Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, mystery cupboard fish parts!


Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Tongue Pizza

Due to the kindness of friends and strangers, and their love of giving me trash bags of offal, I have a lot of interesting meats in my freezer.  Tongue, from several different animals, is available in abundance in the freezer.  While I’ve found some good uses for lamb, pork, and goats tongues due to their small size and tender meat, I had yet to cook a beef tongue dish that I truly enjoyed.  I’ve stewed it (for too short) and grilled it, but I haven’t made a dish that had the tender texture that tongue is prized for.

I decided to change all of that a couple weekends ago and brought a tongue up from the freezer to thaw.  Not just any tongue either, this one was from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny, which I had in a vacuum-sealed freeze for about a year.  As I’ve referenced before, since this was a grass fed cow that was butchered in a non-commercial setting, the cuts were in a more, um, natural state.  As in I still needed to rinse some grass off the tongue once it had thawed.

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans

Pretty sure a multi-colored tongue would be a great conversation starter for humans.  That’s all I got here.  Oh, and the black part felt like the scratchy side of velcro

I followed the same standard process for preparing beef tongue with this one even though it was a little different than any you would find in a store.  The tongue went into a pot of boiling water for 90 minutes to loosen the hard outer skin from the meat so it could be easily peeled.  As usual, I boiled it for the recommended amount of time, briefly rinsed it in cold water, and cursed the stupid internet as I burned my fingers unsuccessfully peeling.  Then, eventually, easily peeled it once it got started (like a stubborn orange made of skin and shaped like a tongue).

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it's still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

Sure, the zoo-reminiscent cover is gone, but it’s still definitely a large animal tongue of some sort

To expound on what made this tongue different while you are staring at that unappetizing photo, it’s because unlike a store-bought tongue, this one included the “stump”.  That area required some trimming of fat and unsightly pieces before boiling, but still has some decent meat so I left it intact.  If you’ve ever looked at the underside of your tongue in a mirror, I’m sure you can guess how questionable that stump looked when this all started.

Anyhoo, with the tongue ready for further cooking, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in Lil’ Blue over medium heat and started browning the outside of the tongue.

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have too much experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Browning is never easy with something as oddly shaped as this.  Sadly, I have a lot of experience attempting to brown oddly shaped items

Once browned on all sides (including some awkward balancing on the back of the tongue), I removed it from the pot and reduced the heat on the burner.  While it cooled a bit, I chopped carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the food processor and dumped it directly into the pot to cook down for a few minutes.

This is becoming my go to braising and sauce base.  You will be seeing a lot more of it if I ever post regularly again

This is becoming my go-to braising and sauce base.  I think mire poix plus garlic is called sofrito, but I need some sort of clever nickname for sofrito + pork product (a la the regionally famous “Mire Pete”).  Suggestions are welcome

Once some of the liquid had cooked out of the veggies, I stirred in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a little crushed red pepper, salt, and a handful of currants.  The currants were mostly to add some sweetness without using sugar and, as previously mentioned, Kristi bought a comedically large container of them a month ago.  Every day that passes with them in the cabinet stresses me out more.

After a little stirring, the tomato paste had well coated the other ingredients and I added a bottle of red wine to form the base for the braise.  While I waited for the liquid to reduce a bit, I preheated the oven to 300F and seized the opportunity for a little window-side photo shoot.

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, generally the only part of those movies I didn't laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself doing the same spoofs unintentionally by the window of my kitchen

I never enjoyed the photo shoot scenes in the Austin Powers movies, which were really the only part of those movies I didn’t laugh hysterically at when I was 17.  However, I often find myself spoofing that scene by the window of my kitchen with various odd foods

The browned tongue still looked a little funky, but smelled like roast beef with a little bacon aroma thrown in for good measure.  The tongue went back into the reduced braising liquid along with a few spoonfuls of liquid over the top.

I never even considered that this wouldn't fit but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

I never even considered that this wouldn’t fit into the Le Creuset, but in hindsight it was a close call.  No post is complete without a close call!

The lid went back onto ‘Lil Blue and it headed into the oven for three hours of braising.  I’d like to say I paced the house the whole time, but I think we actually got outside and away from the kitchen so I wouldn’t obsess over it the whole time.

When we returned home, Kristi said something along the lines of, “I am disgusted by how good that smells since I know what it is”.  Which, I guess, is a good sign?  I thought yes, so I pulled the pot out of the oven to see what we had.

Pretty much what I expected, though I am always amazed by how much smaller meat is when it comes out of a braise

Pretty much what I expected, though braising makes food smaller which is not something I like to have happen.  Yet I continue to braise everything I have no other ideas for

The meat was extremely tender to the point that I was concerned it would fall apart when I removed it from the pot.  Which is what I was hoping for after my previous chewy experiences cooking tongue.

With plans to use everything in the pot, I removed the tongue carefully with a couple large spoons and transferred it to a separate dish.  Once the tongue and pot had cooled enough to touch, they both headed into the fridge to chill completely.  After a few hours, the tongue had firmed enough that it would be easy to slice without the meat falling apart, and the excess fat in the braising liquid had hardened for easy skimming.

Once skimmed, the liquid went back on the stove top to come back up to temperature.

