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.

La Mortadelle Monday, Jul 23 2012 

The Mortadella.

Meat-paste grub.

A big bellied fella at the beach BBQ once told me, in passing,  with a whiney New Yorkey accent and diarrhea colored sun glasses, wedged into his sweaty face by  bloated cheeks, that the name mortadella is derived from the Latin murtatum, which flimsily translates to “a sausage seasoned with myrtle berries”.  Pervert.  A weenie professor type at another party insisted that the name was derived from the traditional mortar (moraio)  used to mash the pork into a paste, and that such mortars were alleged to have been depicted in Roman funerary stones found in Bologna blah-blah-blah.  I swiped his drink, stuck the swizzle-stick in my cap, and called his story out as baloney.  My pants caught the handle of a kitchen drawer as I turned about dramatically, ripping out the crotch.  Instant Karma they say.  It’ll getcha.  And a delectable 38 year-old Sophia Lauren starred in a crappy movie of the same name, though equally star-studded (Danny DeVito being the pistachio of Hollywood’s elite mixed nuts).

Gloat yer bloat.

There are easier things to do than turning pork and fat into a smooth paste, like napping with cats and yesteryear Sophia Lauren.  Having the right equipment helps, namely a proper grinder and proper refrigeration.  Keep the meat cold, on the cusp of frozen, grind the fat first while the grinder is cold, grind progressively through smaller dies, don’t forget about what is cooking on the stove, chill in between grinds, purée, then purée again.  Grated ice and egg whites help to keep the mixture cold, stone cold for a proper emulsion. An excessively powered food processor  or extreme blending machine  will do the trick.  A modest Cuisinart worked well before.

Mortadella constellations.

After seasoning with salt, curing salt, mace, nutmeg, paprika, maraca, black pepper and puréeing anew, diced fatback and chopped pistachios are mixed in. Oh hell,  some ebony peppercorns too. Whole pistachios were used in the initial versions, but it didn’t slice so well on the slicer.  At all.  Made a mess.  And that made me sad L.  The forcemeat is then stuffed into a bung cap, left to cure overnight and then given the tip-top hot-tub treatment.  The bloated, stuffed meattube  in a water bath could be the charcuterie allegory for just about any unabashed summer-time American patriot, but it takes a lot more concerted effort, theory, practice, technique and discipline to get that proper combination of lean, fat and garnish so sung a skin suit.

 

 

 

Andouilles et Andouillettes chez Gilles Verot: Édition Spéciale « ouf, ça fouette! » Tuesday, Nov 1 2011 

Andouilles and Andouillettes at Gilles Verot: 

Special “wow, that stinks” edition.

Very special hotdogs.

 The confluence of stubborn tradition, soulful ambition, and epicurean pride centers on inimitable Paris, France,   and hard sought apprenticeships for further exposure to the uncompromising practice and theory of traditional European meat trades at decorated master charcutier  Gilles Verot and celebrated artisan butcher  Hugo Desnoyer.

A city which transcends all others.

For 3 weeks in September, on the cusp of fall in enchanting Paris, I had the exceptional opportunity and pleasure of being taken in by the staff at Gilles Verot’s production shop on rue Lecourbe in the 14th arrondissement.  While the sheer quantities of raw product exceeded my expectations (1800 lbs of hams, jowls, fat, shanks, blood and loins received on a Tuesday), the fabrications remained deceptively simple.  Not easy, but not contrived or needlessly manipulated either.  Streamlined –though laborious- steps that ensured a high rate of production and unwavering consistency with minimal processing of Spartan parts.

Meet the meat.

