Le Grand Non-Gagnant de Cochon. Monday, Apr 22 2013 


The Grand Non-Winner

Cochon 555 Washington, DC 2013

This little piggy went straight to the bar afterwards.

This little piggy went straight to the bar afterwards.

Behind a fawned over figurehead’s formidable speech (Theodore Roosevelt notwithstanding),  is generally an obscured speechwriter worthy of a couple kudos, snap-shots, blogs, high-fives and twatters.  I am such a wordsmith with an equally subjective, savory craft who doesn’t always receive the credit they work hard to earn.

After all but begging my employer to get me to participate in the DC Cochon 555 edition since my requests to be considered as a candidate were routinely ignored, I had 5 weeks to develop a menu and after delivery of a decent Large Black hog from Leaping Water’s farm, 6 days to execute.  With the exception of a few fabrications and tasks that were delegated to colleagues, I made 96.83% of all the food; butchering the hog, brining the hams & bellu, making the aspic, the rillettes, the cheese sausage, the loin, the pâté en croûte, the pickles, the liver terrine, the pojarski, the breading, the gribiche and even cut the booties for the Pojarski.

Ham jam 2013.

Ham jam 2013.

As dictated by the contest rules, I would be judged based on usage of the entire animal, flavor, creativity, affability, star appeal and apparently marketing.  In hindsight, the menu should have mentioned the parts used, which have now been added in parentheses. The quality of the animal was not remarkable and any enthusiasm was quickly snuffed out by the presence of a few blood splashes in the shoulder caps, a symptom of careless slaughter and not being bled quickly enough.  Nonetheless, it was a decent hog.

Cochon 555, DC 2013

Range

Prosciutto Cotto (hams) & Mortadella (top sirloin, fatback)

Asparagus in blood aspic  (bones, feet, skin, blood)

and chicories in a smoked ham-hock vinaigrette. (shanks)

-∞∞∞-

Leverpostej.

Danish-style liver terrine wrapped in cured belly. (liver, trimmings, belly)

Salted and cured anchovies, a couple of marinated capers.

-∞∞∞-

Pâté en Croûte 

It’s heart, tongue, kidneys, fatback, pistachios and a few figs. (lard, trimmings, offal)

Some pickled rhubarb and mushrooms.

-∞∞∞-

Pork Belly Pojarski

Breaded and fried.  (belly, trimmings)

Ramp gribiche

-∞∞∞-

L’Astet

Loins roasted with spring garlic. (loin, tenderloin)

Warm confit potatoes and rillettes (jowl, belly)

-∞∞∞-

Saucisson en Brioche

Clothbound cheddar sausage baked in a leaf lard brioche. (trimmings, lard)

And cracklin’ whipped lard.

Hams (and shoulder caps) were given a heavy brine, tied and simmered.  Mortadella was stuffed into smaller beef middles so as to be more manageable to cut and serve.  Shanks were brined, smoked and simmered with tomato juice after which my sponsor assembled a vinaigrette with the diced meat, gelatin enriched tomato juice, pickled mustard seeds, olive oil and banyuls vinegar.  Stock was made from the feet, skin and bones then clarified with blood and egg whites.  The blood doesn’t impart so much of a flavor as it does an amber color, which didn’t necessarily produce a credible sanguine color until it was supplemented with clarified beet juice.  The asparagus was manicured and gently blanched, then tediously dipped like a candle in the aspic.

Me cook pretty one day.

Me cook pretty one day.

Danish style liver terrine was comprised of liver, belly, milk, eggs, salted anchovies, salt tears, madeira, lemon zest, picked thyme and a purée of onions cooked in lard.  The terrine was wrapped in slices of brined and poached belly.  I should have dry-cured the belly as the wet cure yielded flabby slices that were difficult to work with.  This was a very good terrine (a pressed pâté) with a proper balance of liver and meat and the lightest touch of anchovy, which could have been more pronounced.  The slice was adequately garnished with marinated salted capers and pickled white anchovies.

