Thursday, December 25, 2014

Berkshire Pig's Tail with Beans

I didn’t grow up eating offal, but not because it wasn’t around. When I was growing up, my mother would often eat different types of offal: liver, the occasional chicken heart, gizzards—you get the idea. Now, as an adult focused on using all of the animal, offal has a whole new importance for me.  In the kitchen, working with offal and understanding the different ways to cook it is an on-going adventure.  Sure, I love reading the blogs of offal-fanatics, but sometimes I wonder if they are preaching to the choir. One of my goals is to encourage people who are curious, yet less familiar, with offal to try some of these delicious and easy dishes made from less-than-conventional cuts of meat.  
Committing to a big slab of liver or a bowl of tripe for dinner can be a bit much for many people, which is completely understandable.  I like to suggest that people should begin by using offal as a component in a dish, rather than starting with the organ meat at the center of the plate.  Plus, by using the whole animal in smaller amounts—but more often—in your cooking, you really get to appreciate nose-to-tail cooking across a range of dishes.

Let’s begin at the end.  A pig’s end.  The tail of a pig is a wonderful ingredient to have stashed in your freezer.  Rich with skin, fat, meat, and bones, a pig’s tail can enhance a number of dishes, from soups and stews to baked beans - the focus of today’s post.  Beans and pig tails are a perfect pairing.  The two humble ingredients work together to create a rich, savory pot of beans for the perfect warming dish on a cold day.
I soaked a pound of snowcap beans overnight, but any variety of dried beans would do.  Then I nestled the pig tail into the bottom of the pot with the soaked beans, finally adding enough water to cover up the beans.  I also added an onion and a whole clove for flavor.  Then, I gently cooked the beans and tail in a 300-325°F oven at a gentle simmer.  The beans get plump and begin to soften, while the tail slowly renders out its fat and coats the cooking beans.  As time goes on, the skin of the tail also softens and adds gelatin to the beans, giving the entire dish a rich, unctuous mouth feel. 
Cooking times can vary based on the size and age of the dried beans; newer crops usually cook faster, as do smaller beans, like pigeon peas compared to large dried lava beans.  I suggest planning for 3-4 hours of cooking time.

I didn’t salt the beans until the last hour of cooking, as I think that helps to keep the skins of the beans from splitting.  Along with salt, I added a ¼ cup of molasses and two tablespoons of dried mustard powder, which gave the dish a thick, savory-sweet sauce. 

I like serving the dish by filling up a bowl of beans and broiling a chunk of the tail in the over until it gets brown and crispy.  That’s it – the humble and often overlooked tail becomes a delicious and satisfying dinner!

Recipe at a Glance:
- 1 pig's tail
- 1 lb dried beans, soaked for 8 hours or overnight
- 1 medium onion
- 1 clove
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons dried mustard powder
- salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the beans and soak overnight.  The next morning, put the beans in a pot with a the pig tail, onion, and clove.  Put in a 325 F oven for 3-4 hours.  If the beans seem  hard and mealy in the center, cook for another hour or two.  When beans are tender, add salt, molasses, and mustard.

Cook beans uncovered for one hour more to thicken sauce.  Serve in bowls with a segment of pig's tail on top.  To make the tails crispy, place under the oven broiler on high for 2-4 minutes.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rolled Rump Roast Braised in Wine

Coming face-to-muzzle with one of North Woods Ranch’s cows, I instinctively think, “These are enormous creatures.”  Yet, from my culinary mindset, my thoughts immediately transition to the recognition that there is so much more than just steaks and ground beef.  One of the goals I have for this blog is to remind everyone of the less common cuts of meats, moving the cuts that might seem to be on the periphery of your mind to the center of your plate.

Here is a beautiful rolled rump roast from one of North Woods Ranch's Scottish Highland cows.  The rump roast sits right above the leg of the cow, where the leg meets the round on the back of the animal.  This is a very dense cut of meat without much fat to it, so it takes very well to braising.  The rolled rump roast is totally boneless, so when it is sliced and served, it results in nice, thick cuts of meat.

Previously, I’ve written about making and using stocks as a way to add extra flavor and richness to recipes.  Another option is to use wine or beer as a braising liquid.  A full bodied red wine, such as a cabernet, syrah, or rioja, is a great choice to pair with grass-fed beef.  These wines are generally robust enough to stand up to the flavor of the beef, but not overly acidic or tannic to overpower that lovely meat.

Making Rolled Rump Roast Braised in Wine

To start, salt the meat all over and then brown the rolled rump roast in an oven-safe pot on the stovetop.  Depending on your preference, you can use oil, butter, or lard.  Don’t worry about the netting on the meat – it is oven safe, and you can brown the roast with it on.  Once the roast is browned, remove the roast from the pot and add in onions, carrots, and celery until they are browned (much like the braised short ribs but instead of stock, add half a bottle of wine). Once the veggies have finished browning, return the roast to the pot and add in the wine. I suggest using a basic, good wine you wouldn’t mind drinking; a very cheap wine that’s acidic or harsh can result in a sour-tasting dish. Use the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up all the browned bits while you add the wine.  
Next, add a bit of stock or water to just cover the roast, along with some bay and a sprig of rosemary.  Bring this to a simmer on the stove top, and then put in a 350 F oven.  Just like with the short ribs, I like to keep reducing the heat by 25 degrees every hour or so until I hit 300 or 275 F, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Alternately, you can pop this little bundle of beefy joy into a crock pot and let it ride out its cooking throughout the day or overnight.

