27 October, 2009

Bangkok Brat

Bangkok Brat
Chicken Thai curry sausage recipe

This episode is about an obsession with curry. Have you ever wondered how to take the wonderful flavors of curry and put it into a sausage? Dude, I have. After months of searching, researching, cracking and grinding, I have come up with not one but two curry sausage recipes, One for the enthusiasts, and one culled from the 'Ethnic' section at the local supermarket. But first let's take a quick look at how this current obsession got started.

The Gift of Curry

It started a year ago. I gave a cooking school friend, Venique, some parsley parmesan sausage to sample. A couple weeks later she traded back some curry. Specifically four bags of curry that she had made with her parents who were visiting from Bangkok. While I don't encourage my boys to trade lunches at elementary school, if you are in a cooking class, bring something to share. Anyway this stuff blew away the paste I could get in a jar. What kind of exotic ingredients did they use? Before she could answer, I think there was quiz on dicing onion or sautéing skate, so the curry remained a mystery.

Sausages in Wisconsin

Fast forward to Labor Day this year. With the last bit of red curry, I made up a curry sausage for friends to try over the holiday weekend. It turned out pretty good, I dare say a blog worthy sausage. But wait, I can't blog about a sausage that uses a paste made by a friend with ingredients that I don't even know. How are you, the reader, supposed to make this sausage? I don't want the blog to be about lifestyle, sometimes I want to give you some news you can use. I guess I better find out how to make a Thai curry.

So I went to the library. I found Cracking the Coconut, by Su-Mei Yu. But before I could read the curry recipe I got distracted.

Punching coconut in the eye.

Coconut milk without the can.

In my fantasy restaurant kitchen, one tool I would NOT have is a can opener, so when Su-Mei Yu gave a recipe for milking coconuts on page 68, I ran out and bought some coconuts. I turned my enthusiasm up a notch by using my grinder attachment to process the meat.

Coconut meat ready to grind

Shreading coconut with meat grinder

Coconut cream ready for use

Growing up I thought the only way to get pumpkin for a pumpkin pie was out of a can. I thought the same of coconut milk. The milk is not the water you hear sloshing around a fresh coconut, but fat and liquid extracted from the pulverized meat. You can even get great tasting milk from unsweetened flakes. Milking coconut is not the easiest process, but for the dedicated cook, it's worth it.

Coconut Cream Pie

It makes a wicked good coconut cream.

If you want to make fresh coconut milk from coconuts check out Su-Mei Yu's book. She also suggests saving the brown husks for the smoker, I'll get to that sometime soon. For using unsweetened shredded I'll give you a recipe in a few minutes.

Cracking the Coconut is great primer on Thai cooking. One of the most important points made in the book is that Thai food tastes best when made at home. Once you figure out how simple it is you may never go out for Thai again. Okay maybe that's a little dramatic, but I can't remember the last time I ate out Thai. I do rememeber the last time I made a Pad Thai for a midnight snack. I feel the same way about Mexican food, all dishes that I love to eat started as a meal made at home, so it makes sense that once you have a grip on the ingredients, the food should be easy to fix at home. Restaurants are left for when you want to take a ride on the merry-go-round. Oh boy I'm getting off track here, Back to the curry.

I cross referenced curry recipes in several books. One worth mentioning is Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Alford and Duguid. I like this book for its description of the different cultures and cuisines of SW Asia and how they are related. In general all the books agreed on the ingredients for red curry, for the sausage I choose to focus on the following ingredients:

Chiles dry
Dry red chiles

Garlic from garden

Lemon grass
Lemon grass

Fish sauce
Fish sauce


And a few spices from the cupboard: Cumin, Coriander and white pepper.

