Saturday, June 03, 2017

Cretan Loukanika - Part 1

We went on holiday for a fortnight in Crete, this year. As ever, I loved the food, and brought back a recipe book. It's not without its problems. I keep meaning to finish a scathing article on the many things recipe books get wrong, but don't hold your breath for me to get that done!

Loukanika are also called village sausages, and the authentic ones in tavernas vary a lot from place to place. I tried to make some before, using a recipe that involved lots of orange zest and paprika, but wasn't really convinced they were anything like the Greek ones we had eaten.

Here's a good example of a problematic recipe! For a start, there's no clue as to how much pepper, cumin, and salt to use. And the method completely forgets to put the pork in... But we can cope with minor problems like that!

I had 1400g of pork shoulder, and ran it through the mincer. They may have meant the sort of malt vinegar that gets put on chips, for all I know, but I made a mixture of red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and a splash of balsamic. I used 700g of it, and I can tell you now, that turns out to be about twice as much as is actually necessary. As the vinegar seemed to be intended to cure the meat, I only used 30g of salt. Using the cooking skill known as guesswork, I ground up 20g of black pepper corns, and added 50g of dried cumin. It smelled about right, I felt.
Into the fridge it went, for six days, during which I obtained about forty yards of pig casings, from a UK company called Breck Casings. If you are not in the UK, you should be able to find a supplier easily enough with Google.

When it came to time to stuff the casings, it was obvious the mixture was far too wet, and I used a sieve to attempt to dry it out a bit. Even then, it was a struggle, with vinegar dripping from various parts of the mincer as I worked.

Still, the resulting fourteen sausages looked reasonable. They are tied with butchers' string like that so that they would hang easily over the wire at the top of my large smoking dustbin. You might not be able to see it, but most of the sausages are linked together by unfilled bits of casing. 
We had no cedar wood sawdust, and there was no obvious online source that wasn't asking for absurd amounts of money, so I used oak. You can see I added some herbs, as the recipe suggests, thyme, sage and some very nice Lesbian oregano. The smoker, in case you are wondering, is called a Pro-Q, and it does a very good job.
Here are the sausages, hung up in the smoker (galvanised dustbin) yesterday evening, with the smoke just starting. A few hours later, vinegar dripped on the sawdust and put it out.

I've reloaded the Pro-Q and lit it up again, with the bin tilted so that any further drips miss the sawdust. Once they are smoked, I will be able to report on whether they are more authentic than the previous batch.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fish, two ways...

This is fish the first way, a salmon fillet with no bones in it, served with some new potatoes, cauliflower, home grown broccoli, and parsley sauce from a packet. It was very pleasant with a white wine to help it on its way. My wife liked it, and there were no bones in the fish to annoy her.


These little beauties are sprats, and they are so cheap that I allow myself a big handful as a treat, when my wife is away. Treat? These cost less than a pound. 

I was asked to make these postings more instructional. So, off with their heads, use the pointy end of the knife to gut them, and shake them in a bowl with a little seasoned flour, until they are covered thinly with it. Heat a pan with some olive oil in it, and put the fish in. The lass in the shop, that sold them to me said she had stirred hers, and they broke up. No surprise, poor little things. After a couple of minutes, turn them over and give the other side a couple of minutes.

This is the result. I got a bit excited, and ate one before I took this picture. The flesh comes off the bones very easily, but it's a good idea to have bread and butter handy, to eat with any bones you might happen to put in your mouth. They won't last five minutes in stomach acid, so it doesn't matter if you eat some.
Then again, if you don't, you will have something like this left. Obviously, they go in your compost bin, and will make things grow well in your garden....

Bon appetite, as we say here in Wales!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!

Step 1. You will need to catch your herrings; I caught mine in Tesco, of course. Well, the sea was a little stormy this week, and I don't have a boat.

Step 2. Off with their heads, which will get used to make fish stock when I next need some. In the meantime, they live in the big freezer, along with the mackerel heads from an earlier episode of this journal.
I've given up numbering the steps, as it was far too much faffing about. As I was gutting the herrings, I was pleased to find they were nicely full of roes, which I saved in the freezer, to be used in somthing tasty when I think what it will be. Perhaps I will smoke them lightly and put them in a taramasalata. That's the only word with six As in it that I know, by the way.
Cutting along one side of the spine, almost all the way to the top of the fish, enabled me to open them out into the normal kipper shape. I'm going to have to remove the bones from any I try to serve to Mrs Walrus, of course, but these are not shop-style filleted kippers. I was going to leave the tails on, but it made them harder to fit on the racks. In big smoke houses, they use the tails to hang the herrings up for kippering, I believe. Having had fish fall down onto the smoking wood in a previous adventure, I did these beauties on racks. The racks are suspended  on hooks made from 2mm galvanized wire, quickly bent with a pair of pliers. At some point, I will make something that doesn't have to hang over the edge of the smoking bin, as that lets quite a lot of smoke out.

