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  1. Very interesting idea, Jeff. Though I've been out of the country and away from my curing stuff for several months, I haven't stopped thinking about it. The cigar humidifiers sound particularly intriguing. I've been struggling with temp/humidity in the dorm-size fridge I use for curing. One problem is that its warmest temperature is still cooler than ideal for curing. But then my foray into cheesemaking led me to a separate fridge thermostat that cycles the fridge on and off based on the temperature sensor: Thermostat With a range that can be set from 30-80, this seems ideal, so I'm going to look into getting one when I come home. That leaves the problem of humidity. I tried using the pan of salt/water to regulate the humidity, but eventually the whole inside of the fridge got covered in salt from evaporated water. Nor was it particularly steady. Your suggestion about cigar humidifiers got me searching on google, and I ran across the following that looks ideal, as it can be set to maintain a specific humidity level: humidifier Anyway, I'm interested in hearing what others might think of this and any opinions on how it would work...
  2. Rubashov

    Flaming Woks

    Thanks for the analysis, everyone. I knew the bright minds on eGullet would know the answer. I'm just embarrassed I didn't think of asking here earlier... Interesting suggestion with the cast iron wok. I may have to look into that. I do most of my cooking with cast iron already and have a good feel for how it handles. Does anyone reading this have any stong feelings - either positive or negative - towards cast iron woks? Here's another thought: I once saw Alton Brown advocating pre-heating a cast iron skillet to "NASA hot" temperatures in the oven before using it to sear duck. I wonder how well it would work to pre-heat a cast iron wok in the oven before throwing it on the stove for the cooking. Might help with even heat distribution. Thoughts, anyone? As you may have guessed, the reason I'm thinking about workaround solutions is because I unfortunately don't have access to a nice wok burner, whether inside or outside. Of course, this is all theoretical at the moment, as I'm in Moscow for the next few months and won't be doing any wokking until I get back to the States. Hard to find good Chinese food of any sort over here
  3. Rubashov

    Flaming Woks

    I've been wokking around for a couple of years now but have always been uncertain about something which manifests itself as fire about twice a year. I'm hoping somebody can help... Everything I've ever read about wok cooking says that in order to produce the desired wok flavor ("wok hei") you need extremely high heat. In fact, many sources say that this level of heat just isn't possible on a home electric range. The need for greater heat leads many wokkers to go outdoors where they can use propane burners to really heat things up. I also know the principle that "the wok heats alone." In other words, heat the wok, add the oil, and then the ingredients. So here's what happens to me twice a year: I put my carbon steel wok on the largest burner on my electrical stove at home. I turn the burner on high - it may not be rocket-engine heat, but it's as hot as I can get it. I let the wok get good and hot. Really good and hot. Then I add the oil, drizzling it around the sides so that it can warm up on the way down, something I read somewhere. I use peanut oil because its high smoke point. And almost as soon as the oil hits the center of the wok it bursts into flames. On goes the lid and out comes the smoke. For the next six months I do my wokking over lower heat where I know it's safe, yearning for the real flavor of the wok. And so gradually I creep upwards, letting it get hotter and hotter until one night the cycle is reborn out of the ashes of my flaming wok. Obviously I'm a bit confused here: if my electrical range is theoretically not capable of produceing wok hei heat, why does the oil still go up in flames? Wouldn't the problem be just as bad, if not worse, if I were using a powerful burner at higher temperatures outdoors? And of course, the more practical question is how can I crank my stove up as hot as possible and get what wok hei I can but avoid the fire?
