Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Duck and Armagnac Rillettes

A few weeks ago I posted about some confit duck that I'd made. I said then that the plan was to make them into rillettes. Well, I've got this week off work so it's the ideal time. I'd told Sandra at work my latest plan and she bought me in a present: a jar of rillettes de canard that she's got while on holiday in France. So I've now got something to aim for.

That's French for 'potted duck'

As some of the rillettes will be given away for Christmas I bought some small jars to make them look like I'd made a bit of an effort.  Before I started I washed the jars in hot soapy water and put them in the oven at 120 to sterilise them. The lid were covered in boiling water from the kettle.

Duck and Armagnac Rillette Recipe

  • The meat from 6 confit duck legs (see here for my confit adventure);
  • 2 tablespoons of the confit fat
  • The reserved confit stock (I used 2-3 tablespoons)
  • Armagnac (or any other spirit)
  • Pepper

I used a kilner jar to store my confit duck, so the first thing was to get the duck out of the solid fat. I just warmed the jar a little bit to soften the fat. It was a bit of a messy affair. And by a bit I mean 'a lot', and I 'a lot' I mean it went everywhere. So I'd suggest using gloves. Really. Use gloves (it also makes you feel like you're in an episode of CSI, or satisfies your inner latex fetish, whatever). 

From the left: melted fat, armagnac, duck stock and meat
  1. Strip the meat off the bones and place in a sturdy bowl. Grab a wooden spoon and pound the bejesus out of it to form a coarse paste.
  2. If using, taste the reserved stock (to gauge for salty it is), add a small amount to the meat and beat it in until it's combined. Keep tasting and adding more until it's just salty enough. I added around 2-3 tablespoons.
  3. Re-render the fat and put it through a sieve (this removes any rogue skin, meat or bits of bone that you might have missed). Add 2 tablespoons of fat to the meat and beat it to combine; at this stage it will start to take on a paler colour and look more like pate.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of Armagnac and a good grind of pepper and give everything a good mix.
  5. Add more Armagnac and pepper to taste. Hint: don't take a big swig of Armagnac before you do the tasting (as I did), it means you won't be able to taste the Armagnac. But you will start to enjoy making rillettes much more 
  6. Add to your sterilised jars and seal with fat.

Making the rillettes isn't that difficult, it just requires a little bit of time and elbow grease. Covered with fat and kept in the fridge they should last a little while, though they're so tasty they probably be gone faster than a plate of cookies at a weight watchers meeting.

Take rillette, apply to face

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tyrolean Lonzini

Christmas is fast approaching, so I've been hard at work crafting things. I put two lonzini into the curing chamber a couple of weeks ago. I really hope they are ready in time as I am planning as giving them as gifts!

My other Christmas gifts ready to go

I used the recipe from Scott of the sausage debauchery fame. He doesn't go into details as to specific amounts on his blog, so I just free-styled (recipe below; I used a mix of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg as a substitute for allspice). One was cased in a beef bung, the other was left uncased and cold smoked twice (12 hours a time) in a mixture of roughly 50/50 oak and apple. So i guess that technically it's a speck: although it should probably have a thicker covering of fat to qualify. I was really hoping to smoke it four times, but the smoker has been having trouble in the sub-zero temperatures we've had this week - it burned about one-quarter of the way round each time, then went out. I persevered, but gave up after the 8th time.

Here's the recipe that I used:

Tyrolean Lonzino (all credit to Sausage Debauchery)

Ingredient Weight (%)
Pork loin
Cure #2

The cure was mixed up and applied to the loin (90% to the meat, 10% on the fat). The meat was put into a ziplock bag, sealed and left to cure for 10 days. One was cased in a beef bung (see the spicy lonzino post), the other was smoked before hanging. Fingers crossed they're ready in time.

Ready for Christmas?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Duck confit

This week, with the cold nights drawing in, i put the kettle on, had a brew, and thought about my next project. I was reading through the closest thing I have to a holy book - HFW's River Cottage Meat book - when I came across the recipe and pictures for duck confit. What could be better in this cold weather than meat poached for hours in fat until it's meltingly tender? It's something I'd thought of making one day, but never actually got round to (as with many things that I say I'll do 'one day').

"Sod it", I thought to myself, "I should make some".

I stood up (inadvertently spilling tea across the table) and proclaimed in a booming voice ,"I will make duck confit" pointing across the room I added, "To the Man Cave!". Sadly the effect was diminished somewhat by the room being empty, and the fact that I don't have a Man Cave. Or a booming voice.

No matter, a plan was beginning to form in my mind. Not only could I confit some duck, but I could also use some of it to make duck rillettes (that's potted duck to those of us that aren't French).

