Supperclub summit

It’s been a while since I put myself up for a culinary challenge but as luck would have it I’ve been reeled in by the promise of a chance to get out my mincer and fire up the smoker to concoct some meaty delights.

In collaboration with some folks running supperclubs in Germany I am taking part in the Supperclub Summit – a sort of culinary Olympics if you will. I’m making a special Charcuterie plate and helping out with some of the other dishes on the menu.

To have a look at the menu and read more about it go to the Supperclub Summit website.

You can book a ticket via that site or through Edible Experiences

I look forward to seeing you there.

Yours in meat

Ruth

 


Biltong – an explanation of sorts

If you live in the UK at least (I don’t know how this works elsewhere), you will be familiar with a page featuring many tick-boxes asking to affirm your ethnicity – it is attached to just about every bureaucratic form available. When faced with the plethora of choices I forgo the temptation to list some randomly chosen cocktail of races. This is what I put down:

White African.

White Africans from Southern Africa can be divided into two groups – English and Afrikaans. This divide is stronger than most realise, harking back to at least the 1820’s when tensions between Boers and English first began to fester – the power-grabbing tendencies of the latter inevitably giving rise to the inland migration of the former. Even today there is a distinct cultural difference and rivalry between the two.

I have no Afrikaner blood, my ancestry is a British blend of English and Scottish with a smattering of Irish. Nevertheless my father saw fit to raise me from a young age (I take this to be ‘whenever the infant can handle solids’) on a meaty snack of Afrikaaner origins that you will no doubt have heard of: Biltong.

Biltong can be made of beef or any kind of venison (ostrich, kudu, gemsbok, eland, sprinkbok, zebra, etc) and originated, legend would have it, as a way of preserving meat during The Great Trek.

I would so love to tell you about The Great Trek… Hmm, on second thoughts, having been schooled during the Apartheid era, and taught (indoctrinated) in History class about the inner workings and details of The Great Trek for FOUR YEARS in a row I just can’t bring myself to do it. If you’re that desperate – Google and Wiki are your friends.

For all I know the Boers learned this neat preserving trick from the indigenous San people, many of whom were their slaves, or they may have brought the knowledge with them from the Motherlands of France, Holland and Germany.

Anyhow, the long and short of it is that people needed to find ways of preserving food whilst moving their wagons and cattle into the ‘binneland’ (inland). This, by the way, started happening around the 1830-40’s.

Given the proliferation of vineyards in the Cape there was easy access to wine vinegar. As I have learned during my own charcuterie adventures, a vinegar bath (for the meat, not the charcutière) is a most useful deterrent against unwanted bacterial growth on dry cured meat – these Boers were on to something.

I won’t pretend that Biltong is a highly refined foodstuff, but the love I have for it is deeply ingrained. I think of it as the rough and ready cousin of sophisticated Bresaola.

Here follows an imagined Voortrekker Biltong recipe.

Step 1: First catch your antelope (with apologies to Ms. Glasse).

Step 2: Cut the animal up into manageable strips – nowadays we can buy a kilogram or two of meat to suit our needs. Imagine, just IMAGINE for one second having to deal with a whole animal, no refrigerator and searing African sun. A cow or eland is not a small beast and weighs anything from half a ton upwards!

Step 3: Marinate your strips of meat for a time in salt, vinegar and spices – coriander seems to be the most authentic one (Thank goodness for the Dutch East India Company’s spice trade monopoly eh?).

looks appetizing doesn't it?

Step 4: Hang out to dry in the sun. Have a fly swatter at the ready. Acacia thorns must have made handy butchers hooks.

This is how we do it back home.

Photo by Susan Todd

Step 5: Wait a couple of days if you like wet Biltong, or up to a week if you like it dry and splintery, then enjoy with a cool brew… Oh, those poor, poor Voortrekkers. NO COLD BEER. NO FRIDGES!

