Friday, February 5, 2016

Berkshire Breakfast Hash

Hearty winter breakfasts are a wonderful way to kick off the weekend, but I realize not everyone wants to start their morning slicing and dicing through a recipe.  A good time saver is to ditch the knife and pick up a box grater.
Here is a simple Berkshire Breakfast Hash that takes about half an hour to serve up a skillet full of crispy/creamy potatoes, pork, and eggs.
Berkshire Pork Sausage from North Woods Ranch
To start, open up a one-pound package of North Woods Ranch's ground Berkshire pork sausage.  Warm up an oven-safe 12" skillet and crumble the pork into the pan.  While the sausage is browning in the pan, shred two large potatoes (peel on) and one medium onion (peel off) on the coarse teeth of a box grater. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
When the sausage has cooked through (5-7 minutes), dump in the potatoes and onion.  This mess of shredded root vegetables will act as the structural weave holding little nuggets of savory sausage.  Season with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, thyme, and a dash of cayenne.
While the potatoes cook, keep flipping the bottom layer of potatoes on top, so all the potatoes get the direct heat of the skillet.  Slip in a few pats of butter or lard to keep the potatoes from sticking.  If you get a lot of potatoes sticking, scrape away any loose potatoes from the sticky area, then splash on a few tablespoons of water to release the potatoes, scraping up the crusty bits with a spatula.  Don't worry - the water will evaporate into steam and won't make for a soggy breakfast.
A Broken Yolk is Still a Yummy Yolk
After about 10 minutes the potatoes should be browning in spots and shrinking down as they lose their water.  At this point pack down the potato/sausage mix against the bottom of the skillet.  Put in the oven for 15 minutes.  Refill your coffee cup.  Remove and dig four little holes in the potato mix.  Crack an egg into each hole, then return the skillet to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Serve with plenty of your favorite hot sauce.  If you like this recipe, try a sweet and savory version using grated sweet potatoes and a drizzle of maple syrup at the table!

Recipe at a Glance:
Serves 4
- 1 lb North Woods Ranch loose ground sausage
- 2 large potatoes, scrubbed
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled.
- 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- 4 Free Range eggs
- Salt and Pepper
- Lard or Butter for greasing pan

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Heat an oven-safe skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage, crumbling it and stirring up any large chunks.  Season with salt, pepper, and spices. 

Grate the potatoes and onion on the coarse side of the box grater.

Once sausage is cooked, add in the grated potatoes and onion.  Add a little butter or lard to keep the potatoes and onion from sticking.

Stirring often, let the potatoes begin to brown and soften, about 10 minutes.  Pack down the potato and sausage in the skillet and place in the oven.

After 15 minutes the potatoes should be tender with a crispy bottom.  Make four wells in the potatoes and crack an egg into each.  Return skillet to oven and bake until whites are set but yolks are runny, about 3 minutes.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Isolating the Coppa on Berkshire Hogs

One question I've been asked is where exactly the coppa comes from on the hog.  The coppa is a mix of muscles in the pig's neck and supports the head.  As you move from the head to the middle of the hog, these muscles taper off and leave you with the solid loin muscle, which can be cut into pork chops, a loin roast, or turned into Canadian bacon.

In comparison to the lighter, leaner meat of the loin, the coppa is a deep burgundy color and striated with dense, white fat.  As the hog roots and snoots for food, the coppa swings the great weight of the head, producing plenty of intramuscular fat.  This constant exercise gives the coppa a great flavor and dense texture.
The Trimmed Down Coppa
Now, I'm using the phrase "coppa," relating to the process of salting and drying the coppa in the Italian tradition.  Besides dry curing, you could rub down the coppa with chiles, salt, and sugar and poach it for a capicola ham.  Or brine and smoke the coppa for delicious cottage bacon.  Lastly, the coppa can be simply braised for my wife's favorite application, a pork neck pot roast.

