 pm looking for a Vienna beef dog. After graduating from school, I even took a job in Chicago, living on Clark Street right next to the infamous Wieners Circle. The Circle, as habitués like to call it, serves great char-dogs and cheese fries but I avoided it from Thursday night through Sunday evening, when it attracts the very worst people in Chicago. It all comes back to FIBs, after all.

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Now, my dad traveled to Chicago on his own from time to time, and he often returned from those trips with a plastic bag full of pyramid-shaped, bamboo leaf-wrapped bundles from Chinatown. The Taiwanese word for those bundles is bah-chàng, and they were something of a special occasion item in our home, partly because any food that comes in a wrapper seems inherently fun, like a present, but mostly because bah-chàng are damn tasty. I associate bah-chàng completely with Chicago because we only ever ate them when he brought them back from his visits, much as we only ever ate lobster when he came home from Boston, or crabs after his trips to the DC area. In any case, at such times, my mother would set a big metal steamer over a pot of boiling water to reheat the bah-chàng, filling the kitchen with the sort of green-woodsy, slightly floral scent of bamboo leaves. Cut the string, and unwind the moist parcel to release a pyramid of glutinous rice, filled with soy-marinated pork belly, black mushroom, pungent dried shrimp, and a salted duck egg yolk. I visited Chicago for work last week, and spent so much time thinking about bah-chàng that I had to make them as soon as I came home.

Smoked pig and peanut rice dumplings

Only two ingredients are really mandatory for bah-chàng: glutinous (sticky) rice and some sort of leaf for wrapping. This rice dumpling combines these two basic bah-chàng ingredients with American Southern ingredients. Using bamboo leaves to wrap the dumpling lends an unmistakably Taiwanese aura to the dish, even though nearly all of the other ingredients come straight from the South. Sautéing the glutinous rice after soaking helps the grains retain some distinctness and lends some additional flavor from the shallot and fat – skipping this step ensures the rice will stick together more, yielding an almost tamale-like texture. Both preparations are acceptable. If you want to try this out with other things you find in the freezer, know that any fatty meat (like chicken thighs, pork shoulder, etc) works well.

2 c glutinous rice (note: you may find both black and white glutinous rice. Black cooks to a deep purple and makes for a striking and unconventional presentation)
12 bamboo leaves (alternatively, you may try lotus leaves or banana leaves, each of which lends its own distinctive flavor)
1/2 lb pork belly, cured and smoked as for bacon, or 1/2 lb slab bacon
2 tbsp usukuchi soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp American corn whiskey, like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels
2 tsp sorghum syrup
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
1 c shelled boiled green peanuts (see below)
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 1/2 tbsp bacon fat
dozen pickled ramps, sliced in half lengthwise (substitute pickled onion)
kitchen twine

Rinse the rice several times in cold water and then leave to soak in a bowl, with about an inch of water to cover, for 3 hours.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the bamboo leaves. Boil for about five minutes until soft and remove from heat. Keep the leaves in water until nearly ready to use.

Slice the smoked pork belly crosswise into six equal pieces (about 1/3″ each). Combine the soy, whiskey, sorghum, white pepper, and espelette and marinate the sliced belly for about an hour. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already shelled the boiled peanuts, do so.

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Drain the rice well and leave to sit for about 10 minutes. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the bacon fat. Add the sliced shallots and allow to brown on both sides until golden. Remove the shallots but leave behind the hot bacon fat.

Add the drained rice and sauté until each grain is well coated with fat, about 3 minutes. You may skip this frying step for a more compact, tamale-like texture.

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Assemble the dumplings. Drain the bamboo leaves and overlap two, with the leaves slightly off-center as to form a long and narrow “X.” Fold in the middle to make a cone.

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Divide the rice into six portions and add half of a portion inside the cone, making an indent in the bottom to contain fillings; press the rice up around the insides of the cone. Add a spoonful of the boiled peanuts, a slice of smoked pork belly, some fried shallot and slices of ramp. Fold the pork over if necessary to fit and top with some more peanuts and the remaining portion of the rice.

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Drizzle with about 1 1/2 tsp of the pork marinade. Fold the tops of the leaves over the cone to close securely, and tie well with kitchen twine. You should have essentially a pyramid (tetrahedron) shape.