In their book Ruhlman and Polcyn say "confit should not bring potpourri to mind when you eat it". Wise and obvious words, I'm sure you all agree. I tried to keep the flavours fairly simple as the rillettes will have other flavours added. I trawled the intertubes and my book collection for cooking times. As usual they were all different (ranging from 2 hours to 10 hours), so I went straight down the middle with 5 hours. I managed to squeeze 6 duck legs one of the larger-sized Kilner jars (although I had to just put the meat of the final two legs in, no bones). I'm storing them in fat to let them mature for a few weeks before making the rillettes.

Duck Confit Recipe

6 duck legs;
2 tablespoons salt;
2 cloves of garlic;
2 bay leaves;
1 teaspoon fresh thyme;
6 peppercorns;
Fat (enough to cover the legs; I used goose fat and lard for reasons given below)

1) Using a pestle and mortar smash up the salt, garlic, bay, thyme and peppercorns.

2) Take half of the resulting herby, garlicy salt and rub it into the duck. Turn the duck over and rub in the remaining salt. Place the duck into a suitably-sized container. Cover with cling film and leave to cure in the fridge overnight (and for up to 24 hours if you'd like; I left mine for 16 hours).
3) The next day discard the pink juice that the salt has leached from the meat and rinse off the duck pieces. Make sure to dry them of properly with some kitchen paper. Arrange the pieces in an oven-proof container - a single layer if possible, but two layers is fine. 

4) Melt the fat in a saucepan and pour over the duck making sure the legs are completely submerged. It was at this point that I discovered that I didn't have enough fat. I had failed to recognise that 2 jars of fat would not, in fact, cover 6 duck legs in a container that holds at least ten-times the volume of a single jar. Undeterred, I returned to the supermarket, found that goose fat was no longer on offer, and settled for some good old lard.

Brain-stem tease...
5) Cook for 5 hours at 85 °C. Your kitchen will fill with the aroma of slow roasting duck: a delicious, bewitching smell that caresses your brain-stem and makes it scream "Yes, yes, open the oven, eat it, EAT IT NOW!".
6) Allow the confit to cool. It will keep for up to one week in the fridge if you leave it in the original container. If you want to keep in longer (as I did) you'll need to remove the stock/duck juice layer underneath the fat. Remove the duck pieces from the fat (you might need to heat it a bit to loosen them; be careful they'll be very fragile). Re-melt the fat and strain it to remove any bits. Place the duck legs in a suitable container and pour over the hot fat. Try and get a fat layer at least 1" thick over the top of the legs. They'll keep for a few months somewhere cold and dark.  

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Black Bacon

Something terrible happened last weekend: I had some bacon and I didn't like it. This came as a bit of a shock because I love bacon - possibly even more than the internets love bacon. It's a well known fact that talking about how awesome bacon is makes up a third of all the material on the internet (the other two-thirds being naked ladies and pictures of kittens).

Technically one-third of the internet
To put this in context I'd been out with my brother and a couple of mates on Friday night. I woke up feeling a bit rough on Saturday and to ease our hangovers my brother made a round of bacon sandwiches. Now, in the hungover haze I do remember him saying as he handed me the plate that, "the bacon isn't the best". I think it was The Man's Value, Basic, Smart Price baconTM. Even so, my mouth (and hangover) was looking forward to some salty bacon deliciousness. Oh how wrong I was - my first bite led to an explosion of, well, watery, tasteless, nothingness. As the internet puts it, "Son, I am disappoint".


I know why this is of course. Ever since I started dabbling in charcuterie I've been making my own bacon. It went into overdrive slightly when I got the smoker up and running, but has returned to more sensible levels of production recently. During this time it seems that I've become a bacon snob. I've been using Phil Young's recipe posted on his excellent blog here. This has become my favourite bacon too, it has a nice balance of flavours and isn't too sweet. I've found that I like it best made with demerrera or dark brown sugar, then smoked for 10-12 hours with the ProQ. Of the woods I've tried (cherry, oak and maple) I like the taste of maple best, closely followed by oak. I'm going to try apple and hickory too as they come highly recommended. As an aside I've been getting my wood dust from Hot Smoked and found them to be very good.

This time I thought I'd try making some black bacon - bacon made with treacle - after I'd read about it in Maynard's book . I took the recipe linked above and added a tablespoon of black treacle. I put everything in a ziplock bag and let the pork cure for a week, giving it a massage and a turn everyday. The result is a darkly coloured black bacon joint. With my old friend my electric meat slicer I got over 30 slices of bacon - not bad for £6!

