Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Beautiful Holiday Ham

Here is a very special holiday installment of Prolefood, complete with a new process.

Holidays are such wonderful times of friends, family, and of course food.  I actually think that the holidays, especially around the winter solstice, tend to be a time where people actually cook things together, and from some modicum of scratch.  It may be the last holdout in a culture which prizes quick, fast, and easy (how many cookbooks have that in the title these days?)*.  So, in the spirit of cooking together I give you a process for a delicious, hand-crafted, smoked ham - entirely too late for any of you to use it for the holidays (sorry...), but maybe next year?  Or at some random point during this year?

On the Transmutation of Ham

Hams come in so many different shapes and sizes and varieties.  Smoked, brined, cured, fresh, bone-in, boneless, etc.  However, most of what you can purchase in the store has one thing in common, industrial-scale processing.  So, from the start, I will say that this process is rather involved, and won't save you any money.  Not a cent.  You can go out and buy a smoked ham from your grocer for a buck a pound or so.  So why would you want to take this on?

First, because you can source all your ingredients, including the pig; Second, you can control how much or little salt you have in your ham; Third, it is the most delicious, wonderful thing you will ever eat and you will seriously question ever having purchased a crappy supermarket ham in the first place.  So here it is, a ham transmuted from the leaden heft of a pig's rear leg to the aery gold of smoked ham.  I will do this in three steps, like the ancient alchemists.

Step 1: Brine
- 1 Fresh Ham from a happy pig (ask your butcher)**
- A brine, consisting of: 4L (~1 Gal) Water, 350g (~1.5C) Kosher Salt, 225g (~1C) Brown Sugar, 42g (1.5 oz) Pink Curing Salt (Sodium Nitrate), a pour of molasses and any a creative, but restrained bundle of herbs.
- A large, non-reactive brining container
So, to start with, a "ham" is really just the thigh leg of a rear leg of a pig with feet and hocks removed.  So, you can indeed buy these fresh at a reputable butcher (just ask for fresh ham, not cured or smoked).  The full ham will run around 2 lbs on a full sized pig, although you can probably find some heritage breeds like a guinea hog that would have a smaller one.  If the prospect of dealing with such a large piece of meat frightens you, either ask for a half ham or you can also use a cut known as the 'picnic shoulder,' although this won't be a ham, it will be a shoulder.

So, I would also suggest asking your butcher to remove the aitch-bone (pelvic bone) that runs through the ham***.  The ham might also have skin on it.  It is up to you whether you would like to leave it on or take it off.  On will make for a slightly more flavorful, jucier ham, albeit one that requires the removal of the skin prior to eating.  You can certainly debone & skin the ham yourself, I did because I love butchering, but you may find it difficult and/or dangerous especially if you have dull knives and an unskilled hand.  Your butcher should also be willing to tie your ham for you so that it doesn't flop around.  If you do this yourself, just get butcher's twine and tie it up so that it looks ham-like in shape, and not a flesh explosion.  The brine above will work for a 9-16 lb ham.  I did mine in half so that I had two 9 lb hams rather than a single monster.

You know the deal with the brine, put it all in a pot, heat it to boiling or until everything dissolves, then cool to room temperature first, followed by fridge temperature.  Once cool, place your ham in the brine, weighting it down if necessary so that it stays submerged and keep in the fridge or a cold place for 7-10 days.  At the end of the time you choose, dump out the brine and cover with fresh water for a day or so to lessen the fierceness of the salt brine.

Step 2: Smoking

Before smoking, take your ham out of the brine and let it sit in the fridge, uncovered on some kind of elevated rack (so that air gets on all surfaces) for a day or two.  This will make the exterior slightly tacky and far more accepting of the smoke's kiss.  

After sitting you can smoke your ham.  Smoking a large piece of meat like this takes some time and patience, as it will take from 6-8 hours depending on the size of your ham.  Get your smoking device up to 180-190º F and add some chips.  You'll also want to keep some moisture inside the cabinet, water, apple juice/cider, or red wine are all options.  Hot-smoke your ham for the allotted time, although a meat thermometer is also important here, as time is not as important as getting it to around 160º.  It will probably take 6-8 hours though. 