For the pâté en croute, lard represented the fat content of the dough, malt syrup supplemented the mixture for added strength and color and the corn starch was entirely eliminated so as not to compromise the amount of protein in the dough –so as to eliminate breakage.  Tongue, gizzard and heart were brined & cooked; premium trimmings marinated with Armagnac, lemon zest and thyme, figs plumped in booze and a delicate inlay of pistachio assembled with the addition of chlorophyll, egg whites and a nominal amount of trimmings.  The hinging properties of the mold were properly used to apply a decorative pig emblem and after learning a thing or 2 at the Pâté Croûte World Championship, the pâté was built upside down to ensure a clean top and eliminate fissures.   This was a very good pâté, and with absolute humility, better than any other there.

Good enough for government work, but not the judges.

Good enough for government work, but not the judges.

Pojarski’s were diminutive, fancy mock-cutlets fashioned from trimmings of raw shoulder, cured belly, onions cooked in lard, spices, toasted bread crumbs and cream.  Twice breaded and gussied-up with a paper bootie.  Gribiche made with barely boiled eggs became seasonal with a surplus of ramps; the bottoms sweated in olive oil, the top blanched & chopped, along with gherkins, mustards, lemon and whatnot.  They were fried to a golden George Hamilton  and down right delicious.

The loins and tenderloins were brined (without #1 curing salt) in a 5% brine flavored with rosemary and fennel seed. I do not remember any of the other contestants using the loin, surprisingly.  L’Astet is a regional pork dish from l’Aveyron that involves a trussed loin and garlic.  In this case, the tenderloin was cut in half lengthwise and threaded through the center of each quarter loin.  The loin(s) were expertly trussed, nice & tight, and left to marinate in olive oil with spring garlic.  It was later cooked to 145F internally, roasted fat-side down and sliced for the contest.  It was completed with one of the best batches of rillettes I have ever made –jowl, belly, 4 spice and meyer lemon.  Yukon gold potatoes were punched out, blanched and finished in rendered fat with mustard seeds.

A variant of saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage) had clothbound cheddar replace the garlic and after a quick steam in the combi oven was wrapped in lard-based brioche dough and baked.  The prototype came out much better.  Inexplicably, these ones had a significant gap between the sausage and the dough which we had not experienced when using the garlic sausage.  It was a worthwhile sausage, though the binding properties of garlic make for a better, firm texture than cheese.

Complimentary smoked fat-back truffles with Bavarian pretzel crust were offered courtesy of our pastry chef and a testament to the amount of rendered lard that we used.  We had a modest amount of food left over after the liquor drenched event and with the exception of a pound or 2 of fatback, used up the entirety of the animal. 2 of the more reputable judges validated my efforts with firm handshakes and solidly honest compliments, but their votes were diluted by the great unwashed whose palates and eyes were fooled by pedestrian fare and stickers.  Congratulations and thanks to the teams from Proof, Vidalia and Birch & Barley for providing creative and satisfying fare under such considerable time constraints, particularly to those that did the work.  If there is a next time, I’ll develop a winning recipe for making T-shirts. Tremendous thanks to Richie Havens too, even if your career really took off before I was born.

Championnat du Monde de Pâté Croûte 2012 Tuesday, Jan 8 2013 

2012 World Pâté Croûte Championship:

Special Chump Edition.

