Tag Archives: Charcuterie

Home-cured Bacon and a review of Alexian Pate

~ Brined Pork Belly ~

It’s been over a year since I started to post homemade charcuterie on TasteFood. One of my favorite recipes – and easiest – is the home-cured pork belly, aka bacon, which I continue to do on a regular basis. I am here to say, that you – any of you – can do this too, and that once you try it, there will be no going back. Not only are the results positively swoon-worthy, the process is ridiculously simple. You only need to plan ahead.

Home-Cured Pork Belly

Five pounds sounds like a lot of meat, but the bacon is easy to freeze and a welcome gift for your bacon-loving friends. Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine.

5 pounds pork belly with skin
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Rinse the pork and dry. Lay on a large sheet of parchment paper. Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a mortar or spice grinder. Coarsely pound or grind. Mix in the garlic. Smear the spices all over the pork. Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag, turning to distribute the spices. Place on a rimmed baking tray and refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the bag every second day.
After 7 days the pork should feel firm to the touch. (If not, refrigerate an additional day and check again). Remove the bacon from the bag and thoroughly rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat oven to 200 F. Place bacon in a rectangular baking pan and roast until the meat is brown and an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 150 F., about 3 hours.
Transfer the bacon to a cutting board. Slice off the skin with a long, thin knife. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator. Cut in portions and wrap in plastic. Bacon will keep in refrigerator for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

See? Easy to make. All that you need is time to plan ahead for a week of letting the meat brine in the refrigerator. Admittedly, we don’t always have time for such a project, and when a go-to specialty product comes across my radar for easy use, I am interested. So it felt a bit like Christmas when I recently received a box from Alexian Pate and Specialty Meats filled with an assortment of pates, rillette and terrines.  On the heels of a year of Charcutepalooza posts on TasteFood, it must have been evident that I love charcuterie. When Alexian reached out to me and asked if I would like to try a sample selection of their all-natural delicacies, it was hard for me to resist.

As most of you know, I rarely do product reviews. It’s not so much out of principle, but more that I rarely come across products which genuinely excite me. Call me picky, I prefer my products authentic and my ingredients to be fresh and natural – especially when it comes to meat. So, Alexian caught my attention. Their charcuterie are all-natural, with no chemical preservatives, fillers, additives and colors, and their meats are free of antibiotics and growth stimulants. They are a family run business, and “A Certified Woman Owned Business Enterprise” to boot, with their traditions dating back to Germany’s 17th century. With that resume, I was quite impressed and eager to taste a sampling of their specialties.

When the box arrived, it indeed felt like Christmas.  We have happily indulged in Duck Liver Mousse with Cognac, a rustic and hearty Pheasant Rosemary Pate, unctuous award winning Duck Rillettes, and a silky Truffled Mousse flecked with mushrooms and laced with sherry.

The flavors of the products reflected the company philosophy. They were fresh with a clean taste of meat and no lingering gaminess. The Truffled Mousse was the family favorite, smooth, creamy and delicately perfumed with truffle. Each package came with a shelf life of at least 56 days, enabling us to savor and enjoy each item over several weeks, pulling them out for an easy rustic dinner of cheese and pate or as an appetizer while entertaining. I will continue to make my own charcuterie when I want a project. When I want a go-to specialty meat product I won’t hesitate to buy Alexian.

If you are looking for other charcuterie projects, you might enjoy these recicpes from TasteFood:
Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a Recipe for Apple Prune Chutney
Homemade Bratwurst and a Recipe for Beer Mustard
Homemade Italian Sausage and Broccolini Pasta
Homemade Merguez

Full disclosure: I received the Alexian products free of charge. The opinions I have written are entirely my own.

The Grand Finale: Charcutepalooza Cassoulet

~ Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew ~

Finally the finale. The year of meat has come to an end. This month is the last Charcutepalooza challenge, which requires a menu, platter or composed dish incorporating 3-4 of the charcuterie items prepared over the year. My first inclination was to prepare a platter, because, frankly, this is how I best prefer to enjoy charcuterie – on a large wooden board with an array of little bowls filled with pickles, mustard, black peppercorns and sea salt, accompanied by slabs of country style bread (and just a little cheese.)

