August 10, 2010

Canadian Bacon

Canadian Bacon
Home-cured Canadian Bacon

Canadian bacon is a much leaner cured breakfast meat than regular bacon and is easy to make at home. An essential component of Eggs Benedict, it's also a very fine sandwich meat. This version of Canadian Bacon is slightly altered from the recipe by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn in Charcuterie.

Canadian Bacon

1-4 lb. boneless pork loin, fat and sinew removed
1 gallon water
1½ cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1½ ounces (8 teaspoons) Instacure #1 ("pink" salt)
2 bunches fresh sage
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 spear fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
Add everything except the loin to a pot and bring to a simmer. Let simmer a few minutes to ensure the salts are completely dissolved, then chill for at least 2 hours. Submerge the pork loin in the brine and refrigerate 48 hours.

Remove the loin from the brine (dispose of the brine), rinse it under cold water and pat dry. Rest it uncovered on a rack over a platter or sheet pan in the refrigerator 12-24 hours until the surface feels tacky.

Hot smoke the loin for 2-3 hours (or roast it in an oven at 200°F/95°C) until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F/65°C. I used apple wood to smoke this one, but have been equally successful with the oven method.

Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Canadian bacon keeps 10 days refrigerated.

August 7, 2010

Sous Vide Salmon

Like many cooks, I've heard about cooking sous vide (under vacuum), but not tried it because the necessary equipment is a bit expensive for experimenting. Fortunately for me, I'm the Culinary Expert at my local Williams-Sonoma, and I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the Sous Vide Professional (TM) from PolyScience and the Caso VC200 Vacuum Food Sealer prior to the class I'll be teaching on Sous Vide Cooking. (For the record, those links lead to product information pages and I don't get anything if you click or buy.)

The basic process is fairly simple to grasp: seal food in a vacuum, then immerse it in a circulating water bath held at a specific temperature for a certain amount of time. The Sous Vide Professional certainly does a good job of holding a specific temperature. It guarantees accuracy within one-tenth of a degree, and once it settled to a temperature I never noticed any variation at all. It allows the user to choose either Fahrenheit or Centigrade, so no temperature conversions are necessary. And it allows use of most any stock pot or other vessel up to 30-quart capacity.

Cooking sous vide involves multiple steps for many foods. A steak or other meat might be flash-seared for about 30 seconds on each side, then chilled before sealing under vacuum. After cooking it will likely need to be seared before service. Eggs may need to be poached for a few seconds to make them look more like the eggs we're used to seeing. If you're looking for an easier cooking method, this isn't it. The foods I've tried also took longer to cook sous vide, sometimes significantly longer (one hour for an egg, for example), so if you're looking for a faster cooking method, this isn't it.

That said, cooking sous vide has some really good points: you can't overcook your food so long as you get it out of the water bath within a few minutes after the end of cooking time; nutrients aren't washed away by boiling water; you can get exactly the same results time after time so long as you remember the precise temperature to set and the amount of time to cook. The flavor of foods cooked sous vide is quite good, and vacuum sealing really pulls flavors from seasonings and marinades into the food. Additionally, meats and seafood come out much more tender. An inexpensive steak will be almost fork tender, for example, and the salmon fillet I cooked sous vide was buttery soft. Vegetables can be cooked until they're done without getting soft and mushy.

So, to cook the salmon all I had to do was lightly salt the fillet and seal it in a vacuum. I set the water circulator to 125°F and dropped the salmon into the water. Fifteen minutes later it was done. It was tasty and tender, but honestly, it never got above 125° so if I hadn't been putting it on a salad I would have considered it "cold" in spite of being perfectly cooked.

My verdict? That Caso Vacuum Sealer is the best non-commercial vacuum sealer I've seen. I'd buy one in a heartbeat. And if I decide that I really do enjoy the results of cooking sous vide, it would be hard to match the Sous Vide Professional for accuracy and ease of use. But at this point I'm just not convinced that sous vide is a technique worth the time and trouble for the home cook.

August 4, 2010

Tomato Chutney

This is one of those multiple-step recipes that I really hate to post, but it's just too good not to.

Tomato Chutney
1 orange pepper (capsicum) roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 Walla Walla sweet onion (or other sweet onion) chopped and caramelized
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium lemon, blanched, chopped, and seeded
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground allspice
pinch ground cumin
½ cup sultanas (yellow raisins)
red pepper flakes to taste
sea salt to taste
balsamic vinegar to taste

While roasting the pepper, start caramelizing the onion in a sauté or other pan large enough to hold everything. Meanwhile, blanch, peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes and set aside for later. After the pepper is finished roasting and resting, peel, seed, and chop it. Blanch, chop, and seed the lemon. Once the onions are caramelized to your satisfaction--it took me about 45 minutes--add the pepper, tomatoes, and lemon. Stir a bit, then add the ginger, sugar, spices (use more or less as you prefer), and sultanas. Continue to cook, stirring now and then, until the tomato liquid is mostly gone. Add some red pepper flakes and sea salt, taste, and adjust until you've achieved enough heat and flavor. If you decide it needs a bit more depth add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Store refrigerated up to 10 days.