Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Italian Sausage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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., 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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, 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.


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.

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.

Uncle Timmy’s Stupid Recipes for Jerks: Kielbasa

(PPnote: Our first guest blogger, none other than Brother Tim. He’s Janet’s uncle. Hopefully guest bloggin’ will be a way for me to post more regularly without losing my job)

While this is my first time writing for this blog, it’s not my first appearance. I’ve silently sat by while being vilified over the years that this blog has existed. However, there have been some kind words said about me in the past. So when Peter (from here on out known as PP) asked me to guest-write, I jumped at the opportunity.

PP and I have learned how to cook together over the years. The main difference between our styles is that he cooks blindly, while I pretty much always cook from a recipe. When we end up in the kitchen together, it frequently escalates to raised voices and dead-arm punches (I deliver them, and I’m not proud of it… he’s just soooo annoying). Many a holiday would have been ruined if we didn’t have such an understanding family.

I first learned of PP’s aversion to recipes when I gave him what I thought was the finest Christmas gift ever- the very extensive and very expensive Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipes… his response was “yeah… I don’t really cook from recipes.” What a gracious gift receiver. He eventually did use it- for Janet to stand on when she’s in her go-pod.

PPnote: Look, I got some good use out of it in this role, learned how to properly debone a leg of lamb from it, and Kristi references it all the time.  I ask for driving directions, am terrible at home improvement projects and can’t throw sports balls; can’t we just let my insistence on cooking my way be my tiniest shred of manhood?

People tend to assume that since I’m a woodworker, musician, and cook, that I’m creative. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can count the number of original thoughts I’ve had in my life on one hand. So I’m a slave to recipes. The other day I made scrambled eggs with chopped anchovies and parmesan, and actually consulted a cookbook (it was delicious, try it).

PPnote: Uncle Timmy shamelessly blaming me for a meal he wanted no co-credit on.  He has gotten slimmer.  I have not.  Jerk.

Recently, occasional blog personalities JT and Jill moved into a house that has a wine cellar. Since they aren’t oenophiles (PPnote: nice word choice, nerd), I promptly announced that I would be taking control of said cellar. Cool, dark, temperature and humidity controlled… perfect for curing and salting meats. I had prosciutto and salami on the brain, with no idea where to start. And it appealed to my twisted mindset that the longer it takes to prepare, the more complicated the process is, the more I want to make it.

Apparently, the craft of smoking, salting, and curing meats is known as “Charcuterie”. So I picked up the bible on Charcuterie, written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn. It is a fascinating and intimidating book, so I’m taking baby steps…

I expect to get a lot of mileage out of this book.  Its got everything from pickles to prosciutto.

I started with pastrami- I wish I had documented it because it was unbelievably delicious. But I didn’t. So let’s move on to kielbasa.

A little background: Mom Ryan is an excellent cook, but no mother can be expected to crank out a from-scratch dinner seven nights a week. When she didn’t have time or just wasn’t feeling it, she’d turn to the processed food aisle. Fish cakes and spaghetti were one favorite (see January 2011 post); Kielbasa with Mac and Cheese was another… and yes, I capitalized that.

Hilshire Farms Kielbasa paired with Velveeta Shells and Cheese is still my ultimate comfort food. It’s an odd pairing, but it works. If I ever kill PP in the kitchen over an argument about how to slice an onion and am on death row, this will be my choice for my last meal.

So when I saw a kielbasa recipe in the Charcuterie book, I realized I had to try it. Okay, enough chit-chat. As Walter White would say, “let’s cook”.

It was really weird taking pictures of food in the grocery store. I don’t think it’s illegal but it felt like I was doing something wrong. PS this isn’t a magical hidden section of the supermarket, it’s a magical combination of two photos

I’ve made sausage in the past, but had a lot to learn. There are two types of sausage; fresh sausage, which is meat ground with spices and stuffed into casings (like breakfast sausage or Italian sausage), and emulsified sausage, in which the fat and meat are uniformly dispersed in a fine texture (like hot dogs, bratwurst, and- you guessed it- kielbasa). Mayonnaise and hollandaise are also emulsions. I pretty much copied this paragraph from the book.

