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: The Mercato Centrale Manwich

To start, I’d like to compare this poorly trafficked and regularly unpleasant to read food blog to one of the greatest bands of all time; Pink Floyd.  Not every attempt to create a new dish is going to be a masterpiece like The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon, there is going to be an occasional Ummagumma.  Actually, I’m not comfortable with that comparison, I’ve never cooked anything that was as god awful as that ear-ulcer of an album.  Kicking off the post with a statement then disagreeing with it, comin’ in hot!

Anyhoo, as documented in our Italy trip recap from August 2010, they make a pretty amazing tripe sandwich at the food carts by the Mercato Centrale in Florence.  Cow stomach braised until tender in a broth with lots of garlic, hot chilis and tomatoes, then served with cooked greens on an Italian roll.

I forgot how massive that sandwich was. I have hands that closely resemble an albino E.T., yet they were dwarfed by that huge organ sammie

You could tell you were eating offal, but the flavor from the braising was amazing and there were none of the funky flavors that occasionally come with stomach or intestines.  Like a hot dog in NYC or a cheesesteak in Philly, it’s the type of famous street food you have to try when in another city.

Speaking of Philly, George’s Sandwich Shop on the edge of the Philadelphia Italian Market is a famous joint that serves up what they call a traditional Italian tripe sandwich.  To put their own spin on it, they offer it mixed with braised tongue, peppers, and onions.  Obviously, I had to try it.

Visually I'm not giving this sandwich a fair shake since this is after making the mile and a half walk home from the market wrapped in foil and viciously swung about by my wildly swinging arms. On the other hand, it still might look better than it tasted

Look, there is no way that place would still be in business if my sandwich was representative of how things taste usually.  This sandwich was the opposite of the Florence version in that the stomach was chewy and there was no doubt you were eating part of the digestive tract.  To be honest, it tasted a little poopy.  Even the tongue, tomatoes, peppers and onions, which are all pretty strong in flavor, couldn’t overpower it.  Only made it through a few bites on that one.

What stuck with me after sampling George’s take on tripe was how completely illogical it seemed.  It just didn’t seem like that difficult of an item to get right.  I knew I would have to make it someday.

But what does that have to do with a Manwich?  DB superfriend Lenny Leonard was visiting Boston a couple weeks ago and requested that I take my best shot at a different take on a Manwich.  My Pink Floyd, “lets make a concept album that features an 8 minute ‘song’ with nothing but animal noises and human grunts”-decision was trying to merge the Manwich challenge with the George’s re-creation.  Oh well, lets start with the tongue.

Here's the exact order I placed with David at Snow Farm in Vermont via email, "a few pounds of the beef tongue and all of the lamb/goats tongues. I'd also take a couple pounds of the goat and lamb hearts". It's like Christmas in March for my readers!

The general plan was to boil the tongue for a few hours until it was tender and could be peeled, then boiling the stomach separately, and combining them together in a Manwich-like sauce to braise.

For those unfamiliar with tongue, that outer skin is why it needs to be peeled. Thick rubbery stuff. This and the rest of my meat order from Snow Farm was left on the roof of a car in a driveway in suburban Lexington, MA for me to pick up. Pretty awesome way to procure some meat

I despised Manwiches growing up and have never come around on them at all.  I remember the taste being way too sweet with the artificial ketchup-like sauce and way too sloppy.  So that’s what I was working with from a perspective of the flavors I was going to attempt to match.

The tongue headed into a pot of boiling salted water after cutting in half to ensure it would fit.  After about 3 hours, some of the fat had cooked out into the liquid and the meat looked fully cooked.

I should admit that I started cooking this the night before, prior to learning how long it would need to boil. Had to stop halfway through and finish the next morning. Janet makes me extremely tired but I never know my limits until I'm falling asleep standing up with a giant tongue boiling on the stove. But I won't bore you with that since you've likely heard that exact sentence from hundreds of other dads

The tongue had been fully cooked for a couple hours, but the extra time is needed so that the outer layer is easy to peel off.

The olllld "take a picture of food that grosses out most people in awful lighting to make it even more grey and unappealing" trick. I practically invented that trick

After the peeling. Remarkably easy to do, the skin was almost like leather. No idea why I positioned the pieces next to each other to look like a pair of shoes aside from probably having some subliminal recognition that it looked like a couple shoes

At this point my plan was to cube the tongue and place it into a pot to braise in the Pete’s take on the Manwich sauce for another hour or so.  I didn’t give enough thought to how to cut the tongue though, and ended up slicing it in a way that would make some very big cubes.