  4. Having started out on a manual #10 grinder and moved to the KA, I'm torn. Here's how I'd break it down: Manual advantages: Heavy duty - you can grind nearly frozen meat/fat. The limiting factor is your own "horsepower." This makes it easier when you're obsessed with keeping things cold, which you usually have to be with sausages (esp. emulsified): the colder the meat starts, the colder it stays. I've also found that near-frozen meat avoids most smearing problems, including when the meat is sinewy/membranous also. They also have the advantage of multiple grinding plate sizes. Manual disadvantages: Heavy, not as fast as an electric or KA, a little harder to clean, usually not stainless so they can rust if the tinning comes off. It's a little harder to use without a helper, but not that hard. KA advantages: Easier, faster, can do it easily by yourself. The height on the KA also lets you grind straight into a bowl, which can be set in ice if you're concerned about keeping things cold. Easier cleanup and storage. KA disadvantages: Not as powerful and doesn't handle tough things as well, like partially frozen meat. On some occasions if my KA is straining I'll start to notice black stuff coming through the drive shaft into the auger area. I don't know if this is from the rubber o-rings farther back, but I don't like it. It also tends to smear more because membranes can clog the knife more easily when they're warmer. Also doesn't allow for more than the 2 plate sizes that come with it. So, I don't have a clear winner. I've held on to my manual just in case, but in the meantime I'm trying to be good about methods that keep my ground meat cold without straining the motor on the KA (like using the ice bowl, or separating my meat chunks into 3 smaller batches, only taking the batches out one at a time to grind). Maybe a big standalone combines the best of both worlds, but I don't have any experience with that. However, I would second the comment made above that you should avoid, if at all possible, sausage stuffing attachments to auger-style grinders, whether manual or electric. They result in smeared forcemeats, ruining the definition. The Grizzly stuffer is a great tool for about $60 I think. Hope this helps, Rob
  5. Hi everyone, I just successfully completed my first emulsified sausage, and boy, do I feel cool! It's a recipe not in the book - a Swedish sausage named "jalkorv" - but I followed the book's procedure and even modified the recipe a little bit to conform to book's guidelines. In short, it turned out great. We're spending Thanksgiving with a family of Swedish descent, and this was a special request when they heard I make sausage. It's fun to be in demand! My only question is regarding consistency. I used the mixer method (as opposed to the food processor method), and yet the sausages still seem more fluffy and airy than I'd like. Has anyone else run into this issue? If so, how does one get around it? On a different note, I'm curious how others will be incorporating charcuterie into their Thanksgiving meals. Last year I did an appetizer for a holiday party that I called "Thanksgiving in one bite." It was a round of Italian toast (to simulate the stuffing), topped by a turkey-cranberry sausage, with some mashed potatoes piped on top. Delicious! Take care, and happy Thanksgiving, everyone. -Rob
  6. Hello everyone. As I watch my drying salamis shrink with each passing day, I'm inclined to use a larger casing the next time around (this time I used regular hog casings). I'm particularly curious whether anyone has had much luck doing dried sausages in collagen casings. Also, I've seen that supply places like The Sausagemaker sell regular collagen casings and stronger "smokehouse" casings that they say can support the weight of hanging sausages. Does anyone have any experience with either of these, or an opinion on which to use? Thanks, Rob
  7. Oh, nevermind! I got home this evening (about 7 hours later) and the little guys had taken on a lovely deep red color. Pretty cool! Anyone know what's going on behind the scenes that causes that?
  8. Greetings, everyone. Lots to report on. My "coppa" finished drying a couple weeks ago and the bone-in lamb prosciutto just finished. I use quotations on "coppa" because while I did use whole muscle from the shoulder, I don't think it was the actual coppa, nor did I stuff it into casings. But it is delicious. The lamb prosciutto is also quite tasty, although I decided to trim as much of the remaining exterior fat, as it was just a bit too strong for my tastes. I promise to post pictures when my wife returns with the camera. I also did a great canadian bacon in the stovetop smoker, which produced surprisingly good results. I think the key was to really let if form a good pellicle for the smoke to adhere to, since it spent a shorter amount of time with the smoke than it would have in a real smoker. Still, with only about 45 minutes worth of smoke, it was surprisingly smoky. Finally, I just finished putting out some bratwurst, polish, and tuscan salame. I do have a question about the latter. It's been incubating for a couple of hours now and is a tan/brown color. Is this normal? I guess I was expecting it to stay pink/reddish. Or will it turn reddish once the nitrates turn into nitrites? The good news is that I can definitely smell the bacteria doing their business. So cool! I'm also excited because a friend of mine just finished her PhD in something biological and bequeathed to me her unused pH meter. -Rob
