Cocktails, Duck, Frenchy Things, Offal, preserving, Random Thoughts

Cocktail.

It’s hard to be objective about the merits of culturally significant moments of one’s youth. Nostalgia can cloud your judgment, making it hard to tell a madeleine from a Twinkie. Take the films of the 80s, for example. Is Pretty in Pink a great movie or a terrible one? Was The Empire Strikes Back a work of genius or unbelievably boring? Sometimes, it’s an easy call. Coming to America was a great movie. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a great movie. Cocktail was a terrible movie.

But let’s say you’re of a certain adventurous turn of mind when, at twenty years old and with nothing better to do on a summer night, you go the movies with some friends while home from college. I speak not of myself, of course, but of a casual acquaintance who may or may not have coached my brother in boy’s tennis in the late 80s. We shall call him T.W., as those are his initials. According to my brother, T.W. saw Cocktail while home for the summer, and, moved to greater aspirations than whatever was in his mind at the moment, packed his bags and set out for the glamour of south Florida. As far as I know, it didn’t last all that long – I think he was missing a few crucial plot elements, like an older, Svengali-esque friend to show him the ropes – and at some point, T.W. returned to UW-Whitewater to obtain his bachelor’s degree and never speak again of his adventures as a lesser Tom Cruise. I don’t even know if he ever learned to flair, which was the only genuinely enjoyable thing about the movie.

I don’t know if Cocktail The Movie renewed interest at the time in cocktail culture. My range of cocktails was limited then to Bacardi and Coke or grapefruit juice and vodka, mostly guzzled rather than sipped. Now, I’m much more interested in the kind of cocktails that require more bartending skill and taste than opening a can of something and pouring in a few glugs of something else. As a bonus, many bars that mix great drinks also serve food more interesting than mediocre wings and pretzels.

As opposed to beer and wine pairings with food, cocktail and food pairings aren’t really my thing. My idea of pairing cocktails with food mostly extends to eating a little bowl of peanuts – or possibly even smoked almonds or those nice warm mixed nuts you get in first class on international fights – with my whiskey. Supposedly classic cocktail pairings with food, like margaritas with Mexican food or mimosas with brunch, never strike me as really great food pairings so much as opportunities to consume more alcohol. On the rare occasion I eat or serve something other than nuts with strong drinks, I like it to be rich and fatty. Foie gras is perfect – it’s buttery and tastes good with sweeter wines like Sauternes and liquor like Cognac, which are often used in its preparation.

Foie gras torchon

This foie preparation is not cooked at any point. Burying the wrapped torchon in salt and then hanging dry draw out the moisture from the liquor marinade, giving the foie a dense, buttery texture, with no melted fat whatsoever. It is important to keep the foie cold and your work surface scrupulously clean when working with the product as it will not be cooked. (Even cooked torchon tends to simmered only for a short time at temperatures far under those necessary to destroy pathogens.)

In this recipe, I used foie slices from our supermarket because I didn’t have time to order whole lobes. The whole lobes are nicer but are slightly more of a pain to work with because you have to remove the blood vessels and connective tissue. That said, no one makes a torchon unless they’re fine with doing that work anyway.

The foie pairs well with a tart, somewhat pungent condiment like nectarine mostarda, which includes both vinegar and mustard seeds.

7.5g kosher salt
1.5g smoked sugar
.25g TCM (about 1/8 tsp, not quite)
1g white pepper
1g Pondicherry pepper
500g foie gras, whole lobe or slices
200 ml water
25 ml each bourbon and Pedro Ximenez jerez
coarse (not rock) salt

2 lbs nectarines
1 c white wine vinegar
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp piment d’espelette
zest of one lemon (peeled off in strips, not grated)

Combine all dry seasonings and set aside.

With clean hands and maintaining a very clean working environment, clean the foie, removing the veins, gallbladder (if present), and connective tissue from the foie. If you use pre-cut slices these likely will have been removed already, but double check. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate about 2-4 hours. Drain thoroughly and rinse. Return to a clean bowl.

Evenly season the foie and cover with the alcohols. Place a piece of clingfilm over the foie to reduce oxidation and then tightly seal the bowl. Chill 24-36 hours.

Prepare a triple thickness of butter muslin or cheesecloth. Spread in a rectangle over a piece of clingfilm and cover with another piece. Roll with a pin into a uniform layer about 3/8″ thick. Remove the top piece of film. (Note: I used the pin method because, as this is a raw preparation, I wanted to touch it with my hands as little as possible. You can also use your hands to mold it together.) Using the bottom layer of clingfilm as a guide, roll the foie tightly into a log as you would a piece of makizushi. If using a bamboo mat helps, transfer the foie and clingfilm to a bamboo mat before rolling tightly.

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Roll the foie torchon from the clingfilm onto the prepared butter muslin. Roll tightly to close and, using butcher’s twine, wind tightly and tie at each end. Bury in sea salt (not rock salt) in a pan and refrigerate 12-24 hours.

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Remove all salt and dust the muslin log clean. Hang to dry from a rack in the refrigerator, ensuring the torchon touches nothing.

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To serve, remove the muslin and slice with a hot knife. If you think you will not use it all, refrigerate the rest promptly, rolled in clingfilm and tied at the ends. Do not refrigerate in the muslin or it will dry out. If you don’t use it all in five days, freeze.

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For the mostarda:

Pit and quarter the nectarines. There is no need to peel. Place in a pot with the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring only enough to dissolve the sugar, until the fruit is coated in a thick syrup.

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Ladle into jars and refrigerate. These may also be pressure-canned for shelf storage.

The Continental

I called this “The Continental” because those Christopher Walken skits on Saturday Night Live are hilarious. This drink has nothing to do with that but it sounds retrograde and pretentious, making it a great pairing for the foie torchon.

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Note: If you would rather eat your cocktail than drink it, add 1 whole sheet of platinum strength gelatin to the cocktail (sans ice) and bring to a simmer just long enough to melt the gelatin. Transfer to small polycarbonate or silicone half-dome molds and chill. Serve as a jelly to the foie torchon.

4 oz Riesling or Viognier
1 oz Calvados
1 oz St-Germain
3/4 oz peach pickling liquid from the pickled peach recipe
6 drops grapefruit bitters
Ice cubes (larger = better)

Combine all the ingredients except the ice and stir gently. Add the ice cubes and stir to chill. Strain into glasses with lemon peel.

I can flair if I want to flair. – Hidetsugu Ueno

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Fish, preserving, Salad, Vegetables

To Russia, with love.

There’s an expression that goes something like this: “He (or she) knows just enough to be dangerous.” When it comes to culinary expression, a little bit of information plus a lot of ignorance can turn cultural homage into caricature. Who among us has not cringed at some hamfisted effort to honor a particular cuisine? I place in this category basically anything The Olive Garden has ever produced in the name of abbondanza, myriad attempts by clueless schools to celebrate Black History Month with fried chicken and watermelon, and the time when, in law school, I cooked a perfect salmon florentine out of the Pierre Franey 60 Minute Gourmet book for a date who promptly requested soy sauce, because “that’s what goes on Chinese food.” Cue sad trombone.

Recently, our Supper Club assembled around a pre-Soviet Russian theme, inspired by Chekhov’s praise in The Siren for the classic Russian dish, kulebyaka, a giant brioche enclosing sturgeon, kasha, and mushrooms. In a turnabout of the czarist predilection for all things French, Escoffier brought the kulebyaka back to France, where its complexity and richness thrilled gastronomes. The selection of this theme made me mildly anxious. I primarily associate Russian food with the folk tale Vasilissa the Beautiful, about a kind of creepy talking doll whose eyes would light up like fireflies whenever it was about to dispense profundities like “the morning is wiser than the evening” to the little girl who fed it bits of cabbage soup, black bread, and kvass. You get what you pay for, I suppose. To expose the depths of my ignorance even further, I can’t think about this story without hearing Yakov Smirnoff in my head, saying something like “…In Soviet Russia, creepy little girl doll eat YOU!” Like I said, just enough to be dangerous.

