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.

Advertisements

Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa II

The first post on this blog was my attempt to cook a whole hogs head buried underground whole on a camping trip.  For 24 hours.  It was quite a scene and it led to me posting my cooking adventures on a (semi) regular basis on this blog and helping you lose weight with every reading.  I assumed I would be back to cook another hogs head, just because I am cheap and they are $10 apiece at Meatland in JP.  Oh, and I have had one in my freezer for the past year.  I had to cook that one at some point.

This past weekend was blog character Dupee’s bachelor party on Webb lake in Weld, Maine.  And, since it is between May and October, it’s time for a refresher on how Maine is the most wonderful place in New England for a few months every year.

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren't in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren’t in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

With lots of fishing planned and steak tips on the menu for dinner, I wanted do something special for Dupe.  So, I decided to give him head.

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  Still an awesome houseguest!

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  I am still an awesome houseguest!  Yes, that is also in the shallow swimming area in front of the beach, right near where they draw water for the tap in the house.  Awesome, awesome houseguest!

Well, really, I was planning to give everyone some head.  Let’s just let that spoof stay where it lay and move on with the rest of the post.

When the first arrivals asked what exactly I was planning to do with a hogs head, Dupee shrugged and said, “probably make tacos”.  Correct!  In fact, I can’t figure out a damned thing to make with animal heads aside from head cheese and tacos.  And why fix it if it aint’ broke?!?!?

Let' be honest here, it's kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something

Let’ be honest here, it’s kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something soon.  Or just stop hoarding animal heads like a hoarder hoards computer monitors

Alrighty, here are some thoughts on the somewhat horrifying image above:

  1. The eye area was much cleaner and trimmed than the last one
  2. The ear area was far better cleaned too
  3. The skull was pre split for easy access after cooking
  4. There was a lot more meat at the back of the head than the last one
Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can't zoom in.  That part of the head is best not closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can’t zoom in.  That part of the head shouldn’t be closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

After patting the head dry with paper towels, I did a little inspection for any nasty bits that would need to be trimmed off and eventually just accepted that nothing was nastier than anything else on the head.  I then moved on to removing the ears and stuffing them inside the mouth so they wouldn’t burn.  Then, I covered every square inch of exposed flesh with a rub of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, and salt before squeezing it into a Pyrex.

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex's plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breast here and there

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex’s plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breasts here and there

I wrapped the head tightly with foil and put it into a preheated 300F oven to bake for 6-8 hours or until I figured out a way to smoke it.

While the head cooked we did some more fishing and horseshoe throwing.  But mostly fishing.

I didn't catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here's a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN

I didn’t catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing, Cousin Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here’s a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN’

Around 6 hours into the cook time we came up with a plan to finish the hogs head in a smoker fashioned from fresh birch chips and a ‘Lil Smokey grill.  I proceeded to babble about it nonstop and lay some pretty poor groundwork for eventually executing it without actually getting started.  Then I got distracted, probably dug a hole in the sand with my feet, and eventually went up to check on the head and discovered it was already fully cooked.

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn't needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn’t needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

The skin was crispy, the meat was falling apart, and there were some delicious bits of meat to pick off the back of the head.  Considering that it almost fell into four pieces when I moved it three inches from the Pyrex to the plate and was completely cooked through, I abandoned the smoker plan and got started picking.

First up was the ears which were tender, sticky and falling apart.  Sliced these into little pasta-like ribbons.

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

The tongue was up next and was definitely more innocuous looking than the one I cooked a few weeks ago.

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn't mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat bowl

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn’t mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat

From there I got a stack of paper towels, brought over the trash bin and started the messy process of picking through all of the fat and skin to get to the tender head meat.  The bulk of the meat came from the cheeks, but there are also decent-sized deposits around the eyes, on the inside of the jaw, and multiple spots on the back of the head.  A couple shots of the carnage.

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone.  Dag, looked at those teeth again.  Generally this is a much worse foto than I originally thought it was when I posted it

This is shortly before was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

This is shortly before I was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

With the meat keeping warm in the oven and my stomach stuffed with crunchy skin cracklins consumed while cooking, I moved on to the ears.  I heated up a few spoonfuls of rendered fat from the head in a pan and threw the ears in.  And I had a learning experience.

