Charcutepalooza! (A Year of Meat)

My friend James and I have recently decided to team up and take part in Charcutepalooza: a year dedicated to the art of curing and eating our own meat (twelve recipes in twelve months).  Sadly, we were just shy of a week late for the deadline to become "official" participants, but we're hoping that Cathy Barrow, let's call her "the head honcho," of Mrs Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and co-founder Kim Foster of The Yummy Mummy can find it in their hearts to let us join, once we prove our dedication to the cause, of course.  Even if we aren't able to officially join in, we'll be happily plowing, unofficially, through the contest.  In the end we'll be winners in our own hearts.  That's really all that matters after all is said and done, right?

Since we dropped the ball on beginning alongside the throngs of meat-y fanatics out there, we missed the first cure which was duck prosciutto.  We will however, be catching up on that once the temperature begins to rise and we have an appropriately tempered basement to hang our meat in.

Enough chitter-chatter.  Let's get down to the business of the first challenge.  The Salt Cure - Bacon!

I'm going to let James kick this one off with his two cents:

J: This was not the first time I’d made bacon.  In fact, I almost didn’t buy the book (Charcuterie: The Art of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn) because I thought "I’ll just go to Chapters, take a high res picture of the bacon page and bam! – save myself $40." Camera-phone focused and ready, I had a change of heart.  The Black Hoof had something to do with this.  I’d spent a rainy November night waiting for a table and sat down to a taste explosion, a taste-meat-explosion.  If they could do it, and I could (probably) make bacon, then why not buy the whole book? No reason not to.

The first batch of bacon was christened ‘Christmas Bacon’, and became small gifts of porcine appreciation to friends and family.  Christmas breakfast had never been so bacon-y. A total success, and not a trace of botulism (I agonized over accidentally poisoning someone for the whole week.)  A few rounds of curing and smoking later and here we are, unofficial contestants in Charcutepalooza.

I won’t go into detail about the method, go buy the book.  I will add some things though:
  1. Smoking the cured belly to the correct internal temperature is far superior to roasting it off in the oven (no, I haven’t tried the oven method, why would I?)
  2. Don’t fear botulism, especially if you’re using pink salt. (note: pink salt is dyed pink in some places and not in others.  It’s just salt mixed with sodium nitrate.) 
  3. Your bacon will be the best you’ve ever had, fact!
Now for our requisite bacon photos:

R: After much discussion among friends we decided that our freshly cured bacon would be transformed into the wicked-ist, most awesome-ist Club Sandwich we'd ever had.  Ever since that decision was made, we both found ourselves dreaming about our first creation, literally.  I dreamed that we made chicken soup from the smoked bones left over from our chicken and James was dreaming about fresh cut french fries to accompany our Club.  After some discussion, we decided that it would be best to keep things simple on our first go and just stick to the sandwich.  Not to worry, I'm sure we'll quickly complicate things, as we often do.

On Saturday morning, during an impromptu snow squall, James and I were off to the markets (St.Lawrence and Brickworks) to pick out the rest of our ingredients (our bacon was finished curing and ready to be smoked).

Here are the items that were to become our "Best Club Ever" (later to be dubbed "The 12hr Club" due to the time it took us to shop for, create, and shoot it):
  • Pork Belly, that was at home finishing it's cure and waiting to be smoked, which was, of course, to become our bacon-y hero, from Wayne's Meat (Hagersville, ON)
  • Chicken, which we would season and smoke, from Clement Poultry (Newcastle, ON).
  • Hydroponically grown Ontario lettuce and tomatoes. 
  • After tasting a sample, we couldn't resist picking up some Eweda, a semi hard aged sheep cheese, from Best Baa Farm (Fergus, ON).
  • Homemade aioli made from farm fresh eggs that we picked up from The Sunrise Egg Farm (Wallenstein, ON).
  • Freshly baked whole wheat bread from Celena's Bakery (Toronto, ON).  James had insisted on us needing "bread shaped bread" for our sandwiches, so we hit three bakeries before he dubbed a traditional loaf shaped loaf, from Celena's, to be worthy of our sandwich.
  • Pickles from Jamie Kennedy's Gilead Cafe (Toronto, ON).  Which Zac would arrive with just in time to eat.

It was finally time to dig ourselves a path and fire up the smoker!

J: The chicken was smoked for about 2hrs. at 275ºF in a Webber Smokey Mountain (WSM) over lump charcoal and Jack Daniels whiskey barrel pellets. The rub is my secret recipe, but these Cedar Grilling guys are king in the barbecue ring.  Try their rub, it's good too. 

After making our aioli, which left us with egg whites that we didn't want to waste, I proposed that we make meringues.  I’d always thought about making meringues but never attempted it – I’m not much for baking.  Reena taking the reigns of measure made them quite a bit more ‘consistent.’  Our mid-meringue addition consisted of a quick shopping trip to pick up orange and peppermint extract. Add a bit of shaved dark chocolate and we’re talkin’ mint-chocolate chip ice cream and Terry’s Chocolate Orange meringues!

Seeing as our recipe is rather simple, we've decided to spice it up a bit and go with more of an illustrated version:

Our first challenge was a success and we can't wait to get our hands salty with the next one!
All of our challenges will be posted on the 15th of the month, so check in then to follow us on our adventure in Charcutapalooza-land.

We'd like to extend a special thanks to the fine people of Multi-national CONGLOMOCOR for requesting that our sandwich become their "official corporate executive club-style sandwich" – the Conglomoclub.  At the President's request, that version will be sans-tomatoes and if desired, the diner may order it ‘with tomatoes.’ No big deal.