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For those that are already customers or readers of our posts, you are likely aware of the passion we have for the "lesser cuts." From shanks, hocks and offal to lesser-used roasts and steaks, when you're talking Whole Animal you have to talk about the "good, the bad and the ugly." Let there be no confusion... all parts are good, even the odd bits, but some take more preparation than others. There are two steaks we typically get back that seem to consistently give people a bit of trouble: Sizzler Steaks and Sirloin Steaks.
The sirloin steak is a bit difficult to identify if you're not talking specifically to your butcher. For instance, what we have cut as sirloin steaks are also known as culotte steaks, which are highly coveted by butchers and those "in the know", however sirloin steaks may also come off of the top sirloin or the bottom sirloin. Depending on schools of thought and training, it could be any one of those areas on a cow, and the textures are very different. For the purposes of this post, let us talk about what you'd get from us, which is the Culotte Sirloin Steak.
The culotte sirloin steak comes from the sirloin cap, which, as described by the US Beef Council is as follows:
" Boneless steak made by slicing the Coulotte (Sirloin Cap) at a right angle to the grain or direction of the muscle fibers. Because this Sirloin Cap is removed during the fabrication of the Top Butt Boneless, the opportunity to cut across the grain is gained, maximizing tenderness."
This area of the steer get lots of movement and thus has bold, irony flavor. By that I don't mean irony like liver, I mean rich and minerally like you'd like your steak to be (presumably). As such, you want to cook it quick, hot and rare... mid-rare at most. For our dinner last night, we cooked on a screaming-hot grill, for about 2-3 minutes per side, moving frequently, to ensure that all of the meat is crusted and cooked evenly. The old wives tale about throwing a steak on the grill and leaving it to sit, only to flip once, should be reserved for burgers. Steaks, however, do best moved around to maximize the char and crust on the outside. Now that I think of it, I may have to do a post just on cooking methods. Stay tuned for that. We cooked until about 130 degrees, counting on a 3 - 5 degree carryover when we removed to rest. This was dressed with simple salt and pepper, about 30 - 45 minutes prior to cooking, allowing a nice penetration of salt and drying the surface of the meat to achieve a better crust. We removed our steaks from the refrigerator approximately 20 minutes prior to cooking to allow them to come to room temperature, again, helping to ensure even cooking. After resting for about 10 minutes, the steak is cut across the grain, shortening the muscle fibers and increasing tenderness, resulting in a fantastic and economical steak.
Screaming Hot Grill
Now, the sizzler steak. This is a steak that we probably hear the most feedback on by people stumped on how to cook it and still remain tender. I decided to do some testing with cooking methods and now feel I have a good handle on how to get there and what people are describing as tough.
First, it's important to consider where this steak comes from. This holds true for all steaks, as knowing where they are from will tell you how much activity it gets (flavor increase, but toughness increase) as well as what you can expect from tendons and sinew. The sizzler steak comes from the bottom sirloin, right at the hip. If you remember from earlier, this is what's tricky about large muscle groups like the "sirloin", as it with one mislabel from your meat counter can easily change how you cook it, cut it and prepare it. Referring the chart above, you can see it comes from the bottom sirloin, below the top sirloin (duh) and is much further down on the animal's hindquarter. Its proximity to the hip means it's getting worked quite a bit, but will also have a big tendon running through it. This, in my opinion after testing, is likely where the issue with "toughness" comes in. The meat alongside this tendon is incredibly rich and flavorful, but no matter how you cook it, that tendon is always going to be tough. This is why when you look up cooking methods, they always suggest some sort of acid in the marinade, to help break down the meat and tenderize it. Problem is, it won't tenderize the tendon and you're still going to likely not enjoy the cut itself. We tried this method to test the most common suggested methods and didn't particularly enjoy it. It made the texture of the meat quite mealy and the vinegar flavor seemed overpowering. So, what to do?