Not too many mystical fabrications match the genuinely unpleasant appeal (more in terms of robust odor, as with certain cheeses, than flavor) of artisinal products lingering in France’s dusty recesses of charcuterie and its olfactorily offensive offal fraternity:  andouilles, and their sisterly andouillettes -a charred tubesteak eaten 4 years ago- composed of innards which carry body badness outwards offering a texture and whiff of organic balloon ends last inflated by the dying breaths of death deities who subsisted on Maroilles and Vieux-Boulogne cheese hot pockets.  In the annals of comestible western civilization, many coprophagous analogies have been made.  I have come closer to those than most (except puppies and sürstromming consumers). I would gladly regale my own grandchildren with tales of ancestral courage if my proliferation were not sanctioned by the damned prophylactic tongue-wilting barnyard sausage which even copious mouthfuls of strong mustard could not assuage.

Andouilles. Now with 10% more real assholes!

The business end of a 150lb batch of “andouillettes à la ficelle” still evokes the collective backsides of Animal Planet and its musky attributes range from removing pleats and wrinkles out of trousers to perm straightening sex panther cologne.  These andouillettes are in the style of Troyes, but not named as such since the Code of Charcuterie Usage mandates, like other appellations, that the product must conform to geographical provenance and ingredients*.  Ficelle corresponds to the string that is used to pull the filling through the casing.  The French homonym of andouille is “imbecile”,  though the term is said to be derived from the Latin inductile which means “to introduce into or insert”

bucket list #74 Clean buckets of pork middles.

Large intestines from pigs are soaked in warm water to remove their packaging salt, stretched flat, cut lengthwise and left to soak in a white wine vinegar and water mixture to neutralize some of the god-awful smell.  Pork stomachs are poached  -resembling fleshy WWII era aviator caps once cooked, though far more tender- and sliced into strips.  Pork deckles are cut into equally sized strips.  The middles are blanched until they reach a peyote shape and once cooled are mixed with salt, spices and enough Dijon mustard to sooth the sinuses of 4 college football teams their drug dealers and respective marching bands.

Whiskey bottles and pork middles…Ooh-Ooh that smell.

Aside from stifling heavy handed aperitifs the night before, such simple  tubesteaks -though lengthy, arcane and very stinky- are a sobering Fernsehturm palast der republik-ish  monument to austere, resourceful, natural ingredients, which, along with blood sausage (blood, fat, onions, casings and occasionally cereal grains -a delectable Estonian version has barley) are surprisingly refreshing considering the abusive levels at which American foods are so highly processed and filled with a different, lab derived, kind of (s)crap, though distributed to more traditional –even pioneering- palates.

P-pp-pull it. Pull it real good.

A revised verdict includes andouilles de Vire (brined belly, cooked stomach, poached intestines and ground pork stuffed into a beef bung, smoked then poached) and Guémené (butterflied intestines, poached then rolled in concentric rings, often with a cured belly center) to be acceptable, both of which can be chewed on cold or hot, though neither repast merits  walking  any amount of miles in flip-flops to savour. The Troyes variety however  remains confined to a personal bastion where it can do no harm.

At last, a bag for the gastroenterologist who has everything.

The true merit of a charcutier’s skill might be measured by the noble, forgotten dirty work.  Few fabrications involve such minimally processed, austere raw ingredients.  Pork middles, pork stomachs, salt, mustard and spices.  Simmered, cooled, cut, seasoned, stuffed, cooked again and kept in fat or its own gelatin.  And yet, the final product is a hard pill to swallow, though an appreciation for the humdrum otherwise discarded ingredients in endearing, almost bearable with enough mustard and nasal congestion.

Like the rings on a tree, only they measure how many years your hands will smell.

A close relative, Andouille Guemené from Brittany is like scoring an emerald Jujubee in the dark at the movies after a handful of ebony ones.  Not quite a fruit cocktail, but at least a palatable flavor reminiscent of toothpaste.  Guemené is like a belly section of the pig built like a Combos, but not really snack worthy.  A crowd pleasing center of pork belly wrapped in concentric rings of pork middles.  Cooked, wrapped in some sort of wax and can be enjoyed cold, like revenge.  Or, heated up in rows along side coins of blood sausage slivers and braised pork belly on savoury pastry:  a calorie-rich slice of pizza at the rugby equivalent of the SuperBowl.

