My eye of round beef has finished curing. After washing the spices and sludge off its surface, and dowsing it with a little white wine, it is ready for stuffing into natural casing.
After reconstituting the casing, it seemed far too narrow for the beef to fit inside it, but amazingly, the meat went inside with surprisingly little fuss.
The casing is one of the largest you might use in charcuterie, the beef bung. It could easily fit a larger piece of meat, and much longer too. Then I trussed the beef and casing with butcher’s twine, which took a bit of time to get the hang of. In the end, it didn’t look too bad for a first attempt.
I went to hang the beef in my curing chamber, and Sod’s Law, it was just too long to fit. I hadn’t accounted for the stretching of the casing and the length of the loop of twine adding a couple of inches to the length. After some cursing, it turned out the bresaola will fit if I hanged it at a slight angle, with an extra line made fast to the other end so it hangs rather like a hammock. I hope it doesn’t make a difference to the drying. It should be ready when it has lost 30% of its weight; maybe 2 or 3 months. Curiously, although my chamber is not tall enough to accomodate the whole length of the bresaola, there is plenty of room behind the beef to hang another piece of meat – I may have to make some pancetta or something else.
What got me started in charcuterie: the quest for “proper” bacon in Japan. For me, it would be pork belly that is cured but not smoked, usually with something sweet added to the cure to offset the saltiness. I’ve made this bacon with white sugar, Demerara sugar, Okinawan brown sugar and different types of honey but so far the best results have come from using Japanese kibisatoh from Hokkaido. Some Englishmen may argue that bacon should be made with loin, to make the kind of back bacon common to the greasy-spoon English breakfast; the same recipe works just as well with that cut too, with a slightly longer curing time. Anyone can make this bacon at home without any specialist equipment or fuss, and it is a far, far cry from the horrid watery abominations on offer in Japanese supermarkets.
The French dish cassoulet.
Finally got round to starting my homemade bresaola. There is an online butcher here that sells beef eye of round, and as soon as it arrived I set to work. The cut has a fair bit of fat and silverskin on it, and these need to be removed. Once done, the cut is ready to be cured. This one came to 1700g when fully trimmed and prepared.
I used Ruhlman & Polcyn’s recipe for the cure, although I did not use all the spices they recommend. In my opinion, a lot of their recipes are over-spiced and over-herbed, but like all my cooking, I prefer things simpler rather than architectural. Aside from the orthodox amounts of sea-salt, freshly ground black pepper and nitrate in their recipe, I just added a few juniper berries and omitted the bay, thyme and rosemary. The beef is now curing in my fridge and should be ready for hanging in a couple of weeks or so.
Breakfast sausages in the making. Here in Japan your local supermarket will only really have American- or German-style sausages, almost always pre-cooked and rather watery (as well as the abomination of Japanese bacon). Whilst there is nothing really wrong with these local interpretations (although I cannot imagine what a Bavarian or Cousin Jonathan might have to say about them) I do like to have a proper English sausage every so often – Cumberland (cooked and served coiled into a fake, rather than being linked) or just good old pork and breadcrumbs. Colman’s mustard on the side, of course, and served with mashed potatoes and onion gravy. So I have to make the sausages myself; it is neither difficult nor expensive.
One of the kings of charcuterie, or perhaps of winter one-pot dishes: fabada asturiana. Mine contains homemade morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and home-cured salt pork – but I cannot pretend to have made the chorizo, which I paid a sinful price for to a Japanese importer. Some of the more flightier recipes call for saffron, spices and other delicate ingredients but I found the chorizo, rich fat salt pork and blood sausage added more than enough flavour to the dish and anyway I reserve my stock of Spanish saffron, jealously, like some kind of culinary John Elwes, for such deserving dishes as paella and Muglai biryani.
It is a hearty peasant dish and needs nothing else other than some lightly toasted bread and of course, a rich Spanish red wine to wash it all down.
these are made continental-style, in natural casings rather than black plastic and with browned onions instead of rice or barley. I also added some garlic and paprika, so they are really more of a morcilla than a John Bull black pudding. Straight after poaching they are cooled down in ice water, then they will keep in the fridge for a week or more. Despite the Spanish flavour of the recipe, they eat just as well sliced and fried with an English breakfast, although I also plan on making the perfect winter dish fabada asturiana with some of it.
after one month of drying. It is very, very tasty, and a great improvement on my previous attempt at fermented sausage. The flavours are really powerful and intense: cheese-like fermented aroma, cheese-like lip-smacking umami, and of course a great dose of delicious pork fat. The sausage could still use some more drying – the recipe says 1 to 2 months – although it is ready to eat now. I plan on leaving the rest of the sausages in the batch to dry for another couple of weeks. Whilst I tried this sausage on Saturday, two days ago, it remains to be seen whether I develop a botulism poisoning or not. Anyway, I think my next project will be fermented Turkish suçuk sausage.
After 17 days of drying the sausage is fully moulded and has lost 17.6% of its mass. I think the sausage might be ready in ten days or so but it already smells like a ripe cheese. On another note, on a whim I bought a new folding fishing knife that caught my eye at the tackle store:
This knife boasts some kind of titanium-alloy blade and everything else is made of plastic and comes with a guarantee from the maker it will not rust for 10 years or your money back. By virtue of its construction it weighs about 35 grams and packs small, a great advantage for sea fishing. I look forward to taking it with me to Ibaraki this weekend where I am scheduled to go offshore fishing with Captain Yutaka, and shall put it through its paces. I’ve destroyed probably a dozen or more fishing knives in my time, despite the makers promising much in their construction and design. The only knives that have really answered are a kind of CRKT Crawford-Kasper tactical knife that no longer seems to be made. I also have a classic Buck folder that is tough and holds its edge well but the blade has a slight tendency to corrosion. We’ll see how this one does.
To go with drinks: Hokkaido ikura, and home-cured gravlax salmon. The cream cheese is eked out with a little sour cream to make it easier to spread, and the salmon ones have some fresh finely chopped dill leaves mixed in too. Gravlax is one of the easiest charcuterie to cure at home, so long as you can get hold of good quality salmon. As any expat here in Tokyo will attest not many stores stock fresh herbs apart from parsley, basil and occasionally coriander, so to make this gravlax the hardest ingredient to obtain is the dill! I buy mine from the supermarket chain Ozeki or the department store in Ueno called Yoshi-ike. The latter has the best selection of fresh herbs I have seen in Tokyo yet, including other charcuterie essentials like tarragon, thyme, chervil and rosemary, at reasonable prices.