Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nice cheeks Ma'am

It's been a long time, 8 months give or take since I last updated. I haven't officially been on hiatus, just really, really, really, busy sorting out moving house, arranging a wedding, DIYing said house, sorting the garden, travelling overseas with work, painting the house... and so on. I hope to start posting regularly again soon. Realistically it'll be post wedding and honeymoon period, so mid-September time.

Anyway, we were in Windsor this weekend. On Sunday we stopped at the Windsor Royal Farm Shop for a look around. While poking in the chilled meat cabinet I spotted some pig cheeks nestled amongst the chickens. I had to grab them, as I've rarely seen them in the shops (saying that, I'm sure if I looked for a few moments in Oxford's excellent covered market I could definitely find some). What I really mean is, "Given my endemic laziness, I haven't come across any pork cheeks that were presented to me at near eye-level".

So, what to do with them? There's only really one answer to that, "Guanciale" – Italian cured pork cheek. I've not had it before and have been meaning to try it. One link on Wikipedia is titled "Italy's ultimate answer to bacon", high praise indeed. Clearly I need guanciale in my life.



Having two cheeks meant that I could experiment with smoking one, and leaving the other unsmoked. I read around and decided that the larger cheek, 'big brother' as it was dubbed will be cured and cold smoked over oak. The smaller cheek, 'little brother' will be cured with curing salt #2, salt, sugar, pepper, and juniper. Big brother was cured following Jason Molnari's recipe on Cured Meats. The only change was that I used pink peppercorns (this is all getting a bit meta: a blog, involving blogging about recipes read on another blog).


Here's the spice mix for the little brother.




Big brother, left, and his younger sibling
Both cheeks were put into bags and the spice mixes added. They will cure for 2 weeks. The beauty of the equilirium method is that you can't over-cure. I'm giving the cheeks longer than the normal 10 days because fat is much more impermeable to salt than meat. After 2 weeks I'll pull these. Then it's off to the smoker for the big one, and into the curing chamber for the smaller one. 

Guanciale

(this is the mix I used for the smaller cheek, see the link above for the larger one)


IngredientPercentage of meat + fat
Pork cheek
100%
Salt
2.7%
Cure #2
0.25%
Golden caster sugar
1.5%
Black peppercorns (ground)
1.0%
Thyme (dried)
0.4%
Sage
0.3%
Juniper berries (ground)
0.4%

Monday, 18 November 2013

Pie failure no. 2

So I had a crack at pork pies again, this time using St Delia's recipe. She advised using a deep muffin tin, which sounded like a good idea since it gave me a chance to get used to the recipe/techniques before going to a full hand-raised pie. I dutifully cubed the pork shoulder by hand and mixed with the salt, pepper and spices. Before they went into the oven they looked like this:

Mmmm, pie

But, when they came out of the oven they looked like this (despite heavy greasing of the tin and putting a pre-heated baking sheet underneath):

The dreaded soggy bottom
So it looks like further work is required. Perhaps putting semolina in the bottom of the pie to soak up the excess juice?


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Chicken and Ham Hock Pie

This was supposed to be a post about how I'd made a brilliant chicken and ham hock pie, which I kind of did - it was a pie and it did contain chicken and ham hock - but, it wasn't a total success. The pastry sank and split during cooking so there was no way to pour in the delicious stock/jelly. It's more like chicken and ham hock in a bit of pastry, but it's delicious nonetheless.  

More holes than swiss cheese; but it is technically a pie

This all came about because I was watching Andy Bate's Street Feasts on the Food Network this past week where he made said chicken and ham hock pie. It really looked the business, so I decided to give it a go yesterday. I've never cooked ham hock before, though I've eaten in many times, mainly in Germany (Schweinshaxe) where it's roasted and typically served with sauerkraut and fried potatoes, nom! I'd also not made a hot water crust pie before, and it turns out it's something I'm going to need to practice. It's easy to make: water and lard in a pan, turn up the heat, add to flour and mix. Job done. But then you need to let it cool. And cool. And cool... I must have waited at least 40 min before the pastry became even slightly workable. Then it sank faster than the Titanic and leaked. Ho hum.

I'm not sure that I'm allowed to reproduce the recipe here, but I can put up some photos of each step that I did, including the mistakes. Maybe someone can offer me some tips on hot water crust pastry in the comments below.

Hock-y goodness
Take two ham hocks. I got these form the covered market in Oxford, 2 for £5.

Stock photo
Cook the hocks for 2-3 hours in a stock with onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and a teaspoon of black treacle. Afterwards reserve the stock and reduce by one-third to one-half. Allow the stock to cool, this will be the jelly for the pie once it's cooked. Assuming it isn't full of holes like mine was.

Shredded hock
Shred the hocks. Mine literally fell off the bone after 3 hours of cooking. I discarded the fat and bones and gave the meat a good twist of pepper. Take your chicken and bash it between clingfilm to flatten it. Do not use your granite pastry rolling pin, it will break.

Looking good...
Then I made the pastry, which took forever to cool and become workable. Reserve one-third of the pastry to make a lid. Roll out the other two-thirds to a diameter slightly larger than the base and sides of the tin. Line your pre-greased tin with the pastry. Fill your pie with alternating layers of ham hock and chicken.
I think that I might have made the pastry too thin; I only had a 22 cm cake tin to cook the pie in, so I probably needed to make the pastry thicker to support everything. At this stage I thought the pie was looking pretty good, and I admit that I had pretty high hopes for it.

Out-of-focus broken pie
(notice the leaks at the front. And on top. And on the left etc)
After an hour or so have a look at the pie. Take the ring off and brush with beaten egg. Or in my case, swear loudly as you realise that all your hard work has disintegrated. Then carry on regardless.

