Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Italian Sausage

Making sausage has been on the to do list for a few years now.  I love sausage dearly in all varieties and the general idea behind sausage is how I like to cook: take the cheap cuts and make them into something tasty.  The main reason I’ve never made it myself, aside from some ground sausage I never put into a casing, is because I was never able to easily find casings.  Pretty stupid to actually put that in writing since anything I could possibly want can be delivered in two days via the internets, but it’s true.  I’d seen them in the supermarket in Middlebury once but failed to pull the trigger, so a couple more years passed and now here we are.

A month or so ago I noticed that sausage casings magically appeared in the deli case of my local Stop & Shop.  I pounced, thinking that there was a high likelihood I would miss my window again and spend years lamenting it.  Pounced may actually be underplaying it, I may have walked rapidly to the register hiding the casings in my coat nervous that someone would take them from me.

Nothing welcomes you back to Pete's blog after a multi-week holiday break better than a super sh*tty out of focus shot of a container.  You're welcome y'all!

Nothing welcomes you back to Pete’s blog after a multi-month break better than a super sh*tty out of focus shot of a container.  You’re welcome y’all!

The above statement isn’t entirely accurate, since if I remember correctly that was the same grocery store visit where I discovered Stop & Shop had a bit of a pricing anomaly on their salted fatback.

Another recent addition to the Stop & Shop shelves.  Salt pork (belly) has always been available, but the salted fat back made something that is usually not easy to find very accessible.  Plus, you know, it was two cents

Another recent addition to the Stop & Shop shelves.  Salt pork (belly) has always been available, but the salted fatback made something that is usually not easy to find very accessible.  Plus, you know, it was two cents

If I could have bought every $0.02 package of salted fatback without risking my marriage, I would have.  I knew I would never find a bargain like this again.  Ever.  A week later when I checked again the price had been raised to a nearly unfathomable $2.99 a pound and a I felt like a fool for not purchasing all ten packages previously.

Both the casings and the salted fatback would keep for months, so I left them in the fridge to occasionally stare at and daydream.  A few weeks later, whole pork shoulders were on sale for $.89 a pound and my fridge/freezer was officially loaded with the basics for some sausage making.  I got started by rinsing the excess salt off of the fatback and cubing it.

Pure snow white fat.  Lovely.  Like the ivory of fat.  Or me showering in February

Pure snow white fat.  Lovely.  Like the ivory soap of fat.  That analogy doesn’t work.  How about, “the whitest fat not attached to the author.”  That one stinks too, the humor in this post needs to improve and fast

Since most sausage recipes would call for normal fatback, you need to adjust your approach with salted fatback and remove the majority of additional salt you would add during prep.  Other prep items that were done off camera: deboning the pork shoulder and cubing the meat.  At that point, about 2 hours before the real business of sausage making would get started, the fat, meat, and the grinding plates for the Kitchenaid grinder all went into the freezer.

Quick note on the freezing of all items which was previously covered in (one hit wonder) Uncle Timmy’s Stupid Recipe’s For Jerks: keeping the fat and meat ice cold is essential for making good sausage.  In the case of Italian sausage, you want the fat and meat to be visibly separate inside the casing, not all smeared together.  Since grinders get very hot very fast, the freezing of the actual grinder in addition to the fat and meat helps keep everything as separate as possible.

Back to the sausage, all told I had 7-8 pounds of shoulder meat and a little over a pound of salted fatback.  That requires a lot of seasoning, so to start I lightly toasted a 1 ounce container of fennel seeds in a pan and poured them into a mortar with a few peppercorns.

I wish I used my mortar and pestle more but I don't.  Most of the time it's wear I rest my vegetable brush on the countertop

I wish I used my mortar and pestle more but I don’t.  Most of the time it’s where I rest my vegetable brush on the countertop

After a quick few rounds of pestle rotation in the mortar, the pepper and fennel seed were ground to a fine powder that would be easier to distribute throughout the meat.

Smelled pretty strong, but, again, I was seasoning a lot of meat with this stuff

Smelled pretty strong, but, again, I was seasoning a lot of meat with this stuff

The seasoning went into a bowl with the frozen cubes of pork and fat, a little salt, a few tablespoons of sugar, a couple chopped cloves of garlic, and a whole bunch worth of torn parsley.  Once everything was tossed and well combined, the bowl went back into the freezer for another hour.  And this was a very full and very large bowl.

Thought a human being would give a little perspective on the size of the bowl.  Sort of worked.  Thats a normal sized high school soccer coach if that helps

Thought a human being would give a little perspective on the size of the bowl. Sort of worked.  Thats a normal sized high school soccer coach if that helps

With the meat and fat nearly frozen again, I started assembling the extremely cold pieces of the Kitchenaid grinder  as quickly as possible to avoid them warming up too much.  Then, working fast, the frozen meat went through the grinder on a coarse grind setting since I wanted the finish product to be sausage and not a puree.  We’ve all seen me grind meat on this blog before, so no picture needed for that piece of the process.

Once the meat/fat/parsley mixture was completely ground, it went back into the freezer for a half hour, then into the mixing bowl portion of the Kitchenaid along with a cup of a dry red wine and red wine vinegar mixture.  I used the paddle attachment on the mixer to combine the liquid with the meat and make sure that all fat, meat, and parsley were evenly distributed in the sausage.

This was relatively unappetizing to watch for some reason.  It looked like the meat was trying to escape with every rotation before it was foiled and fell back into the bowl

This was relatively unappetizing to watch for some reason.  It looked like the meat was trying to escape with every rotation before it was foiled and fell back into the bowl

Once it was well combined, I separated the ground mixture into two approximately even portions; one which would go directly into casings (for sweet Italian sausage) and the other which would get added seasonings (for hot Italian sausage).  The hot Italian portion went back into the freezer.

With the grinding complete, I switched out the grinder plate with the sausage stuffing attachment on the Kitchenaid.  There are some people who go bonkers on the internets about not using these attachments because they can make the sausage too hot which will cause it to nearly emulsify instead of staying in sausage form.  This includes people I trust as sound food advisors.  But, it was what I had and I had to make do.

First step was removing one of the casings from the cold water it had been soaking in for a couple hours, finding an end, figuring out how to open it, and bunching it up on the stuffing nozzle.

