Charcutepalooza: Makin’ Bacon Part I

For a gal whose love of bacon and bacon flavored items (chapstick, chocolate, donuts, vodka) has been well-documented – I am ashamed to admit that I have never cured my own bacon.

Well, that changes this week.

In fact, this year will have me salting, smoking and curing many an item. Inspired by a post shared by Boisean & fellow foodie blogger Lynn Marshall, I’m jumping on the Charcutepalooza (“shar-coo-ta-pa-loo-za”) challenge created by Mrs Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy and guided by the bible for Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.
Come on, how could a foodie NOT want to be involved in something known as 12 Months of Meat?

And after reading the forward from Thomas Keller, I was hooked.
A final reason Charcuterie is important: it recongizes the pig as the superior creature that it is. From a culinary standpoint, the pig is unmatched in the diversity of flavors and tetures it offers the cook and the uses it can be put to-from head to tail, from ham to tenderloin, it’s a marvel. A pieve of pork belly can be brined, roasted, grilled, sauteed, dry-roasted, braised, or confited, with widely varying results. This is a very hopeful time for the pig in America, and this book underscores that fact.”

Charcutepalooza began with duck prosciutto as the January challenge. I’m a bit late to the meat-wagon so I’ll be playing catchup on that challenge (once I figure out how to configure a curing locale in my tiny house!)

But it is kind of fitting that I begin in February – the Salt Cure – and with the apprentice challenge option – fresh bacon.

A simple list of ingredients and not too difficult directions made me a bit overconfident. One of my toughest challenges? Finding the pink salt needed for curing (Ruhlman said I should order it online, but my instant-gratification-self didn’t want to wait). After hitting all my Bench grocery stores and Cabela’s cooking section I found Himalayan pink salt at the Boise Co-op. Is it the right pink salt? I have no idea. But it did look pretty and it is doing its salty-curey thing in the fridge right now.
The recipe did mention ‘high quality pork belly’. We made a round of calls to all of our familiar meat stops – Smoky Davis, Porterhouse, Boise Co-op. No such luck (though Smoky said they were ‘out’). Amusingly, searching ‘Boise pork belly’ on Google pulls up several Idaho Foodies posts :-) So we went to our Pork Belly standby of the Orient Market which carries it and many other fascinating meat items on Saturdays. It was slightly frozen so I may have misstepped again with not getting totally fresh belly. 
Me rubbing the belly with the cure mixture. (Warning: there will be many references during the 12 Months of Meat to rubbing, massaging, working my meat – so get the giggles out early!)
Although I’ve read chapters from the wonderful non-fiction book Salt: A World History, I didn’t quite realize the amazing qualities of a salt cure until I saw what happened within hours to my belly.  Here’s the Day Two view – juicy bacon-curing deliciousness as the salt cure works its magic extracting moisture.
Looking forward to seeing if I’ve screwed up my first challenge – or stumbled on a delicious foodie skill I can replicate over and over again.
Stay tuned for Makin’ Bacon Part II in a week! 

- Jess

Mmmmm….Pork in Poughkeepsie

Just returned from a whirlwind week-long trip to where I grew up – the Hudson River Valley in New York in a small town called Poughquag. The biggest city in the area that people had actually heard of is Poughkeepsie. It’s a city that is still in transition – much like I remembered it from 12 years ago. But there are a few bright spots – including a restaurant we stumbled upon serendipitously (and – with the help of Yelp ;-)


The Artist’s Palate is run by owner/chef couple Megan & Charles Fells (one a product of the nearby C.I.A) - and features a revolving seasonal menu (revolving every two weeks per their site). We checked around for what was in walking distance from our hotel – and the props on Yelp, Foursquare & TripAdvisor sang the locale’s praises. 
The vibe inside was casual yet hip with a touch of industrial. Heck, I’d love to be described that way ;-). We were seated right next to the open kitchen and got an up close and personal look/listen at Chef Fells expediting on the line. Sometimes seeing how the sausage is made is a great experience. Especially when the chef steps tableside to give you the personal story behind one of the most popular dishes.
Second to my love of bacon is Kevin’s love of bacon. So – when we saw Bacon & Eggs on the menu he had to order it. Crispy Pork Belly? Hells yes! With a side of a 4-minute egg inspired by Craftsteak Las Vegas. Um, yeah! (official description: crispy pork belly confit, sauteed parmesean polenta, frisse, soft heritage breed egg). We are now on the hunt for a pork belly purveyor in Boise and you can bet that we’ll be working through a few dozen eggs trying to perfect the panko crusted 4-minutes of heaven. 

I’m not a lamb girl by any means. But I am a homemade pasta freak (see previous mac n cheese & gnocchi posts). So I had to take the risk and order the House Made Ravioli: pasta pillows filled with braised local lamb, fresh herbs, tossed with poughkeepsie farm projects rainbow chard, heirloom tomatoes, fresh garlic. Pure delight, the richness of the braised lamb was set off by the fresh veggies. 

Add to all this the proud emphasis on local ingredients, casual yet innovative vibe and service that made us feel like VIPs at a chef’s table made it our favorite meal of the week.  I often wonder if restaurants realize how much service and personal attention impacts their overall impression. Was the food itself the most skillfully executed or delicious? Actually, no. We had some fantastic entrees at the CIA’s American Bounty restaurant and an over-the-top spread at a wedding in Queens. But the experience was second-to-none and that made this food memory tops for the week.

- Jess