When done, get your now-beautiful ham out of the smoker, wrap in tinfoil, and place in a cooler for an hour and half, covered by a towel.  This will keep the juices in and finish the process for you.  After an hour and a half, take it out, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then tinfoil and place in your fridge for three or four days to let all the flavors really develop.

Step 3: Roasting and Glazing

Now, your ham is fully cured, and cooked and you could probably have a piece now if you would like, but half the beauty of the ham is the roasting and glazing.  As your ham is now cold, you'll need to roast it in a 350º oven for a few hours until it is back up to the 160º-ish mark.  

During the roasting, baste liberally with a glaze that should, at a minimum, contiain molasses, dry mustard, and some water or wine to thin it a bit.  Be creative, though remember to keep flavors in a generally restrained profile: oranges, apples, warm spices****, and full wines do the trick.  

Take it out, slice it, and serve it to your family - be amazed at the transmutation of pork.

*Every one by Rachel Ray.

** Be sure to bring something that can carry this chunk of meat. I slung mine over my shoulder, which I am sure looked quite strange as I walked down my residential street.  

*** If you keep the bone in, you'll need to inject brine all around it so that you don't end up with a botulism ham, which would kill your entire family and really wreck the holiday spirit.  So, just take the bone out and use it for soup or something.  Much easier.

**** Don't do that obnoxious thing where you stick cloves all over it.  It is annoying and tastes bad.  Also, don't serve it with pineapple, unless you live in Hawaii, in which case you have some justification for doing so.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Not an End, A Transformation

As I sit in my office with papers strewn about, Greek lexicons open on the coffee table, an offprint from the 8th International Congress on Coptic Studies to my left, and Crowley's Book of the Law to my right I realized that I must come to a reckoning. 

The reckoning is that Prolefood needs a transformation of sorts, as I began this whole work during a different time in my life.  I don't really want to end the blog, as I did enjoy it, and refer back to many of my own processes from time to time as I need a refresher.  So, I will keep the blog up for the sake of posterity (as long as I am able), but the entries will be by request only (I always want to order those items on a menu that say "by request only," but rarely have the foresight or requisite funds). 

So, for you, the readers if any of you are left after my most grievous absence, should  you come upon a particular food stuff that you are simply sick of buying in the store, or even sick of paying someone at a farm market a premium for*, comment here or elsewhere and I promise you that as I am able, I will both make it myself, and throw together a classic process for you and others to follow.  I hope all of you are not excessively sad.  Nothing ever ends. 

See you on the other side!  I leave you with a picture of young durian fruit.  They look cute now, but they smell so very bad.

* I am all for supporting local farms and such, so continue to do so if you like.  However, I went to a farm market and saw that they had 3/4 lb. packages of bacon for 12 dollars - 12 filthy dollars.  People bought it up too!  It was frozen (one of the biggest shortfalls of local farms, as frozen meat is not good meat), and surely from a happy pig, but you can make bacon for so much less!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Redundant Velvet

Being that I am learning French, I can now tell you that our next mother sauce, the velouté, has a nice translation in the term 'velvety.'  So, when I was thinking up a name to use for the post, I thought I might go with "Velvety Velouté,"  but, I realized that this would literally mean "velvety velvety" - hence the new title.

As with the other sauces, you will do well to have this one in your back pocket.  It whips up in a flash and is easily adapted.  It is of great use when one is in serious need of something to tie the plate together.  For example, my lunch today consisted of some toast, lamb kidneys, and garlic scapes.  Though cooked with plenty of butter, the dish seemed a bit less than it could be. So, a velouté was born and added, with some fresh parsley to counter the gorgeous must of the kidneys to create a dish that really made my day (and would make yours as well). My velouté is really more of a sauce vin rouge, and is a bit on the dark side.