~ Caramelized Home-cured Bacon, Boar & Pork Pate, Pork Rillettes ~

But this is the finale, so something more substantial and celebratory than a charcuterie board is in order. December is holiday season, and nothing speaks more to our Danish family than duck at Christmas. And what better way to celebrate duck than with a cassoulet – a French white bean stew brimming with duck leg confit, sausage and bacon. This version is not an authentic cassoulet, as I had to use whatever homemade charcuterie I had in the freezer or could make on short notice. So, I am calling it a Charcutepalooza Cassoulet – or a Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew.

Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew

Start with uncooked white beans for best results – canned beans will turn mushy. If you don’t have access to duck confit, then substitute with an additional pound of duck breast. Serves 4-6.

1 cup dried cannelini beans or northern beans, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound duck breast (1 large), skin removed and reserved for another use
1/2 pound mild pork sausage
1/4 pound bacon, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (15 ounces) plum tomatoes with juice
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 confit duck legs, boned, meat shredded

Bring beans and 4 cups (1 liter) of water to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour. Drain.
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof pot with lid or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and duck breasts in batches without overcrowding. Brown on all sides. Transfer to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, halve each sausage and cut duck breasts in 2 inch chunks.
Add bacon to the pot. Saute until lightly brown and fat renders. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add garlic, onion, carrot and celery.  Saute until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add wine, scraping up any brown bits; reduce by half. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, bay leaf and thyme. Stir in beans and return sausage and  duck breast to the pot, submerging in the stock. (If necessary, add more stock to cover.) Cover and transfer to oven. Cook until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Remove from oven and stir in the duck confit. Return to oven and cook, partially covered, for an additional 1 hour.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman‘s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a recipe for Apple Prune Chutney

 Charcutepalooza Challenge #10: Stretching
Pork Rillettes with Calvados 

These little pots of meaty goodness promise to make right in the world. Rillettes are potted jars and terrines of meat confit, slow cooked in fat, shredded and packed in more fat. Rustic, unctuous and oh-so-rich, a little dab goes a long way. Which is why the process of making rillettes is called “stretching,” which is this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge.

Stretching is an economical and sparing way of making meat last – using all of the last bits and preserving them for later use. It’s a method steeped in conservation and frugality, yet its results are rich and luxurious. It’s the paradox of French country cooking, and it’s why I love it.

Duck, goose and pork are traditional proteins for rillettes. I chose pork and adapted a recipe from WrightFood where the pork is spiced and marinated overnight in Calvados, then slowly cooked in duck fat. Need I say more?

~
I like to accompany rillettes with fruit chutney. The sweet piquancy of chutney adds a fresh balance to the rich meat. Chutneys are flexible and forgiving. Use a mix of fresh and dried fruit, combined with an acid, such as vinegar or citrus. Sweet and savory with a kick, chutneys are perfect accompaniments to meat and poultry.

Apple Prune Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 large shallot, chopped, about 1/4 cup
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted prunes
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Armagnac
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon finely ground juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add apples and shallot. Sauté until beginning to soften without browning, 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until liquid has nearly evaporated, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until use. May be made up to 2 days in advance. (Flavors will develop with time.)

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman‘s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Homemade Duck Prosciutto and a Tartine

For those of you not in the know, there is a fabulous food blog event taking place as we speak. I refer to Charcutepalooza: A Year in Meat, hosted by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster. These two bloggers have come up with the inspirational idea to cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman‘s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie along with the participating food blogging community. I am a huge fan of charcuterie as well as the precepts of using sustainable and humanely raised meat, so it was without hesitation that I joined in the Charcutepalooza party.