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Set in a steamer over boiling water and steam for about 3 hours (a little more won’t hurt). At this point, you can serve immediately or allow to cool and chill for up to four days. They also freeze well. Reheat in a steamer over boiling water to serve. For enhanced Southern-style deliciousness, serve with some pickled peaches.

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Boiled green peanuts

Green peanuts are fresh young peanuts still in the shell. The kind of peanuts you find in cocktail mix or even ostensibly raw in bulk have been cured through air-drying once they reach maturity, and do not taste the same. These are only generally available in-season (typically summer), and even then only where there exists sufficient demand, as they are perishable.

There are few exercises more frustrating than shelling freshly boiled peanuts. The shell sticks to the papery skin, and the peanut within tends to mush somewhat under the pressure of peeling. When making these dumplings, I discovered serendipitously that frozen boiled peanuts shell easily – probably something about the water freezing between the shell and the skin, expanding it just enough to prevent sticking. If you are lucky enough to find fresh green peanuts and boil your own as directed below, do yourself a solid and freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan overnight before thawing and shelling. As a bonus, any you aren’t ready to use right then you can freeze, sealed tightly in a plastic bag.

For the very simplest preparation, you can simply boil in salted water (about 1/4 c per gallon), but the vinegar and spices lend a very slightly pickled character that tastes great with the fatty, sweet nut. If you don’t feel like dealing with boiling your own, or green peanuts aren’t available in your area (likely in most parts of the country, especially out of season), you can buy them canned in the soul food/Southern section of your supermarket, or by mail order. You’ll probably still have to shell them yourself.

1 lb fresh green peanuts
3 tbsp salt
2 tbsp seafood boil spices + 1 tsp celery salt, or 1 tbsp Old Bay + 1/2 tsp allspice berries and 1/2 tsp black peppercorn
1/4 c cider vinegar
1 gallon water

Bring everything to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 6 hours, stirring from the bottom occasionally to ensure even cooking. Test a peanut to see if it is cooked through to the center and if not, continue cooking a while longer until it is cooked through.

Drain and chill immediately. I recommend freezing and thawing before shelling, but once they cool, you can attempt to shell them right away.

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Just peachy.

Now that we’ve comfortably settled into autumn, I can admit that I kind of hate summer. I don’t talk about this very much because people seem to consider it roughly equivalent to being a Communist or a baby-eater. Summer-dislike is a relatively new thing, just since I moved to the sweaty mid-Atlantic at the millenium. I grew up in Milwaukee, where, starting sometime late in spring every year, the local forecasts remind area residents that it’s “cooler by the lake,” and you can look forward to wearing shorts and drinking beer outside. In the Milwaukee of my childhood, and probably even today with climate change and all, you can count on daytime highs of 75 to maybe, maybe 85 degrees at the lakefront. You turn off the air conditioner and open the windows at night so you can hear the crickets. In Washington/Baltimore, you can count on stagnant 95 degree days like being smothered by sopping hot towels. Even at midnight, you can find yourself standing in the dark, soaked in sweat, mainlining Gatorade and begging for the sweet release of death.

Unlike the celebrated summer of the Great Lakes, the months between Memorial and Labor Day out east are good for two things only, which admittedly are pretty good. One is the beach, which is self-explanatory. The other is farm stands, with their array of limited-time-only goodies like sweet corn, tomatoes, melons, and stone fruit. Nothing against apples and oranges, of course, but they store so well that they’re available, and fine quality, all year. Try buying a decent peach in December, though. It doesn’t exist; the only available specimens were picked weeks earlier, rock-hard and barely golden, in another hemisphere, and soften into rosy-looking but cottony imitations of the real thing.

When peaches come into season, their partisans go crazy. In the classic Seinfeld episode “The Doodle,” Kramer extols the virtues of the Mackinaw peach, an elusive (and fictional) treat from Oregon available for only two weeks a year. “It’s like having a circus in your mouth!” Evidently, the Mackinaw peach has become a holy grail of peaches for many fruit enthusiasts; Google “mackinaw peach” for numerous accounts of disappointed peach fiends who go hunting only to be mocked and turned cruelly away. In too good to be true fashion, the Portland Food Group discussion about Mackinaw peaches devolved almost immediately into hostile foodie one-upmanship. If you thought PDX was all about laid back, flannel-wearing potheads, think again.

