Chef Mark Mendez runs the kitchen at his West Loop restaurant Vera. It is no secret that Vera is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Food is simple without being simple. Complex flavors and textures are everywhere, but nothing seems fussed over and no extra ingredients are strewn across the plate. His philosophy of keeping things simple and making sure everything included is high quality and necessary inspired most of my decisions in my kitchen design project and one of the first things cooked in the kitchen, these beef tongue and caper sausages, were inspired by a signature Mendez dish – the Beef Tongue Pincho. Continue reading »
Sometimes the things I throw on the smoker are fancy and sometimes they are silly, but in the case of bacon trotter gear, the output is of maximum utility and minimum beauty. It combines two staples in my kitchen, bacon and trotter gear, into a single delicious deli container full of the actual foodstuff that makes everything better, gelatinous pork stock, amplified by the flavor that everyone claims makes everything better, bacon.
If you live in or have spent time in Chicago, you likely know about Italian Beef. If you don’t or haven’t, you may not. It is not actually Italian and it is only beef in theory. There is not anything particularly beefy about it. It is usually comprised of an ultra-lean cut of beef that is cooked medium, then shaved on a deli slicer, and then cooked again in its juices. Then it is shoved into a hard roll, topped with giardiniera, and dipped back into the juices. To me, it is a monstrosity. Continue reading »
This project has been in the hopper for years, literally. Three years after attending the first butchering demo from Rob Levitt, done while at Mado, and following with the “Dueling Testas” demo, I have deboned a pig’s head. What seemed impossible after watching Rob do it at the demo is not only currently possible, but something that with a little practice, everyone should be doing. Continue reading »
Each week this Spring, it seems, a new flashy cookbook is released from one of the world’s cooks. We are talking about some of my favorites: Cosentino, Bloomfield, Pelaccio, Aduriz, but with limited time and resources, how can I choose? Damn that I have to choose, but I do. For me, instead of choosing between these new cookbooks, I have decided to wait to be gifted these books (given a May birthday and Father’s Day, there is still time) and to back fill my collection with some more classic cookbooks for cents on the dollar. Continue reading »
In the past. when looking at recipes that included smoked pork neck bones, I always asked myself if bacon could be substituted bacon for the neck bones. Smoked pork neck bones are not easy to find – they are a humble ingredient and most groceries do not get whole animals, so no neck bones. After a meal cooked over the past weekend, I now know that the answer is no, you can’t substitute them, and yes, you need to seek them out.
Bacon and pork neck bones are not even close. Both pork and both smoked, but then they diverge. The reason is texture and is hard to pinpoint at first. Then you wake up to pack the leftovers for work and a deli container of the okra soup falls from your hand and you find that the liquid has solidified from the rich gelatin in the neck bones. That texture softens when heated, but that added richness never goes away. Once you have the dish with it, the same dish without would never do. Continue reading »
It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. The project had started as experimental meat preparation with a cut of beef that rarely makes it past the grinder, the chuck flap. Between acquisition of this really nice cut of beef, preparation of the beef, and writing of the post, the owner of the ranch at which the grass fed cow was raised, Frank Morgan of Q7 Ranch in Marengo, IL, passed away suddenly. I did not know Frank, but I had grown to love his work from navels to shanks to neck and now to the chuck flap and all things in between. My family’s sympathies and condolences go to Frank’s family and loved ones.
As happens when you have a butcher that you know and trust, when I walked into Butcher and Larder last week, Rob approached me with a cut of meat that I had not seen before. As last year with the belly chop, lamb neck, beef neck bones, and most recently, the mutton neck, there are things that Rob has suggested that are not commonly used parts of the animal that would not fall into meat curing or offal related dishes, but rather butcher’s cuts. At first I was hesitant to blog about these because I was worried about losing the blog’s focus, but the more that I thought about it, the more I wanted to feature these types of projects. After all, the real focus on the blog has evolved from bacon making and tasting to meat curing and ice cream making to DIY production and consumption of local food that flies under the radar. We will give it a shot and see how it goes. Please give feedback as you see fit. Continue reading »
Last winter, I ventured into the neck territory of cuisine with a great amount of deliciousness and last week alluded to the neck again. I had acquired the neck attached to the mutton’s head made into a terrine and went back to the lamb post to read up how I cooked the younger neck, but I wanted to switch up the cooking method. While I usually detest terms like “crowdsourcing”, a reader commented about his experiences cooking lamb necks at Incanto and provided a synopsis of a how to.
As Incanto is a wonderland for my tastes and Collins was nice enough to lead me down the path, I “crowdsourced” the hell out of the mutton neck. While it is not customary for me to detail weeknight dinners, I wanted to start a new feature on this blog with cooking “butcher’s cuts” as an example of how having a great butcher will open your eyes to new and delicious meals. I would describe butcher’s cuts as a cut that is not typically found shrink wrapped at the supermarket or even in the case at your Whole Foods. Think of it this way, ten years ago, you would have never found pork belly, lamb breast, or short ribs in the grocery case, but yesterday I walked past all three in the same case at the Kingsbury Whole Foods. Continue reading »
My theory is the best things that you find while shopping are the things you spot while you look for what you are actually shopping. I was at Butcher & Larder last week picking up bratwurst buying provisions when I spotted a small plate in the case holding hunks of beef neck with a sign comparing them to oxtails. Being a huge oxtail fan (at least I was before they took the short rib train to overpriced town), they immediately caught my attention and, after having fallen in love with necks by braising a lamb neck and encasing sausage with a duck neck, my interest was piqued. Yes, I know about the term ”impulse buy”, I am the king of the impulse buy, but I am rarely disappointed with my impulse buys. Continue reading »
On my last trip into Butcher & Larder to pick up a lamb neck, Rob went back into the walk-in and brought out something that looked like a double-wide double-bone pork chop. As he got closer, I realized that it was pork, but not a pork chop. It was a rib-in, skin-on belly folded over onto itself, tied, and then the rib bones were frenched. It looks like a damned monstrosity – a wonderful monstrosity.
As Rob describes on his blog, this, as we called it, belly chop was an exercise in creative butchering – whimsy from the tip of a utility knife, but the basic elements of something familiar are still there. The belly and ribs are both regular players in our pork rotation, but I have never cooked them together and especially not like this. Continue reading »