Friday, February 19, 2010


As mentioned in Sausage Fest '10, I recently had several ducks in my kitchen. Most of the meat went into the roasted garlic duck sausage, which is kind of unfortunate, as sausage-making is supposed to be for salvaging scraps and cheaper cuts of meat, like poultry thighs. But, since I don't cook duck very often, I had to use most of the premium meat, like the breasts, in the sausage, too. Oh well.

After making the sausages, there were some very notable bits of ducky goodness left over. Their preparations are detailed below.

The carcasses. Of the many applications for duck stock (soups, sauces, braises...) all I could think of was making gravy to be ladled over duck poutine: potatoes, fried in duck fat, with chunks of foie gras. The worst kind of extravagance. But I want to try it. Badly.

I made a fairly standard stock. For some reason the colour of the finished product was off. Very off, actually: a greenish grey. I have no idea why this happened. I even blanched the bones before I started. It tasted fine, though.
A jar of rendered duck fatThe fat. It's remarkable how much fat can be rendered from duck scraps. I put my trimmings in a large pot with a bit of water and set it over very, very low heat. After several hours I strained. Cooled to room temperature, the fat separated into three distinct layers. The top most, and by far the most voluminous, was golden, liquid duck fat. The next layer down was light brown and solid. The bottom layer was white and solid. I don't know exactly what these were. The white layer was probably some kind of impurity, and the brown layer its caramelized cousin. The yellow duck fat, being liquid, was easily separated.

Two legs. Planets aligned. I had in my kitchen everything I needed to make confit of duck leg: copious duck fat, duck legs, a ceramic pot.

Confit is a French word that means "preserve". It generally refers to a specific method of preserving: meat, usually duck or goose, is completely submerged in fat (usually duck, goose, or pork) and is cooked very gently for several hours. The meat is then cooled, still in its pot, still covered in fat, and can then be stored for several months. To eat, the meat is dug out of the fat and heated. Usually seared so that it has a nice crispy exterior. The most common cut of meat to be "confited" is leg of duck.
First I covered the legs with kosher salt, cracked black peppercorns, crushed whole cloves, broken bay leaves, and slivers of garlic. I covered with plastic wrap and let sit two days.

Next I completely covered the legs with duck fat, and threw them in a 180F oven.

Then Lisa came home from work and, not realizing the oven was already in use, preheated the oven to 400F. When I next checked my duck legs they were bubbling violently. I took a long, treacherous goat path to make deep-fried duck.

Was the resulting product confit? No. Was it absolutely delicious? Yes. Go figure duck legs deep-fried in duck fat taste amazing. One leg was shredded and eaten on crostinis with herb mayo and deep fried sage leaves. The other was eaten with bread and grainy mustard.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alberta Pork Essay

Alberta Pork recently sponsored an essay competition, asking NAIT students how they plan to use pork in their chosen careers. Here's my [Editor's Note: non-winning...] entry.

Alberta Pork: Home-Grown Snout-to-Tail Eating
J. Allan Suddaby

Pork is intimately tied to two of the leading contemporary movements in professional and home cooking, both of which stem from a desire for sustainable eating. The first is the local-eating movement, which attempts to decrease our reliance on food items shipped from across the globe, and by extension our reliance on the fossil fuels that transport them. The second is the “snout to tail” movement, which strives to reduce waste by using as much of a butchered animal as possible. It was in researching and practicing these ideas that I fell in love with Alberta pork.

This past summer my girlfriend and I ate locally for two months. Having never considered where our food comes from or how it gets to our plate, the weeks were filled with new discoveries. We found that highbush cranberries and beaked hazelnuts are native to our province. We came across grains, like wild rice from Athabasca, fresh heirloom vegetables, as well as craft products like bread and cheese. The most fruitful discovery, though, was Alberta pork: not simply for its quality, but for its countless applications, and how much I learned about my trade by working with it.