I once tried to make fried clams and had them all explode in the fryer covering my face with hot oil, but let’s give pan-frying ears its proper due as a close runner up to that.  The oil got way too hot too quickly and the slices of pig ear started exploding like crazy, covering my arms and face with oil.  I found out the following day that you gotta go the opposite way on the burner to get it to a temperature that won’t burn everything in sight.  Oh well, the pig ears stayed about the same level of edible.

fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on, I've learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn't touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I've made (and they did)

Fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on; I’ve learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn’t touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I’ve made (and they did)

That bowl of ears didn’t last long, which was surprising.  I think Dupe ate most of them but they were pretty much gone when I got back to the kitchen.

With dinner close, I heated up 24 corn tortillas in more of the pork fat for the tacos.

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

From there, it was pretty much serve and eat.  I setup the taco bar with the head meat, raw onion, cilantro, limes, crumbled goat cheese (because I couldn’t find queso fresco), and some hot sauce.  I probably could have cut the stems off the cilantro, but, meh.

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now.  Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now. Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

There’s not a lot to say here that wasn’t covered in the first post, but these were tasty tacos.  The meat was tender, flavorful, rich, and very very porky.  Hence the need for all of the fresh ingredients and other strong flavors to accompany it with.  I wish I had found a better way to serve the skin which I let go from crispy to soggy in the hour between when it came out of the oven and dinner.  Some crispy pig skin slivers on top would have been a nice touch.

Probably not my last venture with hogs head, but not sure I will be roasting it again.  Just not that much meat and my hands are still sticky.  But, a decent, odd meal in honor of Dupe.

Next week, mystery cupboard fish 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.

Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Tongue Pizza

Due to the kindness of friends and strangers, and their love of giving me trash bags of offal, I have a lot of interesting meats in my freezer.  Tongue, from several different animals, is available in abundance in the freezer.  While I’ve found some good uses for lamb, pork, and goats tongues due to their small size and tender meat, I had yet to cook a beef tongue dish that I truly enjoyed.  I’ve stewed it (for too short) and grilled it, but I haven’t made a dish that had the tender texture that tongue is prized for.

I decided to change all of that a couple weekends ago and brought a tongue up from the freezer to thaw.  Not just any tongue either, this one was from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny, which I had in a vacuum-sealed freeze for about a year.  As I’ve referenced before, since this was a grass fed cow that was butchered in a non-commercial setting, the cuts were in a more, um, natural state.  As in I still needed to rinse some grass off the tongue once it had thawed.

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans.  That’s all I got here.  Oh, and the black part felt like the scratchy side of velcro

I followed the same standard process for preparing beef tongue with this one even though it was a little different than any you would find in a store.  The tongue went into a pot of boiling water for 90 minutes to loosen the hard outer skin from the meat so it could be easily peeled.  As usual, I boiled it for the recommended amount of time, briefly rinsed it in cold water, and cursed the stupid internet as I burned my fingers unsuccessfully peeling.  Then, eventually, easily peeled it once it got started (like a stubborn orange made of skin and shaped like a tongue).

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it's still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it’s still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

To expound on what made this tongue different while you are staring at that unappetizing photo, it’s because unlike a store-bought tongue, this one included the “stump”.  That area required some trimming of fat and unsightly pieces before boiling, but still has some decent meat so I left it intact.  If you’ve ever looked at the underside of your tongue in a mirror, I’m sure you can guess how questionable that stump looked when this all started.

Anyhoo, with the tongue ready for further cooking, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in Lil’ Blue over medium heat and started browning the outside of the tongue.

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have too much experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Once browned on all sides (including some awkward balancing on the back of the tongue), I removed it from the pot and reduced the heat on the burner.  While it cooled a bit, I chopped carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the food processor and dumped it directly into the pot to cook down for a few minutes.