The definitive American contribution to sausage ingenuity.

At the very least, particularly for the sensorially vacant veterans who indifferently jiggle the goods bareback, fabricating andouilles ensures ample personal space on public transportation and a wide “stinking drunk” buffer zone at the bar. Still, it remains a time honored monument to resourcefulness,  patience, practice, dedication,  discipline and pursuit in making gilded purses from intestinal burlap.

*pig insides have been used exclusively since veal tripe were forbidden in 2000 after the crazy cow case, thereupon halting the production of Andouillette de Cambrai.  Since 2008 however, new regulations lifted the ban.

Red Chief Boudin Blanc. Monday, Jan 25 2010 

Boudin Blanc aux Lentilles Rouges

The third in a series (beta, 2.o)of emulsifexperiments.

From India with pork: The other Lenten meat.

Some New Year’s day tubesteak.  An original pork boudin blanc prototype with the  obligatory 5% starch filler comprised of red chief lentils cooked in pork fat & butter sweated onions, rosemary, dried chili and water rather than a bread and milk/cream panade.  Pork was ground not twice, but thrice (pushed through the grinder with the help of pages from Rhulman’s otherwise worthless charcuterie book) and puréed in the robot with the lentil panade and 20% iced water.  Piped into hog casings and simmered in seasoned water for 40 minutes or so.  Once chilled the things were removed from the casings and browned in pork fat and olive oil.  Served with green lentils cooked in water with smoked pork jowl and aromatics, carrots and diminutive onions.

Too many Snookies in the hot tub.

Potomac Shore Sausage Party: The stubby little things were a knock-out, though a bit on the heavy side, likely due to the paste-like properties of the lentil panade, but well tasting nonetheless.  Future trials might require augmenting the water and fat content slightly.  Texture was smooth, meat was properly seasoned and the boudin were moist.

The Best of the Wurst. Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

The Great Extrusion.

3 efficiently calculated varieties of tübesteak inspired from the 600 or so Germanic forms of extrüded meat for the send off the dearest sibling ever  to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland’s capital after 8 years in this one.  Many of the 20th Century’s most sinister Aryans’ wieners were smoked, (on and off the battlefield) though Kitsch und Klassics’  smoking hardware is severely  crippled; a modified file cabinet (the Germans coincidentally kept very good files) which erroneously filled the basement apartment with more noxious hickory gas than it did onto the meats to be flavored.  Consequently, a triptych of non-smoked finger-shaped finger food was conjured, the specific proportions of which will remain appropriately Top Secret:

Clockenwise von der top swine: Bierschinken, Nürnbergen rostbratwurst, Fingürlicken rindswurst.

Bierschinken: a breathtakingly large emulsified cooked pork sausage served cold not unlike mortadella or cervelas with chunks of pork and pistachios in it.  Ground twice, seasoned with salt, #1, paprika and puréed with onions cooked in lard.  Should have added more raw pork chunks but forgot to put enough aside.  Poached for 3 hours until an internal temperature of 150F was reached.  Awesome on its own.  The additional dab of whole grain mustard made it more awesome with mustard.

Fingürlicken rindswurst: a plump emulsified beef sausage not unlike the venerable Frankfurter, poached then grilled.  Twice ground rib-eye (erroneously sold as chuck at the neighborhood bodega) and chuck blade were puréed with cooked onions and caraway.  The idea to include a coloring agent of tomato paste and paprika diluted in ice water to preserve the reddish beef flavor was shamefully forgotten.  Despite the use of sodium nitrite (in all 3 varieties), the color was closer to brown than a reddish ochre. The sausages were poached then grilled.  The casings were crisp and after a characteristic “snap” yielded a tender, moist, beefy texture with a hint of caraway that supplemented by repollo curtido (Salvadoran pickled cabbage)  almost conjured the elements of a Ruebenesque hotdog by way of Central America, save for the cheese.  The next aisle over from the pickled whathaveyous featured analgesic Pediatyle style hangover juices fit for a delicate baby , notable a Latino themed horchata version.

