I’d been plotting this for a while, but never felt the timing was right until now. Getting the jowl wasn’t the problem, it was deciding where to hang it. Extra fridge? Basement of condo building? Parents garage? There don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules regarding the temperature and humidity of the drying conditions. Neither the recipe I was using (from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie) nor any online resource seemed to agree on what was best. The recipe simply said to hang the meat longer for more humid conditions. Terrific, that tells me nothing about what constitutes a humid condition. I decided to use half of a wine fridge which I had the envious task of clearing out beforehand. After a couple of weeks of higher than average drinking, it was clear and ready to go. I set the temperature at 55 and my thermohydrometer measured the humidity as fluctuating between 67 and 71%.
To the meat. Jowl is pig’s cheek and is an absolute delight. Once you get your hands on one, trim it of any fatty little discolored glands, throw it in a ziploc bag and shake it up with your cure. Charcuterie recommends equal parts salt and sugar, thyme, cracked black peppercorns, crushed garlic and a teaspoon of pink salt is optional. The pink salt gives the meat a nice red hue and there is some suggestion of it lowering the risk of botulism. I did not use it for this jowl, but I decided to go with it for my second jowl, for reasons that will become clear shortly. I also threw in some nutmeg the second time around and left out the garlic. We’ll see what happens.
100_0131

The jowl

Leave the jowl in the fridge for about a week, turning it every other day, until the flesh feels firm, not squishy. It will give off a good amount of liquid as the salt sucks the moisture out.

100_0144

The cure

After taking it out of the cure, rinse it off under cold water and poke a hole in one of the corners.

Run some butcher’s string through the hole and hang it in your predetermined location.

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The recipe in Charcuterie recommends drying for 1-3 weeks. Because of the somewhat humid conditions I went on the long side, and probably could have left it in at least another week without drying it out excessively. But I was excited.

Guanciale - the final product

No mold (this is a good thing). I was shocked at how good it looked. Not sure whether to be impressed with my accomplishment, or just less impressed with all the rest of the guanciale out there. I’m going with the latter.

mmmmm

I mean, that looks legitimately store-bought. Marbled, slick from fat. Damn Gina, who knew guanciale was so simple? Of course, now came the moment of truth. The taste test. Was this meat actually safe? Would I die of botulism? A little backstory:  Liz has been against this endeavor from the start. She didn’t want pork hanging in our apt, she didn’t want the wine fridge turned into a meat fridge, and above all she did not trust the conditions to keep the meat disease free. For several weeks, botulism was one of her favorite topics of conversation. Chats with links to botulism websites, descriptions of the symptoms, incredulous stares. All of it was leading up to this:

The moment of truth

The moment of truth

Tasted great. But then I feel a scratching in my throat. I try to swallow. Can’t. All of a sudden my mind and heart are racing. Goddamnit! Do I have botulism? Have I been botulised? Luckily we live several blocks away from a hospital so we quickly grab our things and start walking over. About 15 feet outside our apartment I realize the absurdity of the situation and regain my composure. We hit the corner store up for some cookie dough ice cream and head back home. 12 days later I am still botulism free, but for the sake of your own peace of mind I recommend using the pink salt. I got mine here http://www.savoryspiceshop.com/spices/sltcur.html .

The guanciale keeps for up to 4 months so freezing it in chunks and defrosting as needed is the way to go.

Lardo is up next.

Consult your doctor before trying this dish, it is not for the weak of heart. In Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s “Charcuterie”, they describe a recipe for pork belly confit used by Jim Drohman at Le Pichet in Seattle. Essentially it’s pork belly braised in duck fat and then deep fried. But believe me, the heart attack will be worth it. First, you’re going to need to secure yourself a pork belly. I got this glorious slab of love from Bobolink Farm in Vernon, NJ. If you join their mailing list they will email you when their meat (veal, pork, beef) becomes available and you can have it delivered to your door. The belly comes in a slab of approximately 10lbs: 10 lb pork bellyCut this beauty into approximately a 6lb and a 4 pound piece. I would make the fatter end the 4lb’er, as the fattier cut is better for roasting (which is what I did with it).