You might feel like your mind is in the gutter for some of the associations this imagery conjures, but then you remember that you are looking at a whole lamb intestine bunched up on a plastic nozzle

You might feel like your mind is in the gutter for some of the associations this imagery conjures, but then you remember that you are looking at 15′ of hog intestine bunched up on a plastic nozzle.  I expected no aroma/flavor on the casing , but it was actually kind of nice, like griddle seared hog fat.  And yes that smells nice to me

We loaded the meat into the tray and slowly started pushing it down into the stuffer where I would carefully feed it into the casing.  Keeping the pipeline full of meat was a pain, as was trying to keep the thickness and density consistent.  At least for round 1, it was a two man job.

That's some clenched face effort right there.  I really wanted this to be the light hearted, polka soundtrack sausage making that Kramer and Newman did together, but it ended up being serious work

That’s some clenched face effort right there.  I really wanted this to be the light hearted, polka soundtrack sausage making that Kramer and Newman did together, but it ended up being serious work

The casings have a natural curve to them, which made it easy to coil the sausage as it filled the casing.  This was key since otherwise I have no idea where I would have laid down a 15′ stretch of forcemeat.

I think this isn't even the full coil, we had a couple more feet to go.  That chip bag clip in the middle was soooo unnecessary

I think this isn’t even the full coil, we had a couple more feet to go. That chip bag clip in the middle was soooo unnecessary.  Also unnecessary, the four extra casings in the background that I had no need to soak and went unused

Once the sausage was fully in the casings, we carefully went through and twisted the sausage every 4 to 5 inches to make the individual links.  Then went through and tied a knot between each link with kitchen twine to make it easier to hang.

Kristi found Conman's posing for the foto hilarious.  He does know the secret to good action shots

Kristi found Conman’s posing for the foto hilarious.  He does know the secret to good action shots (hint, no action).  Also, I guess the random items strewn all over the butcher block is telling of the number of hours we’d been hanging out and imbibing

With the sweet Italians fully prepped, they went onto a laundry drying rack to hang and dry for a few hours.  While the rest of the crew watched the NFC championship (yes, this all happened awhile ago), I ground up oregano and red pepper flake in the mortar and mixed it into the remaining near-frozen sausage meat along with paprika to make the hot Italians.

I then went about loading into the casings solo, which wasn’t as hard as I expected, but only in hindsight did I realize that I packed the casings much more dense and fat when working alone.  I’m guessing I just got distracted and wasn’t feeding out enough casing.  This meant that when twisting the sausage into links a couple links burst which gave me some extra sausage meat to eat.  But first, the drying rack.

Thing of beauty.  You can see how fat and stubby the hots are.  Kristi went into the basement and found me this rack to dry the sausage on.  We are unclear if it was left by our previous neighbors, or if our current neighbors currently hang dry their sweaters on it and stuff.  Not a good neighbor, folks.  Not a good neighbor

Thing of beauty.  You can see how fat and stubby the hots are.  Kristi went into the basement and found me this rack to dry the sausage on.  We are unclear if it was left by our previous neighbors, or if our current neighbors hang dry their sweaters on it and stuff.  Not a good neighbor, folks.  Not a good neighbor

The extra hot Italian sausage meat was fried up in patties and served on potato rolls with sauteed broccoli rabe and melted provolone.

The regular sausage was tasty and had a starring role in a couple of Sunday Gravies, but the hots were so effing good.  Really flavorful, but went so nicely with a little cheese and rabe

The regular sausage was tasty and had a starring role in a couple of Sunday Gravies, but the hots were so effing good.  Really flavorful and went so nicely with a little cheese and rabe

The sausage sandwich was delicious, as I’m sure you’d guessed I would say.  The hot sausage had a lot of heat and strong flavor which played well with the cheese and rabe.  Not a sausage you’d want to eat before riding in an elevator with coworkers or having a conversation with a close talker, but very tasty.

The cased sweet Italians and hot Italians went into a tupperware in the fridge for a couple days until I decided to freeze them all.

Thats about 4 pounds worth, and the hots were in a different container.  I made a lot of sausage

That’s about 5 pounds worth, and the hots were in a different container.  I made a lot of sausage

The regular Italian sausage was solid and worked well as an ingredient in a couple rounds of Sunday Gravy.  Nothing too notable about the flavor, just tasted like a good sausage.  Though, this whole sasuage making experience made me realize how much more fat is in the regular Italian sausages I buy and eat than what I made.  Not a bad thing, but it really does make those versions more enjoyable when grilled on their own.

Since then I’ve made more sausage, which I will likely document soon.  I wouldnt grade it as highly succesful as this round, but a good experience regardless.  Till then.

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Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Skate Wing and Miso Corn

A few weeks ago I visited Super 88, still one of my favorite places on earth to buy stuff I’ve never consumed before.  It went about as expected; I bought a lot of insanely inexpensive frozen dumplings, a gigantic tub of miso despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and then fed Janet pork and duck in the attached food court.  On my slow, slack jawed fly-by of the fish department (where I usually consider buying one of the whole carp swimming behind the counter) I saw that they had whole skate packed in ice for $1.39 a pound.  Which created some anxiety.

I’ve loved skate wing the few times I’ve had it in restaurants, usually pan fried with a brown butter sauce.  On the other hand, skate is a ray, pees through it’s skin, and generally should be eaten extremely fresh since it gets nasty fast.  On top of all of that, the center area of the skate is mostly inedible, each wing has a band of cartilage running through the middle of the meat, and the skin is extremely difficult to peel off.  Due to all of these factors, I did multiple anxious passes by the seafood case before having the courage to ask the man at the counter if he would clean the skate for me.  Which he shook his head and replied “no” to.  Meaning I needed to do a couple more anxious laps deep in thought.

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven't cut Janet's hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand int he back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole "a few weeks ago" opening

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven’t cut Janet’s hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand in the back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole “a few weeks ago” opening

Eventually, despite my near psychotic hatred of wasting food, I decided that the minimal investment due to the per pound cost made it acceptable to take the risk.  So, as the 5th lap wrapped up I asked for a skate from the same seafood counter guy who immediately asked if I wanted it cleaned.  Well then.  Seems like the questions work best when they are outbound at Super 88 and can be answered with just a nod.  Anyhoo, he removed the wings from the skate and I headed up to wait in the extremely long line at checkout.  Then, of course, Janet and I went and ate a half pound of Chinese roast pork.

Once home, I got started on dinner.  The plan was to use the miso in a corn dish that I saw on the first season of Mind of a Chef, do the skate wing in brown butter, and utilize a week old head of cauliflower in a way that completely wouldn’t match the flavors of the other items.  The first step, was getting my first good up close look at the fish and preparing it for cooking.

