Hot Dog Day

April 25, 2010

Last Saturday was “Sausage Day” at my home. Twice each year, a friend joins me for a consistently over-ambitious plan to make MANY varieties of fresh sausage in a single day. Each year we get faster and more efficient, and more importantly, each year the final sausage product becomes significantly better than the previous attempt. (We’re convinced that this is true, but who really knows.)  Our families enjoyed dinner on Saturday, and we will have a supply of great sausage in the freezer for a few months to come.

But we still manage to make way too many varieties of sausage in one day than should probably be attempted. It is a lot of work!

My insistence on going metric and keeping notes about each recipe seems to be paying off. Spices and fat content continue to get better each year. But there was a lot of meat to grind and a lot of spices to weigh.

The results from the day included:

  • Merguez lamb sausage
  • Chorizo (pork)
  • Jalapeno (pork)
  • Poblano (pork)
  • Italian (pork)
  • and about 12 lb of beef hot dogs.

I did not take any pictures of the pork sausage work, but below are a few images of the hot-dog process.

Here’s one plate of the hot dogs (pre-smoking).

Below is the freshly ground beef with a paste of spices, ready to be mixed. The clear bowl is large, and this is about 10lb of beef.

Below, meat is in the stuffer and ready to go. This F.Dick stuffer holds 12 lbs of meat in the can.

I did not take a photo of the 45 minutes I spent untangling the pre-salted sheep casings for these hot dogs. I buy my casings from Butcher and Packer in Michigan. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of everything they send me, but I do not understand the knot tying technique used by those guys. I had a major (time consuming) challenge unraveling the knotted mess of sheep intestines, which were used on these hot dogs.  If anyone can shed some light on a reasonable technique to pull these out of the salted bag and unravel, please share some hints. Once the knotty mess was untangled and rinsed with clean cold water, everything worked seamlessly.

And below are the final dogs ready for drying in the fridge over night. The smoke sticks to the surface of the hot dogs much better if the surface is dry.

This is where the photography ended for the project. But the next steps involved hot-smoking these dogs, and then plunging them into  ice water to quickly cool them. Finally, I cut the links into individual dogs, and vacuum sealed them in packs of four or six. Hot dog night at our house is looking good for a while.

My next blog post will be an update on Herschel the prosciutto and the status of other drying meat in the cooler. There is a real nice collection of treats down there right now, and many will be ready to taste soon. Duck salami, two coppas, a large carne salata. Can’t wait!  Herschel’s current batting average and other status as of today are:

  • 30 of 30 days salting complete
  • 90 of 90 days of drying complete
  • 53 of 365 days of aging complete. (10 months to go)

The leg still looks and smells good. The new cooler is working well.

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Upgraded Control of a Meaty Environment

April 10, 2010

I am not a carpenter.

But I have managed to finally finish building my walk-in cooler. It is seemingly solid, definitely well insulated,  provides plenty of storage room for holding meat, and it keeps good control of the temperature and humidity in the box.  Below are a few picture of the 95% finished cooler.

There’s an insulated door, but no door handle yet. You can’t have everything on day #1.

Door removed.

The AC. Thanks Craigslist! The small black box on the bottom of the air conditioner is the humidity and temperature control, courtesy of the reptile department at the pet store.  Salami and lizards both need precise humidity and temp controls….or they can get ruined.

The humidifier and a light. I don’t have to work in a dark closet anymore!

The current collection of drying meat, including duck breast prosciutto (wild duck from Eastern Washington…Thanks Jay!), Duck salami (same source), cured pork loin (Tails & Trotters pig mentioned in my earlier blog post), “Herschel” (prosciutto #1 from Sea Breeze Farm in Vashon Island), “Hazel”, the newest prosciutto (from Tails & Trotters in Portland), and a few bunches of rosemary from my front yard.

A second picture of the two prosciutto legs. “Herschel” on the left is 5 months old. One full month of aging has occurred already, and the color and texture are obviously very different from “Hazel”, on the right. This picture was taken on the first day of drying after 30 days of salting were complete. Right after this photo, “Hazel” was wrapped in a bug tent, to prevent flies or other critters from exploring and/or declaring this fresh meat their new home. That would be very bad.