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce.  All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

Braising liquid makes an excellent pasta sauce. All braised meats should be served with a pasta of some sort.  That is, if you want to achieve my current dimensions

While the sauce simmered, I started the grill and began slicing the tongue into pieces that would work well as a pizza topping.  See, it wasn’t just a falsely titled post, it just took a while to get there!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

The part of the tongue between the stump and the end sliced in perfect sized rounds.

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the "stump" and the "tip", he responded "Awesome language!"

When I sent my writer friend (and tongue enthusiast) Mirkel a text about this tongue and referred to the “stump” and the “tip”, he responded “Awesome language!”

The remainder of the tongue I sliced over the following few days for a couple tongue sandwiches which were friggin’ delicious.  Even on stupid, evil sandwich thins.

I pride myself on my kitchen items and our many fine glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned takeout thai food dish.  Kristi doesn't mind because all my offal goes in them

I pride myself on my kitchen gadgets and our many glass containers for storing food, but I still save every damned plastic takeout Thai food dish.  Kristi doesn’t mind because all my offal goes in them

When cold and in between two slices of (stupid diet) bread, the braised tongue can be enjoyed in all of its glory.  It was a combination of the flavor of rich pot roast with the texture of firm liverwurst in a sandwich.  So tasty, but no one else will think that sounds delicious.  Except, maybe, this one person I know…

THAT'S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin like the greats and disgusting her mother in just a few speedy bites.  She wasn't sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

THAT’S MY GIRL!!!  Grubbin’ like the greats and disgusting her mother at the same time.  She wasn’t sure if she liked it, then absolutely destroyed it in three huge quick bites

Janet had her fair share of slices over the following few days, but my favorite moment was when our friend’s son Griffin took a piece out of her hand while we were visiting in LBI for the 4th.  He ate it in two bites while his mother Liz turned away in horror trying to avoid vomiting while saying through muffling hands, “It’s fine, it’s fine, he can eat it if he wants to.”  I am a great houseguest!

With the grill up to 550F and all of the ingredients prepped, I stretched out half of a pizza dough and brushed it thoroughly with olive oil. Then straight onto the grill oiled side down.

I have discussed my love for grilled pizza previously, but that love hasn’t faded.  It is the only way to get crispy, bubbly, and chewy dough cooking at home due to how much heat comes off the grill.  Here it is after about a minute and a half.

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way in.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

Usually when you open the grill the dough has bubbled an absurd amount then it collapses to this on the way back in to the house.  The shape should be blamed on me, not the grill

The raw side gets another brush of olive oil then the whole thing gets flipped so the grilled side can be topped.

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I've failed a few times, but it's almost always edible

The right amount of burn is a dangerous game to play and I’ve lost a few times, but it’s almost always edible and more often than not delicious

The crispy side was spread with the braising liquid, the tongue rounds, and a couple handfuls of parmesan and shredded mozzarella.  Then a couple dollops of additional sauce for good measure and back onto the grill with the boring pesto, tomato and cheese pizza Kristi made me make as well.

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be trapping enough heat to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

This foto was a huge point of anxiety for me.  The dough can only be on the grill for a couple minutes and that time needs to be spent trapping enough heat inside the grill to melt the toppings.  So, normal overreaction from me

After another few minutes on the grill with the lid closed, I burned my hands the usual extensive amount transferring the pizza back to a cookie sheet to bring inside.  A quick foto of the brief resting period so the cheese wouldn’t all slide off when I cut it.

That's right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing without acknowledging to this point in the blog.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

That’s right, THREE naturally lit shots in one post in honor of the THREE week break I took from writing this blog that I haven;t acknowledged yet.  I hate every time I lead off a post with an apology but, my apologies

As usual with the half dough pizzas, each was cut into eight, 5-6 bite rectangles.  The point of cutting to that size is so I don’t know how much I’ve eaten and no one else can really tell whether I am eating a lot either.  Strategy!

Luckily the beef tongue was tender and easy to cut unlike pepperoni, prosciutto and other toppings I have struggled to slice through previously.

Had to have a slice of the stupid Kristi pizza too, you know, to get my greens

Had to have a piece of the stupid Kristi pizza too.  You know, to get my greens

The pizza was very tasty.  Because the sauce was a reduced and concentrated blend of sofrito, red wine, tomato paste, and juice/fat from the beef, it had a ton of flavor.  It was very rich and pretty delicious.  The only mistake was the extra dollops of sauce since a little bit went a long way and I wanted it to compliment the tongue instead of challenge it.  As it was with the extra sauce, the flavor of the tongue was overpowered a little bit, but overall it still tasted how I hoped: pot roast pizza.  Next time around I would likely use slightly less sauce, use some shaved gruyere as the cheese, and integrate some caramelized onions.  Only reason I passed on the onions this time around is because they play a prominent role in my braised short rib pizza which would have been nearly identical to this.

Once again, I promise to right this ship.  For serious this time.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Mixed Grill

I need to come up with a good name for mixed grill that sounds cool.  Bollito Misto would be a cool thing to call it but that’s a mixed boil, and all the other foreign terms for mixed meat grill-fests refer to a specific collection of meats.  Please provide suggestions for what I should call future events where I fish interesting stuff out of my chest freezer to grill up. 

