"Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." Marthe Troly-Curtin

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Smokin' Lamb Bacon

Photos by Darius Brotman
Not all bacon is pork
(JULY 2, 2009) Here's something to gladden the hearts of my fellow food nerds: You can easily make smoked lamb bacon at home, and it's delicious! Lamb is a local product from our own Humboldt fields of green, and in fact the local connection is the only way to get the required cut. Especially if you wish to avoid pork for whatever reason, lamb makes a great bacon.

I first learned about this from my daughter Jada (of "Table Talk" fame). She sells cheese at a swell grocery in Brooklyn, and her friend and co-worker Brian made lamb bacon and got a rave review in the New York Times online food blog. The store was swamped with requests for it.

Brian, it seems, used lamb pieces that have usually been discarded - fatty "flaps" that hang from the saddle. Not being a butcher, I haven't actually seen these. But I found a local producer willing to provide me with actual lamb belly - the proper cut, I would think, for bacon. Jill Hackett of Ferndale Farms (, who sells beef and lamb Saturdays at the Arcata Farmers' Market, offered to provide me with lamb belly, a cut that's not normally available. But since every lamb has a belly, it seems that, if requested, it can be gotten.

Bacon is by definition cured, and generally smoked. Both these processes are fraught with age-old controversies - what follows is just one method. I started with a three-pound piece of lamb belly, which came frozen and wrapped; I thawed it in the refrigerator overnight, and then unwrapped it. It was a rectangle about 8" x 12" x 1-1/2". Just like pork, it's fat streaked with lean; some areas of it were quite meaty, and others mostly fat. I trimmed off a few loose bits and some particularly tough skin, wrapped the slab in a cotton dishtowel and left it in the fridge for another day to age slightly - basically, to dry out a bit. Incidentally, any piece of red meat, lamb or beef, can be advantageously "aged" this way in the fridge, for as long as you dare. Just don't leave it in plastic wrap or a Styrofoam tray.

For the "dry cure" mix 1-1/3 cup of salt - pure salt, such as bulk sea salt or kosher salt - and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Old recipes call for the addition of saltpeter, or sodium nitrate; this is completely unnecessary. French recipes call for various herbs (pepper, bay, thyme); that's up to you. I didn't add anything. Rub the cure all over the meat (the rubbing is not important, but the meat should be completely covered) and lay it in a dish, such as a rectangular baking dish, and cover closely with a sheet of plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge for 48 hours. A mysterious process occurs (I've never been particularly interested in chemical details) and a good deal of liquid is expelled, but there will still be an excess of undissolved salt and sugar.

The cured meat, which becomes very firm, is too salty to eat. (You can taste it at any point; most people are squeamish about raw pork, but lamb is no problem.) So the next step is to remove some of the salt and sugar by soaking in plenty of fresh cool water; soak for about an hour and a quarter. The bacon will still be pretty salty, but reasonable; you can soak it longer if desired. If you want to delay smoking the meat for scheduling reasons, you can keep the cured meat, before soaking, for a considerable time in the refrigerator. The cure acts to preserve the meat.

Ready to smoke? There are all kinds of setups for smoking, but if you have a kettle barbecue in decent condition you're all set. Clear the bottom of the barbecue and set in something like a throwaway aluminum baking pan to catch drips from the lamb (there won't be very much). Make a tiny fire of charcoal, preferably natural mesquite charcoal, using 3 or 4 chunks, way over to one side. My preferred starter: a propane torch. When the charcoal is lit, add a few pieces of smoking wood. I used little rounds of Asian pear wood from a tree we'd trimmed; any fruit wood or hardwood (such as maple, oak or alder) is just fine. It is really not necessary to soak the wood; plenty of smoke comes from simply cutting down the air supply - close down the air intake openings at the bottom to about a quarter open.

Put in the grill rack and place the lamb over the drip pan. Place an ordinary oven thermometer by the meat, but not over the fire. Cover the barbecue and close down the air holes on the lid also, to a quarter open - they should be on the opposite side from the fire. Smoke will soon pour out. Don't uncover too often, but check the thermometer periodically; it should range from 110º to 150º - 120º is ideal. Replenish the coals and the smoking wood as required. You might have to fiddle with the air supply. You don't need to be neurotic about it; it's okay if it smokes in fits and starts. Turn the meat over every couple hours. Keep it up all day, or even for two days - in that case, take the meat out and refrigerate overnight.

This temperature range is technically smoke-cooking; true smoking is cold, no more than 80º. But even 150º is not enough to melt the lamb fat, which you want to avoid.

You're done! To fry, slice the bacon thinly with a good knife. Because of the sugar content, fry it slowly, over a low flame, watching closely and turning often for fear of burning. (You may have noticed that some brands of regular bacon are sweet and burn very easily. Like the salt, the sugar content is regulated by your soaking time.) A great deal of fat will render out; fry until nicely crisp all through. Yum! The kitchen will smell quite lamby, but the fried bacon doesn't taste at all gamy.

This smoking method also works superbly for raw fish, such as trout. Because of its delicacy, put the fish on a separate fine rack. Keep the temperature to 115-120º. The fish should cook and smoke nicely in about two hours.