Black bacon

The bacon is pretty tasty, the black treacle taste is very delicate. If anything I'd say the bacon is slightly too sweet for my taste. Clearly some optimising is required: I think I'll reduce the sugar, or remove it completely, as the treacle does add some sweetness of its own. As it is it's a very passable sweetcure bacon.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Toulouse sausage?

With Halloween approaching, we should probably turn our attention to something of serious concern: the return of the undead. Now, if movies and computer games have taught us anything (and they have), it's that if the undead appear the problem can be solved by hiding out in a shopping mall and stockpiling firearms. However, that's a typically American response to the problem. I think Simon Pegg and Nick Frost had it right - just go to the pub and enjoy a pint.

We'll meet here in the event of an undead apocalypse

What has this got to do with charcuterie? Nothing really, other than a slightly tenuous link that Halloween is approaching and tradition dictates that some of the undead, and your loved ones, can be repelled by garlic. Unless of course, we're talking about Twilight vampires - in which case I'd be tempted to reach for that shotgun...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I've been a bit busy with work so haven't updated in a while. I thought I'd bring you all up to speed with how things are going (or how's they've finished in fact). I cured the pork leg according to the instructions linked in the previous post. I wasn't sure about leaving it for rest for one month  when making lonzino it goes straight from cure to hanging after being washed. I'm assuming the resting contributes to the flavour (although if it'd going to hang for 6-12 months, does an extra month 'resting' at 4°C make a difference?). If someone knows why it should rest please let me know!

There was a bit of nitrate burn on the leg (lower right on the picture below)  this is something I've read about but never actually seen: it comes from leaving the meat in the extracted curing liquor for too long. I'll definitely make sure any meat is now raised off the base slightly in future to prevent it sitting in its own juices.

It burns! I'm melting etc

Now, I'm no butcher, but it seemed to me that the leg (as received from the supermarket) naturally divided itself into three. I portioned the leg up appropriately, weighed the pieces, then put them in the fridge to develop a pellicle ahead of smoking. The pieces were cold smoked over beech for four runs, each around 10-12 hours (using the ProQ generator and left to hang in the smoker in between runs). I then hung them up in the curing chamber to dry.

The Three Muskateers. Porthos has let himself go a bit.
The smaller pieces were ready in a couple of weeks. The outside is a little dry in places (easily cut off and removed), but the inside has dried nicely. It has a good, strong smoky flavour and is delicious on pizza, on some good bread bread, or simply scoffed on its own.

Tasty stuff
All this actually happened a few weeks ago, so technically I'm from the future. Now the larger piece has also reached the correct weight loss. I haven't cut it open yet, but as soon as I do I'll give you another update.  

Monday, 1 October 2012

I'm making air dried ham

Well, that's the plan. My curing chamber stands empty, devoid of meaty treats. I've read posts/articles on the internet where the authors proclaim fermented sausages to be the pinnacle of the art of charcuterie. This is probably true  but I would argue that producing a decent air-dried ham is up there too. Sure, grinding up raw meat, fat and spices; stuffing it all into casings; hanging the sausages up for weeks at various temperatures/humidities; and ending up with decent fermented sausages is challenging. Hanging up a cured pig leg smeared with lard on the other hand, less so. The challenge with ham comes in keeping it under stable conditions for the months/years required for it to cure and age properly.

The whole thing that started me experimenting with curing meat was the thought of making some proper air-dried ham. Buying a whole pig leg is a bit of an investment, particularly when I'm still having trouble with case hardening with some things. I was in the supermarket the other day and de-boned pork leg roasts were on offer, so I thought "What the hell, let's do it!". In my head that "let's do it!" was in the voice of Family Guy's Joe Swanson.

I'm loosely basing my effort on the recipe here. I say loosely because I'm aiming for a German-style cured smoked ham – a black forest schinken (a recipe for which can be found here). The problem with the second recipe is that, living in a flat, I don't have anywhere to put a container holding 12 L of brine for 2 weeks at 4°C (the fridge is a no go). Therefore, I'm going to mash both recipes together and see what emerges; kind of like a toddler let loose on a shiny new pack of Plasticine.

"Look, I've made a ham"

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Pfefferbeißer results and tasting

Fully-dried pfefferbeißer
So, the Olympics, Paralympics and glorious summer of British sport are over. We might as well all go and throw our TVs out of the window because I'm pretty sure TV will never be as good again. It also shows the England football team to be a bunch of over-hyped, over-paid, under-achievers. Hopefully we can all now agree they should be ignored until they go away. Or, failing that, they should be decommissioned and stripped for parts. But I digress...