Anyhoo, Lamb, smelts, and cow parts were on the menu for Saturday and good golly was it rewarding.  Let’s check out the vacuum sealed lineup.

iPhone camera + dish towel + assorted offal in plastic makes for a much more ominous shot than a joyous evening of grilling calls for

That’s a half kidney, half beef tongue, a lamb tongue, two lamb hearts, and a hanger steak.  The steak was from Uncle Billy’s cow, the half kidney was leftover from a previous experiment with steak and kidney pie, and the tongues and hearts were from Snow Farm.

David from Snow Farm has become the equivalent of an email pen pal, but one that occasionally asks me what “parts” I’m looking for when he is butchering some of his naturally raised lamb, pork, beef, and goat.

The hanger steak came over in the creepy cooler I picked up on Kristi’s grandmother’s porch and the tongues and hearts are from the bag David left for me in a driveway in Lexington, MA.  I was extremely excited to cook both of them.

The item I was less excited about was discovered in my freezer a few weeks ago.  In a good life lesson to search your friend’s pockets before they enter your apartment, a 1.5 pound bag of smelts was hidden between Janet’s waffles and some frozen corn.  In general I like smelts, which are basically a large sardine that is usually fried and eaten whole (with the guts and head removed).  The frozen version kind of scared me, and the fish stank they leaked into my fridge when they defrosted didn’t help my fear.

While the smelts finished defrosting, I started initial prep on the meat.  First up was the hanger steak.

Funky looking stuff when it isn’t trimmed.  I was positive this was some sort of neck or cheek meat when I pulled it out of the cooler originally just because it looked so bizarre

Apparently hanger steak (called that because it hangs from the diaphragm) comes from the same general area of the cow as the skirt and flank steaks.  Like those other cuts, it needs be marinated, cooked medium rare and sliced thinish since it can be pretty chewy, but first there was a whole lot of crap to cut away.

Big bowl of fat and connective tissue trimmed off the hanger, leaving me with…

…this.  Pretty decent looking steak with a little bonus piece that was loosely connected.  Nothing makes me happier than cheap (or free) cuts of beef that actually taste good

With the steak trimmed, it headed into a marinade of Worcestershire, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.  Random collection of ingredients but I also knew it couldn’t go wrong.

While all that was happening, the tongues were in a pot of salted boiling water for about an hour to get them ready for peeling.

Every time I cook tongue I like to think that it will look far more edible once it’s peeled.  Nope, still looks like a tongue.  Considering that is half a beef tongue and a full lamb tongue, it’s a good reminder of how friggin’ big a cow is compared to a lamb

Peeling tongues is always difficult to get started then easy going once you have a piece to get ahold of.  Not my favorite activity.

Back to the smelts.  With people arriving and plans of serving them tiny fishies as an app, I gave the smelts a good rinse under running water before dredging in lemon juice and shaking them in a bag full of bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

This was one of those times when I realized I was about to make bout 20 times more of a particular food than there were parties interested in consuming said food

Despite the conniption brought on by my OCD when pan frying, it was the only way to do the smelts right so they headed into a large pan with a layer of shimmering olive oil.  A few minutes on each side in the hot oil and you had a crispy crunchy whole fish body to chew on.

I usually make my own dipping sauces but that jar of Cain’s Tartar Sauce had been around too long and I was pessimistic that these little fishies deserved the homemade sauce treatment.  I whisked in some lemon juice to lessen the blow to their ego

The smelts were pretty dece, far better than I would have expected when I first smelled them.  You have to like the crunch of eating the whole fish body, bones and all, and the flavor that comes from doing so.  It’s a pretty flavorful experience, though I will always prefer the heads-on version I got in Sovicille Italy.

Back to the meats.  After a couple hours in the fridge soaking in a salt/sugar brine, the lamb hearts and kidney came out of the fridge looking like something from the storage room at the Mütter Museum.

Pretty much the stuff on the shelves of the dead end basement I run into in nightmares.  Or, to those I invite over, an exciting meal for pleasant guests!

I’ve shown beef kidneys on here before, so no need to show that again pre-trimming, but lamb hearts are pretty cool looking.

Funny looking things, much less intimidating than the gigantic beef hearts I’ve messed around with previously

I cut the hearts into thirds and the kidney into cubes before putting them onto double skewers, yakitori-style.  Since I had a decent experience with grilled kidneys in Morocco when they were coated with Moroccan seasonings, I went with a similar treatment.  The lamb and kidneys both got a coating of paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and garlic powder plus a good drizzle of olive oil.

Forgot to soak these skewers in advance, which means I am still batting a perfect 1.000 at forgetting to soak skewers before I use them.  I think I secretly enjoy the experience of burning my fingers attempting to remove lit skewers from the grill by hand

I sliced the tongues as well and gave them the same yakitori skewer treatment.  Avoided the heavy seasoning this time and went with just salt pepper and olive oil.

At some point I am going to cook a beef tongue perfectly, but it is more likely to be coincidence than actual skill.  Much like anything I make that tastes good

With the grill well heated and enveloping our guests with smoke, it was time to get the mixed grill grillin’.