With the exception of galangal, you can get these ingredients at a plain old grocery store. But galanlgal is worth searching out, it is used a lot in Thai cooking. Galangal, galanga or in Thai, Kha, is a rhizome that's related to ginger. Most cookbooks I've read suggest that you can substitute fresh ginger for galangal. Now that I have had the chance to compare the two I think they may be cousins but not kissing cousins. Galangal has piney-peppery undertones that are sublime compared to the astringent ginger. In curry ginger will work but galangal enlightens. I scoured the southland for the herb and only found frozen, which seemed to work, I also have powdered from penzey's which I used for a long time but now have concluded it is not a suitable form for the flavor.

Fresh lemon grass is also a very important herb. Don't bother with the dry stuff. You can find it fresh at Asian specialty markets, or better yet remember it for your garden. I grew it for the first time this year and I was very happy with the yield.

Okay, let's get on with the recipes.

Hot side hot and cool side cool.

Lemongrass Chopped

Lemon grass and galangal are rather fibrous plants that don't lend a nice texture to sausage. Instead of worrying about mincing and mashing I added them to the coconut milking process. So along with those ingredients here's how I made my coconut milk.

medium mixing bowl
rubber spatula
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth

1 cup/3oz/85g shredded unsweetend coconut
2 T/1oz/30g fresh galangal chopped
1 stalk lemon grass the white (bottom 6 inches) chopped
2 cups/16oz/450 ml boiling water

Combine all ingredients into a blender. Be careful blending hot ingredients, they like to explode. Blend for at least 30 seconds. Pour concoction into mixing bowl. Since the mixture is to hot to handle, stir/mash/message the pulp with a rubber spatula. Do this for two minutes. Strain the milk into a clean bowl pressing out every drop. It should taste very peppery lemon-grassy and coconutty sweet. Refrigerate.

Next I worked on the dried peppers.

15 dried small peppers, stems and seeds removed,

soaked them in warm water for 10 minutes, discarded water, put peppers in the blender, added maybe 1/2c/4oz/110 ml water, and pulverized. Be careful this time because the peppers are spicy hot. pour into bowl and set aside.

Spice mixture

2tsp/8g white peppercorns
1tsp/2g whole cumin seed
1tsp/2g coriander seed
2tsp/14g salt

Toast the cumin and the coriander in a dry skillet if you're feeling natty. Combine spices and salt and grind fine. Set aside.

The Bird.
I like using whole chickens (minus giblets) for making sausage. This recipe calls for two pounds (2lbs/ 900g) of chicken, which is what I got off of a 3-1/2pound Amish fryer. Use the bones and wings for stock. Grind the chicken then add the following:

the spice mixture

2tsp/8g fish sauce

1/2c/120g chilled coconut milk mix (if the cream and have separated use cream first, save remainder for soup.)

Pepper sauce to taste. I used half of my mixture (60g) and got a medium spicy sausage.

1 clove garlic minced

1/4c/20g fresh coriander leaf (AKA Cilantro) chopped.

Stir mixutre with big wooden spoon until is comes together and looks even. Stuff into sheep casings, or make patties or whatever.

That's should be enough sausage for 4-6 people.

Sausage recipe tests

I think that recipe is complicated but worth it. I will continue to tune it, so feel free to write in comments. But let's say you want the flavor or red curry but you don't have the time to swing around to a Asian food specialty store. If you find fish sauce and a can of coconut milk at your supermarket, I think you can get a decent curry sausage.

Supermarket Thai curry sausage

2lbs/900g Chicken, ground
2tsp/14g Salt
2tsp/ 8g white peppercorns
1tsp/2g whole cumin seed
1tsp/2g coriander seed
1/2tsp/1g/ cayenne pepper
2tsp/4g paprika
1/2tsp/1g ground ginger
2tsp/8g fish sauce
1/2c/120g coconut milk
2T/30g juice from a lime
1 clove garlic minced
1/4c/20g fresh Cilantro (AKA coriander leaf) chopped

Grind whole spices with salt and combine with all other ingredients, stir mixture until it comes together and looks even. Stuff into sheep casings or make patties.