I started by dicing and partially freezing 1 ¼ lbs beef chuck roast and a pound of pork fat. The freezing makes it easier to grind. Next I ground them together through the large die grinding attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer. After struggling for about ten minutes and wondering why it wasn’t coming through, I realized I forgot to install the cutters. Brilliant.

The last time this Kitchen-aid mixer appeared on this blog it was stuffing a pigs stomach. Also, I can’t stand it when PP complains about his camera, but I’m going to have to do the same. I could not get a decent photo.

Next the coarse ground meat went into the freezer. The authors stress that everything must be kept cold to achieve a proper emulsion. So I froze everything- the mixing bowl, the mixing paddles, even the grinding cutters and dies. I wasn’t taking any chances.

After the meat had frozen a little, I mixed it with salt, sugar, and pink salts. Pink salts are a mixture of regular table salt and nitrite. Nitrites are dangerous to consume in large quantities, so it’s not sold in stores and must be handled appropriately. The mixture is dyed pink so it’s not confused with regular salts. It gives cured meats their pink color, provides flavor, and, most importantly, kills bacteria, especially the kind responsible for botulism. Botulism is bad. I understand why pink salts are required for dry cures, in which the meat is never cooked, but wasn’t sure why this recipe called for it. I’m guessing for color and preservative properties. Whatever, I just do what I’m told.

Normally I wouldn’t allow anything with that kind of warning anywhere near my kitchen.

I ground the meat mixture through the fine die along with crushed ice, which seemed bizarre to me. Next I mixed it on high speed with pepper, mustard, and garlic powder for four minutes. Then added some dry milk powder and mixed for another two minutes.


Even more appetizing. I swear this could be a video. After the dry milk mixture went in the mix really stiffened up. It stayed like this for several minutes.

And into the casings, with difficulty…  The casings are natural hog casings packed in salt and need to be rinsed and soaked for several hours before stuffing. I started with my old school sausage stuffer.

As I was wrestling this 50 pound contraption up my very narrow basement stairs, shirtless and sweating, I looked up to see my friend Jamie standing at my kitchen door with a look of horror on her face. I quickly donned a shirt and she was gracious enough to let an awkward moment pass. There might have been acoustic Bon Jovi playing really loud on the stereo, too.

It worked but it took forever. The mix kept squeezing out of the top of the press.

I have the attachment for my mixer but the authors warn that using a machine can break the emulsion and the mixture will “collapse”… whatever that means. After stuffing one link with the manual stuffer, I decided to risk it. So I moved on to the kitchen aid stuffer. That too was a pain. So I stuffed the third link with a simple pastry bag. While the results from the pastry bag weren’t as professional looking, it was by far the easiest method.

I recommend this method if you’re starting down the emulsified sausage path.

I tied the sausages into rings and put them in the fridge to dry overnight. By the time I finished cleaning up my mess it was morning and time for the smoker. The sausages went on the smoker at 180 degrees for several hours over hickory, mesquite, and apple wood chips. When they reached 150 degrees I dunked them in an ice bath, sealed them individually, and put them in the fridge.

Going into the smoker. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this Yoder smoker. It weighs about 400 lbs and will last a lifetime.

Four hours later. Lookin’ good!! That’s a thermometer cable. I just started using instant read thermometers a couple years ago and have never looked back. An indispensable tool.

To serve, I broiled them the way Mom used to, sliced them, and served with Dijon mustard. They were outstanding. Just incredibly delicious, fresh kielbasa, verified by the rate at which it was devoured by friends.

Okay, not the best presentation, but that’s not really my forte. Delicious.

I’d make it again, but will plan the stuffing part a little better. It was a nightmare. There are a lot more recipes I want to tackle from this book, and hopefully my annoying little brother will ask me back to share them.