It pretty much like normal fish, except butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

It looked pretty much like normal fish, if normal fish were butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

I have no idea what happened in the back of Super 88 when the fishmonger went to “clean” the fish, but some things happened.  Most noticeable was that the spiny edges were trimmed off, but also that he randomly chose to remove the skin on only on side of each wing.  There was still a hard piece of cartilage running down the center of the wings which ended with a thick piece of bone-like cartilage at what would have been the middle of the body.  Otherwise the fish looked and smelled pretty fresh, with none of the ammonia-like smell I was told to look out for.  Still a lot more work left to do than I expected, though.

The hardest part of dealing with skate, as I had heard and quickly learned first hand, is removing the skin which is best done with pliers and a lot of elbow grease.

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

Especially if you have tasted soft, delicate skate wing in a restaurant, this process seems entirely ridiculous.  The idea of tearing the skin off of meat seems like it would completely ruin even the toughest cuts, but with skate it actually peels away cleanly.  Albeit with an insane amount of effort.  I think each wing probably took 2-3 minutes or repositioning, pulling, then trying to find a new grip on the meat that wouldn’t damage it, and pulling some more.  I know I am painting a very encouraging picture for giving this a shot at home.

After a lot of effort, I had a couple clean wings.

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right.  Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right. Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The last step in prepping the fish was to fillet the meat off of the cartilage that ran down the center of each wing.  I took the same approach I would with a whole fish and cut down to the bone, then used it to guide the knife down the fillet.  I’ll give myself a B- here and would probably boil the remaining meat stuck on the bone in a soup next time.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings

With the fish fully prepped, I got started with the other parts of the meal by mixing equal parts unsalted butter and miso paste.

Maybe more miso than butter.  I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

Maybe more miso than butter. I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

I used a fork to mash the miso and butter together until they were relatively well combined.  Once finished, I got started cutting the corn off of six cobs for some pan roasting.  I got the idea for this method of preparing corn after watching a mouth watering episode of Mind fo a Chef Season 1.  That corn was prepared with huge chunks of bacon in that case and finished with miso butter. Makes my mouth water writing it.

The last side, and one that fit in most poorly with the others, was a roasted cauliflower dish based on one I’ve had a few times at Ten Tables in JP.  It started with preheating the oven to 475F and tossing a broken down head of cauliflower with olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, currants, and sunflower nuts.

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn't go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The "I" there is key

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn’t go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The “I” there is key, I am an extremely selfish cook.  Also, yes, I still haven’t gotten through all of the currants in my cupboard and have nightmares about them once a week

The dressed cauliflower went into the oven for 20 minutes to get some good roasted color and texture.

While that cooked, I heated up a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in a large pan for my version of the miso corn.  Bacon pieces would have been better, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to cook it properly, so bacon grease was the call.  Once the grease was hot and nearly smoking, I added the corn, tossed and cooked it for a minute or two, then added the miso butter.

Good god I wish I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round.  I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

Good god life would be amazing if I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round. I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

With the corn cooking, I heated a large cast iron pan over medium/high heat and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it once it got up to heat.  While the butter melted and started bubbling, I lightly floured and seasoned the skate fillets before adding them to the pan.

Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you've been coking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

This is actually after the flip.  Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you’ve been cooking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

The skate cooked for a few minutes on each side, basically until the outside had a nice browned color.  By the end, the skate was falling apart tender and a little difficult to keep whole but I was succesful for the most part.  Once the meat was out of the pan, I turned the heat up a bit to brown the remaining butter in the pan and then deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine.  After a couple more minutes of reducing the wine sauce, I added the fish back to the pan and plated.

I think the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looked a lot better in my memories then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Apparently the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looks a lot better in my memories and then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Skate is a fish that every fish lover needs to try, regardless of your feelings about the idea of eating a ray.  The flavor is mild but as sweet as a scallop, and the texture is incredibly light and almost feathery.  You can choose your own difficulty level, getting the partially cleaned buck-fifty version from an Asian supermarket or the $14.99 full cleaned fillets from a reputable seafood market, but it is incredibly easy to cook regardless.  This version, with brown butter, had the nice contrast between the sweet meat and the sharper flavors of the sauce, and was very delicious.

The corn was sweet, bacony and salty miso-y which I loved and I think Kristi was middies on.  I just love the flavor of miso and this was a combination of my favorite ingredients.  Would have been better with some cilantro to cut the richness, though.  The cauliflower was very simple but delicious and had a nice crispy char from the roasting and balsamic sugars burning slightly on the surface.

Very good meal, I got some game offal to cook for next week.

Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Oven Cooked Beef Jerky

Beef jerky and me go way back.  Surprising, I know, that a salt obsessed portly carnivore has had a lifelong affinity for jerky.  As a kid, I spent my summers hanging around Ravine Lake and throwing in a buck or two every day for snacks like giant Jolly Ranchers, blow pops, and Munchos.  Weren’t Munchos the best?  In the rotation was the occasional day where we picked through the questionable jerky selection at the Copper Kettle and every kid sat around snacking on dried meats.  I was basically the same then as I am now; acting like an expert and aficionado of my Jacks Links kippered beefsteaks while the cretins around me consumed their Slim Jims.  Mine was the real beef jerky, the authentic one, and I made sure I let everyone know about it.  I was probably 8 so, again, nothing has changed.

In college, housemate Davey’s father came to visit and brought with him a large bag of elk jerky he made after a recent hunting trip.  It was delicious and he pretty much blew my mind when he explained to me that he had made it in his oven using a little liquid smoke.  Whatever that meant.  Even if I didn’t understand that liquid smoke was a real thing that didn’t just exist in Mr. Johnston’s pantry and the Flaming Homer on the Simpsons, I was very intrigued with making it myself.  And a brief 11 years later, I decided to do just that.

I got started with the cheapest thick cut steak I could find at the grocery store.  Making jerky is right up my alley since it takes something inexpensive and turns it into something tasty.

I'm not sure whose family these family-sized packs are for but I sure hope they like gristle!

I’m not sure whose family these family-sized packs are for but I sure hope they like gristle!  The steaks looked much nicer in the grocery store, but slid to one end and got mushed around when I re-purposed my backpack as a reusable grocery bag for the commute home

I went with chuck steaks since they were on sale.  Since then I have also used round steaks (since they were on sale that time) and you could probably slice whatever cheap roast is available.  Since the end product is supposed to be chewy, no need to be picky.  You do want to avoid an cut where you can’t easily trim off the fat since fat doesn’t dry and makes the end product not last as long.

The meat sat in the freezer for a little under an hour to make it firm and easy to slice.  With chuck in particular the fat makes the meat less dense and difficult to slice thinly with a knife.  The freezer time helps it stay together a bit better, though I still struggled to cut slices 1/8th of an inch thick.

