Weird Crap I Cook: Cow Udder

Yet another post that seems to be a purposeful assault on every loyal reader that enjoys my wacky attempts at new eggplant and bread recipes.  This one is about an item that I can only assume usually ends up in dog food.

This post is a few months in the making at this point.  I feel like I’ve been threatening to write about udder for some time but hadn’t finished everything required to create a (somewhat) well informed post.  So, now here we are, with a whole post about cooking something you can pretty much only obtain in the U.S. if you know someone slaughtering a cow.  However, it’s apparently a common item in a few South American countries at restaurants that grill all parts of the cow, which means I had to try it.

A little refresher on what came in Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny (working title):

Seeing this photo reminds me of how bummed out I was when I saw the fur and hair still attached to the outside of the udder.  Like that massive-sized chunk of almost pure fat wasn’t enough to make my knees buckle

This 15 pound chunk of udder was divided up into 4 portions and frozen separately so I could slowly make use of all of it.  Lucky me.

The first attempt was relatively straightforward and coincided with the cooking of the Ponce back in May.  It started with trimming the outside edges off of the block to get rid of the random ugly-looking bits I missed originally.

“Oh here, let me make this foul looking piece of sort-of food less gross by trimming off some gross stuff that people would have never noticed because they won’t eat it.” – Me, always

I was working a little haphazardly with the udder on this round since I was completely over-invested in the fate of the ponce.  Not sure it would have mattered, though, since there aren’t many resources on how to cook cow’s udder online and I was pretty much flying blind the whole time.  So, I simply sliced the udder into quarter inch thick slabs and soaked in salted water for a few hours.

Nobody should ever eat anything that looks like a deck of cards made out of fat.  But, if that’s the hand you draw, I guess you gotta go with it.  Puns!  They’ve worked previously!

While the ponce finished cooking in the oven, we fired up the grill to cook kielbasa so I seasoned the udder with salt and pepper and threw the slabs onto the grill.

Everything looks better on a grill.  Cow udder looks like innocuous chicken breast

After a good ten minutes on each side, the udder came off and headed to a cutting board to be sliced up for the hungry masses (me).

Looked kinda like a chicken cutlet but smelled like the fat on the edge of grilled steak.  Even looking at it now it’s hard to believe that is a piece of cow udder.  Cow udder!

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it was still not quite what I expected.  First, it tasted like the fat on a good piece of grilled steak; definitely beef-like and fatty in flavor, but almost like I’d covered it with unsalted butter before cooking.  I had assumed the texture would be a melty, soft, fatty texture but I was pretty off-base on that one.  The outside was chewy, like severely overcooked calamari chewy, and borderline crunchy with a soft inside.  Not something you could eat a lot of, but kind of addictive due to the texture and flavor.  I ate more pieces than I should have.

With that experience fresh in my mind, I recognized I still had a lot of udder left in the freezer and wanted to try a new technique the second time around.  During our trip to Italy a couple years ago, I fell in love with the insanely unhealthy and delicious cured lardo at Giostra in Florence.  Usually made with pork fatback, I had never seen a beef equivalent; like a beef bressaola to pork’s prosciutto.  The internets had no info on a beef lardo equivalent or even how to cure beef fat, so of course I was intrigued.  It all started with a block of udder cut into two equal width halves.

This one looked a little different than the last block, possibly due to an extra post-thaw day in the fridge that was a bit of a questionable decision.  Like this whole effing blog entry wasn’t an incredibly questionable decision

With curing something this large, unlike the relatively simple duck prosciutto, there are more concerns about creepy bacteria and, particularly, botulism.  Pink salt, a nice term for salt mixed with sodium nitrite and a little nitrate, has to be used in order to ensure that the end product is safe to eat.  Nitrites/nitrates are pretty villainized but a reality of most charcuterie.  I mixed a cup of salt with a couple tablespoons of pink salt, garlic powder, dried thyme, dried sage, and lots of black pepper.

I let Janet consume reasonable amounts of dirt and grass (you really can’t help it) and don’t mind her crawling around in public places, but I was acting like an insane parent with how I handled the pink stuff.  That stuff is no good for babies, probably bad for adults too but at least we get to enjoy its delicious riches

I lined the bottom of a glass pyrex with the salt mixture, then placed the udder pieces into the dish and covered all sides completely with the salt making sure no parts of the meat were left exposed.

It was a snug fit but better than being in a much larger dish and needing more salt.  The coating also did a solid job of hiding the oddness underneath it.  Salt, is there anything you can’t do?

