The dishes attempted for the purposes of this blog are from, or inspired by, the cook book "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating," and its creator, Fergus Henderson.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pork Belly Confit

You might think, "Pork belly, I understand.  But what the devil is a 'confit'?"  This, my friend, is an excellent question.

Let's start with the easier of the two.  Pork belly is the part of the pig from which we get the commonly consumed breakfast item, and artery clogging fan fave, bacon.  Packaged in slices, it's perfect on toast, with lettuce and tomato.  Packaged whole, it's an entirely different ball game.  The same rules don't necessarily apply.  Boundries seem limitless.  Horizons are broadened. 

Enter, confit. 

Confit is the preservation of a food item in fat.  Many items can be prepared 'confit'.  The most common confit, if one can use the words common, and confit, in the same sentence without sounding awesomely rediculous, dish is probably duck confit.  In this case, B chose pork belly confit.

B started the process by brining the pork in a salt and sugar solution, for twelve hours.  Twelve hours.  I have no idea where I will be in twelve hours, but B knows he will be ending the brining of his pork belly.  Next, lard is melted, then poured over the raw pork belly in an oven safe dish.  Note here, B says it is optimal to use the fat of the same animal meat being confit-ed (i.e. duck fat for duck, pork fat for pork, etc.).  However, in the absence of a specific fat, lard will always suffice. 

This sexy concoction is now baked in a 350F degree oven for about two and a half hours.  When the pork is extremely tender, you are ready to containerize.  Do you want to use the meat in one giant, gluttonous feast? Or do you have a few ideas for your carnivorous delight?  Divide it up (pork, melted lard, and all) among multiple containers.  Keep it all in one.  The choice is yours...  Just make sure the melted fat completely surounds and drowns the meat within the container.    Once you've figured it all out, put it in the refrigerator, and watch as the melted lard solidifies into a slick, fatty, white, jell-o-style cacoon, protecting its delicate, juicy meat core.

When you are ready to use your confit masterpiece, you can do as B did, which was pan frying it, straight up.  Oh yeah, don't be afraid to get down 'n dirty, dare I say, extra dirty!, with this stuff!  Just scrape off that excess fat, being careful to save it for future cooking endeavors, of course, and throw that pork belly in a frying pan!  I do strongly reccommend a splatter screen here.  B and I were painfully aware of the absence of one in our kitchen in this moment. 

The finished product will dissolve on your tongue, leaving you with nothing but an flavor-joyed pallet, and a pork juice high you won't want to come down from. Didn't I say something about 'carnivor's delight'?...

B. Says:

I want more.  I want more.  I want more.  That delicious not quite fat, not quite meat (I'm plagirizing here) quality is awesome. 

I want to brush my teeth with this stuff it is so good.. 

That'll do pig, that'll do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Feet 'n Fungus

Dried black fungus, that is.  Didn't know you get that at your local Asian grocer?  Been searching all over town, and it was right there all this time?  Now, you know.  They also carry all of the chicken feet, or boneless duck feet at three times the price, you can eat.  Been overlooking this gem-of-the-Orient-into-your-neighborhood-transplant?  You shouldn't.  Just ask your Mexican neighbors, they're shopping there.  They know where to get the goods.  And, now, so do you.

You don't necessarily have to brave the unknown food supplyer of mysterious regions, however, in order to get your hands on some chicken feet.  These bizarre, but not as bizarre as you might think, treats are available at many, well known, super-chain grocery stores.  Found in the meat and poultry department, wrapped in cellophane, and looking like human baby hands, they are easily identifiable. 

If you dare to brave your local Asian grocer, the chicken feet can be located somewhere between the pig's uterus, and the beef tendon.  If you come upon the goat head, you've gone too far.

Apparently, there are many ways to cook a chicken foot (not to be confused with the rock-n-roller retiree band playing a 55+ community near you).  The method B has chosen to simmer them in coconut milk for 15 minutes.  To wich, green curry paste and water were added.  This mixture simmered two more hours, thus creating the base for a curry, which went on to be a separate dish, with onion, carrots, and black fungus.

The feet were then refrigerated for an hour to allowing the collagen to set (like Jell-o), and the feet to firm up.  B then tossed his feet, chicken feet, of course, in a soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, hot sauce, lemon grass concoction.  Presently, they are in the oven.  When I asked him 'how long'?  His response was, "I have no idea." 

