Friday, November 28, 2008

From Road to Kitchen to Stable

This morning after a 2.5 hour drive from New York and following a fine day at my parent's house to celebrate Thanksgiving, I roll in to the farm to find that the two days prior to 27 November had been so busy that we were nearly wiped out of all the stuff that I am responsible for making for retail sale. So, delighted, I jump in and immediately begin breaking down the last of the three sides of veal that are hanging in the meat locker. (See above) There was some brown veal stock to reduce to demi-glace, turkeys to bone for sausage, pancetta to cut and package, ripe salami to cut down from the drying room for packaging and I'm working alone and rocking so hard that at 2 o'clock when I see Alex (who comes when he's off from school to hang out with his father, our chief farm hand ) run in to the kitchen and grab some paper towels, I almost don't understand that a calf is about to be born.

I drop the boning knife I'm using to take apart a side of veal, grab my camera and hustle out to the barn and shoot these pictures (below) of the birth of a Ayrshire dairy calf.

I'm sure that most of my readers will understand how bewitching something like this is to someone who has made a career from , in large part, cooking animals. I was never comfortable cooking, serving or eating meat in the absence of having direct knowledge of all aspects of the food web. I always felt that unless I had the guts to interact with the creatures that I used for food before they became food, I was a fraud. Certainly it is cowardly for me to cook meat if I cannot work up the courage to know and butcher animals.

Of course, that's a standard that I only apply to myself.

I will not say that everyone who eats meat is a coward if they cannot butcher and cook an animal with whom they have had a personal relationship. (For the record: the female calf you see being born will probably not end up in my kitchen, but one of the bull calves at the end on the slideshow probably will.) But I will say this.

If you eat meat and the sweet, life-affirming pictures you see here make you seriously unhappy about preying on animals, you might consider giving serious thought to either becoming vegan or spending some time doing what I'm doing. Veganism is noble (vegetarianism, not so much) and so is -I believe- what Trent, and I am trying to do: face up to the reality of the consequences of appetite.

Think about it. Who wants to be one of those people who eats meat but says things like "Oh, if I had to kill an animal and cut it up, I'd probably become a vegetarian?"

I know that I don't.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Untitled Title

When I compare my recent output here with what Ruhlman has been dishing out these last few weeks, I feel like a one trick pony. During what is supposed to be a two-month hiatus from writing, Michael has been rattling off great posts on phony food allergies (Did I tell you the one about the lady who told me that she was allergic to pork?) sous vide and, most recently, fried bone marrow. But whatever, he is a writer and writers write, right?

So what's been my excuse for not keeping up with my blog? Dunno, really. Perhaps if my livelihood depended on it I'd be more prolific but I doubt it. Eh, enough hand wringing.

The slideshow at the top of the post contains a few of the very few photos I snapped last week at the farm. I was so busy butchering (we slaughtered two veal calves last week) that I did not have much time to shoot. The lonzini (pl. lonzino, loin) are from one of our Berkshire hogs and were cured for two weeks in a mixture of salt, sugar, pink salt black pepper and thyme. I'm guessing that they will hang for at least four weeks. Usually, I would scrub off the cure before hanging, but this time I left it on, in large part, because Trent thought it looked cool. I thought it looked cool too, but I'm a little skeptical of how it is going to taste with a layer of bristling thyme on the edge.

The country ham in the last two slides is wonderful. Trent cured two of those last year in a mixture of salt, molasses, pepper and pink salt (I'm pretty sure they were from one of the Yorkshire hogs that was raised for us by another farmer.) and I could not be more pleased by the outcome if I had cured it myself. The cure runs all the way through right down to the bone. There is no sign of bone sour (which can happen if the cure takes too long to penetrate all the way through) and the color is very uniform. The flavor is marvelous and not unlike that of a prosciutto di Parma. The fat is so dense that it's almost crunchy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Never Say "Never"

This list of things one should never do in a restaurant is not only conspicuous for it's exclusion of truly foolish behaviors like trying to tip the server with an angry dog or arriving with your own china and flatware because you read about some dive where that had been cited by the health department for a busted thermostat on its dishwasher, but for it's inclusion of some truly wrong-headed tips. I'll refrain for now from telling you which of these tips I think are completely smacked-ass (My newest favorite expression. I'll get over it; I promise.) and sit back and enjoy your comments.

