Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16th - Salmon with Mustard and Brown Sugar Glaze

(If you're vegetarian, you may want to skip this!)
As you know, this weekend my chef friend Tommy and I went to the Family Farmed Expo.  It was really a motivating experience that made us want to cook with farm fresh ingredients.  So, on the way home, Tommy came up with the idea of making head cheese.  At first, I was a little apprehensive.  Not about the head cheese itself, but of the process.  Growing up Polish, I am accustomed to eating head cheese (which I actually enjoy).  I knew the process would end up stinking up the house and I didn't want Brian to get upset (which, of course, he did).  Luckily, Tommy is very adventurous and convinced me that this would be a good learning experience.  As a chef, you always want to experiment and try new things.  So, I thought, why the heck not.  And here, my friends is my head cheese adventure from this past weekend:

This actually was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I guess you have to know where to look.  As it so happens, Tommy is quite familiar with where to procure a pig's head.  So, we went out to this old school butcher shop near the Illinois/Indiana border.  We ended up buying a 12 lb pig head for $0.59 a pound.  Total cost was a little over $6.  We took home our head in a bag and went back to my kitchen.  We proceded to unwrap it and lay it out on the counter.  Then we thought, oh man, what are we getting ourselves into!

Having the pig's head on the counter and looking at each other like "what do we do next", we realized that neither of us knew how to procede.  I decided to scan the vast library of cookbooks I had, but found no head cheese recipe.  We then decided to Google head cheese and found only a handful of recipes using an actual pig's head.  (Most recipes just use assorted pig parts).  I can't for the life of me find the recipe we ended up using, but the videos and recipes all had the same first step, which (to this day) is the oddest thing I ever saw in a kitchen.

Apparently you either need to burn off or shave off any remaining pig bristles the butcher may have left on.  Since I didn't want the smell of burning hair in my kitchen, I got out the disposable razor and let Tommy have all the fun. 

You then need to soak your pig head in a brine for at least 5 hours to overnight.  This draws out all of the remaining blood from the pig.  We made a flavorful bath and set the pig head outside (luckily it was very cold) to rest overnight. (Note: I finally got to bust out this 8 gallon stock pot that had been sitting in the garage for years.  I bought it super cheap on sale at Williams-Sonoma, but never found a use for it...until this weekend)

The next morning (Sunday), I got up super early, 5:00 a.m., to begin the stinky process of boiling the head.  It takes at least 5 hours for it to boil.  Since I was using a super huge stock pot on my not so great stove, I figured it would take at least an hour for the head to come to a boil.  So once I put it on the stove and opened the kitchen window, I went back to sleep. 

Once the head was done boiling, you need to take it out of the "stock" and let it cool down enough to pick through all the miscellaneous stuff to get to the meat.  (At this point Tommy came back over to my house).  I'll leave out all the graphic details, but there really isn't a whole lot of meat in the head.  We measured out 1.5 lbs of meat from our foraging.  While we were doing that, we let the liquid cook down with the pigs ears to develop the gelatin which will hold the whole thing together.  This was the most time consuming part of the process.  NOTE: If you don't let it cook down long enough, your "stock" won't have enough congealing factor to make the head cheesefirm enough to cut.  You want it to be as firm as a Jello Jigglers recipe. 
Finally, after hours of cooking down, we were able to line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, put down our meat, and cover it with our gelatinized stock.  We then let it sit in the fridge to firm up over night.  (Tommy took his home to congeal).

Once the head cheese sets and you scrape off the layer of fat that collected at the top, it's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  I actually didn't mind it.  It needed more salt and a little more flavor, but it was pretty god.  It's actually the best head cheese I've ever made. 

Would I ever make head cheese again?  No, probably not.  It took the entire weekend and smelled up my kitchen.  (Luckily the stink is gone now).  But, I can say that I've made head cheese now and like Brian says, I can cross it off my bucket list.  As a chef, it was interesting to see the whole process from start to finish, but I think I'll stick to just buying it at the Polish deli.

The Recipe

White Wine: $4.99
Butter: had
Old Bay: $3.99
Salmon Fillet: $7.05 (See Note)
Spicy Brown Mustard: $2.19
Brown Sugar: had

Total: $18.22

Being in an experimental mood on Monday, I decided to forgo the salmon and use shark steaks instead.  (It was the same price as two salmon fillets.) I've never had shark before and thought it would be a great alternative.  Plus, I like feeding Brian new things.


FAST:  This recipe took me 25 minutes from start to finish.  The fish takes 15 minutes to cook in the oven and another 3 to broil.  Prep will take you about 6 minutes to do the cooking liquid and to measure everything out.

EASY:  As always, this recipe was super easy.  There really was nothing hard about the process.

FRESH:  Surprisingly yes.  The white wine and Old Bay seasoning really pepped up the flavors.

OVERALL:  I think I like shark.  It's a really meaty fish (reminds me of ahi tuna) that had no fishy taste what-so-ever.  Brian enjoyed it as well.  I would have given the fish a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, but otherwise it's a good, simple recipe.  No changes needed.  (I suppose you could use dijon mustard if you didn't have spicy brown). 

Well, I'm all blogged out.  Tomorrow is St. Patty's day and we've got a Irish Soda Bread recipe.  See ya tomorrow!

No comments: