A Giggle and a Pinch of Lot’s Wife

If there’s any one important thing to remember about Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book is that it’s salty. Like really salty. The book itself secretes salt crystals if you don’t pay attention. I’m not complaining, I love me some salty food.

So, they had local pork shoulder on sale for cheap (on sale for CHEAP!). The pork shoulder was cheap but do you know what is hard to find? Pig fat. What the hell, Vermont? There are pigs everywhere. Most of the people I know who are raising and slaughtering their own pigs are ‘harvesting’ before winter comes and that means younger, leaner pigs. My half pig had hardly any fat. No leaf lard or fat back, the belly had more meat than fat. They shoulder came skin on and with some nice fat, but it wasn’t enough for a good 10% mix. But, meh, went with it.

First up was the spicy italian, page 121. It was definitely a step up from my own recipe and I’ll be making it again. The addition of the red wine vinegar was the real game changer. It really brought out the flavors of the herbs. I did not, however, appreciate the whole coriander seeds. I love coriander, I use it all the time especially in Indian food, but it was just wrong. It specifically called for coriander seeds, not powder. You’re sitting there all sucking down this italian celebration when POP a coriander seed gets in there and crunches. It just isn’t right. But that’s my only real complaint about the recipe. I didn’t stuff the sausage this time around, we’ll save that excitement for later.

Next up was breakfast sausage. For this one I used my own recipe. The recipe in the book called for ginger and too much sage. I just can’t imagine it all in my gravy and smothering my biscuits. Speaking of… my biscuit game is sort of slowly but not really getting better. I did use the salt ratio in the book.

Both sausages were pretty salty and I have to keep that in mind when I cook with them. It also had me grind the meat on the smaller plate and that was too fine for my tastes. I’m going back to the bigger plate next time. My dad just sent me a load of garlic from his garden and I will be making up a batch of the garlic sausage on page 116. Once Kristen thins the herd a bit we’ll have lamb meat for Moroccan merguez.

For the record, it takes approximately 8 Blue Moons to bust a 12 1/2 pound bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder down to 10 pounds of sausage. I kept the bones, as it had both the shoulder and the elbow joint in there and that means connective tissue and that means delicious, delicious asian soup stock. I also kept the skin which I will turn into cracklins the next time I fry up some chicken.

5 pounds italian sausage

4 pounds breakfast sauage

But it’s not all salted meats, sometimes you have to set your sights on the vegetables in your life. Decided to make some lactic acid fermented pickles. Instead of vinegar you soak your veggies in a 5% salt water solution and it makes some lactic acid which gives you pickles of varying levels of pickle-tude. First experiment was a mix of carrots, fennel bulb, fennel frond, jalapenos and serranos and the pickling spice from page 68. It was generally okay, not great, I didn’t take my pants off or anything. I did actually like the fennel bulb and carrots, they stayed nice and crunchy and absorbed a good deal of the spice from the chili peppers, they also managed to keep the salt absorption down. They weren’t so overwhelmingly salty. I did a batch of jalapenos, serrano and anaheim peppers in just a plain salt solution. Made some good crunchy pickled peppers but, again, very salty. The last experiment was actual pickling cucumbers. These sucked. They just plain sucked. Super salty and they got very soft and mushy. Nothing pickley about them, just 4 jars of impotent disappointment.

I’ll probably do the fennel and carrots again, but mostly I’ll stick to vinegar pickling.

Coming up… this is the Winter of The Shank, I’m going to dive into the art of the braised shank. For Shanksgiving I have a lovely pair of local lamb shanks. It’s a toss up between some sort of traditional red-wine-braised recipe or something Persian since I got me a Persian cookbook and also all the ingredients, even the weird ones (like angelica and mahlab). Kristen’s got a pair of pork shanks for Shanksmas and I’m hoping to get my hands on some veal shanks for the hell of it. I do really want osso buco.

And I’ve perfected the scone recipe. Not ‘made better’ or ‘yeah, it’s okay’. I have perfected the shit out of my scone recipe.