The slices went into a freezer bag with a marinade of soy sauce, brown sugar, worcestershire, liquid smoke, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, nutmeg, and crushed red pepper.  All excess air in the bag was pressed out before sealing.

"Pressed" is a BS.  In college I watched a friend pack toiletries in freezer bags and then suck the air out of the bag to save space in her suitcase.  She explained it by saying, "I used to date a drug dealer".  Ok then, valuable lessen for me in how to remove air from a marinating bag, though

“Pressed out” is BS.  In college I watched a friend pack toiletries in freezer bags and then suck the air out of the bag with her mouth to save space in her suitcase.  She explained it by saying, “I used to date a drug dealer”.  OK then.  Valuable lesson for me in how to remove air from a marinating bag, though

The meat sat in the marinade for 12 hours to hopefully soak up as much of the flavor as possible.  Over the course of that twelve hours I took time to open the fridge, awkwardly massage the marinade around, stare at the meat for a few minutes, then eventually put the bag back in the fridge.

After 12 hours, the slices came out of the marinade and I laid them out on a few separate plates lines with paper towels to drain off the excess liquid.  Since jerky is just dehydrated/dried beef, any extra liquid left on the meat just makes the dehydration process take longer.  So, it’s good to give some paper towel time.

Window shots!  I always thought jerky darkens to the near black color you expect through the smoking/drying process, but I learned it's mostly the marinating

Window shots!  I always thought jerky darkens to the near black color you expect through the smoking/drying process, but I learned it’s mostly the marinade

While the meat drained, I preheated my oven to 185F (it didn’t take long) and moved my oven racks to the highest and lowest placements.  I put two baking sheets on the lower rack to make sure the entire bottom oven was blocked from drips coming down.  I already have enough issues with my oven smoking due to browning meat inches from the broiler, I didn’t need burnt jerk stank adding to the potpourri.

Once that was all set, I took a handful of bamboo skewers out and started hanging each piece of beef from one end, spaced about a half inch apart on the skewer.  Each skewer could hold about 6-8 slices of beef. The idea is that the skewers would lie perpendicular to the wire racks in the oven with each slice of meat hanging down between the wire racks.  Visuals help.

I never realized before trying to take pictures of this process that my oven light is actually a gigantic floodlight pointed directly at my eyes

I never realized before trying to take pictures of this process that my oven light is actually a gigantic floodlight pointed directly at my eyes

The hanging beef went into the oven at 185F with an oven mitt wedged in the door so it would stay slightly ajar.  I hadn’t thought of this before seeing a comment about it on the internets, but in order to make jerky you need to let the moisture vent out of the oven or the meat will never dry.  The door being open allows air flow so that can happen.  Look at me going all Bill Nye on y’all!!!

Aside from the oven mitt, there isn’t much you need to do while beef jerky cooks.  Eventually, somewhere between 8 and 12 hours of drying you have this.

Everything shrivelled up far more than I expected.  It looked like each piece was about 2/3s the size of when it went into the oven.  It also smelled amazing

Everything shrivelled up far more than I expected. It looked like each piece was about 2/3s the size of when it went into the oven.  It also smelled amazing

This is about the point that I pulled the meat out of the oven for good, I think it had been just under 10 hours.  I knew the meat was ready because the exterior felt solid and had only the slightest amount of give when squeezed.  I also tried a piece and it had reached the right point where there was still a little moisture to the meat, but drying it any further would make it leather.  I removed the skewers and piled the meat up to cool.

Don't get me started on warm jerky.  If you were hoping to make jerky once and then move on forver, warm jerky will derail that plan.  All the flavor and none of the jaw exhaustion

Don’t get me started on warm jerky.  If you were hoping to make jerky once and then move on forever, warm jerky will derail that plan.  All the flavor and none of the jaw exhaustion of regular jerky

Before the jerky cools completely, you have to remove the skewers to make sure they don’t get stuck and leave behind wood slivers in the meat.  Jerky splinters would be bad.  For reference, skewer removal is the part of the process where you end up eating about half the jerky.

Once you’re done with that, the jerky needs to cool completely before it can be transferred to a storage container and the refrigerator.

Lots of window shots in this post, likely because it was the only meal I've made during the day in awhile

Lots of window shots in this post, likely because it was the only meal I’ve made during the day in awhile

Making sure the jerky is completely cool before it goes in the fridge is important because it avoids condensation forming in the bag.  Condensation would lead to your jerky rehydrating.  As long as you avoid that, the jerky can keep in your fridge for 3-4 weeks supposedly, but I’ve never had the restraint to let mine last long enough to find out.

I won’t try to compare this to store-bought jerky because it is very different beast.  The outside of the meat is hard and crunchy, almost like biting down on a stick, but the meat gives almost immediately in your mouth.  It ends up being much easier to chew than your initial expectations.  Also, there’s none of that weird greasy exterior that happens with bagged jerky, nor the paper thin pieces that feel like you are chewing on a latex glove.  Lastly, the flavor is much better; it tastes like real beef and real ingredient.  You can make it as sweet or spicy as you want (I recommend siracha in the marinade) and it is fun to experiment a bit.

Good way to spend a football Sunday.  I’m just sayin’…

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Chicken Scrapple

I’ve previously referred to how my cooking interests follow a similar cyclical approach to flight patterns.  When you live near an airport, sometimes your home is under the pattern for a few weeks, then it just goes away and you barely notice.  The potential for scrapple to be made with other primary ingredients than hog innards is an idea I’ve been thinking about about a lot recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on how I can use scrapple to hide vegetables from Janet and package them in a crispy form that she has shown a love for in the past.  Parenting is mostly about deception and force feeding.

A couple weeks ago a friend from business school asked about ways to add meat to an infant’s diet which made me think of the subject of this post.  I think of this as chicken scrapple, but as my wedding caterer said, scrapple is just pork polenta, so you could really think of this as chicken polenta too.  My main goal was to make something that was close enough to regular scrapple that I still enjoyed it but also use ingredients Kristi would be willing to consume.  It all started with a couple chicken breasts and four thighs, all skin on and bone-in.

Oh, and a daughter doing water colors.  She's, uh, not that good at this painting stuff yet but I think that's excusable since she is just over 2.  However, I will be freaking the f*ck out if she hits two and a half and is still painting outside the lines

Oh, and a daughter doing water colors.  She’s, uh, not that good at this painting stuff yet but I think that’s excusable since she is just over 2.  However, I will be freaking the f*ck out if she hits two and a half and is still painting outside the lines

Each piece got a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of butcher salt then headed into a 450F oven to brown.  After just over 10 minutes I had this.

