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Irish Wood Fired Pizza

Following on from the post detailing our delightful spit-roast lamb adventure, I’ve added another page about the second big do at the island we visit – this time we built a wood fired pizza oven to celebrate the impending nuptials of our friend Benjamin. The page details the building process and the cooking itself, and is found here.

Posted January 28th, 2013.

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Badger Bourguignon

When my brother came across a recently deceased badger on his way to work one morning last year – he lobbed it in the back of his van. He has a collection of small animal skulls he’s growing (the collection – not the small animal skulls), though with the suggestion of a stew I was in. Here’s the account of our badger extravaganza.

I’ve since learnt two things about eating badger: firstly, they’re delicious; secondly – everyone, it appears, is a badger expert – everyone.

Of course I’m comfy with the fact that a badger feast may not be everyone’s cup of tea, fair enough;  also that some may find the idea a little icky – though I didn’t make anyone eat it. The voices of dissent fell into three camps (mixed metaphor alert): 1) the “how could you – but it’s a poor dear creature” group, 2) the ” you will die” gang and 3) the “people don’t do that kind of thing” types. Here’s some brief thoughts on these three positions:

 

1) “how could you – but it’s a poor dear creature”

Well, the thing is, I didn’t actually kill this one – it was already dead. Each of the contributors to this line of argument were carnivores who would happily tuck into a roast chicken or steak – just don’t tell them were it comes from. Upon being challenged that knowing were your meat comes from is an important act of taking responsibility, one person explained that they sort of thought they were nearly vegetarian – and might be if they thought about it too much; where in my view we should as a matter of course think about the food choices we make, it’s not an optional extra.

Two friends who are vegetarians really appreciated the fact that as carnivores we were happy to tuck in to our meaty providence. Regarding such issues I read an interesting book recently called The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli which documents the writer’s journey to being a hunter following periods of vegetarianism and veganism. It explores the issue of taking responsibility for our food choices by way of a thoughtful personal narrative and is worth a read. The author also blogs here.

2) “you will die”

This one did require a little more thought. Badgers as many people know are carriers of TB: bovine TB to be precise; which can in rare situations be spread to humans. The response to this is fairly straight forward food science, though I’m lucky enough to have my copy of Modernist Cuisine to help with such matters, a large part of the first volume is dedicated to supporting chefs and enthusiastic home cooks in their quest to understand how to keep cooking safe. Anyhow, pasteurising was the fella – so I decided to do a badger bourguignon (low and slow cooking), as well as sous vide the loin. It’s fairly straightforward to determine how long you need to hold a piece of food at a given temperature to achieve a safe level of pathogen reduction. Anyhow, there’s also a few posts of other fellow travellers who’ve cooked badger and still seem to be around, like this one.

3) “people don’t do that kind of thing”

This is not disimilar to point one, though less related to animal welfare, more to social convention – I’m not sure which I find more silly. One person actually said, in order to try and dissuade us from proceeding: “but I’ve never read anything about eating badgers”. I resisted the temptation to ask if the person in question had, in fact, read everything ever written – which seemed implied. Instead I was glad to be able to quote some text from Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food which tells us that badgers were routinely cooked in Ireland, often cured much like bacon, and were a common choice of meat in  England – often spit roast – as well as other details. We used to eat so much more of natures larder and many folk will balk at eating a whole range of foods that used to be staples – simply because of convention and mass production. (it goes the other way too: at a recent visit to a smokery in Scotland we were told that salmon was considered such a cheap and common ingredient that servants contracts stipulated it should only be served to them twice a week or less).

Anyway – rant over, we were committed (to cooking the badger in case you’re thinking of any other way) and decided to convene a meeting of the chaps. The meat was delicious, we all noticed the dense texture – almost like offal, but with a strong taste – reminiscent of well hung beef, and not particularly gamey. I used Julia Child’s classic Bourguignon recipe as a start, and used a technique suggested by Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook  to ensure a clearer sauce and less mushy vegetables.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

 

legs and arms of one badger: boned and cut into bite sized chunks, see above
one badger loin
200g streaky bacon, cut into lardons
some neutral oil (e.g.: rapeseed)
2 carrots, chopped into rounds
1 large onion, sliced
bottle robust red wine
500ml beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
50g unsalted butter
teaspoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, sliced
250g fresh mushrooms
2 carrots cut into batons
50 grams butter, cubed

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 160°C

2) Saute bacon to render fat in pan, set bacon aside.

3) Add some oil and heat to nearly smoking and, in batches, fry the meat from the badger arms and legs until browned, set aside.

4) Fry the carrot rounds and onions in the oil until browned, add the garlic for the last few minutes.

5) Add the vegetables and reserved bacon to a casserole dish and add the tomato paste and herbs.

6) Cover this layer with a double layer of muslin then place the reserved badger meat in an even layer on top of the muslin.

7) Pour in the red wine and stock in equal amounts to cover the meat, season with salt.

8) Add the casserole, covered in foil to the oven and cook for 4-5 hours.

9) Whilst the braise is cooking, add the loins with the butter to a sous vide bag. Seal, and cook at 65°C for around 75 minutes depending on thickness of the loins – to achieve pasteurisation. Reserve.

10) When the meat is ready, cook the mushrooms and carrots.

11) Reserve the meat in a warm dish using a slotted spoon to remove it from the casserole dish, avoiding disturbing the muslin layer (and so avoiding the layer of aromatics from touching the meat).

12) Pour the braising liquid into a pan through a chinois lined with a double layer of muslin, discarding all the vegetables and herbs.

13) Reduce sauce by 25-50%, skimming off any scum that appears on the surface.

14) Thicken the liquid if necessary using method of choice, and season with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar if necessary, whisk in cubed butter.

15) Toss with the meat and warm through, adding the just cooked vegetables and the end, top with the (warmed if necessary) loins.

16) Serve to courageous, badger loving comrades, with a gorgeous rioja and some derring do.

 

Posted January 28th, 2013.

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Spit Roast Lamb!

I’ve added a page to the site which describes how we designed and built a spit for roasting lamb – using old bicycle and a washing machine motor. We then carted the whole thing to an Island on Fermanagh – here’s the tale.

Posted January 5th, 2013.

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Prosciutto Update

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Yesterday (mid February) was elevation day for our cured ham. As mentioned the pig leg had been curing in the fridge for 16 days and so it was time to prep it for hanging. The curing process allowed the skin to take on a darker, richer hew. As the pics below show, after rinsing the salt cure off, the next step is to cover any of the exposed flesh with lard (an oddly pleasurable job…). This step adds a protective layer like the skin, and also ensures that the drying process happens at a similar rate for the whole ham. Then it’s time to add a layer of crushed black pepper to discourage beasties. Another protective measure is to wrap the ham in four layers of muslin: the leg’s now ready to be hung.


Time for elevation! My brother has a beautiful garden housing some fabulous mature trees: a perfect spot for Swine Haus. Although an even more fitting reason to have the ham dry there is that it’s being prepared for his forthcoming nuptials in June.

Swine Haus was constructed using flotsam and jetsam I had lying around: some wooden batons, tongue and groove, plastic corrugated sheet and some chicken wire. The principal was to create a sheltered section above the ham in order to keep rain off – but to incorporate open spaces to the side and below the structure to maximise air flow to the ham to encourage the drying process – we’ll see how that’s worked in a few months time. We used some carabiners we had lying around to balance the Haus and to fabricate a makeshift pulley – the Haus is easy to allow down for inspection.


Posted February 13th, 2012.

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