This is becoming my go to braising and sauce base.  You will be seeing a lot more of it if I ever post regularly again

This is becoming my go-to braising and sauce base.  I think mire poix plus garlic is called sofrito, but I need some sort of clever nickname for sofrito + pork product (a la the regionally famous “Mire Pete”).  Suggestions are welcome

Once some of the liquid had cooked out of the veggies, I stirred in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a little crushed red pepper, salt, and a handful of currants.  The currants were mostly to add some sweetness without using sugar and, as previously mentioned, Kristi bought a comedically large container of them a month ago.  Every day that passes with them in the cabinet stresses me out more.

After a little stirring, the tomato paste had well coated the other ingredients and I added a bottle of red wine to form the base for the braise.  While I waited for the liquid to reduce a bit, I preheated the oven to 300F and seized the opportunity for a little window-side photo shoot.

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, generally the only part of those movies I didn't laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself doing the same spoofs unintentionally by the window of my kitchen

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, which were really the only part of those movies I didn’t laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself spoofing that scene by the window of my kitchen with various odd foods

The browned tongue still looked a little funky, but smelled like roast beef with a little bacon aroma thrown in for good measure.  The tongue went back into the reduced braising liquid along with a few spoonfuls of liquid over the top.

I never even considered that this wouldn't fit but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

I never even considered that this wouldn’t fit into the Le Creuset, but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

The lid went back onto ‘Lil Blue and it headed into the oven for three hours of braising.  I’d like to say I paced the house the whole time, but I think we actually got outside and away from the kitchen so I wouldn’t obsess over it the whole time.

When we returned home, Kristi said something along the lines of, “I am disgusted by how good that smells since I know what it is”.  Which, I guess, is a good sign?  I thought yes, so I pulled the pot out of the oven to see what we had.

Pretty much what I expected, though I am always amazed by how much smaller meat is when it comes out of a braise

Pretty much what I expected, though braising makes food smaller which is not something I like to have happen.  Yet I continue to braise everything I have no other ideas for

The meat was extremely tender to the point that I was concerned it would fall apart when I removed it from the pot.  Which is what I was hoping for after my previous chewy experiences cooking tongue.

With plans to use everything in the pot, I removed the tongue carefully with a couple large spoons and transferred it to a separate dish.  Once the tongue and pot had cooled enough to touch, they both headed into the fridge to chill completely.  After a few hours, the tongue had firmed enough that it would be easy to slice without the meat falling apart, and the excess fat in the braising liquid had hardened for easy skimming.

Once skimmed, the liquid went back on the stove top to come back up to temperature.

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce.  All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce. All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

While the sauce simmered, I started the grill and began slicing the tongue into pieces that would work well as a pizza topping.  See, it wasn’t just a falsely titled post, it just took a while to get there!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

The part of the tongue between the stump and the end sliced in perfect sized rounds.

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the "stump" and the "tip", he responded "Awesome language!"

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the “stump” and the “tip”, he responded “Awesome language!”

The remainder of the tongue I sliced over the following few days for a couple tongue sandwiches which were friggin’ delicious.  Even on stupid, evil sandwich thins.

I pride myself on my kitchen items and our many fine glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned takeout thai food dish.  Kristi doesn't mind because all my offal goes in them

I pride myself on my kitchen gadgets and our many glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned plastic takeout Thai food dish.  Kristi doesn’t mind because all my offal goes in them

When cold and in between two slices of (stupid diet) bread, the braised tongue can be enjoyed in all of its glory.  It was a combination of the flavor of rich pot roast with the texture of firm liverwurst in a sandwich.  So tasty, but no one else will think that sounds delicious.  Except, maybe, this one person I know…

THAT'S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin like the greats and disgusting her mother in just a few speedy bites.  She wasn't sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

THAT’S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin’ like the greats and disgusting her mother at the same time.  She wasn’t sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

Janet had her fair share of slices over the following few days, but my favorite moment was when our friend’s son Griffin took a piece out of her hand while we were visiting in LBI for the 4th.  He ate it in two bites while his mother Liz turned away in horror trying to avoid vomiting while saying through muffling hands, “It’s fine, it’s fine, he can eat it if he wants to.”  I am a great houseguest!

With the grill up to 550F and all of the ingredients prepped, I stretched out half of a pizza dough and brushed it thoroughly with olive oil. Then straight onto the grill oiled side down.

