Eating Nose to Tail

Due to my total obsession with getting my thesis done, my partner Ross has been doing more than his fair share of the cooking.  His most recent dish is jambalaya, which he makes with sausage and okra. 

Recently Ryan Adams in his Offal of the Week post for Eat Me Daily wrote about gizzards.  Sausage, okra and gizzard jambalaya immediately came to mind, even though I had never actually cooked a gizzard.  A container of chicken gizzards at my local big box store cost $1.00 and were very easy to locate.  Finding the gizzards was the easy part, next came cooking.

After looking into some recipes, these tough little pieces of fowl obviously needed to be cooked for a long time.  The gizzard is a muscle in the neck of most fowl that is used to pulverize their food, (most fowl do not have teeth) and because they are doing the work of teeth they get to be pretty tough.  My solution: braising.

The plan is to add the already braised gizzards to the jambalaya with the sausage and okra during the final cooking stages.  Therefore the gizzards needed to be braised by the time they were added to the jambalaya.
First I rinsed the gizzards under cold water to clean off some of the blood.  Then with a sharp knife I cut the gizzards into smaller pieces.  Gizzards often come intact, which means they are shaped like an 'O', I separated the knobs of meat into smaller bundles.  My idea was that this would allow the gizzards to cook faster.
Next, I seasoned them with coarse salt and some cracked black pepper, and added the seasoned gizzards to oil heated in a dutch oven. Once they were seared I added a mug of water and a few dried chilis.  Tragically I had no stock on hand.  Once my liquid was up to a gentle simmer I covered the whole mess with a lid and it sent in a 325 degree oven.

An hour and a half later the gizzards were tender.  I placed the gizzards and the now flavorful cooking liquid in a container to wait for Ross to cook his jambalaya.
Ross was adamant about tasting any additions I wanted to put in his jambalaya.  He found the gizzards a tad livery but mild enough to be an acceptable addition to his dish.  I think the gizzards tasted far more like a chicken thigh than any liver I had ever tasted. 
Dinner was delicious.  The sausage and okra were a perfect pair as usual, and the gizzards seemed to slip pretty easily into the mix.  I'm looking forward to getting back to eating nose to tail more regularly.  I miss my kitchen terribly and Ross is quickly becoming a better cook than me, which distresses my ego.

I would heartily recommend trying out braised chicken gizzards, I have a feeling they would crisp up nicely in a pan with some oil after they're braised.  Experiments for another post.

As I'm writing this it seems like a lame excuse but I've been writing my thesis full time for the past two weeks and have not really been able to give this project the love it needs.  That being said I'm confident that posts will start picking up again soon.


Yesterday I cooked a beef shank; it was a really nice looking piece of meat with a nice big bone that promised some marrow.  I love shanks, they're a really great cut of meat to braise.  Which is really the only way I know of to cook them (I'm open to suggestions though.)  Lamb shanks are what I normally think of when craving this cut, so it was nice to see a different kind of meat.  I don't really have a plan for the meat when it's done, maybe shred it for a filing in some ravioli, maybe tear it into nice big chunks and make a hash with it this weekend. 

Nice lookin' bone.
The idea is to braise it in a bottle of IPA with just a few handfuls of diced onions, some salt and some cracked black pepper.  If I keep the flavours simple then I can fit this meat into a larger variety of dishes.  I started by searing the shank on both sides in a braising dish then took it out and let it rest while I cooked the onions until translucent and just taking on some colour.  I used olive oil, but a combo of olive oil and butter for the searing would be even better.
Searing shank.
Once the onions are just right the shank goes back in with a bottle of beer poured on top.
Bubbling in beer.
Once everything is at a nice simmer put the lid on your braising dish and stick it in a 325 degree oven.  This shank took about 2 1/2 hours, you'll know when it's tender and you can easily stick a knife in it.

Because there really isn't a plan for this shank I'm just going to let it cool in the braising dish, then stick it in the fridge.  Maybe  I'll  make shredded beef taco's for dinner tonight, or even thin out the cooking juices with some stock and use the beef to make a nice rich beef and barley stew.
Either way the beef is very tender and very beefy, the cooking juices have bone marrow melted through to make a very hearty, if very bitter stock.  Both elements have the opportunity to be turned into something yummy, the hard part is deciding what.

Every now and again I find something interesting and potentially  yummy at my local big box grocery store (for me it's a Super Stop & Shop) and this week it was a very alluring looking beef kidney.   The most kidney experience I have is my Mum's Steak and Kidney pie, which is a childhood favorite.  I don't have the time to make myself a pie so I'm going to fry some beef kidney's and make a quick gravy and serve them on some toast for lunch.

I began by soaking the kidney in cold water for a few hours.  I changed the water a couple times, but I wasn't really compulsive about it.  Many people suggest putting different organs (liver and kidney's mostly) in milk instead of water.  When I asked Omi about that she said that she never did because she thought it was a waste of perfectly good milk.  When in doubt go with Grannie.

Kidney soaking in water.
For a guideline I'm using a Mrs. Beeton recipe I found online.  Basically I'm going to fry the kidney and some finely diced onion in some butter season with a little pepper, sprinkle with a spoonful of flour and then add a mixture of powdered (reconstituted) beef stock, which tends to be very salty hence the lack of salt initially.  And then simmer until thickened.

