Cooking a big hunk of pork belly slow and low was one of the dishes I was most excited to create one I got my immersion circulator.  By cooking the pork belly for 12-24 hours at 145 F, the meat and fat become incredibly tender and succulent.  Since the temperature is kept low, the pork belly doesn't render out too much fat, keeping the meat moist and rich.
The dish itself is very simple so I wanted to use a high quality hunk of pork belly.  North Woods Ranch's Berkshire pigs produced these lovely red, white and pink striped beauties.  To season the meat, I rubbed them in red miso from South River Miso, then vacuum-sealed the bellies.  Total cooking time for these 2"x2" sections was 18 hours.  Afterwards, I drained off the miso and cooking juices from the bags into a sauce pan to reduce, then seared the pork belly in a hot skillet.

For serving I went with a riff on a Morimoto dish I had a few years ago: braised pork belly over porridge-like rice congee.  The creamy, bland rice is the perfect foil for the intense flavor of the pork belly, sauteed oyster mushrooms, and the reduced cooking juices of the pork.  Plus the slightly-sticky rice makes sure you can scoop up every drop of the intensely flavored juices.

Unlike my experiment with the chicken roulade, this dish really showed off the potential of using a sous vide and immersion circulator.  The pork's meat and fat were fork tender, and the juices that did come out during cooking in the water bath were intensely flavored; there was no evaporation to lose flavor and no broth or braising water to dilute the intensity.
 
Ruffled Grouse
At first I thought someone threw a rock at my window.  The sound of shattering glass was the last thing I expected at 10 in the morning...well I wouldn't have been expecting it any hour of the day, honestly.  Turning towards the sound, I saw my kitchen window was completely shattered.  A textbook size gap was missing from the center, with a spidery web of cracks spiking out from the center.  Soon larger sections of glass began dropping off, spreading the hole.

Looking out the window, I didn't see a rock, but a large ruffled grouse laying still on the ground.  Walking outside, I noticed the grouse had only broken the outer pane of the double-walled window.  I picked up the grouse, which was now dead, and carried it up to an old wooden carport on the side of our rental property.

Holding the grouse, I couldn't help but think of how beautiful it looked.  It really did have a mane of feathers around its neck.  Online I saw how impressive they looked when the feathers were completely puffed out and "ruffled" in display.

The grouse's spine was shattered right between the shoulders from the impact.  I knew I would cook and eat the bird; not only is it a famous game bird for eating, there seemed to be something wrong about just throwing it to the crows.

Cleaning the grouse, no blood came out.  When I finished plucking the bird, I eviscerated it and found most of the blood had been lost to internal hemorrhaging, along with both sides of the rib cage being broken.
Dressed, the grouse was just over two pounds
Classically, grouse is known for being a strong tasting and smelling bird.  I didn't encounter any smell, but perhaps the stronger smell is restricted to the more famously documented Red, or Scottish, grouse species.
I let the bird rest in a mild brine overnight to season the dense meat and let the muscles pass out of rigor mortis.  The next evening, I brought out the grouse to cook for dinner.  Sticking with the classic preparation, I rubbed the grouse with butter, thyme, salt and juniper berries, then roasted it under a few slices of bacon.
When the grouse was cooked, I made a sauce of the pan drippings, bacon, sherry, and thickened the sauce with the grouse's mashed liver and a flour roux.  Aside from the leg meat, there wasn't much of a "gamey" flavor to the grouse.  Even the gaminess of the legs was milder than I expected.  It's hard to describe the taste of the meat, which was milder than expected, but very flavorful.  It wasn't gamey, liverish, or beefy, but just had a wonderful savory flavor, like the taste of poultry to the second power.

While a peculiar turn of events, this certainly made for an interesting day.


In Thomas Keller's sous vide cookery tell-all, Under Pressure, is a recipe for saucisson l'ail, which is a traditional French garlic sausage.  Saucisson l'Ail is similar to the Italian salami cotto, where a pork forcemeat is cooked, rather than hung to dry and age.  I love garlicky sausages, so this was a recipe I was eager to try out.
Unfortunately it did not turn out well.  But it did teach me some nuances of cooking with an immersion circulator.  Keller's recipe calls for blanching the garlic several times in boiling water to mellow it.  I assumed this was to produce a more delicate taste.  In classical French grand cuisine, garlic should not be a dominate flavor, which is why the supremely garlicky escargots de bourgogne are regulated to bistro or common fare.  Thinking this was Keller's goal, I skipped the blanching step.