(PPnote: Sigh. I wish he had written an awful blog that I could rub in his stupid jerk face and make Mom include on our Christmas card update, but this was kinda awse. I look forward to the next one and hope you do too)

Weird Crap I Cook: Ponce

I’m not sure whether this is a good thing, but unlike the usual 72 hours from “that sounds interesting” to research & cooking, I planned to cook this meal a few weeks in advance.  The logic actually worked backwards: I had to be in NYC for a fantasy baseball draft Sunday, so we decided to hang in NJ with Tim’s smoker (and some people) Saturday, and THEN I found something to cook at the grocery store.  Good old fashioned pork maws.

“Maw is a much more appealing term than stomach!” – savvy pork advertiser.  These were coming out of the butcher’s area chopped in half and I had to ask for a whole one.  I got my usual perplexed look from the folks in white coats

I’d recently seen the Bizarre Foods New Orleans episode that showed a sausage stuffed hog stomach that was smoked, braised and carved like a roast.  Sign me up!  It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the stomach and after finding minimal documentation online for how to make it at home, I was hooked on the idea of making it.

After purchase, the stomach spent a couple months in a vacuum sealed bag in the freezer before heading into a cooler with a half pork shoulder for the drive to NJ.  Plan was to wake up Saturday, grind up the shoulder with garlic and onions, mix in some spices, prep the stomach, stuff it, and cook it.  At least that’s how I thought of it; I clearly didn’t understand how big a step “prep the stomach” would be.

A big welcome to the newest blog villain, Tim’s awful digital camera!  That knife was participating in it’s second grossest food preparation after previously cutting off the finger tip of Hub Hollow lead singer, and benefactor of Janet’s awesome wardrobe, Jill.  I guess that wasn’t really food preparation, just way too much knife for a soft brie and tiny Greek woman

From there the meat, garlic, and onions were cut into cubes and, with Tim’s instruction (he helped too much this time to earn his usual mean spirited remarks) headed into the grinder.  We used the handy meat grinder attachment for his new Kitchenaid mixer, an item I’ve also owned for a few years but have been too scared to use.

I did half the meat coarse grind and half fine grind.  My guess is I exclusively use the coarse grind moving forward since it’s a little more what you expect from sausage and ground meat in general

Once the meat, onion and garlic were all ground together, we stirred in a lot of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika along with some chopped arugala from Tim’s garden.

Probably between 3 and 4 pounds of sausage.  The arugala was a last second call when I realized there needed to be some contrasting herb flavor that was missing from the current mix.  Plus, I will put arugala in anything if given the opportunity

To test for flavor I pulled a bit out of the bowl and fried it in a pan.  It was pretty freaking tasty, but I added a little more seasoning to be safe.

Welp, with all those pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to the main event and check out that stomach!

There she is!  Note the whitish area on the top right that must be where they cut an opening to empty the contents and clean the inside of the stomach thoroughly. It was a lot larger than it looked in the package

I’m not sure if it was feeling inadequate surrounded by such enormous stomachs and increased in size overnight, but this hog maw was way bigger than expected.  Since the goal with ponce is to have the meat tightly packed into the stomach, I needed to make sure that it wasn’t going to be too big for the sausage we’d made.  First step was stitching closed that large cut used to clean the stomach.

What to stitch with was definitely a hot topic at the Tim Ryan household for a solid hour, but we ended up going with whatever Kristi could find on her usual morning coffee/hog-stomach-stitching-material run.  The final materials ended up being a standard thick sewing needle and some unflavored dental floss.

I felt like a field medic or a fugitive from the law who needs to do some quick triage in order to keep on his quest to clear his name.  Neither of those analogies pressure tests too well since I was probably in pajamas, toasty warm, and full from a nice breakfast

After finishing the stitch on the large cut, I found the other entry point to the stomach (yes, there are two of course) and attached it to Tim’s faucet.  The questions I wanted to answer were how watertight the stitching was and how large it got when fully inflated.  And the answers were, “holy MOLY!!!”

