Not Your Ordinary Farm, Farmer or Chef. Now lets make Prosciutto


FARM VISIT.
Not your ordinary Farm in Guilford Vermont on a snowy day.
http://notyourordinaryfarm.com/
 

In small towns, word travels pretty darn fast and farmers talk a great deal to each other about who they are selling to.  After about a year into establishing solid farm partnerships, it was not long before my phone and email were  flooded with messages from growers and producers peddling their respective offerings. I started feeling bad. I wanted to support as many as I could, not realizing that this appease everybody thing is actually counterproductive for both parties. So I sat down and figured out what products I wanted.  Then I tasted samples, and chose the highest quality, and yummiest ingredients  from what I consider to be the best farms in the area.  20 plus farms later I had my beef, lamb, rabbit, chicken, rabbit, veal, game birds and tons of produce.  The only thing missing was duck.  In walks Judy Sopinki of “Not Your Ordinary Farm” in Guilford VT.  
She kindly said she had never raised ducks before. I began to explain to her that there are a number of pork producers in the area as well as lamb, chicken and beef. Great Tasting Ducks however are all coming from upstate New York and are usually the bi-product of Foie gras which is totally a unsustainable modle of raising ducks. She called a few weeks later informing me of  her newest experiment involving cute little ducklings. It was a bit challenging at first and we had some serious feather issues to overcome. I mean the first batch I had to sell skinless duck confit! Now, Judy is my supplier for Muscovy ducks. What is not so ordinary about this farm? I guess it is the dainty ribbon tied bloody bags of dead meat! Or the fact that she is filling a void in the food system in Southern Vermont instead of saturating the market with what the majority of farmers are producing. These types of partnerships add tremendous value to the NEW food system.She is also a Clevlander claiming the polish ghettos of Broadway and Fleet as her stomping grounds. She came in wanting to fill the void of another animal not listed previously and that  is  most “ordinary” chefs’ favorite meat; pork.  Just as this farm, I am not that “ordinary” of a Chef.  I have never eaten pork except by mistake.   My most enjoyable  mess up was when I would eat the  fried chicken livers from Moxie in Beachwood Ohio with Jonathan Bennett’s super yummed out Catalina dressing.  I did not know the ingredients until it was my turn to prep it: eggs, paprika, vinegar, tomatoes, onions, and sugar were emuslsified with bacon fat! Whoops! Until I was a teenager I had never eaten an OREO or a Starburst due to the lard content.  (To my excitement they changed the recipe at the height of  my junk food eating career).  Back to this “Not so ordinary” farmer, Judy…I told her I was not interested in pigs, but a non gavage(d) free range duck line would be awesome.   (Gavaged means force fed).  These ducks would give me my last piece that I needed to have a menu full of local sustainable products from farmers that I know and respect.   Super important and super delicious!
This is a productive C-Town and old school farmer-chef relationship.  Local food is so much more than slapping a farms’ name on a menu. Chefs, visit your farms, it is about the connection. It is about reciprocation. We are now in talks about her growing sustainable Foie http://www.foodista.com/blog/2011/08/16/sustainable-farming-chef-dan-barbers-foie-gras-parable#  for me because I am, and always will be against gavage!  The bird of choice for large production foie facilities such as Hudson Valley Foie, is the moulard, (no spell check, not mallard).  This bird is a genetically manipulated, sterile bird that they have created specifically for human consumption.  The bird is essentially grown as a vegetable for our eating pleasure as opposed to the cute little ducklings that grow up on Judy’s “Not So Ordinary” farm, that have little duck lives.  Even though the birds are super tasty, we as Chefs have to take into account that the production used for the foie bird is unnatural to begin with, even before the invasive feeding begins.  There is the argument that “the ducks enjoy” having a tube shoved down their esophagus because they don’t have an epiglottis to cause a gag reflex.  This argument is null and void if the conception of the bird is genetically modified and unnatural anway from the beginning.  (Not to get into a debate, most chefs/diners by now have chosen their sides on this issue already).   Anyway, on to the prosciutto. 
 
 I learned to cure meats during my time at Aureole  in New York  from Amar Santana.  A super talented Chef. He was doing duck ham and prosciutto, lamb prosciutto and some other cool non pork cured meats. Of course he used nitrates (which I am not a fan of ) and a crap load of pork fat, (the super trendy standard of yumminess nowadays).  I omitted the insta-cure number series which has all of the un needed nitrates, In my opinion, since these are found naturally in fennel seed and other organic ingredients there is no need to add a factory made product. I also ommitted the forbidden swine from my repertoire and have been working on a line of Muslim-Jewish friendly charcuterie, that is (I hope) just as good as its pork counter part.  From rabbit bacon to veal mortadella, it is all possible. I started to realize that what makes ham taste like itself has less to do with the meat, and more to do with it’s cure.  Now a lot of you pork loyalist and fanatics are probably rolling your eyes and perhaps want tell me about myself right about now…but give these a shot, and while you are at it, give me my ignorance, it is bliss! I would like to imagine that when I cure and smoke my turkey leg,  it’s pretty hammy. And when I give nice fatty duck breast a really easy  salt cure followed by a  “set it and forget it” type refrigerator stay it is pretty prosciutto-y but with a character of its own.
Duck Prosciutto Recipe
Ingredients
  • One 6 or 8 ounce duck breast
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
Directions
Don’t buy duck breasts. Buy the whole bird. You will feel more connected with your food when doing this. Breakdown the whole duck, make some soup out of the carcass and wings, confit out of the legs and freeze the liver for pate to be made once enough is accumulated. Rinse and pat dry your breast with good non-dollar store paper towels (trust me on this one). Snag a dish just large enough to hold the duck breast. Make a 1-inch bed of salt on said dish. Place the breast on the salt and cover it with about another inch of salt. Cover the entire situation with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. You can add orange rinds if you like. 
 

