Month: April 2014

Head Cheese

Pork, red pepper, chives and lemon

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Since first opening the Toqué! cookbook and looking through the recipes, I have really been looking forward to making this head cheese. One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this project was to learn how utilize ingredients we would not normally buy, cook with, or eat. A pig’s head certainly fits in this category!

 

We were able to get an incredibly fresh pig’s head (butchered that morning) from our favorite butcher at the local farmer’s market. We brought the head home and I thoroughly washed it. Thankfully, the butcher had recommended that the head be sliced in two, and it turned out even our largest pot at 18 quarts could only accommodate half of it.

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To begin the cooking, half of the pig’s head was put into the pot, along with 7 liters of water, juniper berries, bay leaves, black pepper, carrots, onions, and a pig’s foot (at the recommendation of our butcher, who makes a lot of head cheese himself). The stock was then brought to a boil, and left to simmer for about 4 hours.

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As making head cheese is a two day process, I needed to make myself dinner for that evening–so I put the second half of the head in a roasting pan with the same ingredients and spices as the stock, some maple syrup, what was left of the apple we used for photographing, and roasted in the oven for 7 hours on low heat until the skin was crispy and the meat was wonderfully soft and flavorful. That night, I sat down hungry with half of a pig’s head, a knife and a fork. The thing that really surprised me about the roasted dish was how many different textures of pork there were. The ear was so incredibly crispy, the cheek meat was fatty and stringy, the meat around the eyes was dark and soft, and the meat around the neck was very much like the regular roasted pork I’m used to.

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After four hours of simmering, the meat and bones were strained out of the pot to cool, and I discovered first-hand how much of a time consuming process making head cheese really is! One of the skills I have been working on developing in the kitchen is patience. I have been known in the past to undercook meats, under-reduce sauces and even leave out components due to various reasons (usually hunger). I have since discovered that the secret to creating technically correct food is patience–unfortunately my patience is directly related to my hunger. Now I make sure I don’t cook hungry… and my food has been tasting much better as a result!

 

The strained pork head stock was successfully boiled down from 28 cups of liquid to 2 cups (a proud accomplishment for me) while skimming off the impurities as they arose. As the reducing process took quite a few hours, I had plenty of time to separate the pork into two piles: the parts I wanted to eat, and the bits I didn’t.

 

The resulting pork jus was then mixed with the select meat, some finely diced red peppers, chives, lemon zest, salt and pepper. I have some experience making cured meats, and have learned that when something is to be eaten cold, you must over season it while it’s still warm for the salt balance to be correct when it cools. I then poured the mixture into a terrine mould lined with plastic wrap, and left it in the fridge to solidify overnight.

 

The next day, we made some sautéed balsamic vinegar and thyme pearl onions with sunflower seed flatbread as accompaniments to complete the meal.

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The head cheese was delicious: extremely fatty and flavorful. Along with the onions and flat bread, it made for a perfect lunch! One of the aspects of this project that I dislike is that most of these recipes that we try can only be attempted once due to the sheer volume of recipes we will be making for the blog. If I were to make this dish again, I would be more careful with lining the terrine with the plastic wrap to avoid ridges, and take the time to shred the pork into small pieces (as the recipe instructed). The pork jus with lemon was extremely flavorful, which made the large chunks of pork and fat seem a little bit bland by contrast–next time I’ll follow the recipe to a T!.

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Jar of Pigeon

Squab, maple syrup, pine, and citrus

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Maybe this is just the inner-French-Canadian speaking, but generally when I see a gaggle of geese–or a duck swimming in the pond–or a rabbit at the pet store–I think, “Wow, you look delicious”! It is only since doing the Chicken Casserole recipe that I now have these feelings for coniferous trees, they are delicious. I’ve been eyeing a couple of the trees close to my house, and today I went around tasting some of them. One tree was particularly delicious, and while not spot-on with the flavour of Balsam Fir, it was pretty similar! And since the book said any conifer would work, I’ve opted to use this for the Jar of Pigeon recipe.

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This recipe started with butchering squab–something I’ve never done before. The pigeon came from the butcher with a few feathers stuck to it (visible in the picture above), but it was a fairly straightforward process with a very steep learning curve. I found that I’d completely “butchered” one of each appendage… the second went more smoothly. We’ve tried to highlight the squab’s good side in the pictures.

