After taking the hog butchering demo at Mado, I wanted to use some of the skills and see how much of an animal that I could use (or more correctly, how little I could waste), but given that our freezer space is limited and we are a part of a great meat CSA, I thought that it might be wise to start with something a little smaller. After a long and fruitless search for whole fresh duck, I settled for a few whole frozen ducks from Viet Hoa Plaza on Argyle, a Vietnamese hub in Chicago. Continue reading
Rarely do you find a chef so associated with a single cut of meat from a particular animal, but when people think of pork belly, the name Paul Kahan tends to come to mind. For good reason too, he turns the humble cut into some amazing dishes with his teams at restaurants, Blackbird, Avec, the Publican and, most recently, Big Star.
The Publican is Kahan’s pork, beer, and oysters place in the West Loop and has gotten really good press. We have been a number of times for brunch and dinner and enjoy it every time. Now that Mado has stopped serving brunch, the Publican is one of two or three places where I’d choose to get brunch. In reality, I like the breakfast food here more than dinner. The waffle is one of the best things that I have eaten. It is crispy and impossibly light. And the bacon, as you would expect at the crossroads of pork belly, is wonderful and surprisingly different from what you would expect.
Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston get Becker Farm Berkshire pigs from Iowa and cure and smoke them in house. Then, instead of frying the bacon (or using the oven method), they braise it in maple syrup. The bacon is so thick that while the edges are crispy, the inside pulls almost like pit smoked BBQ. The flavor brings you back to the pancake and bacon breakfasts when you were growing up. The maple really comes through and the texture of the pork is just amazing.
After finishing my rashers, I nearly asked for another order to go. However my better half reminded me of the 4 lbs. sitting in my fridge and the other 7 lbs. sitting in my freezer. I would not ordinarily write about restaurant bacon, but this is no ordinary restaurant bacon. However, since you can’t make it at home, it won’t be rated and/or ranked.
Thanks to Rachelle B. at http://www.rachelleb.com/ for allowing me to use her lovely photo. Sometimes bacon is so pretty that an iPhone picture just would not do.
Working my way through the leftover bacon after the 4-way tasting, I grabbed the remainder of the Niman Ranch bacon and cooked it up. I am not terribly thrilled with the bacon generally, but in all honesty, it is a bacon that generally isn’t offensive and the texture is impossible to mess up.
I consider Niman Ranch to be a really good standby bacon. It is easy to find, so if you ever end up with Sunday breakfast guests and you have run out of Benton’s or Nueske’s, you can run out and grab some Niman Ranch and no one will complain. Not even a bacon lover. The bacon is unformly cut and relatively thick for a commercial bacon. The flavor is pretty well balanced, if a bit bland. The amount of fat laying below the baking rack on the cookie sheet is about 2 to 3 times that of Nueske’s. Continue reading
A man can not subsist on meat alone and in these days, you can’t walk through a market without tripping over a pile of macarons. I picked up a pair down the street at the Logan Square Pastry Market and a few more at the French Market downtown over lunch. These little sandwiches are pretty darned good and since I was sitting on some egg whites after making Crack Pie (see picture below) from Momofuku Milk Bar, I figured that I try my hand at the Macaron. By the way, make that pie. Continue reading
The runner up in the 4 way bacon tasting was the rasher than I feel won the flavor battle in a pretty major way. Benton’s bacon. Sitting in Chicago, Benton’s doesn’t really make much noise, but on a recent trip east, I saw it named on menus all over the place. Not until I read the Momofuku Cookbook, did I put 2 and 2 together.
Treating myself, I ordered the minimum order for delivery from Benton’s (4 lbs.) and waited a few weeks. When it arrived at my office, you’d think that I worked at the pound. People were stopping into my office and looking around. All of this action despite the bacon being cryovac-ed and then sealed in a shipping box. Needless to say this isn’t your skinny friend’s turkey “bacon”.
Upon opening the box, you get a waft of smoke not dissimilar to opening the lid on your Weber Smokey Mountain 6 hours into a brisket — and the bacon is still in cryovac. I knew that it would be good. When I opened the cryovac, wife asked, “Are you cooking bacon?” from downstairs. Finally, when I cooked it, she sidled up next to me and snuck a piece.
