Savouring the nuances of cured piggy at Algonquin College

Savouring the nuances of cured piggy at Algonquin College

You just know it’s summer when the salt and chemicals come out for some very serious barbecue

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Above, chef David Neil of The Piggy Market demonstrates to the Algonquin charucterie Sunday class how to break down a pig.

JUL 23 14 – 12:25 PM — Nothing says summer goodness quite like a 120-pound hog gutted and cut in half lengthwise from snout to butt, then splayed provocatively across a stainless steel counter with butcher’s knives and hacksaw at the ready.

Summer barbecue season is surely an occasion to celebrate, I reckon, particularly when you possess the tools and know-how to handle proteins properly and not as credulous consumers who accept meat shrink-wrapped in plastic from factories far, far away …

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And so I’ve found myself on recent Sundays genuflecting with blades in the sanitized sanctuary of the Algonquin College culinary arts program, where I’ve been invited to join a six-week class with five gentlemen who share keen interest in the art of charcuterie. (There is no end of general interest courses available, including myriad cooking classes ranging from home canning and cake decorating to food science for kids. A listing appears here.)

Simply put, charcuterie is devoted to prepared meat products including bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâté and confit primarily using pork, although cured beef brisket and salted duck fits snugly into the category too. It is part of the garde manger chef’s repertoire, originally intended as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration but valued today mainly for the diverse textures and flavours that result from the preservation process.

sausage1Chef Warren Sutherland, left, and David Neil.

I’ve flirted with home sausage-making and corned beef for years, but figured it would be useful to learn from expert chefs like Warren Sutherland and David Neil who are partners in The Piggy Market, a local and artisan delicatessen and craft butchery on Winston Avenue in Westboro. Sutherland and Neil worked together years ago in the kitchen at the former Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro; Sutherland has since partnered with others to open acclaimed restaurants The SmoQue Shack and Slice & Co., so the two really come with impressive pedigrees. And, let me assure you, they know their way around a pig’s carcass.

Most students in the class seem to have a connection with the military, and asked not to be identified. “I’ve always loved cooking and baking,” says one, “and I want to be taught by professionals who can show me how to do a proper job.”

Another chap says he’s made and smoked sausages at home, and has two pork bellies currently curing in the fridge. “While I love cooking, I want to branch off into other areas I’ve not done before.”

sausage2Bottom right, hog casings as you buy it packed in salt. The casings must be well rinsed before using.

Even basic knife skills can save you big money at home. In one class, we practiced taking apart a duck — it’s amazing how much supermarkets charge for shrink-wrapped duck breast when you can do the job at home with a cutting board and sharp knife at a fraction of the cost. Same with home-made duck confit: Ridiculously simple to make, yet incredibly expensive in the store.

Among my favourites is home-made sausage (I’m including my recipe, here). The thought of making fabulous sausage at home that might cost upwards of $16 a kilo in the store makes me down-right giddy, and the variations are literally endless.

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Above, the fancy sausage-stuffing machine if you’re really serious about getting into production. For occasional home use and small batches, however, I find it’s too much bother and a lot of meat gets left behind in the machine.

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This is my low-tech way to stuff maybe five pounds of sausage meat, using a funnel with a 3/4-inch opening at the end you apply the sausage casing. Then, it’s a simple matter of forcing the ground meat through the funnel with your thumbs. You don’t even have to twist it into links if you don’t want.

My recipe for cheddar pork sausage, here, was inspired by the fabulous cheddar jalapeño sausage made by Mike McKenzie at Seed to Sausage. I don’t know his exact recipe, but think this one is pretty close. Remember, a successful sausage requires about 25 to 30 per cent fat content, otherwise it will be too dry.

IMG_5095I enjoy an almost country terrine-like coarse texture, so I only grind the meat once using the meat grinder attachment on my KitchenAid stand mixer. To stuff the sausage I use an ordinary plastic funnel with an opening about 3/4-inch across, which you slip the sausage casing over like a condom (sorry, but true). Simply jam the ground meat through the funnel using your thumbs to stuff the casing, which you can sometimes buy at supermarkets and can always find at Nicastro’s Italian Food Emporium on Merivale Road (check other ethnic food stores as well). I just use ordinary pork casings because the skinnier lamb casings are too finicky and often burst, while beef casings can be huge.

The casings come packed in salt, so remember to wash them well before slipping over the funnel or sausage-packing machine. If you really want to keep it simple, omit the casings entirely and simply form the prepared sausage meat into patties like a hamburger.

I also like to use nitrates and/or nitrites curing salt to preserve the meat and give it that characteristic bright red colour of cured meat, but you can leave it out — the sausages just won’t keep as long in the fridge, and may take on an unflattering grey colour. These salts are available online, sold as Insta Cure #1 and Insta Cure #2, through The Sausage Maker Inc. in Buffalo, which has made handy shipping-to-Canada arrangements to cover duty and brokerage fees.

This recipe makes about six pounds of sausage. Later I’ll post recipes for home-made duck goodness, perhaps home-made bacon, maybe a pickle or two. We’ll see what I discover in class …

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Ron’s Cheddar and Jalapeño Pork Sausage

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Makes about 6 pounds (2.75 kg), roughly 20-25 six-inch (15-cm) links

– 1.8 kg boneless pork shoulder, skin removed but keeping all fat

– 200 g salted pork belly

IMG_9460 copy2– 400 g cheddar cheese curds, diced

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground pepper

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried thyme

– 2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground fennel

– 4 cloves garlic, minced

– 100 mL ice cider

– 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) Insta Cure #1

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) monosodium glutamate

– 1 or 2 pickled jalapeño peppers, or to taste

To stuff sausage:

– about 6 feet (2 m) hog casings, cleaned and rinsed well

1. Refrigerate meats well, then dice to large chunks and pass through a medium-sized grinding die. Pass meats through grinder, thrn mix with paddle attachment on stand mixer (or use a large sturdy spoon) until the meat appears sticky, 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed. (This is done to emulsify and distribute fat well through the mix.)

2. Incorporate all remaining ingredients; refrigerate at least 1 hour while you wash and rinse the hog casings. Take a small sample to form a small patty; fry to completely cook, then taste and adjust seasonings in the main batch if necessary.

3. Use a sausage stuffing machine, or ordinary funnel and thumbs, to pack sausage casings with the seasoned meat mixture. Twist into 6-inch (25-cm) links if desired.

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