Food With a Story

April 5, 2010

A lot of people in Seattle’s  food community are emphasizing more than just “local” or “organic” in their food requirements. The focus seems to have moved onto being able to tell a believable and compelling “story behind the food we eat everyday.”  Where was an animal raised? What did it eat? What is the farmer all about, and what else does she grow on the farm? Is any other item on my dinner plate from that same farm? Why did the chef select this particular cut of meat for this preparation? Foodie trends have taken us in many directions over the years, but the curiosity and expectations surrounding the “story behind our food” seems to be at an all time high right now. And insistence on understanding the entire “farm to plate” narrative is no exception. For the first time in my life, I feel kind of trendy. I’ve been on this “food story” kick for more than ten years, and now lots of people are talking about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the “Farmer Fisher Chef Connection” here in Seattle.  This event, hosted by the Seattle Chef’s Collaborative was a day-long conference bringing together a lot of hyper-aware (and hyper-involved) members of the Pacific Northwest food community to foster a more sustainable food supply…to everyone.  Local farmers met face-to-face with local consumers (chefs, restaurant owners, and various food producers) to understand more clearly how to work together and support each other’s efforts better. Everyone  of the 200+ attendees in the room clearly was there because they want to support small farmers, encourage responsible farming, play a role in sustainability, and spread the message to the hungry public that great food can be made without trashing the soil or bankrupting the small guys who are trying to do the right thing. It was exciting to see so many people who wanted to slow down, think, and figure out new behaviors and processes in order to step out of the factory-farmed default food supply that so many restaurants (and home cooks) turn to.

One of the most compelling topics from the day was a panel discussion involving the coordinated efforts of a rancher, a butcher, a restaurant owner, and the restaurant’s executive chef, all sharing stories about their individual role getting local grass-fed beef from the farm to the dinner plate at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, ending up with an extremely satisfying experience for all parties involved….and creating a meal worthy of a Seattle restaurant which is really particular about its ingredients used on the menu. It took a lot of planning and effort before all four parties were able to come together to create a local, responsibly grown, custom butchered, and seasonally timed menu item, but the result seems to have been a success for everyone, and a provided everyone with a great story surrounding the final meal. I wish I could have gone to dinner that night at Canlis.

We all walked away from the discussion confirming the obvious; that food trends change quickly. Restaurant diners and foodies from very recently (10 years ago?…pre-Michael Pollan) used to look for the most exotic ingredients regardless of seasonality, geography, or the reality that it takes an embarrassing amount of fuel to go grocery shopping for a single meal by selecting ingredients sourced in different climate zones of our planet. “Organic” became a buzz word that everyone expected for a while, and some still do. Everyone in the food industry learned how to include that word or some variation of “organic” into their menu. Then, the public got focused on “eating local.” The emphasis on “local” is awesome, and so many people are embracing it in their daily life….well, at least during the summer months. Shopping at farmers markets to support the local farmers and to help everyone understand the seasonality of all their food. But now, lots of people are talking about the “story behind their food.” And many eaters expect to see the farm name on a menu. If a pig’s diet or exercise regiment is described on the menu, all the better for everyone.

Does all this transparency and honesty about the source of our food really make things taste better? Who cares….it makes me feel proud to support farmers and chefs who are actively slowing down their production and doing the right thing….and supporting each other. My prosciutto, salami, and any other meaty treats all come from sources (farms and farmers) who I’ve met, who I trust, and who have been completely willing to explain to me what their work is all about. (If I haven’t met the individual farmer, I know that the initial butcher has vetted the farmer and the source of the meat in a similar manner as I would)

It is exciting to see so many people asking so many questions and expecting/demanding acceptable answers regarding the source of our food. There’s nothing wrong with asking the waiter or the butcher or even your mother where dinner really came from.

Now, having said all that, I should give an update on Herschel. After all, this is a blog about a prosciutto.

The leg is one full month into the 12 month aging stage. That’s:

  • 30 of 30 days salting completed
  • 90 of 90 days of drying complete
  • 30 of 365 days of aging complete.

The lard/pepper/semolina paste is still in place without any dripping or smearing. And the leg still smells and feels great. There’s a lot of waiting to do still, but not too much action to take.

Meanwhile, “Hazel” the second prosciutto is 27 days into the salting stage. Later this week, I will rinse it, wrap it in a bug tent, and hang it next to Herschel, beginning the 90 day drying process. Same process as before, but a very different pig from a different Washington farm with a unique diet of hazelnuts. The side-by-side tasting next year will be fun!