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’…

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Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Cheesesteak (w/bone marrow “whiz”)

Early in my posting days, I undertook an ambitious attempt at pan cooked beef heart and crispy fried bone marrow.  The marrow came out great, the beef heart less so.  I think the heart’s subpar flavor and texture was due to my organ cooking inexperience, my lack of butchering skills (not that I am Sam from the Brady Bunch now), and generally that what I made was poorly thought out.  I cooked the heart for way too long, in a heavy sauce, and served it over watery greens instead of a starch of some sort.  In 90 degree weather.  Live and learn, but I definitely intended to take another crack at it somewhere down the road.

Three years later and I’m still working my way through the massive amount of organ meat stored in my chest freezer.  So, when faced with a little food boredom last week, I pulled a half beef heart out of the freezer to defrost.  It was the second half (I think) of the heart from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny and it had held up pretty well due to the vacuum sealed freezer bag.

Beef hearts are effing enormous. That's a 7" chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see was very intimidating

Beef hearts are effing enormous.  That’s a 7″ chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see is the most intimidating part of working with animal hearts.  In other news, I didn’t do too good in Biology and I’m pretty sure “crazy crap” is the closest I could come to a medical term to describe what you are seeing

That’s about two and a half pounds of muscle covered by a lot of silverskin and some hardened fat on the outside.  Plus the stuff on the inside that I can’t use my words on.  My plan was to trim off all of the external membrane/fat and any of the funky stuff in the internal chambers.  Once fully trimmed, I expected it to look like a normal (but extremely lean) chunk of meat that I would slice thin to make a cheesesteak from.

A 'lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming.  The piece on th right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slices were the start of the thin slicing

A ‘lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming which left me with what looked like a bloody Lego.  The piece on the right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slivers were the start of the thin slicing

Due to the density of the muscle, the meat was easy to slice thin using the same method as slicing gravlax; press the side of the knife against the meat and shave.  As I got toward the center, it became more difficult to keep the pieces thin so I switched to the other side and sliced until I got to the same point.  The center area I ended up cutting into thicker slabs for later use on the grill.  After slicing was complete, I had this.

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left.  Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend's garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as "Mommys" or "Daddys"

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings, and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left. Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend’s garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as “Mommys” or “Daddys”

With the meat sliced, I placed the thicker pieces in a marinade of miso and a few other ingredients to marinate for a day or so before grilling.  The thin slices went into a separate bag to rest and await cooking in the fridge.

In my opinion, a true Philly Cheesesteak can only use one cheese or cheese like product: Cheez Whiz.  It’s highly processed, probably doesn’t include any dairy, and keeps at room temperature in a jar for years, but good golly does it taste delicious.  The tangy flavor goes so well with fatty beef.  For the purposes of this meal, my ambitious plan for a homage to “whiz” was to use a piece of beef bone marrow instead of butter in a roux, then build a cheese sauce from there.  I got started by putting a piece of marrow in a 450F oven to roast and break down.

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Search marrow for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Look at the Heart and Bones post linked earlier for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save them in the freezer.  You know, for when you need marrow and stuff

While the marrow roasted, I pulled some cheese curds out of the fridge which would be the primary cheese-type ingredient in the cheese sauce.  The curds were maybe slightly past their prime, but given the mild and slightly tangy flavor of cheese curds I thought they would be perfect for my tribute to Cheez Whiz.

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed a solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren't made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed into a mashed together solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren’t made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often.  Also, it’s kind of amazing I’ve been doing this three years and this is my first loving homage to processed cheese, right?

I cut the cheese curds up into thin batons that looked similar to a grated bag of Kraft cheddar, then moved the now broken down roasted marrow to the stovetop.

All it takes to get to this point is a little pressure from the whisk.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the handle out of the 450F oven bare handed by accident

About halfway through roasting, you need to break up the marrow with a fork which lets any remaining fat render and the other pieces crisp a bit.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the pot handle bare handed out of the 450F oven and getting a nice sear on my palm

With the fat fully liquified, I started out the roux by whisking in a little over a tablespoon of flour and cooking it on the stovetop until it started to brown a bit.

