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.

Mes salaisons Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

My salted wares

How dry I am.

How dry I am.

Rather successful  bovine dry curing.  Viande de Grisson, bresaola and saucisson sec.  Randall-Lineback eye of round for the VdG was cured in 2 stages (half the salt cure for 3 days, the other half for 3 more days), wiped clean of the cure mix, rolled in herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano,  and marjoram) wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in a refrigerated room –no need to ferment the whole muscle, just to dry it. Very nice color, sweet taste, but I don’t know how much the herbs contributed to the flavor.  Kind of musty actually. It eventually developed a bloom after 3 weeks and when it had sufficiently dried to my liking, I pressed it (to achieve the traditional pressed shape) between wooden boards weighed down with cans of tomatoes, though any canned good with equal weight would have worked just as well I suppose.  A friend of mine once pilfered in my pack a can or roasted red peppers from Buca di Beppo, whose “Pope Room” is the gold standard for Italian dining with your delinquent friends, and there is a crappy nudie bar next door  (gnudi bar, by the way, would be a very good idea for a gnudi menu themed room).  I was pleased as punch by the plucked can, though upon shaking it, it seemed like there was quite a bit of water in there.  That sloshy sound was consistent with the contents –dihydrogen monoxide.  What was most amazing, was that the cans were authentically labeled, painted on, nutritional info, imported, importer address, contents, ingredients…  A very convincing 5lb can of roasted red peppers that would fit in on any Costco shelf. Who makes such a mock product?  And what will become of the Pope busts that bless the Pope Room tables?

A square meal.

A square meal.

The bresaola was fabricated from an Angus eye of round, cured in the same manner as the VdG, put in a beef bung casing, brushed with vinegar and left to dry in the same refrigerated room.  After a week, the bresaola began to develop a healthy white bloom and 3 weeks later was completely encased in the cherished bloom which other manufacturers artificially replicate with rice flour. Very nice color and sweet beefy flavor.  Far better than the desiccated beef often passed off as the real McCoy.

Saucisson sec was more of a challenge. Lean Randall-Lineback eye-of-round was used in lieu of pork, primarily because of the abundance of the former, and pork back fat supplemented the fat.  No starter culture.  Standard procedure was applied and the pieces were incubated in a plastic tub for 72 hours.  The refrigerator conditions were not ideal for the proper curing (too cold, not enough humidity) and the ph of the meat may not have been sufficient. While the flavor was enjoyable, particularly the lucknow fennel seed, the sausage itself was a bit softer than desired in the middle, though the face of the slice was encouraging –no air pockets or festering inside, but the fat distribution left much to be desired.

Bloom County.

Bloom County.

Randall-Lineback secca (the French variety of bresaola) was successful and absolutely delicious.  Cured in the same manner as the Viande de Grisson and bresaola.  Stuffed in a beef middle.  Top notch bloom.  I could have snow angels in that bloom if I was smaller.

Petits Fruits de Mer Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 

A little plate of seafood.

Flatter with fish platter.

Flatter with fish platter.

Higher than normal winter temperatures are not conducive to hearty hearth braises, roasted roots and the chocolate-like whiff that red wine & red meat seem to waft.  So something a bit lighter, well marinated, fragrant, delicate and compatible with vinegar -which, I am pleased to drink by the spoonful or get  fix through the venerable breakfast pickle sandwich.  Pickled mackerel, blue prawns gently steamed in their shells, and barely poached-in-their-shells  Chincoteague oysters.  A couple of pickled mushrooms and pickled onions from last summer’s pickles.  Some bits of lemon and a considerable drenching of the finest quality French olive oil.  Some herbaceous crunch and verdant punch from the parsley.  Mustard seeds dredged from the bottom that would make the Rice Krispies gnomes blush.  Briny, floppy oysters; succulent, meaty mackerel; delicate, plump shrimp.

Poseidon's buffet.

Poseidon’s buffet.

A re-imagined, betterized version will include octopus or squid, cured sturgeon and its caviar and grilled bread to sop up the oil slick* and fried squid tentacles for he essential crunch that I crave.

* I have proposed to environmentalists and oil industry cleaner-uppers that an efficient culinary method for transforming the oil into an easily scoopable product would be to drop a few million egg yolks and ride over the affected area with a multitude of outboard motors, whipping up the oil and egg mixture into a stiff mayonnaise.  You’re welcome Neptune.

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.

Pâté en Croûte: Édition Spéciale Rédemption Monday, Jan 7 2013 

A slice of redemption, be it ever so little. Squab and foie-gras inlay.  Currants in there too.  Yep.  The new Electrolux oven does not allow cookery without a fan, hence the lop-sidded chimneys.  For what its worth, a good technician always blames his tools.  For 2013, I resolve to be more ornery and judgmental.  And to hold equipment that has a USB port but no “no-fan option” more accountable.  Technology breeds dumber cooks.

Rosey squab flavored glasses.

