Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Liver Pate

We had a solid Thanksgiving in Vermont with Kristi’s family.  Lots of eating, a couple gobbler sandwiches, and the time tested tradition of me bringing an odd food item to a family gathering, putting it out on the table, and hiding.

To backtrack slightly, Kristi and I visited Vermont a week and a half before Thanksgiving on the first weekend of deer season.  That Saturday morning, we got the call from Kristi’s father, Ken, that he had taken a four point buck from his stand.  And he saved me the heart and liver when he field dressed it.  As Janet would say, that’s exciting.

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn't reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn’t reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

After helping Ken hang the deer in the barn, I wrapped the heart up tight and left it in Ken and Carolyn’s freezer to cook with Ken when I returned for Thanksgiving.  The gigantic liver stayed in its’ shopping bag and went into a cooler for the ride back to Boston.  This seems like an opportunity to share a coworker’s photoshop of one of the bathrobes in the Wayfair catalog in honor of my recent ridiculous hockey hair.

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoyign his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven't had the courage to attempt

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoying his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven’t had the courage to attempt

Back in my home kitchen, I went through my usual hyping up session to prepare myself to deal with the gigantic liver in a Greg’s Meat Market bag.  Mostly the “hyping up” amounted to watching football and avoiding looking in the bottom drawer of the fridge.  Eventually I decided to get it over with and clean/package the liver for cooking the following weekend.  After a quick rinse in the sink to remove some grass and pine needles from field dressing (one of those “sh*t just got real” moments), I laid it out on the cutting board.

Thats the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on that one.  I'm not sure why I expected deer liver to be so small but this thing was a freaking monster

That’s the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on this one.  I’m not sure why I expected deer liver to be small but this thing was a freaking monster

When I placed the liver on the scale, it came in at a whopping 3.5 pounds.  That’s a lot of liver! I knew that I didn’t have enough friends or family willing to eat this in one sitting so I would need to cook it in at least two separate meals.  Which also gave me the opportunity to try a couple different preparations of the liver.

I removed the muscle that attached the liver to the body and cleaned out some of the area where the blood flowed in primarily before cutting the liver into two evenly-sized pieces.  Given that this thing was a day old, smelled extremely fresh, and was as organic and local as a food can be, I decided to (quietly, when Kristi wasn’t looking) be a bit adventurous with the meat.

You don't cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

You don’t cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

Given how strong cooked liver tastes, I think everybody (read: anybody crazy enough to try it) would be stunned by the taste of raw, fresh, natural liver.  It had very little flavor aside from a milky, nutty taste, almost like almond milk.  The texture was relatively enjoyable as well.  Very surprising.

The two halves went into separate vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer.  The freezer was necessary for keeping the liver tasty for the week lag before I was planning to cook it, but also helpful since, when thawed, the liver would purge a good amount of blood.

With Thanksgiving coming up and the opportunity to share the liver with Kristi’s family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I decided to use the liver for something easy to transport and share.  I also wanted to dial back the overpowering liver taste as much as possible, so I elected to make a liver mousse (or pate).  I’ve made chicken liver mousse before with shallots and brandy, but I decided to make this one a bit differently.  First step was thawing half of the liver and soaking it in a salted water bath.

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right?

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right????

After an hour in the cold salted water bath, a decent amount of blood had been purged from the liver and I moved it to the cutting board to slice thickly in preparation for cubing it.

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh.  You know, if sniffing liver is your thing

Once cubed, the liver went onto some paper towel to drain off a bit more blood and I started the extremely tedious process of peeling and slicing a half pound of shallots.  The shallots would probably be the nicer thing to show here, but also boring.  So lets look at a pile of cubed game liver on a paper towel.

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

After the liver had drained on the paper towels for 10-15 minutes, I patted it dry to remove the last of the excess liquid and heated a large pan over medium-high heat.  Once up to heat, I put a couple tablespoons of safflower oil in the pan, seasoned the liver with salt and pepper, and browned the cubes on all sides.

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I'd made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar to the chicken liver mousse at this point

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I’d made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar looking to the chicken liver mousse at this point

Once well browned, and looking like dark brown iced cubes, the liver was removed from the pan and reserved on a plate.  Then the shallots headed into the pan along with a couple cloves of chopped garlic and tablespoon of bacon grease.

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn't find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn’t find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

Once the shallots & garlic were soft and fragrant, the liver went pack into the pan along with a half cup of red wine and a half cup of port.

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Once the wine was added, I covered the pan (slightly askew) and let the wine reduce by about 3/4 over medium-low heat.  It took about 15 minutes to get to this.

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You'll see.  Aren't you excited to see?

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You’ll see.  Aren’t you excited to see?

