Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our homemade sauerkraut research project

I don’t post recipes that aren’t tried and true favorites. That really wouldn’t be fair to anyone who’s interested in making what I’m sharing. However, from time to time I thought it might be valuable to readers to share in the “research” aspect of cooking anything new.

I’ll start with sauerkraut. As mentioned in my previous post, we made this for the first time in October under the tutelage of friend Henry Gluch and his mother (participating over the phone). Since we like to do things using the right equipment, we bought a 3-gallon pottery crock designed for just such a use as stuffing it with shredded cabbage, salt and spices.

Several of us had a lovely afternoon and evening making about 12 gallons of kraut and Henry gladly donated his cantina to store our fermenting delicacy and also to skim it daily (something I understand is not very enjoyable because of the smell). After pounding the cabbage into submission (a very important step to start bringing out the water ), we sat down to a Polish meal washed down with wine and beer.

Then we sat back for several weeks to wait for the signal that the kraut was ready.

At the time of making it, I felt we were using way too much salt, and it turned out I was correct. The finished product tastes lovely (we used black peppercorns and bay leaf), but it was very salty. Luckily, correcting that is just a matter of rinsing the kraut thoroughly before cooking it, or soaking it in a few changes of water.

We rinsed it thoroughly before portioning it into freezer bags and chucking it into the basement to live with our stash of frozen stocks.

Last weekend when we cold-smoked a pork roast (reportage on that coming soon!), we decided we wanted some more flavors in the sauerkraut that was to accompany the pork, so Vicki went off and found a promising recipe on the Internet that used a bit of Reisling wine, juniper berries, onion, garlic and cloves. We left out the called-for duck or goose fat.

Notice something missing? We did, too – especially when we ate it. To our mind, sauerkraut needs a bit of a kick, something that usually comes in the form of vinegar. I suppose that was left out because of the wine. (Wine and vinegar don’t generally play well together, unless you’re talking about wine vinegar.) It’s a cardinal rule in the Blechta Test Kitchens here in Beautiful Midtown Toronto to never mess around with a recipe on its first try, so we went with the flow, used the wine and left out the vinegar.

Well, the kraut did taste lovely and delicate – but boring. To prove that point, we didn’t quite finish eating the portion we’d cooked up. Over the next few days, Vicki and I discussed the situation.

When it came time to clear leftovers from the fridge the other day, I heated up the bit of kraut remaining and added a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar.

What a difference! The kraut just came alive. We felt we were on the right track at last.

So, rather than sharing this recipe now, I’m going to hold off until the next time we make baked sauerkraut and have an opportunity to mess about with the recipe. I think it could simply be a matter of adding the correct amount of cider vinegar, but we’ll see.

Any experienced sauerkraut lovers like to weigh in on this? We would welcome some guidance!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Getting ready for a weekend of cooking!

Our charcuterie just before the mouse invasion!
I just did a quick run down to Gasparro’s, our favorite butcher on Bloor Street here in Toronto. We always like to have a chicken on hand and our spare got used last week in an experiment with brining and smoking – which was a spectacular success (more about that in the future: we’re still in the research stage).

Nick Gasparro sold me a beautiful pork roast (why are all butchers suddenly “Frenching” the rib ends on their roasts?), six ribs-worth. Karel and I are going to cold smoke it on Sunday in another experiment, then hot smoke it to finish. We’ll use two different woods: maple and hickory.

Normally, Karel and I do our weekly food shopping on Saturday mornings, mostly at Toronto's fabulous St. Lawrence Market on Front Street. Today, though, I needed to get the brining of the pork roast started since it needs twelve hours in the liquid and then to rest in the fridge for several hours so the salt can spread evenly through the meat. Our goal is to have the roast lightly salted and with brining it’s pretty easy to overdo it. Since we’re using salt in this case more as a seasoning than to preserve the meat, it’s better to leave it in the brine for too little time than the opposite.

The brine recipe is from my current favorite cookbook (we have over 100), Charcuterie (link is live in case you wish to order it). It’s Brian Polcyn’s creation and he doesn’t smoke it after brining, he grills it, which does add some smoke flavor. But we’ve got a really good reason for branching off on our own: we’re going to serve smoked pork chops to enjoy with homemade sauerkraut we made in October under the expert guidance of the Gluch family – of great sauerkraut renown. Vicki has come up with what looks like a great recipe for baking raw sauerkraut (herbs, spices and riesling wine), and if it works out, we’ll be sharing that with all of you, too. As a teaser, the brine we’re using is flavored with dark brown sugar, juniper berries, fresh sage, garlic and black pepper. Right now it’s cooling on the back step and the roast will soon go in for twelve hours or so. It smells heavenly.

A CURING UPDATE: Currently, we have four hog jowls (guanciale) and two pounds of pork loin (lonzino) air-drying in our basement. It all smells heavenly. Only problem is, it also smelled heavenly to some deer mice that must have come into our house when the cold weather hit. Not having checked the two jowls finished at that time and hanging from our water pipe, I was shocked to see how much had been nibbled away. We’ve decided to let the damaged ones continue hanging after dispatching two of the little rodents (both female, thank heavens). Seeing no more of their little carcases in our traps for the past two days, I think we’re safe. We’ll just cut away the nibbled parts, and keep the remaining guanciale to be enjoyed “chez nous”, using the two we’ve cured and hung since to share with other people.