This stuff is no joke. If you like bacon, you will love it. If you are just luke warm on bacon, you will probably hate it. It is like a bacon punch to the face. You will never get it crispy, due to the thickness, and they even go so far as to say in their instructions, to err on the side of undercooked. I am guessing this is due to the crispy lovers (count me one of them) attempting to crisp the uncrispable. Continue reading
One of my favorite out of the way places in Chicago is Riviera Italian Imported Foods just north of Belmont on Harlem. That part of Harlem is more Little Italy than any other place that I have been to in Chicago.
Riviera is a family run place that carries most Italian staples. It is the place that I get salt packed anchovies and capers as well as dried favas and cannellini beans. For my dollar, Riviera serves one of the best Italian sandwiches (the Will Special) in the area (in a taste test from a great local food blogger, it fares pretty well). For Oklahoma Christmas this year, they helped me pick out 4 cured Italian meats to serve 20 of my in-laws and even pointed me to my first cotechino purchase (housemade) and did not leave me hanging as Mama gave me instructions on how to cook it (poach it, chill it, and heat it), when to cook it (New Year’s), what to serve it with (lentils), and how to rethink my role as husband and primary meal preparer (not going to happen).
All this is lead up to the real deal. A few months ago, Mike Sula wrote a story about local meat curers and referred to nduja, something that I remember eating on a recent trip to Italy. More recently two local chefs tweeted about it showing up in Chicago, one at his restaurant and the other at Riviera. Continue reading
Corned beef and cabbage is one of those dishes that is better in reformed leftovers than it was in its original state. Similarly how you can make so so mashed potatoes make great gnocchi or potato waffles, corned beef makes an even better hash. Corned beef tongue is no different. Continue reading
Growing up in Wisconsin, you live through cold long winters and short summers filled with mosquitos. You don’t get much in the way of perks, but the perks that you do get make up for it. You get great access to New Glarus beer, the Green Bay Packers, and finally you grow up eating Nueske’s.
Recently there is much written about Nueske’s in the New York Times or in fancy schmancy food blogs (this one is fancy, but not yet schmancy). After heading home for a weekend, we smuggled some Nueske’s back with us as contraband. It did not last long. A group breakfast took the entire package with some in the crowd asking for seconds that were not available. Continue reading
In the process of accumulating bacon for tastings, I had plenty of leftovers (and still do), so I invited a few friends over to get their take on which is their favorite bacon. We had 5 taste testers and four bacons (plus a sample of my own which was not in the running).
The candidates are as follows:
Benton’s — Benton’s is a bacon that isn’t well known in this part of the country and, if Benton’s is known, it is due to their hams. Made in Tennessee, this bacon is available in Chicago by mail order and the process is dead simple and the bacon cheaper than any other bacon on this list. I found Benton’s through the Momofuku cookbook.
Paulina Meat Market — A Chicago favorite that I reviewed here. Paulina is the Chicago Meat Mecca where you can find nearly every smoked beast desired. This bacon is the most expensive bacon on the list.
Niman Ranch — Niman Ranch is a California based meat producer that raises their beef, lamb, and pork naturally. This bacon is available in many grocery stores. I found it at Trader Joe’s.
Nueske’s — Nueske’s is a amazing pork producer from Wittenberg, WI and their bacon is the darling of the gourmet community. When I come from, this bacon is available in most grocery stores (just like New Glarus Beer), but outside of WI, it is available in high end gourmet stores.
Ruhlman’s Charcuterie writes about Corned Beef and with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, I thought that I would adapt it to include something slightly more interesting and more size appropriate to my small family. I had gotten a taste of corned beef tongue at Mado in Chicago while brunching next to recent Oscar Winner, and former Benjamin from Short Circuit, Fisher Stevens.
I had grown up being forced to try pickled tongue at my grandmother’s house around Christmas. Cut into 1/2″ cubes, the texture was offputting to say the least. I mean that it was terribly tongue like. What I realized, after eating tongue at Mado, was that if you peel the tongue and slice it thin, the texture can actually be appealing. Continue reading