Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And now for something completely different

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Meat" is hard to beat

When I asked Tom Schneller, a friend and former colleague at The Culinary Institute of America, to lend me a copy of his latest book, Meat Identification, Fabrication and Utilization, so that I could review it here, I realized that I was asking to put myself into the odd situation of asking readers of A Hunger Artist to accept a review of one friend by another. Then I wondered what I would do if the booked sucked. Would I have the courage to say so publicly or be a wimp and write a whitewash?

Well, it turns out that I had nothing to worry about because Meat is very good.

Meat is essentially a textbook that appears to cover most of the curriculum of the CIA's meat ID and fabrication program. The first chapter, which teases the reader with a title that asks a Socratic question (What is meat?), is actually a miscellany of information about grading, equipment, knife techniques and Kosher and Halal meats. Subsequent chapters (Beef, Veal, Pork,Lamb and Game) contain straightforward utilitarian information about breed, grading, primal, subprimal and market cuts. There are terrific charts that give the North American Meat Processor's HRI (Hotel Restaurant and Institution) product codes for all of the standard North American cuts, information about how they are typically fabricated and suggested cooking methods.

But where the book really stands up -and why I wish I had had something like this in my library when I set out to learn butchery- are the original CIA-produced photographs.

There are terrific photos that illustrate all of the primal and subprimal cuts and most of the American market cuts plus fabulous exploded views of all the primal cuts with all of the muscles arrayed as if they had just fallen apart on the butcher's table. Some of the best photos are the process shots that clearly explain how to break down primal sections into subprimals and finally, market cuts. I'm not sure if I have seen process photos as good as these since Jacques Pepin's La Methode and La Technique.

I would like to have seen process photos that show the breakdown of whole carcasses instead of the not-too-helpful generic diagrams cum text that were given. I suppose that Tom and his publisher recognized that the target market of this book, like the staff and students at the meat room at the CIA, was more likely to be working from primal and subprimal cuts and not whole carcasses. So the omission of detailed discussions of the earliest stages of butchering, though lamentable. is understandable.

I do have another minor gripe about this book (and it's companion volume Poultry Identification, Fabrication and Utilization) that appears to have nothing to do with any decision made by the author.

A three-page section at the beginning (of both books) titled About the CIA, is a discourse on the merits of the CIA and its program at Hyde Park and elsewhere. While there is nothing unusual about including a shout out for an author's place of employment in a book, such things are more tastefully placed at the end of a book.

Listing at $74.95 ($49.10 at Amazon) Meat it is not a cheap. However, when you consider that the NAMP Meat and Poultry Buyer's Guide-which unlike Meat has no "how to" information and nothing about offal- is over $79.00, Meat is a pretty sweet deal.

The bottom line is that Meat is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to take a truly comprehensive approach to cooking and add serious butchering to their resume.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fruit Ballistics

In America anything is possible and everything possible is performed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Ribbing

This video from Heath Putnam's Wooly Pigs blog shows Christoph Wiesner, president of the Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders Association, butchering a rib section of a Mangalitsa pig. Note the use of a rib puller to remove the ribs while leaving the rib meat attached.

Heath just remineded me that Christoph will be leading a class in Mangalitsa slaughter, butchery and curing at Mosefund Farm in January. I'm planning to be be there for a day or two. -BdG

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mangalitsa Jowl

So, after frying up a few slices of the Mangalitsa jowl I bought at Mosefund Farm for a snack I decided to cure the rest. It's very likely that once the cure has fully penetrated the fat I'll cook some off and air dry the rest.

The cure is pretty simple and consists only of sea salt, black pepper, juniper berries and garlic. I did not measure anything but worked out the proportions all by instinct and aroma (I can smell when there is enough of a specific seasoning.)

I'm figuring 2 days curing time per pound. Since the jowl weighs 5 pounds, it should be ready in 10 days.

Note: As you will see in the accompanying photos, the jowl is full of glands that need to be removed. Of course they are safe to eat, but they are so damned ugly that they have to be yanked. And please, if you are one of those people who like to eat glands for their "medicinal" value, I don't want to know about it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mosefund Pork: The Other Red Meat

Sunday I hopped into my spiffy rental car (mine's in the shop) and, distracted by a beautiful fall day and Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" on the iPod, drove almost 3 hours up to Branchville, New Jersey to visit Michael Clampffer, a former student from CIA who is raising hogs on the 300 acre Mosefund Farm.