Grilling meat makes me happy

After a few minutes on each side for the lamb and tongues skewers, a little longer for the kidneys and a little longer than that for the steak, everything was ready to come off the grill.

I sliced the hearts and tongues while the steak rested.

Was surprised that I actually cooked the hearts to a correct medium rare.  I can’t consistently hit the right temperature on hot dogs, let alone random offal from animals I don’t cook regularly

Still nice and juicy, but in general tongue isn’t a fantastic grilling meat.  Type that up and email it from your Gmail to your Hotmail so it will be saved forever and not disappear when fads like “Google” go away

Kidneys. Slowly learning, these just aren’t my thing

This had to go back on the grill, totally erasing the faux confident move from me where I pressed a fork on the steak an said, “oh yeah, that’s done”.  I just make stuff up

With the meats all ready to go, I’ll throw a brief shoutout to our two vegetarian dishes that were a nice change of pace from the massive amounts of meat.

Kale salad courtesy of Kristi. I have been eating the living sh*t out of this salad for a few weeks now since we got the recipe from my cousin Chris.  I wanted to add 3-5 more curses to that last sentence to make it clear how strongly I feel about that kale salad

Soba noodle salad from vegetarian Taylor.  At this point I have no idea why she tolerates me, I think it’s to hang with Kristi and Janet

With everything laid out and ready to grub, we dove in until fully stuffed.  Here’s a new approach to the recap

  • The lamb’s tongue was rich and awesome, like a nice fried piece of fatty lamb.  Need to order more of these from Snow Farm.
  • The beef tongue had a nice pot roast flavor but was a little chewy due to the thickness I sliced.  I will figure out how to cook this stuff at some point.
  • The kidneys were very strong.  Like throw the rest out after we each had a bite strong.  They had been in the freezer for awhile and were from a factory farmed cow so the odds were against me from the start, plus I didn’t soak them nearly long enough and should have added a milk soak cycle as well.
  • The lamb hearts were really awesome and I will need to order more of them as well.  The meat was lean, tasted like great lamb with no off flavors, and very tender.  Probably always will be best on the grill but I’d imagine they’d go great with a little feta and a lemony arugala salad next time.
  • The hanger steak was also very good and had great beef flavor, need to find a butcher that sells it instead of keeping it for themselves.
  • I’ve made my feelings known on the kale salad (happy to share the recipe), but the Soba one was equally delicious.  The mango and cilantro were a great combo and the chewy tofu worked great as a meat substitute in a salad like this.

And that’s all.  Off to Little Compton for the weekend, going to hit that fish shop I love and hopefully do some foraging.

Foraging For Food: The Meat Processor’s Floor

“Meat Processor” sounds nicer than slaughterhouse, right?  Welp, that’s my one concession in this blog.  I am going to be discussing and showing parts of the cow that don’t make it into your average meat case.  In fact, I think a lot of the time they end up on the slaughterhouse floor and incorporated into pet food or the most discussed food topic of the day, pink slime.

I’m not planning to show anything graphic from the process of killing a cow or anything, but there will be a lot of organs.  I won’t take offense if you scroll down to this picture of Janet proudly standing on her own, smile, exhale, and close this window to read no further.

Her hair isn't as red as it looks here, more blonde. The profile is a little too much like mine, though. Let's hope she grows out of that one soon

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Uncle Billy continued his run as the most underrated ADB blog contributor by leaving me a cooler full of miscellaneous meat in Vermont.  The back story was that Billy had raised a cow with a friend and eventually split up the meat.  He let me know there would be plenty of cuts they wouldn’t be interested in and he’d be happy to save for me.

A couple weeks before the planned slaughter, Billy and I exchanged a few emails regarding what I would like saved.  In those emails I’m pretty sure I sounded like a budding serial killer, but Billy was patient with my endless questions and saved me a bunch of my requests.  Leading to a pickup of this cooler a few days after the cow met its end.

Over the course of writing this blog, I haven't had that many moments where I truly questioned what I was doing. However, when I opened this cooler on the back porch at Kristi's grandmother's house, I couldn't help but mutter "what the f*ck is WRONG with me?!?" aloud as I nervously chuckled and shook my head

That right there is a bunch of organs and unusual cuts from a grass fed cow, stuffed into trash bags and thrown in a cooler.  I’d imagine it took a lot of unnecessary effort to butcher the cuts I ended up with, especially since they were for someone else, so big thanks to Billy and his buddy for doing so.

After hanging with our friends Tara and Nancy until late on Sunday night after picking up the cooler, I realized I needed to get this stuff cleaned, trimmed, vacuum sealed, and in the freezer before it spoiled.  I prepped accordingly.

That cleaver gets used pretty rarely and is only partially effective when it is. Those towels underneath are still showing the battle scars and stains they saved the butcher block island from

I had a general idea of what was in the cooler, but there was a lot left to discover.  First out was a cut I hadn’t seen before but one that looked the most normal of anything in the batch.

Looked like flank steak, but the symmetry made it clear that it wasn't

My first guess was that it was cheeks, but Billy had mentioned that he wasn’t able to keep any parts of the head due to sanitary reasons.  Also, the fact that it was in one continuous piece didn’t seem right.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop some disgusting bombshell here (that comes later).  It turns out that it is the piece between the spine and diaphragm, which I believe is known as hanger steak.  See!  This blog isn’t all gross!  There’s stuff we all overpay for when paired with french fries that they call “frites”!

