Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why a Capon?

If you look at old recipes, especially those from the Renaissance, the preferred domestic fowl above all others is capon. I've always wondered, why not just a nice young chicken? The sort that we seem to like today? Well I think I finally figured it out this weekend. I suspected it was a flavor thing, sure. But it's actually even more a texture thing. Look at how wonderfully stringy that is. It shreds into a light kind of floss. I removed the breast and legs for roasting and put the rest in a pot for about 9 hours to gently simmer with vegetables for a brodo. The meat left on the bones was pure white, delicate, almost aethereal. Exactly the sort of whiteness you'd want in a blancmanger or the like. Even this dark meat is really light in texture, and I'm guessing this is why it was considered easier to digest than a chicken. It's also really moist and flavorful. Just a little pan drippings is all it needed. So is it worth it to find a capon? Absolutely.  

Here's an easy recipe to try from the Liber de coquina:

Capones et gallinas elixa et, positis speciebus et herbis odoriferis in mortario tere et etiam vitella ovorim et cum brodio distempera. Postea, insimul bulliantur quosque brodium sit gravatum.

Capons or chickens poach, and add spices and aromatic herbs, pound in a mortar and then egg yolks and temper with some broth. Next, boil briefly until the broth is thick.

The spices to use here would be cinnamon, sugar, maybe some nutmeg and herbs, parsley and maybe thyme. In the end you'll have a very interesting thick sauce. And remember to eat with your fingers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sweete Pies of Veale

For the IACP Conference in Chicago I'll be talking about coffins, as described in cookbooks and Shakespeare. Funeral Baked Meates, served as leftovers in Hamlet. We will be tasting too. The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen (1588) has a lovely recipe. The crust is hand raised. The proportions of filling seemed so perverse to me, that I had to test it. The crust is perfect:

To Make Paste, and to raise Coffins:  Take fine flower, and lay it on a boord, and take a certaine of yolkes of Egges as your quantities of flower is, then take a certaine of Butter and water, and boil them together, but ye must take heed ye put not too many yolks of Egges, for if you doe, it will make it drie and not pleasant in eating: and you must take heed ye put not in too much Butter for if you do, it will make it so fine and so short that you cannot raise. And this paste is good to raise all manner of Coffins.

To Make sweete pies of Veale:  Take Veale and perboyle it verie tender, then chop it small, then take twise as much beef suet and chop it small, then minse both them together, then put Corrans and minced Dates to them, then season your flesh after this manner. Take Pepper, salt, and Saffron, Cloves Mace, Synamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and season your flesh with each of these a quantitie, and mingle them together.

What does this mean? For a small pie that will serve 4, take 1/4 lb of veal shoulder. Braise it until tender and chop finely. Then take 1/2 pound of suet, chop finely by hand, add 1/4 lb of mixed dates chopped and currants. Throw in about a half cup sugar, a lot of cinnamon, other spices. Chill. Then take 2 cups of flour on a board, add an egg yolk, stir about. Boil 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup water, and mix it in. This will make a perfect malleable dough to raise your coffin by hand. I didn't use a rolling pin. Well, you can see that. Let it cool and no, you don't slice it. You break it and spoon out, with a 16th c. spoon like this. Set your table like this too.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Brandy 3 months

I think this is pretty much ready. Three months or so does sound far too quick, but given the small 3 liter barrel and large surface area contact, I think this might be enough. I also think it strikes a nice balance between fruit, which is still discernible (it was a zin) and alcohol (which has tamed down a bit, though I'm not sure why) and an intense butterscotch and caramel nose from the oak. I think any longer and the latter would completely overpower everything else and become cloying. Also a touch of vanillin sweetness. Very nice.

So let's say here she is. Brandy. Made entirely by hand in the 6 foot radius of my kitchen. Grapes courtesy of Elke and Kieran since mine were all eaten by a big fat rat this season. Really.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Turkey: The Gateway Cure

I know it seems oddly uncharacteristic, but I will admit, I really like deli turkey. Especially for breakfast. All the animals line up for a taste too, every morning. And it's so expensive. Around 10 dollars a pound. So last week I noticed that my grocer was getting rid of leftover turkey breast for about 1.50 a pound. Just baked, it is not something I would eat willingly, except maybe on Thanksgiving after the dark meat is gone. Dry, boring, blech. But cured, it's really quite fetching. And I realized this might be just the sort of thing for people who want to get started curing meat but aren't ready yet to deal with dry aging pork. It couldn't be simpler:
Get a half turkey breast, which will weigh about 5 pounds. Put it in a thick 2 gallon ziplock bag. Add 4 tablespoons sea salt. 3 tablespooons sugar and 1 teaspoon instacure #1 (pink salt). Add however much seasoning you like. I used thyme and a little oregano. Then rub it all over, and throw in the fridge for a week. Turn it every day. Normally I would smoke it at this point, but this time, I wanted something simpler. Just take the bag and put it directly into a pot of cold water, covered. Ramp up until it comes to a gentle simmer. Then lower the heat way down and let it sit in the hot water for about 45-50 minutes. Then let it cool at room temperature, and put back in the fridge. In the morning slice it as thinly as you can. It will be firm and much easier to slice than baked turkey. Don't panic, it will be a little pink. And it will not be dry. Perfect for sandwiches. Dogs and cats love it too!