I'm not sure if you can see it very well in this shot, but smoke is escaping. This time, the wood was a blend of cherry, beech, and alder. I thought maybe the oak I used last time might be a bit too strong. Twenty minutes seemed like a suitable length of time to smoke for, and indeed, the wood ran out of smoke at about that point anyway.
Here we have kippers! They don't look raw, and are waiting in the fridge for a suitable breakfast at which to serve them. I've been trying to remember how we used to heat them up for serving when I was young. I'm fairly sure a frying pan was involved, but then again, the microwave does a good job of warming smoked mackerel, so I might just use that.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The duck is not getting smoked...

When I was planning our Sunday dinner, I thought it might be interesting to smoke the duck breasts for added flavour. But, as I hadn't done that before, I did an experiment on Saturday, with a chicken breast, to see whether I liked it.

This miniature galvanised dustbin is what I use for hot smoking. I bought it on eBay for a very reasonable price. Putting the smoking wood in the bottom and heating it on the lowest gas setting of the smallest burner produces plenty of smoke.
Here's the set-up with a test chicken breast in it. The shelf is a cooling rack, again from eBay, and the hooks are made from 2mm galvanised garden wire. I put the bit of foil in to stop drips falling onto the wood, as burnt chicken juice is not a particularly pleasant flavour! The digital thermometer probe's end is in the thickest part of the chicken breast.
Lid on, and light up! I kept an eye on the temperature, and turned the extractor fan right up to avoid setting off the smoke alarm. After about ten minutes, the volume of smoke escaping from the top of the dusbin was very much reduced, and at twelve minutes, the inside of the chicken had reached 55°C, so I turned the gas off. That's supposed to be the right temperature for a nice pink duck breast, according to the internet. If you happen to be in America, it's also, the internet says, dangerously undercooked. Since well-done duck is pretty much not worth eating, I ignore such warnings.
As you can see, the chicken is cooked, but still very pleasantly moist. The smoky coating on it was very strong tasting, and I think either a different smoke wood, or a lot less of it would have been better.

I was very pleased with the result, though. We decided not to use the smoker for our Sunday dinner, after all.
Here it is, with boiled new potatoes, steamed courgette and pak choi. The sauce has white wine, orange juice, and orange zest in it. The duck was delicious, as usual, and I really don't think it needs any extra flavour.

[Gressingham Duck, feel free to advertise on this page!]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Toulouse sausages...

These sausages are a step on the path to a mighty cassoulet that I intend to make soon. The inspiration for the cassoulet comes from Tim Hayward's book, "The DIY Cook". The book can actually be bought new for less than half the price Amazon are asking.

Along the way to the cassoulet, I have already made and stored confit duck legs, and petit salé, which is a sort of French cured pork, a bit like bacon.

The Toulouse sausage recipe I used, however, is not the one in this book, as I liked the look of the recipe I found online, on a blog called "Adventures with the Pig". I used rather more meat than he does, 2 kg in fact, and left out the breadcrumbs, which I feel have no place in a sausage. You don't have to take my word for that, and are at perfect liberty to add things to your sausages if you want to. Of course, they'll be inferior, but the freedom!

I used one kilo of pork shoulder (pork butt, if you are on the left of the Atlantic Ocean), and one kilo of pork belly. They were cubed and frozen, before being allowed to nearly defrost. Doing that stops the loss of delicious meat juice during the mincing. This one requires the coarse setting of your mincer, as it's supposed to be a nice rustic sausage.

Here are the casings, in this case, they are hog casings. They need to be soaked for a couple of hours before use. There's no getting away from it, these things are unpleasant to handle, but either you want real sausages, or you don't.
There are people who insist on using a hand powered mincer, and I imagine they have one arm very much bigger than the other. Here's what I use, on our trusty Kenwood Chef. I've had that plastic bowl since 1979, if you were wondering.
The other ingredients are thyme, black pepper, nutmeg, garlic, red wine (200 ml) and about four teaspoons of salt. Ordinary cooking salt is fine. You don't need Nigella's beloved Maldon salt, or kosher salt, whatever that is.
Here we go! Add the herbs, spices, salt, and red wine to the minced meat, put on your CSI glove, and get stuck in. I always hold my gloved hand under a tap, to attempt to remove the talc, or whatever it is, from the glove before I get started on this.
Mix for a good long time, until everything seems to be properly blended. This can easily take ten minutes, by which time you will have a worryingly cold hand.
Once you think you have mixed it enough, take a little sample, and fry it, so you can check you are happy with the flavourings. Adding more, if something seems to be lacking, is easy, but I have no idea what to do if I think I have put too much garlic. This has never happened, but I am a great fan of garlic...
Caption competition.

The casings need to be slid onto the sausage stuffing attachment. It's easier if you keep them as wet as you can. I'm going to refrain from all the remarks almost every other web site makes about this process at this point.

Load up the machine with mince, and away you go...

Left hand guides the sausage, and slows down the casing, so it fills properly, while your right hand pushes the meat down into the machine. If you are left handed, you will need to stand on your head, or turn the machine round.

You can twist them into links as you go, or when you have finished. I've done them both ways, and the results seem much the same.

In a surprisingly short time, you will have lovely sausages, in large numbers. I tend to divide them into groups big enough for a meal and cling film them before freezing them.