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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Skilandis Continued…This may take a while.

Ahhh! Skilandis!  After curing our chunks of pork and beef for three days, it is now time to season and case.  Traditionally Skilandis is cased in a pig’s bladder, since pig bladders are not readily available at to me I went with a 100 mm collagen casing (sorry Skilandis purists but I think we will survive).  So, first off if you read my last post I was going to go with the cure and grind method, after discussing the grinding with Janina (my mother-in-law), I decided it was best to stick to tradition.  One of the things that I have found with any culture, or nationality  is that they know what they are doing.  If a method doesn’t work it does not become a tradition.  So as instructed I cubed the meat into cubes as big two of my fingers.  Next, I had to only add fresh garlic and fresh ground black pepper (no herbs). 
Weight of meat 1592 grams
Garlic (finely minced) 11 grams .07%
Black Pepper (coarse ground) 3 grams .01%
Skilandis (10 of 9)
Skilandis (11 of 9)
Skilandis (12 of 9)
Mix the pepper and garlic with the cubed meat, and stuff into the casing. Next I tied the Skilandis using butchers twine.  After tying the Skilandis I inspected the casing for any air pockets, pricking the ones I found. 
Skilandis (13 of 9)
Skilandis (14 of 9)
Skilandis (16 of 9)
Lastly I applied some pressure.  Following the advice of Juozas (my father-in-law) I employed to poplar planks and zip ties to put the squeeze on. I let it sit under pressure for a couple of days and then into the curing chamber where it will hang for a week.  After a week the Skilandis will cold smoke for forty eight hours then back in for a week the smoking and resting will be repeated 3 times, don’t ask me why I just do as I am told.  During the final smoking Juniper will be used along with Oak as the smoking agent.  After that into the chamber four three to four months, not sure how the weight loss percentage will work out but I will figure it when the Skilandis is  done.  I will update this post with picks after it is smoked as well.
Skilandis (17 of 9)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


 As I have said before I  spent about a year in Lithuania with my wife while she was finishing college, and one of the things I enjoyed the most was a traditional dry cured smoked sausage called Skilandis.  So since I have gotten into charcuterie you can bet this was top on my list to try.
Making Skilandis is about a four month process so I will start one or two now and then two more in a month or so.  So where do we start?  Well meat. In my research I found that Skilandis is traditionally made by using actual chunks of meat (no grinding), and grain alcohol along with garlic, herbs, and spices.  Some recipes do call for grinding, and omit the alcohol.  I think for my first try I will go with the latter. From what I can tell the meat used in Skilandis is a fairly lean product without the discernable fat of say a traditional salami, so I started with boneless pork loin with some fat on it as well as some lean beef, both of which are free-range grass fed all natural animals.
Skilandis (10 of 7)
Skilandis (14 of 7)
Second, the cure.  The cure for Skilandis is just your basic cure; salt, cure #2, and sugar (see table for ratios).  after I prepared the cure I cut the meat into 1.5” to 2 “ cubes, then added the cure, mixed well and into a zip top bag for three days.  In three days the meat will be ground and stuffed.  Skilandis is traditionally stuffed into a pig bladder but my efforts to procure one have been fruitless thus far.  We’ll see what I can pull of by Tuesday.  Stay tuned…
Skilandis (16 of 7)
Skilandis Cure
Pork Loin (unprocessed) 1592 grams 75%
Lean beef (unprocessed) 530   grams 25%
Salt 75     grams 3.3%
Sugar 10     grams .05%
Cure #2 6       grams .25%
There are a few other ingredients that go in after the initial cure.  I will post them along with the ratios when I get to stuffing!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Pigs