The home of this list of tips can be found at the end of an article at the TimesOnline that wonders if we are about to enter an era where chefs don't scream and throw stuff at their employees. The author wonders if the recent appearance of female chefs in a profession that was (and still is) dominated by males might alter the dynamic of the realtionship between the chef and the brigade de cuisine and lead to a kinder, gentler, more democratic style of management.

I say yes, because as everyone knows, women never scream or throw things. They are incapable of being dictatorial and intolerant and always value communication over bullying and intimidation. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Things you should never do in a restaurant

•Trust the hollandaise sauce. Bacteria love it, and it’s never made to order.

•Even think about ordering anything if the bathrooms are filthy. Imagine what the kitchen must be like.

•Order your steak well done. You’re likely to end up with meat that the chef was unhappy to send out to anyone else.

•Go on a Monday. A lot of wine will be sold at the weekend, so the bottle you fancy could be out of stock.

•On Mondays, the ‘fresh fish’ could be less than fresh: boats don’t go out on a Sunday. And it’s a quieter day, so the chef is likely to not be there.

•Order the special. It could be that the chef legitimately wants to try out something new. But it might just as likely be designed to push older inventory.

• Get seduced by something with a sauce or gravy — they cover up mistakes.

•Order a medium steak and send it back as it’s pink in the middle. That’s what it’s meant to look like. Send it back when it’s not the kitchen’s fault and you open yourself up to a world of pain.

•Order oysters. Ever. I have a gastroenterologist friend, and the one thing he’ll never eat is oysters — they can contain the dangerous vibrio bacteria.

•Order off-menu. You’re just showing off. Unless you’re on a special diet. A chef does a menu to the best of his ability, and if you turn your nose up at it, you’re unlikely to get the best out of him. [Source]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just Another Meal

For someone who spends as much time cooking and thinking about cooking as I do, sometimes it is difficult to think of the act of preparing a meal that does not involve some esoteric ingredient or cooking technique as worth recording. Occasionally though, something about what I am doing while I'm cooking simple dinners for my family will strike me as interesting enough to pull out my camera and shoot, which is exactly what I did last Thursday when I shot these photos of grilled pork chops, sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and basmati rice.

I think what moved me to grab the camera had something to do with me recognizing how much I take these meals for granted. In a world where millions don't have enough to eat, and where millions who do have enough to eat don't eat nearly as well as they could if they only took the time to cook their own food, it seems wrong, amoral even, to be unmoved by a meal that looks as nice as this one does to me. Also the fact that I knew the pig who I was cooking, the smell of the charcoal fire in the damp November air, and the glass of sauvignon blanc that drained so fast that I was afraid that I was being gas-lighted by a poltergeist had something to do with it too.

Kodak Moment: The Miracle of Bacon

Christian the Apprentice inspires awe in a child with nothing more or less than bacon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November Blues

I've been smitten with Herman Melville's Moby Dick for so long that I cannot remember the last November that has not caused me to recall -and fret over- these lines from the first paragraph of the first chapter of the book that I'm pretty sure contains a big chunk of the narrative of my soul.

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

Why November drives me to hunker down and get restless and cranky over the condition of my soul is obvious -I was born in November, the weather is dour and the landscape goes mute as daylight becomes twilight. I've never run off and gone to sea in any way that was not metaphorical. But since my first reading of Moby Dick, whenever November comes around I imagine myself, like Ishmael, walking in damp boots towards New Bedford under a grey drizzling sky , a rucksack on my back, daydreaming of Cape Horn, harpoons, and doom.

Hmm, now that I think about it's probably a good thing that I identify so closely with Ishamel than the more obvious choice of Fleece, the Pequod's cook. True, like Fleece I live a good portion of my life below decks in the galley, and I'm sure I could fry up a whale steak quite as well as he. But Fleece went down with George Bush, I mean Captain Ahab, in the ship in the vortex produced by the enraged whale, while Ishmael survived.