Non-redundant Velouté
- Equal parts Flour and Butter (preferably homemade) for a roux
- A light stock (this can really be anything -obviously homemade-, fish, chicken, veal, pork, a mixture - the only rule is that one ought not use a stock with roasted bones in it - too dark)
- Seasonings
The previous mother sauce was the bechamel, which was a white sauce, made with milk or cream and thickened with a roux.  The velouté is, simply speaking, a non-white sauce, made with stock, and thickened with a roux.

So, as with the other process, use your butter and flour to make a roux.  You know the deal, melt the butter, sprinkle flour on top, stir, and cook lightly.  You can let this one brown just the lightest bit, as it will lend a nice nutty flavor to your sauce.

Stir in your stock, and whisk away, allowing everything to get to know one another.  Kick your heat back too, as too furious a boil will thicken your sauce prematurely, not allowing for any development of flavoring.  Give a taste once things are on the thick side and season as needed. 

This one is also very easy.  A general rule of thumb is to match the stock you use to whatever you are using it on.  So, chicken stock velouté for chicken, fish velouté for fish, and *shudder* some rubbish like chickpea or whatever you vegetarians use for stock for a disgusting vegetarian velouté. 

- Sauce albufera: Add pan drippings, or reduced juices from your meat to the stock.  This will darken things up, hence a different name.
- Sauce allemande: Add a squeeze of lemon, stir, a splash of cream, add some sauce to a couple of egg yolks in a separate dish, then add them back in and cook slowly and lightly for a few.
- Sauce bercy: Add some shallots, white wine, and a turn of lemon to a fish velouté.
- Sauce ravigote: Add a splash of acid, onions, and shallots to a fish velouté (better than the bercy for a very delicate fish)
- Sauce suprême: Add mushroom liquor (water in which one has boiled mushrooms) and cream.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hey, Hey, My, My...

Prolefood will never die.  The syllables worked out just right on that one.  I just wanted to throw a quick post up to say that I will continue with the rest of the mother sauces this week.  The past few have been a bit crazy, with a move to Boston, unpacking (how do you expect me to make a beautiful velouté with my kitchen supplies in boxes?), commencant mes cours de français à Harvard, and getting to know my new village. 

In the meantime, enjoy a few Campari and white wine, tune into the above song by Neil Young and practice your other skills.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hard to Easy

We started last post with a Hollandaise, which is one of the harder mother sauces to master.  So, today's mother sauce should really be a piece of cake.  Like so super simple that if you mess it up, you should stop trying to cook right now*.  A simple comparison should suffice.  

When I first started driving, I was truly an awful driver,  I regularly ran the tire of the car up onto the curb, slammed on the brakes/didn't hit the brakes hard enough, and parking was just...forget it.  Then, my grandfather added driving a stick shift into the mix - I only got worse, once almost crashing into my grandmother's car in a terrific way because I was excited that I managed to get the truck into gear in reverse. Nightmarish.  However, one day I got driving a stick shift down, didn't send my grandfather's truck shuddering and clunking out of every stop sign, didn't roll back 5 feet on every hill, didn't ramp the truck up on grassy embankments when trying to do a K-turn - I got it.  Then, I suddenly became a great driver.  Everything else was measured from that point on in terms of getting the hang of a standard transmission.  Get the Hollandaise down and all of the other mother sauces will be measured in terms of it.  None of this 'gradual increase in difficulty' bullshit.  Do the Hollandaise first.

In any case, today's mother sauce is the ubiquitous Béchamel, aka 'white sauce.'  No cook should be without the means and knowledge to whip up a quick, delicious Béchamel on a moments notice.  It has many uses and all add complexity to dishes.

Standard-shift Béchamel 
- Equal parts butter and flour
- Milk (whole or cream)**
- Seasonings (creative but restrained)***
Your Ratio for the butter/flour mix (aka a roux, we'll talk later) and milk should be something like 5:1.  Not to be a pedant, but that might mean, for example, 1/2 cup of roux (so 1/4 cup flour to 1/4 cup butter) to 2.5 cups of milk or cream.

