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With both personal eating habits and the CSA, it's important for us to respect the animals that are part of our food chain. This extends not only to consuming the whole animal, but also the "forgotten harvest" animals. Boars, older cows, old laying hens and, in the case of this month's CSA, mutton. These particular ewes are Icelandic Sheep from Fence Row Farm in Charlotte. Icelandic Sheep are known for their delicate flavor, so even older animals don't have the heavy lanolin flavor that turn some people off to sheep meat, whether lamb or mutton. While you can enjoy mutton in a variety of cuts, today we'll focus on saddle chops and burgers.
Before we get to burgers, I want to touch on our saddle chops. "Saddle chops, what the heck are saddle chops?", you might ask. The best way to explain saddle chops is to think about two lamb chops together [sitting over the back of the animal, like a saddle], instead of split down the middle. With typical chops, you split the carcass in half, down the spine, and remove the chops from the loin on each side. Here, we keep the carcass intact and simply cut down each side of the ribs, so the two sides of the loin are intact across the spine. This provides for not only more meat, but a beautiful presentation that your friends are unlikely to have ever seen before. We had one for dinner last night (product research and development— it's a tough job but someone has to do quality control!) and it exceeded all expectations. We worked with our processor to age these animals for 14 days, which is very atypical for lamb or mutton. Why did we do that, you ask? It's common practice for beef [think the scene from Rocky where he's in the meat locker]. It allows for tenderness and flavor development The results will speak for themselves.
Mutton Saddle Chops with salt, pepper and thyme
Defrost your saddle chop the night before you're going to cook it. Once defrosted, the morning of the day in which you're going to cook it, generously salt both sides of the chop and return to the fridge for the day.
When you're ready to get the grill going, remove the chop from the fridge and let come to room temperature.
Get your grill going and set up in such a way that you can cook with both direct and indirect heat.
Before you place the chop on the grill, rub generously with a fresh bunch of thyme on both sides. Separate the bunch and press so that it sticks on the meat and you can grill with it sticking to the meat.
Once the grill is ready, start the chop on the indirect side of the grill and cook, flipping every 1 - 2 minutes until an internal temp reaches between 110 and 120. Remove from heat and let cool down for about 5 - 10 minutes.
While your meat is coming down in temp, make sure that your direct heat side is screaming hot. Do not remove any sprigs of thyme that have remained stuck to the meat.
When the grill is screaming hot, place the steak on the grill and move frequently over the course of 1 - 2 minutes per side. This will give you full coverage of the surface of the meat. Grill marks are overrated and are lost opportunities for crust and flavor development. Keep flipping and when your chop hits 130 - 135, remove from grill and let rest for 5 - 10 minutes.
When it comes to making burgers by hand, there are as many methods and opinions as there are ... Well you know how the saying goes. The following is how we do it at HSF, and we think it works pretty well. The key to a good burger is an even shape, a light pack and proper cooking. What you don't want to do is mix the ground meat so much that it becomes sticky and paste-like. This is is what you're looking for in sausage making, to ensure a bind of the meat, but for burgers, it's about a light mixing and letting the cooking process help to develop the binding of the meat. This will ensure even cooking and a juicy burger. A great reference for this, and even more specific detail is from Serious Eats:
One of the great things about mutton, and lamb for that matter, is the boldness of the flavor. Note that I did not say "gamey." Gamey meat is a result of a poor diet and, to some degree, the breed of the sheep. These mutton are older Icelandic ewes and the flavor is clean, bold and quite frankly, an umami bomb. The aging mentioned above is a great tool to help bring this characteristic out and we couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.
When you think of flavors to pair with mutton or lamb, except for simply salt and pepper of course, you think of anything from mint to yogurt, from cumin to spicy chilis. The ability of the mutton to hold and support flavor is unparalleled when you're talking about a "red" meat. Recipes are numerous, so I'll spare you the detailing of all them here, but I will provide you with a few flavor combinations and recipes that are a favorite for us:
- Cumin, coriander and thyme
- Smoked paprika and fennel
- Curry and mint
- Mint, parsley, garlic and lemon zest
- Grilled or charred onions
- Tzatziki Sauce
- Cumin and Yogurt
- Mint jelly, chutney or oil
- Cumin Crust
All the spicing and shaping in the world will be for naught if you don't grill or cook the burger correctly. The best methods for cooking a burger, in our opinion, are with a cast iron pan, broiler or on a charcoal grill. Here are two reference articles from J. Kenji Lopez over at Serious Eats again. In case you haven't picked up on it btw, he's one of my favorite food science guys on the web and I refer to his work a lot.
