Jambon sec Wednesday, Jul 24 2013 

Dry-cured ham. 

Ham Jam 2013

Ham Jam 2013

Pure-breed Berkshire ham.  2 of them. More of a European approach in that the aitch bone was removed before curing.  Benton’s and Col Newsom’s  keep them on.  For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve become proficient at deboning and sewing up bone in hams.

Ham in a can.

Ham in a can.

Cured with coarse sea salt, modest amount of sugar, nitrate, effort and time.  Packed in a wooden wine box on a rack on an incline to do away with the resulting brine.  Rubbed again with salt after 2 weeks.  Terrific.

Salt of the earth.

Salt of the earth.

It spent a month in the salt. I got drunk a few times in the meantime.

Dark side of the Ham.

Dark side of the Ham.

Soaked the hams in water overnight and hung them out to dry. Rubbed the exposed meat with lard and ground spices as is tradition, even though there is little chance of any insects getting into the crappy Stagionello curing cabinet (based on the cabinets confusing and awful performance, anything is possible).  They will hang at 55F with 75% humidity for 6 months or so and we’ll see what happens.  And if they are inedible, I’m not too worried.  That’s the silver lining of not getting any credit for your professional work.  It also ensures all but absolute anonymity and keeps you exiled in a lower tax bracket.

Business end of lunch.

Business end of lunch.


5 Scented Ham in Aspic with Ink Truffle Découpage Monday, Mar 29 2010 

Petit jambon aux 5 sents en aspic et son découpage de truffes a l’encre.

If I had a nickel for every ham,
I’d still be a poor, sham of a man.

Singularly considered to be a subjectively smashing success, a cooked then jelly covered tribute to the District of Columbia’s premier bag tax (which has reduced bag consumption by 87%) and delectably absurd salty reminder to the avoidable 5¢ tax’s cheap opponents.  An edible monument to the achingly inane whines against it that are being ranked on watercoolers in any progressive office where tolerance, paychecks and science fundamentals have evolved since the 1860’s.

The first of its kind in the nation, the tax on bags from grocers and such was an effort to challenge wasteful “out of sight, out of mind” consumption, the revenue from which would be spent on cleaning up the filthy Anacostia river and Chesapeake  Bay watershed. 6 out of 10 Residents of NW (North White) Washington support the tax where as the rest of the city is evenly split.  Some of the tax’s opponents call the tax regressive on the poor or inconvenient and post their gripes on intrawebs.  The poor for their part do not have intertron connections but are resourceful enough to circumvent the burdensome tax by bringing bags to stores if they deem the $0.05 fee to be so crippling, or they can go to the Anacostia River and pick up gently used ones for free.  What is most ridiculously duplicitous and largely an indication of regressive political identity and intolerance is the white gentry that uses alleged plights of the poor as a shield & war cry while lamenting the 5¢ fee on bags for uppity sundries such as white wine & premium liquor (though they are happy to pay the 6% sales tax)  and consciously deny impoverished residents a marginal fee destined to clean up their waterfront, a slummy waterfront that anyone with good enough sense, taste and money to enjoy Chateau Grincheux will avoid at all cost (to their BMW).

Almost looks like Victoria Jackson’s head, only smarter.

Òste e còc enthusiastically supports the bag tax as it has reduced monthly bag use to 3 million from 22.5 million last year.  However, an unexpected result of diminishing usage –either from environmental consciousness or thrift- is that far less revenue ($149,432 as of January 2010) may be generated than expected ($10 million over 4 years).

Most remarkable is what a benign fee on a wasteful commodity can do to the human psyche and whatever loose change has accumulated in couches and car consoles.  If only American food manufacturers were savvy enough to emulate Raymond Sachot, head of the French condiment company Amora, who in 1932 had the fabulous idea to package and sell mustard in reusable glasses ranging from Smurfs and Asterix to Minervois or Glenfiddich.

Pickle, then a tipple.