I moved the pan off the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.  The goal was to have it stillwarm enough to blend smoothly but not so hot that it melted my Cuisinart.  Once cool (to my eye), I scraped all contents of the pan into my food processor along with a couple tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed it a few times to start breaking down the contents.  Then, I left it on a steady run while slowly pouring in half and half until the consistency looked about how I was hoping.

Quick side note on the butter addition.  I’d always assumed that liver mousse was primarily made of just liver, but there is such a wide divide between the strong flavor of straight liver and the mild flavor of a pate.  A few food shows cleared this up for me in the past year where I’ve seen chefs use butter, sometime in a 1:1 ratio, to smooth the texture of liver mousse.  I wasn’t going to go close to that ratio, but it was definitely a change from last time around.  This note came out far less interesting than I expected when I started writing it.  Back to that bowl of brown.

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn't this dark

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn’t this dark

Once the consistency looked right to me, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar on the recommendation of the internets and ran the food processor for another 30-45 seconds attempting to get the texture as smooth and uniform as possible.

At this point I had the option to press it through a mesh sieve to make the final product even more smooth, but this created a painful cleanup situation last time I attempted so I passed.  Just didn’t seem worth it; if you are willing to eat liver you won’t mind a little texture in your pate.  So, it headed straight from the bowl to the dish that I planned to refrigerate and let the pate set in.

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8" long by 4" wide and only an inch or two deep.  That's organ meat container dimensions!

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8″ long by 4″ wide and only an inch or two deep.  That’s organ meat container dimensions!

After a couple hours in the fridge, it was ready to sample.  Unlike a lot of other things I make, liver mousse is only sampled while cooking in tiny tastes to make sure the flavor is right, since hot liver pudding is not that enjoyable.  But cold, its like the boursin of Mt. Olympus, kept from the masses because they couldn’t handle its deliciousness.

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of wispride and some keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don't know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of Wispride and some Keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don’t know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

This one came out far better than the chicken liver mousse, likely due to some of the extra ingredients this time around.  The flavor was mild and slightly sweet from the shallots and possibly the liver itself.  The texture was smooth and not grainy, despite not pressing the pate through a mesh sieve prior to letting it set.  I attribute both the texture and mild flavor to using more half and half and a little cold butter when blending this time around.  I’m not sure what the balsamic added since it wasn’t a notable flavor, but it might have been what brought out the wine and port flavors.  Overall, very tasty, and I ate a ton of it over the following four days.

The biggest surprise was that I wasn’t the only one eating my offal product for once.  It went out as an app before thanksgiving and quite a bit of the family partook, including the hunter himself.  Most of the feedback was how mild the liver flavor was.  Kristi even ate some, meaning she’s rapidly on her way to full scale Ryan tastebuds.  She’ll be eating liverwurst subs with extra mayo in no time.

Merry Christmas!!!!!

Weird Crap I Cook: Scrapple

Hang on to your office chairs (or couches) folks, this one is going to be a doozy.  A little Wikipedia research, lots of pictures, subpar detail, and little understanding of what people who aren’t me consider amusing.

Scrapple is a common breakfast item at the deli case and diners in most of the NJ-Pennsylvania area, but that doesn’t mean it’s common to eat it.  The name is effing horrible.

“Well, it’s got a lot of stuff most human beings wouldn’t consume unless a weapon was pointed at them, so let’s give it an appetizing name like they did with ‘sausage’. I’ve got it…” – Awful Pennsylvania Dutch marketing exec

Pop Ryan introduced this breakfast meat to me and I love it dearly to this day.  Its got the best parts of crispy fried polenta and breakfast sausage.  So, basically, it’s the perfect food.

In addition to my love of the flavor and texture, scrapple fits in with my overall dislike of wasting food and my love of using everything.  It’s a food item born out of the need to make use of all parts of the pig and ended up successfully turning some harsh tasting parts into something tasty.

I hadn’t given a ton of thought to making it myself until recently, mainly because the packaged stuff is so delicious and they carry it at my JP grocery store.  But when regular blog contributor David from Snow Farm offered me some offal from his naturally raised pork, I knew I would have to give it a shot.

I felt bad supplementing the small farm raised pork parts with factory farmed neck bones, but I needed some meat and bones for texture and flavor.  Oh and they are $1.50 a pound

That’s one pig heart, a couple pounds of pork liver, and pound and a half of neck bones.  Neck bones are funky looking but they’ve got a lot of meat on them.  Plus, when you compare their appearance to the other ingredients they probably feel like the prom queen.