This wasn’t even close to fully inflated but it was huge.  It looked like the hot air balloon that the most annoying character in movie history built in Waterworld.  Anyone who has seen that movie just slapped their head in an, “Ohhh! Thank god he told me what that reminded me of, that was going to keep me up at night!” reaction

It was immediately obvious that the stomach was too large for the amount of sausage we’d made.  So, using the same lethal paring knife, I made an unscientific judgement on where to cut, and stitched it up all over again.  This go-round was 10x more infuriating since the outside was getting greasy as it warmed up and my fingers were full of holes from errant stitching.  Meals like this are less a labor of love than a labor of stupidity.

Much more manageable, and yes, it did make me reconsider stomach stapling as a good fallback if I can’t get in shape on my own at some point.  The new fallback is that Olestra stuff, seems like a total no-brainer

With the stomach prepped, a quick change in attachments turned the Kitchenaid from a meat grinder to a sausage stuffer.  Albeit a somewhat frustrating one that made sounds like a boot stuck in mud.

I kept asking Tim if he wanted to switch roles and be the stomach holder but he kept saying, “nah, I’m good”.  Weirdo

After a lot of shifting the meat inside the casing and moving the spout around to continue stretching the stomach, we finally got all of the sausage in.  Quick stitch on the opening, and we were ready to go.

The stitched side made it oddly resemble some sort of stuffed animal, which it kinda was, but not the type I’d let Janet play with

Well, I was glad the grossest part was over, though it really wasn’t too bad while we were in process since there were no funky smells.  At one point the fully inflated ponce slipped out of my hands and slowly wandered across the counter away from me, moving further away with each botched grab.  Offered a good mix of angered frustration and laughing hysterically at my own stupidity.

After a quick rub with some salt, pepper, and paprika the stomach joined the four racks of ribs that Tim had cooking in the smoker.

Godspeed, little doodle.  Always hard to know you are shutting the door for a few hours with no peaking allowed, but I’ve become pretty good at it.  Janet hiding her face in every ultrasound for 6 straight months taught me that one

While that smoked, Kristi and I visited John and Julie’s place to find them in the midst of planting 36 trees around the property with the rusty backhoe that John bought on Craigslist and fixed up.  While it was amazing how much they were getting done, let’s just say that we choose to spend our weekends a little differently.

My guess is she is slightly more competent than her father behind the wheel of this thing

Back at the other Ryan ranch, two hours into the four hour smoke, I found Tim pacing outside the smoker anxiously waiting to open it.  For someone who preaches the patience of good BBQ cooking, he was remarkably antsy.

This was after we flipped the ponce.  We could see liquid bubbling inside the ponce and I couldn’t believe the stitching was holding without leaking.  Second proudest I have been of my sewing after the work I did to keep together the awful vendor sample backpack I used throughout Europe.  That thing consisted entirely of paperclips, duct tape, and hotel sewing kits by the end of my two month trip

The lid went back down for another two hours of smoking in the 200F-225F range (total of just over four hours), before we finally had this:

Starting to look more like a large kielbasa or sausage, right?  Mildly intriguing at least?

From there the ponce headed into a beer braise.  Well, not actually a beer braise, but a braise in the six pack of Odouls Amber that Tim had been trying to find a use for since our baby shower last May.  Ended up working out pretty well since I would have hated wasting 6 dark beers on this.

Threw the bone from the pork shoulder in the braise along with some crushed cloves of garlic.  As usual, this was all guesswork, but at least my excuse this time was a complete lack of documentation online instead of a pseudo-manly disdain for outside advice

The lid went on and the ponce braised for about 2 hours in a 300F oven.  Despite not having a recipe to work with, I knew it should have braised for longer than that, but there was a mass of toddlers and the adults responsible for said toddlers arriving at the house.