Once cured there are two main ways to eat Biltong. The more genteel way is to slice it against the grain into thin slivers and serve in a bowl or on a platter (wannabe Bresaola – nothing wrong with that).

Photo by South African Biltong

The second is to just gnaw on a whole stick of biltong as though you are a dog enjoying a raw-hide treat. No prizes for guessing which version this rough and ready author favours.


Smoking pot

I’ve not done much any charcuterie yet this year but for the three or four people who read my blog and have been haranguing me to write, I thought I better post something pronto.

Thinking ahead into 2012 I’ve decided not to get overly experimental with meat. Instead I plan on perfecting my technique and smoked Salmon is high on the agenda. I also promise to try and improve the dismal photography on this blog.

When I first started smoking food last spring, advice sought on Twitter pointed me in the direction of the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator (CSG). I was a little suspicious of the American name, plus it just seemed too lo-tech and easy to be true. It was also cheap – £25 from MacsBBQ. Occasionally life throws up effortless pleasures, and this would appear to be one of them.

Equipped with my ProQ CSG I needed a vessel to smoke my foodstuffs in. Any enclosed receptacle will do really, so long as one is sure that toxins will not leach into the food during the smoking process (avoid plastic for example). Even for cold smoking I decided to exercise caution.

After conducting some research I realised that by purchasing a terracotta pot I could transform an otherwise boring task into a culinary adventure: I used it as an excuse to justify an expedition to Petersham nurseries.

I finally arrived there after journeys by train, bike and bus, then spent a long while sizing up which of the many  pots would be suitable. Eventually my over keen interest in plant pots aroused the suspicions of the staff, so I picked one, and decided to reward my strenuous efforts with some light refreshment.

After ordering I sat down under the humid glass panels inside the warm micro-climate of the greenhouse/teahouse and enjoyed an Eccles cake of supreme flakiness and a civilised pot of Earl Grey tea.

To work off the lardening effects of the Eccles cake I then proceeded to carry the great rust coloured hulk home, walking a significant part of the way before finally arriving home exhausted from my pot procuring efforts.

I had already purchased a side of Salmon but before smoking some beauty spa treatment is required to prepare the fish for smoking. I massaged the Salmon with a cure of salt, sugar, maple and some spices, wrapped it in clingfilm and then it rested in the fridge under a heavy weight (my copy of Leiths cooking bible wrapped in a protective bag if you must know) for a day or two.

The Salmon was rinsed off under cool running water after the cure had worked its magic, gently patted dry and then returned to the fridge for a day or so to develop a pellicle. Pellicle. Say it again. Pellicle is now one of my favourite words and also the name of the slightly tacky surface that develops on cured goods, to which the smoke sticks.

I filled the CSG with Maple wooddust and on top of that I sprinkled a fine layer of ground up peat from Islay, kindly delivered to me by whiskey fiend Joel of Caskstrength who sourced it for me on a tasting trip to that fair isle. Of course there was whiskey in the cure to complement the peat too.

I ‘fired up’ the smoker with a tiny tea-light put it in the bottom of the flowerpot, then the Salmon on a grid and finally on went the lid and I off to bed.

This photo without the peat.

In the morning I came downstairs with all the excitement of a child on Christmas day and was not disappointed. Not only is the flavour of home cured salmon more complex than mass-produced stuff, but somehow so is texture. As with bacon – no more store bought for me (I would, however, fork out for Hansen Lyderson’s salmon which is beautiful and delicate).

Buoyed by that first success I’ve since made a fair amount of smoked Salmon with various cures: Fennel and orange, whiskey and maple, gin and juniper. This year I’d like to make a more concerted effort to play around with different flavours and tweak the cures until they’re just right.

I can’t wait to tuck in to more of the good stuff.


Duck tales Woo-oooh

So you thought that was the end. Well, it turns out that I never blogged about the first ever Charcutepalooza challenge – Duck Prosciutto (or Duck Ham which I’ve abbreviated to Duckham, pronounced ‘duckem’). Having now read some of the other final posts, and hanging my head in shame over the woeful state of my photography, it is clear that I’m never going to win the Grand Prize.