I have always cooked.  Ever since I can remember I enjoyed cooking, although I may not have done it well, I relished in the joys of preparing food.  I guess for the most part its an inherent trait--my father did most of the cooking when I was growing up.  So once I got married and had children I really started to take a look at where our food comes from.  I live in Wakefield Virginia, a small town that lies almost halfway between Norfolk and Richmond and twenty miles away from the famous ham country of Smithfield.  One would think that living in such a rural and famously porky area would yield fresh local meats at every grocer,  alas this is not the case.  Go to any local big box grocery chain and, sure, you will find famously branded products, lovingly pumped with sodium solutions or broth to “guarantee juiciness”.  What a shame that todays hogs that are grown in masses are so lean and tasteless that to even keep consumers eating it, it must be pumped full of additives and flavoring.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Recently a friend told me about Windhaven Farms a local farm that raises free range Berkshire Hogs and grass fed Angus Beef, no steroids, no hormones, no antibiotics.   They also cure and smoke some of the most gorgeous dry cured hams in the area, hands down!   And the real kicker is it takes me exactly sixteen minutes to get there from my house.  At first I was skeptical, I mean really how much difference can there really be?  Well…a lot!  First off, the normal pork loins that you will find in most supermarkets (if by chance you can find one that hasn’t been processed to death with added salt or preservatives)  tend to look pretty ugly, almost no exterior fat and if there is it’s a weird yellowish color and no marbling in the muscle itself.  Pretty much it is a piece of flesh void of all signs of flavor, a mere shadow of what pork should be.  No wonder they usually pump so much junk into it, if not, no one could cook the stuff and have it turn out edible.  The loins produced at Windhaven Farms are in short a thing of beauty.  The first thing you notice is the beautiful snow white cap of fat that lines the loin, and THIS my friends is flavor. Also, the striation of fat within the muscle itself….More flavor and Juiciness! 
pork (10 of 1)
beef (10 of 1)
Plus the fact that all of the animals are raised naturally, because in my opinion a happy pig is a tasty pig.  As for their beef products, one word BEEFALICIOUS! I know I made that word up, but that’s the word that comes to mind.  The steaks are amazing.  All it needs is a scant dash of salt and fresh black pepper, rushed with clarified butter and you're in steak lover’s heaven.  Absolutely the best Angus beef I have ever eaten.  Everything from chuck roasts, to oxtails (you can see that here), beef ribs, and ground beef, tastes absolutely amazing.  I guess in short we all have to go to the grocery store sometimes, but I would much rather support my local community, and have superior, natural product to feed my family, than succumb the the global food machine.  Remember a happy pig is a tasty pig!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Curing Chamber

After months of research I decided to really get serious about charcuterie.  So where to start?  The thing that worried me most about crafting and curing meats was proper drying .  Everything I read stressed the importance of temperature and humidity while curing.  So indeed a proper curing chamber was needed.  The idea was simple enough you need to control temperature (ideally around 55 degrees) and humidity (this can vary from 60% to 75% relative humidity depending on what your curing).  Inspiration was everywhere but I decided on using the concepts presented in both the cured meats, and Wrightfood blogs, although I did one or two things differently. 

First I scored a refrigerator from craigslist thirty bucks and its in great shape.  Then I hung the sign my daughters drew on a scrap piece of wood while I was getting it situated in my shed (hopefully it will bring good luck)

Curing Chamber (10 of 8)

Secondly The temperature controller.  the warmest I could get this fridge to run was about 45 degrees, much to warm for our purposes.  So we had to introduce a way to turn the fridge on and off as needed to achieve a slightly higher temperature.  I used this Controller from Johnson Controls, I got it on eBay for twenty three dollars.  Although its different from most of the units you see it is actually a wired switch, not the piggy back style plug in most people use.  It was a breeze to wire up.  Just search the web for keg temperature controller and bingo your in business.

Curing Chamber (12 of 8)

This thing is dead on Within 3 degrees.

Curing Chamber (14 of 8)

The bulb sensor mounted inside the fridge.


Next humidity, instead of using a cool mist humidifier with a separate humidistat I decided to go with an all in one unit to eliminate one more link in the chain where possible failure could occur.I picked up this unit for about a hundred dollars at Lowes.  at first I was skeptical about its humidistats accuracy but it has done exceptionally well. It also has a two and a half gallon tank which in my case lets me go a little over two weeks without a refill.

Curing Chamber (17 of 8)

I used a slim old work box which I had to modify to fit the cavity I created for the outlet wiring looks nice and clean.