Nürnbergen rostbratwurst: a short, stubby, fresh,  ground pork sausage flavored with cardamom, mace, chili and marjoram.  A delectably savory grilled sausage.  Properly seasoned and moist, though perhaps a bit over cooked by our generous host bar’s cooks.

An accoutrement of cauliflower pickles.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower with red onion, carrots, chili and lemon zest  in a 3% salt, 1.5% sugar and 33% concentrated vinegar solution.  Swedish Ättiksprit (24% acetic acid) was used in lieu of decongesting German essig (25%).  Outside of pickling, such strong vinegars are excellent antiseptics, formidable showerhead cleaners and offer merciless self-defense fumes.

Power to the Pickle.

An excellent evening which brought together a cherished group of all sorts from  parts, albeit to say goodbye to a beloved sister, colleague, teammate and social fulcrum.  However, the sausage innuendo jokes were limp before they even started.

Thanksgiving 2009, the recapitulation. Saturday, Nov 28 2009 

TG09: Old World France meets New World America.

A moderate case of PTD (post-turkey depression) affected the host after having cogitated then gestated the menu and its formulations for the better part of 3 weeks, but the dinner was not  offered without gustatory success. No breakage, pretty girls and a weekend of early morning grazing on tryptophan & cheese scraps with fingers by the twilight of the Frigidaire brought savory solace, albeit cold and perishable.

Exemplary guests provided long sought company, anecdotes and booze.

Preamble: My Mt. Pleasant dry cured sausage, turkey pâté en croûte with currants,  Chris Bradley’s blood pudding and a salt cod brandade in the style of Nîmes. Pickled purple cauliflower accoutrement and mulled cider to warsh it all down, adulterated with some trickle of George Dickel’s whisky for some social lubricant. The pâté en croûte was not as successful at the pâté pantin poultry edition in terms of pastry crust which was far too wet.  Escoffier’s measurements called for far too much water (2dl water for 25ogr flour), though such proportions were respected on account of the esteemed author’s reputation.  The same pâte á foncer proportions were used in the coq en pâte prototype  with diastrously wet results but technique and choice of fats may have been the culprit.  Whatever the case, notes were taken the recipe has been adjusted for future endeavors.  The  cooked pastry tasted good but was not as flaky as it could/should have been but was removed from the over for fear of overcooking the forcemeat.  The forcemeat  however–turkey, pork, chicken livers, cooked gizzards and hearts marinated in gin and augmented with currants was satisfying. Aspic was of the proper consistency, though perhaps a bit too sweet as a result of the crappy sweet wine used.  Patience and the fundamental practice  of  waiting for the pâté to cool before applying the aspic was not respected causing the aspic to run through a seam that did not have time to seal upon cooling.

Turkey trimmings in a savory pastry sarcophagus.

Variations of tubesteak.

Pickled Purple Caulimonster.

1st plated course: An almost ethereal turkey consommé with a few cauliflower-mornay agnolotti and florets of different cauliflower varieties (white, yellow and romanesco) clearly visible at the bottom.  The stock was made from chicken legs, 1/2 a turkey neck and turkey drumstick bones, the meat of the chicken legs being used for the clarifying raft, and that of the turkey for the pâté.  The other half of the turkey neck was caramelized with mirepoix and tomato purée, covered with the cold stock and clarified with a raft of ground chicken leg meat, vegetables, egg whites, salt and vinegar.   The cauliflower florets and agnolotti were blanched in advance then heated in extra stock upon serving.

Shots of Armagnac all around.

