Posts Tagged With: curing

cured salmon (gravlax) + crispy salmon skin bacon!

One of the most amazing things we buy from Athens Locally Grown (our awesome online farmer’s market) is wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

Doug’s Wild Alaska Salmon is not technically local since Alaska is many miles away, but the business is based out of nearby South Carolina–lucky us! So Micah and I pretty much have year-round access to beautiful flash-frozen salmon fillets.

They’ve cooked up beautifully for us many times (though some of you might remember the date-night dinner disaster I detailed in one of my very first posts), but I’ve been itching to try curing and/or smoking one of these pretty pink slabs of fish to see how it would turn out.

I based my cure on Paul Hinrich’s recipe from Salon.com (which, in turn, was adapted from Professional Charcuterie by John Kinsella and David T. Harvey), but I also borrowed inspiration from Traci Des Jardins’ recipe on Chow and versions by Georgia Pellegrini and Doris and Jilly. (I figured the more recipes I read, the more I’d understand how the process works so I could figure it out on my own next time!)

What’s in it:

  • one 1-1/2 pound salmon fillet with skin but no bones
  • 6 ounces kosher salt
  • 3 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each black peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and caraway seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

Step-by-step:

  • In a large glass dish, mix the salt, sugar, and spices.
  • Add the salmon and cover it completely with the curing mixture.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours or until the thickest part of the salmon is no longer squishy to the touch.
  • Rinse off the cure, pat dry the salmon, slice, and store.

(You could also include a smoking step with a DIY cold-smoker like Micah uses for his bacon, but I decided to save that for another time.)

I’ve heard this stuff will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer…but I’ll be surprised if it lasts that long in our house!

And, as if all this delicious fishiness weren’t enough–when I was reading the Chowhound recipe, one commenter suggested frying the skin like bacon.

Y’all know how I feel about bacon.

So, of course, I had to give it a try. We cut the skin into long, skinny strips, coated a skillet with olive oil spray, and cooked the skin up on medium heat until it was nice and crispy.

Add scrambled eggs (tossed with a little goat cheese and Greek yogurt), plus capers, dill, and a pretty little pile of the salmon, and we had ourselves a gourmet brunch!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

creamy eggs + tangy goat cheese + briny capers + salty salmon + crispy skin = yum!

 

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we are the big bad wolf (or, what we did with the pig that didn’t get away)

So, a while back, I pretty much swore to you guys that Micah and I wouldn’t be buying another pig head.

I lied.

Oops.

Here’s the thing:

Micah really, really loves curing him some pig meat.

He most recently made bacon from a pretty slab of pork belly, but one of his favorite and most frequent curing projects is guanciale, a salty and porky cured Italian hog jowl that tastes kind of like bacon on steroids.

And lately, we’ve been having trouble finding hog jowls from any of our usual sources. None in the Athens Locally Grown listings, none in the Moonshine Meats farm store.

It’s like every recently slaughtered pig within a 100-mile radius is mysteriously without cheeks.

We’re almost out of bacon, so the situation was getting urgent. Dire, even.

Micah emailed Eric at ALG, and he suggested that Micah contact Greendale Farm–who turned out to also be sold out of hog jowls.

But they did have whole heads.

So, guys, it was an accident, but yes…we did end up with another massive pig head in our refrigerator.

I’ll spare your gag reflexes and forgo the photo of the whole big ol’ head staring at you…but I do have to share the impressive amount of pantry staples one head will yield.

First, the jowls:

in about two and a half more weeks, we’ll be in hog heaven with this cheeky, streaky bacon

And here’s the rest of the haul:

look at that army of freezer jars…..

So, what exactly is all this stuff?

Well, here’s what one pig head will very generously give you:

  • about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds delicious home-cured hog jowl bacon
  • 3 gallons + 2 cups pork stock (freeze in 1- to 2-cup portions for easy additions to soups, stews, and sauces)
  • 1 cup lard (makes a great cooking fat, especially for brunch and Southern fixins)
  • about 1 pound pig skin trimmings (perfect for seasoning beans, greens, and soups)
  • about 2 pounds pulled pork meat (which we used to make some fantastic barbecue sandwiches)
  • 1 pork tongue (I have no idea what Micah plans to do with this, but it’s in our freezer…I’ll keep you posted!)

Micah spent pretty much a whole day prepping all this stuff, but now we’ve got a freezer and refrigerator full of delicious pork products that cost us next to nothing.

Was it worth it?

Yep, I do believe it was.

And, because I’m sure some of you are wondering:

No, we did NOT make any headcheese with this hog head. We picked the meat off of the skull, but we left all that weird cartilaginous stuff out of our harvest.

I swear, we’ll never make headcheese again.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t swear. I haven’t been too good at keeping promises lately. 🙂

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project in progress, 6.10.12 – Micah’s home-cured bacon, part 2

Shame on me.

Micah and I have been enjoying his home-cured bacon for a few weeks now, and I haven’t even updated you on the progress.

My most humble apologies!

Quick recap:

Micah cured a pork belly to make homemade bacon. When it was curing, it looked like this:

pork belly curing in salt, sugar, and lots of garden-grown rosemary

For this step, Micah for the most part referenced a very detailed article from Oregon Live. Other sources for the curing part of the process include this recipe from Saveur and Michael Ruhlman’s recipe (because Ruhlman, author of a book called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, is pretty much The Man when it comes to curing meats).

No pink salt (Insta Cure No. 1/sodium nitrite) was used in our curing process because a) it was listed as “optional”; b) we didn’t have any; and c) added nitrates/nitrites are chemicals we try to mostly avoid.

Micah also left out the juniper berries because, well, where on earth do you buy juniper berries, anyway? So extra bay leaves and rosemary took the place of those.