Start by angrily scalding your milk or cream.  So many recipes call for such gentleness and nicety when dealing with your dairy - here is one time that you can really get some stuff out and just boil your milk or cream.  Don't get out of control, if you burn your milk or cream to the bottom of your pot, cleaning will certainly remind you of the need for some moderation, even when angry.  Let it calm down a bit off the heat while you turn to your roux.

A roux is in very basic terms, flour and fat.  You can make it with butter, or lard, or tallow, or even a rancid vegetable oil.  For a nice Béchamel, use butter.  Start by melting your quantity of butter  over a gentle heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all your milk, wait until the foam subsides, and gently sprinkle your flour over the butter, stirring intentionally with your other hand.  Be sure that the butter and flour really meet one another, you may start with a creamy kind of consistency, but you should soon have a grainy look that indicates that your flour and butter have met fully.  Your roux should remain light in color, don't allow it to brown a bit for Béchamel.

Now, kick your heat back to a low level, and add your scalded milk, one ladle at a time, whisking (the whisk is ubiquitous!) between each to be sure that the sauce stays smooth.  Once all of your milk or cream is added, continue whisking, keeping an eye on things to be sure that the sauce thickens, but not too much****.  Give your sauce a taste, and season as is needed.  

So, as you might notice, many recipes call for a Béchamel sauce, but they usually don't call it such.  On my good friend Margaret's blog, she has a recipe for Kohlrabi that looks as if it will really take the edge off, leaving you in the kind of chirpy state that everyone strives for (click here to see!).  Note her recipe - butter, flour, milk...Béchamel!  

 - Mornay: Add some cheese (something gloppy and melty like Gruyére) once the sauce has thickened.
- Aurore: Add some tomato purée at the end.
- Nantua: Add crayfish tails and a touch of fish sauce or splash of fish stock.
- Soubise: Add some finely diced onions to the boiling milk.
- Béchamel is often used over things like white lasagna or slathered on crêpes, be creative and unrestrained!

* Harsh, right?

** Don't even bother with anything less than whole milk.  Gross.

*** A lot of traditionalists insist on adding an onion stuck with a clove and a bay leaf to the boiling milk.  This is way too fussy and is a pain when you are later ladling the milk out.  Do what thou wilt.

**** Thickness is a bit subjective.  There is a range somewhere between a thin gruel and wallpaper paste/caulk that you should strive for, depending on your preference. If things get a bit thick and heavy, add some more cream and see what that does for you. Do what thou wilt.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Ending and A New Beginning

 I apologize greatly for my negligence in posting lately - things have been busy.  I strive for one or two posts a week, but had to take a break last week because of my hectic schedule.  In any case, I am back with your final emulsion (and likely the most difficult).

As in my own life, I am about to end one portion and begin another, this process will be both the ending of the emulsions, and the beginning of the next set, the five 'mother' sauces, as (secondly) defined  by great French chef Auguste Escoffier*.  Now, these sauces might strike you as some kind of 'foodie' endeavor, the kind of thing that pretentious folks like myself sit around and expound upon to prove their knowledge of esoteric food lore - but, give them a chance.

Let me expand just a bit.  Having these five 'mother' sauces in your cooking repertoire, that is, being able to make them without pulling out a recipe or cookbook, will make your life so much easier.  You can take these mother sauces and add to them in so many ways, and if you do cook by cookbooks, you will start to notice that many recipes are based on one of them (and you will then understand the use of the moniker 'mother').  They have fancy, Francophile names, but all are both delicious and not terribly difficult.  So, without further ado, I give you the end of the emulsions and the beginning of the mother sauces, Hollandaise.

Liminal Hollandaise
- 1 part egg yolk (1 yolk)
- 5 parts butter (absolutely real butter)
- 1 part lemon juice or another acid**
- Seasonings
As you will see, we are using the ratio method again.  With egg yolks, it can be a bit difficult, so let's say a good standard ratio is 1 egg yolk, 5 tablespoons / 15 grams of butter, and 1 splash of lemon juice/acid.

