Beef Art: Bresaola

Beef Art: Bresaola

The Goal: Silky, paper thin, marinated, air-dried beef from the river cottage meat book

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Remember the huge crush I have on Paul Bertolli? And his tomatoes 12 ways project? And my idea to copy his idea using beef instead of tomatoes?

You thought I forgot about it didn’t you?  Well, I admit I’ve been slow to come up with a new way, but not to worry; I’m on it now.  And I’m especially excited about this one.

Everyone loves prosciutto, the paper-thin, silky, salty, air-cured ham from Italy.  But prosciutto’s less known beef cousin bresaola can be just as amazing.

Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…

Since I’m out of everything but burger at the moment, my eye of round is from Ron Gargasz Organic Farms just outside Slippery Rock, PA.  Now, don’t tell the Ladies I said this, and if you do I’ll never admit it, but the Angus cows at Ron Gargasz’s farm are pretty amazing too. They’ve never eaten anything but organic grass and hay grown right there at home and lead companionable, social lives. With plenty of doting too…

So, with a beautiful, grass-fed organic eye of round in my freezer, I’m not about to waste a chance to take an imaginary road trip to Italy.

The esteemed panel of experts on my bookshelf  had much to say about making Bresaola.  Sadly, just like he did when I made consommé, Paul Bertolli left me to fend for myself.  But Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Josh and Jessica Applestone and Michael Ruhlman; they all had lots of good advice.

All four books have great recipes and a slightly different take on making bresaola.  I had a hard time making up my mind which one to follow, but ended up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  My super-close second was the Applestone’s recipe which was the only one to call for cold smoking the roast before air drying. Very intriguing and I will be trying it soon.

Why was I so taken with HFW’s recipe? The brine was a little more elaborate, without being ridiculous. I always hate to over season well-raised beef because I think it tastes so great as it is.  But the small amount of lemon zest, orange zest, bay leaves, black pepper and red pepper flakes in the wine & salt brine seemed like just the right blend to really call attention to the beef.  You may not agree, but I think there’s something magic about the combo of beef and orange zest… add red pepper flakes and oh, my.

So this week, I mixed up my brine and soaked that roast turning twice a day. Tomorrow begins the tricky air-drying process which will last three to four weeks. Then, if I don’t blow it, comes the best part of all, eating the bresaola!

Very exciting stuff for me. I know.  I know.  I  SHOULD get out more.

If you missed my other beefy adventures,  here they are:

Beef & Pork Belly Dan Barber’s Way

Corned Beef Tongue & Red Flannel Hash

Creamy Corned Beef (Tongue) Spread

Oxtail Consommé & My Very Favorite Ravioli Filling

in which our turkey walks on the wild side

in which our turkey walks on the wild side

He's no beauty, but he sure does taste good!

Never known for their grace or beauty, wild turkeys can be counted on to be good for supper. Having lived in areas of Pennsylvania where wild turkeys have always been abundant, I was somewhat surprised to read that our turkey population was ever endangered, yet  today I find it’s true.

Turkeys were abundant throughout North America when the settlers arrived, and soon became an important food source for the colonists.  During the 1800’s, deforestation combined with unrestricted hunting decimated wild turkey populations. The Game Commission, by operating a successful trap and transfer program, imposing restrictions on hunting and even maintaining a turkey farm has been very successful in restoring our turkey populations.

The turkeys did their part by becoming very adaptive and claiming as home some pretty unlikely habitats. Today in Pittsburgh’s heavily populated suburban neighborhoods, we don’t think twice about turkeys running through our yards and crossing the roads.  Even watching a turkey’s awkward attempts to fly is pretty commonplace.  But still, the daily life of a turkey remains somewhat of a mystery to me.  This article, while 10 years old, is still an interesting read about our local wild gobblers.

Rare to see: I found a hen sitting on this nest of wild turkey eggs on the farm. Not sure who was more startled, the turkey or me!

My cousin has over the years become an excellent cook with the natural progression being a freshly developed interest in good ingredients and sustainable living.  Part of this journey for him has involved exploring alternatives to our industrial meat system. His strategy for making improved choices includes his decision to become a hunter and harvest his own meat, along with splitting a side of pastured beef raised by a local farmer with a few friends.

This spring, he bagged his first turkey – a jake (young male) and for my sausage making needs, he kindly shared a breast and a thigh.  My inspiration for turkey sausage is this recipe  for Turkey Meatball (Polpette alla Mollie) from Oprah.com.  The recipe was created by Chef Mollie of Trattoria Mollie in California and makes ground turkey (which let’s be honest, can be a bit bland) rich and delish. Because half of my eaters don’t like spicy food, I didn’t use the crushed red pepper and I like it almost as well.

