Three weeks of travelling and a week of catching up with life made me exhausted. But it’s now back to the saddle, cooking and creating once again. While traveling, eating great food and catching new sights are both inspirational fun, it’s doing the things that I really love that energize me.
So anyway, onto June’s Charcutepalooza challenge – stuffing and making poultry sausage links. And I’m going to start off with a HUGE claim – this is easily one of, if not the, most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.
Charcutepalooza challenge – bulk sausage. Nothing too complicated here – just meat that’s been passed through a grinders, seasoned and consequently cured. Basically this stuff is sausage meat sans the sausage casing.
WTF Makes is a Sausage?
According to McGee’s On Food and Cooking (which shall hence forth be known as THE BOOK on wtfamicooking), the word sausage has it’s root in the Latin word for “salt” (sal salis). Sausage is simply chopped meat and salt (plus seasonings) stuffed into some sort of casing. The salt plays two roles in sausage – the first being to preserve the meat and the second is that it dissolves one of proteins (myosin) which in turns binds the pieces together just like a glue. The sausages are almost always stuffed into some kind of casing. There are several types of sausages out there such as fresh sausages, emulsified sausages, fermented sausages, smoked and dried sausages just to name a few.
Even though they are not stuffed into casing, bulk sausages are would fall under the category of fresh sausage. According to THE BOOK, because they are unfermented and uncooked, they are highly perishable and should be cooked within a day or two of being made/purchased.
The Importance of Chilling Out
The texture of the chopped/ground meat is really important in sausage. If left to warm up, the fats and the proteins in the sausage could separate. This results in a very coarse and unpleasant texture. There are a few steps that ought to be taken to prevent this.
Keep the meat cold. I tend to leave meat in the freezer for say 10-30minutes, depending on the quantity, before grinding.
Keep the grinder or food processor that you’re using cold. I store mine in the freezer most of the time but if you’re short in freezer space, just leave it in there overnight before grinding large bulks of meat.
Grind at a low speed. There’s a lot of friction in grinding which in turn produces heat.
Keep storage bowls cold. I store the bowl for the ground meat in the freezer prior to the grind. Alternatively, you could put your storage bowl on top of another bowl of ice.
When introducing liquids to your ground meat, use cold liquids. This will help maintain the low temperature of the meat.
How I Made Chorizo Probably one of the more common bulk sausages in North America is the Mexican style chorizo. Seasoned with a variety of chili powders and various other seasonings, this is a rather unique sausage compared to most if you ask me. It takes on a smoky flavor not from actual smoking itself but from the dried chili peppers, in this case adobo.
As with most of my Charcutepalooza challenges, I adhered fairly closely to Polcyn and Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie. First, I seasoned cubes pork shoulder with a variety of spices and let the mixture sit in the fridge for about half an hour to really chill. Following that, grind onto a cold bowl that was left in the freezer. (Note to self after ruining a Hanes V-neck Tee: do not wear white when grinding meat. It gets real messy to say the least.) Then mix in the liquid components of the sausage, in this case tequila and vinegar before mixing in a mixer for a minute. Taste (not raw but by cooking a small portion, silly) adjust seasonings, done.
Prep seasonings and then season meat. Chill some more. Let the seasonings sit for at least thirty minutes or preferably a few hours or up to a day.
Add liquid components.
Mix mixture till homogenous.
Taste and adjust.
You can use this formula for your breakfast sausages or whatever bulk sausage you can think of. You can use – food processor if you don’t have a grinder but the texture will vary a little. Just make sure that the food processor is really cold by leaving it in the freezer overnight. Alternatively, you could use pre-ground meat but where’s the fun in that?
Applications Chorizo and eggs go together as well as pizza and beer, steak and beer, and even brats and beer. (I guess you now know where my priorities really lie.) You could serve them with over-easy eggs, in scrambled eggs or even an omelet. One of my favorite applications, however, is a frittata, which is basically a thick baked omelet. It’s great for so many reasons.
It’s awesome for unloading leftovers.
It’s not as finicky and requires less attention than an omelet but has similar eggy goodness.
It’s great when making something egg based for a large group of people. I made this for about 20 people.
It goes great with bread.
How I do It The main idea is to par cook your ingredients, mix them up with beaten eggs. Be creative and use whatever is in season or any leftovers the fridge. Spinach, green onions and even tomatoes can be good additions. Herbs such as basil, tarragon and thyme would do great too. You can’t really mess this up.