Under the circumstances, it seemed best to steer clear of anything that might resemble a mockery of Russian cuisine. Pickled vegetables are popular throughout Russia, as are hearty breads and smoked fish. Why not combine cured and lightly smoked mackerel with black bread, not as a sandwich, but as a first course? To reinforce the cold freshness of the dish, a salad of pickled apple and celery is compressed for crispness, and scattered on the mackerel with herbs, peppery radish slices, and toasted bread crumbs.

Cured mackerel, compressed celery and apple salad, black bread

This dish combines smoky, briny mackerel, with a compressed, vinegared salad, and slightly bitter toasted black bread. It’s not Russian in any traditional sense, but surely could be served at the modern Russian zakuski table.

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Cured mackerel

1 whole mackerel, about 4-5 lbs after gutting
100g sugar
50g brown sugar
120g sea salt
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp coarsely ground coriander seed
120g Bakon vodka or another smoke-flavored vodka

Combine all dry ingredients well.

Fillet the mackerel. (For a treat, roast the rack and the head at 400F until the meat is just opaque. Pull it off the bone and eat with a squeeze of lemon and some salt, or some chimichurri.) Remove any pin bones with tweezers and trim off any portions discolored with bile (depicted in photo) as they will be bitter.

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Place the fillets in a container just large enough to hold both. Coat the mackerel well with the seasoning on both meat and skin side (about twice as much on the meat side as underneath), and set in the container skin side down. Drizzle the Bakon vodka over the top. Cover the container tightly with clingfilm and refrigerate 12 hours.

By this time, some liquid should have leached from the mackerel and mixed with some of the curing spice to form a light amber liquid. Flip the fillets over so the meat side is down in the liquid. Cover tightly and cure for another 3 days.

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After a total of about 3-4 days, depending on thickness of your fillets, the mackerel should be ready. Test by slicing off a thin bit. If the mackerel is satisfactorily cured, rinse lightly, pat dry, and cold-smoke using alder or oak chips and a smoking gun for about 30 minutes, over ice. Wrap tightly to store. You can hold this cold cured mackerel for about 4 days under refrigeration, but otherwise should freeze it. As the curing process removes a substantial amount of water, cured fish freezes nicely. In fact, the mackerel photo above came straight from the freezer – we ate the other one before I remembered to take a picture. Bonus: frozen mackerel slices more easily.

Compressed celery and apple salad

The purpose of the Vitamin C is to prevent the apples browning. If you intend to serve immediately after compressing, you probably don’t need it, but if you intend to hold for more than a few hours, be sure to use Vitamin C or lemon juice.

10 mg ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
30 ml filtered water
30 ml white wine vinegar
1 sprig tarragon
2-3 ribs celery
1 large Granny Smith apple

Dissolve the ascorbic acid in water. Stand 15 minutes and then combine with the wine vinegar and tarragon in a plastic bag. Vacuum on high for 90 seconds.

Peel and slice the celery, and slice the apple, into paper-thin slices using a mandoline or by hand. Bag separately and add about 1.5 tbsp vinegar solution to each bag. Seal and compress in vacuum chamber. Hold under refrigeration until ready to serve.

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Pumpernickel bread prepared according to recipe in The Bread Bible, Rose Levy Berenbaum

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Slice the bread very thinly. Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp butter. As soon as the butter begins to foam, add the bread slices and turn to coat with butter on both sides; continue to toast until browned. Cool and break into bits or crumbs; hold for service, tightly covered.

To assemble:

Thinly slice the mackerel and pound it out as carpaccio, between sheets of clingfilm. Thinly slice a red or watermelon radish (black radish is appropriate as well).

Plate the mackerel, with the herbs, salad, radish, and toasted black bread crumbs evenly distributed, or in any other configuration you like.

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Bonus: Beetroot sorbet

This is a bonus dish. Initially, I planned to pair the mackerel and rye with a beetroot sorbet, thinking it would seem especially Russian. When I tasted it, though, it really just tasted really beet-y and sweet; even a meaty, strong fish like mackerel was tasteless beside it. Incidentally, this is why it’s a good idea to taste a dish before serving it the first time (I say this as someone who rarely follows my own advice, except when I have some doubts at the inception). The beet sorbet is far too strong for most pairings but makes a great intermezzo.

