Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, mystery cupboard fish parts!

Advertisements

Cleaning out my Cabinets: Smoked Hock Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Smoked Pork Shoulder Ragu

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

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

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

a little of this:

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

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

a healthy dose of evening music:

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

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

and one awesome wedding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Miso Pulled Pork & The Perfect Reuben

During these past few odd weeks in Boston I have passed the time making some very salty taste treats while experimenting with the miso paste from Super 88.  I’ve also been casting lots of nervous glances at the corned beef brisket in my fridge that was rapidly approaching its expiration date.  Figured I would cover two of the most notable salty meals from these ingredients in one post, kind of like my love letter to salt.  It wouldn’t be the first one I’ve written to that foul temptress.

First up is a miso glazed pulled pork.  I got the idea from a food truck that regularly parks near my office and the rave reviews from coworkers of their miso pork.  That and I was addicted to the miso+meat combo after a couple successful rounds of chicken salad with homemade miso mayo.  Mmmmmmmm, salt.

The ingredients for the glaze:

Miso is an extremely dangerous thing to add to my repetoire.  It's vegetable anchovies, or basically fancy flavored salt.  I have put this stuff on pretty much everything and it always makes it better

Miso is an extremely dangerous thing to add to my repetoire.  It’s basically vegetable anchovies.  I have put this stuff on pretty much everything and it consistently makes whatever it is better

A spoonful of miso, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, a little soy sauce, and some maple syrup to caramelize the outside and give some contrasting sweetness.  With a little whisking this ended up about the thickness of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce.  The goal was to lacquer it on early and often to get that borderline spoofy Marge Simpson’s ham-like glaze.

I preheated the oven to 250F and prepped the 5 lb Boston butt for cooking by applying a thick layer of glaze.

The now common window-side natural light shot has been a wonderful addition to this blog in my opinion.  And my opinion is really the key one when it comes to opinions on my posts

The now common window-side natural light shot has been a wonderful addition to this blog in my opinion.  And my opinion is really the key one when it comes to opinions on my blog

The pork went into the oven on a roasting rack with the plan to cook it for 6 hours or so, glazing every hour.  I also flipped it a couple times during cooking to make sure that no sides were deprived of a thick coating of glaze.

The only problem was that I was feeling a little impatient and the pork got stuck at around 170F for what felt like an eternity, while the glaze was making the transitioned from caramelized to burnt.  While pork is fully cooked at that temperature, the most tender and easiest to pull pork is usually in the range of 200F.  So, I basically had a panic attack trying to figure out how to get the temperature up without the whole thing becoming burned to a crisp, leading me to pulling this out at 180F and giving up.

I think it was actually about thirty minutes after this because it was definitely more burned than this.  You are completely out of touch with this blog if you don't think the brunt to a crisp pieces were my favorite part

I think it was actually about thirty minutes after this shot because the crust was definitely more burned than this.  You are completely out of touch with this blog if you don’t think the burnt to a crisp pieces were my favorite part

After letting the pork rest for a half hour, the temperature had climbed to 185F.  I had quietly hoped it would magically climb 20 degrees while resting but it fell a little short.  The shredding and pulling was a little bit tougher due to the lower internal temp and a bit of fat and connective tissue (that would have cooked off at 200F) needed to be cut out as I went.  I still had a decent pile of meat with no other destination than a couple sandwiches and a week of “Pete’s meat bowl” lunches.

I am convinced my coworkers think I am completely insane.  Instead of answering normally with "pulled pork" or "chicken soup" when they say, "that smells good, what is it?", I respond excitedly with "PETE'S MEAT BOWL!!!!" or "SOUPER SUNDAYS Y'ALLL!!!".  I like lunchtime to be an adventure, an adventure in obnoxious behavior

I am convinced my coworkers think I am completely insane.  Instead of answering normally with “pulled pork” or “chicken soup” when they say, “that smells good, what is it?”, I respond excitedly with “PETE’S MEAT BOWL!!!!” or “SOUPER SUNDAYS Y’ALLL!!!”.  I like lunchtime to be an adventure, an adventure in obnoxious behavior

It smelled pretty solid and the samples I took along the way were awesome, but the problem with a pulled pork like this one is I had no idea what to serve it with.  The flavor was definitely asian, but a terriyaki sauce or a BBQ/soy combo would completely overpower the meat.  So, I went simple and just put a bunch of pieces in a bun with a piece of iceberg.  After viewing the following photo, you will agree that this should henceforth be known as “McDonalds-style”.