Next up, a throwback to one of the early posts on this blog back when I knew even less about what I was doing than I do now.

A return of the absurd cutting board, on top of another cutting board, on top of a butcher block island that was intended to be used as a cutting board. There's a classic Phil Hartman SNL skit called the Anal Retentive Chef, and the reality is nothing they spoofed in that skit comes close to these OCD moments from me

The heart was quite a bit larger than the one I cooked a couple years ago, and it also didn’t arrive pre-butchered.  The only steps I took before bagging and labeling was removing the ventricle and valve-laden top area and cut the whole thing in half so I wouldn’t need to prepare it all in one meal.  Should have mentioned that part of the goal of bagging was getting everything into individual meal portions.  You know, so I can drag out the misery for my friends (joy for me) for more than one meal.

Next up was the thymus gland (or sweetbreads) and tongue.  Both of these don’t require a ton of detail since they are pretty common on restaurant menus, but….

Nothing to see here, move along move along

The thymus gland isn’t that pleasant to look at it in it’s fully butchered form, but when it’s still encased in the hard, bloody fat that surrounds it, it’s even less so.  I will have to revisit this when it’s in some sort of delicious meal in a few months.

The tongue. I've got lots of these thanks to Billy and David from Snow Farm. This one required a little rinsing

The tongue had the biggest, “oooohhhh, daggg.” moment of the entire process when I removed it from the trashbag and found it still covered with grass from the cow’s last meal.  As I said in the chicken slaughter post, it’s occasionally good to get a reminder of the previously happy animal on the other end of your grubfest.  I love eating animals, but if this paragraph grosses you out and the $18 Filet at Applebees doesn’t, it might be time for a reminder that your meat doesn’t grow in styrofoam packages.

Alright, enough preachiness on topics other people care about far more than me, how bout some kidneys!

From the second I opened the cooler, I recognized that smell, yet I honestly didn't know there were kidneys in there until I started digging around. Nice of Billy and the crew to peel them for me.

Although the kidneys had that distinct kidney smell, they also smelled cleaner than the ones I had purchased previously.  Not sure if that makes any sense or if I was just imagining it because I liked the idea of the non-factory farmed cow smelling fresher.  Regardless, I have no idea what I will be doing with these kidneys since the last few months have left me a little kindney-ed out.  Will think of something.

Next to last out of the bag was the whole skinned cow tail.

That is some extremely cool looking food, and also some easy entry point offal. My friend Marshall has a great recipe for oxtail that calls for an un-separated slab of sliced bacon and a pound of ice, I'll have him send you the recipe

I’ve had oxtail a couple times before and also participated in a few failed attempts to cook it.  It’s tender and flavorful stuff, like great pot roast, when cooked right.  Usually, it’s sliced perpendicularly into inch-thick pieces and this is the first time I had ever seen a whole tail.

I ended up learning that the cartilage that runs down the center of the tail is a lot thicker than I thought when I couldn’t get through it with less than 4 swings of my cleaver.  This was likely due to my consistently decreasing muscle content, the lightweight/dull cleaver, and my wildly innacurrate swings that either missed entirely or landed an inch to the left of the previous cut.  Oh well, I got it broken down to three pieces and into a bag.

Last up was easily the most bizarre/gross item in the bunch and one that led to multiple, “wait, seriously?” emails from Billy after I requested it; the udder.

I'm pretty sure Billy and co. left the fur on to remind me what this is, but it might just have been that they had no interest in dealing with it. Also, please don't tell my wife that this image was taken in our kitchen sink. Thx

As gross as it sounds, I know from watching lots of TV and web research that this is a somewhat common food at grill restaurants in various South American countries.  I was picturing something incredibly fatty but more like an heavily marbled piece of meat than what it ended up being; a huge block of fat marbled with meat.

I think I've shown how big that cutting board is over numerous previous posts. That udder was a good 10+ pounds

I had no idea what I would eventually do with the udder, but I knew I wouldn’t want to use it all at once so it was cut and divided into multiple smaller bags.  During the cutting process you could see the incredibly odd texture of the meat, with large pockets of fat and pink meat running between it.  Odd stuff, looking forward to experimenting with it a bit in the future, especially after learning a lot this past weekend when I grilled a few slices of it.

After nearly burning out my food saver, here is where I ended up.

That right there is a solid two months worth of blog posts, but I'll need to mix it in occasionally with normal meals to avoid alienating everyone who I cook and write for

This all headed into my chest freezer in the basement in a reusable grocery bag that I should have written “Kristi, don’t look in here” on.  Also, chest freezers and food savers are the best use of $300 (combined) that I have encountered in my life.

Thanks to Uncle Billy for providing me with awesome ingredients along with a beef buyers guide that I have been studying with a confused look on my face like an 8 year old boy with a Playboy.  Next week will either be one of my go to recipes or some pretty interesting food that we made last weekend on our visit to NJ.

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.

Weird Crap I Cook: Goat Head Cheese

I think the name of this post gives a reasonably accurate impression of what will unfold, albeit in obnoxiously wordy fashion.