At first they were tided over with a smorgasbord of kielbasa and Italian sausage along with some chicken liver crostini from Tim (just in case you needed a reminder of how much Ryans love liver).  But, eventually we had to feed everyone dinner and that’s how the ponce ended up on the cutting board, even if we didn’t expect anyone to eat it.

It was around this point that we realized Tim’s camera would only take an in-focus shot with a flash and a perfectly steady hand. Tim’s Camera, like a Terminator sent from the future to infuriate me on a day when it’s owner decided to be helpful for once.  Friggin’ jerk camera, I’ll show him

While the ponce rested, I (over)cooked some white rice in chicken stock and reduced the braising liquid on the stovetop.  Once it had reduced by half, I whisked in a couple tablespoons of roux to thicken it and we had a nice dark gravy to go with the ponce and rice.  Speaking of the ponce, here’s some action shots of the carving from our crew of queasy photographers.

Looked about how I wanted from a texture perspective, but I wanted some more pink color from the smoke.  Just looked less like smoked sausage than I had hoped it would

Still smiling the same way when photographed cooking.  Note Tim’s pointing gesture to disown the meal in photo documented form

There were no funky smells, just smoked meat and what looked like a pork meatloaf.  I was excited to try it, I just didn’t know who else would be.  To my surprise, some friends started serving themselves slices of ponce so I made myself a plate and went to hide so I wouldn’t have to look anyone in the eye.

Collard greens-style kale from Tim’s garden, Erin’s slaw, Tim’s Greek ribs and the ponce/rice/gravy.  Pretty dece plate actually, the ponce looked totally innocuous when separated from it’s original context

The ponce was interesting.  It had far less flavor than I expected based on the piece of sausage that we test fried earlier in the day.  The sausage was moist and had the consistency of meat loaf without any odd flavors coming in from the stomach, which basically acted as a gigantic sausage casing.  The stomach itself could have used a couple more hours of braising since it was pretty chewy.

I was a little bummed out since I wanted a super dense sausage with lots of smokiness, but the gravy added some smoke and beer flavors and the rice was a solid bed for the meat.  OK first run overall, but I need to put some time into improving my sausage making ability back in JP.  As usual, Tim’s ribs and Erin’s slaw were both awesome.

The most surprising part was that most of the ponce ended up eaten (or partially eaten).  I think the idea of it sounds a lot grosser than the actual final presentation, but generally I feel that way about most things I make.  Thanks to the Tim for the hospitality and the Peapack/Far Hills/B’ville crew for their tolerance of my endeavor.  Next week will either be more or less gross, I promise.

Weird Crap I Cook: Turducken

I had Turducken for the first time 4 years ago after ordering it frozen from Hebert’s Specialty Meats, the originators of the concept.  It was good though painfully salty even for a salt lover, so I decided if I was going to have it again I would have to make it myself from scratch.  It just took awhile for the perfect opportunity to come again.

With plans to host a Christmas party for a few friends in Boston, I knew the time had come to attempt the prep-heavy and slightly difficult turducken.  For those unfamiliar with turducken, it’s traditionally a deboned chicken, inside a deboned duck, inside a deboned turkey, with layers of cajun stuffing in between each layer and at the center.  Pretty crazy concept.  Basically, you are fitting all of this…

Not sure if it will be noticeable, but we got a new camera and I'm hoping it helps us take better pictures

Into this…

Only the second time laying down newspaper in a kitchen after the tuna head. I knew this was going to get extremely bloody and messy, just hoped none of it would be my blood

I’d never deboned poultry before and definitely had some concerns.  At the same time, it seemed like the type of thing that just required a sharp boning knife and the patience of making lots of small cuts.  The only planned difference between the traditional version and mine was that the middle layer would be chicken instead of duck since the duck I had in my freezer was very small.

Since the turducken should look like a regular turkey when it’s fully assembled, you want to keep each outer layer intact except for the initial cut on the backbone. Aside from navigating around the shoulder blade, the early going is (relatively) easy.

