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.

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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.

Appetizing.

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.