I have discussed my love for grilled pizza previously, but that love hasn’t faded.  It is the only way to get crispy, bubbly, and chewy dough cooking at home due to how much heat comes off the grill.  Here it is after about a minute and a half.

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way in.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way back in to the house.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

The raw side gets another brush of olive oil then the whole thing gets flipped so the grilled side can be topped.

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I've failed a few times, but it's almost always edible

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I’ve lost a few times, but it’s almost always edible and more often than not delicious

The crispy side was spread with the braising liquid, the tongue rounds, and a couple handfuls of parmesan and shredded mozzarella.  Then a couple dollops of additional sauce for good measure and back onto the grill with the boring pesto, tomato and cheese pizza Kristi made me make as well.

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be trapping enough heat to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be spent trapping enough heat inside the grill to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

After another few minutes on the grill with the lid closed, I burned my hands the usual extensive amount transferring the pizza back to a cookie sheet to bring inside.  A quick foto of the brief resting period so the cheese wouldn’t all slide off when I cut it.

That's right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing without acknowledging to this point in the blog.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

That’s right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing this blog that I haven;t acknowledged yet.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

As usual with the half dough pizzas, each was cut into eight, 5-6 bite rectangles.  The point of cutting to that size is so I don’t know how much I’ve eaten and no one else can really tell whether I am eating a lot either.  Strategy!

Luckily the beef tongue was tender and easy to cut unlike pepperoni, prosciutto and other toppings I have struggled to slice through previously.

Had to have a slice of the stupid Kristi pizza too, you know, to get my greens

Had to have a piece of the stupid Kristi pizza too.  You know, to get my greens

The pizza was very tasty.  Because the sauce was a reduced and concentrated blend of sofrito, red wine, tomato paste, and juice/fat from the beef, it had a ton of flavor.  It was very rich and pretty delicious.  The only mistake was the extra dollops of sauce since a little bit went a long way and I wanted it to compliment the tongue instead of challenge it.  As it was with the extra sauce, the flavor of the tongue was overpowered a little bit, but overall it still tasted how I hoped: pot roast pizza.  Next time around I would likely use slightly less sauce, use some shaved gruyere as the cheese, and integrate some caramelized onions.  Only reason I passed on the onions this time around is because they play a prominent role in my braised short rib pizza which would have been nearly identical to this.

Once again, I promise to right this ship.  For serious this time.

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.

Pete’s Charcutes: Salmon Gravlax

I’ve started to frame how I think about food as being most similar to flight patterns when you live near the airport.  For a few months here and there, maybe you’re in the flight pattern and you have to deal with it, then without notice it goes away and you barely recognize that the change has happened.  That’s generally how my interest in cooking food cycles.  This one has been in the thought pattern for awhile now.

Recently I haven’t been as intrigued by cooking offal at home.  I still enjoy eating it (I ate a pile of Burmese pig ears and organs at my desk, courtesy of Dupee, this week) and have a freezer full of it waiting for me.  But, I can’t think of anything to cook with it.  On the other hand, I am back into cured meats and their wealth of possibilities.  Gravlax has been on the brain since the delicious version I had at the Vergennes Laundry last winter.

Hell of a sandwich.  I alternated between loving that I brought Janet with me (because she was waving to people and laughing) and disliking it (cuz she ate all my gravlax)

Hell of a sandwich. I alternated between loving that I brought Janet with me (because she was waving to people and laughing) and disliking it (cuz she ate all my gravlax)

Not sure where I had eaten gravlax before that fateful day in VT, but previously I always thought of the cured salmon dish as a pickled, sweet and vinegary concoction.  It’s much more similar to smoked salmon with the same buttery texture, minus the dried outside, and with the light flavor of smoke replaced by dill.  After the Laundry, I was on board with gravlax and heard it was pretty easy to make at home.  And now, here we are.

After a little research, it started with a nice piece of wild caught salmon.

