Baking With The Pig – Sage and Onion Beer Bread

This is a guest post from liz545

While Jon’s been making sausages, I’m usually behind the camera, playing sous-chef and chief sub editor. But I’m also a keen baker, making everything from bread and cakes to pastry for sausage rolls.

Finished loaf

If you’ve been inspired to make some delicious sausages, or cure your own bacon, the next logical step is a sandwich, right? And there’s nothing better than a sandwich on home-made bread. I love a good sourdough loaf, but if you’re pushed for time, beer bread is the answer.

If you’ve never made bread before, this is a great place to start, because it’s fast, easy, and you’ll probably already have everything you need to make it. It relies on baking powder instead of yeast as the main leavening agent, with the yeast in the beer giving it a little extra lift and flavour. It doesn’t really matter what beer you used – I used a dubiously named ale that Jon had knocking around, but most lighter beers would work. (It may have been a dubious beer but I’d still have liked to drink it. Grrr. – Jon) Stout or porter might be a bit heavy, though.

The mix of wholemeal and white flour means it’s robust enough to stand up to a hearty sausage, and the sage emphasises the flavours nicely. This recipe is very adaptable, so feel free to play around with the flavourings. Cheese, fresh herbs, or some sautéed bacon would all work well mixed in here.

A note on measurements
I’ve used a standard American measuring cup that holds 250ml. If you don’t have one, you can use any teacup or mug, so long as you keep the proportions the same (i.e. two parts flour to one part beer).

Sage and onion beer bread
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp. oil
1½ cups wholemeal flour (I used spelt, but you could use rye, or whatever brown flour you have on hand)
1½ cups plain white flour
1tbsp sugar
1tsp salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. dried sage
1½ cups beer

Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease your loaf tin. Sauté the onion in a little oil until it’s translucent and a nice golden colour, then leave it to cool down a bit before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

Combine the flour, sage, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the onion mixture and the beer and mix just until combined. With quick breads you don’t want to over-mix it, so it’s ok if it looks lumpy, as long as there aren’t any pockets of dry flour.
Pour the batter into the loaf tin, brush with egg or melted butter if you want, and bake for about 45 minutes or until it’s golden brown and a skewer/knife comes out clean.

Finished sliced loaf

Let the bread cool in the tin for ten minutes, then finish cooling on a rack before slicing.

Cheese Making – First Attempt

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of making cheese but I’ve never progressed beyond intrigued into actually doing it. Until last Saturday, that is, when I happened to find myself at Borough Market, talking to a gentleman who sold raw milk and thought “why not?”

As this isn’t technically a pork adventure I’m not going to write about it here. Yes, I know I’ve covered non pork food here but whatever…it’s my blog and I can do what I like! Perhaps when I’ve perfected the recipe, I’ll go into more detail. Instead, I’ve written a few notes on it over on the Adventures with the Pig Facebook page if you want to give it a go. Feel free to leave comments letting me know how you got on!

Adventures With the Duck: Duck Prosciutto

Another non-pork post! Don’t worry, I’ll be back on pork soon but in the meantime, more duck! This post is a follow up to my confit duck leg post from before Christmas and it’s doubly exciting because it’s my first bona fide attempt at charcuterie. Over the next few months, I’m determined to learn to make charcuterie proper and this is my first tentative step.

Finished duck ham. Meaty.

If you’re following on from the previous adventure with the duck then once you’ve confited your duck legs, you’re left with the jewels of the bird, the breast. Plump and rich tasting, with a delicious thick and creamy layer of fat on top, this cut lends itself to be being made into prosciutto. It’s also fabulously easy; one of the first recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie bible.  It’s so easy, in fact, that it was chosen as the first challenge in last year’s Year of Meat: CharcutePalooza. blog challenge so I’m a bit late to the party on this one.

First things first though, if you’ve made the confit duck recipe mentioned a few weeks ago, you’ll be left with a legless duck carcass that needs a mastectomy. My butchery skills are pretty good but when it comes to birds, they don’t come anywhere close to Liz’s and so I handed over the bird…and this blog to her for this part.

Once you’ve removed the legs and wings from the body of the duck, you’ll just have the body remaining. The breastbone runs between the two fillets, which lie over the bird’s rib cage. With the duck breast-side up, and the neck end facing away from you, take a small, sharp knife and cut from the outer edge of the breast in towards the breast bone. Your aim is to separate the top of the fillet from the wishbone.