Definitely on of the worst unveiling shots in a long line of awful ones on this blog.  Looks unappetizing and anonymous

Definitely on of the worst unveiling shots in a long line of awful ones on this blog.  Looks unappetizing and anonymous

The pork came out pretty tasty despite not being as tender as I had hoped it would be.  I feel like I have made this mistake on multiple occasions and yet I will continue to think I can pull the pork before 200F just because I am horribly impatient and hungry.  Anyhoo, although the exterior crust was a little salty, when mixed in with the rest of the meat it was pretty balanced and the glaze was relatively mild.  The miso added a truffle-like umami flavor that matched well with the shoulder meat.  It’s a couple weeks later and I still haven’t figured out what I would serve this on if I made it again, but the leader in the clubhouse is a flour tortilla with a vinegar slaw and a smear of duck sauce.  So now you know.

On to the “perfect” reuben.

Corned beef and cabbage was a relatively common meal in the Ryan household growing up.  We ate enough of it that I was obsessed with eating the white pieces of fat when I was young, and unlike my continued obsession with baking sheet crispies, I now recognize how disgusting that was.  Moving on, we always had leftovers since Mommy Ryan would buy an extra large corned beef brisket with the intention of serving reubens the following day.  Her reubens were pretty incredible, and made the reuben a top 3 sandwich for me.  Unfortunately, over the years I’ve learned that 90% of reubens served in restaurants are crap due to presliced/precooked deli corned beef.  It has to start with thick sliced tender corned beef brisket, no exceptions.  So with Kristi gone for the weekend, that’s where I started.

The deli slicer is the kitchen appliance I most often insert insert into love songs when babbling/singing to myself in the kitchen.  The initial courtship was too fast, our relationship is up and down, and eventually I will lose a limb because of her, but dammit, my deli slicer deserves to be immortalized in a love song

The deli slicer is the kitchen appliance I most often insert into love songs when babbling/singing to myself in the kitchen.  The initial courtship was too fast, our relationship is up and down, and eventually I will lose a limb because of her, but dammit, my deli slicer deserves to be immortalized in a love song

The corned beef brisket loses about a third of its weight during the boiling process and takes about 3.5 hours to become fork tender.  Because the slicer is at its best when the meat is cold and firm, I boiled the brisket on a Friday night with the intention of using it Saturday.  After letting the meat cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes, I transferred it to the fridge to spend the night.  The shot above is from the following morning.

In the universe of sandwiches, I think reubens are relatively unique in that every one uses the exact same combination of ingredients yet the taste and quality varies widely.  I could order a turkey, cheddar, lettuce, and mayo on a sub (#2 on my sammiches list) at pretty much any deli in America and it would come out delicious almost every time.  The same number of ingredients for a reuben ends up an abomination in the hands of most restaurants.  It’s really not complicated to get right, but I’ll run through it for any aspiring delicatessens.

It all starts with rye bread (seedless for me):

One of the best things (/worst for me) about having Janet around is that we have real softened butter available in the house due to our constant attempts to fatten her up.  It's certainly fattened me up

One of the best things (slash worst for me) about having Janet around is that we have real softened butter available in the house due to our constant attempts to fatten her up.  It’s certainly fattened me up

The bottom slice of rye is given a good slathering of thousand island dressing and the top slice is spread with butter for griddling.  I know it looks like a lot of butter, but that’s how Mommy Ryan taught me, so blame her.

Time to get the corned beef involved.

The container of corned beef had an extremely unfortunate aroma when opened but it went away shortly after opening.  No idea why it happened, but it wasn't a smell I like associated with my food.  I guess that's what happens when you pickle beef

The container of corned beef had an extremely unfortunate aroma when opened but it went away shortly after opening.  No idea why it happened, but it wasn’t a smell I like associated with my food.  I guess that’s what happens when you pickle beef

I sliced the brisket a little over 1/8th of an inch thick and that stack represents three thick slices of meat.  I can’t state strongly enough that it is not worth it to make this sandwich if you plan to use sliced corned beef from the deli counter unless you are near an awesome Jewish delicatessen that makes their own meats.  I never speak poorly of Boars Head, but I think the meat they use for their corned beef is a roast cut, not brisket, which ruins the texture and flavor.  That’s right, you’re not even allowed to use Boars Head.