The meat of the matter.  The ham in question was originally attached to a 25 lb shoat from Pennsylvania.  Having removed the femur bone, the thing was injected and cured in a 5% brine with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, Old Spice,  gorging spice, coriander and clove) for a fortnight.  Once rinsed it was gently simmered in a smiling boil seasoned with salt, garlic, bay leaf and chili for 3 or so hours until the skin was tender and could be easily removed.  The ham was pressed in the fridge under a weight that was not being used in rigorous workouts at the time after which the skin was removed to expose the meat.

Meanwhile, the trotter and a few beef knuckle bones were blanched then simmered overnight as with the previous aspic preparation.  After cooling and de-greasing, the resulting jelly was clarified with egg whites loosened up with salt and vinegar then strained through a coffee filter.  No truffles –neither winter, summer domestic nor imported- were available at the neighborhood Latino grocer so a facsimile had to be fabricated.  For the impostor truffle découpage A portion of the aspic was colored with squid ink diluted in a scant spoonful of water and strained into a dish lined with plastic wrap.  Typesets were researched until an appropriate Mr. Burn’s era Victorian theme to goof on the frugal curmudgeons was found, drawn freehand, cut and used as a stencil.  The clear aspic was pleasant to the taste.  The ink one was certainly not.  Charcoal tablets will be stolen  from the hospital after the next post-binge visit as an alternative.

The darker the Jell-O, the grosser the juice.

The segments of the second smallest denomination of United States currency were applied and after a couple spoonfuls of barely seized clear aspic to hold the fee in shape, the entirety was turned over into an oval dish into which clear aspic was poured.  A butane torch was used to evenly melt away any excess aspic as use of the hair-dryer had been given up for Lent.

Nickel & swine.

Ad Haminem: Aesthetically, the ham and its cheeky flavored homonym were delightfully austere, the typeset properly amplifying the antiquated value of a nickel tax which that can be avoided through Pavlovian conditioning and which decreases as a percentage of what is efficiently packed into the bag to begin with.  The ham was well seasoned without being too salty, fragrant, moist, nicely colored, tender and practical to slice in its boneless preparation.  It could have benefited from a trip to the smoker which would have had the twofold effect of smoking the apartment, hopefully covering up the noxious poached-cod like odors of sister’s geriatric cat’s urine.

Colonel Mustard ate it, in the dining room, with condiments.

Julbord. Monday, Jan 4 2010 

Swedish Christmas table

Amish dough table, actually.

Inclement weather remnants, frantic holiday motorists, faulty zippers and not being able to remember a telephone number other than my own conspired to form a Mid-Atlantic maelstrom of some real F’ed-mas cheer.  Finding that my childhood 80 sq ft room’s dresser drawers were being used as a trash receptacle  for an unemployed 43 yr old hermit’s empty Kodiak dip cans, candy wrappers, loose change and food containers did little to liven the mood.  Even less after he threatened to place his fist in my old man’s face.  Some Nordic booze in ice provided a well deserved, albeit temporary analgesic distraction.

Linie Akvavit, chilling.  Up yours Martha Stewart.

Then saw an excellent movie about an emotionally vacant man, his accordingly suited job and his seminar schtick.  Such continuity in a story is what every menu should strive for. It left a remarkable  impression.  Anvil did the same in validating purpose and determination, albeit financially and professionally unsuccessful as is the case for most purist epicureans and craftsmen who do what they do for the self-rewarding passion.

7 Jews, 2 Swedish shiksa and the reclusive aforementioned temperamental groundhog descended upon a nicely set table on the Eve of Christmas day to feast on Sweden’s limited end of year bounty.  Swedish matron provided all the Swedish herring.  I provided the brined herring for the matjes which could have benefited from another fortnight’s worth of soaking to easy the stunningly salty brine.  Aunts Mimi, Bunny and Nan made the cookies.  91 year old Uncle Max brought the depraved teenage libido.

Hobo Jultomten.