In the mean time, tofu and noodles have been added to the curry, and it is ready to eat.  Pret-a-manger, if you will.  This is being done for my benefit, because I am hungry.  HUNGRY.  I need to eat, and soon, even if it means opening a bag of chips.  Chiken feet be damned.  Did I mention how hungry I am?  If left to B, this process would take another two hours.  As it is, he started all of this yesterday.  Yesterday.

INTERLUDE:   As the noodles churn...

The following is quoted, word for word, from the noodle bag:

Put the noodle into boilng water, to simmer 2 minutes.  the noodle will automatic splitting, then stir the noodle, adding oil and vegetable, it is more tast if eating with meat or it can do as pan fry noodle, clipping up the noodle, after the water dried it can then fry.
Mmmm...My noodles and curry are dee-lish!  There is spice, from the dried hot chillies.  The black fungus, while not providing much in the way of flavor, offer much in the way of texture.  The tofu gives it balance in both, texture, and flavor (countering the spice and salt).  I am saphonsified. 

So is B.  He is gnawing on chicken foot bones as we speak.   He admits, they may not be worth the effort he has chosen to put into them, but, still, they are good.  Really good.  I have to admit, I can see the appeal.  I understand their allure, based on texture, flavorfulness, and versatility.  I am able to enjoy the taste, and even the texture (keeping in mind, you have to eat around all the little bones).  But these little guys really pack in the flavor.  They pack it in like a scrooge, travelling overseas, for six months, trying to fit it all into one suitcase in order to save money.  In other words, they have flavor!

How can I make this gooey goodness sound negative?  Simple.  I don't eat a lot of meat.  So, for me, this dish, meaning one foot, has the flavor of an entire chicken, multiplied by the amount of chicken I eat in a month, in a single bite.  That is to say, too much for me.  Not for others.  Like B.  B thinks it is the best thing he has ever eaten.  "The one, true, finger food."  (Get it?  Finger food?  Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  He loves the flavor.  Truly enjoys it.

B admits, maybe the method of preparation he chose isn't necessarily worth it.  But, think about it.  It enhanced the flavor of the curry, though subtly; they make great stock; AND they taste amazing (for you true carnivores) straight up.  What more do you need?

Probably, nothing.

B Says:

I spoke too soon.  It was worth it.  Completely and TOTALLY worth it.  The KFC aint got finger lickin' like this. At first I thought the effort was too much, then I ate a chicken foot palm (yes they have 'palms').  YUMMY.  I just ate 25+ feet and I want more.  Small bones yes. Sticky yes.  Very litle meat yes.  Not very filling, but that sticky-icky-gooey goodness.  Wow. 

Attention: If you have chicken feet, look out.  I am coming.

And I will find you.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pork Chitterlings

I got the text at 7:06 this morning, "Chitlin time."  It was on.  At 9:07 A.M., "Still cleaning them..."  By ten o'clock, after almost three hours of cleaning these foul smelling, used condomn-like organs, they were finally on the stove.  Great!  Three or four hours of stove top simmering, and then the real cooking could begin.

At 10:17A.M., they "Smell like wet socks.  With bay leaves."  Disappointment was starting to set in.

Personally, I had been dreading this day for some time.  Not in the way one dreads root canal, but in the way one might dread taking a medicine.  You know you're going to take the medicine.  It's gonna happen.  But you totally expect it to be the worst thing you have ever put in your mouth.  Now, could you find the medicine to be quite pleasant?  Sure.  But are you anticipating nastiness?  Yes.

On with the wet socks.  At this point, there was still some hope.  They didn't smell so great, but they had thickened up and taken their familiar curly shape.  It was still on.

Somewhere between 10:17 and 12:25, it all went to pot.  Pardon the expression.  "Btw, I gave up on the chits."  (I almost typed shits there.  How appropoe.)  "They are gross.  They are now officially dog food.  The boys like them at least." 

B had tried.  He wanted it to work.  He was trying to get past the smell.  He almost might have succeeded too, but then, he took a bite.  He couldn't even swallow it.  It was over.  There's a bowl in the fridge for the boys, the rest sits on the back step.  Now returned to their original bucket, outside in the cold.  A solitary, stolid discard of a dream that once was.

And the house smells like bad breath.  Really bad breath.  The whole house.