The idea is that everything goes into a pot, boils for while, then is ground up and combined with cornmeal and the cooking liquid to make a mush.  Mush is poured into loaf pans, sets, then you slice it and fry it.  Again, sounds completely up my alley.  Amazing that I am nearing my 100th post and I’ve never done this before.

I’ve covered hearts and neckbones on this blog previously, but lets take another look at that sliced pig liver.

Used the good camera, left the flash on at first.  I always think the flash makes food look worse but definitely think that is accurate when it comes to offal.  Yowzers

The thing I was most surprised by with the liver was how non-offensive it smelled.  I’ve cooked some grocery store offal and without fail it always smells like the inside of an animal.  This smelled like cold roast beef when I opened the package, truly surprising.  Glad I held out for the good stuff before attempting this one.

I sliced the heart and liver into cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper, and threw everything into a stock pot along with the neck bones.

The sounds as this stuff went into the pot could have been used for the Rocky training scene in the meat locker.  Lotsa meat on meat crime going on in here

My instinct was to cover this with water and boil it, but I realized that it might be tough to get the liquid vs. cornmeal proportions right without measuring.  You know, since I had no concept of what consistency hot liver mush should be before it’s cooled.  So, I went against my strong moral fiber and referenced a few recipes before deciding on 12 cups of water over the meat.

I brought the whole pot to a simmer on the stovetop, skimmed off some junk and left it to cook for a few hours.

The color changed quick.  This is around the point in time when the smell in our condo shifted from “normal” to “grandparent who is way too into cooking offal at home” territory.  Kristi was out for 3 hours of hair done doing but Janet woke up from a nap due to the stench

After three hours of fluctuating between a simmer and a boil with the lid partially on, the meat started separating from the neck bones and everything looked pretty well done.  The stock pot was dumped into a strainer inside a bowl to make sure I didn’t lose any of the cooking liquid.

This was a good step for me.  Usually I would burn my hands and dump half the meat and broth down the drain by accident.  This time around I acted super mature and used a giant bowl and a colander from Ikea.  Didn’t lose nothin!

The cooking liquid was reserved in the original stockpot and the questionable, unattractive, super-sketchy-looking gray organ meat went into a large bowl for sorting.

This picture could have been added to 5 or 6 different posts with the stuff I’ve cooked.  Boiled meat looks foul all the time, which is how I defend my appearance in hot tubs.  Wokka wokka,  here all week folks!

Sorting was slightly trickier than expected.  As it turns out, boiled liver is very firm and resembles pork neck bones.  You must be dying to cook it yourself at home.  Anyway, the visual similarities meant that I had to pick through and attempt to break every piece of liver/bone to figure out whether it should be kept or thrown away.  Didn’t take too long, but got some good finger burns.

Once everything was sorted into “meat” and “trash”, I piled it all into the tray on the grinding attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.

I got some closeups, but let’s stick with this view, shall we?  In other news, anyone got any suggestions on what to do with cool growler bottles?  We got a few of them and they just kinda hang out and freeload

The grinder attachment is incredibly simple once you get the hang of not overloading it by pushing too much stuff in at one time.  I had it setup with the fine grinder attachment since I wanted the heart/liver/meat to not stand out in the final products; just have one consistency throughout.  Which made for a relatively unattractive ground product.

Alright, I’ll bite: it looks like a toddler stuffed their poop through that Play-Doh press thingy I was obsessed with when I was a kid.  That probably sounds more appetizing than what is in the actual picture to some people

While I dealt with the trials and tribulations of meat grinding (read: meat grinder jams caused by impatient forcing into the grinder from an ADD 32 year old), the cooking liquid heated on the stove top.  Once I had the full pile of meaty Play-Doh noodles, I got setup for combining everything into an offal porridge that magically turns to scrapple as it cools.

That’s not our bar silly, just the usual lineup of cooking wines and olive oil in the background.  Quit focusing your attention on things that aren’t the organ meat slurry in progress

We started with three quarts of liquid and most of the boiling was at least partially lid-on so not much liquid cooked off.  That got paired with 4 cups of corn meal, a couple tablespoons of sea salt, a couple tablespoons of black pepper, and a mix of onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, and nutmeg.  The dry ingredients get stirred into the reserved cooking liquid in small waves, then the heart/liver/meat mixture is added at the end.  Got it?

In order to avoid huge clumps of corn meal, I used a whisk early on.

I caused some boulder-sized balls of corn meal before I went after the pile of mush with the whisk. Worked far better than the times I’ve effed up gravy

Once the mixture reached about the thickness shown, I switched from the whisk to a large spoon since it was similar to stirring cement at this point.  Had to be stirred constantly, especially as the additional corn meal and meat went in, but also to keep it from burning during the 30 minutes everything cooked together.

