Chain Mail and White Robes

July 21, 2010

With the warm summer weather, my butchering and sausage making has slowed down a lot. This is mostly due to my newly acquired knowledge of bacteria and food safety when working with meat at different temperatures. If I had a well air-conditioned workspace, I’d be cutting and grinding 12 months out of the year, but that is not the case today. Small batch experiments are the theme of summertime meat projects (lox, bacon, cooked charcuterie). But as soon as the cool weather is back, I’ll be ready to go.

In the meantime, I’ve found the “Super Bowl” of the butchering world. The competitors in this video are beyond fast. It’s scary to think of boning knives moving this quickly and precisely. Someday, a trip to Germany to watch the European Deboning Championships needs to happen. I realize that this is not everyone’s typical food-travel fantasy, but I bet if you’re reading this blog,  and if you don’t feel squeamish after viewing the video, you might want to join me.

Sorry to provide only a link to the video. I don’t have permission to embed the source file in the blog.


Cold Smoked Lox

July 9, 2010

Sometimes, pork lovers crave lox and bagels.  I don’t see any inherent conflict with loving both. And it is Copper River Salmon season here in the Northwest, so the fish couldn’t be fattier or more perfect than it is now.

I’ve created an effective method of cold smoking meat and fish that is not particularly efficient, but very effective at keeping temperatures low (below 90 degrees) while exposing the lucky protein to plenty of smoke. If you’re one of those guys who already spent a bunch of money on a fancy smoker that maintains low temps, I would love to hear your experiences and impressions of the equipment. But for anyone who wants to cold-smoke meat without travelling farther than Home Depot and without spending more than $70 on a new electric smoker, I hope you’ll find this interesting and useful.

After cleaning a side of Copper River Sockeye and removing as many bones as I could find, I massaged the fish with a cure of  white sugar, brown sugar,  salt, toasted fennel, juniper, and peppercorns. All this took place in a 2 lb zip-lock bag. Three days of refrigeration later, after plenty of liquid had collected in the bag, I rinsed the fish with fresh water and placed it in the refrigerator to dry overnight (12 hours) in preparation for drying. A dry surface will hold the smoke flavor better than a damp surface of meat. Below is the rinsed 2# filet ready for smoking.

I used plum wood for smoking this batch of lox. Outdoor temperature was in the 50s when I started the smoking. A lot of Seattleites think 50 degrees is too cold for early July, but it was perfect air temp for this fish.

Over the grate holding the fish, I placed a rolled cylinder of rigid chicken wire, and then put the smoker’s lid on top of that. The chicken wire allows plenty of cool air to circulate across the fish, keeping the meat cool. It also prevents birds, bugs, or other critters from exploring my birthday breakfast. Plenty of smoke rises from the base of the unit, passing right over the fish. But with all that circulation, the air temp and the fish-temp never gets warm at all. I suppose this whole setup could be placed inside a tent to increase the efficiency. Actually, there are probably plenty of ways to increase the efficiency of this setup. But this works, and it requires very minimal special equipment.

The fish was smoked for 4 hours with a steady level of smoke the whole time. Air and meat temp never got warmer than 90F.

I pulled the cool but well-smoked salmon off the grill late at night, tasted a bit, and refrigerated the rest. In the morning, we sliced the fish, and ate it with pumpernickel bagels, cream cheese and capers. Awesome!

Buying cold-river Alaskan salmon from a named river is definitely pricier than settling for “wild”  unknown-origin salmon, and it is a lot more expensive than farm-raised salmon (pale, pink, and fat-free…..DRY!). But if you’re a lox fan, and you can find fresh salmon of any origin, give this a try. A cheap smoker and a roll of chicken wire should be all you need to succeed.