The bird: Heartier traditional sustenance manifested itself in 2 preparations of an Amish heritage turkey, a descendant of the original birds the Hittite pilgrim brought over with Columbus on the Mayflower .

Start cold turkey.

The breasts were brined on the bone and then roasted on a bed of vegetable and pear trimmings with slices of Bosc pears shingled under the skin, essentially basted with pearoultry juices.  The rest of a bothersome extra bottle of orgeat syrup replaced the sugar component of the brine (pears and almond blossom seemed compatible) and was injected into the breasts.  The shingled pears were apparent under the skin but pictures were blurry.  The ambitious vision was to reproduce a crude feather of sorts under each breast.

The legs for their part were transformed into ballotines.

Double barreled poultry.

The legs were skinned in a manner to provide the largest canvass and the meat broken down into major muscle components and any tendons removed. A forcemeat was fabricated from scraps and the remaining meat from the pâté marinade. Pistachios, dried cranberries, diced fatback and the larger turkey leg muscles were rolled into cylinders, wrapped in the skin, tied with string and poached in turkey stock with a calf’s foot until an internal temperature of 150F was attained. The poaching liquid cooked into a rich braising liquid with a tender garnish of standard mirepoix, leftover cranberries, sliced gizzards and fluted mushrooms for showmanship shits & grins. The flavor was nothing short of remarkable. Well seasoned, moist, delicious and classically refined. Nitrite was added to the forcemeat so as to ensure an appealing rosy hue rather than the drab autumnal brown.

Winner: Turkey legs in a supporting roll.

Another round of Armagnac.

Nods to the fall harvest: A gratin dauphinois. Scalloped russet potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onion deglazed with white wine vinegar and anchovies (inspired by the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation) bound by mace and nutmeg infused cream which helped to permeate the saltiness of the filling throughout the dish.  Fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest, cloves and some more currants.  Brussels sprouts off the stalk with rutabaga, turnips, rainbow carrots, parsnips and pearl onions glazed in veal suet, finished with toasted almonds.

My rye bread was turned into stuffing with pomegranate seeds, celery root, celery stalks and their leaves. Could have benefited from further toasting of the bread.  Vehicles for sopping up the juices were sweet potato biscuits (courtesy of Mr. Bradley) and my pan coudoun: bread rolls with a segment of cooked quince inside.  The leavened biscuits were made from roasted sweet potato, lard, butter, buttermilk, flour and 2 sieved hard boiled egg yolks to absorb any excess moisture from the sweet potato.

Lou Pan Coudoun (the quince bread in Provençal dialect) was hearth bread dough with a wedge of cooked quince (oven cooked in a light syrup until tender and red) inside, then baked.  Traditional recipes called for a whole raw quince, peeled, halved, cored put back together with honey and butter inside and baked in a dense bread for 40 minutes or so which is supposed to cook the quince.  The safer M.O. was to use cooked quince and work backwards to less cooked quince.   The cooked quince were extremely soft, like firm apple sauce and not at all unpleasant.  Delectable, actually, though a little fleur de sel on the bread before baking would have balanced the sweet/salty.

Your quince charming.

Yep, more Armagnac.

Cheese: courtesy of Mr. Bradley’s affinage program.  Clockwise from center: Livarot, France;Nettle Meadow Kunik, NY; Gorwydd Caerphilly, Wales; Twig Farm Square Cheese, VT; Tarantaise, VT; Mondegueiro, Portugal; Rogue River Blue, OR.

Cheese course, of course.

Dessert: A honeycrsip apple tart with a nappage of my qunce jelly perfumed with rosemary and cinnamon.   Standard pâte sablée with 1/2 lard 1/2 butter for the fat proportion and a whisper of orange zest and ground cinnamon.

In lieu of a flower.