“Whoa, you gonna eat all that hog organ mush? I got a spoon and some tupperware, just let me know!” – Nobody I have met.  Y’all know anybody?

Once thirty minutes had elapsed, and I was counting minutes like an 4th grader in Sunday School, I had a burning forearm and a lot of organ stank in my clothes.  I also had a completed batch of scrapple ready to be poured into molds to set.

Thankfully, Kristi returned from her self imposed exile (it was a hair appointment, cry me a friggin river) to take some action shots.

My Hot Doug’s shirt = my fav thing.  Look, if I’ve learned anything in my life (relatively questionable “if”), it’s that when you go to a unique place with unique stuff you want to remember and they sell t-shirts that don’t have a large dragon logo, you buy one.  Not included, the horrible man-belly aiding the display surface of the shirt

The mixture went into more loaf pans than I had expected, but I was well stocked thanks to a grocery run by Kristi.  I sprayed the inside of each pan with some cooking spray, which would make it easier to remove the loaves once they set.  It also led to lots of awkward spooning and attempts to smooth the surface with more sticking to the spoon than staying in the pan.  The action shots of this process are probably not enthralling to the casual reader, and there are a ton of images in here already, so let’s skip to the end.

The little guys are about the size of a normal store-bought scrapple loaf.  The big guys are reserved for when my Pennsylvania Dutch relatives come to visit.  Oh, and those relatives are imaginary

After the loaves cooled to room temperature, I wrapped each with a layer of tin foil and sent them into the fridge overnight to set.  I was extremely excited, nervous, and hungry all at the same time, but the required wait until the following morning was relatively pleasant since I’d tasted it too much during the process.  Needed a little break from hot liver paste.

The next morning, I pulled my first loaf out of the fridge.

Looking good, scrapple.  Even the store bought version has an uneven top like this

The easiest part is removing it from the pan.  Just flip it over and tap the bottom a bit to get the loaf to release onto the cutting board.  It was pretty exciting to see it pop out in whole-loaf form, just because it looked like the “real thing”.

To fry it, I put a pan on the stovetop over medium/high heat since the pan has to be very hot to avoid scrapple sticking to it.  From there I cut some quarter inch slices off the loaf.

A little thicker than I generally cut, not sure why I made that call.  The best are the thin slices since they end up crispy like bacon and with a polenta consistency in the center.  Thin people don’t have conversations like this

Once the pan was good and hot, the slices went in after a quick spray of Pam.

This is and always will look like happiness to me.  NJ diners, Saturday mornings, and labor of love food projects.  Delicious crispy pork awesomeness

This scrapple lived up to it’s store bought namesake with the added benefit of knowing everything that went into it.  With any scrapple, the first flavor you get is black pepper, almost to a spicy level which is what you got from this one.  The pepper is complimented with a strong pork sausage flavor and some hints of liver along the way.  The best and most unique part, though, is the consistency.  The outside is potato chip crispy (if cooked right) and the inside has the softer consistency of polenta.  Great stuff, and makes use of everything on the hog, not just the pretty cuts.

The rest of the 7 loaves were vacuum sealed and went into the chest freezer for plenty of meals over the next year.  Definitely a meat that freezes well.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I ate too much.  Have a couple possible posts from the week though.

Weird Crap I Cook: Yellowfin Tuna Collar (Hamachi Kama)

Generally I enjoy all types of seafood and have loved sushi since I was first introduced to it when I was ten years old.  Tuna, in all varieties, has always been my favorite raw fish and I would guess I consumed 10 pounds of freshly caught raw Yellowfin tuna at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora (our honeymoon, but I am name dropping) in a 5 day period.  That trip got me addicted to raw tuna.

Oddly, I am not a fan of cooked tuna and won’t order it at most restaurants unless I am sure it will come out rare.  The only exception is tuna collar which I was introduced to by a Bizarre Foods episode a few years ago.  I first tried it at Jaes Grill in Brookline (now defunct) and found it to be very tasty and moist despite being completely cooked through.  Ever since I have ordered it whenever I see it on a menu.

RIP Jae's. Your awful signage didn't give proper credit to your enjoyable pan-Asian cuisine and surprisingly decent sushi

To continue this extremely long lead-in, for years I have been jealous of my buddy John and his tuna fishing trips with his brother in-law Frank.  Last year Liz (John’s wife) sent me a picture of the 130+ lb Bigeye tuna they caught and had me drooling at the huge slabs of meat they were pulling off.  I also noted that the fish head was being disposed of which is what 99% of fishermen would do (and what the Ryans did on our fishing trip).  Since I knew the collar was on there somewhere, and that I needed blog material, I asked him to save me the head of the next big tuna they got.

