Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cooking and Grilling with Berkshire Caul Fat

At this point in August the summer grilling season is in high gear.  The farmer’s markets are in full swing, the weather is perfect for cooking outdoors, and there are still autumn months of tailgating to fill with charcoal and wood smoke.
It’s also time to embrace the majesty of caul fat on the grill.  Caul fat is a membrane that secures a pig’s internal organs.  In practicing good animal husbandry, North Woods Ranch makes sure to save this valuable fat from their heritage breed hogs.  Caul fat, although not a common item, is very easy for novices to work with in the kitchen.
Unwrapping a package of caul fat reveals a thin, transparent sheet of membrane with a lacy web of fat striations woven throughout.  When cooked, the fat begins to render out and the membrane crisps up like a sausage casing.  These two qualities make caul fat perfect for wrapping up kebabs on the grill.   
The fat bastes the meat, keeping everything moist and juicy, while the membrane keeps any stray onion or pepper pieces from falling off into the grill as they soften on the kebab skewer.  Plus, caul fat seals up tightly as it cooks so there is no need to secure the fat with string or wooden picks.
Along with kebabs caul fat is perfect for making larger, burger-sized patties, which Italian and French recipes call crepinettes.  If you’re dealing with a loose meat mixture, like the Berkshire pork, spinach, olive, and preserved lemon pictured here, caul fat is great for ensuring a solid patty that won’t fall apart on the grill.
Once the kebabs or crepinettes have finished cooking on the grill, the caul fat can be eaten and enjoyed like a sausage casing, or removed if desired.   
Eating caul fat is much like eating the skin on a roast chicken; some people will always remove it, others can’t imagine passing it up.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Berkshire Canadian Bacon with Artichokes and Poached Eggs

Bacon comes in a range of cuts from a fatty jowl bacon to a classic belly bacon to a lean, meaty Canadian bacon.  Canadian bacon, while a leaner cut in the world of bacon, has a wonderful smoky flavor and dense texture.  This makes it perfect for lighter dishes or dishes that already have enough rich ingredients, such as this recipe’s soft-poached eggs.
A riff on the classic Eggs Benedict, this recipe skips the bread and replaces it with an artichoke and mushroom base.  This is perfect for summer, where the richness of the Canadian bacon and poached egg are off-set by the vegetables.
To start cut off the stem and top half of the artichokes, leaving behind the middle part of the artichoke.  Artichokes discolor when cut, so place them in a pot filled with water and the juice of one lemon.   

Once all the artichokes are trimmed, place the pot of artichokes on the stove and bring the water to a simmer.  Cook the artichokes for 20-25 minutes, or until the tines of a fork easily pierce the center.  Next drain the water and allow the bases to cool slightly.  While still warm, scoop out the fibrous choke in the center of the artichoke base.  A serrated grapefruit spoon is perfect for scooping out the core.  After the center is cleaned, remove the hard outer leaves around the base.  This will give you a shallow bowl that’s completely edible.

Alternatively, artichoke bases can be purchased pre-trimmed in a can.
Next, heat a large skillet with oil or lard and sauté the white button mushrooms.  The mushrooms will become a bed for the egg, so they shouldn’t be over cooked.  After 4-6 minutes on medium-high heat the mushrooms will be soft and tender.  Place the mushrooms and the juices from the pan into a blender with salt, pepper, the leaves from one sprig of rosemary, and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard.  Puree the mushrooms into a creamy mousse, occasionally scraping down the sides of the blender to ensure a smooth puree.  Leave the mushroom puree in the closed blender to stay warm.
Return the skillet to the heat along with a small pot of water to poach the eggs.  While the water is coming to a boil, fry the Canadian bacon until brown and crispy.  When the water comes to a boil, crack each egg (two per artichoke) into an individual ramekin, then sprinkle a few dashes of white or apple cider vinegar over each egg in the ramekin.  The vinegar will help the egg white to firm up around the yolk before going into the poaching water.  Remove the pot from the heat, then gently lower each egg into the pot.  Cover the pot with the lid and allow the eggs to poach for 3-4 minutes for a soft poached egg.
To assemble, place an artichoke bottom onto each plate and spoon the mushroom puree into the artichoke bowl.  Place two eggs on top of the mushrooms, and finally, top it off with a few slices of crispy Canadian bacon and a garnish of minced rosemary.

Recipe at a Glance:
(Serves Four)
4 Artichoke bottoms (trimmed and poached as above, or purchased in a can)
1 lb white button mushrooms 
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon strong Dijon mustard
12 oz North Woods Ranch Canadian Bacon
1 sprig rosemary, minced
8 eggs, cracked into ramekins and drizzled with vinegar to set the whites

If using purchased artichoke bottoms, rinse them and warm them in hot water while prepping the rest of the recipe.

Saute the mushrooms in butter over medium high heat until tender, about 4-6 minutes.  Add mushrooms, mustard, and half the minced rosemary to a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and preheat a large greased skillet.  When the water comes to a boil, gently drop in the eggs and turn the heat off the pot of water.  Cover the pot with a lid.

In the greased skillet, cook the Canadian bacon until crispy.  After 3-4 minutes, remove the eggs and let them drain on a kitchen towel.

Place one artichoke bottom on each plate, then fill with the mushroom puree.  Top with two eggs and a few slices of Canadian bacon.  Garnish with minced rosemary.