You know those Saw movies that they advertise once a year around Halloween?  The ones that make you wonder who the hell would choose to sit down and watch horrifically graphic gore for a couple hours of their precious free time?  That’s what this post may feel like at times, except if those movies ended with everyone in the movie becoming best friends and eating a surprisingly tasty meal together.

Before we get started, check out how cute Janet is these days:

Obsessed with her own looks at 7 months old. Maybe I should ask her about her favorite books like that uber preachy article that was re-posted on Facebook a thousand times tells me I should

Alright, now that we’ve broken the ice with that one, let’s get started on this journey.

While wandering through Haymarket with a few friends on the Friday before New Years, I stumbled upon a butcher shop that seemed to specialize in cheap cuts from goat and lamb.  When I saw a skinned goat’s head for $8, I knew I was incapable of resisting and purchased it after having the butcher split it in half with the bone saw.  The previous sentence has surely appeared in multiple serial killer autobiographies.

Once home it went into the freezer to wait for the right meal.  Originally it was going to be soup, but I saw some potential to make a head cheese/terrine and barreled ahead once I saw the minimal instruction available online.

That eyeball is like something out of a nightmarish Pixar cartoon. Way, way too large looking compared to the rest of the head. Remember, it is already split in half down the center at this point

Perfect Super Bowl Sunday food!  I’m the best host ever.

I got started by thawing out the head for a couple days.  Once I tore into the bag, I gave the head a good rinse in the sink and then used a small spoon to remove the brains.  My apologies in advance for what is the toughest shot in the bunch.

Look, this photo was important to setup the post but I sat here staring at it trying to think of something funny to say for 10 minutes. I got nothing, this is just how it looked

The brains were thrown in a bowl and placed in the fridge to wait for their time to shine.  The head got a thorough coating of cumin, paprika, curry powder, salt and black pepper.

Everything looks and tastes better with seasoning

At this point, I had no idea how much meat would come off of this head.  I was picturing the final terrine fitting into a small tin loaf pan, with it mostly made up of the small cheek muscles, tongue, and brain.  It’s hard to believe looking at it, but I seriously underestimated this head.

The seasoned head went into a 450F oven on the top rack to get some roasted color and flavor.  After about 15 minutes, I had this:

I'd feed you some bullsh*t like, "it looked delicious!", but in reality when I pulled the pan out of the oven, the change in temperature caused the right eye to rupture and spray various parts of my kitchen with boiling eye liquid. Even EYE wasn't ready for that one. Puns! Puns lighten the mood!

The head pieces went into a pot of boiling water with a couple dried cloves and a bunch of whole peppercorns to simmer for 3 hours.

While that cooked I hung out with my buddy Matt, originator of the increasingly famous Dupee Burger, and a completely fearless eater.  Perfect company and photographer for the halfway point in the cooking process when the goat tongue needed to be removed and peeled.

Tongue is already out and on the plate. At this point it looked like the terrine was going to be a single serving due to how much the tongue had shrunk

With tongue in general, the most common approach is what I did here; boil it for a bit, peel it, and cook it a little longer.  With the Hogs Head Barbacoa, the 20 hours of cooking made the area that needs to be peeled off melt away completely, but that wasn’t an option here.  I found a little excess on the end to grip and easily peeled from one end:

Good work by Dupe here, especially considering it was after 11, I was pouring IPAs freely, and he was dealing with the increasingly awful point and shoot camera in low light

The peeled tongue and head halves went back into the simmering liquid for another hour and a half while the DB and Dupee made our way through a Long Trail variety pack.

After fishing the head out of the pot with tongs once again, the meat was falling off the bone.

I'm anxious to get to the point in this post where I don't feel the need to apologize for every photo but it's not coming anytime soon

I let the bones and meat cool down for fifteen minutes but kept the pot of cooking liquid on the burner with the cover off so that it could reduce and concentrate for another hour or so.

Once everything was easy to handle, I started picking over the bones a bit.  There was a lot of loose cartilage, bone and skin that I immediately threw away.  The cheeks and tongue provided a good amount of meat, but I also found meat in random crannies as well as around the eyes.

I say "around the eyes" in hopes that some of the people who ate it don't read the captions. I actually took the meat around the eyes and the eyeballs as well. My guess is I am never allowed to cook for my friends again

After a few minutes, I had some piles of meat.

Clockwise from top left: palate, tongue, cheeks, and misc. Way more meat than I expected to come off of such a small, lean-looking head. That goat would be so flattered to know I described its head as "lean-looking"

This led to a little game Dupee referred to as “is it food?”  Basically, I tasted each bit of meat separately and decided whether it would be considered edible and also sorted out any bone or cartilage that snuck into the piles.  The answer is that most of it is food, except the palate which was the texture of a flip flop that had been boiled for three hours.  The other revelation was that the meat tasted far more like lamb than I expected.

From there I cubed the tongue and chopped the rest of the meat together.

Dupee really came up huge on a post that Kristi would absolutely want no part of. In fact Kristi saw the relatively innocuous looking roasted head and ran out of the kitchen shrieking "ooooooooohhhh, I saw it! I saw it! I saw it!" with her eyes tightly closed

With the meat chopped and in a bowl, I got started on the other key elements.  Most importantly, the brain.  You didn’t think I forgot it, right?  Silly you.