After about 6-8 hours (depending on the size of your roast), the roast should be tender enough to separate some strands of meat with a fork.  If you’re still getting resistance and the meat seems tight and dense, give it another hour or two of gentle heat. Once the roast is giving and soft, you can refrigerate it overnight to let the flavors mellow or bring it to the table to cool and serve. After hours of simmering, you can give the sauce an extra shot of flavor by adding some fresh rosemary and black pepper.

When serving, I like to cut the rolled rump roast into thick slices, then spoon sauce over each slice.  Here, I served it with boiled potatoes and white turnips.  The potatoes are just buttered, but I added a bit of apple cider vinegar on the turnips to tame their bitterness.  

Voila! A sometimes overlooked rump roast becomes a perfect centerpiece for a holiday feast!

Recipe at a Glance:
  • 3-4lb rolled rump roast
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 12-16 oz stock (enough to cover roast)
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pot. Brown the roast on all sides, then remove from pot and set aside.  Add chopped vegetables (except garlic, which can burn easily) to pot and cook until browned and beginning to soften, stirring regularly.  

Once vegetables are browned, add garlic and cook for one minute.  Return roast to pot, along with any juices the roast may have dripped out.

Pour wine into pot and stir up the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Add stock to cover and bring to a simmer on the stove top.  Once the wine and stock are simmering, cover pot and place in oven.  Braise for 6-8 hours, slowly reducing heat to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Once tender, remove from oven and let rest for 30 minutes or so before cutting up.  Add in fresh rosemary.  Serve with boiled vegetables, roasted squash, or buttered noodles.  Enjoy with remaining half bottle of wine, if it lasted this long.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Berkshire Pork Stock

Some people seem intimidated by the idea of making their own stock. If you are one of these people, just think of it as making the simplest soup ever.  Making soup doesn't seem so intimidating, does it? When making stock nothing needs to be cut evenly or measured accurately by more than an eye, and you don’t have to worry about overcooking anything. In this post, I made stock using beautiful Berkshire pork bones from Northwoods Ranch.  I particularly love pork stock as it inhabits a middle ground between chicken stock and beef stock.  This means pork stock can easily replace other types of stock in recipes, and it isn't as limited in use as a venison or lamb stock, which have very distinct flavor profiles.
A Mix of North Woods Pork Neck, Leg, and Hip Bones
The portions for making stock primarily depend on how many bones you have.  If you only have a few, you will make a smaller batch; if you want to put a chest-freezer full of bones to use, you'll need a bigger pot.  I usually do a 2:1 ratio of bones to veggies.  So, if you’re making stock from 10 pounds of bones, you'll want 5 pounds of veggies. 
Begin by chopping up your veggies into chunks.  Don't worry about getting fancy or cutting evenly – the veggies are only for flavoring the stock.  I usually go heavy on the onions, but I also like to include celery and carrots.  A bonus is that making stock is a great way to clear out your fridge if you have some veggies that have gone past their prime.  Are your baby carrots getting dried out?  In they go!  Don't toss out those parsley stems, fibrous leek tops, mushroom stemss, or cores of tomatoes;  add them in the pot.   If you’re planning a big holiday party, save all your carrot tops and peels, celery bases, and the woody stems of rosemary and thyme to add with the leftover bones of your holiday roast.

The bones themselves don’t require any prep, but you can roast them ahead of time if desired.  When I do roast the bones (as in this post), I usually roast at 400 F for about 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned and crispy.  In classical kitchen-speak, a stock made from roasted bones would be a brown stock, or fond brun.  This will be a very savory stock and carry all those roasted flavors into the finished product.  If you want a lighter tasting stock, don’t roast the bones.  Stock made from unroasted bones is called white stock, or fond blanc.
Bones After Roasting
Next, the bones (roasted or not) go into the pot with all those veggies.  Sprinkle in some bay leaves and peppercorns and top up the pot with cold water.  You will want the water to just barely cover up all the bones and veggies.  So if you have a large pot, half-filled with bones and vegetables, don’t fill it to the top with water. Depending on your preference, some people add tomato paste or canned tomatoes to their stock. Generally, I avoid adding tomato paste to my stocks, as I don’t always want that tomato flavor in the dish.  Also, I do not salt the stock, as that can always be added later.
Now just let it simmer.  Be sure to keep the pot going at a very gentle simmer.  A boil will leach out proteins from the bones, making the stock cloudy in appearance and muddy in flavor.  For these pork bones, I let them simmer for 5 hours. You can go as little as 4 hours for a lighter flavor, or you could let them go for up to 8 for a more concentrated flavor.  If you did not roast the bones, you may find some extra fat or foam on the surface of stock. Just skim it off with a spoon.

Straining Pork Stock
Once you've done simmering the stock, take the pot off the heat to cool.  Set up a large bowl and a strainer.  You can use a conical sieve, if you have one, or just a pasta colander. Scoop out the bones, veggies, and herbs with a perforated spoon into the strainer.  The bowl underneath will collect any juices that run out.  When the bones and vegetables are out, pour back any stock that collected in the bowl into the pot.  Now pour the stock into mason jars.  I recommend using a wide-mouth funnel from jam-making to help pour in the stock. It is also a good idea to use a small mesh strainer to catch any stray bones, peppercorns or bay leaves.
Recipe Ready Portions of Pork Stock
That’s it!  I like to put these in 8-12 ounce mason jars, so that they fit better in my freezer and I can easily thaw out a small portion when I need it.  This size is great for simmering vegetables, deglazing a pan, or just enjoying a warm bowl of nourishing broth. However, if you do big batches of soup feel free to pour them in quart jars or Pyrex storage bowls.   Just make sure to leave a half-inch of head space in the jars to give the stock room to expand in the freezer.