The Shoulder Blade inside the Boston Butt
Once you remove the coppa, the rest of the shoulder can be braised for pulled pork, ground into sausage, or cubed for stew.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cast Iron Seared Ribeye a la Faviken

While watching the PBS show "Mind of a Chef" season 3 with Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, I saw an act of culinary heresy:  Magnus put a steak in a pan, then immediately began to move it around.  As a cook there are a boundless possibilities for creativity, but when you put meat in a hot pan you just let it sit there until it develops a nice crusty sear.  Failure to do this results in a flabby, crustless piece of meat, along with the risk of tearing the meat as it sticks to the hot pan.  It's an unchallenged rule.
The resultingly beautiful steak, however, that came out of Magnus' pan blew my mind.  By moving the steak constantly, he explained, you keep the pan from cooling down, so the meat is always in contact with the full heat of the pan.  Two things in Magnus' favor was a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and the tiny-but-frequent dabs of butter he added to the pan.
Dissecting this process, the cast iron will retain it's heat better than any other cooking vessel once preheated, and those small pats of butter will help keep the steak lubricated and sliding easily along the pan.
I was a little nervous the first time I tried this, as it went against everything I knew.  But the logic made I dived in.  Oliver and Jodi have these beautiful grass-fed Scottish Highland ribeye steaks, which seemed perfect for this cooking method.  Grassfed steaks offer a world of beefy flavor, but don't come with all the fat you'll find in a commercial cow.  The flavor of these heritage steaks shines brightest at rare to medium rare.
So I greased up a large cast iron griddle and preheated it to smoking hot.  For a smaller steak a regular cast iron skillet would work just fine.  Dabbing on some butter mixed with minced garlic and thyme, I dropped the steak down and heard a hearty sizzle.  Grabbing the bone-end with my tongs, the steak slid easily around the hot griddle, coasting on a film of garlicky butter.  Peaking on the cooking side, the steak had a beautifully even crust.  I flipped it over, and added a few more pats of butter around the edges of the griddle.
Use a Sturdy Pair of Tongs
After about ten minutes of swishing the steak around on the griddle, it was just peaking into a beautiful medium rare.  Served with some griddled zucchini and herbs it was a very quick and delicious meal - plus one with a technique that I'm eager to repeat.

Recipe at a Glance:
- Grass-fed Ribeyes (1 per person)
- 4 oz butter, room temperature
- 4-5 minced garlic cloves
- A few sprigs fresh thyme

Mix the garlic and thyme with the room temperature butter.  If you're only cooking a couple of steaks, you'll have some leftover, which is perfect for sauteing vegetables.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle to high heat.  Dab in a small pat of butter, moving it around to grease the skillet.  Place the steak on the skillet and let sear for a few seconds.  Now begin to move the steak around the skillet with a pair of tongs.

Keep adding a few dabs of butter to the skillet as you move it along, placing the butter in the next region of the skillet you plan to move the steak into.

Flip the steak and continue to move it around the pan, greasing the skillet with butter.  Remove the steak when it hits 120 F for rare, 130 F for medium.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Grass-Fed Cube Steak Paprikash

Not all braising cuts require hours and hours of slow and low simmering.  For a braised dish that needs to stew for less than an hour, look no further than the cube steak.
North Woods Ranch Cube Steak
These "steaks" are actually cut from the top and bottom round of the cow.  Normally cuts from the back and hips of the animal are very tough, but the "cubing" action severs the tough fibers and sinew of the meat.  To make these steaks, the butcher passes thin cutlets through a roller equipped with dozens of narrow blades that punch through the meat and give it a surface filled with cubes.  Along with tenderizing, this process also increases the surface area of the meat, helping the cube steaks to cook quicker than a dense, whole muscle roast.
Cube steak is generally braised in a small amount of liquid, which soaks into all the nooks and crannies of the meat.  For this dish, I chose to do a Hungarian style paprikash.  As the name implies paprika is a big component of this dish, so make sure your paprika is fresh and not some ancient jar from six years ago.
Some people like to dust these steaks in flour to help with browning and thickening the sauce, but I skip the flour.  Along with paprika, Hungarian recipes often use sour cream, so I thicken the sauce with two tablespoons of sour cream.
Brown the steaks in hot butter on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Once the steaks are browned, set them aside and add sliced onions and quartered mushrooms to the hot pan (adding additional butter if needed).  The moisture from the vegetables will help deglaze the beef drippings, so be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan well.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions are browned and the mushrooms have given up their moisture.
Add the meat back to the skillet along with some minced garlic, thyme, and 1/4 cup of sweet paprika.  Toss to coat everything in the paprika, then add two cups of beef stock.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes.  Note that other cube steak recipes will say 20-30 minutes, but with grass-fed beef you need to give it a bit more time to coax out the tenderness and rich flavor of the meat.
Right before serving, add two tablespoons of sour cream to the pot and whisk to combine.  Serve over roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