Ef’n Jelly. Disclosure: after countless attempts in making pectin-free apple/quince jelly, pectin was called in from the cupboard in desperation. The cursory theory appeared simple.  Cook quince scraps (cores & peelings) in water with rosemary and cinnamon,  add 55% sugar by weight, chill and glaze apple tart. Quince are heavy in natural pectin and based on numerous recipes, none such additive would be needed.  In practice the results were anything but jolly jelly.  Reduction made a remarkably tight and sticky syrup better destined for pest control than desert.  Cooking new scraps in the previously attained liquid boosted the quince flavor but did not make jelly.  Powdered pectin was considered and obtained, but in what quantity?  The properties of quince and pectin were researched and Eureka!, the gosh darn good jelly scholars at University of Minnesota, oh yah, had the explanation

A certain amount of acidity (below pH 3.5) is necessary for jelly to form. If the fruit juice is not sufficiently acidic, a gel will not form. If too much acid is present, the jelly will lose liquid or weep. Acidity can apparently be tested.  To form a gel, fruit juice should be as tart as a mixture of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water. If the fruit juice is not this tart, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit juice.

What’s more, the kind folks up there provided a simple test for determining whether the jelly juice base has sufficient pectin to gel, which begs the question: “why jelly and not gelly?”  A tsp of the juice is mixed with rubbing alcohol and if the junk gets hard, you’re on.  If it stays limp and juicy, there is a powder for that.  Don’t drink the rubbing alcohol-quince juice mixture, unless you are a hopeless alcoholic.

The proper Ph matrix for apple/quince jelly has not yet been figured out despite 11 prototypes and a mathematically derived 11% lemon juice formula.  Quince scraps and apples were cooked in water with varying proportions of acidulated water ranging from 6.7%-11% lemon juice based on the U of M’s recommendations of 1tsp of lemon juice for 3tbsp of water for proper gelling Ph.  However, weight is a more disciplined unit of measure than volume, even if the weight and volume of both lemon juice and water are the same.  55% sugar was added to the strained liquid, cooked for 20-30 minutes each time and nothing happened. Many recipes, both French and American called for a range of a whole lemon’s worth of juice, half and none at all, despite the science that mandates a fruit juice can not gel without the 3.5Ph.  So 1% powdered pectin was grudgingly added and the damned stuff set.

Eat it, William Tell.

Coffee, cigarettes, more Armagnac and a joint or two rounded out a superlative meal helping to easy digestion and induce well deserved sleep.  Enthusiastic thanks to all the guests for allowing the host the pleasure of hosting.

Garbure Inaugurale Sunday, Nov 1 2009 

Inaugural Garbure

“I do gravely swear on the curly ends of a Gascon’s mustache that I will faithfully execute the garbure  and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend traditional, regional French cookery.”

Having not had a meter stick’s worth of traditional garbure against which to measure this hearty one, the execution and assembly was inspired by sound theory and practical methods of French cookery. It was fabricated to celebrate the folks’ visit to the nation’s capital and the inauguration of our first foreign born socialist president in January.

The fundamental pillars of the soup which eats like a stew are cabbage, lingot beans (either Tarbais, coco or maïs –from a yellow skinned pod), winter vegetables and an assortment of fowl (generally giblets and confit legs) and pork products. Despite the president’s adherence to a strict regimen prohibited of pork as per the clerical guidelines of his Muslim faith, pork products exclusively provided the auxiliary protein: smoked ham hocks, salted pork belly, pork shoulder and espelette sausage. The ham hocks were purchased in their smoked state yet the salted belly and sausage were fabricated at home, naturally.

Neither Tarbais nor coco beans were readily available and the contempt for Whole Frauds’ pricey conventional items and overpriced organic ones required that small navy beans be substituted. The beans were soaked overnight and cooked in seasoned water until just tender –they would continue cooking in the stew.

Vegetables were comprised of green cabbage, carrots, parsley root, turnips, rutabaga and red pearl onions. The cabbage was cut into thin wedges and caramelized in pork fat. Carrots and parsley root were halved then beveled, turnips and rutabaga were turned into crescents and along with the onions were glazed in their proper turn in pork fat and finished with a splash of vinegar for acidity and to preserve their bright color.