Eating locally is not just about ingredients: the necessities of the landscape often dictate the ways in which the food must be prepared. For instance, the long Albertan winter demands the preservation of large parts of the fall harvest, so our culinary heritage includes ways to keep foods for several months, such as canning tomatoes and fruit preserves, pickling cabbage and cucumbers, and dry-storing root vegetables. When speaking with my grandma about the farm she raised my father on, she mentioned that they would also make salt pork in the fall. I had never heard of this, but after some research I learned that most of the traditional ways of preserving pork can easily be done at home and in restaurants. This was a revelation, and it started an all-consuming obsession with charcuterie.

My first project was making bacon. I tracked down half a pork belly from a local butcher. It was thick, with perfect striations of fat. I dry-cured it for a week, then hot-smoked it on my barbeque. The result was a firm-textured, rosy pink, mouth-watering slab of bacon that I cut into thick strips and froze for later use. I now work at a restaurant that uses a similar procedure to make house-cured pancetta. With modern refrigeration, we no longer need to preserve pork by curing, but we continue to do it because it tastes so good.

Another major trend in cooking strives to maximize yield from our livestock after slaughter. This movement has increased interest in variety cuts, as well as in several practices that have not been common in homes or restaurants in generations, such as rendering fat and making sausage.

The pig is renowned for its bounty of useful parts. The French say that everything from the pig can be used in the kitchen, except the “oink.” Besides the premium cuts, such as the loin and the extremely versatile shoulder, there are several lesser-used cuts like the flavourful jowl and hock. Beyond these one finds offal, like the liver, which is used in traditional pâtés. The hog’s utility does not stop there: the fat, especially from the back and jowl, is used in several charcuterie preparations; the intestines become casings for sausage; and, while most North Americans find the idea unsettling, there is a millennia-long tradition of using the blood to thicken pudding and forcemeat.

My own journey into the lesser-known cuts of pork began with simply adding a trotter to a vegetable broth. Besides meaty flavour, the foot’s abundant natural gelatin added body to the liquid. The pinnacle came when I made sausage at home for the first time, transforming a tough, cheap cut of meat into a near-divine creation. Sausage-making is also a great technique to use in professional kitchens, where it can keep food costs down by using up scraps.

Working with Alberta pork is my way of exploring culinary traditions such as curing and smoking meat, and making sausages and pâtés. It is my way of exploring my province and meeting local producers. Pork has become a keystone in my kitchen repertoire, and will continue to be so throughout my career.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sausage Fest '10

A charcuterie platter featuring homemade weisswurst, kielbasa, duck sausage, and merguez with Sylvan Star cheese
It started as a joke. A bunch of guys getting together to make sausage. A "sausage party." The more the joke was made, the less of a joke it became.

We convened this past Sunday with lofty ambitions: four 5lb batches of sausage.
At the end of the first batch a gear on the stuffer broke, and after a few hours of jerry-rigging and crazy glue, we gave up. The next day I bought replacement parts and, over three days, I was able to finish off the rest of the batches. It was a good "learning opportunity," by which I mean a real headache.

I finally ended up with a good sausage platter with the following items (clockwise from top left in the picture above):

  • Weisswurst (I think this means "white sausage"): a veal sausage in hog casings. Flavoured with mace and lemon zest. I was really impressed with the delicate mouthfeel of this sausage. The forcemeat was ground twice, and there was a lot more fat than the other recipes (half the weight of the meat, compared to one third in the others).
  • Sylvan Star Aged Cheddar
  • Kielbasa: classic Polish pork sausage. Flavoured with garlic and marjoram.
  • Treestone Bakery pain au levain, fried in sausage drippings
  • Duck sausage with roasted garlic and sage. Definitely a specialty sausage. I butchered three ducks to get the requisite 5lbs of meat.
  • Sylvan Star Aged Gouda
  • Merguez: A spicy sausage from North Africa, usually featuring roasted red peppers. Larousse says that it is traditionally made with beef, but I've only ever seen it made with lamb. It is usually stuffed into slender lamb casings, but I had neither the casings nor the nozzle to do that. This was the best sausage we made by far. The roasted red pepper added a lot of moisture, and I used a couple of the hot peppers we dried last summer. That little bit of heat really elevated the sausage. Elongated the palate. Delicious.
  • More bread

All recipes and processes were from Ruhlman's Charcuterie.