Beetroot sorbet (1 pint)

12 medium beets, about 700g
200g sugar
300 g water
100 g liquid glucose
2 leaves gelatin
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Scrub clean and roast the beets at 400F until tender to the center, about 75 minutes. Cool and peel. You should have about 550g beets. Slice into chunks.

Heat the water, sugar, and glucose in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the beets and simmer about 20 minutes until the beets are extremely tender. Hydrate the gelatin leaves and add to the beet mixture with the vinegar.

Puree until completely smooth in a vitaprep or blender (if you cannot achieve a velvety consistency in your blender, strain the mixture through a chinois). Chill and process in an ice cream machine. Freeze at least 4 hours to set.

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East Asian, Fish, Frenchy Things, preserving, Vegetables

Expiration date.

The modern freezer is both great and terrible in its possibilities. On the one hand, you never have to let anything go bad again if you remember to package and freeze it in time. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, you end up with a lot of mystery product, or even worse, freezer burn spoilage. Who among us has not watched Gordon Ramsay explode in tomato-faced rage at some incompetent restaurateur’s two year supply of frozen gnocchi and fried chicken wings?

A few weeks ago, I found a couple of whole trout in our freezer, unblemished within their tight plastic wrap and forgotten for over two years. Not really forgotten, actually – they were gifts from a friend and former member of my staff. Patrick was a midwesterner like me, and he returned to his native St Louis to fish for trout every summer. On returning from his first trip after he began working for me, he stopped by my office. “There’s a trout in the freezer with your name on it,” he said. “It’s wrapped in a Cubs towel.” From then on, he always brought me a trout, somewhere in the 2 pound range, on returning from those summer fishing trips.

As it happens, my husband loves smoked trout. His enjoyment of smoked fish represents a paradoxical type of pickiness in which the diner asserts great dislike of a specific food, but makes so many exceptions as to swallow the rule. For example, my husband claims not to like cheese, but layers it generously into sandwiches, omelets, and the like. In fact, he has been known to eat macaroni and cheese using a shoveling motion. As far as I can tell, his cheese dislike is more or less localized to the waxen, sweaty chunks found on supermarket deli trays and an abomination known as the Huntsman. In the same vein, he claims to dislike fish, but is a sashimi connoisseur and avid consumer of smoked salmon, trout, tuna, and so on. When our local steakhouse, The Prime Rib, took the smoked trout appetizer off its menu earlier this year, citing “lack of interest,” he was nearly as disappointed as if they’d started cutting the roast prime rib into sensible portions.

Patrick and I never did discuss how we cooked his catch. Early in our acquaintance, he told me, “you’ll probably find me kind of boring, food-wise. I’m what I guess you’d call a meat and potatoes guy.” I always assumed he would go for the grill, but I never found out. About two years ago, Patrick died unexpectedly one winter morning, about a year after he married and only a couple of weeks after the birth of their child. He was forty-seven years old. The last two trout he gave me have been in the freezer ever since. If pressed, I would probably admit they remained untouched as a sort of memorial.

Remarking on the challenges of forging personal connections in the modern office setting, a colleague of Patrick’s observed that, when people we know die, we don’t remember them for the quality of their work or the amount of face time they gave at the office. “No one’s going to say, hey, that guy was a really competent lawyer and he really enjoyed working late,” he said. “They remember that he was a great guy.” He was a great guy, a superb fisherman, and a thoughtful friend. This trout salad is for him.

Smoked trout salad

I have provided the method below (following the salad recipe) for curing and smoking trout. You can use it for most hot smoked fish – it’s a simple 4% salt brine. Although winter is not a good time for smoking generally – the cold outside temperatures increase the difficulty in maintaining a temperature adequate for meat smoking – it actually is a good time for fish smoking as you want to maintain a temperature just high enough to cook the fish through, but low enough to minimize albumen coagulation and leakage. In plain English, that’s the goopy white stuff you might find leaking out of fully cooked trout or salmon, especially when it’s been overcooked. A smoker temperature of about 160F/71C should accomplish both goals.

Sudachi are a lime-like sour citrus native to Tokushima Prefecture in Japan. Outside Tokushima, they are totally unavailable out of season and difficult to find even in season. You are more likely to find sudachi juice in the bottle at a Japanese (or possibly Korean) market. If unavailable, combine half and half lime juice and sour orange juice (such as Seville).