We'd love to hear how you take these tips and make them your own... let us know in the comments!
This week has been a stern reminder that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. You can see your breathe and a sweatshirt is a requirement. Now that the days of shorts are just about over and harvest season is in sight, it's time to switch from outdoor recipes to bone sticking indoor cooking and that means braises and roasts. This share is a kickstart to fall with the inclusion of chicken and duck, both a great option for those stick-to-your-bones meals we mentioned.
Chicken in Milk
This is perhaps one of the best recipes for chicken I've ever made and, on top of that, it's dead simple. This recipe gives you an easy way to bring a roast chicken to the table, while also providing enough food to last a few days an extend the reach of the bird. If you're so inclined, we save the bones after eating and use them in stock, only furthering the use of the chicken and giving you more for the money.
Slow Roasted Duck
For us, duck is a beautiful meal in the fall. It's rich, it has crispy skin and the smell is just amazing. With the abundance of fat that is typically found on duck compared to chicken, roasting the duck with vegetables pretty much gives you a one-pot meal that's fit for a king. When it comes to how to cook duck, there is no one we trust more than Hank Shaw, who is not only a close friend, but also the author of Duck, Duck, Goose, veritable Bible for cooking any species of waterfowl you can think of. His recipe for slow roasted duck is a great place to start, and you won't go wrong.
As you may have guessed from the title, we at Ham Sweet Farm have officially declared September, Fried Chicken Month. Now, no one should ever need an excuse to cook fried chicken, but this now makes you unpatriotic if you don't partake. So, why fried chicken you might ask? Why not? This month's chicken is the last batch of the season (we do still have a ton in the freezer) and represents the oldest birds we've processed for meat to date. They were approximately 16 weeks old and the breed was Speckled Sussex. They are a heritage breed that is incredibly active and were often found sprinting around the farm getting into trouble. All this activity, combined with their older age, came together to produce a supremely flavorful bird that we couldn't be happier with. These birds are smaller birds and as such make a fantastic fryer bird. You'll be getting the bird cut into 8 pieces, just how you need it for Fried Chicken Month.
Never made fried chicken? No problem, because we have the most amazing recipe for you. We tested this recipe a couple of weeks ago and everyone involved remarked that it was the best fried chicken they had ever had. I would have to agree, as the flavor and tenderness were superb. So, what's the secret? It's arguably sacrilegious, but the secret is par-cooking, or cooking until almost done at low temperature so that when you fry it, there is no worry of it being uncooked. The recipe comes from Ed Lee out of Kentucky and is easy peasy to follow.
Little pro tip to plus up the chicken. Heat some honey in a pan with a few berries of all spice or juniper until fragrant. When the chicken is plated and ready to serve, drizzle the honey over the top. You won't be disappointed.
In addition to the chicken, you'll have some great steaks and brats for the final months of grilling season, so make sure you enjoy the nice weather while it's still here.
If you were to ask people, "What is your most feared meal?", chances are it would be Thanksgiving. The meal is always a large one, usually with many people around the table, all eyes on the pièce de la résistance. This is what we think of when we think about the Thanksgiving table, and no one wants to be remembered as the one who ruined an avian centerpiece. The fear is unwarranted, however, as with a few steps ahead of time and some careful planning the day of, you should be able to avoid a dry, tasteless turkey and have something remarkable for your guests and/or family.
Heritage vs. Broad Breasted
One of the main reasons people fear cooking a turkey is because conventional turkeys have been bred to the point of massive breasts and overall unnatural size and growth rates— weighing in well over 20lbs when they are processed! If there is one thing that's certain in this world, it's that a wild turkey or any heritage breed turkey, will rarely, if ever, weigh in past 20lbs dressed weight. You see, while the Broad Breasted Whites are the Kardashians of the turkey world, our heritage breed birds are far more in proportion, with a whole lot more flavor to bring to the table (pun intended). They have smaller breasts, much more proportional bodies and higher distribution of intramuscular fat [not to mention being far less obnoxious and way more useful than any Kardashian, ever]. All of these things mean that we need to cook these turkeys differently, but when done right, you'll be met with some superb flavor. If this is your first time having a pastured, heritage breed bird, well, you are in for quite a treat.