The order of the next couple ingredients is up to the maker, but I of course have a strong opinion.  So bring on the sauerkraut!

I had some sauerkraut in my fridge in a tupperware that I tasted before buying some for this.  Tasted fine, so I used it on all reubens made in the following days.  I recently realized it was leftover from an Oktoberfest party last fall.  Sooo, yeah, turns out that stuff doesn't go bad quickly

I had some sauerkraut in my fridge in a tupperware that tasted fine.  I used it on all reubens made in the following days before realizing it was leftover from an Oktoberfest party last fall.  Sooo, yeah, turns out that stuff doesn’t go bad quickly.  It’s still in my fridge

I will not debate this point (nor does anyone else care enough to do so), but the cheese has to be melted over the sauerkraut to prevent the bread from becoming a soggy mess.  The cheese has to serve as a barrier.  DO NOT DEBATE THIS WITH ME!

Now a few slices of deli Swiss cheese to make that barrier.

Here's a little thing: when I was a kid I called deli American "Holy Cheese" because it had tiny holes and it was delicious.  But I hated Swiss because the holes were too big.  I was a picky little sh*t

Here’s a little thing: when I was a kid I called deli American “Holy Cheese” because it had tiny holes that I loved and it was also generally delicious.  But, I hated Swiss because the holes were too big.  I was a picky little sh*t

With the Swiss cheese loaded, the buttered rye slice goes on top, butter side out.

Mommy Ryan always cooked these in a pan grilled cheese-style, and I have always had success doing the same.  But, a few years ago I used our panini press with the flat griddle plates to make a reuben and realized how much better life could be.  Perfectly even griddling and a little weight on the top half to keep the large pile of ingredients inside compacted.  I’ve never looked back (though I also hadn’t made reubens between then and this most recent run).

The press was preheated and a little butter was melted on the bottom griddle since the bottom slice of bread was dry on the outside.  Then I closed the press.

Side view of the panini press working its magic.  I bought this panini press for Kristi along with a paring knife for her second birthday while we were dating.  I am pretty sure she had no interest in either and recognized I was buying for myself with the eventual hope of merging our possessions.  Lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married

Side view of the panini press working its magic.  I bought this panini press for Kristi along with a paring knife for her second birthday while we were dating.  I am pretty sure she had no interest in either and recognized I was buying for myself with the eventual hope of merging our possessions. Lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married

At a medium heat setting, it takes about 8-10 minutes to get the bread golden brown and crispy.

Yep, hungry again.  The press is a pain to get out and use but never, ever disappoints.  I'm not really sure why the act of removing a small appliance from a cupboard for use seems so annoying but it really is

The press is a pain to get out and use but never, ever disappoints.  I’m not really sure why the act of removing a small appliance from a cupboard for use seems so annoying but it really is

Remove from the press and eat.  After pausing to take a picture by your window, ‘course.

I salute you reuben.  Hell of a sandwich

Yep, hungry again.  I salute you reuben.  Hell of a sandwich

No need to deconstruct the flavor of this reuben, just know it was the reuben of your dreams.  Crispy bread and the sweet dressing/salty beef/tangy sauerkraut combo, all smothered in melted swiss cheese.  Sigh.  Airplane seatbelts are elastic these days, right?

And that’s it.  Heading to DC and may fit in some food exploring this weekend.

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.

The Cassoulet: Day Three

The final post of the epic three-part cassoulet series.  It’s been exhausting, and I’m looking forward to posting about normal (abnormal) stuff again.  Can’t say that writing about this massive cauldron of meat and beans has made me feel less like post-holiday bloated.  Let’s wrap this up.

Sunday

At 7:00 the morning after it headed into the oven, with Janet just starting to stir, I pulled the pot of duck confit and put the duck legs in a tupperware container.

Not visually appealing, but pretty remarkable.  The duck meat was falling apart and the thick fatty skin had rendered away to almost nothing.  Insert self deprecating New Years resolution comment here

Not visually appealing, but pretty remarkable.  The duck meat was falling apart and the thick fatty skin had rendered away to almost nothing.  Insert self deprecating New Years resolution comment here

The combined smell of the duck, pork fat, and olive oil was pretty awesome, if not borderline unpleasant upon first waking up in the morning.  Duck confit can keep for a couple weeks, if not longer, when refrigerated packed in the cooking fat, but since I planned to use it later in the day I didn’t take that step.  The tupp headed into the fridge and the fat was reserved and sealed into two large mason jars for the next time I want to confit something.