These white plastic cutting boards and I are going through a slow break up.  I recognized last week that I have put them through hell and they were showing the pain of that treatment, so its time to let them go and have a chance at a second life.  Hope their next owner like sticky cutting boards that never feel clean

These white plastic cutting boards and I are going through a slow break up.  I recognized last week that I have put them through hell and they were showing the pain of that treatment, so its time to let them go and have a chance at a second life.  I wish them the best and hope their next owner likes sticky cutting boards that never feel clean

When buying a large portion of salmon (this is about 2 pounds), you gotta go to Costco.  Sure you could throw caution to the wind and buy a $10/pound cut of farmed salmon, but your gravlax will likely end up tasting like liver pellets and mud.  Costco has the wild caught stuff for $13 a pound.

In order to make the filet relatively symmetrical, I trimmed off the belly meat strip and a bit of the end.

I strove for symmetry yet seemingly had no eye for it when taking this picture

I strove for symmetry yet seemingly had no eye for it when taking this picture

I saved the trimmings for the grillfest I was planning for later in the weekend and cut the filet into two roughly equal sized portions.

As I quickly learned, the beauty of gravlax is in its complete simplicity; the only other ingredients consistently recommended were sugar, salt, and dill. Although the recommended proportions of each varied widely.

For starters, I roughly chopped most of a store bought bunch of dill and threw away the stems.

One of Jack Ryan's favorite stories involved telling someone that they couldn't give a nun dill bread because it was made with dill dough.  Say it out loud and it will make more sense.  Now you get my sense of humor?

One of Jack Ryan’s favorite stories involved telling someone that they couldn’t give a nun dill bread because it was made with dill dough.  Say it out loud and it will be more clear.  Now you get my sense of humor?

To the dill I added 2/3s of a cup of kosher salt and 1/3 of a cup of white sugar.  This proportion was the subject of much debate (in my mind) since every recipe called for a completely different ratio with many recommending more sugar than salt.  With my memory of crappy sweet pickled salmon from my first gravlax experience, I elected for the greater salt amount.  Also, I zested half a lemon in as well since citrus was recommended in about half of the recipes I saw.  Stirred that up so that all ingredients were well distributed.

Could have used less of the salt/sugar since i left a lot in the bowl, but I definitely don't mind being wasteful with that stuff for some reason.  Yet I have a sprig of dill in my fridge that is way past its prime that I am hoping to find a hail mary use for

Could have used less of the salt/sugar since I left a lot in the bowl, but I definitely don’t mind being wasteful with that stuff for some reason.  On the other hand, I have a sprig of dill in my fridge that is way past its prime that I am hoping to find a Hail Mary use for so I don’t have to throw it out

I placed the two halves of the salmon filet on parchment and pressed/packed the dill curing mixture onto the meat until it was fully covered with a thick layer.

Again, very simple process: press a bunch of stuff onto the salmon.  Definitely had the potential to get out of hand if I had continued to try to fit the entire bowl of dill/salt/sugar on there but I gave up with about a quarter left and decided not to try and fit more on

Again, very simple process: press a bunch of stuff onto the salmon.  Definitely had the potential to get out of hand if I had continued to try to fit the entire bowl of dill/salt/sugar on there but I gave up with about a quarter left and decided not to try and fit more on

Then, with all the grace of when you’ve put toppings on both sides of your sandwich bread, I indelicately slapped these two pieces together.  Then, the usual sandwich process of scooping up everything that fell out and attempting to press it in from the sides. Eventually I had a salmon sandwich.

I'll admit it, I trimmed the salmon end wrong.  It needed to be a mirror image of the other side and I cut the angle opposite.  Made for the one end being mismatched.  If I was a kid and this was the bread used for my grilled cheese I would have lost my effing mind and believe the sandwich to be inedible

I’ll admit it, I trimmed the salmon end wrong.  It needed to be a mirror image of the other side and I cut the angle opposite.  Made for the one end being mismatched.  If I was a kid and this was the bread used for my grilled cheese, I would have lost my effing mind and believed the sandwich to be inedible (though I would have eaten it eventually because grilled cheese is delicious)

Using the parchment, I wrapped the salmon up burrito-style, folding in the ends as I rolled so I would have a nice compact package.