The solid bits from the marrow were still relatively solid at this point but started to fall apart

I have no understanding of bone marrow as a cooking ingredient, I just know I like the flavor and it makes sauces better.  I thought it was all fat, but also have heard something (likely nonsense) about how it’s actually a degenerated protein and not as bad for you as fat.  I certainly am unqualified to explain what the crispy chunks are vs the rendered marrow fat

With the roux cooking, I pulled the thin sliced heart meat out of the refrigerator and drained the excess blood from the bag.  The meat headed to a pile of paper towels seasoned with salt and pepper to leach out a bit more of the bloody liquid and hopefully reduce the iron-y flavor of the heart.

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat, very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat. Very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying the cooked version of this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

While the heart meat drained, I began adding milk to the roux to form the based of the cheese sauce.  Once enough milk was added to thin the base to the consistency of gravy, I started to whisk in the cheese curds.

Cheese Curds are at their most questionable at this point since they don't melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  So they took a little longer, but eventually I had this...

This is the point I heavily questioned my own need to use everything in the fridge since cheese curds don’t melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  I berated myself loudly as these took slightly longer to melt than I expected then calmed down when they melted.  Eventually I had this…

...Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not cheese whiz, but it's made out of marrow for cripes sake

…Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not Whiz, but it’s made out of bone marrow for cripes sake

With the sauce bubbling on the stove, I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium/high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter was melted and bubbling, I added the heart meat and half of a sliced white onion.

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

After a few minutes of browning, I gave my best attempt at the Philly tactic of using two metal spatulas to chop and tear the meat to shreds using the sides of the spatulas.  Mostly I just ended up making a lot of noise and sort of tearing a few pieces into slightly smaller pieces.

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat in the pan at the time too, but it was barely enough for one sandwich amazingly

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat at the time, but it was barely enough for one sandwich, amazingly

With the meat fully cooked, I piled it high in the closest thing I could find to the excellent crusty sub rolls from Sarcone’s or Amaroso’s that they use all over Philly.  It was not as close a match as I’d hoped and I knew it would be an exhausting sandwich to eat due to the chewiness of the bread.

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what makes them great

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what separates a great sandwich from the rest.  This was chewy and crispy but not soft

Once the sandwich was loaded up, I put a few large spoonfuls of the marrow whiz over the top of the meat making sure it had enough to soak into the bread.  Then squeezed it closed holding the meat in, cut in half, and did some more squeezing to make sure I could fit it into my mouth for a bite.

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

I ended up eating this whole thing and enjoying it, but you could definitely tell this wasn’t a traditional cheesesteak.  The meat was thin enough to easily bite through, though a little chewier than a normal cheesesteak.  Usually the meat is chewy, but in a cheap shaved meat way, whereas heart meat has a more rubbery consistency since the grain is so tight and there is no fat to break it up.  The flavor wasn’t too far off from normal steak though a little more iron-y, but the onions covered that up well.  The marrow cheese sauce had a ton of flavor and you could tell there was bone marrow in the mix.  Would have been better if I used cheddar and gruyere instead of curds I think, since it would have been sharper and complemented the marrow better.

All in all, a much more successful experiment and something I wouldn’t mind tinkering with again.  The grilled marinated pieces I cooked later in the week weren’t quite as enjoyable since they were just like metallic beef jerky due to dryness.  Here’s a picture for proof, no need to expound on it further, just didn’t want to ignore that this happened.

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope,  I got mineral jerky from this part

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope, I got mineral jerky from this.  Had to sneak it in here or it would have ended up in a Major Dag post

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: Meatballs

A few weeks ago I caught up with a friend from college that occasionally reads the blog.  During the course of a relatively serious discussion about MBA internship opportunities, he said something along the line of, “more importantly, do you have a good meatball recipe?”  Gotta say, it made me feel pretty inadequate.  Not only did I not have a good meatball recipe, I couldn’t even say that I’ve ever liked a traditional meatball I’d made.  Sure, I’ve cooked lots of enjoyable turkey meatballs during ill-fated attempts at diets, but I didn’t have a go-to normal recipe.  I dodged the question and moved along.