In order to get the fresh bread crumbs for the cassoulet crust a little dried out, I threw half a loaf of ciabatta into the food processor and laid it out on a plate to sit all day.

I referenced Molto Mario last week and the thinly veiled contempt for guests who asked healthy food questions.  My favorite outright dismantling by Mario was when he made someone look like a complete ass for asking if he was going to let his breadcrumbs get dried out before using them.  Well, um, take THAT Mario!

I referenced Molto Mario last week and my love for his thinly veiled contempt for health-conscious guests.  My favorite outright dismantling by Mario was when he made someone look like a complete ass for asking if he was going to let his breadcrumbs get dried out before using them.  Well, um, so, take THAT Mario!

In a change of direction, the meat and bean ragout came out of the fridge looking, well, a little cement-like.

Looked like a solid block, like you could build the foundation of a house off of it

Looked like a solid block, like you could build the foundation of a house off of it

Beyond letting the flavors come together and rest, the refrigeration allowed the fat to settle on top and solidify.  Made it easier to scrape some of the excess fat off and throw it away.

Once the fat skimming was done, I let the ragout come up a bit closer to room temperature so I could deal with the unenviable task of sorting through it by hand.  That’s right, I had to scrub up like a surgeon and pull out every nasty bit, bone, and herb bouquet to get rid of the inedible stuff.  Lets fast forward to removing that first bony chunk of pork.

I've done a lot of unpleasant things for this blog, and this hold sorting process was up there.  I'm just glad no one knew that I had to do this until now

The top shows how awful I was at skimming fat off the top when the fat looked exactly like white beans.  Also, I’ve done a lot of unpleasant things for this blog, and this whole sorting process was up there.  I’m just glad no one knew that I had to do this until now

The bouquet garni and pork skin bundles went right into the trash (after far more searching to find that 4th skin bundle than I wish to discuss).  The garlic head was reserved for later use and the bones/skin/cartilage were separated from the edible hock and back meat then tossed.  I cubed the pork into bite sized pieces and was left with this decent sized pile.

IMG_2088

The hocks were a complete disappointment, far less meat than I remembered was hiding amidst the bone and skin.  Sure, the hocks made the whole process feel authentic, but I think I’ll stick with shoulder meat next time

The remaining bean, vegetable, and salty pork ragout went back onto low heat to slowly get back to a more viscous consistency.  While that heated, I filled the food processor with the poached salt pork from the day before, the squeezed out contents of the reserved garlic head, a couple cloves of fresh garlic and a splash of white wine.

IMG_2097

Never really considered putting meat in the processor before.  I did something somewhat similar a few weeks ago when I put chili through the blender for use as a pasta sauce.  This seemed far less questionable

After a good couple spins, I had a meat paste the likes of which I’d never considered before.

Couldn't even fathom tasting this, but seemed like an excellent flavor addition to the mixture on the stovetop

Couldn’t even fathom tasting this, but seemed like an excellent flavor addition to the mixture on the stovetop

I stirred the meat paste into the reheating bean mixture and, once it was folded in, added the pork back to the ragout.

Gives some context on how large the previous bowl full o' meat was.  I am 60% positive that a Paleo restaurant called "Bowl Full 'O Meat" would be a huge success in Boston

Gives some context on how large the previous bowl full o’ meat was. I am 60% positive that a Paleo restaurant called “Bowl Full ‘O Meat” would be a huge success in Boston

With the meat stirred back in, I let the cassoulet simmer for 15-20 minutes.  While that bubbled, I preheated the oven to 400F and took the duck legs out of the fridge for baking.  One more shot of the now-cooled legs nicely arranged on a baking dish.

Again, grey/brown meat does this stuff a complete disservice.  Duck confit is so freaking tasty

Again, grey/brown meat does this stuff a complete disservice.  Duck confit is so freaking tasty

After 20 minutes in the oven, the meat was sizzling and heated all the way through, so the thighs came out of the oven and the temp went down to 325F.  After waiting a few minutes for the meat to cool slightly, the meat pulled easily off the bone in large chunks.  With the meat shredded, I chopped the skin into very small pieces so that they would add flavor/fat without noticeable texture.