World Champ.  Slices of life on the farm

World Champ. Slices of life on the farm

Here is a close approximation of my performance at the 2012 World Pâté Croûte Championship. I was exposed to dizzying level of professionalism and experience and feel that I fell short. Having to bring my wares from so far away put me at a considerable disadvantage, perhaps more so without the ooh-la-la garnishes & flair (though presentation accounted for few of the 200 total points) and I picked #12 at random, placing me last in the tasting, at which point the judges may have had their fill of 23,000 calorie forcemeats. Judges included Regis Marcon (Le Clos de Cimes ***), 2011 winner Eric Desbordes (Le Bristol ***) and numerous MOF’s. My mistakes were significant, but at least my slices stayed together –another contestant’s aspic was too loose and the pastry collapsed when cut. First and foremost, my pastry (80 points) did not achieve enough color, likely a result of baking 3 at once, thereupon lowering the temperature of the oven. Had I cooked it longer at that temp, I would have risked overcooking the forcemeat. I did not have a consistent gap for the aspic either.

Color me humbled.  Bravo Yohan (insert applause emoticon).

Color me humbled. Bravo Yohan (insert applause emoticon).

Upon speaking with Patrick Henriroux (La Pyramide **, MOF) he said that the judges prefer a chunkier forcemeat, and that I should have kept the gizzards whole. Keeping pace with the gin flavors I finished the slice with fleur de sel mixed with lime zest and ground juniper berries. M. Henriroux explained that juniper is not a flavor that the judges crave. Pickled cauliflower lightly dressed with an orange zest & confit fat soffrito didn’t compare to some of the Bocuse d’Or inspired garnishes put forth by other competitors, but wasn’t worth many points anyway. Lastly, I should have pulled the pâté out of the fridge earlier so that it would have been served at room temperature which otherwise mutes the flavors. Now I know better and being exposed to such work has been invaluable.

My piddling pâté, in all its underbaked splendor.

My piddling pâté, in all its underbaked splendor.

This is the high water mark of cookery; the confluence of discipline, theory, practice, technique, artistry and finesse. It is an absolute honor and pleasure to have been selected. Any and every cook should aspire to have the substance of their work judged blindly in such a format that transcends the stylistic pandering to photogenic tattoos and irritable congeniality. The gentleman whose work I witnessed and tasted are legitimate craftsmen*.

I represented, at the very least, be it ever so crooked.

I represented, at the very least, be it ever so crooked.

Yohan’s pâté had been in the works for almost a year and was stunning, though I thought the liver flavor was a bit strong. The theme was “the farm” and included something from every farm animal. The black dough fabrication & application of the lettering was clever and the detailed flower inlay nicely centered. Virtually all the forcemeats were chunky to the point where they fell apart after cutting the slice (mine had a firm yet moist texture) and more than half featured exceptional quality foie gras, not the excessive 2 ½ lb+ David Crosby sized lobes generated here which loose too much fat. Very rich and significant amount of care went into layering and inlays. One criticism from the judges is that they fear the aesthetics may begin to trump the flavor. Other inlays included especially savory ballotines, intricate designs and even whole cèpes with an intensely mushroom flavored aspic. All other pastries were cooked closer to perfection than I have ever seen and nothing short of delicious. An absolutely remarkable event with plenty of Mumm bubbles and M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers to wash it all down. We plated in 10 minute intervals and I was not able to see the first 8 pâtés plated.  I got pretty juiced on complimentary wine afterwards.

1% meatloaf sampler.

1% meatloaf sampler.

*The romantic suggestion that cooking at this level is art is nonsense. I do not know of any artist that must consistently replicate such a varied standard of work on a daily, weekly, monthly basis (we each had to bring 3 identical pâtés). These cooks are in the rare league of polished tradesmen like woodworkers whose creative artistry is seen through clean dovetails and moldings. Artists make one-offs. Craftsmen don’t.

Bocuse d'Or is next month, sir.

Bocuse d’Or is next month, sir.

Finaliste Wednesday, Nov 21 2012 

Finalist

 4th edition of the World Pâté Croûte Championship.

Crust or bust.

The Pâté Croûte World Championship has finally lived up to its international claim by including this American (dual French/US citizenship), a Swiss and Belgian.  A detailed recipe and photographs of a “Squab, Gin-Soaked Currant and Marcona Almond” were submitted and reviewed with others, all names removed, just as any food competition should mandate.  Then a phone call was received, though I did not answer it.  A message was left informing me that I had been selected.  I listened to it and then felt something I haven’t felt before.  Far out.