With a lot of heavy snowfall recently, I didn’t have to wait too long to take a shot at honing my meatball craft.  My goal was to replicate the absurdly good meatballs from Vila Di Roma in Philadelphia, but of course I didn’t follow the one known aspect of that recipe: 100% 80/20 ground beef.  Instead I started with a pound of pork and a pound of veal.

Every time I see the "meatloaf mix" at the grocery store that supposedly includes beef, veal, and pork I shake my head and wonder who would buy that.  Then I get hungry because of how delicious that combination sounds

Every time I see the “meatloaf mix” at the grocery store (that supposedly includes beef, veal, and pork) I shake my head and wonder who would buy that.  Then I get hungry because of how delicious that combination sounds

In my search for a Vila Di Roma copycat recipe I came across one that used veal and pork and went by the name “the best meatballs recipe”.  Since I am an idiot and believe everything I read on the internet, I decided to work off this recipe and make some changes here and there.  The title may have been a touch overzealous.

I despise following recipes for good reason: I think I know better than their instructions and some of the time, I am correct.  When I am wrong, I forget about it, but when I am right I am pissed that I blindly followed a recipe when it seemed like I was adding to much or too little of something.  With that in mind, here’s the 2 eggs, parsley, seasoning, and fresh grated cheese the recipe recommended.

To invoke the classic Seinfeld Lloyd Braun, glasses and gum episode, "Am I crazy, or is that a lotta cheese?", "IT'S A LOTTA CHEESE!"

To invoke the classic Seinfeld Lloyd Braun, glasses and gum episode, “Am I crazy, or is that a lotta cheese?”, “IT’S A LOTTA CHEESE!”

Using my hands, I went through the grotesque (to watch) process of mixing ground meat with other ingredients.  No ground meat is safe from how unappetizing I can make this process look.  Adding salt and pepper to hamburger patties becomes some sort of bizarre, jiggling dance when I’m in charge.  Whatever, it’s effective and you’ll never get a poorly distributed ingredient in my house.

After this was fully mixed, I added in a few slices of cubed, slightly stale bread and a half cup of warm water.  I am as skeptical now as I was then, but I was surprised by how many meatball recipes called for this.

With the addition of water and bread, I was way off the Vila Di Roma script at this point, so I decided to check back in on a few articles about their meatballs.  That’s where I got a hot tip on coating your hands with olive oil before rolling your meatballs.

Certainly not turning the unappetizing train around with this pic, but it was nice to not have ground meat stuck to my fingers for once when making these

Certainly not turning the unappetizing train around with this pic, but it was nice to not have ground meat stuck to my fingers for once when making these

As usual, I started with a few really small meatballs.  Then, once I made a few bigger ones and liked how they looked I went back and added some more meat to the first few. Once I had 10 or 12 done, I didn’t like how big they all looked and went back through pullign a little meat off of each and re-rolling.  Cooking always seems to bring out the undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive mess inside of me.  Regardless, after a few minutes I had this tray of 24.

If you think I was capable of leaving that last slot open and didn't pull a bit of meat off of a bunch of them to even the number and fill the tray, you aren't reading the blog enough.  Not comfortable with the fact that I am making OCD jokes so soon after Girls drove the topic into the ground

If you think I was capable of leaving that last slot open and didn’t pull a bit of meat off of a bunch of them to even the number and fill the tray, you aren’t reading the blog enough.  Not comfortable with the fact that I am making OCD jokes so soon after Girls drove the topic into the ground

Meatballs are pretty cool to look at in this state.  Don’t believe me?  Here comes the arty natural light shot by the window!

Isn't it nice that for once I am showing a big tray of balls and there isn't anything gross going on?  Seemingly a first for me, need to make something gross soon and get this ship righted

Isn’t it nice that for once I am showing a big tray of balls and there isn’t anything gross going on? Seemingly a first for me, need to make something gross soon and get this ship righted

The meatballs went into a 400F oven and I started working on a simple marinara sauce to compliment them.  I mean really simple.  A couple cans of whole peeled tomatoes chopped up well and dumped on top of a few cloves of minced garlic sauteeing in olive oil.  I let that cook for 15 or so, then added some white wine, basil, salt and black pepper.