Run the knife down along the breastbone, using the tip of the knife to cut the breasts away from the carcass.  I find it’s helpful at this point to turn the carcass around so I can keep the knife in my right hand and use my left hand to pull the meat out of the way. Use the tip of the knife and a light hand to carefully free the meat from the rib cage. You should end up with the fillet just attached to the body at its outer edge – cut through to remove it, then repeat on the other fillet.

Liz carving off the duck breasts.

When you’ve finished dismembering your bird you’ll be left with two breasts, a duck carcass that you can use for stock and various odds and sods that I’ll tell you how to use up at the end of this post. The actual process of curing duck breast is incredibly simple and so you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different flavour combinations without actually changing the basic recipe very much at all. For these two breasts, I decided to cure one plain and one with a few extra flavourings.

Jon’s Duck Prosciutto
2 Duck Breasts
200g or so of salt. (enough to completely cover the duck breasts)

Seasonings
8 -10 Black Peppercorns, roughly crushed
Juniper berries
A couple bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme

You will also need some cooks muslin, string, and a cool place to hang the meat.

Take a non-reactive bowl large enough to comfortable accommodate your two duck breasts. Pour a layer of salt into the bottom of the dish and lay the duck breasts on top skin side up. Pour over enough salt to completely cover the meat, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge.

Pouring salt on the ducks

Leave the breasts in the fridge for twenty four hours to cure and draw out any excess water. By this time a brine will have devloped around the duck portions and the meat itself will be a slightly darker colour. Remove the meat from the brine and rinse thoroughly before carefully patting dry.

Cut a piece of muslin large enough to comfortably wrap each duck breast. Lay the duck breast on your cut pieces of muslin and season however you would like. I sprinkled thyme, crushed juniper berries, peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves on one and for the other I just gave it a few twists of fresh black pepper.

Mummfied Donald Duck

Wrapping the duck breast

Wrap your duck breasts completely in the muslin and tie off firmly with string (butcher’s string is ideal) Now take the breasts and hang them in a cool dark place for a minimum of one week. It’s worth weighing them and this stage and making a note of it.

You want to hang them in a place with a humidity of around 60% and a temperature around 12°c (but no higher than 15°c.) Mine went in a clean empty cupboard in the unheated spare room along with a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on the conditions.

The duck breasts wrapped in muslin and hung in the cupboard to dry. Hygrometer in the background.

I left my duck breast to cure for 10 days by which time they had lost about a third of their starting weights and were firm to the touch.

Now it’s simply a case of unwrap, slice, and serve, maybe with some rye bread, cornichons and some fiery mustard. Its a delicious dish that looks impressive and tastes wonderful with its mix of gamey savouriness and creamy, salty fat.

Cured duck prosciutto. Plain on the left, flavoured on the right.

The Leftovers

If you’ve made both the confit and the duck prosciutto then you’re going to be left with a duck carcass, some skin and some odds and sods of meat. All this will make beautifully rich gelatinous stock if you simmer it for an hour or two with some onions, carrot and celery. You can then use this as the base for a damn fine soup or use a few spoonfuls to enrich sauces.

Even better than that is if once you’ve made your stock, you pick over the carcass and tear off any scraps of skin and meat that remain. Fry these until good and crispy in some duck fat along with a few new potatoes. Stir through some salad leaves and serve with a poached egg and some hollandiase (or just a decent vinaigrette) and you have one of the greatest salads known to man, you can even bang in some lardons if you’re feeling really decadent.

Mmm duck salad.

Adventures With The Duck: Confit Duck Legs

Adventures with the Duck. Yep. You read that right. It’s an anatidaen takeover!

Pigs are wonderful and versatile creatures who offer up their bounty in a multitude of ways but, as a biblical figure never said, “man cannot live by pork alone” and with Christmas fast approaching, now’s the time to treat yourself to some of the less everyday meats.

I recently bought a whole duck, mainly because I’m a very whimsical shopper. Liz despairs when I go shopping because I never come back with the things we need and alway come back with a million things we don’t. I’m basically this guy. On this occasion however, I stand by my claim that this was a worthwhile investment. Ducks are not the cheapest of creatures but given that you can buy a whole duck for only a few pence more than a couple of breasts, it’s good to know what you can do with your bonus ‘free’ meat.