1 large avocado
1 Granny Smith apple
2 heads little gem or Boston lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 c pickled carrot (see below)
1/2 c sudachi mayonnaise (see below)
320g hot smoked trout (see below)
2 tbsp minced chive

Break the trout into 1″ chunks. Peel, halve, and thinly slice the avocado; brunoise the apple; separate the gem lettuce into leaves..

Plate the lettuce, curls of pickled carrot, avocado slices, apple brunoise, and the smoked trout. Garnish with a generous quantity of the sudachi mayonnaise and the chive.

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Hot smoked trout

Naturally, I don’t endorse keeping a couple of trout in the freezer for two or three years before use. You should use the freshest possible product. That said, the trout in question were tightly sealed in heavy plastic and their texture was beautiful, even after so much time in the deep freeze. It brought to mind a scene from Northern Exposure in which Joel excavates a long-frozen woolly mammoth, which, to his horror, Walt soon dispatches in his belly. “One man’s life altering experience is another man’s tenderloin.” I suppose that’s true.

If you butcher your own trout and have a lot of trim left over, you can cure and smoke it; just pull it from the brine after about an hour or they will be too salty. Check the smoker at about an hour; if the fish is fully cooked and well smoked but moist, the fish can come out.

Four filets of freshwater trout, pin bones removed
2 l ice water
80g kosher salt
40g sugar
1/8 tsp TCM (optional but extends preservation)
about 1 tbsp each whole white peppercorns, true red (Pondicherry) peppercorns, and coriander seed

Bring the salt, sugar, TCM, spices, and 100 ml of the water to a boil, covered, and simmer until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool completely and then add to the remaining ice water. Be sure the brine is cold before adding the trout.

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Add the trout filets to the ice water brine. Refrigerate 3-4 hours (do not brine overnight). Rinse and pat dry. Place skin side-up on a rack over a sheet or hotel pan in the refrigerator and dry, uncovered, about 24 hours or until dry and somewhat tacky to the touch. This dry outer layer is the pellicle and is essential to protecting the fish as it smokes.

Smoke in an offset or vertical smoker with your preferred wood (I like pecan, alder, or apple for smoked fish) at 160F for 75 minutes, less if your trout is well under 1/2″/13mm thick and a little longer if it is more than 3/4″/20mm. Chill immediately and use or freeze within four days.

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Pickled carrot:

2 large carrots, peeled
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp filtered water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Square off the carrots and slice thinly with a mandoline. Place in a single layer in a vacuum bag.

Bring the liquids, salt, and sugar to a boil and pour into the bag. Seal under vacuum. Chill.

Sudachi mayonnaise:

large pinch salt
pinch white pepper
one egg yolk
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sudachi juice (substitute yuzu, or half and half lime and sour orange)
1 1/2 c rice bran or grapeseed oil
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette or ichimi togarashi

Place the salt, white pepper, egg, mustard, vinegar, and half the sudachi juice in the bottom of a sturdy bowl. Whisk to emulsify and then, whisking constantly, drip in the oil until you have a stable and thick emulsion. Continue whisking in the oil until the mayonnaise is the desired consistency. (You also can prepare this by dripping the oil into the ingredients in a blender). Whisk in the remaining sudachi juice, espelette, and additional salt if necessary to taste.

Store in a squeeze bottle under refrigeration.

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Fruit, Pork Products, preserving

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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preserving, Vegetables

We can pickle that.

It’s spring on the east coast, which means it’s time for the annual tussle over the appeal of certain seasonal delicacies. I refer to the yearly kerfuffle over ramps, fiddleheads, morels, and other harbingers of early spring that leave some people swooning like idiots, and others rolling their eyes at the gullibility of foodies, particularly those of the locavore persuasion. Even though ramps, fiddleheads, morels, and other such foods have been enjoyed for centuries, they’ve gained new prominence during the past several years as people have gone crazy for wild, foraged product.