So don’t go looking for Mackinaw peaches, or annoy the PDX food community with well meaning questions about their seasonal treat. It doesn’t exist. And now that it’s a little late in the season, the remaining peaches in markets aren’t the juice gushers of mid-July and August. Don’t let them go to waste, though – pickle them. You won’t taste a more delicious combination than pickled peaches with any smoked meat. Brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey, duck – all are vastly improved by the addition of the pickled peaches.

Pickle brine seems like a no-brainer to pour down the drain. Don’t do it! As is the case with boozy peaches, a lot of the peach flavor leaches out into the pickling liquid. Strain and keep it refrigerated for use in shrubs or cocktails like the Kentucky Pig & Peach. NB: the first dish I ever developed was an emulsion of dill pickle juice (Vlasic or Claussen) and butter. I was four years old. Pickle butter is the shit when you smear it on Triscuits.

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Smoked pork belly, chicharrón, pickled peach
In this dish, a smoked cured belly – basically bacon – serves as the foil to the sweet-tart peaches. If you like some kind of starch with your meats, grits or creamed corn are the way to go.

This dish has multiple components, each requiring multiple steps. If you can’t deal with all of them, you can get the gist of the flavor combination by making the pickled peaches, and then preparing the pork through the poaching phase. Slice, brown the fat side, and serve with pickled peaches on the side.

Start the pork at least two days and up to a week before service. You’ll cure overnight, then smoke and poach the next day. If you have time, weight the belly for a great firm texture and even thickness.

For the pork:

1 lb belly, trimmed of skin (reserve skin for chicharrón, below)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper
peppercorns, thyme and bay

2 quarts chicken stock
1 inch chunk yellow rock sugar
6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 c usukuchi soy
1 head garlic, sliced along equator

1/4 c white wine vinegar (same as used in the peach pickle)
2 shallots, minced
1 c dry, floral white wine
2 c smoked pork stock (from braise)
bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2″ section of licorice root
1 star anise
6 tbsp unsalted butter.

Combine the salt, sugar, and white pepper. Coat the belly evenly with the seasoning and place with peppercorns, thyme, and bay in a vessel just large enough to hold the belly. Cure under refrigeration, turning over after 12 hours. If you have extra time, cure up to 4 days and turn after each.

Rinse the cured belly and pat dry. Set up a smoking apparatus with charcoal and apple or hickory wood chunks (I use an offset smoker) and smoke the belly at 180F for 3 hours.

Combine the stock, sugar, thyme, soy, and the garlic. When it comes to a simmer, add the smoked belly. Simmer until just tender, about 2 hours. Remove the belly from the liquid; strain and set aside. If you have time, seal in a bag or wrap in clingfilm and chill down; then place in a small container, about the same size as the belly. Top with another container or cutting board and weight, refrigerated, at least four hours.

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For the reduction:

Prepare the reduction. Bring the shallot and vinegar to a simmer in a saucepot over medium low heat. When the vinegar has reduced to au sec, add the wine and reduce again to au sec. Add the stock, herbs, and spices and reduce by about 2/3. Strain through a chinois and mount with cold butter.

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To serve, cut the belly into 1×2″ rectangles. Score the fat on top and place, fat side down, in a hot pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a 250F oven for another 6 minutes. Serve the seared belly atop the reduction and the pickled peach purée, and serve with a chicharrón.

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For the chicharrón:

skin from pork belly
grapeseed or rice bran oil

Scrape as much fat as possible from the underside of the skin. Divide into several strips about 1″ wide.

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Place the skin in a sauce pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil for about an hour, until gelatinous and flexible. Add more water, if necessary, to keep the skins completely submerged during boiling.

Drain and, when cool, trim any remaining fat from the skins. Place on a silpat on a sheet pan and dry in a 160F convection oven for 2-4 hours (times will vary based on the thickness of the skin) until completely dry and glassy. Cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container – if you have a silica dehydrator pack, add it to the container. You can store these for a fairly long time, but with a silica pack, they may become too dry to puff well at some point, so try to use them within a month.

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To cook, bring a pot of grapeseed or rice bran oil to 360F. Break the skins into chips about 3/4″ square and add not more than two at a time to the oil. Using a spider, keep turning the chips as they puff. Once they have completely puffed, remove and drain on paper towels; salt and serve immediately.