I wish the skin had been crispy so that I could eat handfuls of it.  Next time around I might do the shorter version confit that makes for crispier skin.  Crispy poultry skin is fat dude kryptonite

I wish the skin had been crispy so that I could eat handfuls of it.  Next time around I might do the shorter version confit that makes for crispier skin.  Crispy poultry skin is fat dude kryptonite

With the duck shredded and the cassoulet mixture bubbling on the stovetop, it was time for the final round of assembly.  I ladled off half of the contents of the pot and reserved in a bowl then began the layering.

Most of the liquid had cooked off, but this was still only half of the pork and bean ragout.  This ended up being an effing cauldron of food

Most of the liquid had cooked off, but this was still only half of the pork and bean ragout.  This ended up being an effing cauldron of food

Ahhhhh good god that looks freaking ridiculous.  Just a thick layer of shredded tender pork fat poached duck.  Reediculous

Ahhhhh good god that looks freaking ridiculous. Just a thick layer of shredded tender pork fat poached duck.  Reediculous

The other half of the pork/bean ragout and a couple cups of duck stock over the top.  The instruction to add stock looked incredibly questionable at this point

The other half of the pork/bean ragout and a couple cups of duck stock over the top.  The instruction to add stock looked incredibly questionable at this point

Big Yellow headed back into the 325F oven for another hour and a half.

While the cassoulet cooked, I pulled out the bin of rabbit sausage which had a solid 24 hours of flavor meshing at that point.

About how it looked going into the fridge, guess I just wanted to remind you.  I guess it carried a whole lot of sausage stank with it at this point, so that was new

About how it looked going into the fridge, guess I just wanted to remind you.  It also carried a whole lot of sausage stank with it at this point, so that was new

Like a Christmas morning in the Ryan household, the sausage meat was slapped into patties and pan fried until well browned on both sides.

Sausage patties, a love affair that began with the college cafeteria breakfast buffet.  Horrifying for you, but everyone needs to embrace their inner fat kid and order eggs benedict with sausage patties instead of Canadian bacon at least once in their life

Sausage patties, a love affair that began with the college cafeteria breakfast buffet.  Horrifying for you, but everyone needs to embrace their inner fat kid and order eggs benedict with sausage patties instead of Canadian bacon at least once in their life

The patties were transferred to a pile of paper towels after cooking to drain, and cut in half once cooled.

After the hour and a half of cooking was up, the almost complete cassoulet came out of the oven and I reduced the oven temp to 275F.

The color, less liquid, everything was all good signs at this point

Darkened color, less liquid, even a little delicious looking fat coagulating on top.  Lots of good signs at this point

Per the delicious sounding instructions, I gently stirred the skin that formed on the surface back into the top of the cassoulet, careful not to disrupt the layer of duck confit in the center.  Once the top was well mixed again, I pressed the sausage pieces into  the cassoulet, covering them as much as possible.

I wish every recipe ended wrapped with "shove some sausage in there".  Like this cauldron of food wasn't rich and decadent enough

I wish every recipe ended wrapped with “shove some sausage in there”.  Like this cauldron of food wasn’t rich and hearty enough beforehand.  How the eff are there any skinny French people?

Then a thick coating of fresh (slightly staled) breadcrumbs and a solid drizzle of olive oil over the top.  You know, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more decadent.

An appropriate time to point out how close we are to the full capacity of Big Yellow.  A 9.5 Quart capacity dutch oven.  I am still amazed that this was finished in less than 3 days without bringing it to a soup kitchen

An appropriate time to point out how close we are to the full capacity of Big Yellow.  A 9.5 quart capacity dutch oven.  I am still amazed that this was finished in less than 3 days without bringing it to a soup kitchen

This headed back into the oven for another hour of cooking during which time I reflected on how many minutes I had spent on it in the previous three days and whether it could possible be worth it.  I got an additional bit of time after it came out of the oven and rested for 20 minutes.

Had no patience for the whole "break the crust at least three times" crap.  The Pete Is On, disregarding people who know what they're doing (like Julia Child) since 2010

Had no patience for the whole “break the crust at least three times” crap.  ThePeteIsOn.com, disregarding people who know what they’re doing (like Julia Child) since 2010

I’d imagine that people who make the crazy cakes on cake shows rarely want to eat their cakes; they wouldn’t want to know something that took so long was just OK.  Also, I have never understood the appeal of cake shows.  Every cake seems impossible and the car ride is always hazardous to the cake; how many times do we need to watch this?

