Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day, Pork and a Heart

This is a blog in 2 parts. First is a part about what's most certainly not about a lesser cut or guts.

I just ate the best pork chop I've ever had in my life.

Knowing that today was Valentine's Day and that I'd be making myself dinner at home I sought out a good piece of meat. I stopped at The Butcher and The Larder and picked up a really nice looking pork rib chop. I prepared it simply topping it with bread crumbs that were toasted with garlic and sage and a bit of Dijon mustard. Sear it off and in the oven for 12 minutes.

Serve with some sauteed spinach and wow. Just wow. What made it so good? Well, it came from an animal that was humanely raised. Fed organically, and butchered by some guys who really know what they're doing.

As an old girlfriend's good ole boy brother in law once said "The Lord knew what he was doing when he made the pig."

OK, enough about that. It's Valentine's day. And it's all about heart. Last night was about heart for me.  I had dinner with a buddy at The Bristol. These are guys who "get it." Chef Chris Pandel and the owners John and Phillip are guys who are dedicated to serving local, seasonal fare and are dedicated to nose to tail cooking. What's that you may ask? Well, it's about eating guts. They're not afraid to serve the nasty bits because they know they can make some amazing things to eat from these things.

Take for instance this amazing beef heart dish I ate last night.

Beef heart served with roasted root vegetables, bone marrow dumplings, and roasted root vegetables. Now, if you've never had heart before, and I'd imagine there are a lot of you who haven't, you really need to give it a shot.

Surprisingly it's quite mild in flavor. It's incredibly lean, and when made properly it's crazy good. This version was simply fantastic. The bone marrow dumplings added some fattiness to the dish that paired wonderfully with the lean heart. The root veg added a bit of sweetness and it was topped with a bit of pork jus just to make it even more decadent.

So, maybe I didn't have a date for Valentine's day, but I got my Valentine Heart yesterday from some guys who really get it.

I hope you're eating well tonight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Ancestor's Leftovers

So, after all of the meat and the offal are eaten and there's nothing left but bones there's still some amazing eats left.

First of all, you can take the bones and make stock. There's a pretty big difference between broth and stock. Broth is made from the meat of an animal. Sure it's tasty, but you know what? Chefs know something you don't. Stock is where the real culinary magic lives. Stock is made from bones. Now, you might be thinking “Bones? What's so special about bones?”

Well I'll tell you. Bones are loaded with collagen. When you slowly simmer bones for hours with mirepoix (that's carrots, onion, and celery) bones release their collagen. So, what's the big deal with collagen? Well, it gives your stock this amazing unctuous texture along with the flavor of the bit's of meat still attached to the bones. Now you've got something special.

But don't turn all of the bones into stock. There's something even more special in some of them that you really want to eat. Marrow!

Bone marrow is amazing! Growing up we used to fight over who would get to eat the little bit of marrow in the round steak bone when mom made steak for dinner.

So what's so special about marrow? Well our ancestor's would eat it as sustenance as they scavenged a carcass. Gross right? NOT!

Historically, native American hunters would pass up a thin bison carcass, rather than eat the lean muscle or just eat the fatty meat left over they'd crack open the bones and eat the marrow inside. Bone marrow was a very popular food among foragers because it's a great source of protein and calories. Of course, whatever killed the bison couldn't get into the bones, but our ancestors knew how to break the bones open to get to the goodness inside.
But it's not something you can just grab at the megamart.  You'll have to go to a good butcher shop to get it.

I did just that last week.  While at The Butcher and The Larder  Rob, the owner, was breaking down a side of beef. I inquired about any marrow bones that might be available.  While they didn't have any in the case they said they had a whole femur in back they could cut for me. SCORE!

They brought out a femur from a Dietzler Farms animal. The femur is loaded with marrow. A whole femur makes two good sized serving of marrow. He tossed it onto the ban saw and cut each ball joint off the ends then cut it in half. I could hardy wait.

When I got home I prepared the marrow by simply placing it into the oven and roasting it for about 20 minutes. While it was roasting I sliced some bread to spread it onto, and made a parsley and shallot salad top it off.

Oh man! Was it good.

So what's the point? Sure you can get a tasty steak from cattle, but once the meat is gone why waste what's left? You shouldn't, because there's still some stuff left that tastes even better than the prime cuts.

Our ancestors knew it. Why don't you?

So, go out of your way. Instead of going to the megamart to buy your meat, go to a butcher and ask what's good. He'll turn you on to some amazing stuff.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bacon Day!

Wow, what a crazy week. I'd set the goal of writing 3 posts per week in this blog, but I failed miserably in that. I'll do my best to get back on track.

Anyway, blizzard schmizzard. Yesterday was the end of the curing process for my bacon. I pulled it out of the cure, rinsed it under some cool running water, wiped it dry and set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet then put in the refrigerator to dry overnight.

I woke up on Super Bowl Sunday and darn it if it's not snowing. Well Mother Nature, I don't care. There's bacon to smoke and you won't stop me.

First I took my pork belly out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.

Here's what it looked like after the cure.

I plunked a few chunks of apple wood into a bowl of water to soak. This process will help the wood to smolder and smoke rather than burn.

I shoveled a path through the freshly fallen snow in the back yard and made a small space on the snow covered patio for my smoker.

I set up the smoker, lit a small fire and waited for the temp to come up to 200 degrees. Once it did I put the belly onto the top grate, covered it up and now we wait.

It's going to take about 3 hours for the internal temperature of the belly to come up to 150 degrees. Now we wait.

OK 3 hours is up, the internal temp of the belly is right at 150 degrees and now we have BACON!

Behold its salty, smokey, sweet goodness!

And that's it. Sure it takes some time, but the steps aren't all that hard. Actually you don't even need a smoker. You can do this on just about any BBQ grill.

Now I have enough bacon to last me quite a while and it's so much better than anything you can buy in the store.

So get out there and start making your own bacon.