Terrible judgement begins about now. Tongue is best when sliced thin since the flavor is far more enjoyable than the texture. Should have cut it thinner to make smaller cubes

With the tongue ready, let’s talk tripe.  I took the stomach pieces out of the package, rinsed with water and salt then stood staring at it while shielding the offensive offal from our guests with my ample stomach.

Not that disturbing to look at, mainly because the grocery store version is boiled and bleached prior to sale. Gets rid of the stomach smell, but kinda gross that you could smell a hint of the bleach. Plus, the texture is almost furry. Please wait 'til you're finished reading to sprint to the grocer to buy yourself some

While the tripe boiled for 30 minutes, I put a few ribs of celery, a bell pepper, 5-6 cloves of garlic, and a couple baby carrots into the food processor.

Either the lighting in our kitchen is getting worse or my increasing mass is eclipsing every last bit of overhead light in these pictures. I'll go with the former, damn you high efficiency bulbs!

After loading up the processor, I heated some olive oil on the stovetop in ‘lil blue.  After blending, I dumped in a chopped medium onion and the processor contents, cooking until they became fragrant (or about 10 minutes).  Then the cubed tongue went in with salt & pepper.

Poorly chopped onions and stirring the pot with a salad utensil. I was really all over the place in the kitchen that night

After a few minutes, I used a beer to deglaze the pot.

Bud Light Platinum has been the deglazing beer of choice ever since I saw the look on my friend Nate's face when having the first one out of the six pack at the super bowl. Took five separate meals over two months to get through one six pack

Add in a can of diced tomatoes, a lengthy pour of maple syrup (for the signature Manwich sickening sweetness), and the chopped boiled tripe.  Now that’s a party!

"I love you Bleu Le CreusUT... I fill you up... let's have a party... let's have a party." Enjoy getting that one out of your head, next week will have a take on the infuriating Zou Bisou Bisou song from Mad Men

The lid went on, and the pot went into the oven at 350F for some braisin’.  I already had an inkling that this wasn’t going to come out well, so the usual slow cooked anticipation wasn’t there.  Mostly just questioning what I was thinking when I decided to combine beer, stomach, and maple syrup.

After an hour or so, I pulled the pot out of the oven and found it to be far more liquidy than I expected.

Lots of green from the bell pepper and celery. Add the color green to the previous list of elements that really have no business being in the same dish together

Since I was looking for a thicker, less-liquidy consistency like a Manwich, the lid came off and the pot went over medium heat on the stovetop to cook down.

Quick sidenote: you may call a Manwich a “Sloppy Joe”, but you would be wrong.  A Sloppy Joe is a glorious New Jersey deli sandwich consisting of rye bread, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw.  That ketchup and ground beef combo you were served in the cafeteria because they couldn’t use the brand name “Manwich” does not deserve the title Sloppy Joe when there is already a king on that throne.  I don’t think you’re getting it, I might need to take some pictures this weekend in NJ and drop some knowledge next week.

After fifteen minutes or so, the stomach and tongue Manwich had cooked down to the thick consistency I was hoping for.

Looks a little like Manwich, no? Either that or something similar to chili or bolognese. I wasn't intimidated by it, but I also wasn't looking forward to digging in

With the meal ready to serve, I had to assess the situation.  Here’s what I had going in my favor: Maiers potato rolls which make anything at least 50% edible, Len and Con who have previously shown a willingness to eat pretty much everything, and Buschy was willing to give it a shot.  However, I was pretty sure that the stomach could have used another hour of cook time, the sauce was too sweet (to my taste), and generally this wasn’t a very appealing meal.  But, we had to at least try it.

Didn't look too bad actually. Except that lettuce, that part looked like sh*t since it was from a week old salad in a bag that was past it's prime when I bought it. Way to dress up your awful offal, Pete!

The sandwich was not m’best work (despite Lenny having two).  As mentioned before, the sauce was very sweet from the maple syrup, however I’m not sure it was any sweeter than a traditional manwich.  Could have used more pepper flavor.

The tongue was just not the right cut or texture.  Tongue is at it’s best when sliced thin or roasted until crispy after the boiling; it would have needed many more hours of braising to get to the texture I wanted.  It wasn’t all bad, the flavor was decent and the meat was tender, but odd in the context of the sandwich.  The stomach didn’t add a whole lot of good, mostly just some annoying chewiness and a hint of organ flavor.  Just not a well thought out dish.

To make matters worse I lost track of time when cooking the carnitas (for the ladies) and also made some inferior tortillas (compared to last time) to go with it.  A poor performance by me across the board, punctuated with flu-like symptoms a couple hours later and having to go to bed while there was still a living room full of people in our apartment.  Hostess with the Mostest dudes!

Heading to NJ for some food activities and fantasy baseball.  Will document anything edible.