brining, charcutepalooza, corned beef, pickling, the year of meat

Charcutepalooza pt. 3: Brine It.

This month’s Charcutepalooza assignment seemed like the easiest one we’d have overall. We were told, using Michael Ruhlman’s ‘Charcuterie‘ book as a guide, to simply brine something. Chicken, duck, beef or what have you–just throw it in your brine for the appropriate amount of time and cook it how you see fit. This was our next step in our lessons on salt and worked to show us how our chosen cut would react to a long bath in a salt water and seasoning medium.

Brining is an easy way to add flavor and moisture into your cut and I’ve done it numerous times with chicken, pork and beef–basically anything I could fit into my gallon sized Tuperware container without taking over my refrigerator.

For me, with this being right before St. Patrick’s Day, there was little doubt that I wanted to use a brisket to make a corned beef boiled dinner. But, I wanted it to be a bit more special and my goal was to have the meal completely composed of Maine grown/raised/procured ingredients. Luckily, even in the last gasps of a long, snowy winter, it wasn’t too hard to gather it all up.


The brisket came from Cold Springs Ranch, in North New Portland, ME, via Whole Foods; the pickling spice was purchased at Rosemont Market on Munjoy in Portland;the cabbage and Potatoes from Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, ME; the side of Jewish Rye Bread was baked in Litchfield, ME at Black Crow Bakery. The only ingredients, though purchased at Whole Foods in Portland, that aren’t Maine made were the butter(for the bread), salt, sugar and pink salt.

The centerpiece, of course, was the beautiful brisket with it’s deep red flesh from it’s grass feeding and lean with just the upper shell of fat across the top. It bathed in juniper berries, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, mustard, oregano, dried citrus peel, coriander, salt, pink salt, water and sugar for exactly seven days. Half way through the week, though, panic set in as I checked on the progress of the whole experiment. The meat, so striking in the picture above, sat gray in it’s brine.

Gray meat, I don’t have to tell you, is not a pretty sight and I’ve had it before with previous corned beefs I’ve made and, most recently, the tongue(that apparently did traumatize me so much that I can’t stop bringing it up lately). But, this isn’t suppose to happen, right? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of using sodium nitrates to eliminate this meat unsightliness?

I became angry, frustrated and then disappointment. I looked at the recipe in the book 10 times in less than 20 minutes, rechecking the required amount of pink salt. I blamed a possible error on my part as the cause of the gray mass. But, I had it right. In fact, I followed it to the letter and was baffled at what was before me, still lingering in the brine.

I stomped out onto the deck and had a cigarette when, to calm me down and give me some clarity, the Missus reminded me that I had 300+ bloggers I could reach out to for advice and to see if this was happening to anyone else. So, after my ‘chill the f out’ cigarette, I went to bed and logged onto the groups Facebook page when I woke up the next morning and posted:

The following was a conversation I had in my head after reading the posts:
*inhale*
See, this is normal *exhale* *inhale* You’re not the only one. See, everyone using a brisket or tongue is having a bit of gray, too *exhale* With a string of recent cooking/baking fails, I couldn’t take one more long project failing because I had misread something or mishandled ingredients. The admin of the Facebook page was also nice enough to post a picture to prove that they’re all a little gray on the outside. I hadn’t failed, I had only overreacted.

And, thankfully, this one wasn’t a failure. While it was slightly gray on the outside, it was exactly what I had hoped for on the inside: pink and peel away tender. Towards the end of the cooking time I cut the cabbage into eighths and added it to the pot with the corned beef. The potatoes were done in a style that I knew growing up as “salt potatoes.” It’s a style, introduced to me by my mom when I was still living in Albany, where you essentially add several cups of salt to the water you’re adding the potatoes to for boiling. They turned out to be a well chosen side as the brisket, even thought it was more than half the weight recommended for the recipe, had very little saltiness to the meat.


Then, after several hours of a very low simmer, the meat was pulled and set aside for slicing as I plated up everything else.


This Irish girl’s early St. Patrick’s Day tribute to my adopted home was complete and worth every fret and flutter it caused my heart. Thanks to the Charcutepalooza crew that helped to ease my fears and reminded me that one of the huge points of doing this group project is to learn from, and lean on, each other when we need it.

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fun with avocados, lots of pork, pickling, pork belly dreams, pork belly tacos

Pork Belly Tacos with Guacamole and Pickled Red Onion

After spending the past month moving, unpacking and settling in, spending forever cleaning our old shit hole (if we have to go to court with our landlord over the security deposit I’m going to completely tell the story of that place here)…what better way to spend my first real day off than cooking for 7 hours straight?
I think, by the end of this post, you’ll understand why it was all worth it.

Onions completed.


Chile, garlic, citrus spice rub for pork with a bit of cinnamon.


Grilled pineapple ready to be minced for the Guac.


Inner workings of the guac: tomato, jicama, toasted cumin, mint, cilantro, lemon and lime juice.

Roasted Pork Belly

1 Pork Belly – 2-2.5lbs
Salt – Kosher
Black Pepper – Fresh ground

Prepare the pork belly: Preheat your oven to 425°. Dry the belly throughly with paper towel, this will help crisp the skin. Score the belly with a sharp knife in a diagonal pattern about 1/2″ apart. Scoring the belly allows seasoning to penetrate the meat and helps to keep the skin flat when roasting. Season the bellies aggressively, to taste, with salt and pepper. Rub the salt and pepper into the scores, making sure no areas are missed.