I started out by throwing diced bacon and chopped carrots in a hot pan together and letting them cook for 6-8 minutes.  While those cooked, I chopped up a pile of fresh mint leaves to blend into the meat.

I am far from a technically proficient cook, especially with a knife, but I blame that dangerously protruding pinky on the IPAs

I had purchased cilantro too, but mint seemed like the right call with the flavors in the rub and the strong lamb-like flavor of the head meat.

With the herbs chopped and the bacon rendered and crispy, I threw the two halves of the brain into the hot pan and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Brains are cool looking food. I believe what I am doing here is called "gilding the lily"; basically surrounding something that will look foul to most people with delicious looking items

After a few minutes on one side, I flipped the brains and added a long pour of white wine, (about 3/4 cup) and turned the heat up on the pan.  The goal was to poach the brains and let the carrots soften while the wine reduced.

Carrots, bacon, and white wine can make anything look and smell delicious

After another 10 minutes, the wine had reduced and I pulled the brains out of the pan and transferred to a cutting board.

I cut off small pieces for Dupee and I, and found the texture and flavor to be a better version of what I ate in Morocco.  Very soft and creamy, like Laughing Cow cheese.  Tasted strongly of lamb/wine/carrot/bacon but with a metallic aftertaste.  Not iron-y, almost copper-y?  Not sure, something like that.  The rest I chopped to add to the head cheese ingredients.

The brain really reminded me of the awesome, "This is your brain on Long Beach Island" florescent shirt I wore growing up. I wish I still had that shirt and some of those insanely stupid Big Johnson shirts

Along with the drained carrots and bacon, a small splash of apple cider vinegar (no more than a tablespoon), and salt & pepper, the chopped brains headed into the bowl.

The head cheese mixture smelled great at this point, but there was still a lot of doubt in my mind that it would be in any way edible

The reduced cooking liquid is an important part of head cheese (or any meat terrine) since the liquid has gelatin-like characteristics from boiling the bones and skin.  Mixing in a few ladles of the liquid helps the head cheese/terrine bind together into a loaf when it cools.

I was hoping to avoid using this loaf pan again since I wanted thicker slices, but there was way more than I expected

I'd tasted every ingredient and smelled how good the seasoning was, yet I was still completely terrified by what I had made

I covered the loaf pan and the head cheese went into the fridge to set for 12 hours.  It was during that time that I realized the perfect condiment to serve with it.  An item that had been in my fridge for longer than Janet has been alive: homemade kimchi.

I prepared this back in June. Every few weeks I sent Conor a text message to the effect of, "Con, I think the kimchi is ready!" then forgot about it in the back of the fridge for another ~20 days. I have an above average sense of humor

I’ve only had kimchi a few times in my life and from what I can tell it’s just spicy pickled cabbage.  So that’s all this is.  I had an extra half head of green cabbage leftover in early June so I sliced it, tossed it with a little sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, siracha and lots of rice wine vinegar and packed it in a tupperware.  Then it sat in my fridge for 8 months.  But, I tasted it last week and it had all the contrasts the head cheese would need with crunch, spiciness, and a little acidity.

So, on Super Bowl Sunday I ran the bottom of the loaf pan under hot water (brilliant call by a still horrified Kristi), flipped it upside down and tapped the head cheese out of the pan.

Cut it in half so that I could get this shot and also to send half to Cambridge with Dupee so he could share it with our friends on the wrong side of the river. Oh, and ruin the day for my vegetarian friend Taylor

As everyone arrived, I pulled the slab of head cheese out of the fridge and cut a couple slices off expecting the usual; Conor and I eat a bunch of it and Buschy has a tiny taste with his eyes closed.  Until I tasted it on some toasted bread and was a little surprised.

The texture was creamy, but not in a bad way; just different from what I expected since the tongue, cheek, and bacon played a prominent role.  The flavor was surprisingly good; not too strongly funky, just rich lamb-like flavor complimented well by the mint and sweetness from the wine & carrots.  And that was before I put on a spoonful of the chopped kimchi.

Still in disbelief that not only did this end up being eaten instead of thrown out, but it ended up playing a crucial part in some deliciously unique food too

The kimchi pushed it over the top.  All of the contrasts I noted before worked perfectly without overpowering the flavor of the head cheese.   More amazingly, it made the head cheese look appetizing to people besides Conor and I.  Against all expectations, everyone except Kristi (traumatized) ended up trying it and most had seconds or thirds.  I only ended up throwing away two small slivers!

The white is the brain. That wasn't how I pitched it to people. Also, toasted bread was just to sound like I actually present things elegantly. It was actually toasted, thin-sliced, day-old everything bagels from the bakery department at Stop and Shop. Giant bag for $1.99 was tough to refuse

One of the best parts of writing this blog is that it has forced me to experiment a lot with building flavors and working with meat I’ve never handled before.  It’s pretty awesome when it works out that I can transform something no one would try on their own into tasty food that people eat seconds of.  Another best part is that I can normally get them to eat it before posting and letting them know what they really ate.  I am an ass.