Anyway, what I am getting at is that I had some anxiety about tasting the cassoulet.  Especially since my meat orgy in a bowl was being upstaged by Taylor’s delicious seitan bourguignon.  But I had to barrel ahead.

First discouraging step was realizing that the casosulet doesn’t come out in the perfectly layered, lasagna-like portions you would hope for.  More just a cafeteria line spoonful.

IMG_2147

Seitan bourguignon bottom, cassoulet top right, undercooked green beans at the top left.  This is a fair view of the cassoulet; it plated like a thanksgiving dinner that has been chopped up and stirred together into one pile.  Whuppah Conman style!!!

Alright, where to begin.  Or end.  The beans had cooked to the consistency of mashed potatoes whipped with lots of cream and butter, without the cream and butter.  They had a silky, uniform consistency.  The flavor was heavily meaty throughout, with the duck broth and little bites of salty pork throughout.  In general, you had no idea what you were eating at any point since the stewed pancetta, salt pork, hock, and back meat all had the same texture.

The only two items that were easy to discern were the sausage and duck.  The sausage was fuerte, with the most flavorful aspects coming from the sweet bourbon, bay leaves, and allspice.  It was so strong that it overpowered everything else in a single bite, making those mouthfuls with big chunks of sausage my least favorite.  On the flipside, the duck was the best part by far.  Huge chunks of rich, tender, shredded duck making every forkful they participated in delicious.

And finally, it’s all done.  I’d make it again, despite the time commitment.  I’d buy sausage, stock, and stick with just shoulder meat instead of backs/hocks next time.  The only area I wouldn’t skimp on was the homemade duck confit which was worth every second.  Pretty delicious on the whole.

Will try to get a post up before I head to 5 days of fish market exploration in Eleuthra.  I think Kristi is referring to it as a family vacation.

The Cassoulet: Day Two

First, some pictures I forgot to add to the previous post.

The pork for the cassoulet spent Friday night well salted and peppered to draw any excess liquid out.  True to the overall idea of “stuff lying around in a French farmhouse”, the pork cuts weren’t of the luxurious variety: hocks and meat from the backbone.

Hocks are such an unpleasant term for pig ankles.  Actually, let's stick with hocks

Ham hocks.  “Hocks” is such an unpleasant term for pig ankles.  Actually, let’s stick with hocks

Country style ribs.  Anything labeled as "country style" at the supermarket means you are getting leftovers.  Their were bones sticking out of these pieces in all directions, not sure how there is any relation to "ribs" going on here

Country style ribs.  Anything labeled as “country style” at the supermarket means you are getting leftovers.  Their were bones sticking out of these pieces in all directions, not sure how there is any relation to “ribs” going on here

Now, I was really going to bed.  This time for realsies guys.

Saturday

These headers are starting to feel like The Shining or something.

First step of the day was straining off the duck stock and reserving the liquid.  It got gooood and gelatinous overnight.

I try to strain my broth through cheese cloth every time and always end up screwing it up and burning my hands on the hot soaking cloth.  So it ends up being foggy, partially strained broth.  Every time

I try to strain my broth through cheese cloth every time and always end up screwing it up and burning my hands on the hot soaking cloth.  So it ends up being foggy, partially strained broth.  Every time.  My financial planner shakes his head at my annual cheesecloth budget

After draining the liquid from the (doubled in size) fully soaked beans and moving them to the fridge, the next step was getting the salt pork ready for the stew.  First up was separating the 3/4lb slab of into its component parts: fat, skin, and meat.

IMG_1969

Took Momere’s advice and sought out the meatiest slab of salt pork I could find.  When in doubt, always trust the centenarian who actually used to haggle with people in the process of taking apart an animal.  Not sure if I’d be able to get in touch with Ms. Smithfield or Mr. Hormel

The skin and meat had a few different roles in the cassoulet, so half the meat and all of the skin headed into a pan covered with water for a solid 45-60 minute simmer.  The remaining meat went back into the fridge and the fat headed into the freezer.

Next item up was a little off script: ground snowshoe hare.  That’s some sort of wild rabbit according to my research.  Oh, and the label on the bag of it I was given gave some hints too.