It's also a great way to cook pork ribs. Sprinkle them generously with salt and smoke-cook them at 150-160º for five or six hours. To get the higher temperature, use a few more coals and open the air intake a little more. They will be improved with a final searing at a much hotter temperature, giving them a little crackle.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Moroccan Spiced Goat Cheese

Serves 4 to 6
This fragrant spiced goat cheese is quick and simple to make. The combination of sweet and nutty spices, which includes cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and cloves, is delicious sprinkled on pork or chicken before grilling, too.

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (4- to 6-ounce) log, crotin or pyramid fresh goat cheese
Crostini or crackers

Combine pepper, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves on a large plate. Roll goat cheese in mixed spices until completely covered.

Transfer to a serving plate with crackers or crostini.

Per serving (about 1oz/30g-wt.): 80 calories (60 from fat), 6g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 15mg cholesterol, 105mg sodium, 2g total carbohydrate (1g dietary fiber, 0g sugar), 5g protein

Breaded Sauteed Goat Cheese Patties Recipe

These goat cheese patties will work as an appetizer1, side dish, or a full meal with a few accompaniments. The goat cheese used here is chevre, as opposed to feta2. The recipe is easily multiplied.
1 cup soft goat cheese (chevre)
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
Optional Accompaniments:
English muffins or little toasts
Thinly sliced radishes
Thinly sliced cucumber
Tiny cherry tomatoes
Place about 2 tablespoons of the cheese3 on a piece of plastic wrap. Cover with another piece of plastic wrap, and gently pat and "massage" the cheese into a patty 2 inches in diameter and 3/4 inch thick. (You can also skip the plastic wrap, and just use your hands. Dampen them first, so the cheese won't stick.) Repeat with the rest of the cheese. You should have 8 patties.

Place the bread crumbs on a plate, grind in some fresh black pepper, and stir to mix. Press the cheese patties into the crumbs until coated on both sides and around the edges.

Place a heavy, nonstick skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, wait about 30 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan. When the skillet is very hot, add the coated cheese patties and saute for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown, adding more oil if necessary. When they are done to your liking, transfer the sauteed patties to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels.

Serve hot or very warm, sprinkled with more freshly ground black pepper, along with your choice of accompaniments.

Yield: About 4 servings (2 patties each); easily multiplied
Cook's Notes:
Crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, these patties are a luxurious treat. Eat them plain or accompanied by little toasts and some vegetables and olives. They also fit perfectly on an English muffin or tucked inside a cooked portobello mushroom. You can make these ahead of time and store them in an airtight wrapper or container in the refrigerator for up to a week. They reheat very quickly (about 20 seconds on High) in a microwave. You can also keep the patties warm in a 300-degree F oven just after cooking them.

Recipe Source: Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe4 by Mollie Katzen (Hyperion)
Reprinted with permission.

Springtime Risotto

3 tablespoons Carapelli mild olive oil, divided
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 - 3/4 pounds asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 2-inch pieces*
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh chives, for garnish, if desired

Cooking Directions
In large saucepan, in 2 tablespoons olive oil, sauté carrots until tender. Add asparagus spears. Cover and cook about 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender. Transfer vegetables to a bowl and set aside. In same saucepan, in remaining oil, add onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Add uncooked rice. Cook and stir over medium heat 3-5 minutes or until rice is golden brown. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat chicken broth and white wine to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and maintain a simmer. Slowly add 1 cup of the broth to the rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until liquid is absorbed. Continue to add 1 cup of broth at a time to rice mixture, stirring constantly, until all broth has been added, absorbed and the rice mixture is creamy. Add cheeses and vegetables to rice; stir until well blended. Garnish as desired with fresh chives. Serves 6.

Refrigerate any leftover dressing.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Wine Suggestion: Chardonnay, Bardolino

*To select asparagus: Look for brightly colored, firm spears with tight buds. Choose even-sized spears for uniform cooking. To store, trim ends and stand spears upright in a tall glass with 1-inch of water in the bottom.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slow-cooked shoulder of goat with tabouleh

Serves 4
Shoulder of goat:
1 boned shoulder of goat (or rolled shoulder roast)
2 bunches of thyme
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 dl red wine
4 dl stock

6 bunches of parsley
1 bunch of mint
1 bunch of spring onions
10 tomatoes
1 lemon
150 grams of finely ground bulghur
2 spoons of olive oil
salt and pepper

Bone the shoulder, roll it and tie it with string. Brown the meat on all sides Add the thyme, peppercorns, bay leaves and red wine and boil the sauce down to a minimum and then add the stock. Transfer the meat to an ovenproof dish with a lid and pour the sauce in. Put the lid on and cook the dish in the oven for a couple of hours at 160°C.

Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley, mint and spring onions. Cut the tomatoes into small squares and save the juice from the tomatoes. Put the bulghur into a bowl and add the tomato juice with the lemon juice to it. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Wassim Hallal, chef

Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

This is something for the Sweet Tooth we all have!!!

6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) fresh goat cheese (also known as goat fromage blanc, available in bulk at specialty foods shops)
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted, for coating the truffles

In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate, stirring until it is smooth, remove the bowl from the pan, and let the chocolate cool slightly. In a bowl whisk together the goat cheese, the confectioners' sugar, the vanilla, and the lemon extract until the mixture is light and fluffy, whisk in the chocolate until the mixture is combined well, and chill the mixture, covered, for 1 hour, or until it is firm. Form heaping teaspoons of the mixture into balls and roll the balls in the cocoa powder. Chill the truffles on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper for 30 minutes, or until they are firm. The truffles keep in an airtight container, chilled, for 3 days.