The first challenge of the year was to make homemade duck prosciutto. I have long wished to make my own prosciutto, and what better way to get my feet wet (or hands salty) than with duck breasts. The only difficult aspect of the preparation was waiting 7 days for them to cure. During this time I learned two valuable things: Duck prosciutto is extremely easy to make, and that patience is a virtue – at least when it comes to curing meat.

There are many ways to enjoy duck prosciutto, the simplest quite often the best. In this case I prepared a tartine, or a French open-face sandwich. The prosciutto is paired with melting reblochon cheese and layered over mixed greens. At once rustic and fresh, this recipe is a great way to kick off Charcutepalooza’s Year of Meat.

Duck Prosciutto and Reblochon Tartine

Reblochon is a soft cow milk cheese from the Savoie region of the French alps. It may be substituted with Saint Nectaire or Camembert. Try using a variety of greens and herbs. I used what I had on hand: flat leaf parsley, mizuna and radicchio.

Makes 4

2 slices of french country bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups mixed greens, such as lambs lettuce, frisée, green herbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 wedges Reblochon or Saint Nectaire cheese
4 sprigs rosemary
4 slices duck prosciutto

Preheat oven broiler. Lightly brush bread with olive oil. Arrange on baking tray and broil, turning once, until lightly golden. Remove from oven, but don’t turn off the heat.
Place greens in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper; toss.
Place wedges of cheese in a small baking pan. Top each wedge with a rosemary sprig. Broil until cheese begins to soften and bubble, 1-2 minutes. Remove from oven.
Arrange bread slices on a plate or platter. Top with greens. Place a cheese wedge on the greens. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the greens and cheese. Sprinkle with pepper and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Serve immediately.

If you like this, you might enjoy these TasteFood recipes:
Salmon Gravlax
Tomato Bruschetta
Bruschetta with Spring Greens, Lemon and Ricotta Salata

or how about these Charcutepalooza entries from the food blogs:
XXX Nibbles from Bona Fide Farm Food
Baby Spinach Salad with Apple, Cashews and Duck Prosciutto from Healthy Green Kitchen

The Pig Chronicles – Home Cured Ham

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OK, I am going for it.  I put a call in to my foodie friend, Diana. I need to find a pig.  Well, actually just a part of a pig, but ideally attached to a living member of a farm community, blissfully nibbling away in an area that is kind to people and animals alike – Sonoma County, California.  Bliss and terroir are important. The pig should be happy, organically raised, and living from a local, natural diet that will impact the flavor of its meat.  I can’t dictate the nature of the geography, but my guess is that Sonoma county is not a bad place to start.

My back-up plan is to purchase a leg directly from an organic meat producer.  I had a nice chat with the man at the Prather Ranch table at the farmers’ market this morning, and he can help me out if I cannot adopt a pig.  Prather Ranch is located near Mt. Shasta, and as environments go, this is a very nice one, too. This would also sort out a dilemma I face (sorry) which is my own cowardice/hypocrisy/whatever-you-want-to-label-it: while I will happily invest in a pig’s welfare, upbringing, diet and care, I would prefer not to meet it.  It would be too difficult to face later.

So, I will own a quarter of a pig, or a leg, or however I am able to arrange it.  What I am specifically interested in is its rear end.  You see, I am after a ham, because I am determined to try and air-dry my own.  Salted, air-dried ham, or prosciutto, as I prefer to call it, is a favorite in our family diet.  We’ve been known to seek out obscure villages and towns  in our travels just to taste their air-dried ham and meat specialties. It’s also a frequent guest on my blog.  The lynchpin for me was when we visited Anna at the wonderful Villa Gioianna last month, and she showed us the hams she had air-drying in the cave of her turn of the century villa in Umbria.  Encased in salt, they had been hanging for months, while a man from the nearby village would come round weekly or so to see how they were drying and add more salt.  At that moment, I knew, I had to get my own pig.  Or at least its rear-end.

This will be a long process – up to half a year - and I will blog about it as it progresses.  My only wishes  at the outset are (1) finding a space that is consistently cool (60 F.) on our property in California  and (2) that my husband won’t be relocated.