Of course this came drom Uncle Billy.  He got a couple snowshoe hare last year and ground up the meat with bacon fat and seasoning.  I needed to make some slight modifications to make sure it matched the meal

Of course this came from Uncle Billy.  He got a couple snowshoe hare last year and ground up the meat with bacon fat and seasoning.  You know the Hyundai Sonata, “Why?” commercial with the little kid bugging his neighbor?  I generally think that is eerily similar to how I ask Billy food questions

Most recipes for a traditional French Toulouse-style sausage consist of pork, pork fat, garlic, allspice, fresh bay leaves, and cognac.  As usual, I freelanced a bit and assumed that French farmhouse life = lots of hunting and eating rabbit.  So, I decided to build off of the rabbit and pork base Bill provided and add in additional ingredients to make it more Toulouse-y.

First step was peeling the garlic and cubing the pork fat trimmings that, along with the salt pork fat, would supplement the fat content of the sausage.  Rabbit meat is very lean so even with the bacon Billy added, it still needed a lot more fat to be closer to the authentic pork sausages used normally.

IMG_1978

Stop and Shop Dedham doesn’t exactly have Sam The Butcher working behind the counter.  It doesn’t help that I whisper when I request odd ingredients, but I am positive he was over 90% deaf and considering punching me.  When he told me he didn’t have pork fat and I pointed to the table of pork fat behind him you would have thought I called his wife ugly or something

In order to keep fat from becoming mushy in the grinding process, the pork trimmings joined the salt pork fat in the freezer for about an hour before being prepped.  With the pork near frozen, the fat and garlic went into the meat grinder with the fine grind plate to be added to the ground rabbit meat.

Looked like a mix of meat and fat on the board, but it was mostly just fat.  Which is good since rabbit has none of it's own and only what Billy added

Looked like a mix of meat and fat on the board, but it was mostly just fat.  This is still about half the fat that would go into a similarly sized traditional Toulouse sausage, the recipes I saw were a Pete-like 40% fat

With the garlic and fat fully ground, I lifted the bowl into the mixer area and inserted the paddle mixer into the Kitchenaid.  I added 4-5 finely chopped fresh bay leaves, a couple ounces of bourbon (didn’t have cognac), a half teaspoon of allspice, and some salt and pepper to the bowl and left it to mix for a few minutes.  Once the liquid was well folded in and the ingredients were dispersed, the sausage looked like this.

Probably doesn't look that different to you, but the meat was a lot lighter and way more fragrant with all of the spices

Probably doesn’t look that different to you, but the meat was a lot lighter and way more fragrant with all of the spices.  I read that you should take food fotos with lots of natural light, hence this experimental shot by the window.  I”d give this shot a “meh”

The sausage headed into the fridge to allow the flavors to come together for 24 hours.

It was time to get the main event started in earnest.  Big Yellow hit the stove top with a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium/high to brown the hocks and the cubes of country-style rib meat.  You’ve seen me brown meat before, so lets cut to the result.

Hocks still not winning you over?  You've got some serious willpower, sir or madam.  I'd imagine you'll need a snack or something though, no one can avoid hunger looking at that plate

Hocks still not winning you over?  You’ve got some serious willpower, sir or madam.  I’d imagine you’ll need a snack or something though, no one can avoid hunger looking at that plate

With the meat out, a pile of mirepete (refresher: mirepoix + garlic & salty pork) went into big yellow.

Quarter pound of pancetta and some of the diced salt pork rounded out the mirepete.  I really think this whole mirepete thing is gonna catch on!  I am pretty sure I overheard someone using the term on The Chew the other day

Quarter pound of pancetta and some of the diced salt pork rounded out the mirepete.  I really think this whole “mirepete” thing is gonna catch on!  I am pretty sure I overheard someone using the term on The Chew the other day.  How awful is The Chew?  I miss the good old days of Batali being condescending to his guests on Molto Mario

After a few minutes cooking together, I deglazed with a solid pour of white wine and added a couple chopped peeled tomatoes and a whole head of garlic.

I actually did let this cook as shown for a minute or two because I forgot about it, so for once your terror at the unincorporated ingredient shot would be merited

I actually did let this cook as shown for a minute or two because I forgot about it, so for once your terror at the unincorporated ingredient shot would be merited

While that simmered for a few minutes, I finished tying up two of the items that would cook and rest with the cassoulet for the next 18 hours but would be easy to find and remove (hopefully): The bouquet garni and pork skin.