Recipe at a Glance:
2 lbs North Woods Ranch Cube Steak
3 tbsp butter, cut into 3 pieces
2 medium onions, sliced
12 oz container white button or baby bella mushrooms, quartered
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup sweet paprika (you can also add 1 tsp of hot paprika to perk up the dish)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp sour cream (or more for a thicker sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up a deep skillet and add two cubes of butter.  When the butter is sizzling, add the steaks and season with salt and pepper.  Brown on both sides, about 2 minutes a side.  Remove the browned steaks and set aside.  Add the last cube of butter and all the onions and mushrooms.

Cook down the mushrooms and onions for about 10 minutes.  Add the beef back to the skillet, along with the paprika, garlic, and thyme.  Toss the ingredients together to coat with paprika, then add the beef broth, again scraping up the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 45-60 minutes, until the beef is tender.

When the beef is tender, whisk in the sour cream.  Serve and enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Smoked Pork Cheek Split Pea Soup

Oliver and Jodi at North Woods Ranch surprised me with these smoked pork cheeks they just received back from the smokehouse.  I've had smoked jowls, but never just the cheek muscle. 
North Woods Ranch Smoked Pork Cheeks
Looking them over, the cheeks were a beautiful mahogany color, striped with lighter bands of intramuscular fat. The blend of meat and fat reminded me of smoked pork necks, my favorite cut for making stewed collards or beans.  The cheeks were dense and meaty and seemed to call out for a warming dish like split pea soup.
Split pea soup is often made with broth from a boiled ham bone or a smoked ham hock.  The cheek seemed to be a perfect blend of the ham bone's meatiness and the unctuous, gelatinous nature of the hock.
Split pea soup is very simple to make: stew the meat, then add the dried peas until both meat and peas are tender.  To add a bit more flavor, I like to chop up and brown an onion in a bit of lard first, then pour in a pint of pork stock.  Add the smoked cheeks and gently simmer for an hour until the jowls are beginning to become tender.
After an hour add a pound of dried split peas to the pot.  If needed, add cold water to cover the peas completely.  I like to let the peas cook for another hour so they're collapsing into an thick soup, with the pork cheeks falling apart into meaty threads.
If you like the soup on the thinner side, add more water or stock to get your desired consistency.  And for an especially cold day, warm up with a bowl of split pea soup topped with a farm fresh poached egg!
Recipe at a Glance:
2 Smoked Pork Cheeks
1 lb Dried Split Peas
1 Pint Pork Stock
1 Large Onion, Chopped
Plenty of Black Pepper
1 Tbsp Lard

In a soup pot, heat the lard to medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onion and saute for 6-8 minutes, until the onion is softened and beginning to brown.

Pour in the stock and scrape up the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.  Add the pork cheeks and cover the pot.  Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer for one hour.  After an hour, stir in the split peas and give the stock several generous grinds of black pepper.  Simmer for another hour.  The soup is done when the peas are soft and creamy and the meat is falling apart. Taste the soup and add additional salt if needed.