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Next the aromatics were heated up in small carbon steel pan and then placed in a wide mouth mason jar. The squab was seared in the pan to render off some of the fat and crisp up the skin. It was then placed in the jar with the aromatics, and drizzled with some wonderful Abitibi maple syrup.

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Next some luting paste was made in the same fashion as the Chicken Casserole dish, applied as a seal around the perimeter of the mason jar, and placed in the oven to bake.

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I have to say that this dish was much easier to free from it’s containment vessel than the Chicken Casserole, as squab meat is cooked rare the luting paste didn’t have too much time to harden in the oven.

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When I got the lid off, our dog was kind enough to provide some quality control as he has many years of experience hunting pigeon.

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Approved!

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This was my first time eating squab, and it shocked me a little–in a good way. The meat tasted very strongly of iron and and it tasted surprisingly fatty! Since Melissa doesn’t eat meat, I don’t get a lot of iron in my diet–I was shocked to learn that Squab has 3x the iron content of beef! The meat inside was beautifully pink and just cooked past rare. I’m starting to really enjoy the flavour combination of maple and coniferous tree needles. I plan to make pigeon a regular part of my diet!

Banana Sorbet and Mousse with Dry Saffron Meringue

Banana, eggs, cream and saffron

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We were so impressed with the Pom Pom Pom recipe that we opted for another dessert–and we weren’t disappointed! This recipe was a lot more involved than we had initially anticipated… it consists of 4 major parts:

  • Banana sorbet
  • Banana powder
  • Banana mousse
  • Saffron meringue

We decided to undertake this over two days in order to allow some time in between each component. First we made the sorbet, which involved infusing chopped banana into some cream, milk, and vanilla. We then passed the mixture through a chinois and set the banana pulp aside for the following component.

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Next we added some egg yolks and whisked and heated the sieved mixture into a custard. This was then run through our ice cream maker attachment for our stand mixer and placed into a mould in the freezer. So far so good!

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We then started on the banana powder, which was slightly more stressful. This used the pulpy excess from the first part of the recipe and requires blending it with egg white powder, sugar, and water. The mixture was then spread as thinly as we could manage on our silicon baking mat, and baked for the allotted amount of time.

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This is where things started to get stressful… after the required amount of time had passed, we still didn’t have a hard crispy banana cracker. Instead we had a partially dehydrated, but still mushy substance. We figure that this is probably due to the size of our silicon baking mat (11 5/8″ x 16 3/8″)–it’s size is limited by our shamefully small oven. So to accommodate this, we allowed this to bake for more than double the time, and flipped it during baking. We were fortunate to have gotten the result shown below!

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We blended the crispy banana cracker into a powder and started with the saffron meringue, which had a surprisingly similar procedure. We allowed for some saffron to bloom in some egg whites. This was our first time working with saffron, we had picked some up from the Jean-Talon market spice store (Olives & Épices) the last time we were in Montreal, but had never been brave enough to use it!

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Next we whisked the saffron and egg whites into a meringue with stiff peaks.

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This mixture also needed to be spread thinly and baked, but we learned our lesson from the banana powder and instead employed some parchment paper and a rolling pin to get a very thin layer of meringue.

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The final component was the banana mousse, which was simple enough but required 6 hours in the fridge. The mousse required mixing egg yolks, corn starch, cream, and some of the banana infusion we made earlier into a custard. Next, it was poured into a siphon and charged with N2O. We decided to put the mousse aside in the fridge and plate up the final dish the next day (we were exhausted!).

Sunday comes along and we get to work plating while there is still a lot of natural light for photographs. We removed the sorbet from the mould and carefully siphoned mouse around it.

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Next we used a squeeze bottle to surround the dessert with molasses and lightly scattered some banana powder and saffron meringue over the dessert and plating surface.

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The resulting dessert was SO worth the hours of effort! It was surprising to us how much of a natural banana flavour came across in this recipe. We’ve tried several banana desserts in the past and were shocked at how “unmodified” the dessert tasted. It felt like even though we manipulated the banana in several ways for this dessert, its taste stayed true to the ingredient. The saffron and molasses complimented the banana, and added some texture and sweetness to the dish. It isn’t a flavour combination we would have been able to come up with on our own, and we are very impressed.

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Yum!

Note: We deviated slightly from the plating procedure outlined in the book, if you try this recipe, you may get a different visual result!