Skin to win?

All pâtés will be tasted blindly thereupon ensuring that substance trumps style, photogenic tattoos and irritating congeniality generally associated with State-side cooking gameshows. I will be assembling my pâtés (3 total) in Washington, DC and flying with them to Paris, then on to Maion Chapoutier at Tain L’Hermitage on December 3rd.  I will be competing against 7 Michelin stars and well seasoned, ahem, culinary competitors.  I am a long shot dark (meat) horse but it is an absolute honor and pleasure to take part in a celebration of practice, theory, artistry, passion, discipline and technique.  MOF judges and I am guaranteed a free apron afterwards.  I’d prefer a T-shirt, but whatevs.  I’ll take what I can get.  Congratulations to my fellow competitors.

2009 CMPC

2010 CMPC

2011 CMPC

Pâté en Croûte: Distraction Spéciale «Merde Sandy, Il Pleut». Monday, Oct 29 2012 

Pâté en Croûte:

Special “Crap Sandy, its Raining” Distraction.

Ivy League Edition: Beats Harvard and Yale. Both flooded.

With the absolutely crippling, thrilling, paranoid fantasy of a shotgun full of delusional diluvial rain pointed at what seems like the crotch (the good kind of crotch) of North East America, take the time to call up your local utility provider and courteously thank them for the thankless services they provide  before rabidly barking at them 72 hours from now when you have to suffer the inevitable consequences of weather and the fallibility of electricity when you are not able to sustain your sedentary lifestyle with less than 3,800 calories of raw fruit.

It might float your boat.

This silly culture of irrational fear is remarkable.   It has been suggested by the media, home improvement store magnates and toilet paper manufacturers that such coincidental weather patterns are more likely brought on by the really very real threat of Al Qaeda, gays marrying homosexual pets or iced cream, a second socialist term of a totally radical left-handed Muslim president and running out of milk.  A scholarly professor-type in the family posits that America’s atavistic pilgrimage to the milk aisle before hyperbolic warnings of fire, rain and brimstone is a terrifying emotional regression to an infant state nurtured by mother’s milk.  An erudite cynic at the local tavern professes that toilet paper consumption during fo-rizzle rapture-inducing drizzle can be attributed to giardia brought on by desperately drinking tainted river water.

The Arc that I baked.

But rather than curse your flooding basement, here’s a metaphorical lifeboat, or, if you still have electricity, a worthwhile distraction since this thing will sink like a 3rd world ferryboat.

Sturdy hull.

This “inadvertent argyle peppercorn-nipple edition” is hardly waterproof, is not sea-worthy and will not power a flashlight or lightsaber, but doesn’t need any appliances or utilities to cook.

Rivet(ed)ing.

Baking Bad.

Chunky ration.

Le Pied de Porc Farci: Édition Spéciale Grande Bottes. Tuesday, Aug 28 2012 

Stuffed Pig Trotter: Special Knee-High Boots Edition.

Stuffed, with the right stuff.

With an amplitude of skin and hooves obtained from butchering minimally processed, whole pork shoulders with the hoof, stuffed trotters are the reasonable fabrication to avoid waste, even if the hoof itself is more aesthetic than practical.  In cooler months the hooves and skin are used to fortify and thicken bean cookery water (cooking beans in stock is an absolute waste of stock and highlights an ignorance of the collagen properties of skin and hooves) and the shanks will often find themselves brined (skin-on), simmered, picked and pressed into porksicle molds like candied apples except that they are comprised of boneless cured pork, brushed with lard and rolled in bread crumbs.  Jellied pigs feet is not really a flavor that you, I or Flavor Flav crave, though there are fashionable exceptions.

Up yours, Manolo.