Sorry if this post is a downer. I'll make it up to you in the next one with something bright and clever about the latest installment of some smacked-ass cooking show where the cooks battle it out like Rock-em Sock-em Robots. (No I won't.) In the meantime have a look at a few shots of the farm in November. The ham was made in October, but I added it in because it felt right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Golden Pig (With a Nod to Apulieus)

Save the oyster, which cannot change, cannot be cooked and is always eaten raw, most foodstuffs are mutable. Corn can become tortillas while a cattle may slip its identity as a hulking quadrupedal mammal and assume the form of scotch broth, hamburger, the Kosher hot dog and a myriad iterations of roasts and grillades.

But if each thing can become many other things, that which each is fated to become is limited in number and expression by the essence that is at once its life force, its will and its nature. Things can only become what their essence allows them to become, and no more and no less than that.

The essence of the nature of a chicken limits what it may become to a such things as cutlets, roasts and the chicken of General Tso. But a chicken can never become a hamburger, for that is for the cattle to be -as demanded by its essence. And such is the essence of the nature of the lamb that it cannot become tofu, or ice cream, but will with alacrity assume the identity of the souvlaki or the boned-rolled-and-tied roast.

The pig too is transmogrified, and will with proper coaxing become sausage, bacon and salami. There is no other organism that is considered to be proper food for man whose metamorphosis can lead it to become these things. Only the pig can, through the will of its essence, become these things.

So give it the frak up people.

However hard we try to coax something other than a pig to become sausage, bacon or salami, we will always fail , because these facies are reserved for the pig.

OK, the goofy rhetoric is over. I hope I did not make a golden ass of myself. But if I did, I chose to do it, so that's cool -I hope.

See some of what our pigs became over the past few weeks as they changed from Berkshire hogs to salumi. All of the pancetta (60 pounds of it!) cured for two weeks, and was hung on Saturday (11/8). The lardo cured for ten days and was hung at the same time. The Tuscan salami has been drying for almost two weeks and you see the orange cardamom salami hanging on the first day after it emerged from a day on racks in a warm room to "kick start" the nitrate reducing and fermentation bacteria.

A couple of astute readers noted that I had bone-headedly (my dis, not their's) hung the lardo in an area where it was likely to be oxidized by light. ( I knew better but forgot.) I have since moved it to a very dark corner of the aging room. My gratitude to Andrew Little and Jeff Price is commensurate to my chagrin.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rabbit Stills

Here are a few stills Before-During-and After of the Rab Fab Demo. BTW - The hind legs, butterflied, stuffed, and wrapped in the same manner work just as well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm Baaaack - Silence of the Bunnies

by Mike Pardus

Hard drive melted down before I got the chance to upload photos and video from the WellFleet Oyster fest and an Artisanal Whiskey tasting (Both jammed into the same debauched weekend - narrowly averted gout).

Anyway, I think I can do another whiskey tasting - maybe next week - but the oyster fest, just take my word for it - you want to go next really do, and if you're comfortable foraging for wild mushrooms, the forest surrounding Wellfleet is flush with fungi in early October! A great accompaniment to the bounty of the bay.

Trying desperately to regain my momentum, I bought a grocery store rabbit and present here it's dissection and my subsequent use. The video came out well. I have some still photos of the finished products, but they're not uploaded yet, I'll post them later if there's enough interest. The rabbit, prepared as described in the video, was really good.

Rabbit Fab Part 1:

Rabbit Fab Part 2:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stoic Butchery

Last week we sent two more of our Berkshire hogs out the slaughterhouse, and between Friday and Saturday I cut up one into chops, hams, bellies for pancetta and about 90 pounds of meat for salami and breakfast sausage. As you will see in the slideshow the quality of the pork is superb. The fat is thick and white and, most importantly, the meat is well-marbled with fat.

Unless you shop at one of those yuppie-marts that sell heritage pork , you won't see pork like this in the supermarket where pale, insipid low-cal pork reigns pathetic. And you certainly won't have the experience of having known the animal that died so that you might eat him -or in the present case, her.