This took maybe five minutes. I went with the chicken first since the duck was small and would be tough to navigate and the turkey needed to have minimal flaws since it's the outer layer. To make my turducken feel better, Pete Ryan's outer layer has a lot of flaws

The chicken and duck layers are completely deboned, including the thigh and wing bones, but the first step is to remove the rib and back area.

Kristi deserves credit for the awse photos in this post and my equally awse apron (with "Weird Crap I Cook" and a picture of the hogs head barbacoa on it). That bad boy got dirty quick

Once you get around to the keel bone (the bone that separates the chicken breasts) you start on the other side from the backbone again.

This felt like switching to the other side of the bed after a year of sleeping on the same side; there was no way to mimic the muscle memory of the first side. Cutting away from me was easier than spinning it and approaching it from the opposite direction

After 10-15 more minutes, I’d arrived back at the keel bone and had to cut the cartilage away from the skin to keep the deboned chicken intact as one piece.  Leaving me with this:

I'll try not to go into this kind of self indulgent detail with each bird. I just thought the whole process was interesting and showed off that I'm good with a blade. Comes from growing up on the tough streets of the 07924, yo

After popping the thigh and wing bones out (easily the most annoying/difficult/messy part of the whole process) I rolled it back up before putting it in the fridge and starting on the turkey.

I think that deboning a single bird, stuffing and roasting it has a lot of potential. Stuffed chicken breasts are always disappointing because the breasts get so dried out, but this thing with crispy skin and stuffed with prosciutto, garlic and spinach would be absurd

Next up was the turkey, which I found to be the easiest bird to debone since it is the largest and the leg and wing bones stay in.

I know, I know, I can't believe I still have fingers to type with either

By the overall standards of the day, I pretty much flew through this thing (in 20 minutes).  The owner at Hebert’s can debone all three birds in something like 17 minutes.  While impressive, the work it took to gain that proficiency is about as enviable as being married to someone who makes you spend your Saturday taking 200 photos of him butchering poultry.

Don't worry, I hate wasting food and I certainly was leaving a little meat on the bones, so I saved the carcasses and other parts for future soup/stock making. Really sorry I made you worry

Onto the duck, the bird I knew was going to be a pain in the ass from the second I saw how small it was.

No, I don't have a cartoonishly ingrown fingernail on my middle finger, I was just squeezing extremely hard to maintain a grip on the tiniest piece of this mangy bird

I love duck, but deboning it didn’t really blow my hair back.  This was a roasting duck, so there just wasn’t much meat to work with.  I had hoped to use a full sized duck, since the local Stop and Shop had them recently, but I had to go with the subpar one in my freezer.

On to the final shot of the duck (prior to considering intentionally stabbing myself to end the annoyance of removing the thigh and wing bones)

Duck looks and smells like raw beef. Weird stuff

With the deboning finished in just under an hour and fifteen minutes, the poultry was unceremoniously dumped into a giant bowl for an overnight stay in the fridge.

I laughed like a psychotic thinking about the babysitter we had Saturday night looking for food in the fridge and stumbling across this

From there I got the bones all bagged up and labeled for the freezer.

This would be a ridiculous thing to do if we didn't make so much soup in the Ryan household

It was time to get started on the most important part of the turducken; the stuffing.  That change from bloody, messy butchering also meant that Janet could return to the kitchen with her magic, gravity-defying chair.

"Yeah, so, daddy, I know you've slowed down with the Purell use recently but I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to start using it before anytime you come near me. Great, thanks"

Since I don’t have andouille readily available, I decided to start out the stuffing the same way Tim and I start our (regionally) famous “Stuffing of the Gods”.  I sauteed chopped onion, garlic and celery in a little butter for a few minutes before adding a pound of sausage meat.

That's right ladies and gentleman, a fourth animal has entered the meal. Possibly a 5th and 6th too; that tube of sausage looked like it was purchased on the resale market or something

After the sausage had browned, I added a half pound of cubed brown mushroom, 10-15 fresh chopped sage leaves, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and lots of paprika.