That center piece may have gotten a little more color than I hoped.  Maybe

That center piece may have gotten a little more color than I hoped. Maybe

The chicken and grease all headed into the stockpot with some celery, a halved onion, a bay leaf, smashed garlic cloves, sea salt, and black pepper.

At this point I guess every foto feels like one that has been used before on the blog, but especially ones that show me making stock

At this point I guess every foto feels like one that has been used before on the blog, but especially ones that show me making stock.  And yes, I scraped every last bit of chicken fat from the pan into this pot.  Just like my mommy taught me

The idea was to make a stock in the process of cooking the chicken that would give the scrapple lots of flavor when mixed with the corn meal.  I added about 10 cups of water to fully cover the contents of the pot then turned the heat on the burner up to high.

Dece color right away.  Hey!  Guys!  Somebody arrest me!  I'm a STOCKER!  I like to think I am good at humor and stuff

Dece color right away.  Hey!  Guys!  Somebody arrest me, I’m a STOCKER!  Wokka Wokka!  I like to think I am good at humor and stuff

I brought the contents of the stock pot up to a low boil then reduced the heat as low as it would go, put the lid on, and let it simmer for an hour.

After an hour I removed all of the meat and aromatics from the cooking liquid and discarded the celery, garlic, bay leaf, and half the onion.  The meat all pulled easily off the bones and I separated the chicken into dark and light meat with the cooked skin in the dark meat pile as well.

Not sure if I was attempting an optical illusion with the two bowl sizes but the white vs. dark meat was essentially equal volumes

Not sure if I was attempting an optical illusion with the two bowl sizes but the white vs. dark meat was essentially equal volumes

The broth stayed on the stove uncovered over medium heat to reduce a bit and hopefully concentrate the flavors of the stock.

The white meat I cut into small chunks and then chopped the dark meat, skin, and the half boiled onion down to a minced texture.

The white meat.  I wanted it to keep some texture so it would stand out in the scrapple

The white meat. I wanted it to keep some texture so it would stand out in the scrapple

Original plan was to run this through the grinder like the last scrapple but I was feeling lazy and didn't want to wash all of those parts.  So, I did a much poorer job by hand

Original plan was to run this through the grinder like the last scrapple but I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to wash all of those parts.  So, with a lot of effort and multiple spills onto the floor, I did a much poorer job by hand.  Logic!

At this point the stock had been bubbling and reducing for 15 minutes or so and had a strong flavor and aroma.

Pretty excited for football season for the football but also for the gigantic pots of chili and soup that I make while watching football.  My guess is I make the first batch on an 80 degree day and don't want to eat it

Pretty excited for NFL season for the football but also for the gigantic pots of chili and soup that I make while watching football.  My guess is I overzealously make the first batch on an 80 degree day and don’t want to eat it

With everything prepped, I added a few pinches of dried thyme, sage, and nutmeg to the stock and stirred them in completely.  Then slowly started whisking in white ground corn meal until it was too thick to whisk anymore, about 3 cups total.  The goal was to get it to a thick cement-like texture, so I switched to a large spoon and stirred in approximately an additional half cup of corn meal. Unfortunately at this point the corn meal needs to cook in the stock for 30 minutes, stirred constantly.

Basically the same thing as polenta at this point.  Just brutally thick polenta.  Really basically the same thing as cement too

Basically the same thing as polenta at this point.  Just brutally thick polenta.  Really basically the same thing as wallpaper paste too

The chopped and minced chicken meat headed into the corn meal and stock along with a couple handfuls of frozen corn and the long half hour of stirring began.  Lots of whining and complaining about the pain in my forearm ensued, plus some flexing and making Kristi feel my forearm while pretending I was Robert Irvine or something.

It was a pretty miserable thirty minutes and any time I took more than 30 seconds off from stirring the polenta burned to the bottom of the pot

It was a pretty miserable thirty minutes and any time I took more than 30 seconds off from stirring the polenta burned to the bottom of the pot

The cornmeal chicken mush got spooned into foil loaf pans that I had previously sprayed with a little Pam to prevent stickage.  Although I originally planned on making far less scrapple this time around, I think I made more than last time.  But, this one won’t taste like hog liver pudding so I will (hopefully) actually go through it relatively quickly.

Had to pull in the glass pyrex for the the last bit in the pot which was immediately earmarked for consumption the following day

Had to pull in the glass pyrex for the the last bit in the pot which was immediately earmarked for consumption the following day

After cooling on the counter until they were down to room temperature, I covered each loaf pan with foil and transferred to the fridge to set completely overnight.  Once set, each loaf was popped out of its pan, individually bagged, and vacuum sealed for the freezer.  But the round one needed to be sliced and eaten the following day (or so I told myself).

Held together far better than the last batch.  I knew to push the thickness as much as I could this time around to make a sturdier loaf

Held together far better than the last batch.  I knew to push the thickness as much as I could this time around to make a sturdier loaf.  That sentence sounds terrible

The scrapple went into a hot pan with a little olive oil to crisp on both sides, then served traditionally with a couple over-easy eggs.

Likely to be seen on weekends in the Ryan household through the end of 2013

Likely to be seen on weekends in the Ryan household through the end of 2013

The scrapple had a lot of flavor and the texture that I love in scrapple; crispy outside with a soft texture inside.  It went perfectly with eggs, particularly the rich flavor from the yolks.  Not quite as rich and meaty as the pork version, but a decent substitute that might be a little bit better for you (though I am the last person you can trust on that type of assertion).

While eating it with breakfast, I had a thought that it would go equally well as a dinner course as well.  So later in the day (and again a week later) I served it griddled crispy with a little sweet & spicy marinara and grated parmesan cheese.

I kinda over smothered this one, but there really is scrapple under there.  Or lets call this one chicken polenta

I kinda over smothered this one, and over cheesed it, but there really is scrapple under there.  Or lets call this one chicken polenta

The sweet sauce and the cheese work really well with the scrapple, even if Uncle Timmy thinks it is sacrilege.  Stupid nerdface overgrown cucumbers Tim.  I will likely use this both ways in the future since this was equally delicious and easy.  And, Janet likes it too, which was the original point anyway.

Next week I will get back to those rotten trout parts.

