Sunday, February 22, 2015

Scottish Highland Chuck Roast a la Chartreuse

Now that Pennsylvania is in the deep of winter, I wanted to make a great slow cooked meal using North Woods Ranch’s Scottish Highland beef.  For this recipe I used a chuck roast, which is similar to the rolled rump roast, but chuck has a few more muscle groups and a bit more fat.  To compare the two, cooking a rump roast will produce thick slices of lean beef, while a chuck roast produces a more traditional pot roast with chunks of tender, moist beef just falling apart.
Scottish Highland Chuck Roast
To start this dish, I sautéed a mix of onions, celery, and carrots with lard in a large, oven safe pot.  Once the vegetables had softened, I removed them from the pot and set them aside to make room for the beef.  Being a large roast, I seasoned the meat generously with salt and browned it on all sides in the hot lard.  Just like the rump roast, I left the netting on while cooking.  When the roast was browned on all sides, the vegetables went back in the pot, and I deglazed the bottom with beef stock.

This was where I changed things up a bit from my previous rump roast post.  While I braised that roast in wine, I used canned whole tomatoes for this recipe.  The tomatoes added a bit of acidity to the dish and rounded out the flavor by adding a rosy hue.  I crushed the whole plum tomatoes a bit with my hand, but just enough that the tomatoes are still in chunks.  
Topping up the pot with enough stock to cover the roast, I brought the liquid in the pot to a simmer.  Once the liquid is simmering on the stove top, the pot gets covered and placed it into the oven.  Again, like with the rolled rump roast, I keep an eye on the pot, and slowly turn down the heat every hour or so to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.  This roast cooked at just shy of eight hours, with the last four hours cooking at 275 F.
I knew the roast was done when the meat easily pulled away in tender strands with just a fork. I could have stopped there, but I wanted to take it a step further.  As I mentioned earlier, chuck roast has several muscles in it.  So when the netting is cut away from the chuck roast, the tender meat will neatly fall apart into a few large chunks, naturally separating at the different muscles seams.

There’s an old French tradition called la Chartreuse, which puts the meat in a ceramic mold surrounded by a covering of vegetables.  It could be strips of carrot, eggplant, squash, or leafy greens.  The dish is finished when the vegetable-swaddled meat is turned out from from the mold and displayed on a dish. 
In my version, I blanched the outer leaves of a cabbage until they were tender, then placed the cabbage leaves in small bowls.  I filled each leaf with a mixture of cooked, shredded, chuck roast and added a bit of the roasting liquid.  Folding the bottoms of the leaves up, I pushed down on each meat parcel to compact it a bit, and tucked them into little ramekins. Then I turned the ramekins over onto the serving plates to unmold the parcels.  I finished it off by drizzling a bit more of the braising liquid on top of each cabbage bundle. This also helped to the dish moist.  If this sounds like pigs in a blanket, you’re not far off.
Braised Chuck Roast Wrapped in Cabbage
I love Italian gremolata, a finishing touch added to slow-braised dishes.  For this dish, I minced together raw garlic, lemon zest and parsley and lightly sprinkled it over the meat (traditionally veal osso bucco).  The bright, sharp flavor is a wonderful contrast to the deep, savory flavor of the long-cooked meat.  To complete my dish, I dug up a horseradish root from the garden, peeled it, and microplaned a fluffy cloud on top of the cabbages.  It looked like a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but it packed a bit more punch.  Because it was grated so fine, each bite had a quick “pop!” of horseradish without overpowering the intense, savory flavor of beef.

Recipe at a Glance:
  • 3-4lb chuck roast
  • 28 oz can whole plum/roma tomatoes
  • 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 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small knob of fresh horseradish (optional)
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 stock into pot and stir up the bottom of the pot to deglaze.  Add tomatoes and stock to cover and bring to a simmer on the stove top.  Once the stock is 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.Peel rind from horseradish and use a fine microplane or grater to garnish with a few fluffy piles of grated horseradish.  Serve with roasted squash and potatoes with more of the braising liquid drizzled over.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Enriching Stock with Pork Skin

In an earlier post I covered how to make homemade stock.  From that basic recipe, I’d like to introduce a slight alteration that procures a richer, more unctuous stock.  The basic recipe is the same, but this stock is fortified by poaching pork skin along with the bones, vegetables, and herbs.  
Berkshire Pork Skin and Bones
Adding the skins to a broth extracts gelatin, which is why this stock takes on a semi-firm, wobbly texture when chilled.  When hot, the stock has a rich, umami flavor that can enhance just a few boiled vegetables for a delicious soup.
North Woods Ranch sells packets of skin that come in large sheets.  I find it’s easy to flatten out the skin across a large cutting board and cut it into 4”x4” squares.  Then, I add two squares of pork skin per gallon of water to the stock.  In goes the bones and vegetables and slowly simmer as usual.  I pack up the unused skin into a freezer bag to store for future stock-making days, separating each layer of skin with wax paper for easy removal later.
Filling up the Stock Pot

Jellied Stock

Here in mid-February Pennsylvania, few things are as comforting as a bowl of hot stock.  In the notion of “let thy food be thy medicine,” adding skin to dishes is a good source of collagen, gelatin, and amino acids.  Plus, in my opinion, a warming stock is much more satisfying and delicious than gobbling down gelatin supplements or collagen pills.