Resting meat mixture awaits a good food processor grinding.

I mixed my cubed turkey with some pork fat, grated pecorino, chopped plumped black raisins and fresh, chopped Italian parsley from our garden and put it in the fridge for the flavors to marry. Check out the mixture here.

Being the only person in America without a KitchenAid stand mixer, I used my food processor for the grinding and the stuffing was done with this Oster Jerky Maker rig which worked very well (13 bucks thank you Bill!).

This Jerky making rig did a darn good job for 13 bucks!

So here we are, chilled, ground meat mixture, stuffing rig, and finished sausages.  Since I’m only two-handed, you’ll have to take my word for the fact that I really did stuff these babies myself. Working alone, it was all I could manage to handle the sausage, let alone the camera. Altogether, it wasn’t the Lucy and Ethel event I was dreading. I was actually somewhat competent and organized.

I cannot believe I made these myself - two coils of shiny, solid, beautiful sausage

This sausage is rich and the pecorino makes it a bit salty. You would never know the raisins were hiding in there unless I told you.  I thought it best to let the sausage dominate, and decided to support it with a classic white sauce.

Served over homemade pasta, again thanks to my cousin who makes a beautiful noodle, I’m feeling very satisfied.  Bring on that frankfurter challenge – I’m ready!

Yum! Home made pasta, home made sausage made of my cousin's wild turkey, and a classic white sauce

One of my favorite things about sausage is the thick, dark, carmelized drippings left in the pan after you fry the meat. I like to drizzle that over top of my sauce to further richen up the flavor.

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

Chefs and Foodies elevate lowly cuts like belly, tongue and oxtail to pricy new heights

Gentrification as I understand it means a bunch of people “discover” a declining neighborhood with great architecture.  Coffee shops and upscale cupcakeries are opened, arty folk start hanging out and buying up buildings, prices go up and before you know it, the people who’ve lived there forever are now the ones who don’t really belong.

How does gentrification apply to meat?  It used to be that wealthy people ate the expensive steaks and roasts and slaves, tenant farmers and poor folk made the most they could of what was left. Depending on how enthusiastic and creative your immigrant ancestors were in the kitchen, you either have fond memories of sublime stews and rich saucy dishes or scary ones of being forced to eat shoe leather and like it.

I could not be more thrilled about the newfound enthusiasm for well raised meats and charcuterie.  As a farmer, I am torn between relief that my meat will bring premium prices meaning I can pay my bills (I like paying my bills) and my higher mission that everyone can eat an adequate amount of highly nutritious humanely raised meat and dairy. Prices on cheap well raised cuts like tongue, oxtail and belly now rival those of more expensive cuts of industrial meat.

I have no highly formed theory on this topic; rather just some deeply worrisome gray questions. There will be more to come about this; I can feel it.

In which we have blisters on our fingers

In which we have blisters on our fingers

And not the Beatles kind if you know what I mean….

My goodness, do I ever admire those pioneers.  Now that I am officially a gardener and putter upper of food, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the Pioneers.

I know, it’s a little crazy, but usually it’s in a moment of manual labor induced frustration.  I find myself getting whiny and then I think about a day in the life of a typical Pioneer.  Now that puts my silly mishap into perspective.

Charcuterie is trendy and cool these days, but truly it’s about preserving the harvest and eating seasonally.  Mostly, animals were butchered each winter when the temperature was low enough and a slew of charcuterie projects were handled immediately.  Fat was rendered for lard or tallow, hides were tanned for leather goods, bacons and hams were cured and smoked, jerky and sausages made and so on.

One of my favorite books is  The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. As we’ve been working our Charcutepaloozian way through bacons and sausages,  I’m reminded of Ms. Lewis’ description of hog killing in her community.  It took place in December since the cold weather was essential, and the families all joined in helping each other put up their meat & fat for the year.

She remembers that in addition to the anticipation of the special meals they would enjoy after the hogs were butchered, it was the “highly festive feeling of everyone working together that made this one of our favorite times in the year.”  (I do kind of have to laugh at the idea of how this little festival would be appreciated today at American community centers across the land… )

 

I take putting up food seriously, but thankfully, a bad harvest is no life or death crisis for us.  At least today.  For the Pioneers though, failure meant starvation; the for real kind.

Pioneers had to be thinking ahead for future meals ALL the time.  There had to be enough wood on hand to heat the stove, ingredients had to be planned for as much as a year ahead – there was no 24 hour super store backup.  And, projects had to be finished no matter how long they took or how tired or busy you were. Procrastination meant possible death – no kidding!

 

But, once again, I wander.  Could it be because I procrastinated a wee bit myself?  Thank goodness for the excess pork butt I had left over from last month’s smoking challenge because, believe it or not, my local butcher shop BURNED DOWN.  To the ground.  The reason? Their smoker…. be careful out there Paloozers!

