Monday, February 20, 2012

Smoking the Ham: Pig-a-poolooza continues....

Pig-a-poolooza 2012 started a month ago when we took possession of half a farm-raised pig from Betsy and Peter. Determined to try to do everything possible ourselves, we took charge of the majority of the porker in a freshly butchered state. I had really wanted to try making our own ham, after the success we had with bacon. On doing some research, we determined that we weren't sure if we had the right conditions to do a dry cure (although Gerry has since bought a temperature and humidity probe and is now charting our cellar conditions) and opted instead for a wet cure.

Now a leg of pork is a fairly hefty item to immerse in we improvised and sacrificed our wine fermenting bucket to the cause. Creating enough brine of salt, pink salt, and water we weighted down the leg of pork, along with a hock and part of a loin, with the lid of one of my pickling crocks then stowed the entire porky-soup out in the garage (sometimes it is good to live in a cold winter this would NOT have fit in the fridge). Three weeks in, we retrieved the hock and the loin and smoked it with the pork belly that had been curing in the downstairs fridge. Bacon heaven!

Yesterday, we retrieved the leg, hoping that the huge joint of meat would fit into our Big Chief Smoker. Miracle of miracles, it fit perfectly.

Now, never having attempted smoking something so dense, we started up the smoker at 1pm in the afternoon with chips that had soaked overnight in water. We filled once during the day and then again before we went to bed, hopeful that the aroma of smoking meat would entice any neighbourhood borrowers. In the morning we refilled the chips and went about our day. Two more fillings and by 7 pm the ham seemed done enough.

It now sits, resting comfortably on the counter while we talk about the size of dinner party we are going to have to really show the appreciation necessary to the fantastic cut of meat. I am thinking of taking it back to the butcher who did the pig for us and having him shrink wrap the entire joint so that it doesn't lose any of its presentation splendour. That way we can freeze it to last longer. Before that, however, we are going to research dry storage to see if we can avoid freezing and how long the leg may last.

With the delicious smokiness of this ham, I think a strong glaze of shallots, homemade apricot jam, garlic, and honey should just send it out of this world...hmmmm maybe the annual beekeepers picnic would be the just the place to highlight this gorgeous porker!

 Next stop, sausages.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Knowing the fat -- Rendering Lard

I know that mainstream nutritional media has us thinking that saturated fats are bad for you. Saturated fats are those fats that at room temperature are solids. We should all, apparently, be eating a balance of mono and unsaturated fats: fats which at room temperature remain liquid.

In the rush to provide this to a hungry (sorry) market, Big Food convinced us of the nutritional blessedness of margarine. I can remember buying 5lb plastic tubs of the stuff and recently had one woman tell me a story from her childhood about squishing bags of white margarine between her little hands to burst the packet of yellow food colouring within it.

Then came the transfatty acid scandal. It seems that in order to take canola oil (or other naturally liquid oils) and make them solid (like butter)-- hydrogenezation-- a chemical process occurred that created a new form of fat that our bodies have no idea what to do with.

The question then is, what about the traditional fats. My grandparents (none of which were farmers by the way -- all townies with townie type non-exercise jobs) ate butter and lard. My grandmothers  lived into their 90s. It was only in their later years that my grandmothers really experienced deterioration -- and these were age not nutrition related. My two grandfathers can't really be used as a case in point as one died of emphysema from his coal mining days and one died of an allergic reaction to medication while in hospital. So apparently a life of natural fats wasn't the death trap they are made out to be.

If you really want to understand how we got where we are check out the recent NPR story on Lard at Fascinating look at how politics creates what our food understandings are. For a really good understanding of the place that fats (of all natural kinds) play in our own cellular biology read a book called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon -- I really had no idea about the interaction of it all and the necessity of fat in the strong functioning of our brains.

So here we are -- we had half a pig that needed to be taken care of. Pigs are wonderful sources of clear white fat that, once rendered down, becomes the best lard you can imagine.

The kidney fat of a pig is where the whitest of lard comes from but I rendered all the fat (had to ask the butcher to bag it and not throw it away) by cutting it up in strips (cubes would have been quicker) and putting on a cookie sheet. Heating the oven to 300 degrees to start I watched as the fat slowly melted and left the "cracklins" behind. As the melting progressed I slowly turned up the heat in the oven to 375. After a couple of hours, all the fat was liquid and I poured the contents of the sheet through a triple layer of cheescloth into a large measuring cup.

The cracklins are left in the cheesecloth and get transferred back to the cookie sheet for final crisping (if you have ever eaten pork cracklins in the states, this is where they come from). They need to be fully cooked (not soft AT ALL) otherwise they just taste like soggy pig fat. Crispy they are a delicacy -- my mother-in-law Renny said as kids she and her siblings used to fight over cracklins and ate them on pumpernickel bread.

The lard, thus strained and beautifully clear, then gets poured into glass sealer jars. One goes to the refrigerator for immediate use in our cooking and baking while the rest are put into the freezer. Once frozen this lard should last for over a year.

The taste of homemade lard is much superior to the commercially produced lard you get in a supermarket and comes with the added pleasure of knowing that the life the pig gave up was respected by  complete and thoughtful use of all its parts.

Try may never go back to store bought again!