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For the pickled peach:

2 lbs peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 12-16 slices each (depending on size)
1 c white wine vinegar (champagne is best)
1 c filtered water
1/2 c + 1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 star anise
about 2 dozen Pondicherry (true red) peppercorns [Note: this is not the same as pink peppercorn; substitute black if unavailable]
4-6 dried jasmine flowers (elderflower is great also)

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices, and flowers and bring just to a boil, ensuring the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Divide the peaches among mason jars and pour the pickling liquid evenly over them, distributing the spices and flowers. Chill down and store. The peaches will be mildly pickled after about 6 hours and are optimal at 2-7 days.

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As depicted in the photo, the peaches and their pickling liquid have been blended to a sauce. Blend all the peaches (sans spices or flowers) with enough pickling liquid to achieve a medium-bodied purée.

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Kentucky Pig & Peach

I developed this recipe to use up a bottle of bacon-flavored vodka a friend brought possibly as a hostess gift and possibly to razz me. That’s the “pig.” But during a recent visit to Kentucky’s MB Roland craft distillery, we picked up a bottle of Black Dog – basically white dog in which dark-fired (smoked) corn constitutes part of the mash. That kind of smoky white dog is even better in this drink, if you can get it.

Don’t use pickling brine from the first two days of pickling to make this drink; it won’t be peachy enough, and somewhat too sour. Whatever brine you don’t use to make this drink you can strain into a clean container and keep for months in your refrigerator.

Final note: as with most things, better ingredients = better cocktail. But it’s dumb to waste really top drawer booze on a mixed drink. Use something decent, like Maker’s Mark, but don’t use your single-barrel whiskies; save those for sipping.

For two cocktails:

1 1/2 oz vinegar from pickled peaches
2 oz bourbon
2 oz smoked white dog [MB Roland’s Black Dog] or bacon vodka
6 drops barrel-aged sorghum bitters
2 large ice cubes, plus extra

Stir all the ingredients besides the ice cubes. Place one large cube in each of two old-fashioned glasses. Strain the cocktail over ice and serve. A little sprig of mint would not be out of place.

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Offal, Pork Products, preserving

Best of the wurst.

It seems inevitable that trips to familiar destinations will coalesce around meals at favorite restaurants and stops in favorite shops. For example, In Milwaukee, my hometown, the route touristique is well-established. On landing, our first stop must be Kopp’s for one of the dinner plate-like cheeseburgers – extra butter, please – and a waxed paper envelope of onion rings. At some point during the weekend, we’ll take our places at the counter of Real Chili, where unlimited bowls of oyster crackers disappear into chili-laced spaghetti. Then it’s on to The Spice House to buy the freshest-tasting spices and chiles. And no trip is complete without a visit to Usinger’s for sausages.

If you’ve never been to Usinger’s, catch a flight to Milwaukee and visit the Old World Third Street location. You always have to wait – especially in summer, when the Brewers are in town, or before any holiday. Pull a number from the tape roll and, until your number is called, peruse the dozens of varieties of freshly made classic German sausages behind the glass display. Then look up at the wall, where a series of murals depict elves engaged in sausage-making. In typically blunt Teutonic fashion, Usinger’s spares the viewer nothing. A hog is slaughtered, dragged to the sausage-works, disemboweled, converted to links, cold cave-aged, and brought steaming to table by the elves, as a poem tells the tale of cramming pork into pig entrails and boiling it up for supper.

Liverwurst

When I was a kid, the weekly shop at the local supermarket was an exercise in lunchmeat fads; chicken roll one week, olive loaf another, ham studded with pockets of cheese the week after that. One reliable and enduring favorite, though, was liverwurst (especially Usinger’s braunschweiger). You can’t grow up in Wisconsin without developing a taste for the soft, rich liver sausage, preferably on caraway rye with sliced red onion, or, if you were a kid, between pillowy slices of white sandwich bread.

Liverwurst owes its flavor to pork liver, which is difficult to come by in supermarkets or even at the butcher shop now. That’s too bad, because pork liver is delicious in sausages and terrines; without it, your pâté de campagne, for example, will not taste like the one you enjoyed so much at the bistro. You can cook it to lower temperatures than, say, chicken liver, which the USDA recommends you cook to 165F and which at higher temperatures becomes chalky-textured and pungently liverish. It’s milder and moister, and, being much larger, is easier to clean. To find pork liver, your best bet is an Asian or Latino market or butcher, but any true butcher should be able to order it if you lack access to one of these markets.