Lots of background.  Anyhoo, I nearly pooped my pants when I saw this text from John a week ago, “Got you a tuna head dawg.  From a 45lb Yellowfin.”  Well then.

Best picture message I have ever received. Big thanks to Frank Coulson, Mike Kirwan, Johnny, and Colman Currie (not pictured) for sharing their catch

When they butchered the Yellowfin, the head was wrapped in a few trash bags and placed in the freezer awaiting a visit from the Ryans.

Liz, Griff, Janet, Kristi. Griff is about 8 months older than Janet but I am pretty sure he was hitting on her

After hanging out at Liz’s (John’s wife) family house on Tuesday and Wednesday, including some sampling of the fresh Yellowfin, the frozen head came back to the Ryan LBI house.  Where it sat in the fridge ominously for a few days.

From my hogs head experience, I knew this would take around 3 days to fully thaw. Which explains the surrounding clams and leftover chowder from the weekend clamming festivities

I ended up waiting until Sunday to make an attempt at this.  My main problem was the complete lack of online support on how to butcher a tuna head and remove the collar.  Nothing.  As I sat on the couch exhausted from my friend Lenny’s bachelor party, I started trying to rationalize throwing out the head, but decided to give it a shot based on the few pictures of butchered collar I had seen online.

This move to the sink might not look like it, but it was a significant step

After cleaning up some tuna head leakage in the fridge, getting my knives ready, and setting up the counter with some cardboard for coverage, I removed the bags (4 of them to be exact).

No real way to give size perspective here. My guess is it was heavier than Janet and less heavy than the hogs head. I didn't enjoy that framing at all and will avoid dragging Janet's name into comparisons like that in the future

The collar is the area between the gill slit and the back edge of the skull (where the head was cut from the main body of the fish).  I think.  I don’t have any action shots in this post since I was supposed to be making pasta with clam sauce for Mommy Ryan and Kristi Ryan.  I advised them both to not enter the kitchen since I was, “doing some other stuff too”.

As I probed around the head, I saw that what I thought was the collar needed to be carefully cut away from the gills and hacked away from the top of the skull and the bottom as well.  I also observed that most of a Yellowfin tuna’s organs are located inside the skull.  After some careful trimming, dulling of my knives cutting through bones, and near finger losses, I came away with this:

Was able to remove both collars in one piece. I don't think that was an accomplishment, just the easiest way to do it

Leaving just the tip of the head in the sink.

Had two angles on this shot, but this one is nicer to look at. I considered trying to find a way to eat the eyes but realized I didn't truly enjoy eating eyes last time and there was other gross stuff to enjoy

First step was making a cut through the bone on the bottom side of the collar to separate it into two pieces.

The cardboard was essential. I should have tarped the walls as well since the kitchen was starting to look like a crime scene by this point

Removing the fins was very difficult and I did a job that would make any sushi chef cry in agony.  The first collar was removed mostly by pulling which tore some of the meat away; the second side was a lot of big swings with a heavily dulled knife at that point.  Then there was a ton of careful trimming of any bloody spots, areas close to the gills, and a rinse to remove what looked like small scales.  Eventually, I ended up with a couple poorly butchered Yellowfin tuna collars.

I wish I could produce something that looks well butchered just once in my life, but since I cook everything adventurous exactly once, I am never proficient enough to make it look nice

As I mentioned previously, there were indeed a few interesting organs hiding inside the head and neck.  I threw away the gullet and some stomach fat, but rinsed and kept the two organs that were easiest to recognize: the liver and heart.

The liver was easily recognizable, but I fell back on recollection of Bizarre Foods to recognize the heart

At this point I stepped away and reassessed.  I honestly didn’t think I would end up with anything edible, so I had to decide on the fly how I would cook everything.  The grill seemed like a logical choice, and after starting it I searched the cabinets and fridge.  I ended up mixing together a marinade/basting liquid of soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, and a lot of brown sugar.

The brown sugar was a prominent part of a recipe for whole roasted Bluefin tuna head and sounded like an excellent idea. I took note of that whole concept for a future post

After the grill had heated up for ten minutes or so, the collars and organs went on.

The organs look pretty innocuous, but for some reason the collar looks disgusting in the early grill pictures

I left the gas grill on high and shut the lid for 5 minutes before flipping the liver and heart while the collars remained skin down with the lid open.

I brushed the leftover marinade on the collars a couple times during the cooking

After a few more minutes I pulled the organs off and flipped the collars.

These were dark to begin with, but charred sugars and soy sauce gave a dark on darker coloring contrast

About the crispiness and char I was hoping for. I wasn't planning to eat the skin or anything. That would be, you know, gross

While the collars cooked some more, I headed inside to sample the heart and liver.  At which point I discovered that my camera is now permanently in a Janet picture taking-friendly mode that does not take food detail shots well.