First I clean the kidney.  Remove any hard sinew or fat.  There are many nobules in a kidney, you want to take them off the center core which is too tough to eat.  Ideally you'll be able to remove these nobules but keep their beautiful plump shape.  Rinse these beauties in cold water a few times once they've been separated to help remove some of the blood they will seep.
Once your kidney's are ready for the pan melt your butter and add  the onion and cook until translucent. Then add the kidney's in a single layer so they brown and don't steam.  Once they've got nice colour add some crushed black pepper and followed by a spoonful of flour rolling the kidneys in the flour to both coat the kidney's and cook the flour. 
Now add your liquid, homemade stock would be way better but powdered stock is what I've got, then simmer and reduce.  Make some toast and taste the kidney and sauce.  Re-season if it needs it.  I added a couple drops of Worcestershire sauce (later I realised it was a tad too much, so be careful).  Pour this over your slices of toast and sit down for a lovely lunch!
I served my kidneys with a side of sliced roasted beets leftover from the weekend, and if I didn't have a bunch of writing to do this afternoon I'd have a nice mug of stout alongside my kidney's, but I've got a full day and can't afford to be sluggish.

The flavor of the kidney turned out to be very strong.  Next time I'm going to do some things differently, like halve or even quarter the kidney nobules.  For those of you just starting into the world of offal consider yourself warned, these flavors are strong.

Nonetheless a very nice lunch.

Pork belly is one of the greatest parts of one of the yummiest (if not the yummiest) animals on the planet.  This cut of pork has the ability to be both luscious and crisp at the same time.  And when you think about it that is a truly challenging thing to accomplish.  The most common product made with pork belly is strip bacon, but it has many possibilities fresh.  This dish is braised, but I've also deep fried it.

After reading many pork belly recipes over the last few days I decided that none of them sounded like exactly what I wanted. I was also unwilling to go to the store to buy any more ingredients to create many of the dishes I'd been reading about.  With this being my situation, and having a pound of pork belly and a napa cabbage on hand, this is what I came up with for dinner.  My fingers are crossed, but if the worst should happen there's a good pizza place nearby that delivers.

The skin and fat gets scored before anything else.
Score the fat on the belly and sliver some garlic.  Cut three slits into the meaty part of the belly and push the slivered garlic into the slits.  The belly gets a good dusting of Chinese five spice and then a few generous squirts of soy sauce.  That whole mess gets put in the fridge for a few hours.
Ready for the fridge
When the pork belly has had a few hours to marinate in the fridge, roughly slice some napa cabbage and chop some garlic scapes (they aren't necessary; you can use a few cloves of garlic instead, but I'd just bought these at the farmers market.)  At this point the oven gets heated to 350 degrees, which is high for braising but my oven is a little cold.
Garlic scapes and napa cabbage.
Now it's time to sear the belly.  Add a glug of olive oil to a braising dish, and  heat it on the stove until shimmery.  Once it's heated sear the belly on all sides.  Keep the container that you marinated the belly in, a little later you're going to need it.  Once all sides are seared and brown remove the belly and add the chopped garlic scapes.
Resting belly.
When the scapes are aromatic, add the chopped napa cabbage and a little water.  Once the cabbage starts to wilt, make two little pockets in the cabbage and nestle a piece of belly in each one.

At this point take the dish that the belly was marinated in and loosen the marinade that's left in it with a quick splash of water, pour it over the belly and cabbage.  For dramatic effect I placed a curl of garlic scape which was left lonesome on the counter in with the belly.  Covered it with the lid and placed it in the oven.
This pound of pork belly took 1.5 hours to cook  It's ready when the meat is tender, the layer of fat is quivering and the cabbage is perfumed with the garlic scapes and coated with pork fat. 

So far so good.

The best part of pork belly is that it can have the satisfying crunch of bacon, but still be tender and juicy like a well cooked pork chop. I've achieved tender, now it's time to achieve the crunch.

The plan is to heat up my broiler and crisp the skin and fat, thereby achieving the much sought after tender/crunchy dynamic.  While the broiler is heating I've made some rice, and also taken some of the cabbage that did not go into the pot with the belly and steamed it.  Normally steamed cabbage doesn't really do much for me, but this is a lovely head of cabbage from the local farmers market and I think it will be really nice alongside my delicious, yet very rich pork belly.
Under the broiler.
It takes a few minutes but eventually the belly will start to make popping noises.  Be very careful because this will go from delightfully crisp to on fire very quickly.
Pork belly, rice, steamed and braised cabbage.
All of my pork belly goals were achieved, tender and crisp, luscious and savory.  Once again this meal has been more than recession friendly; the entire head of cabbage (there's still some left as well) and the pound of pork belly were 2$ and 2.79$ respectively. 

I'm very pleased with how my experiment went, this is a recipe that will definitely be repeated. 

I'll be in Madison WI for the long weekend, and as patient and supportive as the friends I'm staying with are I cannot guarantee I'll be cooking anything that fits into nose to tail eating.  Unless you count sausage, which would be kinda cheating.

Be back early next week, and would be thrilled if anyone has any suggestions about what to cook next.  I've been tongue focused for the last month or so, and I'm looking forward to something new.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!