Cleaning out my Cabinets: Smoked Hock Rice

Last winter when I made the cassoulet for a holiday dinner, Kristi had to scour multiple grocery stores helping me find the right ingredients.  Oddly, after seeing them in my neighborhood grocery store on pretty much every visit in the previous 3 years, finding pork hocks was nearly impossible.  After a couple days of searching in a moment of desperation (because I needed to start cooking that night), I asked Kristi to purchase a package of smoked hocks she found at a store because it looked like the only option.  Later that day, I ended up finding the raw hocks I needed, so the package of smoked pig ankles headed into the freezer for use god knows when.

I don’t have skeletons in my closet, but I have lots of animal parts in my freezer, and they haunt me every night.  Then I remember all the currants in my cupboard and the nightmares really kick into overdrive.

Anyhoo, I got sick of staring at a pink package of ankles in my freezer but refused to throw them out despite having no idea what to do with them.  So, on a Sunday with no other posts in sight, I pulled the package out of the freezer and thawed it on the countertop.

This seems like a phenomenal business model: smoke a meat that costs $.50 a pound and sell for $2.50.  It's like alchemy.  And yes, I recognize the absurdity of me refusing to throw away a $5 package of smoked skin and bone

This seems like a phenomenal business model: smoke a meat that costs $.50 a pound and sell for $2.50.  It’s like alchemy.  And yes, I recognize the absurdity of me refusing to throw away a $5 package of smoked skin and bone

I knew enough about hocks to expect minimal edible meat to come off of these when I was finished cooking them.  They really have nothing to offer.  With that in mind, I decided to use the hocks to flavor a rice dish and mix the meat into the rice.  As usual, it all started with mirepoix.

Not m' best mire poix since I was just using whatever was in the fridge including baby carrots and minimal onion.  I wasn't particularly concerned with "ruining" the final product

Not m’ best mirepoix since I was just using whatever was in the fridge including baby carrots, limp celery, minced garlic, and onion powder.  And dried bay leaves.  I really shouldn’t even be calling it mirepoix.  I wasn’t particularly concerned with “ruining” the main ingredient

Sh*tty mirepoix soon to be sh*tty mirepete (when the salty ankles went in).  First, I deglazed with a quarter bottle of white wine once the vegetables had become translucent.  After a few minutes of the wine reducing, I added the smoked hocks to the pot.

The really looked so much more promising than they actually are.  There's just no meat on these things

If you don’t imediately recognize them as wrinkly ankles, they really looked much more promising than hocks actually are.  There’s just no meat on these things

I covered the hocks with a few cups of water and added a little salt and pepper to flavor the broth.

Dece start, at least it looked like a broth right away instead of just water and hocks

Dece start I think, at least the liquid looked like a broth right away instead of just water and hocks.  Really struggled to build any momentum while making this meal and that is carrying over to this post.   I guess this was just a very straightforward meal with not too many interesting steps

Once the broth got to a low boil, I reduced the heat to low and put the lid on.  Since I wanted it to simmer for a while, we headed out for a couple of hours to enjoy the summer and hit the playground.

No pacing this time around; this was a very low concern-level meal for me.  I figured it was trash or mouth so if it ended up edible it was really just a bonus.  I was possibly a little too under-concerned since I kinda forgot about the funk of a cooking pork hock until we re-entered the apartment.  It’s not an awful smell, but it is pretty strong and porky and not exactly what you want your whole apartment smelling like when the AC is blasting and it’s too hot to open windows.  Oh, and it looked super sketchy too.

Welp, did not see this one coming.  What the hell made it white?  And cloudy?  The liquid from the head cheese with feet, hocks, and necks looked nothing like this.  It looked like a giant pot of pork half and half

Welp, did not see this one coming.  What the hell made it white?  And cloudy?  The liquid from the head cheese with feet, hocks, and necks looked nothing like this.  This looked like a giant pot of creamed pork soup

I shut the heat off of the burner and let it cool a bit so the fat would be easier to skim off the top and the hocks would cool enough to pick the meat from.  After about an hour of cooling, I strained out the mirepoix and bay leaves, reserving the cooking liquid, then put it back on the stovetop to reduce it a bit.  The hocks headed to the windowsill to see if there was any way to photograph them in an appetizing light.

The answer, no.  No, there isn't a good light for hocks.  They just look like bones and skin.  Plus the layer of congealed cooking liquid didn't help

The answer: no.  No, there isn’t a good light for hocks.  They just look like bones and skin.  Like Madonna recently.  Has anyone seen Madonna?  Good lord, and she doesn’t even have a sheen of gelatinous cooking liquid covering her like the hocks.  Which I think gives them the upper hand.  Let’s move on

After the foto sesh, I started peeling apart the hocks to mine for meat.  The amount of gelatin from the bones and tendons in the hock plus the fat and collagen from the skin makes it a pretty messy process.  Plus, I am consistently amazed by how little meat actually can be found on a hock and how you can find a decent amount of meat on some but almost none on others.  The one definite is that it will be a horrible mess.

That's a difficult meat to bone/fat/skin ratio.  Not really a pile of meat to build a meal for a family around.  Again, who wants to get in on the smoked hock business with me??? We can keep all the meat for ourselves and just smoke the leftover parts!  We'll make hundreds!!!

That’s a difficult meat to bone/fat/skin ratio.  Not really a pile of meat to build a meal for a family around.  Again, who wants to get in on the smoked hock business with me???  We can keep all the meat for ourselves and just smoke the leftover parts!  No one will know because they expect nothing!  We’ll make hundreds!!!

With the cooking liquid reduced, I transferred it to a Pyrex and cooled to room temperature in an ice bath.  I tasted a bit to see if I definitely wanted to use it and I would describe the flavor as nearly identical to the smell in our apartment when we got home.  Questionable, but had to barrel ahead.

I measured out a half cup of white rice and combined it in a pot with a little over a cup of the cooking liquid and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  The idea was that the liquid would give the rice a rich flavor and have the flavors from the mirepoix and smoked hocks.  Didn’t make it look less dodgy.

Any idea on why the white?  I am assuming it has something to do with the smoking of the hocks or the freezer, or just the hocks?  I really have no ideas, it was completely bizarre

Any ideas on why the white liquid?  Anyone?  I am assuming it has something to do with the smoking of the hocks or the freezer, or just the hocks?  I really have no ideas, it was completely bizarre

After 20 minutes with the lid on I fluffed up the rice a bit and stirred in all of the meat which left me with this kinda delicious looking pot of food.