Here's the liver. It resembled every other cooked liver I have seen

Annnnnd the heart. This is about as rare as I wanted it and looked a lot like beef

The liver tasted like liver.  Liver with a mild fish flavor.  Not quite as strong as chicken/beef/pork liver but you could definitely tell what it was.  I was good with that after one bite.  The heart on the other hand was awesome.  Tasted like a great piece of rare tuna with the texture/density of a beef steak and a little bit of mineral flavor.  I would definitely eat that again, possibly raw if the tuna hadn’t been frozen.  Back to the collars.

The marinade gave the meat a great color. Wish the grill marks were a bit more pronounced, though

From my few experiences, there is no nice way to serve tuna collar which is likely a contributing factor to why it isn’t on more menus.  Anyone interested in eating it needs to pick pieces of meat off the bone using chopsticks, and there is no easy way to break it up into individual servings.

Although it looks like the first bite, it was actually the second. Had to clarify that since my hands have never looked this nice and Kristi was surprisingly game to try the collar

The collars were incredible.  This has less to do with my skills than the freshness and quality of the catch, but it was seriously delicious.  I generally think fully cooked tuna is fishier than the rare variety, but that wasn’t the case with the collar meat.  It’s very tender like the meat near the salmon skin, but not as fishy tasting and distinctly tuna.  My best impartial witness for claims like this is Kristi since she is not overly adventurous and hates fishy tasting/smelling seafood.  After one bite, she dove in, as did my mother, and it quickly became an appetizer feeding frenzy.

Last action shot I could pause for. It was actually an enjoyable part of the experience to pick around and look for a nice pocket of meat

The sweet and charred flavors from the marinade added heavily to the enjoyment and I would definitely use a similar marinade if I ever made this again.  After a few more bites, I left the dish for a short time to finish my pasta with clam sauce and returned to find this:

There were a few pieces of meat we missed, but I'll give this clean plate club status. Call it in Ma Dowley!

Final note to the post is that I really appreciated the tuna head from Hard Four crew and hope that they will think of me after future catches.  I will happily take any future tuna heads and do this again.  Same goes to any other readers who go tuna fishing, just give me a little notice and I will be there.  It’s a really, really good piece of meat.

No ideas for next week, will try to think of something.

Chicken Liver Mousse

Growing up, one of the meals in the Ryan family rotation was “pate night”.  That’s a fancy way to say we had cheese and crackers for dinner along with some slices of summer sausage, liverwurst, and teawurst.  Over the years as the offerings at Kings in Bernardsville improved, this meal evolved a bit to include various country pates and liver mousses.

From that early exposure came a lifelong love of poultry livers in all preparations for me.  Among my all-time favorite preparations are the yakitori goose livers I had in Hong Kong, chopped chicken livers from Jewish delicatessens, and anything served with an unnecessary slab of seared foie gras.  I’d never attempted to cook any of those dishes myself but ever since Mooman casually cooked and put out a plate of delicious chicken liver crostini on one of my visits to his house, I have wanted to give it a try.  Plus, chicken livers are cheap so the stakes are low.

I don’t think this is that weird of a food item but the pictures tell a different story.  Regardless, let’s go with WCIC as the category for this one but not put it in the title, OK?  I got started by roasting some garlic.

This is a great way to roast garlic. Break apart the bulb, peel off excess skin, cut off the stem ends, coat with a little olive oil and cook wrapped in foil for one hour at 300F. I keep the roasted cloves in the fridge for use as an ingredient

After an hour plus cooling time, I was ready to dive in.  Here is another one of those lineup shots I enjoy so much.

I have seen CB brandy before, but usually in the hands of people who keep all of their earthly possessions tied up in a bandana around a stick. I hope that someday I will be good enough at cooking that I am not exclusively using the cheapest alcohol I can find as ingredients

Back to the livers.  The pound and a half you see cost about $2, and at the time I took this picture I was still too scared to actually open the container.  Eventually, I realized I would have to in order to cook them.

About what I expected, but still pretty funky lookin'

I poured these directly into a colander for a good rinsing before cleaning and trimming them.

Look, there isn't going to be a pleasant photo for anther 2 or 3 and even then you aren't in the clear. If this is not your cup of tea, take a break until the shallot and roasted garlic show up again

I had to do some research on how to clean chicken livers.  It’s mostly just trimming fat and connective tissue off, cutting out any spots that are green with bile, and rinsing away any blood vessels.  Not too appetizing, but not too different than trimming any other meat.