I served my Bangkok Brat on a Labriola pretzel roll, with sliced tomato, mustard and a Thai cucumber carrot relish. the relish is dressed with fish sauce, sugar, salt and lime juice.

Chiles fresh

Thai Red curry, make it good, make it yours.


08 October, 2009

Taking Back Bacon

Hot Bacon

Home-made Bacon, The Perfect Gift.

I am ready to give you a recipe for bacon. What's that? You already have one? I mean curing bacon, at home, and I want to put the bacon hoopla to rest right now: You're going to make this with the cheapest piece of meat you can find and cure it with ingredients you have in the kitchen right now. And it's gonna taste like bacon which means it's gonna taste great.

Cured belly ready to smoke

Over the past few months I have cured nearly forty pounds of bacon. I have brined it, dry rubbed it, used nitrites, not used nitrites, forgot sugar, hot smoked, cold smoked, no smoked, and then fed it all to my family and friends. So far nobody has complained.

But let's forget get all that for a moment. I want to talk to you about bacon, I want to make sure you know it's okay to strip away all the hype surrounding bacon and pork belly right now. Long after the Baconfests and BaconCamps and the "Current culinary couture (that)centers on () pork and farmers," go away, bacon will still be here for you. I want assure you that you can find bacon happiness in your own kitchen. So go head and chuck the rock star chefs and their rumaki redux, cancel your mail-order of double applewood smoked artisinal bacon from Oklahoma, it's time to take bacon back.

Bacon ready to smoke

Bacon is our American heritage. Mariani reports in the Dictionary of American Food and Drink that "Bacon has long been a staple of households because of a long history of pork consumption and hog butchery."


Waverly Root, in the encyclopedic tome, Food notes "America was built by pioneers and pigs. The covered wagons which started west, even before the Gold Rush usually carried seventy-five pounds of bacon per adult."

Now I could go on quoting sources stressing the historical importance of salting and smoking pork as a matter of preservation and economics, but I think that would miss the most important connection between us and bacon, the taste. Salt, sugar, smoke, and fat. Are you ready to make some bacon?

Pork Belly 12 lbs. Day 1

The Belly

As I have mentioned in a previous post the hardest part of the bacon operation is procuring pork belly. Grocery stores usually don't carry the cut so you got to be creative. I get mine from a small meat packer that sells retail, look for a packer in your area. You could check with your favorite pork purveyor at the farmer's market. Also stores specializing in Asian or Latino food are good bets. Last week I got pork belly already cut into 2-1/2lb pieces at CAM Asia Supermarket in Columbus. When choosing a belly go for the thickest you can find, that'll make the best bacon. At the meat packer I have to buy a whole piece which can be 10 to 12 pounds and I have written the recipe for that amount. In terms of price I pay 1.39/lb at the packer, CAM charged us $2.25/lb, the price will go up from there.

Spice for brine

The Cure

Sugar, salt and belly and you got bacon, the rest is icing. But icing is good sometimes, no? I have come to favor a combination pepper mustard, coriander, allspice, and bay (AKA pickling spice)to cure bacon and ham. But really salt and sugar is it; I used to believe that sugar (especially for brining) was not necessary but after side by side comparisons, sugar balances the salt.
Another important ingredient is curing salt. This ingredient goes by different names such as Insta cure #1, Prague Powder #1, DQ Cure, and it is 6.25 percent sodium nitrite. You can get this stuff mail order, but I buy mine at The Spice House.

Bacon out of the brine, Day 3
Top piece cured with curing salt bottom piece without.

I have no problem using this stuff, it contributes to flavor, color and it substantially increases self life. Plus, since I'm certified in food service sanitation by the state of Illinois, I can't recommend cold smoking meat without using nitrites. But, back to what I said in the beginning, do you have pink salt in your kitchen? Do you need it to make bacon? Let's move on.

There are two ways to cure bacon,

Ma makin bacon
applying a dry rub

From belly to bacon - getting started
or pickling in a brine.