Roasting: Roast the belly on a wire rack over a sheet tray, so it doesn’t sit in it’s own fat when roasting. Make sure to place the belly fat side up, so its fully exposed to the heat of the oven. You can also place the belly on a bed of cut vegetables, like onions, celery and carrots when roasting to keep the pork off the bottom of the pan. Start the pork at 425° for 45 minutes uncovered, then reduce the oven to 350° and roast for 2 hours. Starting at a high temperature will give a jump start to the crisping process, lowering the oven assures the pork won’t over brown.

Note: Some bellies are fattier than others. To keep a smoke free kitchen, check the belly after 30-40 minutes and pour off the excess fat from the pan. Feel free to do this as many times as needed.

Out of the oven: Remove the pork from the oven once crispy and tender. Most importantly, let the beautifully golden brown pork belly rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Once rested slice thickly and enjoy!

Chili Garlic Rub
Here’s a quick and easy rub to put on the pork belly before roasting to add even more flavor.

5-6 Dried Cascabel Chiles – A mild, slightly sweet dried chile
5-6 Fresh Garlic Cloves – Peeled
1tsb Black Pepper – Fresh ground
2tsp Salt – Kosher
Zest of 1 Lemon

Make the Rub: Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Pulse the ingredients until a thick paste is formed. Rub the paste on the raw pork belly before roasting.

Roasting: Follow instructions as posted above.


Zuni Cafe Pickled Red Onions

4 cups distilled white vinegar
Scant 2 cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces
4 whole cloves
2 pinches ground allspice
1 small dried chile, broken in half if you prefer a spicier pickle
2 bay leaves
About 20 black peppercorns
1 ½ lb. red onions

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, chile, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat.

While the brine is heating, peel and trim the onions. Slice them into rings about 3/8 inch thick. Separate each slice into its individual rings, discarding any thin, leathery outer rings.

When the brine mixture boils, add about 1/3 of the onion rings and stir them under. They will turn hot pink almost immediately. As soon as the brine begins to simmer around the edges, about 20 seconds, stir them under again, and then remove the pot from the heat. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon, tongs, or a spider, and spread them on a platter or rimmed baking sheet to cool. They should still be firm. Repeat with the remaining onions, in two batches.

Once the onions have cooled—you can slip them into the fridge to speed them along—repeat the entire process, again in three batches, two more times, always adding the onions to boiling brine, retrieving them promptly when the brine begins to simmer again, and cooling them completely. [If you are cooling your onions in the fridge, this will not take as long as you think. It’s not so bad.] After the third round of blanching, thoroughly chill the brine. Transfer the onions and brine into jars: we used two quart-size Mason jars, which were each about two-thirds full. The most important thing is that the onions be in a container that allows them to remain submerged in the brine. Store in the refrigerator.

Age the pickles for at least a day before serving. They’re very good after 24 hours, but the flavors will have melded more harmoniously after 48. From there out, it’s delicious all the way.

The Guac was inspired by a brief happening upon the Drive-ins, Diners and Dives–or whatever it’s called on FoodTv–and his visit to Momocho in Cleveland. While I’m not a fan of the host of the show, I was drawn in by the chef’s combinations in his guacs(like smoked trout, goat cheese and crab meat). I however, went a simpler route and chose his combo of pineapple, jicama, chile and mint. I also added toasted cumin seed and, because my plants are no where near ready, I had to buy a few tomatoes. It was a small setback in my goal to NOT buy any this summer, but I just can’t have guacamole without them.

Overall, they were simply the best tacos I have made to date–even better than these— and it was definitely the BEST pork belly I’ve made as I didn’t manage to f up in one way or another. The skin had great cracklin to it and the citrus and chile in the rub really came through. The belly was perfectly drippy with fat and juices and wasn’t too bad a few hours later when I cut off a few more strips and enjoyed them straight up.

Pork Belly Tacos with Guacamole and Pickled Red Onion on Foodista

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corned beef, pickling, tongue

Corned Beef Tongue–The Adventure Begins

Friday night we picked up some food from Duckfat and, yet again, they were out of the beef tongue on the menu. Luckily enough, I managed to find one from Cold Spring Ranch, North New Portland, ME amongst the frozen organ meat at Whole Foods and have decided to make my own. Sure, it won’t be ready until next Friday, but I’m hoping it is worth both the work and time.

This is the recipe that I’m using:

River Cottage Corned Beef Recipe

The brine:
5 quarts water
4 to 6 pound piece of beef (brisket or flank)
1 pound demerara or light brown sugar
3 pounds coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon juniper berries
5 cloves
4 bay leaves
A sprig of thyme
3 tablespoons saltpeter (optional)

For the actual cooking:
1 bouquet garni
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1⁄2 garlic bulb

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a large saucepan and stir well over low heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Bring to a boil, allow to bubble for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Place your chosen piece of beef in a nonmetallic container, such as a large Tupperware box or a clay crock. Cover the meat completely with the cold brine, weighting it down if necessary with a piece of wood. Leave in a cool place (a place under 40F, such as the refridgerator) for 5 to 10 days. Joints of less than 6 pounds should not be left for more than a week or they will become too pickled.

Before cooking, remove the beef (or tongue) from the brine and soak it in fresh cold water for 24 hours, changing the water, at least once (you could make that 48 hours if it had the full 10-day immersion). Then put it in a pan with the bouquet garni, vegetables, and garlic, cover with fresh water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach very gently on top of the stove—or in a very low oven (275ºF) if you prefer. A 6 pound piece of beef will take 21⁄2 to 3 hours. Cook until the meat is completely tender and yielding when pierced with a skewer.

Serve hot corned beef carved into fairly thick slices, with lentils, beans, horseradish mash, or boiled potatoes, and either creamed fresh horseradish or good English mustard.

And this is the tongue:

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