canadian bacon, charcutepalooza, charcuterie, making bacon, ruhlman, salt curing

Charcutepalooza: 2 Beasts, 1 Week–Pt. 2 The Salt Cures

Go ahead and twist my arm. Tell me I have to make my own bacon(or other dry cured options) and I won’t fight you on it. It’s actually the natural progression of things as we first buried a duck breast in salt, before we hung them, to make our own prosciutto. So, we would continue our collective educations on salt and move up to larger cuts of meat. When this challenge first started, I still was without the RuhlmanCharcuterie” book and drew from his website for a general idea of what was needed. After that, there was only the choosing of what cut of pork(or other appropriate animal) I would use. There really wasn’t much of a choice as it was either belly–which I currently have 9lbs of locally obtained belly in my freezer at the moment–or loin, for something of the Canadian style. But, damned if I didn’t try to get some jowl for this challenge to forgo bacon altogether in favor of some guanciale. Maybe I’ll be able to wrangle some up in the coming weeks and give it a go.

While I could have played around with different meats, though the lamb belly fell into my possession after the curing had begun and goats belly was no where to be found , I opted for the Canadian variety. Finding a recipe on line was easy as was some naturally raised, though not local, loin. It didn’t hit me until after I finally received the book that Ruhlman doesn’t have Canadian bacon in the dry cure category, but puts it later in the book under the ‘smoked meats’ chapter. So, this whole task may be a bit of a cheat but I’ll claim ignorance and an inability to hook up with the UPS guy to obtain the book before I started on my way.
Ruhlman’s dry cure is simple:

Basic Dry Cure
1 pound/450 grams kosher salt (2 cups Morton’s coarse kosher salt)

8 ounces/225 grams sugar (about 1 cup)

2 ounces/50 grams pink salt (10 teaspoons)

Combine and mix till pink salt is uniformly distributed. Store indefinitely in air-tight container.

That, dredged over, around and in this:

It lived in a gallon sized Ziploc bag in our refrigerator for a week. I thought it was more interesting to don some gloves and start this challenge than it was to watch The Black Eyed Peas during the Superbowl Halftime. My Chicago Bears weren’t playing and I lost my cheese bet, so what did I have invested? This was more engaging to say the least.

I added only an eighth of a cup of dark brown sugar to the dry cure as an added seasoning. Good bacon should be relatively unchanged–ie, I don’t need it to be curry or candy cane flavored to be appealing–so that’s how I treated it. The first thing I did, every day when I came home from work and took off my coat, was to check the pork loin and redistribute the moisture that was collecting in the bag. This, I learned, would help the cure penetrate and preserve the meat. Makes sense.

So, for a week I watched this experiment in my kitchen grow slightly pinker and firmer with each passing day(I’m sorry, but I can’t find the words to not make that sound perverted in any way). While the duck breast relied on the environment to reach it’s perfect state, this would require a little more work and coaxing. It also, as I found out when it was finally time slow roast it, would take twice as much time as the recipe for using a belly. Something to consider as I spent four hours roasting this after returning home that evening from the Lion Dance parade in Chinatown.

But, though I was tired and near tears because I just wanted the damn thing to come to 140ish degrees, the final product was better than I could have hoped for.

It was, as the book promised, “beautifully roasted” and the salt was perfect in it. While I’m not a huge fan of nitrates in my bacon, I’m willing to acknowledge that a little dose of them for curing purposes are ok(and much more appealing than not using any or trying celery juice or beet juice for the coloring).

But, there is still a meal to be made with this and, for that, I turned to the obvious choice of Eggs Benedict. Hollandaise sauce and I have a history going back to culinary school where, out of all of the assignments, my attempt to make it failed horribly. First, I drizzled clarified butter on the burner and managed to start a small fire and then curdled my egg yolks and had to have the chef teach me a quick fix for the sauce breaking. Since then, I haven’t had the balls to pull myself away from the blender hollandaise. Until now,that was, as I opted to try a still gentler approach via Martha Stewart.