The meats were browned in a cast iron Dutch oven with pork fat, then covered with the beans and their liquid, the vegetables and simmered over a low flame until the sausage, belly and butt were cooked through.

Executive summary: A hearty stew indeed, though admittedly heavy handed on the sodium what with the bacon, sausage and ham hocks. The beans could have been more lightly salted during their cooking. The cabbage slices were not the proper type of cut for this particular application. The wedges lost their integrity and ended up flapping around in the stew like wayward rags. Ideally, the cabbage should have been cut into small squares. The parsley root was more of a novelty and took an absurd amount of time to cook tender. Parsnips should have been used instead.

The espelette sausage was well executed and particularly savory and the smoked ham hocks introduced an appropriately smoky element reminiscent of it coming off a hearth’s fire. The turned vegetables may have contradicted the humble, rustic nature of the dish, but such knife cuttery highlights an attention to detail, discipline and showmanship.

Boudin Blanc d’Avranches, 2.0 Monday, Oct 12 2009 

Boudin Blanc dAvranches 2.0
Boudin Blanc d’Avranches 2.0

Upon discussing the textural concerns of the original Boudin endeavor with a technically savvy disciple of the esteemed Antoine Westermann, the decision was made to freeze the twice ground boudin forcemeat and then blitz it in the food processor, making a garage equivalent of the $4500 Pacojet. Of course?! The blades would reduce the frozen meat to dust and the resulting boudin would be smoother than me at a club on roller skates. It is unlikely that the folks at Cuisineart had anticipated their machine be used to grind frozen ground meat into (hopefully) dust. Rightfully so. The clumps of frozen meat spun around dizzyingly, and did little more than chill the forcemeat while dulling the blade. Bummer.

The forcemeat was stuffed into casings and poached as per usual, then chilled. The boudin were removed from their casing and browned in duck fat. Turnips were turned and glazed separately in olive oil with a whisper of Ättika (21% alcohol Swedish vinegar) as were beveled carrots. Shiitake mushroom caps were sautéed in the same fat as the boudin with rosemary and once tender the boudin, carrots and turnips were added as well as enough chicken consommé to glaze all of that junks.

Boudin bonuses: The dish was enjoyed with the sister whilst throwing down tiles on the Scrabbs board and “Eastbound & Down” for ambient ambiance. Sister’s light Scrabble score was challenged by the lightness of the boudin which trembled under the distressed breaths of her awful tile choosery. There are plenty of acceptable words in the English vernacular to describe the serene sponge-like texture of the boudin, but she was not able to spell any with her left-handed letter draw. “The distinctive shiitake earthiness and assertive rosemary was a sober Ying to the otherwise delicate Yang of the other shit”, to clairvoyantly paraphrase Kenny Powers. It was indeed “tight” (to use current urban kitchen parlance) and the sweet root vegetables provided a pleasant seasonal textural contrast and the Swedish vinegar successfully subdued the otherwise rich nature of the dish.


Realité cheque:
In hindsight, the grating attachment would have been more effective in shaving the frozen meat, a coarser, more Neolithic version of what the Pacojet would offer.

Rosette de Mont Plaisant Monday, Sep 21 2009 

Rosette de Mont Plaisant 2.0

A liberal interpretation of “rosette” since a beef middle was use in lieu of the traditional and difficult to source pork rosette, the veritable terminus of the pig’s digestive tract whose shape and alleged “odor” give the rosette its reputed characteristic taper and… taste? After intense research through both professional and artisanal French charcuterie formulations, and a disastrous beta version, a widow of imperative seasoning proportions was tentatively established and put to test. The salt proportions varied from a well keeled 1.5% to a 3.5% Superbowl party saltlick.