Couple stems of celery, thyme, parsley, and fresh bay leaves.  Looks nicer than anything I normally cook with

Couple stems of celery, thyme, parsley, and fresh bay leaves.  Looks nicer than anything I normally cook with

Pork skin bundles, much more par for my course.  I struggled with tying up these slipper little m f'ers and Kristi entered the kitchen as I was about to whip one that kept unravelling across the kitchen.  Luckily, she helped, and we used teamwork to get these done

Pork skin bundles, much more par for my course.  I struggled with tying up these slippery little emeff’ers and Kristi entered the kitchen as I was about to whip one that kept unravelling across the kitchen.  Luckily, she helped, and we used teamwork to get these done.  Teamwork!

With the bundles all tied up, it was time for everything to head back into the dutch oven.  The browned pork, skin bundles, and bouquet garni went back in with the mirepete and were completely covered with 8 cups of the duck stock.

IMG_2019

It was good to no longer have to stare at the hocks, they were starting to get to me.   Not because I think they are gross, but the browning process didn’t do great things to their appearance and tightened the skin

I brought the pot to a boil and then turned it down to a simmer for an hour and a half.

After an hour and a quarter, I put the beans into a large pot, covered with water, and set over high heat to par boil.  Par boiling is a controversial topic, it’s like the fracking debate of this blog; I don’t really get it so it makes me uncomfortable, but the experts (Joycie) makes me feel like an *ss for opposing it.  Joycie has made it pretty clear that my lack of a 3 minute par boil on Momere Beans means she would never eat them, she considers it that essential.  So, with all recipes I was referencing recommending a par boil, I decided to break my opposition and boiled them for a few.

Once that dark moment (3 moments to be exact) in my cooking life had passed, I drained the beans and added them to Big Yellow.

IMG_2034

This was intended to give some perspective on how much two pounds of beans is.  It looked like a lot when I soaked them and looked like a lot when I added them.  Had to trust the internets though

With the beans and meat simmering together for another two hours, it was time to get started on the duck confit.

A quick aside: to confit means to cook slowly in fat, usually goose or duck fat.  Kind of like a low temperature fry or poaching in oil.  The idea is that once the meat has been cured and the salt has flushed out all of the excess liquid, the fat will fill those spaces and leave rich, tender, succulent meat.  And it does work that way.  On the other hand, my gripe is that a one cup container of duck fat from Dartagnan will run you $7-8 and I haven’t been doing much poultry rendering lately.  So I decided to go off the grid and confit in a combination of olive oil and pork fat.

I started by heating equal parts olive oil and lard (about a cup and a half of each).

IMG_2041

Yep, gross that this looks tasty to me.  I fully plan to straighten out my eating, go to the gym more regularly, and sleep more starting 1/2/13 and ending some time around 1/6/13

The white lard is from Brother Tim and the darker lard is from Cuttys, which makes me think Cutttys has a little bacon fat blended in with theirs.  Not that it really matters.

With the oil heating to a temperature far below frying but where the fats would melt and blend, I started prepping the overnight cured duck legs for the confit.  First step was a light wiping and rinsing of the excess salt and seasonings from the outside of the thighs.

IMG_2047

ThePeteIsOn.com, showcasing odd cooking techniques, unusual meats, and disgustingly long fingers since 2010

There were seven thighs to confit, so the first layer of four were nestled into the bottom of ‘Lil Blue then covered with about 1/3 of the melted fat.  The remaining three thighs were arranged on top and completely covered with the remaining fat.

Dats a good fit.  Not sure if I was doing anything right at this point but that's why I'm lovable!  Right?  Anyone?

Dats a good fit.  Not sure if I was doing anything right at this point but that’s why I’m lovable!  Right?  Anyone?

It was around 7PM at this point and we had places to be (we are very popular), so the confit headed into a 185F oven to cook for the next 12 hours.  Big Yellow was also ready to come off the heat and slowly come down to room temperature.

IMG_2068

Decent start.  Again, looked like a meaty hambone soup but smelled like so much more.  I was hoping this would end up being more like a shepherds pie than a stew/soup, so I was happy the liquid content seemed to be diminishing

With the cooking complete for day 2, we headed out for the evening and I secretly (loudly) started stressing about the following day.  When we got home, the cooled down ragout headed into the fridge to cool completely overnight and we got to sleep with the intoxicating aroma of cooking duck filling our noses, clothes, and bedding.

The denouement next week.