Once the stock is done, the cooked skin can be sliced into small cubes and eaten with the soup or stew.  If I’m not going to include the skin in the soup, I’ll pull it out and make a crispy crunchy treat of chicharrones with them, as discussed here.
Now, even if I’m not making stock, there are other ways to still get the benefits of cooking with pasture-raised pork skin.  In an old recipe for cassoulet, I found they recommend tying small bundles of pork skin up to simmer along with the beans.  
Tying up Skin, Bay, and Thyme
 Spring boarding off this idea, it’s easy to make a little bouquet garni by tying a bundle of herbs around a roll of skin and securing it with butcher’s twine.  Traditionally, a bouquet garni would use a large outer leaf of a leek to secure the herbs, but I’ve become quite taken with these little skin rolls even without the leek leaf.
Pork Skin Bouquet Garni

I use these small bundles to enrich beans, soups, stews, or to help thicken sauces with a glossy dose of gelatin.  I find these herbal pork skin sachets are great to simmer with beef or pork stock and garlic to create a lip-smacking sauce to drizzle over chops or braised meats.

 Recipe at a Glace:
4 lbs pork bones
2 sections of pork skin (about 4"x4")
1/2 lb carrots, chopped into large chunks
1/2 lb celery, cut into 2-3 lengths per stalk
1 lbs onions, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut in half cross-wise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
Enough water to cover.

Place all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  A pot with a thick metal base will distribute the heat from the stove better, preventing hot spots where skin or vegetables might stick and burn on the bottom.

Cover the ingredients with cold water and bring up to a slow simmer.  A fast boil can leach proteins out of the bones that will give the stock a cloudy appearance and muddied flavor.

Gently simmer stock for 4-6 hours.  If the water begins to evaporate so much that the ingredients are no long covered, top up with water.

Strain the stock and pour into jars to cool.  If you'll be freezing jars of excess stock, make sure to leave some headspace in each jar for the stock to expand.  Otherwise the stock may expand and crack the jar.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Berkshire Jowl Bacon: Part 2 of 2

In my first post on how to make jowl bacon, I described the first steps on getting your curing started. In this post here, Part 2, I cover how to bring your curing jowl bacon to completion.
After a day on cure, the water in the jowl should have leached out and turned the curing salt and sugar into a wet paste.  Flip the jowl each day and check to make sure the jowl is still covered in cure.  If a bit of the cure dribbles off leaving a bare spot on the jowl, just smear some back on to cover it.

The jowl is done curing when the meat on the jowl feels a bit firmer, like a well-cooked steak.  The fat on the jowl has so little water to lose that it really won’t feel much different than it did at the start.  My jowl took four days to cure. When the jowl is done, rinse off any excess cure and pat the jowl dry with a towel.  In these photos, I added a lot of black peppercorns in the beginning for flavor.  Since they were pressed firmly into the jowl, I didn’t lose too many when rinsing off the salt and sugar.

While the jowl could be smoked right now, it is better to let the jowl dry out in the fridge for a day.  This will form what is called a pellicle: a dry, slightly tacky surface on the meat.  The smoke will have a much better adhesion to the surface of the jowl with a pellicle, which gives a stronger smoke flavor in the final product.  Just place the jowl on a roasting rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Jowl Rinsed of the Excess Cure
The next day it is ready to smoke!  If you already have a smoker, you’re set to go.  If not, you can smoke this using a kettle-grill.  This is a bit more work, since you need to keep the coals in the grill hot enough to smoke the wood, but not so hot that you roast the bacon.  There are enough suggestions, tips, and forums on smoking with kettle grills to fill an encyclopedia, so it’s best to do some internet sleuthing and see what works best for you and your grill model.

One resource on smoking on a kettle grill: (

In a nutshell, the jowl should be smoked for 2-3 hours around 200 F until the jowl hits 155 F.  While some people like to smoke jowls and bacon for twelve hours or more, that seems a bit excessive to me. It makes sense that a commercial operation doing 100 lb batches might need that long.  But three hours is plenty of time for just one jowl, with a small surface area, to get a good coating of smoke.  After a while you’re just going to be wasting wood and not creating any additional flavors.
Berkshire Jowl Bacon After Smoking
Once the jowl is cooked, it’s best to let it firm up in the fridge to slice easier.  But nibbling off a little end of hot, fresh-from-the-smoker jowl is always a good idea.  Do not be alarmed if the jowl tastes very salty when eating a first slice from the edge.  The edges, which have had more exposure to the cure, will be saltier than the rest of the jowl.  Some recipes even recommend saving these jowl ends for stewing, as you would bacon ends.
And that’s it!  Slice it thinly with a knife, crisp up in a hot skillet, and enjoy the porky fruits of your labor.  Though keep in mind, if this seems like too big of a project, North Woods Ranch has delicious ready-to-cook smoked and cured jowls ready for the frying pan.

Recipe at a Glance:
1 Full Berkshire Pork Jowl
¼ Cup Kosher Sea Salt
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Teaspoons Instacure #1 Sodium Nitrite
3 Tablespoons Coarsely Cracked Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a ceramic or plastic container (not a reactive metal like aluminum or cast iron).  Make sure the curing salts and sugars are evenly placed over the jowl.  Put the jowl in a refrigerator and flip once a day to evenly distribute the cure.  

After four days, the jowl can be rinsed in cold water of any excess cure. Let the jowl dry in the refrigerator overnight, then hot smoke it at 200 F until it reaches 160 F internal temp.  Slice the bacon for rashers, or keep it in chunks for stewing and braising.