It looked good then and it looks good now.  Any time you cook rice in a craising liquid or stock it comes out looking delicious

It looked good then and it looks good now.  Any time you cook rice in a braising liquid or stock it comes out looking delicious

Not going to overdo this one, but this was decently tasty (to me) and definitely edible (for anyone else).  This was good to eat as-is, but a few shakes of Cholula hot sauce made it very enjoyable.  The rice was sticky from the fat and collagen in the pork stock and very rich, most similar to the texture of rice cooked in coconut milk.  The bits of pork were tender and tasty with a lot of good smoky barbeque flavor, like bits of smoked pork rib meat.  Pretty tasty, despite the funky smells, funky meat, and sticky coating on my hands that has yet to go away.

Right now I have a hogs head thawing in a cooler somewhere in Maine, and all I can think about is whether anyone remembered to put ice on it.  If the answer is yes and I remember to take pictures, you got yer next post right there.

Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Blowfish

We spent July 4th down in LBI with our friends John and Liz since the Ryan residence is still out of commission from Sandy.  As mentioned last week, I was a typically awful houseguest: serving offal to unsuspecting children, snoring on couches, and complaining about hot pepper juice I rubbed in my own eyes.   There was no fishing or clamming on this trip, but lots of relaxation on the beach and deck.

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She's a mess sometime

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She’s a mess sometimes

However, on a ride down LBI Boulevard the first day to pick up food for dinner, I noticed that a few of the seafood shops were advertising blowfish on their signs.  Not only advertising them, but doing so excitedly (meaning: exclamation marks).

"Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough that it isn't clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!"

“Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough away that it isn’t clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!”

If you look really closely, so closely that you’re not really sure whether you are actually seeing it or just pretending you can see it, you’ll see that the sign says “Blowfish are back!”.  That sign is there because, well, blowfish are back, and you should be excited about that.  Me, I was pretty excited.  You ‘cited?

I’d definitely encountered a couple blowfish diving over the years, but I’ve never cooked or even seen them in their cleaned, raw form before.  Aside from the early Simpsons fugu episode where Homer almost dies from eating poisonous blowfish, I can’t say I had even thought of them as food, really.  I guess they are relatively innocuous looking.

Not my foto.  I believe I there is a blowfish in FInding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I've never seen either so I don't have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating that character's name and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that one

Not my foto.  I believe there is a blowfish in Finding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I’ve never seen either so I don’t have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating <character’s name> and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that spoof

But, I mean, seriously?  This is food?

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin', inflating and stuff

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin’, inflating and stuff.  Looks like a pretty decent time if you ask this blowhard.  Ever seen this tactic before on here?  It’s called stalling, and I do it when I only have three fotos of the actual cooking because it was so straightforward and simple.  Shhhh!  Don’t tell the caption non-readers

When we went into Boulevard Clams, I had no idea what the blowfish meat would look like;  I would have believed anything from a deflated basketball to a beautiful fillet.  But, what they actually looked like was entirely logical.  Almost boringly logical.

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one.  They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one. They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

The general anatomy and how much of those fishies were edible was a complete mystery to me, and as usual the yokels at the store weren’t much help.  What do they taste like: “chicken”, how do you eat them: “like chicken”, whats the best way to cook them: “jest fry ’em up”.  I know, we were in New Jersey, not some backwoods locale, but good lord were these guys unhelpful and yokelish.  That said, they have a customer for life as long as they carry blowfish every season, and for $9.99 a pound no less.

With no creative cooking ideas and not wanting to stink up the house frying things inside, I decided to keep it relatively simple and put a sautee pan over medium/high heat.  While it heated, I salted and peppered each piece of blowfish.  Once the pan was hot, I added a little olive oil and a couple cloves of chopped garlic then the blowfish.  What I meant there was, once the pan was way hotter than it should have been I added all that stuff.

After a couple minutes on one side, I flipped the fish, added a solid pour of rosé (it was open), and put the lid on to finish the cooking.

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

After another 3-4 minutes I moved the fish to a plate, reduced the last of the wine in the pan to thicken into a sauce, and poured it over the fish.  A little squeeze of lemon over the top, and it was ready to be served.

It looks a little funky, but you really can't go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it's an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

It looks a little funky, but you really can’t go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it’s an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

After tuna fishing last year, I babbled about what a perfect fish tuna is for how easily the loins come off and how much is edible.  I was even more impressed with the blowfish.  The spine is directly attached to the fins on the top and bottom and has a flat center bone that runs up the whole fish.  The meat comes off in two large pieces, one on each side of the spine with no bones in the meat, and no other picking needed.

As far as the taste, I don’t know if this was extremely fresh or something, but it was much much better than I expected.  The meat was rich and slightly sweet with none of the fishy flavor you expect from a darker-meat fish.  The texture was buttery and soft like properly cooked cobia, and the collagen from cooking on the bone coated your lips when you ate it.  As usual I base whether or not I am the only one who would find it tasty on the reactions of others, and three people besides myself ate the blowfish and had seconds.  Including Kristi.  See!  I don’t always just make up the fact that things taste good, sometimes its true and stuff!

Hopefully more fish for next week, if I can figure out when the sketchy docks in Little Compton open this time around.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Smoked Pork Shoulder Ragu

Brother John and (new) Sister Julie’s wedding was last weekend in Grayling, Michigan.  When describing the setting of the wedding to people at work, I used the unfortunate choice of words “family compound” which caused extensive Kennedy jokes while I was out.  In reality, it was good old Matabanic Lodge which I’ve discussed previously in posts about Poutine and Dumplings.  Since it was the summer in Michigan and the Hub Hollow gang was in tow, it meant a lot of this:

I still haven't figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I'm working on it

I still haven’t figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I’m working on it

a little of this:

"A little" is not accurate as I'm sure you've guessed.  One of my favorite beers fresh and cold in large volume.  Became a constant source of argument in the morning over who forgot to ice and disconnect the tap

“A little” is not accurate as I’m sure you’ve guessed. One of my favorite beers fresh, cold, and in large volume.  Became a constant source of arguments in the morning over who forgot to disconnect the tap and ice the keg

a healthy dose of evening music:

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

and one awesome wedding:

That's not Julie, that's the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat

That’s not Julie, that’s the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat.  It was a pretty awesome setting for a wedding and amazingly no drunks canoed by shouting regional dialect curse words

There were 23ish family members and close friends at Matabanic for the wedding, plus a gaggle of children.  Despite the intimidating size of the crowd and my previous failures cooking for large groups of people, I decided to volunteer for a meal.  In theory with the help of Brother Tim.  I say “in theory” because Tim was likely to resume his normal role of helping early on, getting bored, then criticizing, punching and complaining about timing intermittently. And that was before I remembered he would be on crutches from recent surgery.  Oh well.