I wrapped the dish tightly in two or three layers of plastic wrap and then placed my special cooking brick (we found it in the garden and wrapped it in tin foil) on top of the udder.  The idea is that while it cures in the salt, the weight would press out excess bacteria-risky liquid.  The whole kit and kaboodle (how have I not used that expression here before) went into the fridge for 30ish days.

The fridge light makes this look both creepy and sh*tty-filter-that-everyone-uses-on-Instagram-y.  I would describe myself as generally irritated by Instagram.  I would also describe myself as generally irritated about everything

Over the next 30 days, I pulled the dish out every five days or so to flip the udder pieces, pack in the same salt mixture, re-cover, and weight.  Over time, the salt got progressively wetter and there was liquid collecting in the dish.  I wasn’t sticking to any specific timetable, I was winging this one and lardo usually comes out after seven days, but eventually I decided it was time to remove it from the salt.

That was some viscous liquid collecting around the sides, but it was nice to see that something had changed and looked different.  I was putting way too much effort into this thing to have no progress

Each piece was removed from the mud-like salt and given a quick rinse in water and then white wine.  The white wine was a bit odd in retrospect, but lardo and proscutto recipes call for a fortified wine rinse, and I didn’t care to figure out what “fortified wine” meant, so I broke out the ollllld Chuck Shaw.

You know we’ve switched to the good camera when the water looks like this.  We’ve also reached the portion of the program when Kristi agreed to participate.  Also, the dark spots are pieces of dried herb that stuck around throughout the process

Subpar action shots on this one.  Kristi and I aren’t on speaking terms because of this

With the bottom half of the wine fridge lined in light-blocking cardboard from the inside (as discussed in previous posts) I had a 54 degree location that was perfect for curing.  I poked a hole in each slab with a bamboo skewer, pressed a string through it, then tied it to the bottom side of one of the wine racks to hang.

Ended up having to redo this so that they were both on the same string and wouldn’t swing into each other.  In hindsight it was a pretty stupid concern, it’s not like the fridge was going to be in the hold of ship

And that was pretty much the last I saw of the udder for the next 60-ish days.  The rack slid back into the wine fridge and the udder cured in 54 degree temperatures in what I came to know as “the curing box”.  Kristi still calls it the wine fridge.

After a couple months of curing and some general food boredom post-St. Anthony’s feast in the north end of Boston, I pulled the udder out of the wine fridge.

A lot smaller than when I started.  Totally not something you can see from a scale-less photo

After a few minutes of staring, smelling, poking and general stalling, I finally started cutting off some slices from the block.

Just a big old block of cured beef fat.  The discovery of foods like this is rarely done by people of smaller dimensions than mine.  Let’s just say I don’t think this is the type of food Giada De Laurentiis is making at home.  Before looking her up just now I was unaware she spelled her last name with two “i”s and now I am pretty sure that’s not her real name.  Another thing I am generally annoyed by

The key with any lardo is to slice very, almost transparently, thin.  After tasting a tiny piece raw, I decided this was definitely the type of food that would taste better with some heat applied to it.  Toasting pieces of baguette and letting the lardo melt onto them seemed like the best course, but I didn’t have any good bread in the house so I fried up a batch like bacon.

Thought I had a good shot of the thin slices on the cutting board but apparently not.  Has the transition back and forth from the good camera to the iPhone been jarring?  I find it jarring

While the slices cooked the smell was somewhere between pan cooked steak and a natural tallow candle.  It definitely was a reminder that what I was about to eat ends up as something other than people food 99.9999% of the time in America.  Not that I think that’s wrong; udder isn’t exactly the next head cheese coming to the menus of trendy gastro-pubs nationwide.

It looked/smelled reasonably appetizing at this point.  Not sure you can go wrong frying something fatty and cured like you would bacon, seems to always work.  Again, not the type of conversation you’re going to hear around the starting line at a 10k

Cured cow udder isn’t for everyone, but it was actually kind of good.  The most shocking thing is how sweet the cured udder is.  Not like how I would describe shellfish as sweet, this was very sugar-like.  It legitimately tastes like bacon that has been baked with brown sugar on it, almost a candied flavor.  I racked my brain to try to remember if I had put sugar in the cure but realized the sweetness was coming from the udder.  Likely the last remnants of the milk which is gross or cool depending on how you look at it.

Obviously I was working with just the fat here, so there wasn’t a lot of texture aside from the crispiness, but it really tasted like beef-flavored crispy bacon fat.  I am actually looking forward to frying this up again and seeing what I could pair it with.  Will likely experiment with it some more in LBI this weekend.

I am just happy it was edible, I really thought I would be throwing it out after 90 days of (minimal) effort.  Hopefully I’ll do a post everyone can enjoy next week.

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.