Ingredients (for 4-6 people):
1/2 whole onion
1 /2 red pepper
1 dozen eggs
¼ cup grated cheese
Put a pan on med-hi and pan fry the chorizo till brown.
Sauté onions on a med heat pan with a pinch of salt till half-way soften about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers and soften too, another 5 minutes or so.
Beat eggs and add a pinch of salt.
Spray/oil the inside of a casserole dish or oven safe pan. Layer in the sautéed vegetables and chorizo and pour in the beaten eggs. Mix it up a little to distribute the mixture evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Bake in a 350F oven till set, about 20minutes.You can test this by using a skewer and poking the center of the frittata and it should come up somewhat clean. You’ll want to remove the frittata when it’s very slightly underdone as it will carry over cooking.
Let rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve with bread.
Fun fact: this post was largely written standing up in the Moscow airport while waiting for a connecting flight.
While ‘best’ may be subjective, I’m sure it’s at least a tell tale sign of a restaurant that’s on the top of their game.
What’s interesting though is the restaurant’s pursuit for the old while yet creating something new. I find that highly intriguing and yet inspiring.
Which brings me to one of the reasons why I’m so crazy about cooking. This philosophy of exploring and replicating something old or creating something new is simply fascinating to me. Things that are strange by today’s standards, such as fish guts, offal and off cuts of plants are often overlooked but hold so much potential.
Despite living so close to the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t see a lot of people buying or eating fish. Maybe it’s the fear of the fishiness of fish.
There are many applications for fish – poach, fry, grilled and sauté to name a few. One of my favorite applications for fish is to steam it and serve some kind of sauce, either a soy based sauce or a Teochew style sour sauce, but that’s another post. Since steamed fish is cooked so delicately, it is paramount that the fish tastes fresh.
Which brings me to combating the fishiness of fish.
The Fishiness of Fish
The problem with salt-water fish is that they have a rather short shelf life and taste best when fresh. We’re all too familiar with that ‘fishy’ smell that comes with old, poorly stored fish.
The fishy smell stems from bacteria and other enzymes converting a largely tasteless amine called TMAO (trimethylamine oxide) into TMA (trimethylamine).
Fortunately, with care, TMA can be reduced at each step of the process.
Buy fresh fish. Fortunately, I have my fish guys, PJ and Billy at the Louisiana Foods Total Catch Market on Saturday mornings. As mentioned before, these guys know their stuff and I trust them. Most Asian markets tend to have pretty good quality fish too.
Although it may take some careful examination, your chain grocery stores are not exempt from good fish either. One thing I would watch out for is that some stores thaw out their fish when placing them in display cases. They may appear ‘fresh’ but they’ve gone through the freezing and thawing process. There’s nothing wrong with cooking that fish right away but I would avoid freezing them again to avoid degrading the quality of meat (and depending on how long the meat was thawed to begin with, food safety since you are effectively thawing the meat twice and exposing it to more time in a warmer environment if you re-freeze it.)
When selecting fresh fish, they should smell of the ocean. If you stick your nose up to it, it should be fairly odorless. There are other rough indicators too. Their gills, if still intact, should be a bright red and not pale. Their eyes ought to be clear and not cloudy. The latter though is a rule of thumb but not an absolute.
First off, wash the fish. Don’t worry, you’re not removing flavor. I mean, fish live in water anyway. Washing rinses away a lot of surface bacteria and any of their by-products. Dry it off, then wrap it with wax paper or cling wrap to reduce oxygen exposure.
Also, freezing fish actually converts some of the TMA into a less smelly amine, DMA (dimethylamine). So yes, freezing your fish isn’t a bad thing.
When storing in the fridge, I usually rest it on the fish’s belly surrounded by ice. Resting on the fish’s belly is just a little tip I picked up from Thomas Keller. His rationale is to store fish in the same ‘posture’ as they would be swimming. Makes sense to me. In Japan, the side of tuna that is rested on is worth less than the side facing up as the weight of the fish compresses the meat and degrades the flesh. It’s a rather minor detail though but I personally like taking note of minor details when cooking.
Cold salt-water fish tend to go bad faster than warmer salt-water fish, which in turn goes bad sooner than fresh-water fish. I personally don’t store salt-water fish in the fridge for much longer than 2-3 days on a bed of ice because they were probably sitting on the boat/shelves for a couple of days anyway.