Next week, the rest of what was served at the Super Bowl party and particularly my cabrito sliders.  It was a “no animal left behind” theme and we covered goat, venison, pork, chicken, and lamb.  Not too shabby.

Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa

After hearing stories of cows head barbacoa and seeing the process on various food shows, I was completely hooked on the idea of giving it a try.  I wanted to find out why, despite everyone raving about the flavor, the idea of it repulsed so many people.  When the opportunity to bury and cook something for 24 hours emerged with an upcoming (then) camping trip, the only obstacle I faced was finding a cow’s head.  As it turned out, fears about prions from the brain contaminating the meat made it impossible to purchase a cow’s head in and around Boston.

Just as I was giving up, a friend saw a sign in the window of the butcher shop in our neighborhood of Jamaica Plain advertising hogs heads for $.89 a pound.  I assumed this would be a straightforward substitute and moved forward with purchase.  However, I couldn’t find any documentation online about ways to cook a whole hogs head aside from boiling it, and certainly not info on burying it to make barbacoa.

So I decided to wing it based on various techniques for other meat, and here is the story.

The head arrived frozen and came to a grand total of $13. After thawing for 48 hours I put the head in the sink to begin the preparation process.

I am not a sadist, but I do smile instinctively when pictures are taken of me

The first step was to remove the tongue since it made the head tougher to handle and I was concerned it would give the meat an odd flavor if cooked altogether.  I reserved in the plastic bag you see to the right.  Afterwards I rinsed the skin thoroughly, rubbed salt into the skin and then rinsed again.  During the process, I noticed that the butcher had missed some hairs on the face of the pig…

Mach 3 Turbo, only the best for this guy

…which led to the awkward experience of shaving the pig.  Afterwards, I rinsed again, patted dry with paper towels, and removed the ears.  I then generously seasoned all surfaces of the head with salt, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic.  The tongue got the same exact treatment; rinsed thoroughly and seasoned.

Once head and tongue were ready to go I wrapped them fully in banana leaves I purchased from the local grocery store and secured the leaves with kitchen twine.

This is about as old school as cooking methods get

Then heavy duty foil

Slightly more new school

Based on shows I had seen on other meats cooked in ground, I needed to find a way to attach a chain to the meat so that they could be easily placed in the cooking pit and removed later. I did this with picture frame wire, two hooks, and a chain purchased at a hardware store for $7.  The whole shebang then went back in the cooler and headed for the campsite.

Charcoal and Meat having a cordial interaction before their inevitable confrontation

At the site, we dug a 2’ deep by 2’ in diameter hole and made a fire at the base of the hole.

That’s a well dug hole, courtesy of the Mooman

Once the coals had burned down, the meat was lowered into the hole and positioned.

This is admittedly a posed photograph, multiple shots were taken during the lowering

Ater some deliberation, we decided to position the head neck down

We quickly covered the meat with dirt to trap the heat of the embers.

The top of the head was 10-12 inches below ground level

And built a fire on top that we would need to keep going for the next 24 hours.

The first thing you learn in business school is using the teepee method to get a fire going; works every time. Also, note the chain in the back for easy meat removal later.

After 24 hours of Maine microbrews, little sleep, and lots of angst over whether this would work, it was time to start digging this thing up.

The roasting site cleared of embers and logs. The ground was still very hot, though.

After a couple shovel loads of dirt a puff of steam shot up from the dirt and the ground appeared to be bubbling.  As I started to pull the chain, more steam and smoke shot out from the small opening in the ground.

The steam carried the ash and dirt from the pit. Pretty cool and a little scary for some reason.

The tongue emerges with the head not far behind. At this point I touched the foil and it felt lukewarm. I was crushed, but tried to hold out some hope.

Close up of the head and me taking the wire frame off. Still couldn’t feel any heat coming off the head.

I knew this part would be messy so I put on the same shirt from the day before. OK, I never changed because I was camping. Mooman didn’t mind

When I finally got the foil off was when I realized for the first time that the head had definitely cooked.  It was a huge relief.

Much more deflated than previously and soaked with rendered fat

Very thankful that it smelled amazing since we all had to pretend it didn’t look a little gross

The second I attempted to move the head after it was unwrapped, medallions of cheek and jaw meat fell out onto the banana leaves.  It was the richest and most tender pork I have ever eaten in my life.

Scraping a knife along the skin caused large chunks of meat to separate from the remaining fat and fall off. I will spare you the rest of the photos of mining for meat inside the head.

The fat had rendered almost completely and the meat separated easily from the remaining fat and skin.  After picking for a bit, we had about 2-3 pounds of meat that we served with corn tortillas toasted on a comal, lime, and fresh cilantro.

Seriously delicious, like slow roasted pork shoulder but richer and more tender

The tongue had also cooked well in its separate wrappings.  The usually tough skin was tender as can be and we simply sliced the tongue and made tacos de lengua.

The contrast in flavors and textures was amazing when mixed though both were great on their own

And that was it.  The tacos with fresh cilantro and lime were a perfect vehicle for the rich meat and an incredible payoff for the effort we put in.  It was a reminder of how great food doesn’t have to be expensive, it just takes time and effort.

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site