My goal, in honor of Julie’s sister Katy and John who both worked at Spannocchia in Italy, was to make a variation of Cinghiale al Pappardelle but with ingredients I could find in middle-of-the-hand Michigan.

Cinghiale is wild boar, a meat that tastes most like a lean and flavorful pork.  With that in mind, and knowing I likely couldn’t find a large quantity of boar easily in Michigan, I decided to start with a pork shoulder and build a rich slow cooked pasta sauce around the meat.  The flavor of shoulder meat is relatively similar to cinghiale but with a higher fat content.  With that in mind, I wanted to render out a little fat before cooking the pork in the sauce but also add some boar-ish earthy flavors back to the meat.  Which brought this bad boy into play.

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim.  Also, first time I have ever used “boar-ish” to describe anything other than my behavior

The idea was to debone a ten pound picnic shoulder, divide it into smaller pieces, coat with a mild but slightly Italian-flavored rub, then briefly smoke it over applewood and hickory chips.  When I say briefly, I am comparing it to the normal 8-10 hours one would usually smoke a pork shoulder, so I mean two hours.

After deboning, I think I had 7-8 pounds of trimmed meat which I thoroughly coated with a rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and a little paprika.

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

Although the lid stays untouched on a smoker, there is still a decent amount of charcoal and wood chip reloading into the base to keep the temperature between 200 and 250.  I balanced that responsibility with my day long task of overstuffing the wedding guests by serving large amounts of poutine for lunch. I’ve covered poutine before, but wanted to make sure I got credit for multi-tasking so I mentioned it anyway.

Once the poutine was complete and the meat had smoked a little over an hour and a half, I began the sauce prep.  With one of the largest pots in the kitchen heating on the stove, I started running piles of vegetables through Matabanic’s 30 year old Cuisinart knockoff.  Two fennel bulbs, two large yellow onions (very large), 6 carrots, 6 ribs of celery, and a peeled bulb of garlic were all chopped down to near mush and went into the stock pot with a couple tablespoons of butter.

The Cuisinart tactic won't give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I've found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

The Cuisinart tactic won’t give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I’ve found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

After 5-10 minutes of occasional stirring and avoiding anything getting burned to the bottom, I added 2 lbs of sliced mushrooms and stirred some more.

I know the demi glace sounds like an odd choice, but I had seen one recipe for cinghiale that called for a mushroom demi and figured with this volume of sauce it couldn't hurt

I think the first picture was before I added the chopped carrots.  This is a 10 quart stock pot but it really was about as full as it looks here.  I had zero concept whether I was making way too much or way too little sauce

After a few more minutes of cook time, I stirred in two cups of tomato paste until it was well mixed in with the vegetables.  Another few minutes of alternating stirring and pacing, then added salt, black pepper, a liter and a half of red wine, and almost a quart of chicken broth.  Once well combined, I allowed that to come up to heat while I headed outside to collect the smoked shoulder pieces.

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn't pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn’t pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

Beyond the extremely positive color, crispiness, and aroma, the smoking also appeared to be a success from the amount of fat that had rendered out into the drip pan.  Since this would be cooking the rest of the way in the sauce, I wanted to get a lot of that fat out beforehand.

The pork went to a cutting board where I cut each piece down to roughly the same size, about 3″x3″ pieces.  They smelled really friggin good and I again doubted my decision to use all of it, but in they went into the bubbling sauce.

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That's right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I chose arbitrarily

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That’s right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I arbitrarily chose

It was a snug fit, but when stirred, all of the pork was completely submerged in the sauce.

Look, I didn't want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn't have much to work with here

Look, I didn’t want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn’t have much to work with here

And then, in line with my original plan of being able to step away from the kitchen while still cooking for a large group, the lid went on and the sauce simmered for four hours.

During that time I went tubing and showered up, but mostly stressed out about whether the food would be edible or taste like Sweet Baby Rays pasta.  I ended up hedging my bets and established goodwill toward the experimental dinner by putting out a couple platters of sliced gravlax that I cured the night before.  Nope, don’t have a picture of that, just look at last week.  Only difference was I made a little creme fraiche to go with it this time.

As we hit the final stretch before dinner, I spent a solid 30 minutes bringing a huge pot of water to a boil.  While that took forever, I used a large spoon to stir and break up the pieces of now falling apart-tender pork and stir everything together.

I know it looks like chili, but this isn't supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It's a ragu y'all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

I know it looks like chili, but this isn’t supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It’s a ragu y’all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

Once the water was boiling, I added 8 pounds of dried fettuccine and cooked to the low end of the recommended time so it would be slightly al dente.

With the pasta cooked, I pulled down the enormous hotel pan that has been above the Viking range for as long as we’ve been coming to Matabanic.  Usually these things are used for serving buffet style, and the one I grabbed is actually intended for use as the deeper steaming pan under the shallower top pan.  But I needed the room.

The pasta went in first, then I ladeled in the sauce, pausing after every few ladels to mix, toss and stir the pasta to make sure it was fully distributed.  With about a quarter of the sauce left, I realized I had miraculously guessed correctly and made approximately the right amount of sauce for the pasta (or vice versa) and dumped the rest in to be tossed.  It was definitely meaty, but the pasta was well coated without being overly saucy, like the original I consumed multiple times in Italy.  Plus a little fresh parmesan cheese grated over the top.

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the photos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn't even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the fotos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn’t even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

You wanna see a jiggling pile of anxiety?  Watch me after I’ve cooked for twenty people and expectantly look at each individual person’s reaction as they taste the food.  It is really poor form on my part.  Anyway, instead of guessing how other people felt about it, I will just say that after the 23 guests, 5 babysitters & nannies, and Kelly (our breakfast cook and overall kitchen wizard) took their first and seconds, there were only 2-3 portions of leftovers.  And now here’s my thoughts:

I love this style of pasta dish where the actual fettuccine is only lightly coated in flavorful sauce but there are plenty of chunks of meat or vegetable ragu in every bite.  I just don’t like pasta swimming in red sauce so the proportions were right on for me with this one.  The flavor was definitely a little surprising at first; you don’t expect a smokey barbeque flavor with your pasta and it was definitely the first taste to come across.  After you got past that first note, the richness of the other flavors in the sauce came through and made for a few layers in each bite.  Overall, the shock of the smoke flavor from the first bite goes away after a few and the pasta just ended up being rich, meaty, and enjoyable.  Not exactly like the pappardelle al cinghiale of my dreams, but close enough that I felt it was a decent homage.

Next up will be my third crack at beef tongue.  I got dis.