Lotsa salt.  I elected not to do the sugar thing since they were canned tomatoes and the wine added a little sweetness

Lotsa salt.  I elected not to do the sugar thing since they were canned tomatoes and the wine added a little sweetness

This simmered together with some regular stirring for about 30 more minutes, at which point the meatballs were about ready to join the party.

"Whoa!!!  You gonna eat that?  Just let me know, because I think that looks amazing!!" - my imaginary supportive cooking friend

“Whoa!!! You gonna eat that?  Just let me know, because I think that looks amazing!!” – my imaginary supportive cooking friend

This was the exact moment that I finally accepted the best way to cook meatballs is something I’m just not willing to do in my house: deep frying.  Fry them up quick to lock in all the fat and cheese stuff that cooked out of these.  The oven wasn’t hot enough to harden the outside quickly.  Oh and I also used way too much cheese.

Quick sidebar: as a kid we used to eat something called “booger chicken” in the Ryan household.  It was bone in chicken thighs and drumsticks baked in an oven with a coating of garlic powder and salt plus a pat of butter on each piece of chicken.  Possibly margarine actually.  Obviously it tasted delicious, but the real root of my love of booger chicken was the “crispies”.   I would sit on the floor by the open oven and use a grapefruit spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan, eating the crispy pieces of seasoned chicken fat and burned butter left behind.  Before writing that I didn’t realize how bad it would look in print.  It was delicious, awful for me, and led to my constant battle with what tastes really good vs. what is healthy.

Anyhoo, that burnt and browned crap between the meatballs?  I would eat that with a grapefruit spoon three times a day and six on Sunday.  It was that delicious; just cheese, animal fat, salt, self loathing and happiness.  If those things go together.  I had to throw it away before I ate too much of it.

Back to the simmering sauce.

This looked far better than expected given the minimal cooking time.  Thank good golly for that Cooks Illustrated book Tim gripes about

This looked far better than expected given the minimal cooking time.  Thank good golly for that Cooks Illustrated book Tim gave me and I wasn’t properly grateful for

Once the meatballs were pried out of their cheesy cement, they looked a little closer to the meatballs I had hoped to make, so I added them to the sauce to simmer for another 30 minutes.

I am 95% certain that we got this pan when my sister-in-law was considering throwing it away.  It has been used 5 times a week for 5 years and I honestly don't know what I will do with myself when I finally have to retire it

I am 95% certain that we got this pan when my sister-in-law was considering throwing it away.  It has been used 5 times a week for 5 years and I honestly don’t know what I will do with myself when I finally have to retire it

I could have left these simmering all day or for multiple days, but I was hungry when the thirty minutes were up and dove in.  How bout a dusting of cheese and one more natural lighting shot before the requisite recap?

This is the best window shot yet and does make the food look more appetixing than the straight down shots from overhead that my belly is blurily poking into the bottom of

This is the best window shot yet and does make the food look more appetizing than the straight down shots from overhead that my belly is blurily poking into the bottom of

The meatballs and sauce were delicious, even if they weren’t quite what I was hoping for.  The Vila Di Roma variety are almost crunchy on the outside and hold together well but have a wonderful tender and uniform consistency inside.  The flavor is mostly just beef with hints of traditional Italian seasonings, all wrapped up in their salty and delicious sauce.  Mine weren’t like that.

I couldn’t have told you that the meatballs I made had pork and veal in them, but you knew it wasn’t beef.  The consistency was slightly rubbery due to the amount of cheese and egg involved, but pretty uniform and not chewy at all.  The flavor was great, if slightly underwhelming because nothing really stood out.  I’m making these meatballs sound awful but we happily ate them for 24 hours with pasta, sub rolls, and on their own.  They were very tasty, just not what I was hoping for.

Next time aroung I’m going all beef and stinking up the house with some deep frying.  I will get these meatballs right, I live too far from Philly not to.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Italian Beef Sandwich

I love regional sammiches and if I know an area has a signature one, I generally do whatever is necessary to sample it when I visit.  I consumed over 400 cheesesteaks during my two years in Philly, dream about the debris po boy from Mothers on a regular basis, and will write a 1,000 word missive about the Jersey sloppy joe some point soon.  They’re not all winners, though. I wouldn’t recommend you visit Pittsburgh for the soggy french fries and deli meat on stale bread sandwich at Primanti Bros.  Sandwiches You Will Love lost all credibility for me with that one.