SkinRun a sharp knife along the underside of the skin pulling the skin back as you go. Keep as much of the fat on the meat as you can.

100_0088Cut into 1 inch wide strips and then divide into 1in x 3in chunks.

100_0089Toss with the following dry cure:

2 tbsp ground black pepper

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

3 bay leaves crumbled

10 sprigs fresh thyme

4 tbsp salt

1 tsp pink salt (I did not use this)

100_0092Cover the pork in white wine. Cover and refrigerate for 24-36 hours.

100_0094Remove pork from cure, pat the pieces dry, place in an ovenproof pot/ dutch oven and cover with rendered fat (duck/pork). I needed a 5lb vat of duck fat to entirely cover the pieces. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, remove from heat, and then place in the oven, uncovered, and cook until the pork is fork tender, about 2-3 hours.

100_0105Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in the pan it was cooked in – the pork should be completely submerged in the fat. Refrigerate until completely chilled or for up to 2 months.

100_0112Remove as many pieces as you’d like from the fat, wipe off the excess fat, and allow to come to room temperature. Heat a deep heavy pot of oil for deep-frying and deep-fry the pieces until crispy and heated through (about 2 minutes).  Remove and drain on paper towels.

100_0113Deep frying the pieces in oil (you can also fry them in the fat they were preserved in) makes them a bit crispy on the outside with a melting fatty texture on the inside. Ruhlman suggests serving with a simple salad with vinaigrette, some good mustard, and a crusty baguette. REALLY. REALLY. REALLY. GOOD.

I was very much looking forward to our meal at Craigie on Main last weekend. I have a weakness for all things pork, and I have come to know Craigie as an institution cut from that same mold. What incarnation of piggy delights would be on the menu this time around? Trotter? Cracklins? Jowel? Definitely some sort of belly. Will it be confit? Braised? Maybe it will be something I’ve never heard of before! Well, imagine my distress and disappointment when I opened the menu to see (gasp) one measly little pork option on the menu. A trio of charcuterie (boudin noir appeared on the menu as well, but not as the main component of the dish). I got it, of course, but I was none too pleased with my lack of options. It was a Sunday night, sure, but if you’re going to have a pig as the emblem of your restaurant then make sure it’s well-represented on the menu. I mean, I understand the whole “we print the menu at 5:09” thing, and you dare not throw some piggy parts in the freezer to ensure strong supply, but tell you what: print the menu two weeks before and make sure there’s a damn pig on it.  Feeling good about my local eating habits isn’t going to make up for the lack of pig in my mouth. F.

homemade rabbit sausage, boudin noir, cock's combs, mushroom, farm egg

homemade rabbit sausage, boudin noir, cock's combs, mushroom, farm egg

Tempura fried dayboat cod cheeks w/ pickled peppers and squid ink anchoiade

Tempura fried dayboat cod cheeks w/ pickled peppers and squid ink anchoiade

These two dishes were my favorites of the night. A farm fresh egg will make virtually anything taste good in my opinion, but this light stew of sausage, boudin noir, cock’s combs and mushrooms  was the perfect compliment. The dish could have used a bit more in terms of different textures as everything was on the soft side, but the taste was money. The cod cheeks were crispy without being greasy and the squid ink had some serious depth of flavor. Other appetizers at the table included the Grilled Spanish Octopus which got rave reviews from the Globe, but was by far the worst dish of the night. This octopus did not taste grilled as it was neither chewy nor charred. It was completely mushy which, characteristic of octopus that was boiled too long for its own good, and came in a far too salty chorizo sauce.

side of bone marrow

side of bone marrow

side of roasted potatoes

side of roasted potatoes

I love restaurants that have tasty side dishes. It’s like a little bonus when I look at the menu –  a nice addition to the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert sections. These were both solid versions of marrow and potatoes. Though I don’t know how I feel about all that marrow without any accompaniments. It’s the type of dish that needs a little something with it to really get me going.