To have had a personal relationship with the animal that you cook for dinner is galvanizing, and not recommended for the squeamish or those who like the truth about what their food REALLY IS buried under layers of denial. Me, I drink my coffee black, my Scotch neat and I'm not eating meat unless I know I can bear raising an animal, killing it, cutting it up and cooking it. Suffice it to say, I am there. The killing part of the process is pretty damned unpleasant and nowadays the smell of death is always in the air when I cook. But that is as it should be: it is reality.

We only get one chance to confront what we are and to consider the consequences of our appetites. And if you believe, as I do, that every Homo sapien is born with the responsibility of thinking about itself and its realtionship to the universe, then failure to know the animals and plants we eat and the circumstances of their lives and deaths, is a failure of the most basic kind. Because dudes, failure to live up to something that is so basic to to human nature that it is encoded in our species name (sapien= knowing or wise) , is very, very lame.

If you have not figured this out from the title and the tenor of my writing, my thinking about how I should relate to the world around me has been seasoned pretty heavily by stoicism. And, as a big fan of the stoic philosopher, Caesar Marcus Aurelius (I actually named one of my kids after him.) I'm pulling out chunks of his Meditations to help explain, or at least, reiterate what I believe

Observe what thy nature requires, so far as thou art governed by nature only: then do it and accept it [Emphasis mine; Meditations, Book 10]
Our nature demands that we know what we are, what we do, and the consequences that result from our actions. If we refuse to accept this, we cannot be fully human. Again I cite Aurelius

It is satisfaction to a man to do the proper works of a man... to form a just judgment of plausible appearances, and to take a survey of the nature of the universe and of the things which happen in it. [Book 8]
If we ignore the likelihood that Aurelius was referring to males and substitute the word "human" for man, then it follows that we cannot be fully human (satisfied) if we do not make every effort understand the context of our existence. Of course, eating is only one of the behaviors that we engage in as we progress through life. And to keep track of everything we do and its consequences is probably an impossible task. But since eating is something we do nearly all the time and because it has such a profound impact on the things that we eat, I think that it deserves special attention.

So if you cook and eat meat, but have never killed anything directly and watched it while its life bleeds out onto the soil. If you have never smelled the aroma of entrails as they spill from a hoisted carcass, you might consider learning about this part of the cooking cycle. I doubt you will find it especially pleasant, but I am certain you will learn something about the universe and yourself that will help you to realize who you are.

Just in case you have trouble relating what you see in the slideshow to a living thing. Here is a republish of a video of me feeding the hogs at the farm. The carcass on the cutting table comes from one of these fine looking animals.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Venison Bombe

I'm calling this salumi a bombe (after the French furniture, not the dessert) because of its bombe-like shape and frankly, having never seen such a thing before, I don't know what else to call it. It's made from two full loins of a deer that was felled on the farm by an arrow. After removing most of the connective tissue I cured them in a mixture of salt, sugar, nitrate, sugar, rosemary and juniper for 10 days.

After the cure, I rinsed them, rolled them in pepper and stuffed them into a Genoa casing (sewn beef guts) for hanging. I figure it'll be ready to eat when it has lost 35-40% of it's weight in water. Because the deer was not killed under inspection this cannot be sold to the public, so if it turns out well, it's going to be on our table later in the year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How To Tie Salametti

e After I put up that short video describing how to crimp fresh sausage into links, it occurred to me that you might like to see how I tie up sausage that is destined to ferment and air dry. I'm sure there are other ways to do this, and I make no claims that mine is the quickest and safest method. But it does do a good job of keeping the links from unwinding, providing a tether for hanging and most importantly a "safety line" that keep the links from falling on the floor if the ligature (twisted casing) between the links breaks. There are few things that look more pathetic than a sausage that has broken free of it's siblings only to fall on the floor to lay in mute ignominy.

The video shows my lower torso and hands tying off previously crimped links of salametti (small salami) into a chain link which will hang from hooks in the drying room and longer "U" shaped versions of the same force meat that will hang from PVC tubing that I place across the rafters in the ceiling of the same room.


By the way.

Mike Pardus assures me that he will be back to blog as soon as he recovers from having fried his hard drive. It seems he pushed some keys in just the right sequence to send the thing into a death spiral. Who knew that such a thing was possible? Not me. That's for sure.