On Kristi and my visit to Chicago, I wanted to get the famous Italian beef sandwich.  But, as documented previously, it was a pretty packed couple days and we covered two of the most popular regional specialties in hot dogs and deep dish.  The sandwich had to be passed on for, you know, normal restaurant meals and stuff.  It was a vacation away from Janet for cripes sake.

I don't know if that's all me or my raincoat was full of air, but I don't think I want to know. Not sure if I would tell you either

I don’t know if that’s all me or if my raincoat was full of air, but I don’t think I want to know.  Not sure if I would tell you either

Blah blah blah, I didn’t get the sandwich.  Sounded friggin’ awesome though, sliced roast beef with Italian seasonings, simmered in the cooking juices and loaded onto a sandwich.  Then, the whole sandwich is dipped back into those juices if you so chose.  Yeah, sounded too awesome to not make that for myself.

It all started with a few blade steaks.

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn't bolted down has the potential to be purchased

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn’t bolted down and I haven’t cooked before has the potential to be purchased

As alluded to in the caption, I have thoroughly enjoyed hitting up the supermarket by my office on Fridays for random cuts of beef and pork and usually some seafood as well.  These blade steaks looked good and I’d never cooked them before, so I was completely unaware that they can’t be grilled like a regular steak.  Explains why they were pretty inexpensive and had a visible ribbon of gristle running down the middle.

Since they couldn’t be grilled, what else could I do but take a crack at the Italian Beef Sandwich.  I seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and put them in a preheated ‘Lil Blue with some olive oil to brown on the stovetop.

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

After the meat was fully browned, I removed it from the pot and threw in a mix of celery, carrots, and garlic that I had run through the food processor.  After that cooked for a couple of minutes I added in a sliced yellow onion.

IMG_2162

I gave myself a lot of crap for how odd it was to send most of the mirepoix through the food processor and leave the onions whole.  But I wanted them to have a visible presence in the final sammich, and I now have to live with that visually disjointed decision

I cooked the onions until they had a little color on the edges but were otherwise translucent, about 10 minutes.  At which point I deglazed with a cup of red wine, added some dried basil & oregano, and turned the heat up a bit to reduce.

IMG_2164

I will freely admit that this looks like a complete mess.  Usually food shots that look this crappy involve large amounts of grim looking organ meat, but this was just all over the place

After the wine had reduced by about a quarter, I stirred in a few chopped tomatoes, a cup of beef broth and a couple bay leaves.

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

I brought the liquid to a boil then lowered to a simmer for ten minutes to reduce it a bit and let the flavors come together.  Once it looked right (I have no effing idea what that means but its true), I added the blade steaks back in and made sure they were well covered in the liquid and onions.  Lid went on, heat was reduced to low, and left it to cook for 80ish minutes.  At which point I had this.

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes in a liquid and comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes into a liquid and it all comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

I fished the blade steaks out with some tongs and gave them a good shake to get the extra sauce and onions off of them before transferring to a cutting board.

For a pound and a half of meat it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn't like it at this point to secure a larger portion of the meal

For a pound and a half of meat, it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn’t like it at this point, mostly to secure a larger portion of the meal

I sliced each steak into medium thickness slices since I wanted them to retain some texture then added them back into the cooking liquid.  ‘Lil Blue went back over low heat to simmer for another thirty minutes.

As the simmering time for the braise neared its end, I sliced and lightly toasted a crusty baguette.  A couple big spoonfuls of the braise and lot of the liquid went into the baguette along with a sprinkling of cheese and, on my half, a handful of sliced sweet peppers.

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

With a couple more spoonfuls of cooking liquid and a knife to hold everything in place I gave the sandwich the old close and squeeze.  First I cut Kristi off her half, and then dug in.