For a richer dish, top each bowl with a hard boiled egg and more pepper.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Preserving Pork Belly as Rillons

Autumn is a classic time for preserving: apples are turned to sauce, late flushes of tomatoes are canned, herbs are strung and dried.  Moving from the garden to the pasture, fall also offers a number of ways to preserve meats during the cooler months.  Preserving meat might seem intimidating, but it's easy to get started with a simple and delicious recipe like rillons.
North Woods Ranch Fresh Pork Belly
A French bistro classic, rillons are cubes of fresh pork belly cooked for hours in fat until they are unctuous and tender.  Much like duck confit, the cooked pork belly can be stored under the cooking fat for months in the refrigerator.  Then the rillons can be warmed in a pan and served with a salad, eggs, or as a hearty hors d'oeuvre with crusty bread.
To start, slice the belly into two inch cubes.  Then season the meat with salt, tossing the cubes in the salt to coat the outside of the meat.  A mix of rosemary, thyme, black pepper, and bay added to the salt rub adds another level of flavor to the meat.

Refrigerate the meat for 12 hours or overnight.  This will allow the salt to pull the water from the fresh pork belly, producing a layer of brine on the bottom of the container.  Pour off the brine and rinse any excess salt and herbs from the pork belly.
Note the pooled brine that accumulates after 12 hours.
Pat the pork belly dry, then heat up a skillet and a sauce pot.  Grease the skillet with a spoonful of lard. For the sauce pot, add a cup of lard (or two if you're making a lot of pork rillons).  Brown the cubes of pork in the skillet in a few batches, adding the browned off pieces to the pot of warm lard.  By browning the pork belly first, the rillons will take on a rich, savory flavor that really pays off in the final dish.
Once all of the pork is seared, brown a few cloves of garlic in the leftover fat, then add a cup of dry white wine (like Noilly Prat) to deglaze the bottom of the skillet.  Scrape up all the drippings from the sauce pan and pour into the pot of lard.
There should be enough lard to cover the pork belly, but don't worry if a few pieces are sticking out on top.  As the belly cooks, it will render out its own lard, covering the final peaks of the pork.  Gently simmer the pork for about 3-4 hours, stirring from time to time.  By cooking the pork low and slow, it will cook off the water in the meat and help preserve the pork.
While the rillons can be enjoyed right away (be sure to try at least one piece hot from the pot!), they can be stored in the fridge by packing them in clean mason jars or crocks and covering them with the cooking lard.  To prep the jars, wash them in hot soapy water, then warm the jars in a 300 F oven for 15 minutes.  Put the pork belly into a warmed crock and pour over enough fat to cover them by 1/2 inch.

When it's time to serve, remove the rillons from the fat and crisp them in a skillet or on a baking sheet in a oven.  Rillons are wonderful as a charcuterie component to a cheese plate, on top of a salad, or served simply on bread with good grainy mustard.

Recipe at a Glance:
1 lb North Woods Ranch Pork Belly
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 fresh bay leaf, cut into strips
1 sprig thyme, minced
1 sprig rosemary minced
1 cup dry white wine
Several turns of black pepper
1-2 cups lard, plus 2 tbsp
4 garlic cloves, smashed

- Cut the pork belly into 2" cubes.  Toss with salt, pepper, and herbs.  Put into a nonreactive (ceramic or glass) container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.

- The next day rinse off the pork belly cubes and pat dry.  Heat a skillet with 2 tablespoons of lard, plus begin melting the rest of the lard in a sauce pot.

- Sear the pork belly on 2-4 sides (depending on the shape) until brown and crispy.  Put the browned pork belly in the pot of melted lard.  Add the garlic to the skillet and brown for 30 seconds.  Pour in the wine to deglaze the skillet, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Pour the pan drippings into the pot of lard.