Stuffed trotters however, showcase some extreme sewing skillz and allow for a slice of the forcemeat to be caramelized in a pan, bound in tender skin, whose collagen will thicken the basting juices like gluey pudding.  Mmmm, gluey pudding.  In this fabrication, the skin up to picnic ham was removed and freed of all extraneous fat.  The shank was set aside for another spectacular use which does not concern you at this moment. Lean and fatty meat from the shoulder was ground with some liver in proprietary proportions along with cream, an egg, brandy, Randy tubemeat, Pez candy, apricots, pistachios and other spectacular filler that does not concern you at this moment.

Aromatic footrest.

All the ingredients were secretly mixed (more finely ground than the pâté de champagne forcemeat) and stuffed into the trotter that had been sewn up prior in a neighboring sweatshop while I was fighting crime in this nefarious, 2nd tier food city.  The stuffing was loose enough to allow for a shrinking of the skin and avoid blowouts.   The foodboot was slow roasted covered, then uncovered and glazed until the skin was tender when poked with a food poker thingy.  Admittedly, the hoof does nothing more than reassure the provenance and nature of the appendage, but it looks sharp, makes a formidable conversation centerpiece and beats the out-of-sight-out-of-mind freezer storage.

Pâté en Croûte Porc et Veau Rosé: Édition Spéciale Raisins Trempés au Cognac et Poivre Vert. Thursday, Jun 7 2012 

Pork and Randall-Lineback Pâté en Croûte: 

Special Brandy Drenched Golden Raisins and Green Peppercorn Edition.

Golden Grapeness.

Here’s a little ditty about Berkshire pork and Randall Lineback rose veal.  Golden raisins happily dunked  in VSOP (Vestigial Secret Obligatory Pruno).  Filled with corned tongue, breached humpback whale warts, confit heart, steamed insecurities, pistachios, Cherrios, and possibly the cap of a black Sharpie.  1/3 medium grind, 1/3 smooth like iced cream, 8/5 garnish cooked a sea level without convection.

Fruit of the Loom zoom.

Pastry and forcemeat recipes are painstakingly streamlined and deliberately consistent.  While the garnish varies based on mood, measurements have been etched on the bench and are dutifully respected.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

La Terrine de Saumon Sauvage et Corégone des Grand Lacs Wednesday, May 23 2012 

 Wild Salmon Terrine and Inlay of Great Lakes Whitefish. 

Gravad-laks and Vermouth Aspic.

Circle smirk.

T’is the season, for anadromous salmonidae.  Wild specimens from Alaska, pretty much the only place where the fisheries are well managed and there are abundant numbers.  Not to be confused with novelist heartthrob and Islamic human bulls-eye Salman Rushdie that was allowed access to Padma Lakshmi’s genitals for the better part of 3 years.

In laying a Salman. (Lucky bastard)

Despite the nutritive omegachron fattie acid health claims or whatever associated with wild salmon, the terrine is about 80% Trickling Springs heavy cream with even heavier cream on top.  Have to give it the glass ketchup bottle slap treatment just to get the stuffout.   Actually, it is exactly 80% cream by weight of the salmon, though half of it is whipped, therefore lighter than an angel on marshmallow.  And 10% puréed onions cooked in rich creamery butter.   Bit of bread.  Some booze as well.  A couple eggs white too, which is what bodybuilders eat.

Fishy eclipse.

Fragile Great Lakes (not sure which one) whitefish was ground twice and blended with 80% cream as well bringing the terrine’s heavy cream content to a respectable 160%.  A pie chart in 3 or maybe 4 dimensions is required to show the cream proportions.  That is just how slammin’ this salmon terrine is.  Whitefish was tricked out with some Old Bay seasoning, lemon zest and magically inserted into the terrine with the use of science and modern-day refrigeration.  What’s more, some center cut salmon was lightly cured and crusted with fennel seed, dill, mustard seeds and lemon zest.  Thinly sliced parallel to the bloodline with absolute Zen, the slices were embedded in savory vermouth-flavored aspic.  Fish & aspic, together as last.  Should I have Muppet twins, those will be their names.