I took the pfefferbeißer out of the curing chamber a couple of days ago. They have dried nicely  they've got a rough texture and are slightly chewy. The flavour is spicy: the pepper comes through, but isn't overpowering. One of my family members isn't too keen on the whole peppercorns; personally I like them, they add a bit of excitement when you're eating the sausage. The smoke smell has mellowed during the drying phase, so the smoke taste is actually quite delicate.

Slight case hardening maybe?

Nice bind, good separation of meat and fat, no air pockets – it's just the drying that it letting things down at the moment. I'm not totally convinced my case hardening problem is solved. In the centre of a few of the sausages (and only in patches) was a very small area, maybe 23 mm in cross section, that wasn't as dry as the rest. I'm not sure if this was due to case hardening, or if the sausages just weren't totally dried yet. Either way I'll definitely be making these again.


Friday, 24 August 2012


During the 34 hours of summer that it hasn't been raining we had a family BBQ. I took along some of the spicy lonzino and while chowing down I was asked what I was going to attempt next. Now, I really want to get the fermented sausage thing nailed (see the red wine salami debacle), it opens up a whole world of possibilities in terms of sausage making.

Pfefferbeißer are a dried, smoked, peppery German sausage made in sheep casings. Now, you might be thinking "Ah, like a Pepperami". No. Pfefferbeißer are to Peperami what The Empire Strikes Back is to The Phantom Menace. They are similar only in that they can both be called sausage. The pepperiness comes from a mixture of ground and whole peppercorns. When you're eating one you'll get an explosion of pepper every now and then as you bite into a peppercorn (in a good way; not a face melting pepper explosion).

That's George Lucas in the background working on another re-release of The Phantom Menace
image: D. Kitchenham

A quick Google search turned up 6–7 recipes, all in German, all different. Being half German, the first bit wasn't too hard. The second bit was more challenging – the only consistent thing between the recipes was the name. Some recipes called for pure pork (a couple used a percentage of speck), another for a mixture of pork and beef, yet another for pure beef; one even said to use lamb, which is all kinds of wrong.

Now, the ingredients: pepper (obviously); cure #2 and salt, were followed by what seemed a random mix (pick 5 of the following say) of: paprika (sweet and/or hot); nutmeg; allspice; garlic; caraway; coriander; marjoram; celery powder; chili powder; brandy. Some recipes used a starter culture and glucose, others didn't. The majority of recipes called for a period of cold smoking before the sausages were dried; but I only found one website that named the wood (beech).

Clearly people have developed a recipe according to their personal taste and I'll have to do the same. After quizzing family members for their thoughts I came up with the following recipe. It's pretty minimal (compared to the others) but, if after the first batch I feel something is missing, I'd rather add to it than have to choose from a mass of ingredients to eliminate one by one.


Ingredient Percentage of meat + fat
Pork shoulder
Pork back fat
Cure #2
Black peppercorns (whole)
Black pepper (ground)
Paprika (sweet)
Milk powder
T-SPX culture
2 tsp

Meat and fat are tentatively introduced to one another.
Essentially a charcuterie first date – will they hit it off?
If you can find a butcher that will supply you with back fat I strongly recommend it. I got half a kilo of back fat for £1.90 – cheaper than your morning triple venti, sugar-free, soy milk, no foam, extra-shot-of-espresso macchiato (or whatever).

Like the Spice Girls, these spices have
solo albums that you've never heard of
The spices were weighed out ready to add to the meat before grinding.

Meat, fat and spices – together at last
The meat and spices were mixed together and ground through the coarse plate. The fat was ground separately then mixed with the meat and fat. Notice the myosin strands clinging to the sides of the bowl indicating a good bind.

The pfefferbeißer were left to ferment at room temperature for 48 hours, after which I tested the pH of the mix with some strips to make sure the pH had dropped enough (~pH 5.2). It had. I cold smoked the sausages over beech wood for 12 hours using my trusty Pro-Q CSG.


The pfefferbeißer were put into the curing chamber to dry. Now we wait.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Smoked cheese and garlic

While I gather everything together for my next charcuterie project I thought I'd try cold smoking some foods other than meat.

I'm a big fan of smoked cheese and had heard about the magic effect cold smoking has on Edam. Now, don't get me wrong: I like a bit of Edam now and then, and I'm sure it has some devoted fans; but generally the word 'Edam' is associated in the mind (somewhat unfairly) with other words such as 'rubbery', 'flavourless', 'Babybel' and perhaps 'Northern Dutch town'. I wanted to see if cold smoking could indeed turn this boring, every day, run-of-the-mill, Vauxhall Nova of a cheese into something a bit more special. The cheese was cut into 1" thick slices to allow the smoke to permeate.