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Most types of liverwurst are emulsion forcemeats, meaning the fat is emulsified until smooth with water in the form of ice, and often with the addition of milk, as milk proteins lend further stability and richness. It’s the same kind of compact, smooth texture you’ve encountered in hot dogs, knockwurst, and the like, as opposed to the coarse, looser texture of bratwurst and Italian sausage. Temperature control is key; proper emulsion only takes place in a limited temperature range under 58F. Some, but not all, liverwursts are smoked as for braunschweiger; the following recipe is not for a smoked braunschweiger. If you want a smoked taste, you may substitute smoked slab bacon for the pork belly and reduce the total salt by 1/3, and/or hot smoke the finished product at about 160F for 60 minutes.

Cure:

24g kosher salt (4 tsp)
4g TCM (2/3 tsp)
8g sugar (scant 2 tsp)

Spices:

3g onion powder (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2g white pepper (about 1 tsp)
1/8 tsp each: allspice, nutmeg, mace, clove, ground ginger

Meat:

525g pork liver, cleaned of blood vessels and connective tissue
200g pork shoulder
325g pork belly or slab bacon

Emulsifiers:

117g ice (about 1/4 lb)
53g nonfat dry milk powder (about 3/4 c)

Combine the cure ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the spices.

Cube the pork shoulder, the belly, and the liver. Mix the pork shoulder and liver and season with the cure. Chill both the shoulder/liver and the belly (separately) in the freezer for about 2 hours, until firm but not rock solid frozen. Then toss the shoulder/liver mix with the spice blend and grind. Separately grind the belly. Keep both chilled over bowls of ice. You may refrigerate these if not ready to proceed immediately but do not refrigerate for more than about 30 minutes; otherwise, cover and freeze for up to about an hour.

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Fit your food processor with a slicing blade, set out your mise en place in bowls over ice, and prepare to work quickly as the mixture will not emulsify if the ingredients are too warm. Place the ice cubes in the food processor and run until the ice is crushed. [If your ice is already crushed you may skip this step]

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Add the ground marinated shoulder/liver to the crushed ice. Run steadily until the meat is incorporated with the ice. Run until the temperature reaches about 28F-30F. At this point it will resemble nothing so much as a sort of cold, red meat goo and calls to mind von Bismarck’s injunction regarding sausagemaking. Note: the rest of this process, until the point of cooking and slicing, is not photogenic. Do not be put off – that’s just how it looks. All the earlier talk of liver and disemboweling by elf was meant to cushion the blow.

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As the machine runs, add the ground pork belly. Continue to run until the mixture reaches about 40F. The mixture should emulsify and form an increasingly stiff paste about the color of a pencil eraser. Add the spice and continue to run until the mixture reaches 45F-47F. Then add the milk powder and run steadily until the mixture reaches about 56F-58F. Do not exceed 60F or your emulsion likely will break as the fat becomes liquid. Each stage of temperature rise in this process takes a fairly long time, much longer than you might expect. When finished, the mixture will be quite stiff with a uniform consistency; it should approximate the color of a pink rubber ball and contain no visible chunks of meat.

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At this point you can scrape it from the bowl using a flexible spatula, pack it into a plastic bag, and compress in a chamber sealer to remove the air bubbles before forming into sausage, but this step is not necessary. I generally do not find air bubbling a huge problem when making liverwurst (as opposed to making, say, mortadella). If you omit this step, simply pile onto sheets of clingfilm and roll into sausages about 6″ long and 2 1/2″ in diameter. Twist the ends and roll in the opposite direction in a second layer of clingfilm. Tie the ends securely and poach in water just shy of simmering for about 2 hours. Alternatively, vacuum pack the rolls in bags and cook sous vide at 158F for 2 1/2 hours. Feel free to use natural casing if you can find the larger hot casings.

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Immediately chill down the wursts in an ice bath and refrigerate at least a few hours to allow them to firm up before slicing. Excellent with pickled red onion and mustard on a sandwich, whether open faced or between slabs of house-baked pumpernickel. Or eat it old-school Milwaukee kid style, as a white-bread sandwich layered with mayonnaise and thin slices of pickle.

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