This was a cross between the roast pork sandwich at Johns in Philly and some sort of Italian flavored pot roast.  Well, I guess that’s what it was actually.  The meat was tender but not quite to the point that it was like a shredded beef or fall-apart pot roast; still had some texture.  The liquid gave it a french dip like flavor but with the Italian seasonings and tomatoes clearly in there as well.  It was definitely a little salty from the salt on the meat and the reduced broth, but in an enjoyable way.  The parmesan cheese gave some nice contrast sharpness and the pickled peppers added some crunch and contrasting vinegar flavors.  I raced through my half to make sure there was enough for another half.

I left some for Kristi's second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

I left some for Kristi’s second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

Man of the match is probably the crusty Iggys bread since it was just crusty enough to hold it’s crunch/crust while also being completely soggy and soaked with sauce.  This was a solid sandwich.

I was going to make these again for the Super Bowl but couldn’t find the right sized bread.  Probably for the best, we always have way too much food.

Snowstorm this weekend!  Gonna make some sh*t.

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Beef Fry Marsala

Ah, yes, balls have returned to The Pete Is On, didn’t you miss them??  I wish I didn’t have to post about this again so soon but I did an awful job of cooking interesting stuff these past two weeks.  Some ribs, some chili and soups, but nothing even mildly creative that would merit a post.  Oh well, I’ll make something foul this weekend hopefully.

Anyhoo, A few weeks ago after cooking the Rocky Mountain Oysters, I had a a little extra ball meat left over the next day.  That expressions is like the awful gift that keeps giving.

If I hadn’t already dropped thousands of hints and explicit statements I could have told you that these were scallops.   Probably would help the nausea cause if I gave the cutting board a wipedown before taking this picture

Given my hatred of deep frying things in my own home, I elected to take a different approach to cooking the beef scallops.  Based on my recent discovery that the flavor is similar to chicken livers and the consistency is a little soft, I figured I could eat them on some crunchy bread with a sturdy sauce.  Pretty sure Ma Ryan didn’t expect to ever see this use for her Marsala recipe when she gave it to me.

As with the veal and chicken cutlets Ma Ryan intended her recipe for, it all starts with a heavy dusting of flour, salt and black pepper.

Little more than a dusting, but any extra flour avoids the need to add some later to thicken the sauce.  I should probably make this with chicken sometime soon and post it so that I honor the wonderful simplicity of this recipe

While coating those, I heated a few tablespoons of butter over medium heat on the stovetop.  Once the butter was fully melted and bubbling I added the floured beef scallops to the pan.

While I was cooking it I was thinking the same thing I am thinking now, “I hope that little naturally formed shotglass of liquid drains off when I flip them”.  Also, how we all liking “beef scallops”?  I’m sticking with it, much less painful to type repeatedly

Although the sauce would eventually eliminate any crispiness from the butter frying, I was still hoping to get some nice golden color on the outside.  Easier said than done since these things were pushing out a lot of liquid.  Eventually I got somewhere, I guess.

Tasty golden fried balls.  They seem to be nearly impossible to overcook which is definitely in their favor since nobody wants an undercooked ball

After another 5-10 minutes of pan frying the coating had crisped a bit and I removed the beef scallops to a pile of paper towels to drain.  The heat on the pan went down to low-medium heat and I whisked the flour from the bottom of the pan into the remaining butter and a little extra olive oil.

Little bit of brownin’ flour isn’t a bad start for a sauce.  Well, except when it was previously coating balls

At one point in time I remember frantically reading the recipe word doc my mother gave me, and measuring out the portions of Marsala wine and whole milk to get the sauce right.  I’m past that.  Who knows if the sauce is worse because of it, but I enjoy not having to look stuff up.  For the sauce, I like a ratio of about half Marsala, half milk, alternating between the two as you whisk it into the roux-like substance in the pan.  Post whisking, plus a little simmer time, I had a decent sauce for the beef scallops.

The overzealous flour coating made this sauce a little chunky and unwieldly, but it still tasted and smelled perfect for a Marsala

with the sauce thickened, the scallops went back in to simmer for a bit, just as I would with veal or chicken cutlets.  Not sure how much it does for the flavor, but it definitely gets everything well sauced.  I like to add sauteed mushrooms at this point too but didn’t have any to use.