Meat’n Greet

Corned beef! I want to write it all out in exclamation points. CORNED BEEF!!!

I made reubens and they were exclamation point fantastic. I used the recipe from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, corned beef page 65 and pickling spice page 68.

The meat counter had brisket on sale so I popped over and asked for 5ish pounds. The guy behind the counter is not a butcher and did not really know how to deal with a full brisket. He didn’t separate the plate before cutting. He got me a 6 pound slab taken directly from the center where the plates overlapped. This meant I got that great slap of tendon running right through the middle. I considered trimming it myself but then I would have been left with two thinner slabs of meat and this is definitely the kind of thing I wanted to do with a honking chunk.

Made the brine, poured everything into a 2.5 gallon ziploc and fridged it for 5 1/2 days, flipping every 24 hours. I took that time to practice my rye bread.

I hated rye bread as a kid. There was nothing grosser than eating a good sandwich and having an entirely unexpected caraway seed explode in your mouth. Actually, onions and mushrooms are grosser, but…you know. I worked on my caraway seed acceptance by making cheese crackers with caraway seeds. It worked. I can deal with caraway seeds even if I am not a huge fan of them.

I used the Levy’s Real Jewish rye bread recipe page 325 of the Bread Bible.



You know what? It was good. A little underproofed and therefore a bit dense but for a first trial run I was very happy. Still trying to find the sweet spot on the oven dial. The oven cooks hot but not consistently above temp. I’m running anywhere from 10-25 degrees hotter than I’m setting it for.

A couple days later I did it again.

This is where my camera decided to crap out on me. Pictures were taken with my phone. My phone is made from old shoes and lost dreams and its quality can be seen in how crappy the pictures are. I’ve got my camera working again, my phone has just continued to decline.

Rye bread #2

Rye bread #2

Definitely better on the second try. Good chew, good flavor, not as dense as before but could have been given another 30 minutes or so to rise. Underproofing is my weakness. I’m so afraid of overdoing it and having it fall that I just cause the same problems but in reverse.

Went with a batard rather than a round loaf because I find round loaves to be futzy when I’m making sandwiches.

The day came to cook the brisket and I realized it was a good thing I upgraded from the 6 quart to the 8 quart Instant Pot. Six pounds of brisket takes up a lot of room. I rinsed the meat off and threw it in the Instant Pot with fresh water and 2 tablespoons of pickling spice. I used the slow cook function and let it go about 4 hours. Probably could have pressure cooked it but for a first time I wanted to stick to the recipe as well as I could. I was definitely worried about that huge tendon in there. As the day went on it just kept contracting itself and getting stiffer. After 4 hours I turned the temp down and let it go for 2 more hours. I pulled the meat out and let it rest about 45 minutes.

I used the Russian Dressing recipe from Epicurious. I didn’t have the time to make my own sauerkraut so the sauerkraut and swiss cheese were both store bought.

Then I sliced the meat.
Corned Beef

You can see the tendon there running through the middle. I’m glad I kept it in for an extra couple of hours. The collagen just about melted out. The mouthfeel was amazing. The meat was not in any way dry or chewy, it was full of flavor and the texture was better than I could have hoped for with a first brisket.

When you couple the pickle spice mix recipe with the super fresh spices from Penzeys you get a spice blend with a lot of flavor. You could really taste the allspice and cloves in there. The real problem was the saltiness. It was very very salty. Not inedibly salty, not by a long shot but still it’s something I’ll to figure out before next time. The brine is at about 12% salt solution, I might bring it down to 10% and see how that goes.

Corned Beef

The meat was rich, that’s the best word I can use to describe it. It was full and rich and a little overwhelming. I wanted to just cram those sandwiches full of corned beef, I wanted to make big monster sandwiches! But I really couldn’t, we’d have fallen into some sort of meat coma if I tried.


I’m counting the whole thing a huge success (except for the saltiness, we have to work on that). The best part is that when it cooled, half went right into the freezer. We can do it all again.

And next time I can tell you all about my bread superfailure!