Raw Edam ore mined in The Netherlands 
I also wanted to try smoking garlic. The information super towpath, as always, had a number of suggestions: smoke for at least 3 days, no  5 hours, no – you should have started smoking it before you left the womb etc. In the end I followed some advice I found in a smoking forum: I  removed most of the outer skin, sprayed with a thin coat of oil, and put it in the smoker for 3 hours (mainly because this was the time suggested for the cheese and I wasn't going to get up twice from watching whatever generic E4 comedy was on).

Smoke my pretties
I used cherry wood this time; after 3 hours cold smoking everything was taken out and left to rest for 24 hours. The Edam worked out well: it has slight smokey taste, and is delicious. It could do with a longer smoking time perhaps, but not bad for a first try. I'll report back on the garlic once I've used it

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Spicy lonzino results

Last week I cut open the spicy lonzino but I've only just got round to updating the blog. It had lost just over 30% of its weight when I took it out of the chamber. Feast your eyes on its meaty glory:

Not the greatest photo. Sorry.
It looks pretty good (ignoring the dubious photography), wouldn't you agree? It is pretty spicy, I got a chilli flake on the third bite that I wasn't expecting, but not ridiculously so. It tastes much better than previous lonzino attempts. I think that the longer hanging period (because it was much larger than ones I've done before) really helps to develop the flavour.

So, success then? Well, all is not as it seems. I mentioned in a previous post that my cured meats (particularly the salami) have been drying faster than the underpants on Satan's washing line. The same thing has happened to this lonzino: quite a bit of case hardening. In fact, the central one-third was still a bit too soft and won't be eaten. There was also a little bit of green mould growth on one end (where the casing had come away from the meat); hopefully this will be less of a problem in future now that I have a mould culture to apply to the outside before things go into the chamber.

The case hardening is almost certainly due to the fan at the back of the wine fridge. The fridge is Peltier cooled, so it needs a fan to move the air inside over the heat exchanger. If you disconnect the fan (which I have tried) the heat exchanger doesn't work properly and the chamber heats up. I can think of two possible ways forward:
  1. Hook up the existing fan/a new fan so that it can be controlled independently;
  2. Add an air diffuser to reduce the air flow 
I've decided to go with option 2 mainly because it's cheaper and simpler. I bought some muslin, wet it, and hung it over the rack in the back of the chamber like a curtain. The ends sit in a seed tray that is filled with water. I spent a few days moving the muslin diffuser back and forth to block the air flow from the fan and seeing how it affected the conditions inside; I seem to have it down now. The addition of the seed tray means that the diffuser also acts like a wick, drawing moisture that is then evaporated by the fan. So far, this has meant the relative humidity has stayed pretty stable. Time will tell I guess.

Friday, 20 July 2012

"Enthusiasm is followed by disappointment and even depression, and then by renewed enthusiasm."

-Murray Gell-Mann

That's right, disappointment. I said in my last post that I thought the salamis were drying too quickly: turns out I was right. The salamis have all lost ~40% of their starting weights, so I thought it was time to cut into one to have a look. Feast your eyes on an excellent example of case hardening: 

The salami version of the RRoD
The outside has dried too fast, forming a relatively impermeable layer preventing the escape of moisture from the centre, which is still a bit too moist. Although this wasn't a great success, some things give me hope:
  1. Great bind on the salami; high five!
  2. No fat smearing. Again, high five!
  3. Copious mould growth;
  4. Fermentation success (I'd checked with pH strips) as they have a good 'salami' aroma
All good things I'm sure you'll agree; however, the case hardening is a pretty big setback that needs to be investigated and rectified before I attempt any more salami. A quick read on the interwebs turned up some advice regarding case hardening: one suggestion was to vacuum pack the salamis and stick them in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I don't have anything to lose (and it was a good excuse to get my new vacuum packer out), so I did just that. I'll take a look at them in 10 days or so and see how they're doing.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Salami update

After 48 hours fermenting the salamis have got a nice covering of white mould; I'm surprised how quickly it grew. There are a few bald stripes where the mould culture didn't reach, but they are slowly being colonised. I've weighed them all and put them in the curing chamber to dry. In a few weeks they should be ready!

I weighed the salamis today (8 days after I hung them to dry); they've all lost 15-20% of their initial weights. I suspect they are drying too fast and that I might see a bit of case hardening when I eventually cut them open. Patience grasshopper...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Red wine and fennel salami

I finally got round to having a crack at salami this weekend. I went for the classic red wine and fennel. It was a good opportunity to test out my new meat grinder, no more hand cranking like an idiot! I say idiot because whilst making my last batch of sausage I didn't trim the meat properly; I ended up feeding quite a bit of sinewy meat in, which promptly gummed everything up, doh! The new one chews through pretty much anything in short order.