"Half pound of mushrooms" has become about as common an ingredient on this blog as salt and pepper

So, finally, it was time to add in the bread from the original ingredient picture that I had been letting get stale for a couple days.  It was really just the 6 slices of wheat bread that needed it; the cornbread was about a week old at that point.  I cubed the slices, let the cornbread break apart on it’s own, added more spices and a little chicken broth, leaving me with this.

This stuff was freaking delicious and had a great spicy heat. I was a little overly concerned about saltiness at this point, meaning that the stuffing could have used a little more seasoning, but it was still pretty diesel

And with that I was ready to throw in the towel for the day; I let the stuffing cool down then added it to the fridge with the birds.  That’s right folks, we’re not even halfway done with this post!  You still got a lot more partial reading, rapid scrolling, and deep exhales at jokes that fall flat left to do!  It’s my Christmas gift to all of you, even those that don’t celebrate Christmas; like one gift to unify everyone.  I don’t think people are making a big enough deal out of this.

The next day I was up and at ’em and handling poultry far earlier in the day than I wanted to.  It was time to put this baby together like an edible Lego airplane stuffed with passengers.  Started with the turkey, pressing the stuffing into every nook and cranny.

Just in case you were wondering, I still have grotesquely long fingers that bend the wrong way. I also know how to stuff the living sh*t out of a turkey

Then the chicken and another generous layer of stuffing.

Not sure if you noticed the two strings laid under the birds in advance which proved crucial. Really I am just trying to distract you from the hands that look like a Karloff-era Dracula

And finally, the duck with a central pile of stuffing.  Looking down at this pile of poultry and stuffing, I started to realize that the hardest part may still be ahead.  I hadn’t really processed that I would need to eventually tie this all back together to look like a regular turkey.

I'm thinking this apron will need to be retired in 4-5 years when Janet starts bringing friends over. Except when the WCIC apron is in the wash, then an exception needs to be made

Bringing this thing together was a process that would be difficult to describe.  Basically, it was a lot of pulling outwards, pressing together, and tightening of the two strings I had laid underneath the birds.  So here are three photos to explain part of the process:

Seemed impossible at this point

Starting to see hope with one string tied

Getting it to this point was 75% of the battle. This whole process is exhausting to review

Now come the poultry lacers, something I’d never used before and always thought were tiny fondue skewers or something when I had seen them in people’s kitchens.   When pressed into the turkey (and the layers below) they would give me anchor points to pull the whole shebang together.

Brilliant concept, but totally unclear to me what these are used for aside from turducken

Like lacing up a pair of sneakers, I wound some kitchen twine through the holes and pulled tightly to bring the center together.  Ended up looking very manageable.

That's a pretty dece looking sneaker

With that, the turducken got flipped right side up in a roasting rack, received an ample sprinkling of salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning, plus a few pats of butter to keep the skin moist.

Would have gone with my usual method for keeping turkey skin moist by putting a couple slices of bacon on top, but decided it would be a little excessive. In reality we finished the bacon with breakfast and I was pretty bummed

After covering with tin foil, the turducken went into the oven at 250F for what figured to be 6-7 hours of roasting.  I planned to remove the foil halfway through cooking once there were enough juices in the base of the roasting pan to baste the skin.

With the ‘ducken cooking, the only remaining item was making stock for the gravy.  So, the turkey and chicken necks headed into a pot with onion, garlic, celery, and carrots before being completely covered with water.

Broth the way my mommy taught me, to make gravy the way she taught me. I don't even know if it's the right way, but it's the way I like my gravy to taste

With the bird(s) in the oven, I realized why roasts, ham and turkeys are such great entertaining food; you don’t have to do anything until carving time.  Over the next six hours I overheated in my tacky Christmas sweater, listened to Now That’s What I Call Christmas four times, and toasted the surprise engagement of Buschy and Annie.  Mostly, I thought about the Turducken.

