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.
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.
mid-week I ate the last of the engawa (the “wing” or strip of fatty flesh that runs alongside the outer edge of each fillet) as sashimi. It is a delicacy, with so little per fish, and I savoured every last piece.
Incidentally, this time of the year sees an unusual greenstuff in the stores: wasabi leaves. These have a very delicate texture and taste (they are not spicy like the root) and go well in a green salad.
With a couple of fillets to spare I made one of my personal favourite English eats: fishcakes. A far cry from the sordid pink-dyed textureless abominations served out in school lunches and canteens throughout England, mine are made simple: just poached fish and mashed potatoes very coarsely mixed together, with some chopped parsley and spring onions, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Usually I would breadcrumb these and deep-fry them, yet having no breadcrumbs at home I insted coated them with American cornmeal and fried them in a pan in olive oil. They came out just as crispy, just as tasty and are much healthier cooked this way.
I only really half-mash the potatoes when they are boiled, and make sure the fish is nice and chunky and isn’t broken into strands of nothingness – the overall texture of the fishcakes is crispy without and crumbly-soft within. On the side I had pasta made with a pomodoro sauce – nothing but fresh tomatoes, simmered down to sweetness and very lightly salted - and some mange-touts. The best recipes are always the simplest, and I always feel less is more: with such hirame and tasty Hokkaido potatoes to hand, they require nothing fancy or pragmatical. The whole meal is made with probably fewer than ten ingredients and salt & pepper.
The very last fillet of hirame I preserved in the traditional Japanese method known as kobu-jime; salted and pressed between vinegared kelp leaves. The fish is good to eat for another week or so when treated like this. I like to eat kobu-jime with the shredded flesh of a umeboshi pickled plum.
I can’t find a whole jowl here in Tokyo so I bought some pieces of pig cheek for yakiniku; butchered very oddly with most of the fat cut off in strange patches, but the closest I can get to the real thing. I thought I’d try some after just six days in the drying chamber – the pieces of meat are thin so they are drying fairly quickly – and although I think these need maybe another week or so, having some pecorino cheese at hand I couldn’t resist making some spaghetti alla carbonara. I have been converted: from now I will always make such pasta with guanciale, and not pancetta. The cure is straight from Ruhlam & Polcyn.
according to the recipe by Ruhlman & Polcyn; I think I added more Cayenne pepper than the original recipe asks for, and the sausages are linked smaller because I am limited by the small size of my smoker. These were smoked over a mix of beechwood and sakura chips, unfortunately they were fully cooked before they really took on a lot of colour, but they taste very smoky. Anyway this is what the sausage looks like sliced. This was my first attempt at a hot-smoked sausage and I am fairly pleased with the results.
Well I haven’t been able to cook using smoked andouille sausage since living in Tokyo so it was nice to be able to make one of my favourite dishes, jambalaya. Unfortunately I didn’t have any American long-grain rice, only Japanese, which made the end product a little more glutinous than it should be, but with home-made smoked sausage, ham ditto, good prawns and all the appropriate spices, it came out pretty well.
The hot summer here means I can’t really do any dry-curing or fermented sausages, but I have been busy making fresh sausages for my kitchen whenever I have time. I finally got round to making the rather cryptic merguez or mirqaz, a heavily spiced lamb sausage, from the Ruhlman & Polcyn book.
This is the first recipe I have tried from this book that didn’t turn out so well: the end product was too watery, too greasy and with not nearly enough chilli-heat. Their interpretation of a sausage from Barbary is also incongruous, containing both pork fat and red wine. However, this is all a learning process and every chef must tweak his recipes to suit himself. I found so long as the sausages were grilled rather than fried in a pan they came out very well, and being stuffed in lamb casings, are slender and cook very easily (stuffing into lamb casings is another learning curve). I found grilling a half-dozen or so and shipping them in a grilled pitta bread sliced open, with just some shredded lettuce and cucumber and maybe a little extra chilli sauce, made an excellent snack dish. Curiously enough some of my Japanese drinking buddies tried the sausage, poached first and then browned over a fire, and really liked it (lamb is not a mainstream ingredient generally in Japan).
With lamb casings being rather slim and delicate, I found the casings ran out with still some sausage-meat leftover, so I disposed of this in a pasta. It may sound eccentric, but loose sausage-meat is a excellent dressing for pasta, or mixed into scrambled eggs or omelettes, formed into patties or even cooked and crumbled and put on toast (try it). I fried the meat with red peppers, onions and topped up the chilli-heat with some cayenne pepper, before tossing with fresh spaghetti. It was very good.
Perhaps to ameliorate the merguez attempt my next batch of sausages were good old English breakfast breadcrumb bangers – no chance of mucking these up and they came out nice and thick and I used the biggest die on my grinder so the meat is very coarse-cut and has a good texture.
For my charcuterie I usually buy inexpensive imported Canadian pork in bulk here in Tokyo – I would like to use Danish but have yet to find any – and imagine my surprise when I spotted these on sale on the pork shelf at Hanamasa: pig cheeks! I am not sure if these have been halved or split but they don’t look very big…at least they look very fatty, and should cure and dry up nicely.
I bought one packet and froze it, so once the weather cools down a bit, I shall have a go at making guanciale. The batch of pancetta I made last winter is run out, so I need some stocks for my homemade spaghetti alla carbonara.
fishing for whiting on Tokyo Bay today. I stopped fishing at about 1pm as the fish were hooking themselves as fast as they could, and still ended up with a hug bag.
The larger fish were made into kobujime. Canned kanchuhai spirits helped it down.
Many thanks as always to Fujimi, sailing from Fukagawa, east Tokyo.
I landed two good-sized inada (young yellowtail) yesterday, both half-metre-class, and would have caught another, far bigger, but the decky was a little slow in stays and the beast threw the barbless hook at the surface as I bawled for the net. I can hardly complain as I already had two good fish in the bag. Both were killed on landing and a line passed through the spinal cord – how the Tsukiji market workers do it, and one reason why sushi chefs’ fish taste so good – and the fish immediately wrapped in plastic and plunged in ice-water. At home, one of the fish was cut into nice fillets and cooked very simply: dusted with flour and quickly shallow-fried in olive oil so it is still soft and juicy within and nice and crispy-browned without. Alongside buttered fettucine, I made a simple sauce of parsley, tarragon and button mushrooms, made in sake and cream reduced with the oil and scrapings in the same frying pan to complete the meal.
One of the tachiuo (cutlassfish) I caught was immediately commandeered by the memsahib, to be eaten privately, so I made do with making the Japanese dish kobu-jime: sashimi fillets lightly cured and pressed between leaves of konbu kelp. It is one of my favourite ways of dealing with fresh white fish, and improved by serving not only with wasabi but my home-made umeboshi, chopped fine. It also means the fish will keep longer (cutlassfish goes off remarkably quickly, quicker than mackerel) being salted and wrapped up in the kelp.
Lots of punters abroad even by 9am. There were some nice specimens of lacquerwork and old tansu chests I would think about buying if I lived in a bigger house. I was also tempted by a complete set of mounted John Player cigarette cards: Sea Fishes of the British Isles but thought better of it. However, after some searching I found what I was looking for in the first place: a Japanese traditional stream fisherman’s creel (called biku, 魚籠 in Japanese). It was very cheap and with some scrubbing and maybe lacquering, will be perfectly serviceable.
Anyway, on returning home the shirogisu whiting – boned except for the tail and spread out – I had laid out to dry in the sun were ready. Treated this way the fish will keep for a fortnight or so.