Here are the finished beauties. The coarse grinder did a good job. I also made sure to mix everything well until the protein started to coat the bowl as I was stirring; hopefully it'll bind well in the casing. I would have taken more photos but I was up to my elbow in sausage...

I spent a couple of days last week cobbling together a container to ferment the little beauties in. Basically a cheap plastic bin from Tesco with a bulb in the bottom to provide some heat. The sides were lined with bubble wrap and tin foil for insulation. It all worked pretty well until I made the sausage. You see, for some reason it didn't click in my brain that the salamis would be curved; I'd reckoned on space for 5-6 perfectly vertically hanging salamis. Or, as it turns out, 2 curved salamis. Oh well - in the end I stuffed all four of them in (even though they were touching, which everything says not to do). Just over 24 hours later and the white salami mould is beginning to grow. The mould is a strain of Penicillium candidum used to make brie, you can buy it online from Ascott. I've got 'good' mould growing in my curing chamber, but I wanted to try out a commercial strain to see how it works. As we can't buy Bactoferm 600 in the UK (someone tell me if I'm wrong), I went with the P. candidum.

Ok, they don't look appetising now, but in a few weeks...
I added SPT-X starter culture to the salami mix for the fermentation. You can see in the first picture some mix wrapped in clingfilm. After 48 hours fermenting I'm going to check the pH with some test strips I also bought on the intertubes. I'm optimistic things are moving in the right direction as they are already starting to smell like salami, rather than rotting meat.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pancetta and Lonzino

Bacon hanging in the smoker
The smoking was a success! The pancetta smoked for just shy of 24 hours in a mixture of cherry and oak, roughly 50:50. I was slightly concerned that the neighbours would wonder what the hell was going on on my balcony; luckily the smoker doesn't produce that much smoke at all. I had a bit of trouble getting it lit initially, but once it was going it ran without a hitch.

I wrapped it in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for 2 days before I tried it. It smelled very smoky - almost like a speck or air-dried schinken (betraying my German ancestry there). So what does it taste like? Pretty good! The smoke flavour is strong, but not overly so. I might reduce the smoking time to two burns of the ProQ rather than three; but it's pretty good as it is. I'll definitely have to experiment with different times and different woods. I'm going to make some 'English' loin bacon this week, I've got some oak and hickory to try out.

Obligatory 'arty' shot

Like I said in a previous post I've just got back after being away with work for a couple of weeks. During that time the small lonzino I had hanging reached the magic weight loss of 30%. Sadly I wasn't arround to take it out. When I eventually got back it was pushing 35-40% weight loss. I didn't have high hopes as a couple of weeks before I'd noticed the top had dried much faster than the bottom. If anything it was too dry, very solid to the touch. Maybe I should start rotating them end over end every week. Does the moisture inside sink to the bottom under gravity I wonder? Or, more likely, is the fan at the top of my cabinet just drying the top of the meat faster? Whatever it might be I put the lonzino in a bag and put it into the fridge in the hope that the moisture would somehow re-distribute itself. Then I promptly forgot about it. 

The money shot

I re-discovered the lonzino this weekend whilst sorting through the fridge for something to snack on. I saw it huddled at the back like it was trying to escape my notice. On closer inspection one end was slightly dry, but cutting through the middle it's beautiful: not too salty, with a slight taste of juniper and hint of bay. Nom.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Smoking in progress

The pancetta came out of the cure yesterday. I washed it off and left it to dry overnight in the fridge to develop a pellicle. It's cold smoking now in a mixture of oak and cherry. I'm going to give it a total of 24 hours in 8-10 hour stints. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cold smoker setup

Sorry, I've been away with work for a couple of weeks so haven't had an opportunity to update the blog.

In the few days that I've been back I've begun to cobble together a cold smoker setup. For Christmas I received a copy of Keith Erlandson's book, "Home Smoking and Curing" and I've been meaning to try my hand at it for a while. After seeing the ProQ cold smoker on the Sausage Jockey's blog I knew I had to give it a try; at only £30 it's a bargain.

I bought a galvanised dustbin incinerator from Aldi (£20), a temperature probe from Amazon (£10), and a smoking basket and bacon holder (£15 each) from Hot Smoked. I'm planning to buy some steel rods to pass through the body of the incinerator to support the basket. I fashioned a lid for the incinerator out of a galvanised plant pot (£1 from Homebase) and drilled a couple of holes in it to let smoke escape. I think that's pretty much it. The smoker came with some oak dust; I also bought some extra oak, and some cherry dust to experiment with.