You will also need your trusty whisk and double boiler for this one.  Even more so than the polyvalent pudding, temperature is essential here.  Too hot and your egg yolks will scramble and your sauce will be chunky.  Too cool and you will not get a good emulsion.  No wonder they make those crappy powdered Hollandaise sauces!  Don't be afraid though, as a true Hollandaise is a thing of near-sexual beauty, which envelops you in its smooth textures while at the same time exciting you with its tangy acidity.  Perhaps I have a prurient mind, but you will see for yourself when you taste the first bite.

To make your Hollandaise, begin by melting your butter, you want to have it still liquefied, but not too hot when you add it later on***.  So, melt it and let it sit, so as to cool its head a bit while you undertake the rest of the process.  You have a short break now to catch a cup of coffee or Campari with white wine (depending on the time of day) to fortify yourself for the whisking that is ahead.  You really need to be 100% on point here, so if you are feeling a bit unsteady from a night of heavy imbibing, you may want to grab some toast with chicken livers or a grilled veal kidney to fortify your nerves.

Now, combine your yolk and acid in the top part of the double boiler.  Whisk them in a gentle way over very lightly simmering water.  You want to heat the yolk up a bit, but absolutely not to cook it. Also, furious whisking will surely break the spirit of your yolk - it gathers up a great deal of courage, employing all of its lecithin to enable your sauce to thicken, so one hardly wants to beat that courage down.  After a short bit, your yolk should get a bit lighter in color and will thicken a bit, this is the yolk's finest hour, so don't miss it!  Turn off the heat under the boiler.

In the same way as with the other emulsions, dribble just a small amount of your butter into the warmed yolk and whisk in an intentional kind of way (not furiously as with the other, less delicate emulsions), adding more butter as the sauce allows.  Nothing should be pooling on top, or looking like it might separate.  Whisk until all the butter is incorporated, and you should have a very smooth, yellowish sauce, season to taste and keep just a bit warm until you are ready to pour it over your eggs Benedict.  If your Hollandaise seems a bit chunky, take note of the fact that you cooked it a bit too hot and strain it - it is still fine to use.  Also, taste it and tell me if I am wrong about the sex thing.

- Béarnaise: Replace the lemon juice with 1 part reduced vinegar, shallots, and tarragon
- Choron: Add 1 part tomato puree with the lemon juice to the yolk.
- Vin Blanc: Add 1 part fish stock and reduced white wine instead of lemon juice
- Bavaroise: Fold horseradish, heavy cream, and thyme into the final product
- Crème Fleurette: Fold Crème Fraîche into the final product
- Dijon: Add 1 part Dijon mustard to the yolk and lemon juice
- Maltaise: Add zest and juice from a blood orange to the yolk instead of lemon juice.
These are just a few, and should give you a good idea of how versatile a mother sauce is!

* Antonin Carême listed four at first, but Escoffier's list is better and has better sauces.
** Some folks like to use reduced vinegar with water, but lots of acids will work here - see the derivatives!
*** A certain Food Network chef advocates adding cubes of cold butter to the warm egg yolk so that you don't break the emulsion, but this is too much in the spirit of convenience for me to possibly advocate.  If you learn to make a Hollandaise with this method, you may as well just go buy it from the store in powdered form.  Harsh, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polyvalent Pudding

The term 'pudding' is one that usually brings a thick, sweet dessert to mind, one that can take on a variety of forms - unfortunately the most common form is now a powder that you pour out of a box, mix with milk, and heat.  Possibly, it even brings little plastic cups to mind, as these seem even more ubiquitous than the powdered variety with the kids these days.

However, a 'pudding' can be savory as well as sweet, and early 'puddings' were actually something more like a sausage, often being boiled or steamed in something like a sheep's stomach.  Or take the oft misquoted quotable "The proof (aka 'test') of the pudding (usually truncated here and quoted as 'the proof is in the pudding)"  it should have "is in the eating" tacked on the end - meaning that one can only fully test something if one experiences it*.  I include this quotable partly because I didn't know what it meant up until two hours ago, but also because I think you should take it literally when it comes to your puddings. Learn to make a pudding that is not from a box, and even one that is not thickened with cornstarch and you will prove your pudding and yourself.