I’m tempted by the highly flavored seasoned stuff; I really love it.  But today I’m stubbornly sticking to the most basic of basics.  My reason? I want to make pantry staples that I will use all year long.  If my seasoning is too specific, I’m limited in the recipes I can use later.  I want to be able to make fast food of the slow food kind later, so I need a freezer and pantry full of solid basics today.

Diced pork butt seasoned with kosher salt & finely chopped garlic

My pork has great flavor, so all I added is kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and some finely chopped garlic.  I chopped the pork fine (hence the blisters – sharpen those knives friends), mixed in my seasonings and let the flavors marry for a few hours in the fridge.

I used my food processor to grind the sausage and found the texture to be perfect.  The part I didn’t get so perfect is my seasoning mix.  I think they were too salty.  I wasn’t careful enough with my conversions I suppose.  I’ll be more careful next time – and there will be plenty of next times.

For this meal,  I went to a pantry favorite,  roasted peppers preserved in oil.  These are so useful not just for the peppers (a little goes a long way) but for the oil.  I mix it into pasta,  drizzle it onto polenta and toast.  I pan fried the sausage patties and dropped one into a little puddle of this oil and served with a couple of peppers and a tart salad of mixed greens in vinaigrette.

With my sausage patties formed and frozen, all I need to do to get a quick local meal on the table is to fry the sausages and toss the salad.  And to me, that’s what Charcutepalooza is all about.

Home-made sausage, hot peppers in oil & a crisp green salad

Hot Peppers from our garden preserved in oil. Drizzle over home-made sausage on soft white Italian bread! Yum!

in which we render smoked pork fat sublime

in which we render smoked pork fat sublime

A Charcutepaloozian Secret Weapon - Rendered Lard From a Smoked Pork Roast

Ok, ok, I’ll move on already, but please let me add just one more thing.

Since the point of Charcutepalooza is nose to tail use of carefully raised meat, I just wanted to mention this one last awesome bonus pastured heritage breed  pork  has over conventionally raised.

At first glance, many of you will feel waves of anxiety at the sight of untrimmed fat on your roast (if ever you’re lucky enough to see your roast in all it’s untrimmed glory).  Fear not this fat however – it is not the evil health hazard we have been trained to believe.  This snowy rind of fat coating your pork is the sign that your pig has been raised slowly and will have meltingly tender, juicy and flavorful meat.  It also means that not only do you have your meat, you have a bonus round of fat to render.

Make no mistake, the fat rendered from a pastured, heritage breed pig is nothing like the blocks of industrial  lard you can buy in the supermarket.  That processed lard has been hydrogenated to extend its shelf life, thereby leaving it full of trans fats.  Pastured pork fat is not only extremely useful, it’s actually good for you;  those supermarket blocks of lard take what began as mostly monounsaturated fat with healthful benefits and commercially process it into an unhealthy fat that tastes like candle wax.  Eesh!

One day I was going to be around all afternoon, so I took my smoked pork fat (it weighed about ½ pound), chopped it into cubes, put the cubes into a gratin dish and covered them with a little less than 1/3 cups water.  The recommended ratio is 1/3 cup (75 ml) water: 1 pound (450g) fat.  The purpose of adding the water is to keep the fat from burning before it begins to melt.  The water will naturally evaporate during the cooking process.

Fear Not Fat-phobes! This is a fat that is actually good for you

Place the pan in a 250° F oven uncovered.  Check and stir after 30 minutes or so – watch carefully as the fat begins to color.  The fat will melt, the water will evaporate, and bits of firmer fat & meat bits will float in the liquid fat.  To see an amazingly fabulous blow-by-blow of rendering lard, visit A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa; but don’t forget to come right back.

The process will take as long as it takes (mine took about 3 hours), depending on how finely you chop the pieces in the beginning, the amount you started with and the

That lovely fat cap after being smoked for three hours, ready to morph into a formidable culinary weapon

whims and mood of your particular piece of pork fat.  The bits of firm fat & meat left floating in the liquid are the cracklings.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Strain the fat through cheesecloth lined sieve into a clean jar.  Let cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for up to a year.  If you’re like me with a fridge full of mystery jars, remember to label your jar.  I also scooped up the cracklings and saved them to use later on a salad (Bacos get real), soup, stew, risotto, green beans, mashed potatoes, you get the drift right?

My lard is rendered from leftover pork back fat that had been smoked, so this time, it’s all about the smoky, porky flavor. Lard need not be pig-flavored however.  Lard is usually rendered from uncooked, non-smoked Back Fat, Belly Fat or Leaf Lard.  Each type of lard is best suited for different purposes with leaf lard being the most flavorless and suited perfectly to making fine pastry.