The Doctor couldn't help thinking that the
Deleks had let themselves go
I did a test smoke to coat the inside of the incinerator (as detailed in "Home Smoking and Curing"). After being lit the ProQ smoker smoked away for 10-12 hours quite happily. You can barely notice the smoke being produced. I didn't monitor the temperature but, as the ProQ can be used in a cardboard box, and it was a cold day (~15 degrees C), I'm sure it stayed under the 22-25 C temperature limit. The next thing to do will be to actually smoke some food. I've got some pancetta curing in the fridge and am thinking of making some fermented sausage - both of which would be suitable candidates.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Spicy Lonzino

(The casing of the Leviathan)

Before I take the plunge and cure a full-on pork leg (which is always the dream), I thought I'd try something a bit less demanding. The charcuterie equivalent of the shallow end if you will. Lonzino – cured pork loin – seemed like the perfect choice. So I had a go and it worked well, it was porky and junipery, slightly salty, and extremely delicious. I wanted to make some more. As luck would have it, I was in Waitrose at the weekend and I picked up a two kilogram pork loin on offer for half price. Challenge accepted!

I thought I'd aim for a slightly spicy lonzino this time. Not 'makes grown men cry and destroys all life within a 2-mile radius' spicy, but something with a little bit of fire in its belly. A Google search turned up a few recipes, the authors of which all concluded, "it's not really as spicy as I wanted". Most of these recipes involved rolling the loin in chili powder or cayenne before casing in a beef cap. In his blog, Jason at Cured Meats suggested adding the chilli powder to the cure to infuse some heat, in addition to coating before hanging. That sounded like it was worth a try. As I don't have a smoker yet (though Adam over at The Sausage Jockey has found a good bit of kit), I also thought I'd add some smoked paprika to add an extra dimension. Here is the recipe I came up with (the ingredients are given as a percentage weight of the pork loin).

Spicy Lonzino

Ingredient Weight (%)
Pork loin
Cure #2
Black pepper
Smoked paprika (hot)
Cayenne pepper

All the ingredients were mixed together and pressed onto the loin to cover it. The coated loin and any cure that didn't stick were put into a zip-lock bag, sealed, and put into the fridge to cure for 10 days. Every other day I flipped the bag over to allow the extracted liquid to move around and massaged the cure through the bag.

After 10 days I removed the loin from the bag. I washed the majority of the cure off, dried it off with paper towels and set on a rack to dry for 2–3 hours. I also took my beef cap out and cut it to about 4" longer than the loin. The cap was then rinsed to remove the salt, and left it to soak in a bowl of water while the pork was drying.

Timmy wasn't too keen on
his new football socks 

When the pork was dry I dredged it all over with cayenne pepper so that it was completely covered. I then added some chili flakes for good measure (about 2 teaspoons). Next came the hardest part: stuffing a 2.5 kg pork loin into the beef cap. The beef cap is shown on the right. They're pretty stretchy, but even so, it was a mighty struggle. I took some photos during the process, but they honestly look like scenes from a slasher movie. Keep at it, you'll get there eventually. I think it took me a good 10–15 min before victory was mine.
The cased Leviathan

The last thing to do was to tie the loin up. Both ends were tied off with bubble knots, and the loin tied along its length, as you would with a roast. This has to be done as tightly as you can. The final step was to prick any air bubbles in the casing with a sterilised needle (heat a needle until red hot; it should sizzle the first time you poke it into the meat). The loin was then hung at room temperature for 36 hours. The casing begins to dry and shrinks tightly around the meat; you can see than the casing has turned translucent. The loin was then weighed and hung in the curing chamber. It should be ready when it's lost around 30% of its starting weight.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Say hello to my little friend!

Imagine my surprise when a large package arrived on my desk today. What could it be? A gift from a well wisher? That box of a certain female celebrity's undergarments that I'd seen advertised on the internet? Perhaps that Nigerian prince had decided to send my the money in cash after I kindly furnished him with my bank details? No, it was far more exciting than all of the above - my new food slicer had arrived! I'd decided to buy a proper one after almost hacking off a finger slicing my home-made bacon. That, and to overcome my endemic laziness.

Behold the Slicer of Champions with Ham Blade
As soon as I got home I unpacked it and set it up in the kitchen. After plugging it in I stood back to admire it. A sunbeam actually shone through the window and illuminated the counter top. I also thought I heard some heavenly singing, as if from far away. It was then that I discovered two of the greatest words of the English language written onto a smaller package: 'Ham Blade'. We'll move on now before someone brings up the alternative name of 'Pork Sword'.