B. Says:

Dissapointed.  I am sorry.  I was open minded.  I don't get grossed out about the 'idea' of nasty bits.  They were just nasty.  No good bits.  At least in my preperation.  Maybe I messed up.  Missed something.  All I know is that I can still feel that smell burning my nose 9 hours later.

Maybe, just maybe, I will try again.  Not for a while though.  If someone asks me "wanna cook some chitlins?", my answer will be simple:

"I'd rather watch my dad take a shower".

Good night.  I have to go snort Bactine now.

And it begins...

Tonight is the beginning of the end of what I recognize as food. Tonight, B, the self proclaimed chef of the house, is making pig's tails for dinner. We're talking about a food he had to shave first, do you understand? Not to mention, they look like a part of the male anatomy no one should be cooking for any reason. Shaving, sure, but not cooking.

If it hasn't presented itself by now, this cooking blog has an unusual twist. That is to say, it is from the perspective of the eater, rather than the preparer. Keep in mind as we proceed, I am not a pork eater. So please forgive me for any ill-conceived notions I may have of the beast (from here on in, the term 'beast' will refer to whatever mammal is on the stove), but meat, pork in particular, is not my specialty. Of course I like pepperoni pizza, or a juicy burger, who doesn't? But I won't even eat a pork chop, much less all the nasty bits. I believe 'nasty bits' is an official term encompassing any part of the animal which should have been thrown away, and shall be used thusly henceforth.

Of course, in the true up-side-down way we have of doing things around here, our meal this evening starts with foie gras. For nasty bits novices in the audience tonight, foie gras is extra fatty duck liver. It comes from the livers of essentially force-fed (don't worry, I looked into it, it is not animal cruelty*) ducks.

At any rate, it would not have been on my grocery list, especially at $84.99 per pound. American USD. True story. You simply take said liver, slice it like a small loaf of bread, and fry it in a pan. $84.99/lb. Apparently, the best way to eat this extraordinary dish, is straight up.

Out of the frying pan, onto the pallet. Eighty-four dollars, and ninety-nine cents per pound. Fried and served. B added a red wine reduction sauce. We agreed, on the side (versus poured over the plate) would have been better. Some say it is a gift from the gods. I say, it's good, but not $119.28 (B's portion was just over a pound) good.

Now, back to the pig's tails. They require some investment of time. To simply make them into a usable food item, one must first (after shaving them, of course) braise them in the oven for three hours at 350 degrees, with garlic, stock, wine, and veggies. Next, they cool for a "bit." When they are cold and firm, you run them through flour, followed by a mustard/egg mixture, then coated in bread crumbs, and into your oven-safe frying pan with a "knob" of melted butter. Now, into the oven at 425 degrees, ten minutes on each side.

I have a frozen pizza on stand by.

As Fergus Henderson states, "Serve hot with watercress or red mustard salad (smallish salad leaves with reddish veins, a fiery kick, and a slightly hairy nature). Some may like a spot of malt or red wine vinegar on their tails." The next part is B's favorite, and I have to agree, "Encourage the use of fingers and much gnawing of the bone."

B served ours with turnip greens, salted; and malt vinegar.

I'm impressed. I find the meal quite edible. Make no mistake here, I am not reducing hours of cooking down to the word 'edible'. When I find a nasty bits "quite edible," I mean it to be a good thing. Actually, a very good thing. It is not an easy thing for me to admit, but I did like the flavor combination of the salted greens, and malt vinegar drizzled pig's tails.

Had I been the chef, this meal would not be worth it to me. When I assess 'worth,' I am looking at value, effort, fun, and, it goes without saying, tasting enjoyment. But did B manage to transform the thoughts of a non-pork-lover? For now, yes. Was I gnawing the bone? No, but I ate most of it, and that says a lot.

B. Says:

ok, ok. It took a while to make. Much of the day as a matter of fact. Was it worth it? In a word: Hell Yeah. They were tasty after all....they 'only' took about 5 or 6 hours to reach their final form. Yummy. Here's the thing, I have been known to take over an hour to make mac n cheese. I like to cook. I like to take my time. So, this type of meal fits my bill perfectly. Much better than pigs feet (which I also like).

The texture (collagen anyone??) was awesome, with a rich meaty flavor.

What more do you need? Will it be made again?


Maybe tomorrow? Oh, wait: Chittlins await!