Making confit duck legs is a process very similar to the rilettes I blogged about a few weeks ago and leaves you with beautiful, crispy duck meat that keeps for ages as well as lots of wonderful flavoured fat that you can use for making incredible fried or roast potatoes or just for spreading on toast as a guilty snack. It’s also incredibly easy, and has the added satisfaction of knowing you’ve made something at home that you’d otherwise only get in a restaurant, or would pay a lot of money for in a fancy deli.

Before I get started with the recipe, I should say a few words about jointing your bird. I’ll just cover the legs and wings here and cover the breasts in my next post. You can apply the same principle to pretty much any bird and it almost always works out cheaper than buying individual portions.

Take the duck and lie it on its back on a chopping board. Pull one of the legs away from the body slightly and carefully make an incision between the breast and the leg, exposing the joint that connects the leg to the body. Gently but firmly pull the leg away from the body, twisting it away from you until you feel the joint pop out of its socket. With the joint  dislocated it’s easy to cut away the flap of skin and fat that holds the leg onto the body.

Psycho with a cleaver.

Pulling the leg away from the body. Slightly sinister tshirt.

Turn the bird round and repeat until you have two duck legs ready for confiting. You can also use the same technique on the wings and throw them into your confit for a little extra treat if you want.

Jon’s Confit Duck.
2 duck Legs
2 duck wings (optional: the wings don’t tend to have much meat on so it’s up to you if you use them for this or not)
20g salt
5g celery salt
2g black pepper
2g garlic powder or 4 minced garlic cloves
3 bay leaves crumbled
4 sprigs/1tbsp thyme
750g-1kg duck fat or lard.

First place your duck legs (and wings if using) in a glass or ceramic bowl just large enough to hold them comfortably. Take the garlic, herbs,salt and pepper and mix together thoroughly before rubbing them all over your pieces of meat. Return to the dish, cover and refrigerate.

Duck legs and wings resting in salt and herbs.

Leave your duck legs in the fridge for a couple of days, turning them over half way through. By this time the salt will have drawn a lot of moisture from the legs and they will be sitting in a herby brine of their own making. Remove them from this, brush off any clumps of salt that are stuck to them and pat them dry. In the mean time, take a small blob of duck fat and place in a frying pan over a high heat until the pan is hot but not quite smoking.

Quickly brown off your legs (and wings) on all sides along with any herbs from the brine. This should only take five minutes or so. While the meat is frying, put your oven on a low heat (around 150º c / gas mark 2)

Browning the duck pieces in their own fat.

Transfer your meat and any pan juices into a roasting dish just large enough to accommodate all the pieces snugly and spoon over duck fat until the pieces are completely submerged along with any remaining herbs from the pan.

Duck Legs and added fat

Duck pieces with vanilla ice cream..err...duck fat.

Place the meat in the oven and braise it gently in its own fat until it is completely tender. This should take a couple of hours but there’s no harm for leaving them in for three. There is very little danger of overcooking this.

I found I didn’t have quite enough fat to completely cover the meat so I had to turn the pieces over every 45 minutes or so to prevent the exposed pieces from drying out

Duck legs after an hour in the oven.

When your duck legs are cooked, remove from the oven and rest for five minutes. Pour off the fat and seasonings and reserve.

Duck legs after three hours in the oven. Most of the fat strained off.

Place your duck pieces in a pot (ideally with a lid) large enough to accommodate them as snugly as you can. That way you will need less fat to cover them. Pour over the reserved cooking fat and add any more as neccessary until the pieces are completely submerged.. Don’t worry about using a large amount of fat. It isn’t used to excess in the final cooking but will keep and can be used for a variety of things including making the last word in crispy roast potatoes.

Confit duck, finished and waiting to cool.

When your meat is completely submerged in fat, set it aside and leave to cool. Sit back, pour yourself a little reward and bask in the glory of having made a beautiful thing.  When the fat is cool, cover with a lid, muslin, or cling film and refrigerate. These will keep for a few months in the fridge under their protective layer and the knowledge that you have some delicious seasoned duck legs ready to go at a moment’s notice is a wonderful thing.

Ruhlman, Charcuterie, Confit Duck Leg

Finished confit duck ready for use whenever I want. Resting on a copy of 'Charcuterie'.

When you’re ready to serve the duck legs simply remove them from the fat and crisp them them up in a hot frying pan with a little of the fat until they are heated all the way through. These are great as a simple supper with some dauphinoise potatoes or served as part of a cassoulet. I’m sorry I don’t have a cooked photograph for you but I’m going to use mine for a very special recipe in the new year…