"It's only wafer thin"

I set the slicer to 1mm and tried it out on some of my lonzino. I have to say that it works amazingly well. The lonzino tasted pretty good before, but slicing it thinly takes it to a whole new level. It's much more melt-in-the-mouth; it almost dissolves away. Clearly, buying a meat slicer was a Good Thing.

The window to success...

I then spent a happy half hour finding other foods that could be sliced before the novelty wore off. Best. Half hour. Ever.

Monday, 14 May 2012

My curing chamber

Update: My curing chamber is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's maker etc. I'm in the process of assembling a new one from a fridge, rather than a wine cooler. You can read about the various problems I've had on the blog. The original post and update are still below.

When I first announced that I wanted to try my hand at Charcuterie - and that I thought the spare room would make the perfect location for curing meat - I was met with stony silence by my girlfriend. In my mind I thought it would lend a pleasant, rustic feel to the place. My girlfriend thought it would lend a "meaty, slightly corpsey feel to the place" and pointed out that visitors might not really want to go to sleep with hams hanging above the bed or from the wardrobe. I did briefly toy with the response of "Well... I would quite like that.", but decided better of it.

Of course, this discussion took place before I'd properly read up on the conditions actually needed to safely cure meats; namely, somewhere reasonably dark (light turns fats rancid), with a temperature of 10-13 degrees Celsius, relative humidity of 60-70% and a good flow of air. The final product you end up with is apparently highly dependent on these conditions. If the temperature or humidity are too high for extended periods your meat may spoil. If the humidity is too low you run the risk of case hardening, where the outside of the meat dries too fast, preventing the centre of the meat from losing moisture, and again your meat will spoil. Your cured meats also need to be protected from any pests or animals that might also want to chow down on the fruits of your labours. So not the spare room then.

Now, traditionally folks across Europe that were curing meat had dark, damp cellars which provided perfect conditions. If you're lucky enough to have a cellar with the appropriate conditions, great, you're all set. The rest of us however need a curing chamber to provide the correct conditions. I found numerous guides on the intertubes giving instructions on how to build a curing chamber. Good guides can be found here and here. I take no responsibility for the consequences if you do decide to pimp/convert an entire fridge-freezer unit.

My curing chamber is an old wine fridge. I bought it on eBay for half the price of a new one. It maintains a constant temperature of 12 degrees Celcius. Here you can see a lone lonzino hanging in the chamber, along with my digital thermometer/hygrometer, and humidity control beads in trays at the bottom.
     As luck would have it the humidity under the stairs in my flat (where the chamber is located) varies between 55 and 60%, so the humidity only needs to be raised a little to be in the 'butter zone' (as the Mythbusters would say). As you'd expect, once meat is hanging in there the humidity increases, coupled with the beads this gives pretty good humidity of 65-70%. The beads are meant for use in cigar humidors; I bought mine here.
     I should add that the fridge is connected to a timer and is turned off three times a day for 15 min. The fridge has no defrost cycle (not being designed to store meat), so the heat exchanger and fan are prone to icing up; the timer stops this happening by letting them warm slightly.

So far I've hung lonzino, pancetta, and duck prosciutto in here to cure, with reasonable success. I tend to check on the contents every day to make sure everything is ok (mould spots or the like).

Update: I've had some problems with case hardening using this setup; see the post here for details.

I have changed things somewhat, and it's still in a state of flux really. I've looped two length of muslin over the rack at the back and use them like curtains, pulling them across to shield everything from the direct flow of the fan (basically they act as air diffusers). In addition, I initially had the 'curtains' with their ends in a container of saturated salt solution. They acted as wicks, sucking moisture up, which was then evaporated by the fan.

This had mixed success. I found the interior was too moist (if it's not one thing it's another...). Also, the salt crystallises out on the muslin, forming a stiff, salty sheet (no jokes please). I have reverted to just having the muslin hanging in the back, but keeping the saturated salt solution in the bottom. I check the chamber in the morning and when I get back from work. It seems to be hovering between 70-75% at the moment. If the RH falls I wet the muslin a bit.

It's far from ideal but I'll persevere with it for the moment.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The beginning

I have been dabbling in charcuterie for a few months now and have been inspired to blog about my experience, mainly by others doing the the same (see the links on the right).

As a guide in this honourable endevour I have the obligatory "Charcuterie" by Ruhlman and Polcyn. If you're even slightly interested in curing meat, go get it - it's pretty much essential reading as far as charcuterie goes. I've also got "Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery" by Jane Grigson which has a plethora of recipes, as does Maynard Davies' "Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer", albeit on an industrial scale.