I am, however, a woman of my word and I like to finish things properly so write about Duckham I must.  I will attempt brevity after the neverendingness of my Charcuteparty post. Continue reading


Charcuteparty

I dont want to write this, because writing it means the end. The official end of  A Year of Meat. Charcutepalooza has changed my life in the best way possible: gradually and imperceptibly but more on that later if there’s space.

I suppose I could have hosted a sophisticated dinner party for a few select friends. But throughout the year so many people have asked me about my ongoing meat projects that I decided instead to do an open call so that whoever was willing and able could have the chance to come and taste the fruits of my labour. That turned out to be 25 hungry humans. Continue reading


You say Cherit-so, I say Choreetho, let’s call the whole thing off.

Charcutepalooza Challenge Number the 11th.

Ok first the story about the chorizo. I was quite nervous. You know that thing when you use the internet to self diagnose a potential illness? Well that, but with sausage. Terrified I was, of all the strange moulds and most of all the potential threat of botulism which can be lethal and like a ninja remains undetected until it is too late.

Little did I know that pernicious microflora were to be the least of my worries. Continue reading


The music of Leather Lane

.

When I walk down Leather Lane I hear music.

It reaches me through open windows high

Continue reading


Galantine

It’s been a whole month. And who knows what I’ve been up to. Oh, I know. WORK! After a long and tedious period of not much work this past year I’ve been through a career crisis, confidence crisis, and general all round crises of every type and description. Charcutepalooza has given me something to look forward to most months. I say most because the Hot Dog challenge brought about it’s own cooking crisis involving the untimely demise of a blender amidst a lot of swearing, but otherwise it’s been a treat and definitely helped to keep my spirits afloat during the dark days. Continue reading


Damson in distress

Pork pie:  Meat, Pastry.

Jelly optional.

Or essential if, like me you are a fastidious nerd who likes to do everything from scratch… I might not bother with it again because of the time involved. Boil up some pigs feet, tails etc. then simmer for hours and hours, strain and reduce for many more hours.

I would so love to evangelise to you about how we need to discover the cheap cuts and eat more offal, but seriously. Pigs feet? Ok, so they do make amazing jelly, but picking through them afterwards searching for meaty morsels, all I could find was gelatinous goop. I don’t really get why you would eat them… unless, of course they prove to be the Elixir of Life.

The jelly was brown and murky – on account of me adding ground spices (as opposed to whole) – but it made a nice reflection of some trees and a fence in my garden. Reflectojelly.

Meat

Pretty simple really. Minced pork shoulder, bacon, a few herbs and the secret ingredient: Anchovy sauce. I don’t want to get all ‘Proper’ on you, but I do believe that when it comes to Pork Pie anything claiming to be authentic really should have Anchovy sauce in it. Not that I ‘ve done my research or anything. I could be gravely mistaken. But I’m holding to what Jane Grigson says, and she says Yea! to Anchovy sauce.

Pastry

So beautifully soft, on account of the obscene amounts of lard. I once heard some TV chef/baker man say the dough should be “as soft  as the inside of your best beloved’s thigh”. Ahem. Well there you go. I don’t have a best beloved just at the moment so we’ll have to take the word of the TV chef/baker man on that one.

Baked until the lard oozes out of the gold pastry crust

And there they are, looking great and tasty until someone (me) drops them all on the floor. *tears*

Well not all of them. I ate a couple first.  And no, I didn’t take a picture of my floor smashed pies.

*

Actually, on second thoughts, did I say I was fastidious earlier in this post. Hmm, perhaps not, given that it’s 2 hours to the Charcutepalooza deadline, and part of the challenge is to post recipes along with our experiences. Even though I wrote this post in good time I’ll be honest, I TOTALLY forgot about the recipe part. I’ve been working my butt off (a gal’s gotta earn dough to make dough).

Enter panic and distress!