No idea why the livers have a whole color spectrum but I am concerned that if I look into it I will never cook this again

Out of the pound and a half of livers, I ended up with about a quarter pound of throwaway parts due to generous trimming.  The livers went for another rinse and then into some paper towels to dry.

Now that's an ominous shot! All it's missing is a shaky hand slowly reaching out to lift the top sheet and then jumping away in terror

While the livers dried, I chopped up a shallot and 6 or 7 of the smallest roasted garlic cloves.

No really good reason for using the smallest cloves aside from the larger ones being easier to save and use later

These went into a hot saute pan with butter and olive oil for a few minutes before adding the livers and a good amount of salt and black pepper.

Exhaust fan was on high and Kristi was napping. Janet asked to have her seat turned around so she could look out the window instead of watching this, though

After five minutes, a half cup of brandy joined the party.

First time cooking with brandy since our "chicken on the couch" flambe at Christmas in 2007

The brandy cooked off for a couple minutes before I removed the pan from the heat and let cool for ten minutes.

Oddly, the thought of taking a bite out of one of the livers at this point was disgusting to me, but a half hour later I would be tasting the pureed version for seasoning without a second thought

The contents of the pan went into the food processor with a splash of half and half, more salt and pepper, a tablespoon+ of curry powder and a little sugar.  I was really guessing on what spices to use since I saw allspice recommended on a few sites and I am not a huge fan.  So, I went with curry powder for no good reason aside from liking the combination of curry powder and chicken.

Like a chicken liver smoothie, the smoothie of choice for a body like this DB

Instead of pouring directly into the dish it would set in, I saw a good suggestion online to press the puree through a mesh sieve to get a finer consistency.  So that’s what I did.

I expected this to be pretty easy, but it was actually a messy process. Probably lost about 1/8th of the mousse through various mishaps and hijinks

After a lot of pressing and cursing, I ended up with this:

Just under 2 cups of mousse. Much like the head cheese, I had/have no idea how I am going to go through all of this

The mousse needs to set in the fridge for at least a few hours, but according to the intranets, it is at it’s best a couple days later.

Made a decent dent in the mousse so far, hoping to force some visitors to eat it this weekend

The biggest difference between the taste after a few hours versus a couple days is that the less appetizing flavors of chicken livers mellow out a bit.

Didn't make any bread this week, so the mousse has mostly been consumed on triscuits or stone ground wheat crackers. The stone ground wheat ones are better

The flavor of the mousse was on par with some of the best chicken liver varieties I have tasted, which is more a representation of how easy it is to make than my skills.  The liver flavor isn’t overly strong but you definitely know what you are eating.  The less prominent flavors of curry powder, black pepper, and a little sweetness from the brandy and sugar all work really well together.  Really good, and an additional dish to make if I am ever asked to bring charcuterie to a dinner party, which becomes less likely with each additional post like this.  Bonus post-feeding Janet shot time!

70% of her body mass is in her stomach and head, definitely a Ryan

Next week will be a post from Long Beach Island, home to my favorite clammin’ grounds.  Since I’ve covered clams pretty well, I hope to give a shot to butchering and cooking yellow fin tuna collar.  We’ll see if that works out.

Weird Crap I Cook: Italian Liver Sausage

“This isn’t going to have a happy ending.” – Detective William Somerset, Seven

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Last Sunday I headed to the Italian Market with Tim to show him the market where I purchase all of the raw ingredients to make great meals while he criticizes me.  The Italian Market has a couple restaurants, fresh pasta vendors, cheese and cured meat stores, seafood, and a large assortment of butcher shops.  Most of the butchers sell freshly broken down meats, but a few make assorted sausages including my favorite butcher: Cappuccio’s.

Cappuccio’s has a lot of standard butcher shop fare, along with some more exotic items like veal kidneys that got this DB’s mind racing.  However, I still have a little bit of an organ meat hangover from Morocco so I instead focused on their large variety of homemade sausages.

Thought I would need to hit up Google images for this photo but was psyched to see that Carolyn, Kristi's mom, took this shot when they visited in January. I never remember my camera anymore, so the Best of Philly post will likely be all google imaged

Just as I decided to go with their pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sausage, Tim marched in front of me in line and ordered two pounds for himself.  Freaking jerk, givin’ me pressure to adhere to social norms and not order the same thing, I’ll show him.  Which is how I ended up inquiring about the “Sicilian liver sausages” hanging outside of the refrigerated case that looked like this:

The familiar background should be a hint: I bought it


This stuff was hard as a rock and looked extremely dry and deflated.  I, of course, was very intrigued.