Not m'best burrito rolling.  On a scale of Annas Taqueria to Chipotle in terms of quality of burrito rolling, I would give this a Qdoba, meaning it looked about as good as Chipotle, but was inexplicably sh*ttier

Not m’best burrito rolling.  On a quality scale of Annas Taqueria to Chipotle in terms of burrito rolling, I would give this a Qdoba.  Meaning it looked about as good as Chipotle, but was inexplicably sh*ttier

Every recipe I saw recommended some extensive plastic wrapping at this point to seal all air out.  Following a brief temper tantrum when I discovered we were out of plastic wrap, I realized that the Food Saver vacuum sealer would do as good a job and definitely have less risk of leakage.  So, I sealed it up and put it in the back of the fridge with a one pound weight (package of ground turkey meat) on top.

Over the next 36 hours I flipped the the package over about once every 8 hours and replaced the weight on top.  The goal was to avoid one side spending too much time sitting in the salty/sugary liquid that formed.  Around breakfast the second day, I removed the package from the fridge.

MMMmmmm, questionable yellow fish juice.  I would have been pretty ripped if this stuff had leaked all over my fridge as was the chief complaint with the plastic wrap method

MMMmmmm, questionable yellow fish juice.  I would have been pretty ripped if this stuff had leaked all over my fridge as was the chief complaint with the plastic wrap method

The meat felt much firmer than it did when it went into the bag and the size was noticeably smaller.  I cut into the package over the sink to minimize fish juice spills and pulled out the salmon sammie.

Much darker than when we started.  I rarely cook meals for the blog in the morning and couldn't believe that I got natural light everywhere in the kitchen at 9AM.  Who knew?!?!

Much darker than when we started.  I rarely cook meals for the blog in the morning and couldn’t believe that I got natural light everywhere in the kitchen at 9AM.  Who knew?!?!   Also, nice thumb there, Mr. Mutant Baby Thumbs

The pieces came easily apart and I lightly scraped off the dill, zest, and unabsorbed sugar/salt.  Then rinsed each piece lightly under cold water to remove any excess ingredients followed by patting each piece dry with paper towels.  Which left me with this.

These were significantly flatter and not nearly as thick as when the filet was whole.  No comment on how they weren't really the same size at all despite my attempt and what I claimed earlier

These were significantly flatter and not nearly as thick as when the filet was whole.  No comment on how they weren’t really the same size at all despite my earnest attempt and what I claimed earlier

Even with a little help (Conman to the rescue!), I knew I couldn’t consume both of these pieces in one day so I put one into a fresh food saver bag and sealed it up for the following weekend.  The other piece I got to work on with the sharpest, thinnest carving knife I had.

The goal was to cut the pieces as thin as possible, but also to slice on a heavy bias so that each piece had some decent surface area.  Took some practice, and the first couple cuts were subpar, but eventually I got the hang of it.

Dece contrast shot showing how much darker the pieces looked before they were sliced thin.  They looked like salmon jerky in their whole form but sliced up tender and buttery

Dece contrast shot showing how much darker the pieces looked before they were sliced thin.  They looked like salmon jerky in their whole form but sliced up tender and buttery

Once I had a bunch of pieces sliced, I quickly tacked on another round of temper tantruming when I realized I didn’t have the perfect bagel that I was looking to eat this on.  Nothing less than a Bagels-4-You everything would have done the trick at that moment.

I reluctantly accepted my fate and went with a little wheat toast, cream cheese and capers.

There were multiple open faced sandwiches made that morning, this one just happens to be the smallest and makes me look the least gluttonous

There were multiple open faced sandwiches made that morning, this one just happens to be the smallest and makes me look the least gluttonous

The texture of the fish was very soft and, to use it again, buttery.  I don’t say this often but it really did melt in your mouth.  The fishy flavor normally found in lox was very mild and less pronounced than the dill and citrus from the cure.  I think the traditional way to serve this would have been with some aquavit or mustard or creme fraiche or maybe all of them, but nothing beats cream cheese and capers for me.

I would absolutely make this again and can’t wait to. I much preferred it to the inconsistent smoke flavor found in most packaged smoked salmon in stores.  Really really tasty.

Pete’s Charcutes is no longer the most seldom used category on the site!  Uncle Timmy?  You ready to talk about your stupid recipes for jerks?