Tre Sorters sill  – Three kinds of herring
Matjes sill  – Soused herring
Rökt lax – Smoked salmon
Sill salad –  Herring salad
Grav lax – Cured salmon
Jansons frestelse –  Janson’s temptation
Prins korv –   Prince sausage
Julskinka –  Christmas ham
Köttbullar –  Swedish meatballs
Rödkål –  Red cabbage
Rödbetor –  Pickled beets
Gurksallad –  Cumucber salad
Lingon  – Lingonberries
Ris a là Malta –  Rice porridge
Små kakor –   Small cookies

The 3 varieties of pickled herring were served in sauced of red wine vinegar, dill cream and mustard.  Matjes was another type of milder, smaller, immature herring and salt-brined rather than pickled.  The herring salad was assembled from mature herring in a very strong brine which were soaked in milk overnight in  a hasty attempt to degorge the salt.  It didn’t work too well as the dish was still considerably salty.  The grav lax was made at home, the smoked salmon was not.

Fish fit for Viking. Some by Abba (not the band).

Jansson’s Temptation is where it gets interesting, a less familiar dish but very representative of Nordic fare:  pickled sprats, potatoes, cream and onions.  The potatoes are cut into batons, smaller than the French Pont Neuf cut and randomly strew about a buttered baking dish with a layer of sprats and thinly sliced onion rings in the middle, covered with cream and finished with a top layer of onions cut in the same fashion.  It is essentially a gratin Dauphinois, augmented with the onions and sprats.  The sprats permeate the cream and give the otherwise rich and 2 dimensional dish notes of acidity and pleasant salty fishiness.  The Frenchified Thanksgiving version consisted of thinly sliced potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onions deglazed with water and a lemon juice, thyme, dried chili and anchovies, then covered with nutmeg infused cream.

Anchovies erroneously found their way into international versions since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

Blonde and blue dyed Nobel prize piece.

Yours truly brought the cooked ham from DC to Long Island where it was decorated.  The shank end of the picnic ham (minus the butt) was injected and brined for 5 days in a 5%/2.5% salt/turbinado sugar solution with #1, cinnamon, clove, allspice, rosemary, gumdrops, orange zest, garlic and chili after which it was left to dry and develop a pellicule.

The ham was then smoked in the faulty file-cabinet smoker which due to its placement in an alcove outside the back door manages to efficiently smoke the apartment when the door opens.  Hickory chips were burned on the electric hot plate at the bottom of the file-cabinet and the ham placed on a rack in what would be the second drawer whose base had been removed.  Once sufficient smokage was attained, the ham was cooked in seasoned “smiling” water for an internal temperature of 150F.  The resulting liquid was traditionally clarified  with egg whites,  gelled with additional gelatin and colored upon arrival at the holiday destination.

Few, if any foods are blue in nature and food coloring sleight of hand was required.  Turmeric provided the yellow…and was boosted with some yellow from the food-coloring 4-pack for good measure.  A cross mold was cut into cardboard, lined with plastic wrap and filled with the yellow aspic.  The blue aspic was poured into a dish and cut to fit the flag design.  A clear coat of aspic was poured where the skin was removed and the flag elements were “glued” to the ham.  More clear aspic was applied to seal the pieces.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower were pickled (the purple separately) in 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar) with carrots, carawy, lemon zest and chili.

An assortment of home made cookies and strong coffee trumpeted the finale.  The host chef got the almond in the porridge and modestly won the prize, which she instinctively shared with everyone.

Små kakor taste better than it reads.

Christ is Björn: Though Christmas is fundamentally a Christian holiday and I bear a Semitic surname, it has always been a secular feast day to enjoy with the Protestant French and something Swedish maternal sides of the family.  Oysters, shrimp, pork and many other not kosher items have graced the 10 Swedish versions which have all been attended by a Jewy majority with a supermarket style choice of faith.  The herring were all bought canned from Sweden with the exception of the heavily brined herring which I brought up as well and not much can be said for their taste other than the consistency with last years.  Grav lax was a little wet and could have been cured differently, but it was not my event.  The Nordic breads were immensely satisfying, particularly the dense home made multigrain loaf rägbröd.  The harder circular rye flatbread knäckebröd is a sturdy instrument for herding food items onto a fork and an important nod to the Viking heritage.

The ham was very well prepared and pleased all palates.  The aspic was a kitschy delight for the Swedes and Heb’s alike.  The generous holiday buffet was a delicious representation of  fundamental Nordic ingredients, traditional preparations and humble compositions.    Tack så mycket, or tak for mad as the beloved Danish ladies would garble.

Holiday bush with Nordic trim.