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"