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.


...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!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Whole pig spit roast setup (1)

"There is another open-fire cooking technique, requiring certain amount of hardware, which transforms campfire cooking into one of the most exciting and delicious forms of meat cookery there is. So I want to end this chapter by urging you to take up the challenge. Spit-roasting a whole animal  most commonly a pig or lamb  is about a spectacular as meat cookery gets..."
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book.

Last year my brother and I decided to take up the mighty gauntlet thrown down by Hugh. We'd not really considered cooking a whole pig before, I mean, who wakes up in the morning and thinks, "Do you know, today I really want to cook a whole pig" before pointing off into the middle distance and announcing, "To the Pig-o-matic!". In our minds roasting a whole animal was best left for weddings, TV shows and the like. Or so we thought.

"I found some roots! Gather round everyone
don't be shy, gather round..."
Last year I turned 30 and I had a slight existential crisis when I mentally compared my 'Things to do to make my life appear awesome to people who don't know me' list (owning a speedboat, having a sword fight with ninjas on the rim of a volcano etc.) with my 'Actually achieved' list (owning a crappy Fiat Punto, barely managing the hand-eye coordination involved in drinking from a cup and so on...). Clearly this needed to change. To celebrate my birthday we hired out a massive house in the Peak District for the weekend. One of the immediate problems with this plan was how to feed the 30-odd people I'd invited. We kicked a few ideas around before hog roast was mentioned: stew; chilli; BBQ; releasing everyone onto the hills to forage for themselves etc. Not only would it be a cost-effective way of feeding everyone, I could tick something off the list  despite the fact my brother actually cooked it in the end.

This little piggy went to market... then I bought and ate him
The more we thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. The only stumbling blocks on the road to porky victory were our endemic laziness and the cost of the kit. We overcame these minor hurdles by A) Telling everyone that we were going to do a hog roast [so we had to do it], and B) Making the kit ourselves. We looked around on the interwebs and came up with a (very) rough design: a spit with holes in; two builders trestles to support the spit and two fire baskets.

This year we've decided hold a summer hog roast, and to upgrade the roaster: mainly by adding a motor to turn the spit. Turning by hand is fun for the first five minutes (it makes you feel like a proper hunter-gatherer), after an hour it feels like a penance, after 6 hours you start to wish you were dead. We're going to test drive the new roaster before unleashing it at a house-warming party. You can see last year's effort on the right there.

Here's the kit list and how it fits together:
  • Two builders trestles (bought on eBay for £30) are used as the main supports for the spit;
  • The spit passes through a 20 mm pillow block on each trestle (bolted on with M10 bolts); a 20 mm collar prevents axial movement of the spit;
  • The spit itself is 20 mm external diameter mild steel tube (one day we'll upgrade to 304 or 316) with 4 mm holes drilled along the length every 6 inches. I cut a notch in one for the roll pin of the motor to slide into;
  • The holes in the spit are for 12" 4 mm diameter 316 stainless steel bars to pass through the sides of the pig, through the spit and out of the other side, stabilizing the whole thing;
  • Two stainless steel 'U' bolts fit around the spine of the pig and clamp it to the spit, which also help ensure that piggy rotates with the spit;
  • Two fire baskets made from 33.7 mm scaffolding tube (and tubeclamps) with mild steel sheet bolted onto the frames. The frames are 5 ft long, 3 ft tall, and 1 ft wide. The 'basket' is 2ft off of the ground.
  • We bought a rotisserie motor from eBay, wired it up according to the instructions and fitted a 3 mm roll pin through the shaft to form a 'T'. This fits into a notch on the spit (see detail photo), providing direct drive. The motor turns at ~2 rpm;
  • I made a bracket for the motor out of some aluminium angle;
  • Mixer plate – basically a round plate with holes in. Backup mechanism (more on that in a sec) in the event of the motor dying;
  • Charcoal. Made from the finest organic, biodynamically-cultivated hardwood trees cut by hand on midsummer's eve by the light of a full moon. Did I mention virgins? Yes, virgins harvest the wood. Or from the local petrol station forecourt. Whatever. (Actually I bought a job lot of 30 kg hardwood briquettes from Liverpool Wood Pellets – I highly recommend them).

Builders trestles

Rotisserie motor

20mm Pillow blocks

20mm collar

Roll pin

'U' bolts

Paint/plaster mixer plate

Baskets o' fire

Spit detail

Motor bracket

Stabiliser bars 


In the event of a catastrophic motor failure we wanted a backup to ensure that we could still turn the spit. I drilled and tapped two 5mm holes through the face of the collar so that I could bolt it onto the round plate. Then it'd be a case of hand cracking and fixing with a pin. The pin passes though a hole in the plate and through the body of the trestle, locking the spit in position. After 10 mins or so, when you want to rotate the piggy again, it's just a matter of pulling out the pin, rotating the spit to the next notch, and fixing again. Rinse and repeat until cooked – fingers crossed it isn't needed.

"He just couldn't resist. Ok, put me
through to the Head of The Internet"
If I were being honest I guess that we probably have spent more making (and tweaking) the kit than if we'd just bought a commercial set up, but where's the fun in that? Stay tuned for some pictures of the actual pig roast (two weeks away). I'll try and get some photos together of all the kit mocked up for the dry run next weekend.

A note on cooking times: I've read around online and the figure I've found is 1 h 20 min per kg. It looks like I'll be getting up early doors to get the fire started...

See, we got through this whole post without a childish joke about spit roasting.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

So long old friend

I've been reading the excellent The Art Of Making Fermented Sausages by Marianski and Marianski that I got for Christmas. The book is a real tour de force - covering every aspect of fermented sausage production from the science behind the process, bacterial cultures, and chemical changes occurring in the sausage, to meat selection, how to rig up drying equipment and store the finished product - all in clear, concise language. It made me think of my wine cooler curing chamber and how it really needs some improvement if I'm ever going to make decent fermented sausages safely.

So, I've done a bit of soul searching and finally admitted that it isn't working out with the wine cooler (it's not you - it's me etc; although it really is you). The Peltier system just can't cope with the humidity required: the plate and fan ice up, stopping the cooling altogether. This in turn causes the temperature to rise and the RH to drop. In short the system just isn't stable; this should have been obvious given that some dehumidifiers work by using a Peltier-cooled plate to remove moisture from the air. Disconnecting or slowing the fan doesn't work (the fan is also causing case hardening of the sausages).

We hardly knew ye

I've decided to take the plunge and make a chamber from scratch using a proper fridge (not a wine cooler). Temperature and humidity will be monitored and controlled to create the stable conditions required for curing. I'm currently gathering the equipment and hope to post on my new build in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Chorizo plans

I've just got back from 2 weeks working out in the South China Sea. During my time at sea we had chicken and rice for every meal, and I mean every meal. Consequently one of the first things I did once I got back onshore (apart from stuffing my face with cheeseburgers) was to decide that I'd get some proper charcuterie on the go once I was home. In particular I'd like to have another crack at some fermented sausage: namely chorizo.

I'm going to gather recipes/ingredients and make some plans. Watch this space.

Update: The chorizo plans have been shelved while I commission my new curing chamber. Sadly, with work commitments, this probably won't be until autumn