Finally, the internal temperature had reached 165F, and the ‘ducken was ready to be pulled.

I had a feeling I couldn't avoid burning the skin in the center and by the legs. It was stretched pretty thin in those spots

While the meat rested for 30 minutes, I pulled the roasting rack out of the pan, cut off a couple of the outer strings, and drained off some fat to get started on the gravy.

I know I've said this before, but it really looked just like a regular turkey. Janet agreed with me too

Gravy is pretty easy to make (as outlined previously on this blog), basically you whisk flour, salt and pepper into the pan drippings until it’s well mixed and there isn’t any excess liquid.  Let that cook in the pan for 10 minutes or so, whisking regularly, then stir in broth until the gravy is the consistency you are looking for, heating as you go.  Only wrinkle for this one was that I added a splash of Southern Comfort for sweetness, flavor, and because it’s been in the damned liquor cabinet for 3 years untouched.

I over-floured this one just a little bit. It showed when the gravy sat for fifteen minutes and poured like an extra-thick milk shake

It even had a little bit of a Cajun look to it. You could see the paprika in the color

Now for a quick photo series I like to call, “Anatomy of a Near Christmas Disaster”, as documented by Nathan McConarty, Esquire. (I promise this post is almost over, this is just a brief sidebar before the final two fotos and descriptions).

The stupidity just oozes out of this one. "Let's put a towel under the cutting board so it doesn't get the other easy-to-clean cutting board underneath dirty. Just wait one moment while I lift this slick plastic cutting board supporting a precariously balanced roasting rack holding 15 pounds of meat."

Annnnnd the only rationale outcome from the previous statement has been realized. I love the looks on Kristi's face and my face, pure "OHHHHH NOOOOO!!!". Luckily, the Shaws Cupcake tray brought by Sarah Busch stopped the turducken before it rolled off the table and exploded on the floor. Christmas disaster averted

With that scare done, it was time to get eating.  The coolest part of carving a turducken is the realization that what you’re looking at isn’t a normal roast turkey.  Instead of carving thin slices parallel to the body, you cut straight across the body in thick slices.

You can clearly see the layers from this shot; duck at the bottom, then chicken, then turkey, with the sweet sausage stuffing in between each layer

Although not my most often used utensil, the electric carving knife is crucial for turducken (thanks Ken and Carolyn!) since the meat would be pulled apart by anything less than the sharpest traditional carving knife.  The goal was to cut it into 1/2″ slices that could be transferred to the platter whole so all guests could “oohhh” and “aahhhh” at the layers.  I said that was the goal.  My guests got a scrambled version for the most part, accentuated by cursing and holiday surliness.

Each slice looked a little different and featured a different amount of each bird and stuffing. Interesting food

Not much to be said about the turducken (which must seem like BS after wasting an hour of your life reading this post).  The process and unveiling of the finished product is almost as important as the actual eating, just very cool to see it all come together.

Taste-wise, the stuffing was moist from cooking inside the three birds and the sausage, cornbread, and cayenne helped distribute salty/sweet/spicy flavors throughout the meat.  With each bite you never knew exactly what bird you were eating since they were all very tender, though the turkey ended up a little dry.  Nothing a little pour (read: slice) of the far too thick gravy couldn’t alleviate, though, and all in all it was pretty delicious.  Well accompanied by Nate and Emyo’s cheesy taters, Con and Trish’s broccoli raab and shallot, and the future Buschy’s roasted vegetable soup.  Bawmb.

In the end we ate a lot more of it than I’d expected; Kristi and I had one night of leftovers and then we made an awesome stew with the remaining turkey from the ends.  Not sure what I will be posting next but we are looking forward to 5 days of over-the-top eating in Michigan for Christmas.  Merry Christmas to some, Happy Holidays to others, but mostly just enjoy the day off and cook something good.  Cheers!