We must have been particularly good last year, as we received $125 of gift cards for Christmas to our two best local meat producers, and then a real kicker, a giant cooler full of meat from cows and pigs grown by my brother and sister in law. We probably have about a six month supply of meats.
The first to go were some pork chops, which were the finest I’ve eaten since childhood. I made two into schnitzels (take that, Deutschland), and the other two are now marry-nating. And that was one fat hog, so I trimmed the chops and rendered down some lard from the fat.
The key to proper rendering is to melt the fat at the lowest possible temperature, so I set my 6000 BTU burner at its bottom level. The lard is rendered when the fat turns into rinds, and stops sizzling.
After a night in the fridge, the lard congeals and is ready to use. Never make any beef dish without it, and never buy commercially produced lard, if possible.
Everyone should read the article from the website Raw Story with the following link, about how hydrogenated cottonseed oil replaced good old lard. It’s a perfect story about the decline of American food, funded by the industrial food industry.
There is only one thing to not like about this book, and that is I wish it was ten times longer. When you keep going back to the same cookbook over and over, you know it’s good. The “home cooking” part is the key here–these are recipes to use everyday.
Link has won a James Beard award, so home cooking may sound like an odd subject for such an accomplished chef. However, that is his strong suit, in that he cooks real authentic Louisiana food. He grew up in the region where people are comically referred to as “Coonasses,” as he notes in the book, which is a regional term for Cajuns.
The recipes? My favorites are the Chicken and Rice Soup, the Hush Puppies, the Hot Pepper Jelly, and the classic Cajun sausage, the Boudin. Cajun Boudin is mostly rice with liver and pork, but it is incredibly tasty. A Cajun seven course meal is said to consist of a Boudin, and a six pack of beer.
Strangely enough, Link is not of mainly French descent, but from German and regular Southern folks. That there are Cajuns of German descent is a surprise to many people from outside the South. And yes, those are the classic Cajun spices of Paprika and Cayenne pepper in the picture.
Achtung! There’s a schnitzel crisis in Germany, according to the authoritative website Deutsche Welle (that’s Voice of Germany). EU exports to China have caused a tripling of pork prices on the continent.
The cause–Swine Fever, which is killing pigs in China faster than an abacus can count. DW also reports that China plans to import three million tons of pork, much of it from the EU. And I have always loved sweet and sour pork.
So keep an eye on your pigs. Globalization is also a pig problem, and not just with Kapitalistenschwein (that’s capitalist pigs). According to the head of Germany’s Meat Association, “Sausage will definitely be more expensive next year.”
It’s time to invest in pork belly futures again.
Update! Denmark is considering building a wall along their border with Germany, to keep out the notorious wild German pigs, who may or may not be carrying Swine Fever–currently, there are no confirmed cases. The Germans have nicknamed it the “Boar-der Wall.” Now that is droll.
My all time favorite congress critter has to be Mo Udall of Arizona, who would give speeches with titles like, “Who Needs Enemies When We Have Friends Like the Marlboro Man?” And that was to the American Cancer Society.
I’ve told this one before, but Mo’s favorite stump speech was about the time he allegedly had a group of native Americans yell Hoya! at him, every time he made a promise. (He did deliver a groundbreaking speech in 1965 on “The American Indians and Civil Rights.”) Hoya is the stuff you don’t want to step in when you’re in the horse stable, as he later learned from the Chief of the tribe.
I’m on my second pound of local pasture raised bacon from Hardwood Hills farm in Cullman county, and is it good! No, it’s fabulous. Despite the hoya that comes from various experts, it does not turn grey when cooked. Or as Othello would say, “Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof.” That’s it at the top. It’s only marinated in a Saumure Anglais, without the curing salt, and it doesn’t turn grey. I guess people should buy better pork. And quote both Mo and Shakespeare, at the same time.
To celebrate a drought busting two inches of rain, and to challenge myself, I decided to make a Farmer’s Omelette the traditional German way, using only local ingredients. In fact, they were so local that all but one ingredient came from within a hundred feet of our front door.
The brilliance of this recipe is that it only calls for three main ingredients–bacon, potatoes, and eggs. Everything else is optional, and subject to improvisation. This is a jazz recipe, and I always follow my use what you have rule. Here is today’s version.
One slice Bacon
One skillet full of Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed
Two small Tomatoes, chopped
One sweet Banana Pepper, chopped
Garlic Chives, chopped
Salt and Pepper
The only ingredient we didn’t grow ourselves was the bacon, which came from just across the Mulberry River, from my home county of Cullman. The county happens to be named after its founder Colonel Johannes Gottfried Kullman, though he was actually a Colonel in one of the failed German state revolutions of 1848. Hence his removal to the United States.
This is also no ordinary bacon
The bacon is so large that eight slices made a pound, and I had to cut one slice into three pieces just to make it fit my omelette skillet. These slices of fresh bacon were marinated for six days in a Saumure Anglaise.