Hangar steak w/ bone marrow, beef tongue, walnut foie gras puree

Hangar steak w/ bone marrow, beef tongue, walnut foie gras puree

crispy yelow corn polenta w/ winter vegetables, forest mushrooms, carrot jus

crispy yelow corn polenta w/ winter vegetables, forest mushrooms, carrot jus

I had the hangar steak and Liz had the polenta. The steak was well-cooked but I really got the dish because of the walnut foie gras puree, and it didn’t totally deliver on my expectations. It was a bit bland relative to the other flavors on the plate, like the tongue. Liz liked her polenta, particularly the flavor of cinnamon in the carrot jus.

gingerbread pain perdu w/quince ginger ice cream, cranberries

gingerbread pain perdu w/quince ginger ice cream, cranberries

The pain perdu for dessert tasted very good, but I wish it was a bit more interesting. The white corn grits with dried fruit compote were a mushy mess that resembled a hot breakfast dish more than a dessert. Liz actually ordered something else and was brought the grits by mistake. I’m sure had we said something about it they would have acted swiftly and courteously to correct the problem, but at that point we didn’t particularly care.
Over all the meal was good, but by no means the best meal I’ve had at a Craigie establishment. I hope it’s not an indication of the new location. I don’t think it is. And for the love of god, Craigie on Main, take a cue from the many pigs you have adorning the dining room and put some mother loving pork on the menu.
white corn grits w/ dried fruit and cinnamon ice cream

white corn grits w/ dried fruit and cinnamon ice cream

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon

There are moments when I envy New Yorkers. They are few and far between, but this is most certainly one of them.

Last week, Carlo and I went to a cooking class at Stir, an observational kitchen in the South End of Boston, to watch a chef and a butcher cut up and cook an entire pig.  We have been to Stir before, three times in total.  We went for a Sicilian wine class, a Friulian wine/food class, and a wine and cheese pairing class.  It’s fun because you get to watch people cook, learn something, and then eat great food.  It’s not fun because it’s small (only holds ten people) and the other people are horrendous.

“Don’t listen to my wife, she has the palate from hell”

“Don’t you just love Lino from [insert charming and authentic-seeming Italian grocer].  I wouldn’t buy my prosciutt [that’s not a typo] from anyone else”

“The Louis Latour is sooooo fabulous when you just have to have that pouilly fuse fix”

These are actual quotes from other patrons of Stir, and they don’t stop there.  These people are food snobs in the worst sense of the phrase, and nothing shuts my normally talkative self up faster than hearing these people prattling on about their favorite brand of Himalayan sea salt.  I sit in awe wondering, “am I one of them?  If not, will I become one of them as I get older? And if so, how can I stop being one of them without giving up my love of food?”  It’s almost enough to make me not enjoy the delicious food being presented to me. 

Almost, but not quite.  At this particular Stir class, the butcher from the Butcher Shop (Mike Puglisi) and executive sous chef at No. 9 Park street (Colin Lynch) cooked up the following menu paired with wine: 

Crispy pancetta and soft poached egg, fava bean glace, morel mushrooms

Pan seared spicy italian sausage, peppers agro dolce, parsley

Thyme roasted vermont suckling pork chops, mascarpone polenta, crispy pig’s ear

Slow roasted pork belly, tomato jam, native arugula

Dark chocolate bacon

With the exception of the dark chocolate bacon (which was just bacon with some chocolate drizzled on it, probably an afterthought), the food was excellent.  My favorite of the group were the Cracklins, an extra that is not listed on the menu.  Cracklins are fried pork fat with a little skin attached.  They get really crunchy and chewy at the same time and the chefs claimed they are not difficult to make (hint, hint to Carlo).  They are just to die for hot and sprinkled with a touch of Breton Celtic Salt!  (available only from your local charming, authentic-seeming grocer)