Assuming you make it this far with a pie intact, well done! You are better than me. Once your pie has cooled, heat your stock and pour into the hole in the top of the pie. Allow to cool.

I hope you have more success than I do, if so let me know! I will definitely be having another go at this. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Smoking season is upon us!

So I made some bacon. I took the temperature drop last weekend as a sign that cold smoking season is go. Not that I don't cold smoke things at other times, but it just feels right at this time of year. As it happened pork loins were on offer in Sainsbury's (two for £10) so it would have been rude not to buy two and make enough bacon to freeze (I'm actually eating a bacon sandwich while I type this - one of the perks of a day off work).

Black bacon has become a firm favourite here at Meat Wrangler HQ. I also made the maple syrup, black pepper and chilli bacon again, but to be honest it didn't turn out quite as nice as the last batch. Oh well, there are more recipes out there to try. I'm naturally cautious of some bacon recipes I've seen that involve things like whisky - but then bourbon glazed ribs are fantastic, so maybe I should give them a chance. I'm going to experiment with some of the recipes in Maynard Davies' book and see how they turn out.

I've been trying to work on my photography a bit

Dry cured bacon


  1. Equilibrium cure for 1 day per 1/2" thickness plus 2 days, in a plastic bag in the fridge. See Phil Young's recipe here.
  2. Rinse and pat dry (congratulations! You have just made bacon).
  3. Rest uncovered overnight in the fridge to form a pellicle on the meat. The pellicle allows the smoke flavour to adhere.
  4. Smoke for 12 hours over wood dust of choice (I used oak this time).
  5. Rest overnight in the fridge again.
  6. The next morning make yourself the best bacon sandwich you've ever had.
  7. Slice up the remaining loin and freeze if you're not going to be eating it within a week or so.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Whole pig spit roast setup (2)

I said in my last post that I'd share some photos of my pig roaster all set up. Well mes amis, here we are. Sorry it's taken a while to get this post up: I've been away working in the Far East and only recently got back (I travelled out the day after we held the hog roast). Then I've been busy decorating (rock and roll eh!). Anyway, on with the story...

There was an administrative 'mix up' and the frozen suckling pig didn't arrive until Friday ahead of Saturday's planned festivities. I thought it was going to be pushing it to get it defrosted in time. Luckily we'd been experiencing a heat wave, so piggy actually defrosted pretty quickly. Even so, at the time I was concerned that on Saturday I'd be staring down at a frozen suckling pig with 30-odd people about to descend on the house expecting a hog roast. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, in the event it all turned nasty, I could use the frozen carcass to shield myself from their blows. Perhaps if I could see the rage building in advance I could even club a couple of them with a frozen leg...

The only thing I could do was use the 'bag and submerge in water' method and keep everything crossed that it would defrost in time. Long story short: it did defrost in time. That done, I needed to give it a rinse. The only place big enough to do this was, of course, the bath.

Like the shower scene from Psycho, only
potentially more delicious
The pig went into the bath on top of some plastic bags and I gave it a good blast under the cold shower before drying inside and out with kitchen roll. To help the skin to crackle I scored it using a Stanley knife with the blade barely protruding from the end. The inside cavities were then rubbed with a mix of crushed fennel seeds, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

These...

...became this
The pig was then re-bagged and the bag covered in ice to keep him cool overnight.

An icy rest overnight
On Saturday morning I got up early to prep for his final journey. I man-handled piggy out into the garden and onto a wallpaper pasting table covered in foil, later to act as our carving table. Note to self: it turns out wallpaper paste tables are really flimsy; especially if you buy the cheapest one you can find. The skin was rubbed with rosemary and salt (remember I had scored it the night before).

Rubbed with salt and rosemary

Getting the spit in was the easy part, just a matter of sliding it in one end and out of the other (so to speak). Next came the most difficult part - securing piggy onto the spit. We finally managed it with the help of our neighbours (we needed Jo's surgical skill  she's a nurse); it involved drilling holes either side of the spine and attaching U-bolts around the spine and spit (see here for the previous post describing the kit). The U-bolt in the middle of the back went in fine; it was the second one around the shoulder area that caused a major headache. It turns out that spines are not perfectly straight (who knew?); the U-bolts could also have done with being a bit longer. In the end we resorted to cutting the fat away from the back of the neck almost down to the spine, this allowed us to get the u-bolt in and get it secured. We were ready to roast some hog!

The pig weighed around 12 kg. I started the fire at 09.30, and put the pig on just after 10 am. It was ready to eat around 15.00, so 5 hours or so. As you can see from the photo below I had indirect heat on both sides, with a slight gap in the middle for the fat to drip through (and into foil trays). The fire was hot enough that you could hold your hand at pig height for about 10 seconds before it became unbearable. The pig was about a foot (30 cm metric lovers) above the fire level. 30 min before the end of cooking we built up the fire to crackle the skin. I have to admit the motor was an absolute marvel, far, far easier than turning by hand. All I did was check it every 20 min or so to make sure it wasn't burning. Of course, once people started turning up I loitered next to it holding a beer and made out that I'd been slaving away for hours. I had a meat thermometer to hand and kept checking the pork to make sure it reached 70°C internally.

Almost ready!

We carved it up on the paste table, which under the juices and fat became more unstable by the second. It was delicious. The pork was meltingly tender, with a smokey taste and a hint of the fennel and garlic coming through. It didn't need anything extra; in fact, after the second pork roll I abandoned the bread and resorted to just carving bits off with a knife.

Once everyone was done there was nothing left, not a scrap: it was like a scene from a cartoon where piranhas strip a whole cow to a skeleton in 5 seconds. Sadly I have no photos of carving or eating as I was too busy stuffing pork into my greedy fat face. Glorious!