Curing Chamber (15 of 8)

Thinking of putting a small fan inside for air circulation

Curing Chamber (11 of 8)

Signage and cheap little remote thermometer to give me a general idea of what's going on in there.

All in all I have about one hundred and sixty dollars invested in my curing chamber, and I’m thinking its money well spent.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lonzino Affumicato

So now I dive into my first attempt at curing whole muscles, I have sausages down for the most part, but now want to expand my horizons.  I decided on Lonzino mostly for its simplicity but also because my wife is from Lithuania, and after spending quite a bit of time there I fell in love with the farm made cold smoked pork loins or kumpiukai as my wife's family calls them.  They are usually pork loins cured in salt and bay leaves and smoked for days, they are the taste is similar to our own country hams, earthy, smoky, and salty.  Slicing paper thin is a must.  So that brings me to where I'm at now, Lonzino Affumicato.  Over the Christmas holidays I built a smokehouse mainly for the purpose of smoking bacon, sausage, and cheese, but after smoking all of the aforementioned I decided that if I was ever going to see a return on my investment I was going to have to do more than sausage and cheese twice a year.  so thus the affumicato.  I researched quite a bit using every available resource, and after that took the basic rules and made it mine.  So while this may not be a traditional Lonzino it’s my variation. 

Lonzino Affumicato
Pork Loin (unprocessed- no additional brine added) 1,635 grams
Salt 64 grams 3.3%
Black Pepper 19 grams 1%
Cure #2 5 grams 0.25%
Fennel Seed 6 grams 0.27%
Bay Leaf 4 leaves
Clove 3 grams 0.15%
Rinse and dry (completely) pork loin.  Combine the black pepper, fennel seed, cloves, and bay leaves and grind in a spice grinder.  Combine ground spices with cure#2 and Salt.  Completely coat the pork loin with your cure mixture and place in a zip top bag, removing as much excess air as possible.  Place the loin in a Tupperware container just in case your bag springs a leak.  I have a dedicated bin in the fridge so I place them directly in the Veggie section.  Rotate, and massage the loin every other day, this will ensure even distribution of the cure. Cure for twelve days in the fridge.
Lonzino Affumicato (1 of 9)
Pork Loin after Rinsing
Lonzino Affumicato (3 of 9)
Double bagged and ready for the fridge
Lonzino Affumicato (4 of 9)
Into the fridge

After twelve days of curing the loin should be considerably firmer than the fresh loin.  Remove the loin from the bag and rinse off the cure.  allow to dry completely (this could take a while).

Lonzino Affumicato (5 of 9)
Loin after curing pre-rinse
Lonzino Affumicato (8 of 9)
Drying off

Lonzino is usually (from what I've read) cased in beef bungs, since I didn’t have any readily available I used 100 mil collagen casings, poked the loin with a toothpick to remove air pockets and allow some air exchange. Tied them up and off to the smokehouse.

Lonzino Affumicato (9 of 9) 
All tied up and ready to go
Lonzino Affumicato (10 of 1)
After twenty four hours of cold smoke.  I’ll probably let them go another four hours then off to the curing chamber until they decrease their weight by 35 to 37% .  Tasting notes fourth coming.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Smokehouse



So I decided to post some pictures of my smokehouse.  I realized when researching this project that there are really no detailed plans for building a smokehouse, and this post will be no exception.  Due to the nature of a smokehouse it must be built to fit the end users certain needs such as terrain, what is to be smoked, etc., and so like snowflakes I guess no two smokehouses are alike.  Here are a few picks of mine. 

Smokehouse (12 of 8)

Here she is in all of her glory.  I have yet to add the separate fire box, but for now it does quite well using a home made smoke generator.

Smokehouse (11 of 8)

The smoke generator!  An old metal milk can cut in half with holes drilled in the bottom to light the chips.  Works like a charm.


Smokehouse (14 of 8)

I used floor registers to control my air intake as well as exhaust.  I am really happy with the control the give me.

Smokehouse (10 of 8)

Smoke sticks

Smokehouse (16 of 8)

Air intake

Smokehouse (17 of 8)

Another shot of the front.  It needs a coat of paint when the weather warms up.