- Simmer the pork belly for 3-4 hours at a bare simmer.  If using within a few days, store the rillons in the refrigerator, or store for a few months in the fridge following the method described above.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Berkshire Pork Cheek Agnolotti

October's dropping temperatures are the perfect excuse to prepare some warming braised dishes.  One often-overlooked (but very delicious!) cut is the pork cheek.  While a "pork jowl" is the whole outer side cut of the pig's face, including plenty of firm fat, the cheek is just the center muscle located on the interior of the jowl.  North Woods Ranch has beautifully marbled pork cheeks for sale, thanks to a lifetime of outdoor exercise, rooting for plants, and chewing in the pasture.
Berkshire Pork Cheeks
Pork cheeks are small, weighing only about a half pound or so, but still require a few hours in a low oven to tenderize the meat and collagen.  I just place them in a small casserole dish, cover them with pork stock, and add a bit of thyme, rosemary, and a bay leaf.  Pop into a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes until the stock begins to simmer, then turn the oven down to 325 and let the cheeks gently percolate in the oven for another two hours.  The result is tender chunks of meat with a rich, slightly sticky texture thanks to the collagen breaking down into savory gelatin.
At this point, the pig cheeks can be cubed up and served as a stew, or the braising liquid can be thinned out and turned into a lovely pork soup with the addition of some vegetables or beans.  I find the meat very rich, so I like to shred or finely cube the cooked pork cheeks, then mix them with other ingredients.  With autumn in the air, I decided to use this meat as a filling for squash pasta.
Candy Roaster Squash
I came across this beautiful but bizarre looking 10lb Candy Roaster squash, thanks to a local farm I like to frequent at the market.  The Candy Roaster has very firm, sweet flesh when cooked, but sweet potatoes can be substituted in this recipe as well. 
Mixing equal parts roasted squash with shredded pork cheek, I seasoned the squash and cheek mixture with salt, plenty of black pepper (the robust taste of the pork cheeks can take it), and fresh minced sage.
This mixture became the base of my pork cheek and squash agnolotti pasta.  You can use homemade paste, or buy fresh pasta sheets at the market to save time.  I like making agnolotti as they are much quicker and easier than ravioli or tortellini.

Simply take a sheet of pasta, place two teaspoons of the pork cheek mixture along the bottom third of the pasta sheet.  Dampen the area on the sides of each mixture to help the pasta seal to itself.

Next, roll the bottom third of the pasta up onto the middle third, covering the little squash/meat dumplings.  Then roll the pasta onto the final third, sealing up the little pouches.  Press around the pasta filling with your hands to help form a tight seal.  I find it's easiest to roll 4 agnolotti at a time, but you can do more or less depending on your level of expertise.
And that's it.  You don't need to seal the lip of the pasta, as this creates a nice little nook for sauce to collect.  Then boil the pasta for 2-3 minutes until tender, saucing the agnolotti in a skillet with a bit of the braising liquid, some brown butter, and a few sage leaves. 
Autumn never tasted so good!
Berkshire Pork Cheek Agnolotti
Recipe at a Glance:
1.5 lbs pork cheeks
1.5 lbs roasted squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato
1 bay leaf
2 cups pork stock
1 sprig tyme
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Homemade semolina pasta dough, or store-bought sheets of fresh pasta
6 oz butter
Small bunch of fresh sage leaves.

Cover the pork cheese in the pork stock in a shallow roasting pan.  Add the bay, thyme, and some salt and pepper.  Cover the pan tightly with greased parchment paper, then foil.  Place into a 350 F oven for 45 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 325 and cook for two more hours, until pork cheeks are tender.

Remove the pan from the oven and uncover the pan.  Let the pork cheeks cool in the liquid while you roast the squash and make the pasta dough.

Shred the cooked pork meat and fat, then mix together with the mashed, roasted squash.  Season with more salt and pepper, and a small amount of minced fresh sage.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Form the agnolotti as described above.  When the water comes to a boil, add the agnolotti and boil for 2-3 minutes until dough is tender.  Melt the butter in a skillet until brown and nutty, then add 1/2 cup of the pork cheese braising liquid to the browned butter.  When the agnolotti are done, toss in the skillet with the hot butter/stock mixture.

Serve with a few leaves of fresh sage.