But pastry isn’t what’s on my mind today.  It’s beef stew.

Beef Stew, More French than Irish, with a Secret

I like to begin making a stew by sautéing my veggies first.  For years, I’ve used olive oil or more recently, strained bacon fat.  But since I’d saved the fat from my smoked pork roast, now seemed like a pretty perfect time to try out the fruits of my rendering idea.

After sautéing my carrots, potatoes, onions & garlic in my smoked pork lard, I added a pastured Devon chuck roast I had cubed into 2 ½ x ½-inch squares.  I roughly layered the veggies & beef cubes in a dutch oven, added a large can of whole tomatoes, covered and simmered slowly for about 2 hours. Remove the meat and vegetables from the juice and set aside.  Bring remaining juices to a boil uncovered and reduce by half. Return the meat and veggies to the pot of reduced juice and serve.

The reason I’m being deliberately vague with this recipe is that it is one that does not really require perfect following of directions as long as you follow the general principles. If you’re the sort who finds freeform cooking frustrating, here’s a basic recipe.   It can be nice to add wine or a bit of brandy to the reducing juices; a knob of butter stirred in at the end gives a velvety sheen.  Walnuts or chestnuts can be a nice addition also.  Today, I happened to have those pork cracklings on hand so that’s the way I played it.  There was no need for any additional cheffery.  And that’s what’s so great about cooking with local, seasonal, carefully raised ingredients.  No fancy tricks or exotic ingredients required.  You’re making full use of the byproduct of an earlier meal.

The small amount of smoked lard I used to brown the veggies in the beginning (about 3 TBS) plus the addition of a few tablespoons of cracklings gave a deliciously rich boost to my stew.  It was so simple, and so inexpensive.  The smokiness was very subtle – my stew did not taste the least bit like barbecue.  Really, it doesn’t even taste at all like pork – I swear, if I didn’t tell you, you’d never know.  It’s 100% bona-fide beef stew.  But,  this thickened sauce is a far cry from the floury thickened sauce that is traditional in Irish style stews and doesn’t carry the burden of the extra calories, carbs and gluten the flour brings.

A final note – conventionally raised pork is much, much leaner and is slaughtered at a younger age than heritage breed pastured pork.  And I don’t mean that to be a compliment.  Taking time to render pork fat probably isn’t worthwhile unless your  pork is from one of the fattier, slower maturing heritage breeds like Berkshire, Tamworth, Hereford, Ossabow, Red Wattle and so on.  Check out Slow Food USA arc of taste on Local Harvest to find your own Fatty.

My pastured pork roast is the roast that kept on giving; I captured about ¾ cup of secret flavor booster.  I won’t tell if you don’t….

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

Part three: what we ate, how we ate it and an undisputed winner:

Lamppost Farm Heritage Breed Pastured Pork

Conventionally Raised Pork

Dried green bean varieties from last summer’s garden. May be even better dried…

Baked Beans spooned over cornbread with raw Bermuda onion and a big slice of tomato

Hot Milk Cake with Home-made Plum Jam Filling – Try it in a Bowl with Milk!

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There’s More:  Monday, we made the pork leftovers into pulled pork by putting the leftover roast in a gratin dish, adding ½ cup of water, covering tightly with foil and baking in a 250° oven for 4 hours.  I then shredded the meat, sprinkled with malt vinegar and a tiny bit of Stubb’s Original BBQ sauce.

We had soft tacos Monday with this gorgeous pulled pork, mixed greens, leftover beans and salsa made from last years’ roasted corn relish, chopped & drained canned tomatoes, chopped Bermuda onion, chopped cilantro, fresh lemon juice and kosher salt.  Chipolte who??

xxLordy, lordy, Carolina-style pulled pork xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and those tacos….

And even more:

  1. The fat from my Hereford/Berkshire roast is waiting to be rendered
  2. The fat from my smoking drip pan is neatly saved into a jar waiting to sauté my onions & garlic for risotto later.

The Recipes:

And, our Uncontested Pork Butt Winner:

I’m sure you could see this coming a mile away, but while both roasts were enjoyed, the Lamppost Roast really was in a league of its own. The only advantage I can see with the confinement raised pork was the price.  The price per pound of the heritage breed roast was a little less than twice that of the conventional.

However, when I factor back in the smoky rendered cooking grease I saved from the pastured pork, the gap  narrows again. The conventional pork was tougher in texture and less flavorful, although after braising for four hours (following a 3+ hour smoking), the difference was harder to appreciate.

Go Lamppost Farm! With all our newfound skills, we’re signing up for half a pig asap!

Missed Parts One & Two?