The German method of cooking this is to fry the bacon while simmering the potatoes in water for eight to ten minutes. The bacon is then removed from the skillet, and the potatoes are browned in the bacon fat. I added the peppers as well. Chop up the bacon, and mix the eggs. I put my tomatoes and garlic chives in with the eggs, and then the bacon. When the potatoes begin to brown, add the egg mixture, and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients.
I did depart from the norm, and finished the omelette in the oven at 400 degrees F. While I cooked, Melanie Jane turned on Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto. We ate while listening to one of my favorite recordings, the Bavarian State Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, conducted by the incomparable Carlos Kleiber. We also had a Bavarian flag hanging off the balcony above our dining room table, in honor of Oktoberfest. One of our semi-domesticated wolves, aka a dog, ate the leftovers.
As the salt was not mined, nor the peppercorns picked, anywhere locally, I will admit that this was only ninety nine percent local. But that is still ninety nine percent better than food that has been trucked across a continent.
Joel Salatin, aka “The world’s most famous farmer,” up there in Virginia, wrote an entire book about “the pigness of pigs.” Yesterday at the Festhalle farmer’s market I ran across one of my favorite sellers, a young woman who usually has one of her five children with her (this is Alabama). Instead, she had a big cooler full of fresh local pork that she had grown. Here was some real pigness of the best kind.
When she said she had fresh uncured bacon, I nearly had an infarction. I bought a pound, and she instructed me about how to cure it. My response was I always use a Saumure Anglaise when I cured pork like that.
Now, everyone usually looks at you like you are a snake with two heads when you use French in this part of the South, as opposed to New Orleans or Mobile, the two oldest French cities in the region. However, she looked impressed, and said I obviously knew what I was doing. I told her this wasn’t my first rodeo.
Here’s my version of this Saumure, adapted from Jane Grigson’s monumental book on French charcuterie.
Handful of Salt
Handful of Brown Sugar
One Bay Leaf
Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
Fragment of whole Nutmeg
I omitted the nitrates (pink salt) from this recipe, as this is going to be eaten in short order. Boil this combo, and then let it steep until cool. Pour it over the bacon or other fresh pork you have, and throw it into the fridge.
For how long? That depends on how brave you are. I let mine go for at least a couple of days, and thicker pieces, like fresh ham slices, for around six. Sugar and salt are decent preservatives on their own, and I’m still kicking, so there’s anecdotal evidence to prove it’s not deadly to avoid the nitrates. Just check out some of the furry Italian sausages sometimes to see if nitrates have to be used.
The bacon will not be furry, but it will be tasty. And it will be cured the natural way.
Not having much else to do one day in one of my writing classes, I brought up the controversial subject of lard. Always being of an ironic frame of mind, I told the following anecdote.
Me: “I can tell you from family experience how dangerous lard is. My Grandfather had a bucket of lard under his sink, and probably never ate anything that wasn’t cooked in it, and he barely made it into his late nineties before it killed him.”
The students who understood irony laughed at that, and I had a very polite young woman who grew up in Brazil in the class, and she raised her hand to say something. I told her to go ahead, and she said:
Brazilian: “In Brazil, we keep it under the stove.”
Lard. Worldwide for a good reason. Healthier, apparently, than butter, and you can make it yourself without a churn, or a cow.
The key to good lard is to render it yourself, and at a very low temperature. Commercial lard is yet another industrial product to avoid, as it’s bad rap comes from it being cooked at too high a temp. So here’s what you should do.
Slab of Pork Fat (My local butcher sells it by the pound)
That’s it. Cut the fat into small chunks, and throw them into a cast iron skillet on the smallest eye of your stove. Let it render down at the lowest possible setting. This is another gem of slow food methods. When you have a big skillet of liquid lard, and nothing left but some cracklings, you’re done. I store mine in mason jars. It will keep a year in the fridge, three in the freezer.
Canning season is here with a vengeance, and it’s time to get it done. This could just as easily be called preserves, but the whole lemon adds some punch to it. Jane Grigson, in her great Book of European Cookery says the word marmalade comes the Assyrian and Babylonian word for quince, which she spells as marmahu. Quince preserves were a staple of my childhood, so I will call this a marmalade. This recipe would work well with those as well, if you can find any. And no, I did not grow up in Babylon.
5-6 tart Apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 Meyer Lemon
Juice of 1 Key Lime
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Water
The five big apples I used cost a whopping two bucks at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market. Use all the lemon, except for the zest and seeds, but definitely include the pulp. The lime is optional, but I have bags of them, and they add some more zing.
Combine the sugar with the lemon and lime combo, and heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the sliced apples and water, and cook for ten to fifteen minutes. I don’t want either applesauce or baby food, so I end up on the shorter time line.
The option is to mash this or not, so I used a less aggressive potato masher on this batch. No extra fruit pectin is needed, so just put the fruit into jars and run through a hot water bath.
This concoction could be served at any meal, and I will try it on both biscuits and pork tenderloin. I may save some for filling my Linzer Augen (Linzer Cookies, though the literal translation is Linzer Eyes) at Christmas. I could even go all out, and have some cookies filled with apple, some filled with peach, and some filled with fig, preserves.