Our slab of pork belly cured in the salt/sugar/seasoning mixture for about a week, during which time it was flipped and rotated occasionally and released a fair amount of moisture. Then, Micah cleaned off the cure and it was time for smoking.

Micah wanted to cold-smoke the bacon rather than hot-smoking it (which would have cooked it instead of leaving it raw). Of course, we don’t own any kind of fancy smoking appliances, so (as usual) we improvised:

Micah’s DIY cold smoker, constructed from everyday household items

Micah got the idea for this from the LA Weekly blog and (again, for the most part) followed their instructions, subbing an aluminum beer can for the tin can that they suggested.

To make your own cold smoker, you need….

  • a soldering iron (preferably one that’s never been soldered with before–we picked up a cheapie from the hardware store for about $15)
  • a large roasting pan
  • a wire rack
  • a tin or aluminum can, with the top almost completely removed so it makes kind of a flip-top lid
  • wood chips
  • ice packs
  • foil

You can see in the picture basically how all this is put together. The wood chips are inside the PBR can, and the soldering iron rests inside of that where it heats the wood to create smoke, but no fire–pretty cool! Once you’ve got your roasting pan smoker set up, you just put whatever food item you would like to smoke onto the rack, turn on the soldering iron, and cover the whole rig with aluminum foil to keep the smoke in.

The day Micah smoked his bacon, he had the smoker going pretty much all day, changing the woodchips out about every hour or two. Our whole house and porch and yard were enveloped in an intoxicating aura of porky smoke, which was fabulous. Even our hair and our clothes smelled like bacon. And I have to admit, while I always find Micah attractive, somehow he’s extra sexy when he’s bacon-scented. 🙂

When the bacon was done smoking late that evening, it looked like this:

just look at that smoky golden glow….

And it smelled incredible.

Since the whole slab was about three pounds, Micah cut it into six 8-ounce hunks, and we froze all but one of them.

Then, finally, it was time to try the bacon!

Micah sliced it nice and thick.  This is what it looked like raw:

nice ‘n’ streaky

And then we cooked it up good and crispy in a cast-iron skillet:

<insert drool here>

The verdict?

Amazing.

This bacon tastes like bacon squared, perfectly smoky and porky and delicious. The only change Micah said he will make next time (oh, yes, there will be a next time!) is to cure the bacon for a slightly shorter amount of time, maybe 4-5 days instead of a week, as this batch is almost, but not quite, on the verge of being too salty.

I think we’ve devoured half of this batch of bacon in just a few short weeks, enjoying it on burgers and sandwiches, with eggs and toast for breakfast, and crumbled over a bed of tangy, spicy collard greens:

served with black-eyed peas, summer squash, and cornbread, naturally

Not only has this project sold us on curing our own bacon from now on, but it has also inspired us to branch out into other curing and smoking experiments–I am itching to try making our own smoked salmon!

In the meantime, we’ve still got a pound and a half of beautiful home-cured, home-smoked pork belly in our freezer, and I can’t imagine it will last much longer.

After all, everything’s better with bacon. 🙂

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project in progress – 6.3.12 – Micah’s home-cured bacon, part 1

in the beginning….

Micah has cured hog jowls to make guanciale many times, always with delicious results.

Once, Micah even butchered a whole pig’s head himself, slicing off two big, beautiful cheeks that yielded about three pounds of bacon, not to mention simmering the rest of the head for hours into several gallons of rich, porky stock…and then scraping the remains together into a loaf of headcheese, which we both discovered we really don’t like, at all.

Did you know that you really should shave or burn the hair off of a pig’s head before you cook with it? Neither did we, until we were faced with that hog’s stubbly mug.

And there’s something really unnerving about seeing a pig’s giant face every time you open the refrigerator.

Now, I’m not squeamish about where meat comes from, or, at least, where this meat came from. It didn’t bother me that our hog jowl bacon once had a face (in fact, was a face), because I know that this particular pig lived in squishy mud and green pastures before he so graciously gave his life up for us. No nasty feedlot, no cramped pen full of sewage, no yucky chemicals or drugs. He was surely as happy as a farm pig could be.

I’m not going to argue that any animal deserves to die, and I’m not going to evangelize about the marvels of meat to my vegetarian and vegan friends. All of us must make choices we are comfortable with. I am comfortable with eating animals if they have been treated humanely, respected, honored for what they provide us.

This pig, unlike any other pig I’ve eaten, ever, had a face that I got to see, had features I can still picture. He was scraggly with coarse, short hair. His ears curled and flopped just a tad, right where they came to a point. His snout looked perfectly suited for rooting, and proud of it, too. He smirked. His eyes were closed, but his tongue stuck out of his mouth just a little. What a joker.

As much as we enjoyed the guanciale and the stock, Micah declared he’d never buy another pig’s head after that.

Until a week or two ago.

“You know what we oughtta get?” he inquired, in the midst of a conversation about how we have too much food in our freezer. “Another pig head.”

I’ll let Micah handle that on his own if he wants, and of course I’ll be happy to help him enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Except the headcheese. Unless maybe we find another, better recipe…

In any case, we don’t have room in our fridge right now to store a whole pig head or to cure a pair of hog jowls.

Why?

Because Micah is already busy curing a pork belly to make regular old bacon. Of course, given the gorgeousness of this slab of meat (from our friends at Moonshine), not to mention the generous heaping of fresh rosemary from a friend’s garden, I feel pretty confident that this bacon will be anything but ordinary.

Micah’s been reading up on the process, including how to cold-smoke the meat after it cures, and I’ll share links to his resources plus more photos of the progress very soon.

Also, this means you can certainly expect to see some recipes featuring this lovely bacon once it matures.

Categories: links, musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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