I've done dry rub lots of times it's quick to start and it doesn't take a whole lot of room in the fridge. The first bacon I made was with a recipe from Charcuterie which procribed a dry rub. But I have come to like the pickle because the cure time is shorter and the cure is more thorough than the dry rub.

The smoke

Cold smoking ham and bacon with basil

Cold smoker rig

Bacon on the smoker

Smoke is a visceral obsession. It is an olfactory memory that has collected and compounded in the human being for millions of years. The smell stands for warmth, safety and prosperity. Taking in this memory welted to fat, salt and sugar connects us to all who have come before us. It's the smile at the corners of our eyes.

So, is it important?

If you have a grill of some type then you should be smoking bacon. I have smoked bacon in many different ways, and I have always come away with the same conclusion: I don't like making a big production out of it. Please understand I am not some sort of artisinal baconphile, I don't dial my recipe on single grains salt or handfuls of hand hewn sawdust or multiple days of cold smoking. Minor tweaks I cannot do. I'm big picture: Look like bacon? Taste like bacon? Too salty? For finishing bacon I like hot smoking. I set an fire in the grill/smoker at 250F and cook until the bacon gets to a internal temperature of 150-160F. In terms time, it's usually two hours. Get some wood chips from the hardware store, cut up any sort of hardwood that you may have laying around, Two hours of gentle smoke makes a fine bacon.

Bacon coming off the smoker

Bacon the final frontier

Bacon on the smoker

Bacon finished in the oven without smoke is a perfectly delicious endeavour. In England cured belly without the smoke is called green bacon.

The recipe for Bacon

1 pork belly 10-12 pounds, skin on

5 L water
440g Salt
50g Curing Salt*
450g Sugar

Pickling Spice
16g Black peppercorns
11g Allspice
10g coriander
10g brown mustard seed
4 bay leaves

*You can substitute an equal amount of regular salt for curing salt.

Mise en Bacon: Find non-reactive container(s) to brine belly. Trim into manageable squares. Save scraps for sausage, lard, or just throw them in the pickle.

Combine water, salt, sugar and pickling spices(if using, remember they're icing) and boil for one minute. The brine needs to cool (Not in the fridge) to 70F.

Quick chilling the brine
Make an ice bath in the sink or use ice paddles to cool quicker. I made ice paddles by freezing water in one quart milk jugs.

Belly into the brine
Immerse belly into cooled brine in non-reactive containers, refrigerate. Cure for three days.

Drying in the larder

The bacon needs to dry before smoking. Pull it from the brine and let it rest on a rack or dangle for a day. The stainless steel hooks pictured above came from an IKEA pot rack.

When you are ready to finish the bacon heat Smoker/grill/oven to 250F. Cook bacon to Intemp of 150F. About two hours.

Allow the bacon to cool, but while warm remove the rind (skin). You can save the rind for flavoring soups or beans.

Removing the rind

Once cooled wrap and refrigerate. You can fry some up now, but it tastes better the next day.

I can't tell you exactly when bacon goes bad, I have kept bacon (cured with nitrites) in my fridge for months. For the stuff cured with just regular salt I start noticing change after a couple of weeks. Therefore I recommend you freeze this bacon after ten days.

SO you got all this bacon what are you going to do with it?

BLT from scratch
You could enter a BLT from scratch contest (or not)

Bacon n Eggs
Eat it for breakfast,

Making Sausage
Or you can make bacon bratwurst.

Bacon works great in a supporting role too: Stews, beans, chili, meatloaf, pate, pizza, quiche. Bacon goes everywhere.

Pork shoulder for bacon ready to smoke

If you can't get you hands on pork belly, you can try a fatty piece of pork shoulder in the brine, I've done it a couple of times, it works well.

Shoulder bacon

Whatever you do, make bacon, make it yours. If you have any questions please ask, I'm here to help.