Garnished with smoked steelhead trout roe as an alternative to fleur de sel, the terrine was well received.  Properly seasoned, neither gritty nor fishy, and visually quite appealing.  Bread helped to lighten the affair and a recent reincarnation will be speckled with capers, pickled red onion and shingled with cherriette radishes.

Pâté de Porc et Veau Rose: Édition Spéciale Amandes et Cassis au Gin Tuesday, Apr 24 2012 

Bershire Pork and Randall-Lineback Veal Pâté:

Special Marcona Almond

and Gin-Soaked Currants Edition.

Sane in the membrane.

Berkshire pork and Randall-Lineback rose veal from Joe Henderson’s Chapel Hill Farm out in Berryville, VA.  A garnish of corned veal tongue, confit heart, paper-clips, smoked pork belly, toasted Marcona almonds and blackcurrants soaked in gin.  Tucked in with caul fat, toasted almond slivers and some more currants, drizzle of olive oilizzle.  Sadly, the caul fat busted in the oven, the result of a dozen or so superfluous magic minutes, so no pictures.  Use your imagination if this revelatory food-stuffs diary hasn’t turned your brain into shit.  Tastes good though.  Probe thermometer with a 200ft range remote alarm has been purchased and will alert me to the proper doneness when I am buying cigarettes, pornography and liquor next door for the kids down the street.

Le Pâté en Croûte: Édition Spéciale Pistaches et Abricots. Saturday, Mar 31 2012 

Pâté en Croûte:

Special Pistachio and Apricot Edition.

Râte my Croûte.

Berkshire pork (Craig Hagaman’s, from High View Farm; Berryville, VA)  some dry-aged Randall Lineback, its tongue, heart, some pistachios and dried apricots soaked in liquor with peppercorns and brandy.  Madeira aspic.  Damn fine pâté.  Sold the whole thing within 48 hours.  The lid’s integrity was maintained by turning off the fan in the convection oven, which was otherwise causing the forcemeat to swell and blow the top loose allowing the aspic to ooze out, which is not good, and requires anxious applications of butter spackle.

Petal power.

Tasted very good.  Lean, aged,  rose veal, wholesome pork, aromatic booze, unctuousness from cream and spice seasoning reminiscent of a firm handshake. Apricots invigorated the savory pageant with sweet, boozy applause while peppercorns whistle the parade back in line. Formidably rich farce à gratin (chicken liver, duck fat, mushrooms, onion, brandy, orange zest) dutifully replaces the humdrum raw liver binding agent which instead can best be applied to liver pâté and Leverpostej (Danish liver pâté seasoned with salted anchovies).

Roof is being raised a little less, to good effect.

Le Pâté en Croûte: Édition Spéciale Canard et Cerises Sèches. Tuesday, Mar 6 2012 

Pâté en Croûte: Special Duck and Dried Sour Cherries Edtion.

Pretty feathery pastry.

Some duck marinated in Sailor Jerry rum.  Damn fine rum.  Nice & spicy.  Then a nod to Neil Diamond’s fruit of choice.  Farce a gratin (chicken livers marinated in brandy, shallots, duck fat), pork (30% of the weight of the duck), confit gizzards, fatback, pistachios and some warm spices.  No structural breaches and the most recent pastry proportions provided noteworthy savor and palatabilitinessness.  A worthwhile endeavor.  It’s be even more worthwhile is someone bought any of the damned stuff rather than gazing mouth agape at the meat case as if it were some sort of kooky dead animal exhibit at the zoo.

Doing what Pablo Neruda wants me to do with cherries in preparation for spring, I think.

Plenty of similar cooked charcuterie offerings available, in addition to raw sausages and a wide variety of cuts from all animals.

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