Prior to cooking, TMA on the surface of fish can also be rinsed off with tap water, or with the aid of some acidic ingredients such as citrus juice or vinegar. The acid reacts with the TMA to convert it into a less stinky and more palatable chemical.
Do you have any other tips or thoughts on selecting and storing fish?
April’s Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking pork loin or pork shoulder, to make Canadian bacon or taso ham. I went with Canadian bacon.
WTF is Canadian bacon?
Also known as back bacon, it’s bacon made from center-cut boneless pork loin. What we usually get at grocery stores is streaky bacon, made from pork belly. The curing process of both bacons is generally rather similar. First off, the meat is cured in a salt and spice mixture or a brine for a few days. The meat is then rinsed off, left to dry a little and then smoked.
WTF is Hot Smoking?
Generally, there are three kinds of smoking and they are mainly differentiated by the temperature. This is what I picked up in reading up from books and the Internet (especially Wikipedia).
Cold smoking occurs below 100F. It imparts flavor but doesn’t cook the food.
Hot smoking occurs between 165-185F. It cooks the food (duh).
Smoke roasting is pretty much like roasting but with smoke. It can go in access of 250F
And of course, we can vary the characteristic of the smoke with not just the temperature but also the type of wood being used.
Making Canadian Bacon
The process, as mentioned, involved salting, drying and smoking.
I was actually a little excited for this project because after months of anticipation, a certain grocery storejust opened up in my neighborhood.
I would give a review of Revival Market but so much has already been done and I probably wouldn’t do it any justice with my words. All I can say is that if you’re in Houston, just go.
This project would mark my first purchase from the store, and what more appropriate an item than some pork.
I guess the most common application would be Eggs Benedict. It’s just a combination of things you know will go well together – English muffins, poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce. A basic recipe and video can be found on the Culinary Institute of America’s website here.
What’s cool about Eggs Benedict is it’s fairly simple to make. Plus it looks elegant and impressive. At the same time, with so many components, going through the exercise of making one can be a great way to work on technique –making a dough, poaching an egg and making a hollandaise sauce.
Oh by the way, here’s a tip when poaching eggs to make them look good without flyaway whites – drain the thinner whites off. You could do that with a slotted spoon or a strainer.
Of course, eggs Benedict isn’t the only application for Canadian bacon. You could treat it like regular bacon in an English breakfast, use it in a fried rice, or even a pizza.
And to show you the versatility of Canadian Bacon, here’s one thing I did. I used it in laksa. Wait, what?
(Laksa is one of my favorite dishes from Singapore. It’s noodles in a thick and spicy coconut broth. )
Simply poach the Canadian bacon and add on top as a garnish. Too much of a good thing? Nah, not too much yet.
I loooove, like really really love, seafood. After all, I was born and raised on an island in Southeast Asia. About 3 weeks back, PJ started the Louisiana Foods Total Catch to sell some of the less popular fish choice, which is very refreshing. Salmon and catfish have their place but I honestly find them quite overdone and boring. What about the almaco jack, the drum, and the blue runner? And while we’re at it, don’t forget the squid. Thankfully, PJ’s got them all.
But more intriguing than my experiment with new varieties of fish were my experimentations with parts of fish we tend to discard. Most of the fish we eat come as fillets while the rest of the fish gets discarded. Could there possibly be a use for the head, the bony underbelly, the guts?
Really, this isn’t that new a concept. Chinese have been known to consider dried fish maw (swim bladder) a delicacy. Cantonese people also regard the the bony underbelly as the tenderest and most delicate part of the fish too. How about trying to apply the nose to tail concept not just with our favorite livestock but with fish too?
And so we begin experimenting.
(Warning: some slightly stranger images might follow but I assure you, it’s all perfectly normal food.)
I was at a party about a week ago and there was a vegetable platter. There was some purple cauliflower which to my surprise was rather foreign to most.
The purple in purple cauliflower isn’t caused by dying but by the presence of anthocyanin. From what I read, they have high antioxidant properties but I’ll leave the food scientist types to explain that to you. I believe this pigment is also present in wine, eggplants and purple corn. Purple cauliflower is quite a lot like regular cauliflower, although I’ve read that some people have difficulties achieving the same crunch when roasting. The color also tends to bleed when boiling.
Anyway, I made a simple purple cauliflower dish, utilizing not only the floret but the leaves that came with the head of the cauliflower as well.