Rosy squab flavored glasses.

Kind of really busy running the engine-room at Range. In the interim, support motion-sensor escalators and screw buzzwords.

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

Galantines: Édition Spéciale “roule ma poule” Saturday, Nov 17 2012 

Galantines:  Special “On a Roll” Edition.

Breast binoculars yet.

Chicken Galantine.  Swan song for the penultimate day at work and poultry butchering demonstration.  Bobo chicken, breast strips, pork, fatback, brandy-drenched currants, pistachios and an inlay of liver mousse wrapped up in fatback.  Yep.  Centered too.

Pleasant, that pheasant.

Pheasant galantine.  Ballotine actually, since it was lightly seared and warmed through with the poaching juices.  Pheasant breast garnish, confit gizzards, pork, livers chestnuts and sage.  Served with chestnut purée, autumn vegetables and a croquette made from the legs.  Legs were braised with juniper and gin, picked from the irritating tendons, shredded, supplemented with whole-grain mustard and orange zest.  Twice breaded and fried (needed more fat for unctuousness).

 

Un Diner d’Automne Chez Ripple: Édition Spécial “Châtaigne”. Friday, Nov 9 2012 

A Collaborative Autumn Dinner at Ripple:
Special “Chestnut Edition”.

Get your chest-centric nuts on/off.

A premium dinner featuring whatever food category the venerable chestnut falls into on Tuesday, November 13th at Ripple in Washington, DC.  Brandade, Barbajuan, Lap Dance, Soup, Salad, Sturgeon, Prime Rib Ballotine, Cheesecake, Grappa, and whathaveyou.  Act now and the next dinner may or may not be free.  Foodstuffs manufactured by chestnut enthusiasts Logan “here comes Loogie-Coo-Coo” Cox, Jonathan “Domestic Venice” Copeland, Alison “Sugar Time!” Reed, and yours “Makes Your Mouth Breathe Harder” truly.

Enjoy.  Thank You.  You’re Welcome. 

Chestbuuuuump!

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.

La Côte de Veau Rose Soignée Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 

A Cared-For Rose Veal Rib-Eye.

1% rib-eye, made by the 47%.

My unremitting compassion for animals does not extend to greedy assholes vying for feudal power at the expense of plebeian vassals.  Sentient animals and the flesh they are raised to relinquish deserve faithful veneration.  I file grievances with the middlemen who ferry abused carcasses from the slaughterhouses and when possible inform the creature’s owner in an effort to determine or establish accountability for animal welfare.  I have yet to find a fault with any of Joe Henderson’s Randall-Linebacks, and if I am to trust Mr. Henderson (I have absolutely no reason not to) the animals are slaughtered humanely –no hematomas, broken bones or feverish meat. Proselytizing vegetarians should take note that Draonian vegetarian diets are a windfall for flatulence-deodorizing corporations  and was even a ghastly liability for the chancellor of the third Reich, whose despotic flatülenz  after a blüe-plate special was astutely recorded, for posterity, by the Führer-Furzen’s kraut-quack:

“…constipation and colossal flatulence occurred on a scale I have seldom encountered before.”

And so, as with any resource which demands resources itself to be raised, the meat in question should be treated with respect, steadfast discipline and nothing less than a proper cutting technique (clumsy woodsmen need not apply) .

A chop above the rest.

Beef rib-eyes generally conjure fat speckled, cholesterol fueled gluttony trophies for any high-pressured red-blooded Americans aspiring for type 2 diabetes  –though to be fair, food doesn’t make you fat;  lifestyle does.  Inspired by one of the pre-eminent artisan butchers of France, Hervé Sancho, the rib-eye was meticulously denuded: the Complexus, Spinalis and Longissimus Dorsi were separated to remove the sinew and any membranes.  Given the lean nature of the Lineback, fat needed to be introduced into the equation.  Jubilant fat from the kidneys (not quite suet, yet) was pounded into an even thickness and introduced into the otherwise stiff meat party.  The deckle (Spinalis) was sewn shut around the Frenched bones.  Strips of fatback barded the outside which was then proudly ornamented with lemon and orange zest because that is what a professional who gives a damn does.  In addition to providing essential flavoring, the fat retains moisture, and those variables, when applied properly, and passionately, make for an exceptional piece of meat.

Cornerstone of French quality and luxury in moderation.

The detailed rib chop was adroitly seared then gently laid to roast on a plush bedding of sweet corn, squash and small variety tomatoes at a comfortable 325ºF until done just so.  Left to rest while libations were poured, the meat relaxed, the juices redistributed themselves and a warm, sweet, roasted hush wafted over the table.  The fat itself is neither a flavor nor texture that I crave, the fragrance and moisture it afforded was exceptional for an otherwise slender, straight-laced roast.  Any muscle from a noble animal, no matter the rank or price, deserves at least half the attention of this one.  Anything worth doing, should be done right.  At least put in the effort.

Roasting Beauty.

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