Our suggestion: remove the tendon before or after cooking. We did the latter, cooking much the same way as described above for the sirloin, and then slicing across the grain once again. This steak is great when cooked and presented properly, but it immediately became evident that the tendon is what's throwing people off. Simply remove it and you'll be good to go.
These economical steaks are great options for the summer time grill and shouldn't be overlooked. They also shouldn't be relegated to overcooked fajitas, but rather deserve their place at the table just like the rest of the steak family. Next time you are out at the farm, consider picking one up and trying these different techniques and I assure you it'll change your mind. [Editor's note... we might be sold out now, but we still have other good options!]
So many folks have been waiting for chickens in the share, and this is the month! For those that are new to the CSA or to our poultry principles, we raise a few different kinds of birds that vary greatly by size and meat "color". We raise both the traditional "modern" style of chickens (Cornish cross), and more heritage-style birds. Cornish are the breast-heavy birds that grow fast, but have a much lighter-colored meat and more sweet flavor. The others, of varying breeds, have smaller breast sizes but do cook more evenly and have a larger amount of dark meat across the entire carcass. While both birds are tasty in their own right, they are quite different from each other. Chickens, typically considered a boring bird and a vehicle for other flavors, have a significant amount of flavor when raised on pasture and with the high quality feed, as is our method of raising. The cooked meat often tends to be closer to pink, or even red, while also containing a high amount of yellow fat produced by the copious amounts of forage they consume. We wanted to cover both the various methods of cooking the birds, as well as the various methods that can be used to extend the harvest beyond a single meal.
First, let's talk about how we get that perfect, crispy skin. One of the key secrets to crispy skin is a generous salting prior to grilling. This process is known as dry brining and is quickly becoming a common cooking prep method amongst all the recipes I'm seeing around the interwebs. It's simple, effective and most of all, tasty. For my tastes, I generally pre-salt chickens 24-48 hrs before cooking, and 48-72 hrs for turkeys on Thanksgiving. The salt not only dries out the skin significantly, but penetrates throughout the bird for a more thorough salt distribution, i.e. flavor.
GRILLING WHOLE BIRDS
Grilling whole birds can be done one of two ways— trussed or spatchcock. A trussed bird is the standard way in which people have come to think about chickens. Tied up tight, stuffed with herbs and grilled on indirect heat. With this method you can also add a bit of smoke by adding some wood chips to your grill or smoker for added flavor. The perils of this are that you have a hard time keeping the various cuts cooking at the same rate. Pick your poison with this method, so-to-speak... you can only cook one of them correctly. You'll either end up with perfect breasts and undercooked legs, or well-cooked legs and overcooked breasts. The reason for this is the cavity in the middle of the bird, which changes the rate of heat transfer to the breast area.
Trussing is a controversial topic. Some people feel it's crucial. Some people feel it's unnecessary. I fall somewhere in the middle. I like it for a utilitarian and look purposes. It just flat our looks neat and more traditional, but it also keeps the cavity closed and all the goodness you stuff the cavity well secured in there. With respect to if it makes a difference in cooking, science says no.
Basic Roast Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with the salt and pepper and fold the wings akimbo to position them closer to the body. Place the chicken on its side in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast-iron.
- Place the chicken in the skillet in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook another 20 minutes. (By cooking the chicken on its sides, the juices stay in the breast and, since only the back is exposed, the chicken does not need constant basting.) Finally, turn the chicken onto its back, baste it with the cooking juices and continue to cook 10 minutes. It should be golden in color.
- When the chicken is cooked, cut it into pieces and serve, with the drippings on the side.
If the cavity makes things tricky to keep even, how can we just remove that variable and ensure that everything is evenly cooked? Easy! Spatchcock the bird, essentially removing the backbone and flattening the bird so that the heat transfer and cooking times are far more even during cooking. Have no worries, you still get everyone's favorite, crispy, salty and herb-y chicken skin. Don't be intimated if you have never butchered a chicken before, either. Practice makes perfect.