However, I did make pickled Damsons recently, and although I didn’t actually eat them with my Pork Pies I think they’d be a great accompaniment to pies, terrines and all sorts of Autumnal Charcuterie goodness. I also learned that Damson juice would make excellent fake blood (a girl also has to earn dough to buy a new and better camera).

So here it is. It’s not even my recipe. Like dodgy bloggers across the world I stoled it off the internet and jiggled the ingredients to my personal preference.

Pickled Damsons

Ingredients
1kg damsons
cinnamon stick
3-4 cloves
grated zest of a lemon
2 inch nub of ginger
1 teaspoon allspice berries
150ml balsamic vinegar
450g dark sugar
Method
Prepare the damsons by washing and removing the stalks, and pricking each one with a pin to prevent them bursting (Sorry what? I mean, do you have ANY idea how small Damsons are and how many of them there are in one kilogram?).
Tie the spices in a muslin bag – or not if you are lazy like me.
Melt the sugar in the vinegar, heating until it has all dissolved.
Add the damsons and spices, cook on a low simmer for 10-15 minutes until they are soft
Strain the damsons and pack them into clean preserving jars, reserving the juice.
Bring the strained juice to the boil and reduce until it has a syrup consistency
Finally pour the syrup over the Damsons and seal the jar

The Pitt (Cue) of Despair

The  benchmark by which I measure disappointment in life is ‘Caravaggio – The Final Years’. The 2005 National Gallery show featured just 16 late works by one of my favourite artists, the master of dark shadows and searing light. The exhibition was lauded, applauded and generally agreed upon by all and sundry to be really rather good.

But I never saw a single one of the paintings in that show.

Days and weeks floated by, somehow I just couldn’t find time to go along. On the very last day I decided to put an end to the madness. I awoke early and headed off to queue for a ticket. When I arrived at 8am the line of people had already weaved its way around the building but after two and a half hours standing in the howling gusts and drizzle I finally reached the front of the queue, ready to pay for my ticket.

I hit a snag. My wallet was not in my bag.

But then, oh! sweet relief I had my cheque book with me.

Then a final insurmountable obstacle: gallery policy was not to accept any cheque without a guarantee card. No exceptions. Despite my desperate pleading, complete with smarting eyes and quivering lip the stone faced cashier was unrelenting.

I remain convinced his veined marble visage was only in place to cover an unbeating heart of black obsidian and have forgiven errant lovers more readily than I could forgive that horrid jobsworth.

I freely admit that my short cycle home was a blurry mess of tears. I’d blown my last chance of seeing this once in a lifetime show and other than the despised cashier,  really only had myself to blame. Even now, when referring to events unattended, missed opportunities and suchlike I am likely to conclude that at least it wasn’t as traumatic as ‘The Caravaggio Incident’.

It has taken these six years to experience a similar disappointment.

Pitt Cue installed their shiny food truck under Hungerford Brigde where they have been peddling pulled pork, brisket and other smoked delights over the whole summer. It has been received with rapturous delight and universal acclaim. I’ve been several times, but they’ve either been closed, or sold out. Someone’s timing totally sucks. Probably mine.

Yesterday I decided enough was enough, got up rather late and winged my way to the South Bank for I knew it was the last opportunity to savour the delights purveyed through the serving hatch of the Pitt Cue trailer. I stood in the queue. There was a bit of the howling gusts, but the drizzle had passed. I got to the front of the queue after not too long, money at the ready, wallet in hand.

And then. The crushing blow.

The boy ahead of me in the queue, whose fine face I had been admiring to while away the waiting time, had been served the very last portion of food.

SOLD OUT.

I didn’t weep. I don’t hate the cashiers or the pretty queue boy. But I am sad.

There is something to take comfort in however: that the logistics involved in organising repeat ‘showing’ of the Pitt Cue trailer are not quite so insurmountable as the gathering together of the fragile precious artworks of a certain moody, mysterious, even murderous 16th century painter.