Having lived in Minneapolis in the early 90s, I learned pretty early that I don’t care for fiddleheads, which I picked up a few times at the local co-op before deciding I didn’t like them. They’re ferns that supposedly taste of asparagus and artichokes, but to me, they just taste like ferns. A little rusty and bitter, and not particularly delicious unless blanketed in sauce hollandaise, which is a pretty reliable way to cover any unpleasant tastes in anything but no tribute to the flavor of the fern. Ramps and morels, by comparison, are and always have been worth the hype. And although you can buy dried morels year-round, the ramp is far more ephemeral. It smells and tastes like a delicate cross between onion and garlic. The leaves are a little like scallions and chives, but far more grassy-green, and the first few times I ate them back in the day, I was a little unnerved by the fact that I could taste their woodland origins. The ramp is only available a few weeks out of the year, you can only find it in certain parts of the country, and it spoils quickly. It’s like the goddamn giant panda of the edible plant world.*

I recently acquired a good supply of ramps from a friend in our supper club, who presented me with a big bag that he in turn got from a chef he knows. It was a little like being invited to a great party the day after you agreed to attend a much lamer one – I was scheduled to spend a week out of town for work starting that Monday, and wasn’t going to be able to spend all week eating ramps. Luckily, ramp bulbs can be preserved nicely by pickling, and if you can’t get around to using them fresh right away, the leaves make an excellent compound butter. Win-win.

So if you find yourself with some ramps – and the season’s almost over – don’t worry about hurrying to serve them grilled and such with everything. Pickle the bulbs, and incorporate the greens into butter, or gnocchi dough, or biscuits. If you can, save a few to chop up and scramble into eggs while they’re fresh.

*It also may be somewhat at risk – some conservationists have expressed concern that ramp madness has led to overharvesting. Their sale has been banned in Quebec, where they’re a threatened species, since 1995. If you’re considering foraging your own this year or next, read up about how to harvest ramps sustainably. Seems if you’re the sort of person who cares about eating ramps, you’ll be interested in keeping them around. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

Ramps. They're dirty.

Ramps are dirty – they come to market more or less as they are retrieved from the earth, not subjected to a high-pressure water bath. Wash the ramps really well and then divide the bulbs and the greens, removing any greens that have been badly bruised or are slimy at the base.

Cleaned up.

Trim the root from the bulbs. I always wash everything again at this point to remove any remaining grit.

Bulbs.

The greens can be cooked fresh as one would use scallions or leek greens. They’re delicate, though, so don’t overpower with other flavors. If you want to use them in compound butter or anything else involving storage, you need to blanch them first or the enzymes in the leaves will turn them to mush eventually. See the directions for blanching in the Ramp Butter recipe below.

Pickled ramps

As mentioned above, there is some question about the sustainability of wild ramp foraging, and conservationists recommend not harvesting the bulbs. That said, if you have them, this is the best way to use them.

2 lb ramps, cleaned, and greens trimmed (reserve for butter)
1 c distilled white vinegar
1 c water
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 tbsp black mustard seed
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar

Bring the vinegar, water, spices, salt, and sugar to a simmer and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve.

Divide the ramps among sterilized small lidded jars. Ladle in the pickling brine and close tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes if intending to store on the shelf; otherwise simply refrigerate for several days before using.

We can pickle that!

Ramp butter

This keeps for months in the freezer, tightly wrapped – this is especially good on fish.

By the way, if you still have any yuzu from the winter, substitute it for the lemon. Ramps plus yuzu – food snobbery two-fer!

Greens from 2 lb ramps, above
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)
two small lemons, zest grated, juice reserved
2/3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp shichimi togarashi or 1/8 tsp cayenne

Set a large pot of water to the boil and, when boiling at a full roll, blanch the greens just long enough for them to wilt completely, about 90 seconds. Alternatively, vacuum seal and drop the bags into the boiling water for four minutes. Do not use an immersion circulator and do not try to blanch in a small pot of water. You need to big-pot boil them so they maintain their bright green color.

Squeeze as much liquid as you can from the greens and transfer to a food processor. Process until coarsely chopped; add the butter, lemon zest and about 2 tsp juice, salt and shichimi and process until quite smooth.

Turn out onto a sheet of foil lined with clingfilm in a log and roll the compound butter within the plastic-lined foil. Twist to seal at the ends and freeze for future use.

Mmm, ramp butter.

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