Sunday is a slow day at the Italian market and they are mostly just selling the leftovers from the weekend, so the shops staff accordingly.  We weren’t exactly working with Mr. Cappuccio.  This became clear when the sign on the sausages said “Sicilian Liver Sausage” and the butcher said “Northern Italian Sausage” to us when we asked.  As it turned out, the butcher was right about that, he was just wrong about everything else including cooking directions.

Breaking my organ meat hiatus, I bought the smallest strand of sausage that they had and headed home.  A couple days later I returned home from school hungry for lunch (business school makes you feel like a 5 year old again) and decided to cook up the sausage.  Which is what this post is about.

Looked a little like dried chiles. Smelled like dried chiles mixed with wet dog

According to the B team at Cappuccios, the best way to cook the liver sausage is in a pan with water, covered for about 20 minutes.

Every window was open in the apartment and I specifically timed it so that Kristi wouldn’t be home for 6 hours. Serious smells as this really got going

After 20 minutes, I took the lid off annnnnddd… it really didn’t look any different.  I was expecting them to hydrate and plump up but there was none of that, just a lot of funky looking water.

Like I said, that's some funky looking water. Wasn't expecting that. Maybe that color reflects all the good flavors that it was drawing out of the sausages that I couldn't find anywhere when I ate it

After an additional ten minutes, I figured they weren’t going to tenderize much further and pulled them out to trim and test.  First step was removing all of the ties and excess casing.

Honestly, my thought at this point was that it was looking reasonably edible, like charred kielbasa or blood sausage

I cut off a piece and tasted it.

Can't tell whether tis picture looks innocuous or extremely intimidating

When the sausage was described to me, I expected the liver to be pureed and mixed with fat and some sort of cornmeal, rice, or oatmeal.  Instead, its a coarse chopped pig liver with a few spices.  The first bite was rough since the pieces of liver were rubbery, the casing was thick, and it was pretty dry.  The second bite was a better but overall this was not the easy to eat meal I was expecting since I was hoping it would be like Italian scrapple.

At this point, I had no ideas.  I was very close to completely giving up and throwing away the sausage.  Instead, I made the remarkably intelligent decision to add some more ingredients to be ruined by the sausage.  Started it out with throwing red onion and red pepper into a hot pan and letting them caramelize for ten minutes before adding pieces of the sausage.

You can tell from certain pieces in this picture how ridiculously dry the sausage was

After some time cooking together, I added tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of capers.  Because I really like capers and figured the salty/vinegary flavor would help cover up some of the unpleasant strong flavors from the sausage.

I really love capers. Kristi had a caper intervention with me because I kept ruining meals she loved with them

I stirred and simmered this together for 10-15 minutes before shoveling (some of) it into a sub roll, adding a sprinkle (in Peter terms) of cheese, and melting it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

Combine melted cheese and tomato sauce on a sub roll and its always going to look edible. Even if it's hiding some evil

I settled in for my late lunch and started eating.  The first few bites were decent, the sauce had some flavors I like and the hints of liver flavor were good.  However, every second or third bite tasted gamey, irony, and like the intestinal tract.  I have had this experience before with the Italian Market.

This sub was purchased on the same January Italian Market trip with Kristi's parents. It barely even looks like a sandwich in this picture because it got so soggy on the thirty minute walk home

Tripe, beef tongue, and chiles braised together and thrown on a sub roll. Plus some peppers and onions.  The tongue was quite good, but the pieces of tripe tasted very poorly cleaned and like they hadn’t been boiled on their own before braising.  That sub taught me that the occasional bite tasting like a poop chute makes the other bites not worth it.

So, while I ate the whole tripe/tongue sandwich, I decided it was no longer worth it with the liver sausage and gave up a little over halfway through.  All remaining piece of this meal were thrown into a bag and put into the trash outside to help get the smell out of the apartment.  At least the nice folks at Vila Di Roma let me in 2 hours before they opened to pickup a to-go order of meatballs so the trip wasn’t a complete bust.

These are sooooo good. I have to buy them every time I visit the market

A short postscript: I went back to the market this past Saturday since we had friends in town visiting and hit Cappuccio’s to buy some of their edible sausages.  Saturday is the big day for them, so they had their best crew working.  When I asked about the liver sausage and explained my trouble cooking it, the guy behind the counter said cooking in olive oil over water is the way to go.  The sausage won’t ever plump up the way I expected, but the casing and hard chunks of liver will break down a bit.  Regardless, he said 90% of his customers just eat it in it’s dried form like its a Slim Jim, which we both agreed was disgusting.  I won’t be cooking this sausage again.

Nothing beats kicking off a food blog post with a quote from a Morgan Freeman character, but it was my attempt to forewarn that post was a little all over the place and only mildly edible.  ‘Til next time.