- 1 large chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, savory, or a mix (optional)
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 medium stalk celery, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry vermouth or sherry
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
- Set oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 500°F. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove spine from chicken and cut spine into five to six 1-inch long pieces. Set spine aside. Flatten chicken by placing flat skin side up on cutting board and applying firm pressure to breast bone. Rub chicken on all surfaces with 1 tablespoon oil. Season generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper.
- Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Position chicken so that breasts are aligned with center of baking sheet and legs are close to edge. Roast until thickest part of breast close to bone registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and joint between thighs and body registers at least 170°F, about 45 minutes, reducing the heat to 450°F if the chicken starts to darken too quickly.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon oil in small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add bay leaf and deglaze with vermouth or sherry and 1 cup water, using wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain out solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately 1/3 cup remains, about 7 minutes. Whisk in soy sauce, butter, and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove chicken from oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with hot jus.
8 OR 4 PIECING
One of the questions we get quite often is if we sell portioned-out birds. The short answer: No. The reason is simple— it costs an additional 50 cents per lb. straight from our processor to do this, and most people flatly do not want to pay the additional cost, which makes it harder for us to sell the pieced birds. We also want to encourage people to cook more creatively with their birds. We want them to understand how to utilize the bird most effectively and how to take the bird from one or two meals to three or four. One of the ways to extend the bird's reach is by portioning out yourself, based on the cooking style you and your family prefer. In addition, you'll be able to save the bones, back and necks for stock, which you can add to the other bones after you're done cooking the rest of the bird. More on that later...
Alright, so the bird is done, cooked to a perfect 145-150 degrees internal. You've let it rest. The skin is browned and taut and the smell is taking over the room. Time to eat! Carving the bird is one of the areas that seems to intimidate folks more than most anything else. How do I portion it out? How do I get as much meat as possible? How do I cut it so it works for leftovers? All of those things and more are simple, provided you have 5 - 10 minutes and a nice, sharp knife. In case you can't tell, I'm a big fan of Jacques Pepin and the way in which he handles poultry (and most anything else culinary). In this video, you'll see how to expertly break down a bird after cooking, but also how easy it is with just a little practice.
This is where you make your money back— stock, or as the kids call it these days, "bone broth." Turning what would otherwise be wasted into gold, and additional meals. For us at HSF, we have a few freezer bags going at any given time full of bones, labeled by type. When the bag fills, we then use our remnant vegetables [which can also be frozen in a bag] and make a nice stock to use in a variety of dishes from chicken pot pie to rice, from soup to risotto. The applications are endless and just about any recipe that calls for water use stock instead. Why add water when you can add flavor, right?
One thing to consider about stock is, what kind of stock do you want? Do you want a clear stock (consommé)? Do you want just a standard hearty stock? How about a white ramen broth? For the purposes of this blog post, lets focus on just a standard broth and maybe in another post we can get into the other kinds of broth/stock.
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!
FINALLY! After a dreary spring and mild winter where mud was more prevalent that the shine of the sun. No need to dwell though, as summer is here now and it's time to fill the air with the scents of BBQ and grilled meat [and some veggies too— life is all about balance]. For our CSA members, June is the month of the grill and you'll have a great variety to play with, but we wanted to make sure you had a few ways to step up your grilling game and try some new things.
Burgers don't just have to be patties with cheese on top [not that there's anything wrong with that!]. They can be great vehicles of flavor when different methods of cooking and seasoning are involved. Here are three tips to get you started, but feel free to add more to the comments section.
Are you crazy? Generally, the answer is yes, but in this particular case, no. Fish sauce is an umami bomb and when combined with smoke and char, it's pretty much the perfect bite. You can use any fish sauce, really, but if you're more adventurous, head to your nearest Asian market and look for some of the more obscure ones with the entire small fish packed in. You won't be disappointed. Simply drizzle some atop the burger and sit back and enjoy the umami explosion.