Polyvalent Pudding
- 4 parts milk (at a minimum, use whole milk, but half & half or heavy cream is even better!)
- 2 parts sugar 
- 1 part cocoa powder (easier to blend, and be sure it is unsweetened - don't use hot cocoa mix)
- 0.5 part flour
- 8 parts egg yolk
- Additional flavorings (Vanilla, cinnamon, be creative!)
As you can see, I have adopted a ratio-based ingredient list here - I find that easier than doing all the metric/standard conversions, and it actually makes things much easier for you if you want to reduce or enlarge the process.  So, in case it looks a bit confusing, for you users of standard measurings, think of the ingredients in terms of cups first - 4 cups of milk, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of cocoa power, 1/2 cup of flour, 8 egg yolks.  This will make about 10 servings, but halving is really easy now!  2 cups of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 1/4 cup of flour, 4 egg yolks.  A little math, but so much easier.

Also, you'll note that this is a sweet, chocolate pudding.  For a vanilla pudding (or another flavour that does not involve chocolate) up the flour to 1 part, and be a bit more liberal with your sugar.  In the future, I may do a savory pudding (maybe in another entire animal post - you can make a great blood pudding!).

So, to start things off, add your dry ingredients to a bowl and either sift or gently whisk to combine them thoroughly, then slowly add the milk while whisking, being sure that no clumps are left to surprise you when you eat it later (nothing can wreck a polyvalent pudding like a little uncooked flour bomb!).  Save a small amount of your milk or cream for later, and separate your eggs now - they need to be a bit on the warm side.

Set up a double boiler, or simply a metal bowl set over a gently simmering pot.  Don't try to do this without this kind of setup, you will do an excellent job of scorching your pudding instead of proving yourself and your pudding.  Be sure that the water is only gently boiling, and add your mixture from before to the bowl or the top of the double boiler.  Heat gently, stirring almost constantly until the mixture is hot, test it by touching it to your lips, it should be just at the point where you would need to wait a second before eating, it will take somewhere around 12-15 minutes. Don't let it boil!

Now, whisk your egg yolks with a bit of the leftover cream or milk and bring them over near your hot mixture.  Using the skills you have cultivated from your previous emulsions, very slowly add a bit of the hot mixture to your egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Continue adding your hot mixture until the egg yolks are blended, and they feel relatively warm to the touch.  You can now pour this mixture back into the mixture on the top of the double boiler.  You need to be careful during this step, for if you add the hot mixture too quickly, or don't whisk enough, you will have scrambled egg yolks on your hands.  

At this point, heat the blended mixture thoroughly, stirring constantly for something close to 45 minutes (You may want to snag a small glass of grappa to sip on during this time to keep yourself from growing too unsteady).  Keep an eye on things, as it should start to thicken.  You don't want things too gloppy, so pull it off the heat earlier if it looks thick in a satisfactory kind of way.  You can add a small knob of butter during this time  if you would like - it gives your pudding a wonderful richness.  You can also add some shaved chocolate bar during this time to add more chocolate flavor and thickness.  When the perfect thickness is achieved remove it from the heat, add any flavorings you would like,  decant your pudding into serving bowls** and chill it for 1 to 24 hours, depending on how cold you like your pudding.

I would suggest starting with this chocolate pudding before trying another flavor.  You can also just take the cheater's way out and use a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and water, with no flour or egg yolks.  Your pudding will be far less demanding, and will get thick after only a few minutes of cooking, but ask yourself, "Do I really want to be that kind of person?"***

If you make it this far, you will understand that true pudding is a test, it requires you to prove yourself at a few junctures, and once you have you can truly say "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" while you enjoy it topped with some crème fraîche.

* You know, like when you tell someone that they shouldn't take Ambien while operating an industrial drill press and they say "Dude, don't knock it until you've tried it."

** If you like skin on top of your pudding, cover them with plastic wrap while chilling them.  

*** No, you do not.