I got to the farm around 2:00 PM and was joined soon joined by Mike Pardus and Megan Jesse, who'd spent the morning foraging for mushrooms. I think Mike said they were foraging in some place called "High Point" but since he said it while he was handing me two bottles of Tuthill Town Whiskey, I can't be sure if he was telling me where they'd been or encouraging me to binge.

Michael Clampffer did not set out to become a swineherd (Not many do these days.). He began his career as I did, working in restaurants. Then after 10 years of yelling and screaming and never having a day off, he landed the job of working at the farm as chef for G. Chris Anderson the farm's owner and his family, splitting his week between the farm and their apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City.

The hogs entered the picture when he suggested raising a couple for their own consumption. (It was anything but a hard sell since Mr. Andersen loves food as much as any of us.)

Their first hogs were a couple of Yorkshires, probably the most common breed in North America. Not fully satisfied with the quality of the pork they got from the Yorkshires, they brought in some Berkshires (Kurobuta) before finally settling on Mangalitsa hogs -a breed of "lard hog" that produces huge amounts of extra-muscular fat and beautifully marbled muscle cuts. (You can read all about them at the web site of Wooly Pigs: the only company the breeds Mangalista N&S or Central America.)

The farm is drop-dead beautiful: 300 acres of pasture and woodland that back up to a ridge of the Kittatiny Mountains and Stokes State Forest. It is primarily a horse farm where people board and ride their animals. But there is a small area devoted to chickens and, of course, a much larger area for the hogs.

As most of you know, most of the world's hogs are grain fed and live in pens. But Mosefund Mangalitsa's spend most of their lives running abound in the pastures and woods adjacent to the hog barn. It's pretty cool to look up into the woodland that rises up almost 500 feet above the valley floor and the see trails made by the hogs during their foraging expeditions.

The hogs run wild for about 10 months, feeding on the chicory that grows in the pasture and whatever they rootle up or catch in the forest supplemented by a diet of grain. All that running around is great fun for the pigs and helps to turn the meat dark red (due to the extra myoglobin needed for oxygen transport) and flavorful. Then for the last 60 days of their lives they are penned and fed mostly barley in order to encourage them to produce large amounts of hard fat that are rich the monounsaturated fatty acids that make this kind of pork so terrific for charcuterie (monounsaturated fats are less prone to becoming rancid,which is critical during the aging process, especially for hams which might hang for two to three years).

As of this writing the farm has around 80 hogs with another 120 piglets coming soon. I'm pretty sure that most of the current herd has been pre-sold, but I could easily be wrong about this. I have not tried Mosefund's Mangalitsa pork yet, but I bought a jowl that looks to be about 98 % fat! I'll post on it after I figure out what to do with it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Veal Hind Quarter

I cut a lot of veal this past week and I'm going to be cutting a lot next week too. Between the last two weeks of September and the coming week I will have made retail cuts out about 6 animals and the majority of those cuts will have come come from the hind quarters. Here is a slideshow that diagrams the position of the major muscles in a hind quarter of one of the free range veal carcasses that I butchered on Thursday.

I don't usually bone out a whole hindquarter before taking down the muscles into cutlets, roasts, etc. Rather I lift the muscles one by one. However, on Thursday I was a little bored so I boned the whole thing out for fun and, I hope, your edification.

Damn Right I Ate It

Okay, I'm used to fresh eggs by now, but this morning I cracked one that damn near made me jump out of my shoes. Check out the color of the yolk on the egg to the left in each photo. Both eggs are from the Araunca hens that live around Hendrick's Farm and Dairy. The hens are completely free range and get very little grain. The flavor of both eggs was terrific but the more deeply colored yolk was much denser (fattier) than the other. Actually, it was more like a duck egg than a chicken egg.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Caramelized Onions? Not so Fast

A few days ago I posted a question about "caramelized" onions that implied that I was skeptical that caramelization played a role in the development of the flavor of onions cooked until they brown and sweeten. I also asked the same question of Harold McGee, the author of the popular food science and history book "On Food and Cooking." Based on his response it seems that it is by no means obvious that caramelization plays a role in the development of the flavor of browned onions. That said. why are they called 'caramelized onions?"

Follows my question and Harold's response.

I wonder if any of you know if (the sugars in ) onions actually caramelize when they brown. I have never detected the aroma of caramel in what most people call "caramelized onions" and for a long time have assumed that folks mistake the effects of maillard reaction and the concomitant increase in sweetness due to concentration of sugars via evaporation for caramelization. What do you think?

"I think you're right that the browning is mostly Maillard, and that the sweetness is what takes people to caramel. But if you brown in butter, you'll get some aroma components in common with caramelized sugar (and of course caramel), so maybe that's part of it too. "