- Clinching is a method of cooking that trades the ease of a grill for the flavor of the coals. If you ever look at the traditional Argentinian-style cooking, this is a popular method of cooking all kinds of meat. What you want to do is create a nice hot bed of coals and then cook the meat directly on them. While I could go into detail explaining, this video by Adam Perry Lang describes it better than I can: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=214431&sc=3022 [ editors note: We are not advocates, nor haters, of Weight Watchers. We're simply using their video explain our suggestions.]
Low temp cooking is a new(ish) method that involves cooking meat or vegetables in water for a period of time that ensures even cooking throughout, without the risk of over- or under-done. This method allows you to take the burger and sear it hard in a hot pan or hot grill, or even with the above clinching method, and still avoid undercooking the meat. This will give you a beautiful blend of even doneness with a hard sear on the outside. Amazing flavor and texture is the result and more information on the method can be found here: ( http://anovaculinary.com/what-is-sous-vide/ ).
Brats and Other Sausages
One of the common "issues" with cooking brats and sausages on the grill is that they break and/or split. More often than not, this is because they are placed under an extremely high heat, and the high temps cause the casing to contract to quickly and rip open. Some people are completely ok with the ripping, and if you're from the East Coast, you're well aware of "rippers" or deep-fried cased meats that "rip" open and are crispy and charred and delicious. For those that are not into the ripped casing, what you want to do is cook your meats on a low, indirect heat. A medium heat is likely fine as well, but you'll need to play around with your threshold based on the cased products you have. What you're looking for is a fully cooked-through brat that hasn't ripped. The cook time obviously varies by temperature of cooking environment, but indirect heat will give you a nice crisp, snappy casing and sausage.
Cook and Split
Growing up on the East Coast, we cooked our sausages a bit different than is typical here in Michigan, and quite frankly, most of the country. What we ended up doing was cooking our sausages half way through and then splitting them, or butterflying them, down the middle. From here you had a partially cooked and bound sausage that had these "rough" edges that were primed to take on a beautiful crispy char. So, here's how we do it. We cook the sausage over high heat for about 2 - 3 minutes per side. This allows the meat to set and bind up into something you can split without it becoming a Sloppy Joe-style mess. Once you've cooked both sides, remove from heat and slice down the middle, taking care not to slice through the other side of the casing, so that it butterflies out. At this point, flip and cook through over high heat on the exposed, split sides. This will yield a crispy and charred, albeit well done, brat that will be reminiscent of the East Coast boardwalk sausages.
Low Temp and Clinching
Low temp again. Yes, as you might guess, it's the same method as mentioned above and the benefits are exactly the same. By low temp cooking the sausages, you're cooking through, evenly, the cased meat, ensuring that the end product is an even doneness. By starting the cooking process this way, it opens up a couple of different options for finishing the cooking, one of which is any high heat method. Because you've cooked, and set, the sausages during low temp cooking, you can now sear and char over a very high heat without risk of the casing breaking into an unrecoverable mess. My preferred method of post-low temp cooking is clinching. As mentioned above, you'll be cooking directly on the cherry coals and utilizing the high heat to sear in flavor via char and smoke. With sausages, this is no different. Over hot, cherry, coals, place the low temp cooked sausage onto the coals and sear, hard, for one to one and half minutes per side. Remove from the coals, let rest and enjoy the most amazing sausage you've ever had.
All in all, cooking on the grill isn't rocket science. It is the most primitive and simplistic, of cooking methods. Wood/Coals, fire and food. It's been around since the dawn of time and our job as cooks is to leverage its inherent possibilities. Smoke, char and ash are all the elements that come to the table when cooking over fire. Hopefully we've given you some tips to take the ordinary into the extraordinary. Impress your friends with your new techniques and change the perception of what a "simple burger" or "Brat on a roll" can be.