I placed my yolks and water in a double boiler

and whisked for four straight minutes until it was time to slowly add the melted butter and whisk some more until it was thickened

But, I had missed a few steps. I added the lemon juice AFTER it had been thickened when I was suppose to add it before. I was also suppose to remove the bowl from the heat and didn’t. So, just soon after admiring the velvety texture and feeling so proud of my victory… the sauce broke. My shoulders fell instantly and I took the bowl over to the sink, ready to toss the whole bit. But, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I couldn’t fall victim to a hollandaise sauce again. So, I turned back to the stove, poured in a bit of water and started stirring again. Like magic, it came back together and all was not lost.
While all of this was going on I was browning some of my gorgeous bacon,

toasting an english muffin and scrambling an egg(no time to attempt my first poached egg today). And, while I felt like a circus clown juggling so much and crying a bit on the inside, I did end up with a beautiful weekday brunch

that lasted only moments on the plate.

Next month we brine!

canadian bacon, charcutepalooza, duck proscuitto, reclaiming a failure, saucy things

Charcutepalooza: 2 Beasts, 1 Week–Pt. 1 Duck Proscuitto

I would like to tell you that my participation and interest in Charcutepalooza stems from a rich fascination and appreciation with cured meats. Sadly, though, it stems more out of cabin fever and a type-a need to keep stimulated during the grayer months. It comes from not only environmental duldrums but from a general itch to pick up a new skill. When the buzz started hitting the online communities, and Kate passed on the link, I signed up immediately without thinking. I don’t have a smoker, a grill, a Kitchen Aid(for meat grinding and sausage stuffing) or really anywhere to hang cured meats. Hell, I didn’t even own the book, that was to be our bible, until the first week of February and, by then, I was playing a quick game of catch up and relying–when I could–on others posts about their duck breasts and bacon ideas.

But, I had access to very good local meat, good knives, pink salt, an amazon account and a very supportive Missus. So, a little while after the ones first to the party had already published their stories of duck breasts and salt, I signed up and gave myself a year of getting to know meat, and all of it’s beautiful preservation possibilities, a bit better.

Luckily, the women behind this endeavor–Cathy, from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen, and Kim from The Yummy Mummy Gourmet–started us all very simply with a call for Duck Proscuitto. Brilliant as I love the Duck Proscuitto that I’ve gotten locally from The Cheese Iron. And you say I can make my own at home? Even more brilliant.

Now, the challenges here aren’t so much about the recipes used to cure/preserve the meat but what we’ve taken away from each step–our failures and successes–and what we’ve created with the meat that we’ve made. This first challenge, like when I planted my first garden seeds and something green sprouted from the dirt, showed me that I could do it–unlike the emotional disaster that was an attempt at corned tongue. This would be my redemption.

A Bell and Evans duck breast was purchased, several cups of salt were used and a dubious hanging room was created. This is the room before we moved in this past summer:

Good friends of ours, CIA graduates and chefs, had this as the bedroom for their first born son. She, a co-worker of mine, found it all too appropriate when I turned it into this:

This was, until very recently, the Missus’ office and actually looks like this:

Some improvisation had to be made to adjust temperature and humidity to make the climate in the room more hospitable to the breast. But, just as the room transformed from a bedroom to an office and then my curing room, the duck evolved from this:
with the help of some coriander seeds, dried orange and lemon peel, mustard seed and oregano.
To this:

and then finally, to this:

All with a few cups of salt, cheese cloth, butchers twine and a weeks worth of patience.

Upon first smell, when I finally got to cut it down, I exclaimed,”It smells just like proscuitto!” Honestly, I was shocked that I had gotten it right and that it didn’t smell putrid. I had, just days before, joked to the Missus that, “No one has gotten food poisoning yet, maybe we’ll be the first.” But, we wouldn’t get sick that evening, when I eagerly sliced thin strips off of the tiny breast. Thankfully, though the taste of the meat was much too gamey for either of our palettes, we would make it through the evening without a single stomach gurgle.

But, what to make with this prosciutto that I now had on hand?
“You could make risotto,” this Missus suggested, “You haven’t made that in a while and you were getting good at it.”
So, there it was. I gathered up my Mario Batali book, “Molto Italiano” and my ingredients

and went to work.
For a good 15 minutes, I stirred and stirred and stirred away

Glancing back over my shoulder constantly to check exactly how long I needed to keep stirring according to this particular recipe:

And then, just before my arm got tired or I was distracted by something shiny, it was done

The duck, which we had shrugged off when it was first done curing, turned creamy and tamed by the Parmigiano Reggiano and Taleggio cheeses and the slight sweetness of the peas.
So, I apparently can do it. While the coming weeks will bring harder challenges and financial strains(a smoker and a meat grinder/sausage stuffer MUST be procured), the hardest challenge is out of the way–not being afraid.