Breasts in the cure with fresh ground spices.

In a small bowl, combine the  coriander, fennel, and pepper. This would be the perfect time to make use of  some of those pre ground spices sitting on the counter in one of those spice

Rinsed, spiced and hanging in the walk in.

carousel’s you got as a gift. I would of course not recommend purchasing this antiquated  product, but I for sure don’t condone just throwing it away either unless it is totally rancid. If you ar going to buy spices, you should always purchase whole seed spices, whole pepper corns and fresh herbs. Unwrap the duck breast and, holding it over the sink, rinse it with the vinegar to remove the salt and then rinse it under cold running water. Pat the duck breast completely dry and then rub it all over with the spice mixture.
 

Sliced and ready to serve.

Wrap the breast in cheesecloth and knot the cloth at both ends. Tie a piece of butcher twine on the top of the cheese cloth and tie the
other end to the wire rack in the fridge. If your fridge has glass shelving, duct tape it. I could have done a cheesy little pun  there but I think hinting at it works just as well. Place a small plate or dish beneath it. Let the duck cure until it feels firm but not dry, about 2 weeks. Thinner or smaller breasts will take less time.                                    
 
Start checking after a week or so. Slice it as thin as possible Put this with some melon or on a salad and you are good to go.

Pheseant with duck bacon-sweet potato hash and sherry soubise.

 
 
If you are feeling ambitious, you can of course smoke your cured breast making duck bacon. That is just what i did  with my pheasant from Chip and Carleen Hellis’ Fowl Mountain Farm in Dummerston. 
 
http://www.ismailthechef.com/
 
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Are We Foodies or Snooties?


So, I have a question…Since when is good, all natural food reserved for the elite? You don’t believe me? Walk through your local co-op or natural food store with your head on a swivel.   Scope out the not so wide array of vehicles in the parking lot, snag your tiny cart, and tell me that you are not being over charged. We shop blindly, content in the feeling of making the right choice for ourselves and family, but what would we eat if we could not afford it? This type of blind shopping is a contributing factor to the growing debate surrounding the foodie as an elitest.

What is your modern day foodie? I am guessing they will talk a good game about supporting your local farmer, eating grass fed beef and free range chickens, he will probably have an eco bag in is trunk sporting the “I love veggies” inscription. They will be able to tell you all about gmos and hfcs and bpas, and some may even possess a 650 dollar set of cook book written by Nathan Myhrvold. I will talk on this later down the page) They might even have a blog about the wonderful farm to table spots they’ve been frequenting and how they dropped 300 plus down (wine not included) on a beautifully plated somewhat yummy “snout and trotter” tasting at the newest “nose to tail” eatery.

Make no mistake about it, I am all about supporting your farmer, and partaking in yummy foods and yadda yadda yadda. However it seems to me after reading the many blogs and message boards that we are turning our movement into an elite eco system of Chefs and foodies that frown upon those who either 1) CHOOSE to (for whatever reason)  factory farmed agriculture. Or 2) just are not ready to jump all the way in. Lets step back and look at the fact that we as a country are so soiled by the industry we are against that we support it even if we don’t want to. So lets relax a little with the harsh comments because we are all guilty. We all support factory farms and unsustainable farming practices be it knowingly or un-knowingly.  Most of us grew into our mentalities after living a life of crappy eating.  This crappy eating is usually justifiable;  a shoe string budget of Ramen noodles while we are broke in college, or just doing what we can to feed our families.

That’s my rant and here is my take on the Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold… ABSOLUTELY ELITIST!  I heard ramblings of this book coming out and at first I was all about it I even think I posted the Wired magazine article on my Facebook page. You know the story of a guy loving to cook since he was a boy, quits his job as a top researcher for a big company and becomes a chef. But 6 BILLS?!  First off I must say I am judging the book by its cover. But I am hoping you can give me a pass because it cost 600 bucks! I’m sorry, I’m just not throwing that much coin down. I couldn’t stand paying those prices for books in college, and I surely don’t think its cool to ask middle America to swoop it up at that price. I heard in an interview on NPR him say “you can do these things with regular kitchen equipment you can buy at any old store like Sur le Table and William Sanoma. Seriously!? Normal people don’t shop there. It is this type of pretentious attitude (along with the heafty price tag) that keeps the argument going.  I guess what  I am trying to say is I understand it is more of a reference and it probably like most other cookbooks, will just sit on a coffee table. But for that price, It better be hand written in gold leaf with a quill from a rare bird found only in Bolivia, published by Gutenberg, taken off the shelf by the Monastery’s librarian holding a candle on a full moon. If you are interested in a a great approach to food science and have lets say 30 bucks, I suggest you pick up On food and Cooking by Harrold Mcgee. If youn don’t have it already. The approach is definitely different from “Modernist Cuisine”. It’s scientific analysis of food, going into the biology and protein chemistry of grains, eggs, meats, etc, and I don’t think that there’s a single recipe in it other than a few historical examples. That being said, it’s a very revealing view of how food behaves chemically, physically, and culinarily, and has helped me understand a lot my screw-ups in the kitchen. It certainly doesn’t compare to a 2500 page, 5 volume set of lavishly illustrated scientific cookbooks. In all fairness, big reference volumes like this do tend to be expensive. For example, the Oxford unabridged dictionary has always been expensive. These things are expensive to produce and the developer should get a fair compensation for what  it cost and for how much research went into its production.  It is definitely an interesting concept, but totally not for me.  Sad because this is the kind of thing that is super interesting but in my opinion totally alienates Middle America.

DON’T LET THEM HIJACK OUR MOVEMENT!

Fresh wholesome natural food is for everyone.