Fortunately, the little critters didn’t seem to care for lonzino (probably the fennel I used in the cure) or I would have been really put out. To combat further mice invasions on our larder, I’ve left the traps out, and moved everything to a place where they shouldn’t be able to get at it again. But the whole thing remains a huge bummer. For the future, I may need to make some sort of wire box since with our house’s foundation resembling Swiss cheese, we tend to get a few of the little buggers in every autumn.

To conclude, stay tuned for our report on the results of this weekend’s culinary adventures. We haven’t written much about German food on the blog so far, and what could be more Teutonic than Kassler Rippchen, boiled potatoes and sauerkraut?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Introducing Frank Baldock, our new wine consultant

Today, I’m very pleased and excited to welcome a new member to A Man for All Seasonings. Frank Baldock is a long-time friend and colleague who has forgotten more about wine than I will ever know.

The creator of Wine Express, an absorbing quarterly newsletter (and website!) for those looking to expand their knowledge of wine and be alerted to some incredible bargains at the same time, Frank will bring his expertise to bear on some of the recipes posted here, as well as sharing his views on relevant topics of his own. Additionally, he is an excellent writer with a terrific sense of humor. Please visit his website for lots more information about some great new wines, as well as articles and stories about wine and the wine industry, even some recipes from his lovely wife, Lavell (who is a fantastic cook). With Frank’s help, you, too, can reach vino nirvana.

Welcome, Frank!

Q: Okay, Frank, so you’re a molto experienced oenophile. Tell us, what was your first experience with fermented grape juice?

A: In English pubs as an under-age teen tippler/explorer. The house wines weren’t great but it was still a buzz! My Dad grew his own grapes in his greenhouse but no wine dynasty ever emerged from that!

Q: When someone is about to pour: red or white?

A: A light, unoaked white at first, probably, as most reds are best served with food, especially the savory, bone-dry and often tannic reds of Europe, where red wines AND food are joined at the hip and rarely served separately.

Q: Your newsletter, Wine Express (not to mention your website, is packed with wines that tend for the most part to be affordable. Why is that?

A: To me, wine is food. That is, a daily pleasure that’s deliciously affordable. Everybody (‘fess up, now!) is searching for bargain wines that taste great. I’m there as your advance scout, taste-testing 5,000-6,000 wines a year on your behalf, and reporting back on the best. Tough job but someone, etc., etc…

Q: Staying on the same topic, do you feel high-end wines are over-priced?

A: Winemaking is a huge commercial gamble. The variables for success/disaster include frost, hail, hungry birds, beasts and bugs, an army of plant diseases, and rain on the eve of harvest, to name just a few. The top producers tend to restrict the number of grapes per vine for better concentration and flavor – at the expense of volume. The artisan wineries have fewer products to sell and so they need to charge more per bottle.

Some high-falutin’ prices, however, are simply part of the marketing package, the cachet, along with tiny availability. There are always collectors with very deep pockets who pursue cult wines. Remember, scarcity is the opiate of the super-rich!

A $100 wine is not 10 times as good as a $10 wine. It becomes geometrically more difficult to improve wines the higher you go on the quality scale. I’ve been lucky enough to taste wines once owned by Napoleon, but only because I was able to share the purchase cost with a bunch of other like-minded wine freaks!

Q: What wines or wine regions should people be on the lookout for?

A: Wines are traditional products of their place of origin and good ones taste exactly of that place. Typicity is important. Regions do evolve over time, however: for example, currently in Australia there’s a laudable move to making finer wines in small batches from great (cool climate) locations, as opposed to the industrial-scale production of el cheapo plonk that competes mostly on price.

Q: What wines are very popular now but perhaps don’t deserve to be?

A: People talk dry but drink sweet (or at least off-dry). California (not alone) has chosen to lead the way in big, high-alcohol reds and whites that have a fair amount of residual sugar (at the discretion of the winemaker).

The subtle sweetness flatters the wine for the first few sips but it palls with food and fails to refresh your palate during a meal.

As drinkers mature, they tend to prefer truly dry wines that showcase great food rather than smother it.

Q: What has been your best ever wine experience?

A: Too many to count, but they would include the mind-blowing introduction to my first really great red Burgundy, a Grands Echezeaux; a Chateau d’Yquem vertical tasting with the winemaker; dinners with Marie de Maigret, the Countess of Champagne, and Christian Pol Roger in Epernay; and swapping wine anecdotes over lunch with Princess Takamado in Japan.

Q: Your worst?

A: Rescuing the bruised ego of an enormously corpulent writer. He was spread-eagled like a bug after crushing his flimsy chair at a solemn gathering of the most prestigious (and suddenly hushed) chateaux owners of Bordeaux.

Q: Is there one wine of which you wished you had purchased several more bottles?

A: I’m always on the lookout for any wines of 1943, my birth year, to share at an anniversary dinner each year with close friends. I figure that if I keep buying more and more ’43s I’ll live forever!

Q: What is your absolute favorite food/wine match?

A: Chateau d’Yquem (or any great Sauternes) and foie gras.

Thank you, Frank! I’m sure I echo everyone when I say we’re looking forward to seeing your byline and contributions in the future here at AMFAS.

If you’re interested in receiving Wine Express four times a year at a very reasonable price, please click HERE for more information.