Not sure why, but I think  anyone with even a moderate knowledge of food would look at this picture and say it was suspect.  Just looks a little off

After a few minutes of simmering, I piled the meat onto a few slices of toasted baguette with multiple spoonfuls of sauce to smother and make solidly messy plate of grub.  I made it messier with a handful of grated parm over the top.  My only regret is the stupidity of how I sliced and toasted the bread which made it impossible to eat by hand.  For some reason I cut wedges instead of flat rounds, so stupid.

‘Lil sprinkle is rarely an accurate assessment of what I engage in with cheese.  All pastas, red sauces, pizzas, and anything broadly referenced as Itallian food gets a heafty pile of cheese in the Ryan household

Marsala plus cheese is rarely a miss from a flavor perspective.  I say that recognizing that I was consuming bull testicles, but really they were quite tasty and far less terrifying than you would think.

Again, white meat.  Like a Marsala chicken tender, except made from sexin organs.  Yuck

Marsala is a perfect compliment to the flavor of the beef scallops; it hides some of the more unpleasant offal flavors but matches well with the poultry-ish flavors.  What was left was a tasty combination of beef and chicken flavors with Marsala sauce. The crusty bread was nice just because the soft meat definitely needs some contrasting crunch so you aren’t eating just a pile of somewhat mushy food.  Overall, a pretty decent meal that I enjoyed eating, though I am good with taking some time off before I purchase my next set ‘o balls.

Here this weekend, will be cooking I promise.

Weird Crap I Cook: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Really, really wanted to name this one “Pete’s Balls”.  That decision is not indicative of the maturity I approached the whole post with, but it was a dece start.

As many of you already know, “Rocky Mountain Oysters” is the deceptive nickname for bull or calf testicles.  Huevos, Criadillas, Bull Fries… doesn’t really matter what you call them, they are still cooked bull’s balls.  Now that we’ve made that clear I’ll give a photo of something else and a brief aside to give anyone not interested in seeing this whole thing go down a chance to leave.

One of these mason jars is from our wedding, no idea which one.  Eventually it will totally get lost in our huge collection of mason jars and end up being used to pickle pigeon eggs or some crap.  You had a good run, wedding mason jar

Big week for the Ryan’s, one I’ve been waiting for patiently for 4 years; Switchback is now available in bottles!  Kristi and I have both loved Switchback since we first tasted it and chose to serve it at our wedding in mason jars.  Up until this week, it was only available in kegs, but our long national (national for my universe) nightmare is over.  Congrats to Gretchen and the rest of the crew at Switchback, pencil me in for a 12 pack every time I visit VT.

Anyhoo, back to them sex organs.  I’ve wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters for a long time but I’ve honestly never come across them in all of my travels or market shopping.  Kinda gross that testicles were on my food bucket list, but I’ve never claimed to be normal.  In late August, while exiting the St. Anthony festival in Boston’s North End I ducked into a halal butcher shop and spotted my culinary holy grail.

Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.  It was much easier to assume I would order them one day than actually purchasing them and knowing A) I would have to eat them because I hate wasting food and B) I’d have to prepare them

Sunday is never a good day for produce buying, and generally the halal butcher shops by the Haymarket smell a little funky, which all added up to this package smelling a little ripe.  From my Philly Italian Market experience I knew that half the battle would be getting them out of the packaging and rinsed, so that’s what I did.

So, uh, you guys wanna talk about something else?  Goddamn those veins are awful

Since it was a Sunday night, I was stuffed on arancini, and generally exhausted, I decided to vacuum seal the bag and freeze them for use at a later date.

Phew that’s a little better.  Let’s just say that I didn’t feel the need to use the labeling area on the outside of the package; these would be pretty easy to recognize

And into the chest freezer they went for a couple months.  I was a little scared of them, due to the ripeness mentioned previously, but knew that my curiosity would get the best of me at some point.  That point was this week when Kristi headed to Vermont for a couple nights and I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with horrified looks from her during the prep process.

After thawing, I rinsed thoroughly, and moved to a plastic cutting board to peel them, a process I had done absolutely no research on..