Cooking and Prep
Cooking a turkey is not difficult in the least if you pay attention and think it through. It all starts with the prep of the animal, and as far as I see it, there are three basic options as to how you begin the Turkey Day ritual. Lets take a look at these methods now.
It seems that the most popular way to prep a turkey is to brine it. Brine is simply a solution made up of water, salt, sugar and various other aromatics to impart flavor and water into the bird. Notice I said flavor AND water, which is key to understand. The water is what keeps the bird seemingly "moist", however it's a bit of a misnomer, as it's not so much moist so much as it is wet. When meat is tender, it's because of the fat, the protein breakdowns, etc. Think dry-aged beef for instance— it's the fat and the protein breakdown from the aging that improves the texture, not a brine. The same is true for turkeys.There is 0 shame in the brine, so long as you're aware of why it works and what it's doing. If you do happen to take this path, make sure to pull the bird out of the brine with adequate time to let the bird come up to room temp and for the skin to dry. Do not cook from cold, as this will both slow down cooking times, as well as begin the horrible uneven cooking process.
If you're interested in detailed science and studies around brining (I know this is odd), here is a fantastic article on it: http://www.genuineideas.com/ArticlesIndex/brine.html
If we're keeping with common tradition and going to put a whole bird on the table, this is my go-to method. It's also incredibly simple, yet so very effective. Take 1/2 to 1 tbsp of salt per pound of bird, and very generously salt the skin of the bird. Place on a wire rack over a plate or pan in the fridge for 24-48 hours. About 2 hours before you're ready to cook, remove the bird from the fridge to allow it to come up to room temperature and then begin the roasting process. This prep method has proven to create the most crispy skin and evenly seasoned bird of the methods mentioned here. I use this very same method on pretty much any bird I cook, except duck, but that's a post for another day. What happens here is that the salt helps to pull out the moisture from the skin, as well as break down some of the protein in the muscle, creating tenderness, as it migrates throughout the bird.
If you can get away from the traditional mindset of a whole turkey, trussed and stuffed, the absolute best way to cook a turkey is in rolled form. One of the biggest challenges with cooking a whole turkey is that different parts of the bird do best at different temps and different lengths of time [think legs vs. breast]. When cooking a whole bird, you're really in an exercise of compromise, trying to find the happy medium. However, if you modify your cooking shape, you can unify the cooking times and create a much more evenly-cooked turkey, but in a non-traditional form. I know that boning out a turkey may seem daunting, but with a little bit of patience and a sharp paring knife, you can accomplish it with no problem. Here is a great video for deboning a chicken, which is exactly the same as a turkey, just on the obviously smaller scale.
Now that you have a prep method, you're going to need to make sure you cook it to the right temp. If you read any conventional cooking method instructions for typical turkey, they will suggest pulling the bird at a temp of 160 - 180. If you happen to hit anywhere near that temp with a heritage bird, which has smaller breasts, you will have a beautiful mount for your wall, rather than a delicious heritage bird. Don't do it! For a heritage bird, you want to cook to 145 degrees. A meat thermometer is essential, and for a whole roast bird, you're looking at 6-8 minutes per pound at about 400 degrees. When you pull the bird, you'll get carry over of about 10 degrees, leaving your dark meat at about 155, which is perfect. You can go lower temp if you choose, but the time per pound will obviously increase (325 is 12 - 15 minutes per pound). Invest in a good instant read thermometer to monitor the thigh and breast meat, they are indispensable. You'll want to ensure that your thigh is cooked to 145
Stretching the Bird
No, don't physically stretch your turkey out! People splurge on holiday turkeys, we all know this, but there are way to extend your purchase beyond Thanksgiving dinner and Leftovers sandwiches. Save the bones and gristle that's left over and make a stock. Take that stock and remaining meat and make some pot pie. Save the bones again and make a remoulage.
Recipes to get you going