Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pickin' 2, chick harder

Sometime back, we engaged in a side by side comparison of chicken from various sources, including a pricey fresh free-range heritage bird, a slightly less-pricey fresh organic bird, and a mass-produced grocery store bird (that had no doubt been frozen). Check the link to read more about that test.

Here recently, in an unintentional  and limited reprise of that test, we grilled a fresh young Delaware rooster alongside a grocery store bird. The rooster was courtesy of friends, who provided us with the just-processed bird when over to pick up some spare seedlings from our garden for their own, which their chickens had ravaged. The young rooster nominated himself for the axe by a nasty disposition and not playing well with others.

Like last time, both birds were spatchcocked. For grilling, I prefer to just flatten the breast with my palm, breaking the keel and spreading the bird out some, rather than actually removing the keel bone. If you remove the keel, the bird is a lot less stable when you are flipping it over while on the grill and may even fall in two as it gets more done.

Delaware on the right. Reading about the breed, I was somewhat surprised to learn that they were developed for sale as roasters. Compared to the current meat bird, the leg/wing to breast ratio on this guy is startlingly high. Also, the dark meat is much more dark, which might be as much a function of the fact that he was living a life running about, pecking on others and marauding gardens, instead of sitting in a cage as it is a matter of breeding.

I recently came across Alice Waters' directions for grilling chicken in "The Art of Simple Food". She essentially recommends the same technique (including breaking the keel bone rather than removing it). For these birds, I used both spices- salt and pepper, but then tucked a little piece of water-soaked green oak in a corner of the grill to add some smoke.

As you can tell from the picture above, the skin on the Delaware was much more sturdy than that on the grocery store bird. It was still good, even though a bit chewy. Overall, in contrast to our last experiment, the heritage bird came out way ahead here, with a more strongly meaty or chicken-y flavor.  Here's to ornery roosters and sharing resources!

Mostly food-blogging lately, but that is in part because the high country is either burning up or subject to fire restrictions and, for the lowlands, it's hot out there- supposed to get up to 104 F today. Once the summer rains hit, if they do, things should get more interesting. Also, only another eleven weeks or so to dove and grouse season.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Pigging out

For the most part, my approach to handling game meat has been to try to keep it clean, keep it cool, and trim it up pretty quickly, boning out big game animals and then removing every bit of sinew and silverskin I could get to. For the most part, this works very well for elk, deer, and antelope. When my father and I used the same process on a feral hog, we ended up with a lot more trimming than meat. Also, rather than spending so very much time trying to grind and trim elk or deer shanks, I've taken to letting the oven, some wine, and time do the work. In what may turn out to be a bit of culinary evolution, when a friend got on the right side of a feral hog a little while back, we took a different approach.  
Feral pigs are spreading into New Mexico and have reportedly achieved the Rio Grande valley, which will serve as corridor and entree to the rest of the state. They've also been in the Sacramento mountains for a while and our friend found this one out in relatively flat country. In any event, he has a freezer or so full of meat and so very generously offered the skinned and dressed hog to us. We were a bit short on time, so rather than boning and trimming out the quarters, we turned to other methods. First, one bone-in hind quarter, which, hip to top of hock weighed about nine pounds. This we rubbed with salt and pepper and let sit a few hours, then smoked for another four hours over oak and pecan.  The next morning,  we popped the quarter into a big roaster with a cup or so of water and braised it at low temp for hours, until falling off the bone, for Carolina-style pulled pork.

For the fore-quarters, I cut the meat off the bone in long strips, then we rubbed them with a spice cure containing pink salt, following a recipe from Polcyn and Ruhlman's "Charcuterie" for tasso ham.

Like the pulled pork, we smoked the tasso pieces, in their case for about 8 hours, then wrapped them in foil and baked them at low heat until they hit an internal temperature of 165 F. Spicy and smoky, the tasso will no doubt be excellent in gumbo or jambalaya, if we don't eat it all just thinly sliced and accompanied by a cold beer or glass of vinho verde.

As to the last hindquarter, that we brined for a week, then smoked it for ham.



Ham and tasso on smoke:

After smoking, we wrapped the ham in foil and baked it to an internal 165 as well.

The ham came our really well. Nice texture, nicely salty and spiced with a bit more of a meaty flavor than most commercial hams I've had.

While this is a bit of a "me and Joe" or, in my case, "me and A" post, I hope to convey that the time put into curing or cooking isn't really that intensive- a lot of it is just patience- and the wild character of the meat still comes through in some very positive ways. Once things cool off in the fall, we'll be looking for wild pigs pretty hard, as I could easily use an entire hundred pounder's worth of tasso over a winter and want to try turning a loin into Canadian bacon.