Friday, February 17, 2012

Make-Your-Own-Rilletes: An Adventure in & Rant on Preserving Meat

my homemade pork rilletes
 Valentine's Day this year was fantastic.  Matt treated me to dinner and drinks at a couple of local Portland establishments that we'd never been to.  The first was an amazing restaurant called Grace where we had an aperitif in what is a converted decommissioned Methodist church from the 1850s.  We didn't have any food there but I can highly recommend their bar as having very interesting and delicious cocktails as well as fabulous and out-of-the-norm ambiance.  After a drink we headed to our final destination: a tiny restaurant called Figa that I'd been eyeing for months, on Congress Street, toward's the Mujoy Hill end of the city. 

Matt and I are happy and dedicated consumers of preserved meats (especially Matt).  As such, we were very excited to see a fantasmagoric charcuterie plate available as a starter at Figa.  Matt always gets the charcuterie plate or the antipasto plate (if we're doing Italian).  It's his thing.  And I always sit there and pretend I prefer my appetizers (in this case roasted bone marrow with an oxtail ragu and caper berry gremolata served with crazy delicious bread).  But I inevitably break down and beg for a couple of bites of this and that.  This and that, in this case, was cured pork jowl, duck pastrami, chicken neck & rabbit terrine (among several others), served with homemade pickles and melba toasts.  It was a reminder of just how much I enjoy cured meats and preserved meats in general and how much it annoys me when people act like they are "gross" or "unnatural."  Yes, people do that.

In fact, just last week I got into a semi-heated-conversation with a rather opinionated and ill-informed lady over whether aged meat was "gross" or not.  She was howling about how disgusting it is that in Japan Kobe beef is "just hung out to dry" in the open and how it is unsanitary and revolting.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine - when people a) are overly vocal about personal opinions to a large group (except on blogs, of course :)) and b) when they are actually kind of wrong about said-vocal-opinions.  This woman truly believed with all her heart that there was an inherent difference between dry-aging beef and aging things like cheese or salami.  And that the former was also, by virtue of being aged, a disgusting and "wrong" thing to eat.  I can understand that argument if it's based on not liking the flavor of aged beef, but to brazenly proclaim that something is just "gross" without having eaten it or knowing how it's made is beyond my tolerance level.  Argh.

I bought this fantastic postcard for Roman this Christmas
at the Fort Worth Science & History Museum

I got roped in.  When I pointed out to this woman that she eats mold all the time if she likes aged cheeses or salami she got flustered and annoyed and proclaimed that "well, salami is not the same thing - there's a PROCESS to it."  As if people in Japan just randomly hung cow carcasses out in the open for 28 days and then ate them!  There is a process to all of it, lady.  And most of those processes are well-established and closely regulated (thanks to our sometimes overzealous but necessary USDA and thousands of years of collective meat-curing experience!).  Go read up before you start proclaiming (at least in front of me). 

And so, having simmered down slightly, I valiantly ask the following as rhetorical pieces of intellectual stimulation:

What is it about preserving food that freaks modern-day-eaters out?  (I clearly recall the shreaks of horror that came from the chefs on Chopped when they were given whole-chicken-in-a-can as one of the secret ingredients; does look kind of gross but once one of the chefs explained how and why his grandmother used to can whole chickens on their farm, it no longer seemed wrong.) 

Why is it that people so hate (and demonize) canned foods?  (It has become a line of demarcation for those horrible food snobs out there.  I think I'll scream if I hear one more person say how gross canned food is.  I even had a guy who worked at an Italian deli tell me he thought preserving tuna in olive oil was "unnatural.") 

What is SO disgusting about dry-aged beef?!  Granted, it's not my favorite either but...just sayin'.

ALL that aging, curing and preserving means is that the meats were preserved, aged, sealed and saved -  so that in a time when refrigeration wasn't as prolific people could still have meat all year round.  Is that wrong or gross somehow?  We are very lucky to live in a time of 24/7 refrigeration and utter convenience, but that doesn't mean that there's no value in understanding the art of food preservation.  Apart from being practical it is a different, tasty and vastly interesting way to prepare foods that also allows for a completely different level of availability, economy, and nose-to-tail eating.

* * * 

Anyway, now that my horrifically-long introduction-rant is over with, let's get to the whole point behind it: I mentioned briefly back in November that I was making Pork Rilletes as one of the appetizers I was serving at Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws.  It was my foray into the world of homemade preserved and cured meats and it was a smashing success.  Not only were the rilletes amazingly delicious but they opened my eyes to a whole world of lesser-cuts-made-magical.  And best of all, through all of my research for the best rilletes recipe available, I came across some awesome websites and books on the subject that I feel compelled to share.

My Top 5 Books / Websites on Preserved & Cured Meats
yes, I do know this is a hate-me or love-me post :)

Thyme & bay pork rilletes

I used this as a visual guide for my adventure in pork rilletes.  I am still in awe that the Paupered Chef actually made pork rilletes for his entire wedding (!).  I found this the most pragmatic visual guide to homemade rilletes online.
4. Charcutepalooza & Michael Ruhlman
This is a giant, year-long blog challenge.  Every month there's a new charcuterie-challenge - everything from duck prosciutto to homemade salami using Michael Ruhlman's book (link above).  Very cool.

This blog is a focused study on home-curing.  Highly informative, simple, and delicious-looking.2. 
I am kind of overwhelmed by this website but I utterly love it.  I totally aspire to that holistic approach to food - eaten, appreciated, grown and prepared with appreciation from every angle.

The original recipe I followed was an overly simplistic one written by Stéphane Reynaud of Pork & Sons in an article promoting his book for an Australian magazine.  And it had been sitting in my recipe book for close to 3 years before I managed to fish it out again.  It was an inspiration more than a guide, but it truly made this burgeoning pork devotee want to buy this "definitive guide to pork."

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day 2012!

I found this beautiful nostalgic Valentine's wrapping paper
at a cool Portland
stationary store: Papier Gourmet

Every year on Valentine's day I try to find an e. e. cummings poem to put in Matt's card.  I find his poetry so stirring, so beautifully composed and so unique.   
I just hate trite, overused and boring love poetry.  It's almost like a slap in the face to the idea of poetic expression.  That said, I see nothing wrong with buying things like pez dispensers and Russel Stover chocolates as a Valentine's Day gift.  Love doesn't have to be pretentious and expensive - it just has to be genuine.  And I don't care what crazy materialistic conspiracy theories the hipsters of Portland may spout - and I definitely do not agree with the decision by Roman's school to not allow Valentines or treats - I simply cannot find anything wrong with devoting one day a year to telling the special people in your life - friends, family, lovers - that you love them.  That's all.

Roman's Kermit Pez dispenser and gifts awaiting his return from school.
To that tune, this year I happened on a poem of cummings' that I'd never read, which is odd because I thought I'd read them all.  I didn't use this one for Matt's card but I loved it so much that I thought I'd offer it up anyway as a small inspiration for a day which, fantastically and quite simply, celebrates love. :)

* * *

dive for dreams

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)
in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neating each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.
silently if, out of not knowable
silently if, out of not knowable
night's utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiralling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit's born:
yours is the darkness of my soul's return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

- e.e. cummings
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