This wasn’t the first one I peeled.  That one was the ugliest looking of the batch from the outside and I couldn’t bring myself to post it.  Restraint!  Restraint is a new thing on this blog

I had my knives good and sharp for this process since the first cut is surface level and basically opens the ball (god I wish I could come up with a better term).  Then you remove the contents from the outer layer.  The inside is a yellowish/tan color and in no way resembles the outside.

Back to that first one.  For once my fingers aren’t the most unattractive thing in a picture

I will call it like it is here: I exercised awful instincts and did a terrible job on the first peeling.  I treated it like deboning a chicken or something and made tons of tiny cuts to separate it from the skin.  Ended up losing a fair amount of (questionably) edible material and generally it looked like sh*t at the end.

Looks kinda like chicken but that ain’t chicken.  Really awful job by me on this one

After standing there for a few minutes confounded by how this could be so difficult, I eventually decided to give this another shot by essentially trying to turn the next ball inside out.  Welp, turns out it was as easy as that, no knife required after the first cut.

Like it’s peeking around a corner to say hi to you.  Oh heeeyyyyy there little teste.  I should just accept that I am not going to be able to make this adorable

And with that realization, I was able to get through the remaining three in just a few minutes.  After removing from the skin, I sliced each ball into four 1/2 inch rounds that looked extremely similar to sea scallops before placing them into an iced saltwater bath.

That water clouded up quick.  In general, with any kind of organ meat or offal, I like it when the pre-cooking bath gets a little cloudy or changes color because it means I won’t be ingesting whatever caused it to do so

I let those pieces soak for about an hour to draw out as much funkiness as possible.

My plan was to go traditional with the prep and use about half of the ball meat.  Good god that sounds awful.  The other half would be used another night and help fill my bare cupboards of reserve post cupboards.  So, I started heating a few inches of vegetable oil on the stove top in ‘Lil Blue and set up a breading station.

Again, the scallop analogy works very well here, or at least compared to all the other subpar analogies I make on this blog

The breading mixture was half flour/half corn meal, with lots of salt, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder mixed in for flavor.  The beef scallops (ooh, that works) went from the bath, to the egg mixture, then into the breading and onto the wax paper to wait for the oil to come up to heat.

I despise frying stuff due to the smell and general fear of getting burned.  Every door in the apartment was closed and the windows were all open to deal with the smell, but the fear of the hot oil was more difficult.  I ended up choosing to fry between 325 and 350 instead of the usual 375 for vegetable oil since I had no interest in the bubbling splatters.

I mean, still plenty terrifying.  That item in my left hand is a bacon screen which I used to further reduce the splatter risk along with oven mitts on both hands.  Not shown is my Kevlar suit and football helmet.  Hot oil gives me nightmares, yo

After 8-10 minutes in the oil, the “oysters” had taken on a nice golden brown color and you could tell the coating would have a good crunch.  I removed them from the oil one by one and transferred to a pile of paper towels to drain.

Breading and frying makes pretty much anything look completely innocuous.  I might try this with my face during Movember to compensate for my sure-to-be-awful mustache

I spent a few minutes staring at them, letting them cool and seriously contemplating whether I should make a sauce (a caper-y aioli sounded good).  Since the smell and look of the Rocky Mountain Oysters was pretty appealing, there wasn’t nearly as much anxious fear as I expected at that moment.  Eventually, I just put a couple drops of cholula on one of them and took a bite.

I love Chicken McNuggets, but it’s gotta say something negative about a food when it closely resembles a fried bull testicle

Gotta say, Rocky Mountain Oysters are pretty dece.  The flavor is waayyyy less fierce than you would expect, like a very mild fried chicken liver but with the occasional hint of kidney flavor that reminds you that you are eating offal.  The texture is also most similar to a soft chicken liver.  Not at all the unpleasant eating experience that the rotten gym-towel-bin aroma from the original packaging led me to expect.  I ended up eating most of these and then cooking the remaining ball meat (that has become no less awful) the following night, but that will be documented another time.  All in all, a good meal and very glad I finally got to cook and sample bull testicles.

Thanks to Brendan for the new, hopefully less offensive blog header.  That one is here to stay I think.  Got a solid idea for next week’s post, which I plan to get out before Friday for once.