What I did not realize is that the low (145 F) temperature of the water bath would leave the garlic with a nearly raw, slightly harsh flavor.  To double the problem, I added an interior garnish of brandy-soaked figs to the center of the sausage.  Just like garlic, the temperature was too low to cook out the raw alcohol flavor.  While the results were edible, the dish was extremely unbalanced, with a biting heat from the garlic followed by the hot, boozy taste of the brandied figs.

So, not something to repeat, but some important lessons learned!
 


While preparing a pate using Berkshire pork from North WoodsRanch and seasoned with Wigle rye, I began to think about creating a chutney that would play off the flavor of the rye.  I’ve had chutneys with port or beer in them, but rye has a spicier, more assertive flavor that would require a different approach.
Thinking about past chutneys I've had, both dried figs and caramelized onions have sweetness, but also a strong depth of flavor that could match the rye.  Compared to the bright and sharp flavor of dried apricots or the exotic and floral flavor of mangos, figs and onions seemed like the perfect choice.
Wigle Rye Whiskey
To make the chutney, I caramelized the onions in a pan, then added the dried figs, golden raisins, a small knob of ginger, and freshly chopped shallots.  I added a small amount of water, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar to help soften the figs and raisins, then splashed in a few tablespoons of rye.  The fruits and onions stewed down for about 90 minutes, until they were thick and syrupy.  
At this point the rye I initially added had mellowed out during the cooking, so I added another tablespoon of rye and a few generous turns of freshly cracked pepper.  This sharpened the flavor of the chutney, which was at a slow simmer.  I pulled the chutney from the heat so that the flavors from the fresh addition of rye and pepper wouldn’t become muted with further cooking.

North Wood's Ranch Pate and Wigle Rye Chutney
Served with the pate, I love how the thick chunks of figs maintained their shape and added a nicely chewy texture to the chutney.  I thought the rye might be more aromatic in the chutney, but the aroma of figs really dominated. The flavor of the rye hid just in the background, but came out as a smooth note in the chutney’s finish.


 
For whatever reason, we are just now getting really good citrus fruits in the past few weeks.  Clementines have been abundant for months, but only since the start of March have I seen really nice Cara Cara oranges, grapefruit, and blood oranges for sale.  Poking about the rosy-cheeked blood oranges in the market crate, I was running through possible recipes when I thought of blood.  Pork blood.  Blood orange flavored blood? Hmm.
Blood Oranges and Fresh Pork Blood
Initially I thought of making a boudin noir style blood sausage, but oranges, orange marmalade, and orange juice kept making me think of a breakfast dish.  This pushed me to go with a black pudding blood cake, one easily sliced and seared for a traditional British fry-up.

I started by gently frying some diced pork back fat and onions together until the fat turned opaque.  When the fat cooked through, I poured off the rendered lard into a jar for later and let the onions and fat cool.  While the fat was cooling I warmed 24 oz of North Woods Ranch's pork blood with 8 oz of heavy cream.  To help the pudding set to a firm, sliceable consistency, I added a cup of Anson Mill's polenta.
As the blood warmed and the polenta swelled over a double boiler, the mixture took on a dark, chocolatey color and pudding-esque texture.  At this point I added in the onions and cooked backfat, along with a good amount of white pepper.  I didn't want to lose the delicate flavor of the blood oranges, so I added the zest and juice at the very end of cooking on the stove top.
To finish the cooking and set the pudding, I greased a terrine mold with the rendered lard from earlier and poured in the blood mixture.  This cooked for an hour and a half in a bain marie in the oven.  Once set, the blood pudding showed a beautiful brick color and a speckling of white cubes of fat.
I wish I could preserve that glorious, fresh-from-the-oven color, but once fried up in a skillet the blood took on the classic "black pudding" look.  I suppose I could eat it plain as a soft pudding, but it's so much nicer fried to eat with a bit of a crust.  To serve, I went with a classic pairing of blood pudding and eggs.  I also dug up a jar of my blood orange marmalade from 2012's canning season.
Blood Pudding and Eggs
While the marmalade had faded in intensity, the blood orange black pudding had a lovely perfume of oranges.  The extremely-savory, mineral flavors of the blood came to the forefront, but the finish left a light, fruity taste on the pallet which made the blood pudding seem less rich and heavy, inviting me to take another forkful, smeared through the runny egg yolk.


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