Initially, based on the recurring 2.8%, such a quantity of salt was used but the result was unsavory, or rather extra savory and on the cusp of parching. And so the first foray into dry cured sausage (2 pieces) was unsuccessful but taught a fundamental lesson in fermentation after too lengthy of an incubation. The basement kitchen was thought to have been sufficiently cool and dark enough to support a longer incubation period but after a week in the upper 60’s, despite shrinking, both began to ferment. A better approach would have been to refrigerate one earlier and then compare notes.


Both sausages were refrigerated for 6 weeks in a home refrigerator at a cooler temperature than what would be ideal (44˚F so that other immediate perishables would not spoil) and began to develop a slight bloom after the 3rd week. The test of taste was a formidable challenge in gustatory fortitude after the first cut given that the cavities in the sausage were lined with spectacular green mold (insert blushing emoticon). The ends were salvageable and had a distinctively cured taste, though in the heavier spectrum of salty. Invariably, as with any endeavor, elements of theory and practice were learned at the expense of a failed product and applied to the next since anything worth ef’ing up once is worth ef’ing up twice and maybe thrice.

The 2.0 version was limited to 2.2% salt, the same .5% sugar (to help in the initial fermentation which creates lactic acid and bla-bla-bla) and 48 hours incubation, then into the fridge. After 4 weeks:

Current conclusion: The 48hr incubation period, as recommended by Len Poli and other resources appears to have been effective and the sausage feels firm which would indicate that there are no cavities. Next update in another 4 weeks.

Boudin Blanc d’Avranches Thursday, Sep 17 2009 

Boudin Blanc d’Avranches

White Boudin from Avranches

Boudin Blanc, Beta version. An emulsified chicken sausage with fatback, onions and a panade, poached and then browned in duck fat. Upon returning from a Labor Day weekend on what a generation ago was an entirely sustainable 275 acre farm in southwestern Virginia, 8lbs of industrial Purdue chicken-ish breasts and thighs were inexplicably acquired. In a desperate though epicurean effort to transform the offending burlap anthropomorphism of poultry into comestible silk, a resourceful boudin blanc recipe was developed based on traditional regional French varieties befitting of the cupboard and previous intrepid experimentations : Boudin blanc d’Avranches, from the northwestern Manche department in lower Normandie.

Measurements were made based on the weight of the suspiciously yellow lab-raised protein do determine proportions of fatback, onion and bread/cream panade (French boudin designation can not exceed 5% starch content). The onions were sweated in foie gras fat with chili pepper, salt and lavender until soft, then cooked uncovered to evaporate any remaining water. The dried bread was soaked in cream and the chilled fatback was diced. All was ground though the small die and then puréed with the help of water and cream*, seasoned, paddled and pressed into hog casings. The boudins were poached in seasoned water (salt, chili, bay leaf, lavender, garlic) for 40 minutes, which in hindsight may have been twice too long. They were left to cool in the liquid.

To serve, the boudins were removed from their casings and browned in duck fat with garlic and lavender. While not entirely unpleasant, the chicken flavor was muted, perhaps due to the inferior product used or the traditional fillers.

Initial shortcomings and screw ups: The cooked onions should have been moistened with a splash of sherry vinegar and some chicken glace to give a more pronounced poultry flavor.

*As for the texture, the forcemeat should have been ground twice through the fine die and then puréed without cream and more liquid (from the onions and panade) or whole milk to give a smoother final product as with the cervelas. The boudin’s texture was ever so slightly shamefully gritty, which may also have been a result of the cream breaking in the food processor. Eureka? In haste to find an authentic, vintage recipe, the properties to cream and modern technology were overlooked. Cream turns to butter in a food processor. The original recipe, which predated Pierre Verdun’s 1963 food processing gizmo –now generically dubbed the “Robot Coupe”, yet pronounced “Row-beau Coop”- called for pounding the forcemeat through a pedestrian sieve, just as generations dating back to Taillevent had done.

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