  9. Being curious about the bacon question myself, I found the following interesting piece online: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=bacon The most interesting (and disturbing) part is the following: "These days most bacon found in supermarkets is hot smoked, but not in the traditional manner. The whole process is expedited (and therefore much cheaper) by first injecting the un-cured belly with brine, then an atomized smoke and hot water solution is injected to cook and provided a smoky flavour to the belly. This is bacon at its most pointless, and when prepared in such a manner it tends to ooze moisture in the pan and end up dry. The flavour also suffers, instead of a full and delicious natural smoke flavour, a pale chemical imitation is the result." Sure makes you feel good about what we're doing! -Rob
  10. Greetings all. I'm happy to report that I just returned from Tahiti, and the lamb prosciutto and coppa I hung before leaving are doing quite well. I was very relieved to find no mold or other critters when I got back, considering that they were left unattended for about 3 weeks. I'm also happy to report that it seems the coating of lard I put on when I hung them is working - it's prevented the exterior from drying too quickly or developing any sort of crust. In fact, it seems to be slowing down the entire drying process (a good thing, as far as I'm concerned). After 3 weeks, each piece had only lost about 15% of their weight, meaning lots of time for flavor to develop. I'm aiming for 40% loss overall, so it will be a while longer. After I checked the pieces, I redistributed the lard a bit, re-wrapped them in cheesecloth, and returned them to the chamber. Fun stuff! Finally, I'm looking forward to a fun weekend, as I finally got my KA grinder and Grizzly stuffer. No more hand-cranked meat grinding/stuffing for me! Best, Rob
  11. In other news, I just hung my bone-in lamb prosciutto and a coppa (solid muscle, no casing) to dry. I'm taking off tomorrow to get married next weekend. By the time I return from the honeymoon in about 3 weeks, I'm hoping there will be some tasty progress on the charcuterie front. Since it appeared that my bresaola dried a bit quicker on the outside than I would have liked (thus leaving the slight ring on it), I rubbed both pieces liberally with lard before I hung them. Definitely a job for latex gloves! It wasn't pretty, but it got much easier (albeit messier) once the lard warmed up a bit. Then I wrapped them in cheesecloth and hung them up in my curing chamber, which is a mini-fridge. Of course, the out-of-town approach may be risky, as I won't be here to check the humidity levels and see whether there's any funky green stuff growing anywhere. However, to try to hedge my bets, I wiped down the whole interior of the fridge with a bleach solution just to kill anything that was thinking of messing with my stuff! I'll report on the results when I get home, hopefully with some good news! Best, Rob
  12. Cool, that sounds great. I'll have to get my hands on some pecan around here in that case. I usually use hickory when I'm smoking beef, pork, ribs, etc., but I think that would be too harsh for the fish. -Rob
  13. Thanks, Doc-G and Michael, I appreciate it. As with most things, this one follows the saying that "necessity is the mother of invention." In my case, it's a necessity to find new and interesting things to do with bluefish. By late August, they will almost literally be jumping into the boat, and while we throw back most of what we catch (50+ fish days aren't uncommon), you still end up with a lot of fillets. There's only so much panfried, grilled, and poached bluefish I can take, so I figured it was time to add a new preparation method to the arsenal. There's another experiment built in too: blues are notorious for freezing poorly. Apparently their high oil content goes rancid before too long in the freezer, resulting in something that "tastes like cat food," according to my fishing partner. I intend to put a cured fillet in the freezer for a while to see if the salting/curing process mitigates that effect. If not, I guess I'll be left with some salty dill-flavored cat food! -Rob
  14. Welcome to the fold, Shannon! The duck prosciutto is a good place to start and promises impressive results. As for your concerns about the impression you'll make on guys visiting your apartment, my only advice is this: any man that can't appreciate cured meat products isn't worth keeping around! Good luck and enjoy the adventure! -Rob
  15. Greetings, all. I thought I'd report on my lastest project. The bluefish are just starting to appear in the northeast, and I figured it was worth some experimentation. For those of you that aren't familiar with bluefish (I had never seen one until I moved east), they're voracious eaters with oily flesh like salmon. I've often seen bluefish listed as an "alternative ingredient" for smoked salmon recipes, and that got me thinking... So, I cured a couple of freshly caught (by me!) bluefish fillets using a recipe for gravlax (salt, white pepper, and LOTS of dill). I knew they would taste good, but I was worried about their appearance, as the raw bluefish fillet looks a bit gray and unappetizing (see the photo below). Fortunately, when it's sliced thin an put on the plate, they don't look too bad. I cured them for about 36 hours, rinsed off the cure and dill, decided they were too salty, and put them in cold water for about 5 hours. The final product was outstanding. It makes a nice appetizer served with crackers and a whipped cream, horseradish, and mustard sauce. Since this went so well, I might try to do some cold-smoked bluefish in the fall, as the blues keep getting bigger and bigger through October. -Rob
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